bargain wine of the week: Château la Grange Clinet 2014 Grande Réserve

This week’s budget wine comes from Bordeaux, the region at France’s seven o’clock: mostly south, very west.  While this chateau is not technically coastal, the entire area has “maritime influence”, especially as la Gironde cleaves the continent where it meets the Atlantic.

Bordeaux is known for its blends. Unlike, say, Burgundy, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are likely to stand as single varietals in a bottle, les Bordelais are alchemists, painstakingly curating recipes to maximize signature styles and take advantage of whatever each vintage offers.

This sweetheart of a wine retails around $15, and it’s like a mini tour of what to expect from a Bordeaux. It’s balanced, elegant, with nothing standing out to make it a single note experience. This is not a particularly fruity wine, if you’re used to jammy or “fruit forward” stuff, but it is really satisfying to drink. It is also not a giant wine, and it stays interesting and enjoyable over the course of an evening. Or morning. 🙂

The exact proportions are a closely held secret, but le Clinet is a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend. 

The single caveat I maintain is that the taste changes after a few days open, even if you use a wine preserving system, which I do. Perhaps this is my own fault, after storing it cool, then taking it out to come to room temp, then cooling again, then bringing it back to room temp. Wines don’t like large or repeated swings in temperature, and maybe I tested la Grange Clinet too much.

Thirsty Cellist score: 8/10

Pros: Complexity, balance, subtlety. A little bit of everything in a very easy to access package. 

Cons: Gets a little weird after the third day open

Recommendation: buy it, try it, finish the bottle in one sitting (share with friends!), or save the remainder for deglazing a pan.  

intro to bargain wine of the week: Planeta La Segreta 2013 DOC Sicilia

Wine on a budget! Let’s do it.

The more I learn about viticulture and enology, the more I understand what drives prices. There are justifiable causes for exorbitant pricing: rarity, certain labor-intensive practices (some Grand Cru vintners select individual grapes during harvest, for instance), the vagaries of weather and climate. Other times, the justification is harder to come by: some chateaux are riding on name and legacy, Robert Parker Jr. (whose thoughts are enjoyable, but I won’t rely on his taste buds to be surrogates for mine) gives a high score and creates industry buzz, or worst of all, one of the Real Housewives orders something by name.

We’ve all been burned by a bottle of inexpensive wine that over promised and under delivered. So where does that leave the wine lover who can’t routinely shell out $30 and up? Continue reading “intro to bargain wine of the week: Planeta La Segreta 2013 DOC Sicilia”

The wine kit arrives!

I thought it might be fun to try and get a sense of the winemaking process by doing a batch of Chardonnay at home. After a little research, it seemed like most of the products from distributors in the US came from the Master Vintner company, so I ordered from them directly.

The box came and I was so excited! So many mysterious objects. Bummed that the bubble wrap didn’t pop, though. Whomever made the decision to change to un-poppable bubbles hates fun and probably doesn’t use turn signals or wave after someone lets them change lanes.

The kit comes with all kinds of bits and bobs! Before I read what they actually are, I shall make wildly inaccurate guesses as to the purpose of each. I promise I’ll do a serious post when I do step 1 and actually be informative. For now:

On top, we have a small box of wine. I assume this is to drink while you’re figuring out how to make wine with all of the other stuff in the kit. Below is the “big mouth bubbler”, which is some kind of artisanal fish tank to look at while you wait for the wine to undergo malolactic fermentation. There’s a beaker on the far right so you don’t have to drink the wine straight from the box on top. Continue reading “The wine kit arrives!”

Every day drinking

I drink wine every day, or nearly every day. Oh, I see you, Loki.

Saying that in many places (North America, much of northern Europe) seems like an admission of a serious problem. Yet, cultural attitudes and the science of drinking behavior and its ramifications tell a different story.

In places like France and Italy,  cultural tendencies mostly go like this: you can drink wine every day, but consumption to the point of inebriation is considered a huge no-no. Don’t be the guy/gal who is drunk at a wedding. Keep it together, chief. Wine is usually an adjunct to food.


In places like the US, drinking wine with lunch or every night with dinner raises eyebrows, but getting hammered from time to time is socially acceptable. Haha! He’s that guy who got drunk at the wedding! Many Americans slink home from work and self-medicate in semi-secret. We even joke about it because hey, you’re either laughing or you’re crying, right? There is a certain degree of shame associated with drinking, and a pronounced backlash against it, with the normalization of heavy consumption a sort of cultural trope. Continue reading “Every day drinking”

lil’ bit about reds and PS Wine Folly is everything

Since part of the purpose of this blog is to help my friends pick out wine, I wanted to offer a visual for how reds move from light to dark. So I came up with this:

And though it is accurate, a quick search revealed that Wine Folly had done a much more informative and easy on the eye version:

Before going any further, I should make clear that I owe Wine Folly founder Madeline Puckette so much, even at this early stage of the game. Her text (written with Justin Hammack) The Essential Guide to Wine is an incredibly useful and thoughtful resource. Well organized and with enough information to educate— but not so much as to overwhelm— this book offers insight for the novice but ambitious wine drinker. I’ve actually gone so far as to print out pages for reference when I have folks over to do tastings.

Okay, back to the info.  Continue reading “lil’ bit about reds and PS Wine Folly is everything”


The next real post is all about red wines, but I’m pretty excited to share what will be next after that. HOME WINEMAKING KIT IS IN THE MAIL WOOOOO



what could go wrong?

Bottle shapes!

You can play CSI: Vino pretty well armed with a few tricks. Today’s installment involves the shape of the bottle. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, you can expect certain wines to reliably come in similar bottles. Today, I’m keeping to still wines (sparkling has variants, too!) and the main three shapes you’re likely to encounter no matter where you shop.

This stuff comes in handy when trying to branch out but the information on the front of the bottle isn’t immediately helpful. Don’t get stuck drinking the same stuff because old-world terminology is different. All of this is knowable! One step at a time, you and me.

For instance, the bottle style below is referred to as the Bordeaux shape. It’s simple, elegant, with high shoulders and straight sides.

You’ll typically find the following wines in this kind of bottle (or variant thereof, like this completely sexy example, with extra high shoulders and a tapered body):

Cabernet (Franc, Sauvignon)

Bordeaux blends


Pinot Grigio

Chenin Blanc

Meritage blends

Sauternes Continue reading “Bottle shapes!”

Reading wine labels

One of the more daunting things I’ve come up against— what with my meagre knowledge of grapes and regions— is decoding labels. My formative years were spent in California, drinking California (and occasionally Oregon) wine, so I got used to the name of the wine being the same as the grape the wine was made from.

Sanford Pinot Noir. 

Mondavi Reserve Cabernet. 

La Crema Chardonnay.

You won’t find a French bottle labeled Chardonnay. Instead, French wines are named after the village they come from. So, Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes grown and made into wine in…Chablis. Bourgogne Blanc,  (literally: White Burgundy), Mâconnais, Côte de Beaune, too. These are all places, and all Chardonnays. One of the hints you can usually take to the bank is bottle shape: Chardonnays tend to come in a hefty green-tinged bottle that has a thin neck, slim shoulders and a wide bottom, regardless of where they’re from, but more about that some other time.

Many sommeliers can taste the difference between grapes grown on different sides of a path, just a few meters apart. This is why the French are so big on calling things by their region- they’re obsessed with terroir, or the idea that the place (the soil, weather, geography, etc) shapes the taste of the wine as much or more than the grape variety. I tend to agree with them, although I’m not nearly as sensitive as some of the amazing somms I’ve encountered. Continue reading “Reading wine labels”

shopping on a budget

“I’ll bring a bottle of wine!” you text a friend, looking forward to seeing them after work. Sure, it sounds like a good idea until you’re standing there, in front of…is this 700 wines? 7000? Thoughts arise:

I think I like Cabernet

But what if the food doesn’t go with Cab

Why is this one $8 and this other one $48? Are they so different? WHY IS THIS ONE $8 DOES IT HAVE SOMETHING WRONG WITH IT 

If you’re sticking to a budget, the long and short of it is…there are few red wines that will reliably taste nice under a $10 price point. And fewer still will be Cabernets. We’ll go into why in another post, but keep this rule in mind: if it’s inexpensive and from a region that has some prestige to it, like France, Spain, California, Italy, Argentina, Australia…you’re getting the lowest quality they’re allowed to produce. It IS possible to find a delicious, dry, complex red for around $10, but it likely won’t be a Cabernet, and it might not be from a place you immediately recognize as a wine region.

My experience: under $10 is much harder than under $15.  Continue reading “shopping on a budget”