Quail Oak Chardonnay (ca. 2014)

Should the United States have a wine classification system along the lines of what you find in other countries like France, Italy or Germany?  That is the question that came to mind as I drank this wine.

You see, this wine is very clearly aimed at the bottom of the market.  After all, it’s a non-vintage “American” wine – meaning they can source the grapes from anywhere within the 50 states (and maybe even anywhere from within North or South America as that would still be a truthful claim) and they can blend grape juices from more than one harvest year to get a potable product.  If this were sold in France, it’d be a Vin de Table which is their lowest rung of classification.  While that classification doesn’t necessarily mean a vintner will charge less per bottle than a competitor in the Vin de Pays class, it does serve as a quick indicator to the consumer that they shouldn’t be paying top dollar.

Although the regular retail price of this wine is by no means top dollar, it is considerably higher than the wines which are of the same ilk and against which this wine appears meant to compete.  For instance, the Charles Shaw wines can be had at the local Trader Joe’s for $3.29, and the Three Wishes line at Whole Foods is priced exactly the same.  Why, then, does the local Safeway put a regular price of $6.99 on this bottle?  Could it be to snag uneducated consumers unawares?  After all, I bought this on sale for $3.49.  So it looks to me like the store realizes that is about what this Chardonnay should be selling for – period.

Oenophilogical_QuailOakChardonnayWinemaker:  Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway)
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price:  $6.99 at Safeway

Notes:  This Safeway private label Chardonnay was a bright lemon yellow.  It’s body was on the lighter side of medium with good acidity while alcohol came in at 12.5%.  On the palate I found pear, grapefruit, grass, and a touch of honey.  At times during it’s trip across my tongue it was quite weak.  Overall, though, it was pretty much OK.

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Gallo Family Vineyards Merlot

Not too long ago I was on a business trip to Chicago.  It was a quick trip, but an interesting one.  I’ve enjoyed some great trips to the Windy City in years past, but had no time this go-round for fun.  Unfortunately.  Because on my only night there I had to work late in my room preparing for the next day’s activities, I decided to run to the drug store across the street to see what kind of brain food (aka junk food) they might have on hand.  Much to my surprise, they had more than snacks, water and soda.  They had a very large selection of wines and spirits – yes, liquor.  Sadly, I had to keep my wits about me or my work would not have gotten done.  Thus, I grabbed a personal-sized bottle of this Gallo red – just enough to warm me yet not prevent me from accomplishing the task at hand.

Winemaker:  Gallo Family Vineyards
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  California
Price:  $5.99*

Notes:   On the nose I caught scents of wood, berries, and earth with some floral notes.  It was very light-bodied.  It even seemed watery at times.  Acidity was OK, and tannins were light.  Alcohol was at 13%.  On the palate I tasted generous amounts of wood with notes of crème de cassis.  I know it’s inexpensive, but I think there have to be better options out there – from Gallo even – within this price range.

* This is the price for a 750 ml bottle in my local area not the personal-sized mini I purchased while on travel.

Yellow Tail Shiraz-Grenache 2012

There is a tradition that’s been going on for years now among some of my extended family around Halloween time.  It’s called the Pumpkin Patch Party.  [Gotta love the alliteration, right?]   I’ve heard about it year after year, but this was the first time I was able to attend.  What fun!

Attendees all carve pumpkins – some freehand, some using stencils, some talented folks using designs they have drawn up themselves.  As this was my first time, I chose to play it safe and do the usual triangular eyes, etc.  But I did mine freehand — no stencils for me!  One of the artists in the group drew a symbol for the Decepticons from the Transformers and his brother used it on his pumpkin.  Now that’s cool: a Decepticon jack-o-lantern!  Wish  I’d gotten a good picture of that one.

Since it was a party, I brought along some liquid refreshment for the adults to enjoy.  This is what we had (in cautious moderation, of course, since folks were wielding sharp implements) in the Pumpkin Patch.

Winemaker:  Yellow Tail by Casella Wines
Wine:  Shiraz-Grenache
Varietal:  Red Blend
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Australia
Price:  $9.49

Notes:   Color in the glass was a deep purple.  On the nose I smelled berries, barnyard and menthol.  It was light-bodied, tannins were quite light and alcohol was at 13%.  Flavors I found while sipping this inexpensive red blend from Down Under included dark raspberry and bell pepper with menthol on the finish.  It was a very simple wine yet drinkable.  By the way, I managed to snap up the bottle on sale for only $6.99.  Even so, I always quote the store’s retail price in my summary just in case folks don’t happen to run across a similar sale.

Lost Vineyards Shiraz-Cab

It looks as if this inexpensive Argentinian red blend is made by the folks at Trapiche and imported by Lost Vineyards.  It’s interesting that the appellation they give is just Argentina.  Of course, that is a bit more concrete than some wines I’ve seen that say they are “American.”  That always makes me want to ask, “North American, South American or all of the above?”  But getting back to the wine at hand, the label clearly indicates that it is a mixture of 60% Shiraz and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winemaker:  Lost Vineyards
Varietal:  Red Blend
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Argentina
Price:  $4.99

Notes:  This wine showed a deep ruby color in the glass.  On the nose I found dark cherry along with hints of spices and herbs.  It was a light-bodied red with moderate tannins.  Alcohol is at 12.5%.  On the palate this blend brought me sweet dark cherry, pepper, clove, oak, and anise.  Sounds good, right?  But here’s the catch: it wasn’t a well-balanced glass of wine.  The oak and the tannins were the major players on the tongue and relegated the other flavors to the background.  Except for the sweetness!  The residual sugar had a tendency to come on a little strong.  The result was a strange back-and-forth on the palate between astringent wood and sweet.  Again, the other flavors were there but fighting a losing battle for my tastebuds’ attention.  Maybe I should have had a hunk of spiced meat with this Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, and all would have been well.  Unfortunately, I didn’t.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Quail Oak Merlot

What is up with wines that give little or no information about their makers?  It makes me wonder.  Seriously!  In fact, I find it extremely suspicious when a winery doesn’t support their product with informative labeling or at least a modest online presence.  That pertains equally to a retailer that sells a private label but disguises it as something other than a store brand.  Seems like they’re saying, “I’m horribly embarrassed that I made this wine (ordered this wine), so I’m not going to admit to being responsible for it.”  If I think a wine producer is being cagey, I am much less likely to buy their wines no matter what they call them, how they dress them up, or how low the price.  As a result, this was my very first experience with any of the Quail Oak selections.

Winemaker:  Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway?)
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price:  $6.99 at Safeway

Notes:   On the nose I smelled berries and musty earth.  The wine is very light-bodied with moderate acidity.  At 12.5% alcohol, the Quail Oak Merlot is definitely not a dry red.  In fact, I would call this wine sweet.  Aside from the sweetness and the lack of any structure to speak of, I found this selection to be fairly pleasant.  Flavors for me were plum, dark cherry, a bit of pepper, hints of oak and tar, as well as a dash of bitter herbs on the finish.  Personally, though, I really do prefer my Merlots a bit dryer.  It wasn’t an offensive wine.  It wasn’t a diamond hidden amongst stones, either.  I’d say it’s another good candidate for a Sangria – perhaps one that includes citrus because the sweetness of this wine will help balance the citrus.  Or maybe this would do well with some leftover spicy Chinese food – Twice Cooked Pork, General Tso’s Chicken and such.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Don Simón Seleccion Rosé

With these wines still strategically placed right in front of the checkout at my local Whole Foods, I just couldn’t resist another grab.  After all, there are four of these wines to choose from – Shiraz, Rosé, Tempranillo, and Chardonnay.  Maybe I’ll make my way through all of them!

Winemaker:  Don Simón Seleccion (by J. Garcia Carrión)
Varietal:  Rosé (unspecified)
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Castilla, Spain
Price:  $3.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:   In the glass this wine was what I’d call a medium-to-light pink.  On the nose I smelled strawberries.  On the tongue this was a very light-bodied rosé.  Acidity was OK, and alcohol is at 12.5%.  Flavors for me were primarily strawberry – the whole thing including seeds and leaves.  Mostly the fruit flavor, of course.  There was a hint of mineral near the end and a twinge of chlorophyll on the finish.  I know that typically rosé doesn’t need to breathe like many red wines do.  With this one, however, I did notice a settling of the flavors.  Initially, the strawberry seemed under-ripe, but with a little time in the glass it lost some of it’s tartness.  Also, this Don Simón rosé comes across more as a dry wine – seeming to me even dryer than it’s 12.5% alcohol would suggest.  Personally, I’m happy to say that it wasn’t one of those over-sweet, cloying rosés that initially put me off drinking them.  So ….  Simple?  Yes.  But at $3.99 a bottle, I don’t think there’s anything here to seriously complain about.  Unless you want a sweet rosé!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Don Simón Seleccion Shiraz

Here is another budget-priced wine from the shelves of Whole Foods.  I haven’t seen this line of wines (there are several in the Don Simón Seleccion series) at my local Whole Foods previously.  Either I haven’t been paying attention, or they are a new addition.  Either way, just the other day the Don Simón wines were conspicuously placed right in front of the check-out area.  How could I pass them by?

Winemaker:  Don Simón Seleccion (by J. Garcia Carrión)
Varietal:  Shiraz
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Castilla, Spain
Price:  $3.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  In the glass this Spanish red was deep ruby in color.  On the nose I got berries and a dry earthy scent.  It’s a light-bodied Shiraz with very light tannins and good acidity.  On the palate I tasted primarily black raspberry and currant with a sprinkling of pepper.  There was tea leaf near the finish, and the currant flavor lingered on the tongue for quite awhile.  At this price, the long finish surprised me.  Alcohol is at 12.5%.  This is not one of those big, spicy, robust Shiraz selections from Australia.  On the contrary, it’s a simple, straightforward, soft and lightly sweet wine from Spain.  Is that bad?  Well, no.  Unless you’re unreasonably anticipating the same experience you’d expect from a $20-30 Australian Shiraz!  Personally, I think they should have labeled this as Syrah – which is what vintners usually call this grape in the “old world.”  Even some Australian producers who are making wines from these grapes in a more European style are using the Syrah name.  But enough of that!  I could imagine this pairing well with grilled veggies or perhaps chicken and veggie kebabs.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.