Category Archives: $15 friday

$15 Fridays- It’s All Greek to Me

Olympic_Wine_Stains-01This will be my coffee table the morning after the steeplechase. What the hell is going on with that race? You have trained your whole life and your parents took out a second mortgage on their home so you can jump over puddles?


This year has been… rough. Politics. Violence. Lots of ALL CAPS Facebook posts. It’s a tense time in the world and in our nation. I would like to think that the kick off of the Olympics this evening will do something to unify us as a country again. If watching a shirtless Ryan Lochte attempt to speak English to Bob Costas doesn’t bring us some solidarity, what will?? But, the Olympics could quite possibly be a shit show as Brazil’s own government issues sound like a Real Housewives of New Jersey Reunion right about now. How do we ease the anxiety that comes with watching an American preteen precariously back flip on a balance beam while also bracing for a mosquito coup on live television? DRINK!

And what better way to celebrate humanity’s greatest tie to ancient civilization than with some of its most OG juice? Greece had been cultivating and drinking wine LONG before the first Olympic games were held in 776 B.C. It is said that every European grape, from Merlot to Riesling, originates from the wild vines of Greece. Greece is basically the Janice Dickinson of modern wine: they did it first and they won’t stop reminding you about it.

Greek wines have been a great value the last decade, due in part to both a lack of knowledge as well as a severely crippled economy. Like how you can often score nice laptops on Craigslist from irresponsible college kids who need to pay rent in two days. And although interest, and price, is slowly growing, there are still some fantastic values when it comes to indigenous varietals.


Gaia Ritinitis, Nobilis Retsina, $13.99


Retsina is some serious old school business. Like, thirteenth century B.C. old school. Soooo vintage. Since there was nothing in the way of air tight containers back then, Greek winemakers would add pine resin to stop oxidation during the fermentation process. Not only did it work, it imparted a pungent pine flavor. And while it can be overwhelming to a tourist, its long been a staple of Greek dining as it is an excellent match to the briney and salty foods of Mediterranean cuisine. This particular white wine controls the amount of Aleppo pine introduced to the cirtusy Roditis must, leaving a bright, honeysuckle wine with more subdued eucalyptus and mint notes. Not your ya-ya’s wine! This refreshing take on a somewhat outdated standard is kind of like when hipsters have bar carts or I eat Vienna sausages with an oyster fork.


2014 Thymiopoulos Xinomavro, “Young Vines”


Xinomavro, or Xynomarvo if you were in a frat, is the most important red grape of northern Greece. Growing in the high altitude vineyards of Naousa in the northeastern part of the country, the grape has to deal with winds and cooler weather, resulting in both high tannins and acidity. While not techincally related, Xinomarvo is kind of like a cousin of Nebbiolo in structure and climate. Like when Uncle Jesse had a Greek criminal cousin that was just John Stamos in a bad suit on split screen. Anyway, like Nebbiolo, this wine is complex, age-worthy, and specifically great with fatty meats and meals utilizing soy sauce. This specific wine is from the southernmost vineyards of the appellation at the lower end of elevations, resulting in a full bodied yet red fruit forward and balanced wine that is a little more French Gamay than Barolo. A good way to ease into a often times tricky varietal. At 7-10 years old, these vines are truly young, further evidenced by the fact they are bio-dynamic, organic, and totally on fleek. YOLO.


Two Greek wines that are different, but completely accessible and affordable and will help you almost forget that America is currently a dumpster fire. If booze and Olympics aren’t enough, remember Netflix, and therefore your childhood, is always a short click away…


That bag, tho…



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$15 Fridays- Cape (Town) Crusaders

charlize_drinking_wineCharlize Theron and I are basically the same person. We are tall, love South African wine, and have both ghosted Sean Penn.

People often ask me what my favorite wine is, which is, frankly, a ridiculous question. It is akin to asking an astronomer their favorite star or Derek Jeter his favorite lay: there are so many and they’re all so beautiful. The truth is, and I think I speak on behalf of all wine nerds, it depends on so many factors. The occasion, the meal, the company, the direction of the wind, the strength of the yen, the day of my menstrual cycle. What people are really asking is: what should I drink so I can understand just how you’ve made a career out of being a lush?

My blanket answer for these queries of late has been South African wines. I recommend these wines because it gets people out of the California aisle of the wine shop, opens their eyes to some new varietals, and, most importantly, is a great value. South Africa has made some incredible strides in the way of production and quality, but is still flying somewhat under the US commercial radar resulting in low prices. Its like when you knew about Jack Johnson before anyone else and could see him for like $20 then Ben Harper and his stupid slide guitar blew him all up and now you can’t even get a lawn seat at a goddamn amphitheater show for less than what will diaper an infant for two months. Heed the warning: drink South African wine before it gets too cool. Yes, I define cool as Jack Johnson in 2001. And that’s probably all you really need to know about me.

2013 Raats Original Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, $13.99


 While chenin blanc has a classic and famous home in the Loire Valley of France, it definitely has a hold in South Africa. Chenin blanc, or steen in Afrikaans, is by far the most widely planted varietal in the country. For years, the versatile workhorse of a grape served as a base for the country’s mass brandy production. But now these wines are standing on their own just fine. In addition to its relative ease in growth, the other incredible thing about this grape is its array of styles, from bone dry to dessert sweet and even sparkling. South African chenin blancs are typically dry, but can be blended with other white varietals or aged in oak to alter its profile. This particular bottle doesn’t see oak, resulting in a wine round with tropical and citrus fruit and a zesty mineral driven backbone. Jesus. Sometimes I sound like such an asshole.

2013 Lammershoek “Lam” Pinotage, Swartland, $13


Pinotage, like Britney Spears, went through some tough times. While Britney was dabbling with drugs and driving around Malibu with babies in her lap, pinotage’s overproduction was resulting in thin low-quality wine rought with burnt rubber flavors. Basically the same thing.  However, over the course of the last decade, South African growers and winemakers have joined together to reign in crop yields and improve winemaking. And its flourishing under this *ahem* conservatorship.  New and improved pinotage is medium bodied and ripe with black and purple fruit as well as some umami (think soy sauce) tones. And since this grape is actually a pinot noir/cinsault hybrid native to South Africa, I see it as a perfect introduction to the country’s unique varietals. As this specific wine is a bit on the lighter side, I wouldn’t be above serving it slightly chilled, especially on a hot summer evening. Trust me, you’ll be hitting this bottle… one more time.

 So that’s what I love right now because although my musical tastes haven’t changed since the Bush presidency, my wine preferences are always in flux.

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$15 Fridays- Valentine’s Value


Which is why your mom drinks so much White Zinfandel. Boom. Roasted.

It’s that time of year! Boxes of candies, Mylar balloons, filet mignons in overbooked restaurants. National Make Women Happy Day! Or, The Bouquets for Blow Jobs Exchange Program. Most of my fond Valentine’s memories come from primary school, when several boys with various lengths of rat tails offered me Sonic the Hedgehog and Goof Troop cards. I really peaked out in about ’94, before I grew half a foot and everyone decided advanced reading skills were no longer a “desirable female trait”.

But as I’ve spent the better part of a decade working in food and beverage, Valentine’s Day has been reduced to a terrible night (or in this year’s magically calamitous President’s Day overlap, a terrible weekend) of non-stop, amateur diners who have hinged the whole of their relationship’s value on this one, overpriced, rushed meal, cramped together at an uneven poker table the establishment clearly pulled out of a storage unit just to accommodate this glut of patrons. Its so hot. No, not the romance. The room is hot, because of all the sweaty people and crying waitresses.

Before you brand me a total cynic, I get it. Its a special night. And a special night calls for a special wine. I can’t think of anything that screams Valentines more than rosé Champagne. Bubbles are sexy and women love pink shit. Salmon. Yoga pants with “Pink” written in rhinestones on the ass. P!nk. They just do. But lets face it: Champagne is effin’ expensive. I have a solution though. Its only 140 miles East of Champagne, and probably about $140 cheaper for you. Crémant d’Alsace.

Being a French bubbly isn’t the only reason I suggest this as a Champagne substitute. The word crémant itself implies that the wine is held to many of the same pain-in-the-ass standards as Champagne in the way of grape harvesting, aging requirements, and that the second fermentation (where those bubbles come from) is to take place inside the bottle. Also, the Alsace region is almost as far north as Champagne, ensuring the cool weather needed to produce high acidity resulting in the same delicious zippiness. So you’re getting a pretty great knockoff without the hefty price. Like Jessica Simpson’s clothing line for Macy’s. Yeah. I said it.

Unlike other French regions, Alsace is very specific and upfront with the varietals they use in all their wines, and the sparkling rosés are no different. It will always be 100% Pinot Noir. One of my personal favorites?

Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, NV


NV meaning non-vintage, this wine is so sensual. I can’t believe I said that, but it literally smells like rose petals to me. And with its perfectly tiny pink bubbles, soft raspberry flavor and long, crisp finish, it just makes you want to wear silk or, I don’t know, put on a K-Ci & JoJo video on YouTube while wearing silk. Or sateen. Whatever this Kohl’s robe is made out of.

So skip the overpriced pink Veuve or Dom. That is for basic bitches wearing Jessica Simpson peep toes. Look for a Crémant d’Alsace rosé in that murky “Other Sparkling Wines” section of the list. Or you can bring in your own bottle and pay the corkage fee, still saving yourself a ton. Yeah, your server will hate you for it. But trust, he already does.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Get some!

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$15 Fridays: Affordable Après-ski

ab fab wine

Holy El Niño! Guess where I am? The mountains, yo. After about 112 years of no water fall beyond whatever Shamu splashes over his tank, California is seeing some serious precipitation. So the family made the trek up to Mammoth to carve up some fresh pow pow. Well, the other two are. I’m pregnant so all my favorite mountain activities (snowboarding, Jacuzzis, drinking) are off limits. Don’t feel too bad for me, though. Currently the husband is off solo and the kid is in a snowboarding class being taught how to inevitably break a limb by some stoned college kid. That means I’m all alone, holed up in the cabin, writing while sipping a Gatorade neat. I’m practically Jack fucking London.

I figured this was a perfect time to talk about wine to bring along for ski or snowboard trips. And it’s also the perfect time to unveil my new Friday posts: $15 Fridays. I know that there are many delicious yet affordable bottles out there, mostly because if I didn’t curb my booze spending, the car was going to be repossessed. And I’m really excited to have the opportunity to introduce quality and unique wines for $15 or less every week. Plus, you can use the money you save on my new venture: custom haikus.

A great birthday gift
or for your two weeks notice,
Find me on Etsy.

So what $15 wine should you pack for your mountain getaway? A wine from Savoie. Often referred to as ‘ski wine’, Savoie, or Savoy, is a French wine region tucked far east against the French Alps. So far east it’s practically Switzerland, which is why you will often see a white and red cross logo on the bottles. They’re also Swiss-like in that the wines are light, fresh, and rarely take sides in arguments. Being a somewhat isolated area with a variety of difficult growing conditions, most of the grapes utilized in Savoie wines are indigenous varietals you will not find in the grocery aisle.

Typically, most of these wines never left Savoie as it was guzzled down in chalets by guys dressed like those Swiss assholes from “Cool Runnings”. But a combination of improved winemaking and of increasing export has resulted in these little gems popping up in wine shops and on wine lists all over the U.S. Here is both a red and white bottle of Alpine to try without dropping Alpine cash.

2014 Domaine Labbe, Abymes


Most of the wine coming out of Savoie is white, and most of that wine is made from the grape Jacquere. And even though this a high yield grape, its not thin or lackluster. Clean and crisp as Lake Geneva is more like it. A lot of minerality, citrus notes and even a bit of grassiness, this would be a great new find for all my Sauvignon Blanc lovers- so, you know, skinny girls. Jacquere’s classic pairing is cheese fondue but it also pairs well with mountain cuisine such as roasted vegetables and smoked trout. And like most light whites, drink young and often.

2013 Domaine Jean Vuillien et Fils, “Saint-Jean-de-la-Porte”
t1431794p3_1The major red grape of Savoie is Mondeuse Noire. After a battery of DNA testing, Maury Povich announced that it is indeed a distant relative to Syrah! *raucous cheers from the audience* And Syrah should have totally known as they both display the same purple hue and spicy cherry notes. This wine has some earthy intensity with an acidic bite if you’re used to drinking New World wines, but makes it a perfect pairing for roasted meats.  This producer may have changed to a more ‘contemporary’ label in the current vintage, which is annoying as I like to pretend I’m a fancy French woman when I’m drinking. And when I eat entire bagettes in my car.

I will try to always provide links to websites with current inventories of the wines for under $15, but please know that internet wine commerce is a mess of state alcohol tax laws and cross-border shipping restrictions. You can go into any decent wine shop and specifically ask for Savoie wines and be sure to find some great values to try out as the average prices of these wines hover right around that $15 mark. And by decent wine shop, I do not mean Rite-Aid.

Now I’m back to walking around the lodge in my new sick ass snow boots. Actually, I haven’t taken them off since I got here. I have them on with my pajamas right now. I have to get my money’s worth because it’ll be another year till I get to use them again. The only place you can wear them in San Diego is with a white fur bikini, dancing in a cage during a nightclub’s Winter Wonderland theme night.*

*Bucket list.

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