A Wino’s Guide to Well-Priced Reds & Whites that Won’t Make You Blue

We Olive, La Jolla CA

Celebrating with wino friends Patti and Lisa. With a backdrop of La Jolla Cove, who could possibly resist? Cheers!

As a writer (or the nouveau moniker … content creator???), I seemingly have a relentless case of writer’s block. Hmmm … would that now be considered content creator’s block? Whatever the politically correct term, I once AGAIN found myself staring at a blank page on my computer screen, rummaging through my brain for “fresh, engaging” material. Then came the “AHA” moment … “Oh that’s right – I’m a wino! I can write about a few of my favorite vintages!” (See previous post on Lodi’s vineyards.) I may even toss in a few recipes for pairing with my top wine picks. Let’s be clear; this post is not going to contain musings on a $1,500.00 bottle of the 2011 Screaming Eagle cab or any such thing. First of all, I don’t have the moola to spend on such a lofty-priced bottle of vino. Second of all, if I did have the moola, I wouldn’t buy $1,500.00 bottles of vino. Period. The wines listed in this article are affordable, consistently delicious vintages which are readily available, and that I can uncork on any given day without experiencing a bout of buyer’s … or drinker’s … remorse.

La Crema, Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Estate, Raymond and Frei Brothers Chardonnay are all well-priced at under $20.00/bottle

La Crema, Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Estate, Raymond and Frei Brothers Chardonnays are delicious and well-priced at under $20.00/bottle

Speaking of great wine and budget-friendly prices, I thoroughly enjoy reading comments and wine buying advice by Jon Thorsen, a fellow tweeter, ‘content creator’ and Reverse Wine Snob who is intent on “finding great grape without breaking the bank”. Visit him at http://www.reversewinesnob.com or follow him on Twitter, @ReverseWineSnob, for consistently good bargains on great vintages. Now, back to my own bank account preserving selections:

CHARDONNAY

#1: La Crema Chardonnay-Sonoma Coast. Rich, buttery, toasted oak and citrus fruit makes this one helluva big and full-flavored chardonnay. (Their Russian River Valley chard is no slouch either, but you’ll be investing a few more dollars to drink that one). La Crema tastes great with my version of linguini in a light homemade basil pesto cream sauce, topped with grilled prawns and shaved parmesan. Plan on shelling out a whopping $14.00 for La Crema’s Sonoma Coast wine. Being that this vintage is ALWAYS good and consistent, the price tag makes it an incredible bargain. http://lacrema.com.

#2: Rodney Strong Estate Chalk Hill Chardonnay. Another full-flavored chardonnay prepared using malolactic fermentation, thus producing a very impressive flavor balance of fruit (lemon and apple) butter, vanilla and spice. In summary: deliciously toasty, creamy AND crisp! Rodney Strong Vineyards Chalk Hill Chardonnay is great with entree salads or a fresh piece of flaky white fish such as halibut or sea bass. Approximately $17.00 per bottle. http://rodneystrong.com

#3: Landmark Overlook Chardonnay. Fruitier than the first two on this list, Overlook Chardonnay from Landmark Vineyards contains flavors of peach, nectarine, lemon and a hint of oak. It also to has nice acidic structure allowing a long finish on the palate. Pork medallions in mustard-creme sauce (recipe below) pair splendidly with the fruity and balanced Landmark. If you can find Landmark Overlook Chardonnay at your local Costco, you’ll save $4.00 or $5.00 per bottle from BevMo’s $22.50 price tag. http://landmarkwine.com

Raymond Chardonnay

Fresh shrimp ceviche and Raymond’s Napa Valley Chardonnay

#4: Raymond Chardonnay. Yet another rich and balanced chardonnay that won’t break the bank. Raymond tends to have a very balanced toasted oak, butter and fruit flavor mid-palate, and a crisp apple/pear flavor on the finish. Try the Raymond Chardonnay with fresh, spicy shrimp ceviche and a squeeze of fresh lime atop guacamole on a crisp corn tostada. I assure you, it’s amazing! This chardonnay from Raymond Vineyards is consistently delicious and excellently-priced at $15.00-$20.00 per bottle. http://raymondvineyards.com

#5: Frei Brothers Chardonnay. I don’t recall ever tasting a Russian River Chardonnay I didn’t love. Naturally, that makes me a big fan of the Reserve Chardonnay from Frei Brothers Winery. Butter, nutty flavors of toast, apple and orange zest combine for a silky smooth palate pleaser. Fire up the grill and throw down some seasoned chicken thighs. Sauté broccoli florets in olive oil over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until they begin to crisp on the outside edges. Thinly slice a few cloves of FRESH garlic and add them at the finish. Sprinkle red pepper flakes on the broccoli, serve with the grilled chicken and a bottle of Frei Brothers Reserve chard. Voila! It can be purchased for around $15.00-$18.00 per bottle. http://freibrothers.com

CABERNET SAUVIGNON & ZINFANDEL

#1: Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon. My wino friend Cheryl and I are HUGE fans of the bold fruit, buttery flavor and texture found in every bottle of Rodney Strong Cabernet. Honestly, we’ve both opened bottles which taste remarkably similar to our all-time favorite, Silver Oak Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (also remarkably priced at around $100.00/bottle at BevMo). Thankfully, Rodney Strong’s Sonoma County cab is much more affordable at $15.00-$18.00/bottle. Think lasagne bolognese, creamy caesar salad and a hunk of cheesy garlic bread while enjoying a “Rodney Cab”. (Just don’t weigh in after that meal!) http://rodneystrong.com

Opolo Vineyards Zinfandel

Opolo Vineyards’ Sonoma Creek Zin-bold spice, great Costco price

#2: Opolo Vineyards Mountain Zinfandel. Thankfully, Paso Robles’ Opolo Vineyards wines are appearing on more shelves because these folks know winemaking. Case in point: Opolo’s Mountain Zinfandel is flat-out decadent! Raspberry jam, pomegranate, figs and cranberries with nuances of butterscotch are absolutely splendid in this multi-award winning zin. Cayenne pepper and cinnamon spice make for a truly memorable finish on my palate. Bevmo members can pick the Mountain Zin up for around $25.00. Their Sonoma Creek Zin is also big on flavor and short on price ($15.00 at Costco). These are definitely wines to stock for autumn and winter when braised short ribs, rack of lamb and slow-cooked goodness is on the menu! http://opolo.com

#3: Kendall Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon. Black cherry and dark berry fruit, cedar, rich tannins and a mocha-flavored finish make Kendall Jackson’s well made and well-priced Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet an easy drinking wine. Fire up that grill again and cook a bone-in rib-eye steak to medium-rare-plus. Slice vine-ripe tomatoes, seasoning each slice with a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Layer them alternately with a slice of fresh mozzarella; top with torn strips of fresh basil and a drizzle of syrupy balsamic vinegar (my preference is Aged Balsamic Vinegar from We Olive). Now enjoy your summer feast with a pour of the Vintner’s Reserve Cab from Kendall Jackson Wine Estates. That grilled rib-eye may break the bank but your choice of wine will not … BevMo prices KJ’s Cab around $18.00/bottle. http://www.kj.com

(Sidebar: Kendall Jackson’s Chardonnay, at around $15.00/bottle, is also a palate pleaser. With hints of tropical fruit, vanilla, honey and toasted oak, KJ’s chardonnay would line up splendidly with a Key Lime Grilled Shrimp recipe I recently discovered at My Plate, My Worldhttp://myplatemyworld.blogspot.com/2008/03/tropical-key-lime-grilled-shrimp-with.html)

Daou Vineyards 2012 Cabernet

Daou Vineyards 2012 Cabernet

#4: Daou Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, please … here’s a Paso Robles winery that my “wino friend” Cheryl and I adore! Dark berry fruit, vanilla, espresso, tobacco and pepper spice make the Daou cabernet one bold baby. This wine pairs splendidly with prime rib, grilled steak or chops, pasta with marinara or bolognese. At Costco’s $21.00 price tag, it’s a bargain for sure! http://www.daouvineyards.com

#5. Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon. As I see it, the Alexander Valley is to Cabernet what the Russian River Valley is to Chardonnay … superb! And so, Frei Brothers Alexander Valley Cabernet is naturally … superb. Crushed berries, firm tannins, cedar and tobacco blend harmoniously with grapes grown in the valley’s cooler climates. I will drink this vintage with just about any meal. From grilled salmon to “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink gooey cheeseburgers” to stuffed leg of lamb, it just tastes great with all types of food. Frei Brothers Alexander Valley Cab drinks more like a $50.00 Cab, but thankfully it’s priced at $20.00/bottle. http://freibrothers.com

Pork Medallions with Dijon Cream Sauce

Pork Medallions with Dijon Cream Sauce and a glass of Landmark Overlook Chardonnay

Pork Medallions With Dijon Cream Sauce

(Serves 4)

Adapted from the Houston Junior League Cookbook

  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 5 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup whipping cream (can also use half & half) 
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard 
  • 1/4 cup Capers, rinsed and patted dry 

Cut tenderloin crosswise into 1/2” thick pieces. Pound between sheets of waxed paper to a thickness of 1/4”. Combine flour and pepper in a shallow dish. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge pork in flour, shake off excess. Add 1/3 of pork medallions to skillet and sauté until brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining pork in 2 batches, adding 1 Tbsp. butter for each batch. Remove cooked medallions to a warmed platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Add green onions to skillet and sauté just until tender, about 1 minute. Stir in white wine and boil until liquid is reduced to 2 Tbsp., about 3 minutes. Add whipping cream and simmer until thickened. Whisk in Dijon mustard. Spoon sauce over pork, then top with a sprinkle of capers. Serve with with a salad of mixed baby greens and Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay.

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