Another bargain wine that’s a real bargain: Talus Lodi Shiraz 2002

I read in our local newspaper that a recent Talus bottling of Shiraz was a best buy. Today, in a shop selling remaindered wines, I found what must be an earlier bottling for $4, brought it home, tried it, and decided to write about my trust in the label.Trusting a low- to mid-price label is a dicey business. But Lodi is turning out to be a fine place to grow warm-country grapes, as the Mondavis, the Sebastianis, and others have been proving. For a California Central Valley location, Lodi is surprisingly moderate in temperature. So here we have a wine from a known appellation.

Talus earned a bit of trust by describing the contents in a restrained way which, when I opened it, I found to be accurate. The producer (and that’s another thing – the label says the bottler made the wine, they didn’t just “cellar” it) says to expect ripe berry fruit and chocolate flavors. By golly, I did.

With 13.5 percent alcohol, the wine could be a bit warm going down the throat. But this one isn’t. It’s firm and round and delicious and I didn’t “feel” the alcohol.

For some people, the tannic aftertaste would be undesirable, but I expected it. And with any grilled meal (as the label suggests) the tannin will recede and the fruit will be enhanced. Remember that “grilled” need not mean grilled meat: this wine would go nicely with grilled vegetables over a buttery helping of polenta.

This particular bottling was first shipped to England and then it was returned to the USA! So – had it suffered in transit? Thankfully, no.

So whether or not the Talus Shiraz you find presents a visa, just go ahead and buy a bottle or two. You might go back for more. –Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.

Beringer Pinot Grigio, Pepperwood Grove Zinfandel

Two bargain wines that truly are bargains

Beringer California Pinot Grigio 2003, $4 to $6

One of the things I look for, in any wine, is how closely I agree with the notes (when there are any!) on the bottle label.

This wine “offers refreshing aromas and flavors of citrus, melon and tropical fruit.” I agree. It’s clean and acidic enough to complement lightly-creamed dishes and grilled or sautéed fish, chicken and pork.

For its price, its lingering non-sugary lemonade memory on the palate makes it especially satisfying, and its mouthfeel – rich but not buttery – means it can stand up to shrimp scampi as well as a good sauvignon blanc, and better than all but the most minerally chardonnays.

It’s a good summer sipping wine, too. Go get some!

Pepperwood Grove California Zinfandel 2001, $2 to $6 at the end of its run

I write about a vintage that you may not be able to find because the label is a good one for bargains. I think there’s a house style which means that later vintages won’t force you to borrow from your 401k and will be satisfying.

The label says “rich, warm and racy.” Hmmm. Those are very non-specific terms, aren’t they? I agree, but would add that the richness nevertheless is what I’d call soft. “Warm” often means high alcohol, but this isn’t alcoholic; the label says 12.5 percent and I’m pretty sure it’s really not more than 12. People are beginning to realize the 12 percent can mean some residual sugar; this wine doesn’t have any.

The label suggests pairing with pork chops or steak, and I’d agree. It’s not a muscle wine, but neither are pork or steak honestly prepared to be true to the beasts that gave their lives for you.

I like Zinfandel full of berries, but that comes from cool areas like the Russian River and part of the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California. They cost a lot more. They are worth it! But I have never met anyone who objects to a modestly plummy flavor in Zin, which this has. I object to prunes in Zin, but this doesn’t have that. It drinks beautifully all by itself. With pork and simple steak it’s a real bargain.