Norton Malbec, Medoza Argentina

Tasting Notes: Black fruit, tobacco, chocolate, spice, and violets, plum, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco.

Pairings: Korean barbeque (kalbi, kalbi, and more kalbi), blue and Taleggio cheeses, chocolate, teriyaki beef.

Price (approximately): $14

Producer: Bodega Norton

Region: Mendoza, Argenina

Grape(s): Malbec

Buy: Costco


My Musings:

A perennial value wine from a value region! Some Old World wonks may scoff at South American wines, but they have been producing wine for a LONG time, and down in this hemisphere Malbec finds its home away from home.

Bodegas Norton has developed a reputation in Argentina and beyond for consistently high-quality, value wines. The wine’s beautiful dark purple color is the first inviting characteristic, soon followed by expressive aromas of black fruit, tobacco, chocolate, spice, and violets. On the palate, a velvety body showcases a black fruit profile with accents of plum, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco. Fruit-forward, concentrated with medium tannins and a long, smooth finish. A wonderfully-produced wine at an exceptional price. Costco annually stocks this particular wine for around $15. At this bargain price, enjoy with regularity.

Native to France, the Malbec varietal has traditionally played a supporting role in the prestigious Bordeaux blends. In the high elevation vineyards of the Andes Mountain Range, however, Malbec has found its vinous second home. Here, Malbec is king. Its success raises the question of what sets this region apart as a preeminent location for Malbec and other varietals?

Planted in some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world, one may ponder the possibility of venturing too close to the sun. Icarus would be inclined to answer in the affirmative, but grapes at these high altitudes have adapted to the unique climate and increased ultraviolet exposure by developing thicker skins and deeper pigmentation. This translates to a greater concentration of pigments, tannins and phenolic compounds. In other words, elevation helps to produce tasty grapes. Discerning viticulturists facilitate the process with canopy management practices that can provide optimal protection from ultraviolet radiation and strong winds.

Some aspects of the weather in these high altitudes can be unpredictable, but one can consistently rely upon a cool, dry wind, plenty of sunshine and minimal risk of disease. This combination contributes to a long growing season and significant crop yields.  Grapes have plenty of sunshine and time to ripen a their leisure. 

The warm, sunny days quickly give way to cool, brisk evenings. This diurnal temperature variation is a key to this region’s productivity. Temperatures drop sufficiently at night to permit grapes to ripen slowly, preserve acidity, and develop deep, rich flavors.

The high elevations of Mendoza afford unique conditions, climate and terroir. Winemakers are harnessing these attributes to create balanced, complex and delicious wines at bargain prices. Bodegas Norton is a consistent and splendid example, but there is value in every corner waiting to be uncovered... 

2015 Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel

Year: 2015

Producer: Dry Creek Vineyard

Region: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California

Grape(s): Zinfandel (79%), Petite Sirah (20%), Carignane (1%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Spice, Pepper, Vanilla

Pairings: Christmas dinner!

Price (approximately): $17


My Musings:

Christmas dinner is approaching and you need a bargain wine for the holiday table. Food friendly and fruit-forward with some spice reminiscent of the season, Zinfandel plays the role extraordinarily well.

This wine, from Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County, has a bright bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and cherry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, black pepper, vanilla and licorice. Well balanced with bright acidity, this wine would be an excellent addition to the holiday table.

In Dry Creek Valley AVA, Zinfandel is king. Although the appellation was established relatively recently in 1983, its viticultural origins extend back nearly 150 years. After the California Gold Rush, European immigrants, in search of farmland, were lured to Dry Creek for its rich and fertile soils. Well-drained alluvial gravel and sandy loam soils on the valley floor were also a good match for vineyards, and consequently there were nearly a thousand acres planted and nine wineries by the 1880s. Today, the remnants from this vinous tradition are still visible, with vineyards proudly touting gnarled Zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old. Want to find terrific value, old vine Zinfandel? Look no further than Dry Creek.

Happy holidays!

2015 Michael David Petite Petit

Year: 2015

Producer: Michael David Winery

Region: Lodi, California

Grape(s): Petite Sirah (85%), Petit Verdot (15%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, black cherry, plum, vanilla, clove, smokiness, spice

Pairings: Red meat over an open flame (steak, lamb, hamburgers)! Braised short ribs, smoked and cured meats, aged and strong cheeses

Price (approximately): $15


My Musings:

Winter is here, and you need a wine to match and keep warm during the cold months ahead. A big, bold red wine is just the thing, and this wine delivers. The wine was dense, full-bodied and fruit-forward, with black fruit aromas of flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plum leading the way. There was plenty more than just ripe fruit, however. The oak aging shines through with cedar, vanilla and spices (clove). The tannins were textured and firm, coupled with medium acidity. Pleasant hints of licorice, pepper and smoke linger in a long, dry finish. The wine was definitely fruit-forward, in the typical Michael David fashion, but there was plenty more on the palate to maintain intrigue. At around $15 a bottle, it won’t break the bank, either.

The wine is not terribly difficult to find, available locally at Costco and Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors. 

Lodi is a little-known American Viticultural Area (AVA) with a lot of wine history, at least by American standards. Located between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, and the wetlands of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta to the west, the region’s climate and terroir demonstrated to its early residents an efficacious agricultural haven. By the 1880s, European immigrants had settled in and planted Zinfandel and other varietals along the banks of the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers. Old-vine Zinfandel is well-established as Lodi’s traditional strength. However, grape varietals are plentiful in this region, and the regional winemakers are always in search for the most ideal varietals to match Lodi's terroir and climate.

The rivers running through Lodi are responsible for granitic alluvial soils that are washed down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Cool maritime breezes from San Francisco Bay, most often cut off from inland appellations, reach Lodi and cool its vineyards through a gap in the Coast Ranges. These two characteristics set Lodi apart in the region as an AVA with significant potential.

If you find yourself Stuck in Lodi again, drop by Michael David Winery and drink the time away. You won’t be disappointed.


2014 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel

Musings by the Glass - Bargain Wines - Peachy Canyon Westside 2014 Zinfandel

Year: 2014

Producer: Peachy Canyon, Westside

Region: Paso Robles, Central Coast, California

Grape(s): Zinfandel

Alcohol: 14.8%

Body: Medium-Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, vanilla, white pepper, baking spice

Pairings: Venison, brisket, Mongolian Beef, Korean Barbecue (Kalbi), aged cheeses

Price (approximately): $14


My Musings:

A classic expression of Zinfandel at a bargain price. A wonderful, deep ruby color gave way to expressive aromas of ripe red fruit (strawberry, cherry and raspberry) with sweet tobacco, vanilla and baking spice. White pepper notes lingered in the nose. On the palate, ripe fruit of strawberry, blackberry and raspberry jam dominate in a fruit-forward wine, but accented nicely with sweet tobacco, vanilla and spice (allspice, nutmeg, clove).  When the bottle was first opened, white pepper was rather dominant on the nose and palate, but this mellowed over time. Medium, soft tannins provided structure and the persistent spice pleasantly balanced the palate.

This would pair excellently with most red meat, especially venison or a brisket. Grilled preparations in particular would accentuate the smoky tobacco and spice. For pasta, red sauce would hold up nicely, perhaps a lasagna or meat lover's pizza with sausage. For Asian inspiration, look to Korean barbecue (Kalbi!), Mongolian Beef, and the classic Chinese stir fry of beef and broccoli.


NV Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut

Year: NV

Producer: Kirkland Signature

Region: Champagne, France

Grape(s): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier

Alcohol: 12%

Body: Light-Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Green Apple, Minerals, Lemon

Pairings: Seafood (Oysters!), Tako Poke, Brie or Soft Goat Cheese, Fruity Dessert Crepes, Fruit Tarts, Acai Bowl

Price (approximately): $20


My Musings:

This one is a little tough to wholeheartedly recommend. True to Kirkland form, the wine is not a magnificent specimen of its home appellation. It is also $20 in a region that is rarely accessed for less than $40.

On the nose and palate, green apple, apple and more apple in a rather one-dimensional offering. The finish provides a little more structure with citrus (lemon), pleasant minerality and a subtle, toasty richness.  Delicate, persistent effervescence makes for an enjoyable experience on the palate, and a beautiful presentation in the flute.

Would I recommend? Conditionally, yes. Champagne is world famous for providing a complex sparkling wine balancing ripe fruit, minerality, and citrus, with bright acidity to add freshness to the palate. It is simply tremendous when done well, and the best the sparkling world has to offer. If you have not experienced this region, and want to give it a try at a cheaper price point, then this would be worth picking up. Two things to keep in mind. First, the Kirkland label has some signature characteristics of Champagne, but does not afford the complexity of flavor that distinguishes the region. If that is what you seek, best to expend in the extra cash for a notable producer. Second, you likely won't find a good Champagne for less than $40. That is the price to pay for excellent bubbles.

If you are simply looking for tasty, good value sparkling wine, there are other and better options available. At $20 or less, it might be time to explore Cava from the Catalan region of Spain, or Prosecco and Lambrusco from Northern Italy, among others.




2012 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Viñas Viejas Garnacha

Year: 2012

Producer: Las Rocas de San Alejandro

Region: Calatayud, Spain

Grape(s): Garnacha

Alcohol: 15%

Body: Medium-Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Cherry, strawberry, cranberry, licorice

Pairings: Rabbit paella, Mongolian beef, grilled meats, ratatouille

Price (approximately): $16


My Musings:

Garnacha (Grenache in France) is often a blending grape for powerful red blends produced in prestigous regions such as France’s Châteauneuf-du-pape or Spain’s Rioja and Priorato. But it can shine on its own, and does so brilliantly in a few Spanish appellations, including Calatayud, where this wine originates.

For a 2012, the wine took longer than expected to open up, so decanting and a little patience is recommended. The nose is greeted with alluring aromas of red fruit (cherry, ripe strawberry and subtle dried cranberry) balanced with herbs, spice and licorice. The palate enjoys smoky and tobacco elements that blend harmoniously with the herbs and spices, while the red fruit still stands strong. A powerful wine with medium, firm tannins and a wonderful, long finish.

This wine has great pairing potential. The herbal and spice characteristics pair brilliantly with dishes containing similar herb and vegetable elements. For example, ratatouille or a winter vegetable gratin. Staying on a Spanish theme, try a hearty paella with rabbit and other gamey meats. If you are feeling a bit more exotic, Mongolian beef, and its sweet/savory Hoisin-based sauce, would be a great balance with the herbs and spices of the Garnacha. Finally, items on the grill pair nicely with the smoky elements of the wine and medium- to full-body, such as a burger or steak. To accent the spicy and herbal elements of the wine, toss on a few grilled mushrooms and herbs.