Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shot-in-the-Dark Wines - $12 or Less

I’m always trying to get decent wine on the cheap. It’s been a mantra of mine since the wine bug bit me as a 21-year-old, broke-ass writer.

Over the years I’ve found lots of great bottles for less than $20. It's harder to find good wine under $15, and searching for good bottles that cost $12 or less borders on palate masochism. In this price range, I’ve found a lot of quaffable juice, but also some downright nasty vino. I buy up a lot of bargain-priced wines from different sources, paying much attention to the producer, region, vintage and storage conditions of the wine. But I buy such wines knowing that there’s no way to know exactly what I’m going to get in my glass. Especially when dealing with aged wines, there are simply too many variables in play to accurately predict how a wine is going to show. Of course, that’s part of the fun.

To illustrate my point, here are some recent shot-in-the-dark wines I’ve explored in the past few weeks, with varying degrees of success.

2004 Margerum Sauvignon Blanc Purisima Mountain Vineyard (California, Santa Ynez Valley)
An apple juice color in the glass. The aromas are unique, to say the least: honey, oil, grape seeds, melon rind. At first I could barely take a sip of this wine. It was sharp with bitter acid. I mean, it's not like I was expecting much from this wine. If anything, I was expecting an eight-year-old domestic sauvignon blanc to be undrinkable. That green bitterness is really strong at the start, but it slips away after two hours open. And, get this... it turns into a decent wine. There's some green apple and lime flavors, along with some hay. Medium-bodied, with some nougat and wax flavors that remind me of some aged chenin blanc. It’s not totally spent after all. A shot-in-the-dark wine I picked up for $8 with low expectations, it turned out to be a fun wine experience. 85 pts
1999 Homewood Winery Chardonnay Odmann Vineyard (California, Carneros) Well, this was definitely a shot-in-the-dark wine. I bought this $9 bottle with a strange curiosity and no expectation that it would be any good. Well, it wasn't any good. The nose smells like dried paint. I drank this with my parents, who both described it as smelling like a Crimean wine called massandra, and that makes sense because massandra an oxidized and off-dry white wine. The palate tastes sweet and oxidized as well. The acid is still present, and it's actually drinkable. But the brandied raisin flavors are strange, and probably not appealing to any normal human being. Interesting, but not "good" in any sense of the word. Score? I have no freakin' idea... no score
2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Gris La Encantada Vineyard (California, Santa Rita Hills)
Not much on the nose to start, some golden raisins, lemon. On the palate, this wine tastes a bit thin, the fruit a bit faded. This wine was bottled under screw-cap, which could've affected the wine as it aged for seven years. Flavors of apricot and nutshells, but the acid is really emhpasized. It's an odd enough wine to buy and try, and it's intellectually stimulating, but ultimately not a fully enjoyable experience. My girlfriend said, "This tastes like cheap wine that my dad would buy." Maybe this pinot gris had something going when it was released, maybe not. For $10, it was an interesting experience.
70 pts

1996 Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select (California, Mendocino)
I've been a big fan of Mendocino, CA-based Parducci wines since I visited the winery in 2009. I've been a member of their wine list for a long time and drank many of their wines. So I was excited to find an older estate cabernet sauvignon at auction for a whopping $8. Cranberry-cassis color in the glass. Nose: creamy currants, some subtle dried leaves and oak. On the palate, the tannins are still firm and solid at sixteen years of age. Fresh currant flavors, as well as dried rose petals, vanilla. There is some creamy oak in here, but the flavors are well-integrated. I was really surprised by the power and youth of this wine. Delicious. My mother guessed it as a California cabernet from the aromas alone. I was quite impressed! What a unique find.
89 pts

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