Taken Down by Chuck!

On a whim, I decided to do a head-to-head throw down between two super “value” wines. I use quotes because value usually equates to a quality product for a price considered to be fair. Sometimes, such “value” is found in a wine or product that we feel like we are almost getting away with something for the price paid. This was not the case in this tasting extravaganza! Without further ado, I bring to Roasted Beast readers: The Two Buck Chuck Throw Down!

I’m not going to re-hash the history of Two Buck Chuck, it’s origin, and rise in popularity over the years. Feel free to google it and find out all of the fascinating details! I decided to do this tasting for a couple reasons. For one, I haven’t had any of the Two Buck Chuck wines in a long time. Secondly, while strolling through my local Whole Foods, I saw a display for the Three Wishes brand of wine for $1.99 with a sign that said “Dump the Chuck” or possibly something more clever- I can’t remember. In any case, it was clear that Whole Foods was branding it as the better $1.99 wine. Three Wishes makes 3 varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. If I’m not mistaken, Two Buck Chuck offers a couple more. If options are what you are looking for, “The Chuck” has Three Wishes beat.

The label of Three Wishes attempts to appeal to the Eco-Friendly wine consumer stating that the bottles are lighter thus reducing waste and their carbon footprint. It’s worth pointing out that the Two Buck Chuck bottle weighs the same as the Three Wishes bottle, go figure. So, all things being equal, it comes down to the juice right?

Undrinkable Wine- Save your two bucks!

For the tasting, I put the Cabernet Sauvignons to the test. The 2010 Two Buck Chuck Cab vs. the Three Wishes Cab. Oddly enough, the Three Wishes did not have the year on the bottle. So yes folks, Non Vintage Cab does exist. For this major event, I was joined by my lovely wife Siege, who, during the course of the tasting had an allergic reaction of sorts to the Two Buck Chuck Cab. Don’t worry, she’s fine- just lots of sneezing. We tasted “blind” because we didn’t want to be swayed by the Two Buck Chuck Wine voodoo charms or the granola, environmentally hip sensibilities of the Three Wishes wine.

Here are the inglorious details, tasting notes, and results of the battle.

Two Buck Chuck Cab Sauv. Three Wishes Cab Sauv. Preferred Trait
Sight (Color/Clarity) Claret/Ruby (Clear) Garnet (Clear) Even
Aroma Alcohol spiking big time, a hint of blackberry Smelly Cheese/Mold Funk/Cheese rind with a bit of red fruit. No real winner here either
Taste Sour Cherry with a predominant metallic flavor. Almost like you were licking a penny. No acid and virtually no tannic structure. Soft and round with hints of cherry and red fruit. We both agree, sort of juicy. Slight bite from tannins. Three Wishes
Score (100 Pt Scale) 70 78

In sum, both wines were pretty drab with little to no character. No real surprise here, you can’t expect much from a two dollar wine. And yet, Two Buck Chuck is ridiculously popular. Will Three Wishes ever gain any of the coveted Two Buck Chuck market share? Only time will tell. As for me, I’d rather spend 10-12 dollars and get a decent table wine, such as a Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel or even that crazy 2008 Smoking Loon Syrah ($8) made with Mega Purple concentrate.

New Napa Spots- Old Sonoma Residence

We hit the road hard once again a few weeks back taking us to Napa (mostly) and Sonoma (just for minute though). Cuvaison was last on our trip and a good way to end it. The wines were actually pretty good. I only say “actually” because I’ve heard mixed reviews from some colleagues whose opinions I trust and respect. Cuvaison has a super cool modern and elegant tasting room. Despite arriving when they were about to close, the winery staff was nice enough to accommodate us. After sampling a few wines, the Pinot Noir really stood out. I wasn’t expecting to like them as much as I did. We picked up the 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir, which was lighter in style but still jumped off the palate with brightness and flavor. We also added the 2008 Block F5 Pinot to our ever growing wine library. This one was a stunner with lot’s of character- dense, almost brooding, but with a nice mixture of red and blue fruits that integrated quite well. Incidentally, the photo below is the F5 Block of vines where this wine takes it’s name. Talk about feeling connected to the wine, the F5 block vineyard was a mere 50 feet from where we tasted it- how cool is that?!

F-5 Block at Cuvaison

I’m working backward here. Cuvaison was the last stop. Prior to that, we hit up Etude. I’ve heard nothing but solid noise regarding this Pinot/Chard producer. The wines were very good, if not priced a little high for the “working man” like myself. I have to say, the tasting room staff was a little on the chilly side. Perhaps it was because it was getting late in the afternoon (still no excuse). To be fair, our host did warm up after the initial “attack”. Solid wines and a beautiful space- but I left feeling a little unsatisfied from an overall customer experience point of view.

Stop number ‘dos’ after lunch took us to, of all places, a home in an older part of Sonoma to pick up wine I had ordered from Bedrock Wine Company. If you haven’t heard of this new label yet- you will. Essentially, Morgan Twain Peterson, the proprietor and winemaker, is the prodigy of Joel Peterson. Mr. Peterson, you may (or not) recall founded Ravenswood and has been largely responsible for the growth and popularity of Zinfandel. The younger Peterson, apparently has been making wine since he was just a tike. I took a “gamble”, cause it’s one of those situations where you can’t taste before you buy, and bought a bottle of the 2009 Hudson Valley North T-Block Carneros Syrah. The risk was worth it- Siege and I were able to taste it at the “pick up party” and it was killer. Usually, I’m not a big fan of buying wine (over $10-15) without tasting first, but Bedrock has gotten sooooooo much good press it had to be done. It was nice to be able to chat for a brief (very brief) second with Morgan and Joel Peterson. They really seem to enjoy what they are doing. And can you blame them, they’re selling a crap-load of wine!

We’ll end here with the beginning of this little vino adventure. Things began on a super high note at Failla Wines right off the Silverado Trail in Napa. Basically, the only producer in those parts crafting phenomenal Burgundian style wines showcasing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in stellar fashion. I had high hopes when we stepped into the rustic winery. Let me just say, these wine rocked. They screamed with pure fruit and deliciousness. In the end, Siege and opted for the 2009 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. Winemaker and owner, Ehren Jordan, splits time between Napa and Paso Robles where he is responsible for making some extraordinary Zinfandel at Turley Cellars. For a man with a lot on his plate and opposing styles of wine, he sure does a great job with both.

Alas, this was meant to be a quick little report- but as you know, it’s been awhile since I last posted. Plus, it was such a packed little day trip. The wine was top notch and it always tastes a little better alongside my lovely wife, Siege and pup Suki. To be honest, I feel like I hardly did the trip justice in this little write up. You really need to just get out there and experience it for yourself. Note: No alcoholic beverages of any kind were consumed by our dog, Suki- lot’s of treats though!

Until next time, cheers!

Meeting Pliny (the Younger)

Me and a couple pals just got back from Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA. It was a blast tasting the much anticipated, Pliny the Younger. For those who haven’t heard, this beer is extremely limited in supply and they only release it for a couple of weeks every February. Russian River serves 10 ounce glasses of the coveted Triple IPA and February 17th will be the last day until next year. As you might recall, last week’s RB post touched on expectations and “hype”. Let me just say that Pliny the Younger definitely lived up to the hype. To me, the beer was easily one of the best I’ve ever had. It was floral on the nose, good bitterness and hops, with a big finish that just kept on going on for days! What’s more, you don’t even taste the very formidable 10.25% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). In short, Pliny the Younger is a very drinkable brew. The only dark cloud that tried to dampen our spirits was the border-line crappy service. Our server was not at all amicable and we were made to feel like more of an annoyance than a guest or patron. But let’s end on a positive note. The beer rocked, the pizza was quite delicious, and we left fat and happy. A warning, or admonition if you will: If you’re a super anal retentive guy (I lean this way) or gal about service, you may be turned off by the staff at Russian River Brewing Company. That said, I wouldn’t let it stop you from trying a truly remarkable beer in Pliny the Younger. Cheers!

Big, burly and awesome!

Don’t Believe The Hype!

Call me pessimistic, but I’ve often found when my expectations are really high, a good percentage of the time I find myself disappointed, regardless of the experience. It could be a round of golf or a movie, but in this particular case it had to do with a Pinot Noir and an IPA.

I’ll address the lesser of the two “flops” first, which wasn’t a complete disappointment. The 2008 vintage (or year) for the Oregon Pinot Noir has been lauded as a banner year by industry members, from growers to producers to wine writers. The stars must have aligned perfectly. The growing conditions were ideal, and now every winery from the Dundee Hills to Yamhill-Carlton has a stockpile of good hooch ready to be consumed by the wine loving masses. Me, of course, being one of them. After reading a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle a while back, I decided to check out what all the buzz was about, especially when I saw the price tag of one of the Chronicle’s wine recommendations. At $13.99, It was certainly worth exploring. The wine was a 2008 Cloudline Pinot Noir from the folks behind the very reliable Domaine Drouhin in Oregon. Admittedly, my firsthand experience with Oregon Pinot is limited. Aside from the occasional bottle and a trip a couple years back, I can’t say I’m well acquainted with the more Burgundian style the state is known for. One bottling does not constitute a good sampling to truly critique the 2008 vintage. Maybe it’s my saturated, gnarly, Californian palate, but the wine definitely lacked some punch. It wasn’t a total disappointment though, just different from the brawny, more assertive style of many California wines, generally speaking. The Cloudline Pinot did possess nice, bright, fruit on the nose with a touch of cola and spice. On the palate it was very light-on-it’s-feet with flavors of cherry, raspberry with a pretty lengthy finish. It also had a nice, mineral quality on the finish that suggests it would play nicely with fish dishes. I’m still wrapping my head around this one folks… to be continued.

I can't figure this one out!

Moving on to the lesser of the two drinks (albeit vastly different), this one comes from the notable micro brew powerhouse, Sierra Nevada. I won’t spend too much time on this because I don’t believe in writing in detail about food items, wine, beer, or otherwise that in my experience are subpar. Why? As I’m sure many of you in the blogosphere would agree, I’d rather focus time and energy on things I really enjoyed. The beer on the hot seat was an American Double/Imperial IPA special bottling, cleverly dubbed, Hoptimum. Apparently, it was previewed during Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary party last fall, but only recently distributed to stores. For me, Hoptimum didn’t have the signature quality and consistency that is synonymous with the name Sierra Nevada. A couple of my buddies agreed that it was pretty much as advertised, all hop and not much else. Like the 2008 Oregon Vintage for Pinot Noir, this beer garnered critical acclaim and attention. Which is probably why I was dejected after trying it.

Whole Cone Hops Anyone?

So the lesson here is, DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE! At least not always. The good news for Oregon Pinot, is that there are tons of wines to buy and try. The bad news for Sierra, there’s only one rendition of Hoptimum. That said, even though Hoptimum fell short for my set of tastbuds, it won’t stop me from trying new Sierra beers in the future.

A New Year: The Best Way to Beat Those Post Christmas Blues!

So the wife and I are trying some new stuff this year. Like many Americans, we make all of the usual resolutions: eat better, get fit, feed the hungry, etc. All of course, are noble and good goals, but good intentions often fall by the wayside with the busy, over-extended lifestyles most of us lead. Don’t worry folks, this isn’t going to be an “inspirational” piece- I’ll let Oprah and Dr. Laura handle that!

That said, Siege and I resolved to eat better and be more active in 2011. Well, the latter is pretty easy, we give our little pup a 30-40 minute walk everyday and get to the gym 3 or 4 days a week. The former, however, has always proven to be a nemesis. But, I’m happy to report we’ve made progress in terms of making better food choices, especially during the work week. So last weekend, after a whole week of kicking booty, we indulged ourselves and ate like royalty. I know what you’re thinking, a week is not that long, but it’s a start!

In keeping with the “new” theme, it was our first time back visiting the wineries of the Carneros region since sometime last year. Needless to say, Siege and I were not disappointed and came home with a couple of nice bottles. Our first ‘new’ experience came to us via a recommendation from the fine peeps over at MacRostie Winery and Vineyards. Our tasting coordinator (I just made that title up for him), David, enthusiastically told us about a place just down the road from them called Fremont Diner. He said it’s where much of the local folk go to eat “down-home”, delicious food using the best in local bounty. Siegie and I were not led astray, this place was a 10, yo! Actually, it would have been a 10 if the place had some plug in heaters outside. The joint was jam packed and the only seating area available was the bar style stools out front or tables off the side of the diner, which were wet from the fog. The high that day was around 42. BUUURRRRRRR!!!! Other than shivering outside, the experience was amazing. I threw down a healthy dose of pulled pork sandwich slathered in BBQ sauce (sweet and spicy awesomeness) and Siege knocked back a very tasty burger with a mild, but very good blue cheese. If you go, expect a wait, but rewarded with excellent food. Be sure to try their handmade shakes too- just not in 42 degree temperatures (silly us).

Go there!!!

Siege and I continued our indulgent war path at dinner landing at Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana. A place we’ve grown quite fond of over the years and for good reason: consistently good regional Italian cuisine that won’t break the bank! Our “first” time at Il Fornaio this year as it happens. But the real treat, in my eyes, was the outstanding appetizer (how I wish I had a pic for you guys). The restaurant was featuring the regional food of Friuli- Venezia Guilia, and the starter we had was off the charts good. It was an Italian cheese souffle of sorts called, “Tortino Tartufato al Parmigiano”. This app was speaking my language, it was a virtuouso of cheesy excellence. A deftly handled torte made with cream, Parmigiano, white truffle butter and shaved Grana Padano cheese. It had great texture too, crispy on the top- smooth and creamy in the center. For the wine, we chose an unfamiliar varietal to us both found in the North Eastern part of Italy by the name of Refosco. This version, by the producer, Luisa was top drawer all the way. For the curious out there in the blogosphere, Refosco grows in the Fruili-Venezia Guilia region of Italy and thrives near the coast around Trieste. The grape is also widely planted over the border in Slovenia. This is my first encounter with Refosco and definitely not the last. The 2008 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso Tenuta Luisa smacked me in the face with blackberry fruit, dark cherry, some excellent mineral notes and a long healthy finish. It also had this sort of effervescence to it, a lightness- only it was on a medium bodied frame, very interesting.

As you can see, it was a big weekend and in my eyes, the perfect way to capture the spirit of the New Year. I can’t wait to see what unfolds the rest of the year, if this was any indication as to what’s in store, it’s going to be a heck of a year!

Good Reads

Here are just a few excellent books related to food and wine in some form or another. If you’re lucky enough, you may be able to find one or two at your local used book store as I did. Most of these books are a few years old or so and should be easily found at major bookstores. The tie that binds these authors, and many of us in the big wide world of food and wine, is the dedication and near obsession of the subject: whether its making pasta, butchering a whole pig, etc. Happy Reading!

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures As Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, And Apprentice To A Dante-Quoting Butcher In Tuscany, By Bill Buford. A form writer/editor for the New Yorker, Buford gives readers an honest, what I can only assume is a frighteningly realistic glimpse inside Mario Batali’s restaurant empire, more specifically, the day-to-day operation of his acclaimed 3 star restaurant, Babbo.

Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, By Anthony Bourdain. Just read it. It’s really entertaining. Very candid, and maybe somewhat embellished, but Bourdain proves to be such a good writer and storyteller that you don’t care. This book is much celebrated, and deservedly so.

The Man Who Ate Everything, By Jeffrey Steingarten. The food critic for Vogue since 1989 is maybe the wittiest author I’ve read. He dives into his exploration of food with reckless abandon and seems to have an unmatched curiosity for all things gastronomic. This book is filled with entertaining chapters like: attempting to make the perfect bread, his quest for the ultimate condiment, and his adventures as a world traveler seeking out the most authentic regional and micro-regional dishes.

Pass the Salt!

Often times we remember what went wrong. The negative vibe is just…there. No matter the experience: be it a basketball game where your team loses because of a missed free throw, a movie that sucked, or a bland dinner at the local burger shack, the letdowns can really stick with us- frozen in time like the icy tundra in Moscow. In this case, it was the attack of the bland burger shack that was the culprit, more specifically, Nationwide Freezer Meats in Sacramento. Long hailed as one of the best burger joints in Sac, Nationwide has a sea of carnivorous disciples. It’s been family owned and operated for forty years by the Gonzales family. It’s a unique and admirable operation for the following reasons: they grind their own meat, hand shape their patties, and pride themselves on buying entire hindquarters of Harris Ranch beef and trimming it up themselves. Despite this remarkable artisanal business model, Nationwide fell a bit short on a recent Friday night visit.

Basically folks, it breaks down like this- great beef flavor, which obviously is key, but a severe lack of seasoning on the patty itself. Perhaps that is why they had huge cylinders of Morton’s salt on every table. Oddly enough, the only other time I ate at Nationwide was probably 10 or 12 years ago and to my recollection the burger tasted great, except that it was very salty. Egad! Is there a happy medium here? As for the accoutrements, the steak fries didn’t go over well for us either. They were Flintstone size french fries and again, under seasoned, and just flat out dry. The only way to get any reprieve from the dryness was to blanch (oh yes, I said blanch) them in ketchup. Besides the fantastically fresh beef flavor of the burgers, the onion rings were thick, crispy deliciousness and the only item that sort of redeemed the meal. Curiously, the kitchen showed deft touch with these beauties and salted them perfectly.

I haven’t written off the heralded burger spot just yet. If anything, this is a casual review at best (more of a blurb really). One can hardly assess the merits of a restaurant fairly based on two isolated dining experiences. Given their reputation as a Sacramento shrine to all things beef, Nationwide deserves another shot or two. And I’m willing to give them another try. Let’s just hope they bust out the salt next time.