Final Thoughts

This will be my final post, so it’s a doozy. Scroll all the way down the page to see each portion.

Touring Bronco Wine Co.

I got the chance to see where Charles Shaw is bottled and shipped from in Napa. Here are the highlights:

Fred Franzia is a simple man. He drives from his home in the Central Valley to Napa in an old truck with a ton of miles. He calls his workers a “hell of an asset”. He has delivered more than 500 million CASES of two buck chuck through one distribution channel, Trader Joe’s.
Continue reading

Review: Octavin – Monthaven Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet

Octavin Package with Monthaven WineWould you drink from a plastic bag? What if a piece of cardboard with pretty lettering was wrapped around it? Most people would answer no, but guess what? If you have ever purchased a fountain soda, you’ve done just that. That syrup concoction that gets mixed with carbonation just before being pumped out of a pretty plastic dispenser is a cheap and efficient way to hide the original packaging and deliver a product people pay for. Now what about in the wine world? Continue reading

Winexpression to Close

I must fly away to another flowerAfter almost 8 years, I have decided that my Wine Blogging journey has come to an end. Thanks to all the readers, PR staff, and fellow wine bloggers that supported me through this journey. I have a few posts to finish up and will explain a bit more, but basically this forum has run it’s course in my life and I am ready to move on. I have valued the feedback I have received and thank you all for your support. Stay tuned for a few more posts with the most valuable wine lessons I’ve learned, tips for wine bloggers, and some final reviews and notes from recent tastings I have attended.



Review: Milagro Reposado and 1800 Select Silver 100 proof

What makes for a delicious tequila? Is it the complexity, smoothness, or its mix-ability? Certainly all of these are factors, and a well crafted example will excel in these areas. But is there something more? Does the taste take you away, perhaps connecting you with a cherished memory? Is the lingering flavor on your tongue something you want to return to? This is the goal of every drink manufacturer, to harness your neural senses and begin brand loyalty.

Personally, I feel that tequila can have a place amongst the single malts and Cognacs of the world. Who would think that a lowly cactus from a humble country could produce a high quality spirit? It is possible, and some brands hit these high marks. I was recently sent a couple different tequilas, let’s see how they fare. Continue reading

Review – Bin 36 Wine from Chicago Restaurant/Wine Bar

Bin 36 - First Wine Release

Bin 36, an acclaimed Chicago Restaurant, Wine Bar, and Market, has done what a lot of Restaurants do: offer a wine with their name on it that is produced by an established winery (in this case Hahn Estates from the Central Coast of California). It’s good marketing, and importantly, a good way to control the quality and pricing of some of the wines on the list.

But are these wines any good? I was sent the latest release line up so let’s find out.

2009 Bin 36 Sauvignon Blanc – Dry Creek Valley, CA
ABV: 13.9%
Price: $16
Notes: The nose isn’t quite all there for me but perhaps it will open up with a little air. The palate offers bright and crisp flavors of green apple and lemon peel. Good acid with a fresh citrus finish.
Score: 86pts (B)

2007 Bin 36 Pinot Noir – Monterey, CA
ABV: 14.5%
Price: $26
Notes: This Pinot is beautiful in color and offers earthy aromas like mushroom, mineral, and a touch of cherry. Well balanced on the tongue with a light to medium bodied weight. A nice clean finish.
Score: 88pts (B+)

2006 Bin 36 Zinfandel – California
ABV: 14.2%
Price: $16
Notes: This is a very nice all around wine with good blackberry and blueberry aromas with a touch of tar that lead into a medium bodied mouth feel with a very nice finish. Food friendly and well done.
Score: 90pts (A-)

2007 Bin 36 Cabernet Sauvignon – California
ABV: 14.5%
Price: $16
Notes: This is a nice well rounded cab with a nose that is full of fresh summer berries, plum, and a touch of mint. Leads into a nice taste on the palate that is full bodied with chewy tannins on the finish.
Score: 88pts (B+)

All these wines are well made and show the fine reputation that Hahn has made for itself over the years. I like the label design, it’s got some character. Try a bottle and let me know what you think.

Full disclosure: These wines were sent to me as press samples for review.

Ratings: Wily Jack’s Latest Releases

Wily Jack offers 3 Wines

Need a good wine to pair with dinner? Wiley Jack aims to fill those boots. The brand that launched less than a year ago by wine behemoth Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines offers three simple wines for only $8 each. An easy to make recipe is provided for each wine, and additiional recipes can be found on the Wily Jack website. The label is great and was designed by Michael Schwab.

Disclosure: These wines were sent to me as a press sample. Please find my tasting notes below.

2007 Wily Jack Cabernet Sauvignon

13.5% ABV
Notes: Raspberry and blackberry notes with firm tannins and a structured mouth-feel. Tons of fruit on the finish that lingers on your tongue.
Score: 88pts (B+)

Recipe: Grilled Steak with Porcini Red Wine Butter

Serves 4

  • 4 –  8 ounce sirloin or rib eye steaks
  • 2 tbsp EVOO (or Extra Virgin Olive Oil as my buddy Rachel Ray would say)

Porcini Red Wine Butter

  • 1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot (1 large shallot)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp minced flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Preparation Instructions

Place dried porcinis in a small strainer and briefly rinse under cold water. Transfer to a non-reactive pan with wine and shallots. Cook on low heat until wine is reduced to an almost syrup-like consistency. After mixture cools, place with butter, garlic and parsley in a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Cooking the Steaks

Preheat grill to medium high heat.  Lightly coat meat with oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill to your desired doneness, about 4 -5 minutes per side for medium rare. Serve with a spoonful of porcini-red wine butter sauce on top Pair with mashed or baked potatoes or oven baked French fries.

2007 Wily Jack Zinfandel

13.5% ABV
Notes: Somewhat hidden aroma with cherry and mineral notes on the palate. Medium to light bodied with a nice simple finish. A little tart but overall a nice effort.
Score: 84pts (B)

Recipe: Winemaker Jason Becker’s Rosemary Scented Tri-Tip

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons steak sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 5 to 10 cloves minced fresh garlic (to taste)
  • 1 beef tri-tip roast, about 4 pounds
  • salt and pepper

Preparation Instructions

Combine and whisk all marinade ingredients into a small bowl.
Trim fat off tri-tip roast; spread marinade evenly on all sides of roast.  Cover in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 4 to 24 hours.
Lightly season roast with salt and pepper, and grill on barbecue pit (preferably charcoal) over medium heat until your desired doneness, about 35 minutes for a tender and juicy medium.  Remove and let sit for 3-5 minutes before slicing.

2008 Wily Jack California Chardonnay

13.5% ABV
Notes: A very crisp and buttery chardonnay with green apple notes on your tongue. A smooth finish with a clean mouth feel.
Score: 86pts (B)

Recipe: Sautéed Salmon with Lemon-Ginger Wine Sauce

Serves 4

Lemon-Ginger Wine Sauce

  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 stick cold butter, cut in large cubes
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sautéed Salmon

  • 4 8-ounce salmon filets, boneless and skinless
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation Instructions

Sauce: In a non-reactive saucepan on medium heat, reduce the wine with the shallots, bay leaf and ginger until about ¼ cup of liquid remains. Reduce heat to low. Using a whisk, briskly stir in the butter one cube at a time and then strain through a fine mesh strainer into another small saucepan or sauce boat. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep in a warm area.

Salmon: Season the salmon filets with salt and pepper. Pour olive oil into a large sauté pan on high heat and lay the seasoned salmon filets skinned side up. Cook the salmon for 4 minutes on each side.

Ladle sauce over and around the salmon. Serve with steamed rice and vegetables.


Latest Relic Wines Release
Latest Relic Wines Release

It’s an interesting thing, chance. I met Mike from Relic wines while picking up an order from a different winery which shares the same production facility in St.Helena. He was looking through samples he opened to help a chef with pairing ideas for a dinner party that evening. He asked me if I would like to try them, to which I giddily replied yes, since they don’t offer these wines in the community tasting room. He grabbed a box, placed four half sampled bottles inside, and shook my hand: all for a guy who just poked his head in the cellar while his wife used the restroom. I didn’t even tell him I write a wine blog! So, as an addition to my verbal thank you, I figured I’d write my impressions of the wine for my friends to see. I have no idea how much these wines are, but from the look of the website, this is a mail order only type of Winery. If you are looking for a great small production Napa Valley wine, Relic would be an excellent choice.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rockledge Vineyard Napa Valley
15.1% abv
This is a very aromatic wine with notes of summer berries, cherry, and dust. A great mid palate with a well structured finish that exhibits gobs of fruit and big tannins.
Drink 2012 – 2020
92-94 pts. A

2007 Artifact Red Wine, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot. and Syrah blend.
15% abv
This deep ruby red wine has a fragrant nose of cherry and anise. Chewy tanins and a lingering finish leave you wanting another sip. Very Good.
Drink 2010-2020
92-94 pts. A

2008? Syrah
abv: ?
Inky purple with whiffs of cranberry and raspberry that carry onto a nice palate with firm tanins on the finish.
Drink 2011-2016
90 pts. A-

2008 Ritual, Napa Valley
Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah
15.2% abv
Cherry, blackberry, mineral, and strawberry notes develop on your tongue, fill your mouth,  and end with a medium to full-bodied finish.
90-92 pts. A-


Review: Relic Wines 2007

Fred Franzia Dominates The Wine Business

down_under_by_crane_lakeSnuggling close to selling half a billion bottles of Charles Shaw, 66 year old Fred Franzia has got his right foot on the gas and isn’t braking for anything.  He’s a determined man with a simple yet unpopular approach to the wine business: sell an ocean of wine at a price people laugh at.

Guess what? It’s working.

Snobs can come up with a gazillion reason’s for you to avoid Franzia’s wine’s, but, much like there assertion of his quality, they just aren’t that good. There is nothing wrong with opening a bottle of wine that costs less per gallon than most people pay for bottled water, and sipping it to contentment. A few extra digits in the online statement is a welcome site for most wine lovers today.

Which brings me to the article that prompted this post, found here [], and the review I’ve been meaning to post on a wine from Australia under the Crane Lake label of Bronco Wines, Franzia’s Company. This wine was sent to me as a press sample, and after tasting it, I picked up a case at my local Trader Joe’s. (I took a picture of the display in the store, but I got scolded by internal watch, so I won’t post that for fear of legal ramifications.) Note that in no way do I benefit from sales of this wine, just a recommendation for people that would like a nice summer wine, which, brings me to a little change in my standard review language. Below are two styles of reviews, one, the normal format found here at Winexpression, and two, the seemingly more fitting review style I envision Fred using when he tells people about his wines.


Wine: 2008 Down Under by Crane Lake South Eastern Australia Chardonnay
Price: $2.99 Suggested Retail
Alcohol: 12.5 % ABV
Notes: Light straw in color, stone fruit, mineral, apple on the nose with a crisp well balanced palatte and zesty finish.  Lightly buttery and food friendly.
Score: B+ 88 pts


2008 Down Under South Eastern Australia Chardonnay
This great tasting Chardonnay is a nice way to travel to Australia without flying, boating, or swimming, and an excellent way to cool off on a toasty summer afternoon.

Update: The makers of Australia’s most identifiable bottle of wine, Yellow Tail, are suing over the Down Under label. Dr.Vino has the skinny.

Summer Sips From the Rutherford Wine Company

vines_of_summerIs it really summer? You would have a hard time determining that by comparing this years weather to the last few years, but now is the time we like to give a few summer wine recommendations.

Winexpression was sent a few wines from the Rutherford Wine Company, who own the Rutherford Ranch Winery (Napa Valley), Round Hill, Scott Family Estate (Arroyo Seco) and Lander-Jenkins Vineyards labels. The Rutherford Ranch winery had it’s start in 2000 and is built on the original site of the Round Hill Winery. The original grape vine’s and tasting room were completely redone by the Zaninovich family who purchased the property from the retiring Van Asperen’s, but the olive grove and “unpretentious charm” of the winery were left in tact. The result? An umbrella of wines all made using sustainable viticulture practices that are an excellent value.

Dominican Oaks 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay
Production: 2,230 – 12/750ml cases
Alcohol: 13.5%
Aging: Fermented and aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels and temperature controlled stainless tanks.
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Suggested Retail: $15.00
Notes: A fantastic bargain. Butter and vanilla aromas carry onto the medium bodied palate and intensify over the 30 second finish.
90-92 pts (A-)

Rutherford Ranch 2008 Chardonnay
35% Malolactic Fermentation
Suggested retail: $15.00
The aroma of Lemon peel, apple, and peach all greet your nose on this golden hued wine.  Light on the palate with nice balance. A soft finish with a buttery/apple flavor.
88pts (B+)

Lander-Jenkins 2008 Chardonnay
Production: About 3,000 cases
Suggested retail: $12.00
Notes: A lovely wine with whiffs of toasty oak with a light bodied mouth feel and a good finish. A well balanced wine that leans toward citrus flavors on the palate.
88-90 pts (B+/A-)

Scott Family Estate 2007 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay Dijon Clone
Alcohol: 13.5%
Suggested retail: $25.00
Notes: Lemon peel and other citrus notes lead this in the right direction with a creamy texture and subtle hint of mineral and oak in your mouth. The acid is balanced and the finish leaves you wanting another sip.
90 pts (A-)

Round Hill 2007 California Pinot Grigio
Blend: 90% Pinot Grigio, 5% Chenin Blanc and 5% Muscat Canelli
Aging: Cold fermentation in stainless steel
Alcohol: 12.5%
Retail: $10.00
Notes: Aromas of stone fruit and citrus. Very nicely textured on the palate with good acidity. A nice finish that is crisp and swift.
90pts (A-)

Here are a few red wines of note:

Rutherford Ranch 2006 Merlot
Aging 15 months in French and American oak.
Blend 91% Merlot, 5% Zinfandel, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Syrah
Suggested retail: $17
Notes: Nice aroma of black cherry, blueberry and vanilla. Medium bodied with a velvety yet structured finish.
88 pts (B+)

Dominican Oaks 2006 Napa Valley Merlot
Production: 5,200 – 12/750ml cases
Alcohol: 13.5%
Aging: 15 months in French and American oak
Blend: 91% Merlot, 5% Zinfandel, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 % Syrah
Suggested Retail: $17.00
Notes: This well rounded Merlot offers loads of blackberry flavors, vanilla and a very nice mid-palate. Softly textured with a nice finish.  Perfect with food or on its own. Excellent value.
92-94pts (A-/A)

Lander-Jenkins 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Production: About 3,000 cases
Retail: $12.00
Notes: A delicious wine with a fragrance of blueberry, and flavor of caramel on the palate. This is a medium bodied wine with soft tannins that lends itself to being an easy drinker.  Smooth and fruity, an outstanding value.
90-92 pts (A-)

Website []

Review – Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

root_beer_vodka_three_oliveCitrus. Vanilla. Raspberry.  What do these have in common?  They are all flavors of vodka that most are familiar with and that large distillery’s typically don’t venture away from producing.  But what about root beer vodka?  Now that’s another story.  I’d never heard of root beer vodka before being sent a press sample from Three Olives, who claim to “be the first to put the alcohol back into this classic flavor” since it was originally made as a drink with alcohol in it. I’ll admit, I was leery at first.  To me it sounded like a spirit 20 somethings might drink just for the sake of drinking.  But after allowing it to chill in the freezer I gave it a taste and to my surprise it was quite good.  The root beer aroma is very apparent on the nose, almost tricking your mind into thinking you are about to take a sip of root beer itself.  However, on the palate you experience a smooth taste of vodka with just hints of root beer in the background.

If you are a fan of root beer and martini’s, separately, you may want to give this a try shaken with ice and poured into a martini glass.  However, you could give your inner mixologist a chance to come out and be quite creative using this for mixed drinks.  Adult root beer float anyone?

Full Disclosure: This was a press sample.

Spirit: 3 Olives Root Beer Flavored Vodka
Price: $20 USD
Notes: Sweet aroma of root beer, caramel and toasted marshmallow that coats the palate and envelopes your tongue.  Ethanol apparent on the palate but still a somewhat smooth finish. Close your eyes and pretend you just stepped up to the bar at the soda shop. Very nice on the rocks.
Score: 86 pts (B)

Here are a few of the mixing ideas for this Vodka from the companies Bartender’s booklet.

Rock Star Root Beer

1 ounce Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

1 ounce Three Olives Vanilla Vodka

4 ounces Ginger Ale

Mix in a glass filled with ice and garnish with a cherry.

Root Beer Floatini

1-1/2 ounce Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

1/2 ounce Amaretto Liqueur

Shake hard over ice and strain into glass. Float a melon-ball size scoop of vanilla ice cream in center.

British Car Bomb

1 ounce Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

1/2 Pint Ale

Drop shot glass of Three Olives Root Beer Vodka carefully into 1/2 pint of ale.

Brotherly Love

2 ounces Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

4 ounces Lemon-Lime Soda

Mix in a glass filled with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

About Proximo Spirits:

The company is currently pushing a campaign to raise brand awareness of it’s Three Olives label and the flavored Vodka’s they currently offer including Regular, Cherry, Grape, Passion Fruit, Pomegranate, Green Apple, Chocolate, Orange, Berry, Vanilla, Citrus, Raspberry, Watermelon, Mango, and Triple Espresso. The campaign is the “What’s Your O-Face” contest and here are a few details:

… an interactive contest that invites users to upload a photo of their best “O-face” – the look of surprise one has after tasting a shockingly delicious Three-O Vodka drink. At the conclusion of the campaign on May 31, 2009, 5 finalists will be chosen, flown to NYC, given the VIP treatment and given a photo shoot. Of the 5 finalists, 1 grand prize winner will be Three-O’s next “O-Face”, awarded $10,000 and be featured in a national ad campaign.

You can visit the website for more details.