Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crios by Susana Balbo

Ok, so the first two wines I review are made by Susana Balbo. I have several more of hers stocked up so you may see a lot of her wines reviewed in the coming weeks.

2005 Syrah-Bonarda

The Crios label is on that was created for the wines that didn't "make the cut" to be used under Susana Balbo's namesake label. My very brief experience with them, however, indicates that these wines arent lacking in any way, even as compared to their more expensive bretheren.

The Syrah-Bonarda ($14) is a 50/50 blend of the aforementioned grapes. Aged 9 months in 50% French and 50% American oak, this wine drinks very smoothly at 13.5% alcohol. One thing you'll notice with me is that I am very turned off by wines that are overly alchoholic. I think the alchohol maskes the nose and completely kills the flavor of the wine. Im sorry Parker, but that's just how I roll. Speaking of Parker, this wine came in at 89 points in the Wine Advocate (reviewed by Jay Miller) and carries an 86.9 average on CellarTracker.

Right out of the bottle this wine had a nose of luscious dark fruit with just a twinge of pepper. Just enough to make your nose hairs tingle a lttle bit. No wave of alcohol, which isnt surprising because I havent had a Susana Balbo wine yet that did. You could definitely tell the mix of the very juicy and plum-my aspects of the Bonarda with the spice of the Syrah. I enjoyed the nose quite a bit.

We let this wine decant for about an hour and that seemed about right. When we drank the wine it wasnt at all tight and was certainly showing us everything it had. To me, the wine tasted exactly as it smelled. Dark fruits with spice. Very juicy initially with the spice coming on the mid palate and the finish. It was almost like it lead with the Bonarda and finished with the Syrah. The finish was bitter, however, it was exactly the dry/bitter feeling you get when you drink Cranberry juice. Not the sugared up cocktail but the actual juice. This killed the wine for my wife who enjoys Bonardas for their juiciness from start to finish. It didnt bother me so much but I wouldnt say that it helped the wine. This is exactly why my wife doesnt like syrah (well, Aussie syrah as we havent tried any others), she doesnt dig the peppery-dry finish.

At $14 I dont think I'll buy this wine again. I'm not sure the 50/50 blend works for me. I think I prefer straight Bonarda or straight Syrah. And at the price, I'd rather pay $8 for the Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda all day. Id say Jay Miller is a little high on this wine and Cellar Tracker is more spot on. This wont dissuade me from buying Susana Balbo, however, just maybe not this one...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesday Links

As promised, here a some links to a few articles I've enjoyed recently:

From Good Wine Under $20:
Dr. Debs enjoys Jeff from Good Grape's domaine547 blogger pack "A trip to Alsace via Oregon" and tries a few wines from the Brooks Winery in Oregon. Quite a compelling story and the wines sound intriguing as well. Its times like this that I curse Michigan law.

From Fermentation:

Tom writes about a distributor merger in Illinois that is more than a little disconcerting to those of use who dont think State sponsored monopolies are good for consumers. Of course, its hard to believe that anyone would think they are good, except of course the companies and the legislators on their payroll...

Finally, From Dr. Vino:

Here is more in the Jefferson Wine bottles drama. To those of you who havent been following this story (and I doubt there are any reading this blog who arent), here is the latest installment:

Cant wait to see it on the big screen!!

Check out the new section on the side regarding "soon to come" posts.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Argentina Cabernet Sauvignon

Here we go!! Im ready to do my first review. What you'll see with this review is something you will likely see with several reviews forthcoming, its a wine from Argentina. Why am I drinking so much Argentine wine right now? Simple. It goes with my overall theme, great wines for great value. I dabbled in some Malbec right off the bat because I liked the sounds of the tasting notes I was reading and Gary V did a great show on Malbec that really piqued my interest. Although this particular wine isnt a Malbec, I've tasted several Malbecs recently and you're likely to see a couple reviewed on here, soon.

On to the review.

So, I've been reading a ton about Argentina and one of the things I've seen alot is how their Cabernet Sauvignon is up and coming and showing a lot of value for those who like California Cab but cant afford it (i.e. me). So I decided to try the 2005 BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon from Dominio Del Plata winery in Mendoza. The reason why I chose this wine is simply because I enjoyed the 2005 BenMarco Malbec (10% Bonarda) and I've enjoyed every wine I've tasted from Susana Balbo so I figured, if nothing else, I was guaranteed an "okay" wine. If you're into Susana Balbo wines like I am, just about everything from Dominio Del Plata is imported by Vine Connections out of California, Im sure you could contact them and see which stores in your area are carrying these wonderful wines.

You'll notice the label pictured is from the 2003 vintage, its the only one I could find and Im not tech-savvy enough to get a picture of the bottle onto this blog (i'm working on it).
This particular Cab is 90% Cab and 10% Malbec. It is aged 10 months in 50% French Oak and 50% American Oak and has 14% alcohol. For what its worth, it was rated 88 points by Wine Spectator and 90 points by Jay Miller from Wine Advocate. So, at $20, assuming it lives up to its ratings, it can be considered an excellent value.

Everytime I drink a wine at home I usually go about tasting in this fashion:
  1. Pop and pour a small amount to taste. This way I get the immediate out of the bottle nose and flavor so I can compare it to how it tastes after decanting.
  2. I will let it decant for 2-3 hours, usually tasting along the way every 45 minutes or so to see how the wine evolves.
  3. If I dont finish the bottle that night, I will usually let some of it continue to decant over night and if there is any left, let some sit in the bottle overnight as well.

I find that doing this usually lets me see how the wine evolves and how long it takes to break down so if I like it, I can gauge how long I could cellar it for.

My immediate reaction to this wine on the p&p was "tight." The nose wasn't really giving me anything. A little bit of dark fruit and cassis with some spice but not enough that this inexperienced "sniffer" could identify. Similarly on the taste. There was a little heat but it wasnt harsh, it drank very smoothly but didnt give much flavor out of the bottle.

After a few hours of decanting it began (emphasis on began) to open up. The heat was still there a little bit but it wasnt out of balance. The tannins were still tight but the wine was very smooth and drinkable. The flavors I got from it were black currant, blackberry and spice. It wasnt just a black pepper spice, the flavor I was getting was like a mix of cinnamon, paprika and pepper. It was almost like what you taste when you buy one of those spice rubs for pork ribs, if that makes any sense. It wasnt straight black pepper or Lawry's but more like a mix of spices that reminded me of one of those tin cans of Williams and Sonoma rib rubs. The nose and taste were still tight though and I didnt feel like this wine was giving me everything it had. I liked it and thats probably why I was frustrated that it wouldnt open up for me.

Here is the thing that I found most important, it was good. I enjoyed it. I wanted more from this wine that I felt it could deliver, just not now. I had a little left over and I let it decant over night and the wine opened more from the small taste I had this morning. I felt this wine had everything that the $60 California Cabs (that I have tasted at our local wine shop tastings) have, only for 1/3rd the price. Was I in love with this wine? No. To me, it wasnt as good as the BenMarco 2005 Malbec but maybe I just like Malbec better than Cab. I am certainly going to buy a couple more bottles of this and lay them down until my Labor Day barbeque. I think it will go great with barbeque ribs, chicken, etc. but I think it needs more time before it is willing to open up. Wine Advocate said this wine could be cellared for up to 6 years. I'll give it 6 months before I try it again and maybe I'll keep the other ones I buy for a few years (depending on how good it tastes in 6 months!!).

Overall, good wine. At $20 it is pushing the envelope on price to value but I'll grab a few more bottles and see how it develops. It is still a LOT cheaper than California Cab, so if you are a Cab lover (especially if you like the Bordeaux-esqe blend that includes Malbec) this is definitely worth a try.


Im going to start including a links post every few days with links to various blogs/articles I've read that I've found of interest. Also, I'm going to continue my research on Argentina because I think their wines hold a lot of value and will continue (b/c their currency isnt as crazy against the dollar as others) so expect to see more reviews of Argentine wines. Specifically, I've got two more wines from Susana Balbo I'll be drinking this week, as well as a wine that my wife and I love for a go to "everyday wine."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


This is the first post, hopefully of many, on The Budget Cellar.  What is the Budget Cellar?  It is a goal, it is an end result and it is a focus.  No, this is not some cheap rip on Dr. Debs's Good Wine Under $20 blog.  I do not bring to the table the experience, depth or knowledge that she does. I've been drinking wine for 3 months.  Actually, I've been drinking wine for 8 years (legally) but I didn't purchase my first Wine Spectator or read my first wine blog until 3 months ago.  That's when I consider this wine journey to have started.  I have one man to credit for this and that is Gary Vaynerchuk.  Love him or hate him, he has been an inspiration and a teacher for me in my very young wine life.

Back to the question at hand, what is The Budget Cellar?  The Budget Cellar is a blog that has been created to journal, document, record, etc. my odyssey in the wine world.  A large part of this exercise is to help me organize my thoughts, feelings and tastes on everything wine, and, occasionally everything epicurean.  I've never been one for organization and The Budget Cellar is my opportunity to keep track of what I am doing; whether it is tasting notes, exploring new regions and terroirs or just writing down what I am learning about myself with respect to wine.

I mentioned above that The Budget Cellar is a goal.  I am not a man of significant means and if I spend more than $20-$25 of a bottle of wine, it better blow me away.  My goal is to build a cellar of amazing wines that fit into my budget and presumably, the budget of many people out there.  The most important factor for me will be how I think the wine tastes.  When selecting wines or writing reviews I will often reference the experts (Wine Spectator, Parker (and his clan), Gary Vaynerchuk, etc.).  I am not, however, a slave to those ratings and they will not be an influence on how I feel about the wine.  I will use their tasting notes to guide my purchases whether it be to encourage me to buy something because GV didn't like it and I did or to dissuade me because I didn't think Wine Spectator's tasting notes sounded appealing to my palate.  A palate, by the way, which is very immature but hopefully evolving and becoming more sophisticated over time.

Above all, this journey will help me become an expert in my own right.  An expert in which varietals, vineyards, etc. that I like, which I hate and which I think are good but are too expensive for my cellar.  Will I make mistakes?  Probably several.  Will I recommend and buy a case of wine that I end up hating 6 months or a year later?  Probably.  But, that is part of the journey and I'll be glad to have learned from the experience.  I hope that my experiences and my thoughts will help you learn a little something too.