Experiments in Wine: A Bunch of Red Bottles

A variety of red wine options

Slowly but surely, I’m trying this and that, these and those, and figuring out what I really like.

Rex-Goliath Free Range Red ($8) – They have this at BOTH local grocery chains, so it must be really popular. But as far as red blends go, I found it to be a little bit too bitter for my tastes. Which is a shame, because the bottle has an awesome crazy story about a 47-pound rooster. (Though it wasn’t as awesome crazy as the label on anything made by Dr. Bronner.)

The Little Penguin Pinot Noir ($7) – Another sad disappointment. Not very fruity or juicy, just kind of bitter and harsh.

Yellow Tail Sweet Red Roo ($7) – This wasn’t a bad cheap sweet red, but for the same price I can get the Barefoot Sweet Red, which remains one of my top cheap sweet reds. This wine was like Disney’s California Adventure theme park — anywhere else, it’d be really awesome. But next to Disneyland, it just can’t compare.

Yosemite Road Red Blend ($4.99) – This is the house wine of 7-Eleven, people. They made it to compete with Trader Joe’s Three-Buck Chuck. I guess this stuff is $3.99 in every state except Florida, where we pay an extra dollar. Because reasons. Anyhoo, it was shockingly decent for being a five dollar bottle of wine. Not too sharp, plenty tasty with the fruit notes. I’ll be getting another bottle of this stuff (and I’ll be paying peanuts).

La Di Da Sweet Red Wine ($9) – I got both of the bottles on the right side at the same time, and I felt like a real froo-froo girl, what with all of the flowers and pretty colors on the labels. This was a pretty good red blend, and I just might get it again. After I get more of that 7-Eleven wine.

Petals Sweet Red Dornfelder ($10) – I was given the recommendation of German wines made from Dornfelder grapes, because I clearly lean toward the sweet and fruity wines. And holy balls, y’all, this stuff is good. It probably helps that it only has 9.5% alcohol (as opposed to the 11%-14% of a lot of table wines out there. There’s practically no bitterness, no dryness from tannins — it’s smooth as a baby’s bottom and soft as velvet. Really mild, really fruity, and really tasty. I’ll definitely be checking out more Dornfelders.

Experiments in Wine: Joining Club W

Onward I go, in my new red wine adventures. I was pointed toward a mail-order service called Club W, wherein you get three bottles of wine a month. You can either select your own, or they’ll pick three for you based on a palate profile. The normal cost is $13 per bottle, plus $6 shipping for the 3-bottle case, but if you click that link you’ll get one bottle free in your first order. Which is what I got, so with tax and all, it came out to just over $30 for my first shipment. (Sorry, international readers; at this time, Club W is USA-only.)

The first part of signing up is profiling your palate. The site gives you six questions, such as:

Club W - Palate Profile

You can see my selected answer. Coffee? Heck naw. The profiler also asks how you feel about salt, citrus, berries, earthy flavors (like mushrooms or truffles), and how adventurous you are in general. Then it offers you a selection of wines they feel will suit your palate.

I picked three of the recommended wines — a Pinot Noir, a red blend, and a Malbec. Club W does a pretty tight job of curating their wines, so you’re likely to only find one bottle in any given style. But that’s OK — there were two styles I knew I’d probably like, and I’ve heard good things about Malbecs. And since I got a bottle for free, I figured if I didn’t like the Malbec, that could be the free one. 🙂

The Club W site is very simple; perhaps a bit too simple for some. It took some figuring out (and a chat with support) to really understand how they do things; if you get promotional items for free (such as the free bottle when signing up with an affiliate link, like my one above) you get a number of credits in your account equal to the dollar value — so if you get a free bottle, you’ll get 13 credits in your account. Nowhere on the site does it state that a credit equals a dollar, and in this world of things like Xbox Points and such (What kind of exchange rate is 80 Xbox points to the dollar, anyway?) you never really know what a credit means.

Anyhoo, I got my 13 credits, placed my order, the credits were applied, and a week later my order shipped. All told, it took about two weeks to get the wine — I ordered on the 14th, my order shipped on the 20th, and it arrived on the 27th. It appears that they process orders twice a month, on the 1st and the 15th, so I just got in under the wire for the processing on the 15th. It takes a little longer because they ship climate-controlled, which is nice. I’ll take the longer ship time to avoid boiling my wine here in Florida.

If you need to skip a month, they make that easy. There’s a big “Skip a Month” button on your account page.

Onward, to the shipment and the wines!

Club W Wine Suitcase

My order arrived in a really nice box with a handle — easy-peasy to carry. There’s a huge sticker on the side that you need someone 21 or over to sign for the package; since we weren’t home, it was delivered to the office at our complex, so all was good. They’re all 21 there.

Club W Packaging

Everything was packed tightly and securely, in custom-molded cardboard. No bottles touched each other, and they were all a goodly distance from the outside of the box. You can see my three wines here — Score Red Blend, Loca Linda x Bluebird Malbec, and One Hope Pinot Noir. The One Hope also came with one of those rubbery support bracelets, for the ASPCA. (Half of the proceeds of One Hope go toward animal charities, which delights me.)

So, how were the wines? Well, let me tell you:

One Hope Pinot Noir (2011, California) – This was a really good Pinot Noir. Not quite as good as the MacMurray, but good enough to rate a close second. I’d definitely buy another bottle.

Had a little trouble getting the cork out of the One Hope, sadly. But I didn’t have to fish too many crumbs out of the bottle:

One Hope Cork

Loca Linda x Bluebird Malbec (2012, Argentina) – My first Malbec, and I really, really liked it. It was soft and fruity enough that I’d compare it more to the red blends. There’s only one glass left in the bottle right now as I write, and that makes me really sad. But now I know that there’s a whole new world of Malbec out there to try.

Score Red Blend (2011, California) – The Club W site advertises this one as “a jelly doughnut in a glass”. It isn’t the smoothest of all of the red blends I’ve tried, but it’s still pretty tasty. Maybe just a splash too heavy on the tannins, but totally drinkable — I’ll give it 4 stars on the Club W site.

Overall, I’m glad I joined, and I’ll be getting more wine from Club W. Although I may only go every other month, and then supplement with cheaper stuff from the grocery store or Total Wine in between. They have a lot of good things going for them — quality wines, the palate profiler, an easy ordering system, and really nice support people.

The cons? Well, the big rub is that you likely won’t be able to find the wines you like anywhere else. Now that I’m almost done with this bottle of Malbec, I’ve looked online to see where I can find it … and it’s just not available anywhere near me. It was a limited run. So you do run the chance of falling in love with a wine, then never being able to get it again. Although the other two wines from my box, One Hope and Score, are still available through Club W, so I could stock up on extra bottles of those.

Still, it’s free to sign up and poke around and take the palate profile, so why not head over and see what they’re all about?

Experiments in Wine: Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir wines

So the two varieties of red I’m trying are Pinot Noir and red blends. I covered red blends a couple of days ago, so here are the Pinot Noirs I’ve tried out. As always, your recommendations are welcome!

Ecco Domani: Got this one at the Target grocery store. It was decent, but uneventful. Not the best, not the worst, just somewhere in the drinkable-but-not-exceptional middle ground. $9.

A by Acacia: I got this at the Costco, so it was a bit better price than at other stores (Costco seems to excel at getting mid-level items at lower-then-usual prices). Like the Ecco Domani, it was good without being great. Not something I’d buy again, but I’d drink it if it were offered. $10.

Mark West: I’m baffled by the online reviews for this wine, because people seem to love it. Heck, at the Texas de Brazil (where they have tons of fancy wines), this is one of the two Pinot Noirs they sell by the glass. Which must mean that’s good, right? But it isn’t. For me, anyway, it was TERRIBLE. The flavor was bland, and the tannins so strong, it was like trying to drink paint thinner. Not that I’ve ever consumed paint thinner, but it sounds like it’d taste like Mark West. This was the first and only bottle that’s gone down the drain, because there was no possible way I could drink it. $10.

Cupcake: I wasn’t a huge fan of the Red Velvet red blend from Cupcake, but the Pinot Noir wasn’t bad. It was up there with the Ecco Domani as a good choice, but not fantastic. My biggest disappointment is that with a name like Cupcake, I’d expect a more fun label. $9.

Yellow Tail: These wines are all over the grocery stores, so you’d think they wouldn’t be very good. But for the price, this was a decent wine. Definitely way better than Mark West, but everything’s better than Mark West (including paint thinner). This was the first wine I got at the Target, and now I’m thinking I should get another. The brand also has two red blends (Sweet Red Roo and Big Bold Red) that I should try. Especially because the price is so right. (The one thing that puzzles me is that it’s a Pinot Noir, but it’s in the red blend bottle shape. Funky!) $6.

MacMurray Ranch (Central Coast): I get this from the Costco, and my fourth bottle is in the house right now. It’s the first Pinot Noir I bought on my own, and it’s still the high point to beat. Great flavor, not too dry, not harsh at all. I see that it’s $17 at the Total Wine, but the Costco price brings it down closer to the rest of the stuff I’ve been trying. And for those extra couple of bucks, it’s definitely worth upgrading. $12.

Experiments in Wine: Red Blends

red wine blends

As previously mentioned, I’m starting to experiment with red wines. The two styles I’m trying the most are Pinot Noir, and plain old red blends. It appears that for the most part, red blends are more mild, lower in tannins, more “juicy” and “fruity”, and generally easier to drink on their own.

As advised by some folks, I’ve acquired actual wine glasses (SVALKA glasses, from IKEA, which were 6 for $4.79) and a Vacu Vin wine saver set (this one came with 4 stoppers, all for ten bucks), which has proven handy at letting me have more than one bottle open at a time without any of them getting that tinge of vinegar.

So, here are my thoughts on six red wine blends:

Radius Red Blend: I got this at the Total Wine, on the recommendation of one of their wine know-it-alls. It’s from Washington, so how could I not give it a shot? It was decent, tasty, but a wee bit too sharp for me. Still, if it were the only wine offered, I’d take a glass. $10.

Sexy Wine Bomb: Got this at the same time as the Radius, and I liked it a little better. And no, not just because of the packaging. It was a little more fruity, a little less tanniny. A pretty good choice for me for the price. $10.

Fancy Pants Red Wine: I can’t find a good link on the internets for this wine, but that’s OK. I got it at Target (we have Target grocery stores down here in Florida, which blew my mind when we moved from Seattle), and it’s just not that great. I suppose some people like it, but it wasn’t as flavorful as other red blends, and had more of that sharp tangy sting of tannin. Quite a disappointment, since I dig the name. $9.

Barefoot Sweet Red: This wine is unlike any of the others. It’s almost more like a mix between wine and fruit punch. I have to wonder if this is kind of what sangria is like, since I’ve never had sangria. Anyway, it’s fairly decent and tasty, as long as you’re not looking for the specific taste of red wine. And for the price, it’s a great bottle of boozy fruit juice. What puzzles me the most is that it’s a clear glass bottle, not the green I’ve seen from everyone else. $6.

Cupcake Red Velvet: A number of friends recommended this one, so I grabbed a bottle. And I have to say, what a disappointment. Not terribly fruity, and I don’t get the chocolate notes they advertise on the label. Plus, there’s a really funky aftertaste, almost a plastic flavor. It’s hard to explain, and likewise hard to enjoy. I’m in the middle of the bottle right now, but the rest might eventually end up down the drain. $9.

Colby Red: I got this at Walgreen’s, which if you don’t have Walgreen’s, is a drug store chain. Yes, the drug stores in Florida have full liquor store attached. And what a surprise, it’s my favorite of the red blends so far. Nice and fruity, full of flavor, and practically none of that puckering dry feeling from tannins. It was a great balance for me, and I’m definitely getting another bottle. $13 ($10 with my Walgreen’s discount card).

In Vino Veritas

I’ve never been a wine drinker. Many times I’ve tried, and many times I’ve failed to enjoy it. But through the years, I’ve made it to the point where I can drink a glass of Champagne (or other non-Frenchy sparkling celebration wine) without trouble.

But still, wine eluded me.

That is, until we went to Texas de Brazil, our favorite churrascaria in the world, with a wine drinker. He ordered a bottle of red wine (I had no idea what variety) and offered me some. I decided, why not, I’ll try a splash.

AND IT WAS GREAT!

(This picture of my trip to the Texas de Brazil salad bar reminds me that Scott still has his birthday coupon for a free dinner. I think it expires in a week and a half. Which means we may have to go have a meat festival in the very near future.)

Maybe it was the combination of red wine with all of those delicious meaty foods. Or maybe it was just the right kind of red wine. Turns out it was an Oregon pinot noir from King Estates. And immediately, I was on the hunt for other (less pricey) red wines that I might enjoy.

I’ve tried a number of things so far, and pinot noir is definitely one of the styles that’s up my alley. I’ve tried bolder wine, but can’t handle the tannins (which has always been my problem in the past) — that sharp bite that makes my tongue want to curl up and die, and makes my mouth suddenly feel dry as a desert.

I visited our local Total Wine superstore, where they also pointed me toward a variety of red wine blends. They’re meant to be lighter, fruitier, “juicier” (as the lady at Total Wine said, which is kind of disturbing), and generally meant for casual drinking without having to pair them with any particular food.

So far, my favorite is from Costco — the MacMurray Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir, 2010. (That’s MacMurray as in Fred MacMurray, actor from days of yore.) But I also enjoyed Sexy Wine Bomb, one of the red blends. I’m in the middle of Ecco Domani’s pinot noir right now, and have blends from Barefoot and Fancy Pants (as well as a fresh bottle of Fred MacMurray) waiting in the wings. I got the Fancy Pants pretty much for the name, although the description on the back sounds good.

It’s cheaper for me than even cheap beer (and I like the cheap beer) — I can make a $10 bottle last two weeks, because I only have a half-glass or so at a time. And since our room temperature here is usually 76 to 78, and red is apparently meant to be consumed at cellar temperature (more in the 58-65 range), I drop in a couple of those plastic reusable ice cubes and it chills perfectly.

(I still haven’t bought wineglasses, and I doubt I’m going to. I just use our regular glassware (Old Fashioned size) from IKEA. I believe the product name is GODIS.)

So let me know, one and all — any red wines to recommend? Especially if they clock in at under ten bucks.