GREAT Wine under $20

In homage to Dr. Debs (the real Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 fame), I am happy to report that I had a fantastic evening last night at the Cameron Hughes wine reception hosted by Cornelius of Wine 2.0 & RadCru.

Most impressive were the Alexander Valley & various Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon selections, poured from the new Lot releases by Cameron himself.

Cameron Hughes Wine has made a name for itself as premium quality budget priced wine, widely available at Costco warehouses everywhere. These premium wines average $15 and under, with a few of the more unusual selections hovering around $20. I don’t have to tell you, that $15 for a stellar Cabernet from Napa is like having someone forget to add an item on your bill at your favorite restaurant. It almost feels like stealing candy from a baby!

How do they do it? Well it’s actually a fairly old story of the negociant, a wine merchant who buys grapes or finished wine and slaps their own label on it. IN this case, which amazing results that are different with every lot and every year. Cameron Hughes Wine focuses on buying bits & pieces of leftover super premium wine. Sometimes, wineries don’t want a large case production, to create the illusion of scarcity. Sometimes, they just aren’t happy with the results. And sometimes, well sometimes I just can’t understand dhow they can give up such wonderful elixirs but I”m happy I reap the financial benefits!

My highlights from the tasting are:

This was my outstanding wine winner of the night, both because of the killer dusty cocoa, tobacco and richness, as well as the stupid cheap price. I pre-ordered 2 bottles of it, but now am kicking myself for not ordering more. $15 (not released yet)

A very close 2nd to Alexander Valley, I had a hard time picking my favorite. So I tasted more. And again. And often. Oy the joys of a cab ride home! $16 (not released yet)

  • Lot ? 2006 Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon

This was the first cab we tasted last night, and I thought it would be my favorite. But as we moved down the line, Alex and Chalk just kicked Yountville’s little butt. But it was still good, and a screaming value. Hell, all of them are. It’s young, and needs to be decanted & held, but for $15? Seriously!

  • Lot ? Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon

Silly me, I didn’t keep my tasting sheet because I turned it in to order, and now can’t remember the lot numbers. But this was a tasty tidbit too! I admit, at this point, i sort of lost count because they were so tasty.

For me, a typically non Merlot drinker, this wine blew me away. It is a rich & powerful merlot, coming from an area that i wouldn’t expect and yet didn’t’ have that overpowering manipulated feel of most commercial wines.

A very minty syrah, with a lot of spice. It was a bit tannic for me, and could use a bit more balance but I expect great things in the future. $15

This was a surprise, and a really interesting blend that caught my attention quickly as we tasted the large array of wines on the bar. Grenache & Carignane come together to give a taste of Spain in a classic meritage. $20

The moral of the story? Don’t prejudge! I have had some of the other CH Wines, and wasn’t terribly impressed. However, with the variety of Lots and the amazing Cabernets, I will certainly not shy away in the future.

Thanks to RadCru and Cameron Hughes for a great time at Varnish!



My Favorite Wine Shops

So, I buy wine. I buy a LOT of wine. I buy a lot of GOOD wine.But where do I buy it you ask?There are so many great sources, it’s hard to narrow down my favorite, but here are my top choices (other than winery direct):

  1. Wine Q – my new favorite source for unusual, small production yummy wines. Their prices are fair, and there is no shipping if you spend over $35, which is easy on 2+ bottles. It’s basically Netflix for wine, where you create your own queue, and dictate how many bottles per timeframe you want shipped. 2 bottles a week? 6 bottles a month? No problem!Plus, Brittany and Marshall are just nice folks who go out of there wayt o find really tasty treats for us.
  2. The Wine Mine – a tiny shop located under hwy 24/580 in Oakland, where the prices are truely like mining for gold. The last time I was in, I asked the owner for some “weekday wines under $20” and he went one better, offering me a ton of options under $10-15. There is always something new here, and it’s right on my way home!
  3. The Wine Club – SF was my old stand by before I found #1 & #2. I still venture in here from time to time since it’s on my way home, and they are a good source if you are looking for something specific. You can find their inventory on or on their website, and they have 2 other locations.
  4. Bottle Barn – an old Santa Rosa standby, is hidden in an industrial park behind Piner St. They are THE source for Sonoma County wines at a discount, most of which can’t be found outside of the tasting room. Plus, they have an annex in Headlsburg, and they just redesigned their website!

I’m still learning about new areas, especially the northwest. I’m looking forward to trying some of the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman’s offerings int he very near future.

The Wine Spies posts a new deal daily, and has new deals every Monday so be sure to check them out. I recently got a 3 pack from Twisted Oak at wine.woot for about 25% off of MSRP!



Monday blues…

It’s Monday, and I feel it. Yawn.
A slow week this week, but Wednesday, Cameron Hughes will be pouring their wines at Varnish Fine Art on Natoma in SF.

Cameron Hughes is known for it’s value priced wines which are widely available, such as found in this search, and they are pretty tasty too. It’s free wine, so why not break up the BART ride and take a sip or two.

I’m planning on being there, are you? It’s a private tasting, so if you are interested please email
paul dot jenson at chwine dot com to RVSP for the event, from 6-10pm on Wednesday July 16th.

Saturday is Santa Cruz Passport, and this year since there are a number of wineries pouring north of the Santa Clara county line, I plan on hitting


Wine Blogging Wednesday #47 Brought to you by the Letter S!

So I’m a day behind – I totally forgot that Wine Blogging Wednesday has come and gone!
The regular posse was assembled for a truly Stupendous tasting.

You can see all the details here, but suffice it to say that Syrah won our little “S” hearts.

thanks everyone for participating, and next month we’ll pare down the craziness. I hope.



BreastFest 2008 is Saturday!

No, it’s not an opportunity for you to see boobies.

Officially known asMicrobreweries Fighting Cancer, this festival brings together good food, good people, of course, good beer, and a great cause.

Take the ferry on over to Larkspur, and participate in the cause!
Tickets are $35 at the door, and give you a commemorative glass as well as all the beer you can drink. Food is available for a small charge as well.

Participating breweries include:

  • Marin Brewing Company
  • 21st Amendment, (one of my favorite brew pubs in the city)
  • Anderson Valley
  • Beach Chalet another of my favorites
  • BJ’s Brewery
  • Black Diamond
  • Broken Drum
  • Drakes Brewing
  • Fox Barrel Cider
  • Half Moon Bay
  • Iron Springs
  • Lagunitas Brewing Co
  • Magnolia Pub
  • Moon Light
  • Moylan’s
  • Mateveza
  • Mount St. Helena
  • North Coast
  • Rubicon
  • Russian River
  • Santa Cruz
  • Seabright
  • Stone Brewery
  • Third Street Aleworks
  • Triple Rock
  • Two Rivers Cider



Who is Gary V?

Gary Vaynerchuck, VAY NER CHUK, is the rambunctious, loud, opinionated host of Wine Library TV, a video wine blog that tries to change the wine world by getting people to ignore those big critics and discover their own palate with some heavy encouragement.

Take him for what you will, he is celebrating his 500th episode at our local custom crush facility Crushpad tomorrow, July 10. Come on down and celebrate!


Happy Monday!

OK so Mondays aren’t my favorite day of the week and I’m trying to psych myself out.
Had a mellow 4th, stuck in the fog and cold, so I decided that on the 5th I needed to seek some sun.
Little did I know that it would be in the 90s in Dry Creek! PHEW. Thank god for air conditioning.

I stopped by Peterson to kick off my warm day, and enjoyed some zin and tasty sausages while chatting with some friends who happened to be there. From there, I zoomed on in to Rued (rhymes with Druid), but I have to admit, it was so hot outside, and they didn’t’ have any ice buckets, so I didnt’ really enjoy my bathwater wine.

From there, I moved on to Family Wineries of Dry Creek, a coop tasting room where 6 – count em up folks – 6 wineries ply their wares. The line was kind of long for the zin event I had a wristband for, so I popped in to Kokomo which was cool, dark and on my Visa Signature list. Boy! What a good choice that was! I had only been to Kokomo once, at barrel tasting, but they blew me away then and blew me away this weekend. I somehow ending up with a bottle of Sonoma Zin, Cab, and Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Literally next door, I stumbled over to the zinfest at Family Wineries. My standout there was the Meitz Cellars zinfandel which I can still taste.

After loading up on brownies, I headed over to the other side of Dry Creek to pop in to Mounts Family Winery‘s open house. Since Mounts is only open on special occasions, I was happy to have the chance to taste some of their wares. I loved the Rose, Syrah and Petite, and bought one of each. Unfortunately, they packed a Rose, Syrah and Zin. The zin was good, but the PS just blew me away. Oh well.

Finally, I just had to stop at my favorite zin shop, on the north edge of Healdsburg, Manzanita Creek. Brothers Jack & Bill do amazing things with their grapes, and you can look for some of their offerings, like Lower Block, a Mendocino County zin, in a Costco near you.
I have been a huge fan for a long time, and I love having an excuse to stock up on more zins.

All in all, it was a lovely, wine and sun filled day!



Wine Map-o-Matic!

A few months ago, I was introduced to

at the Wine 2.0 event at Crushpad.

Mapovino is a wine-mapping website incorporating GoogleMaps to showcase geographically distinct wines and the stories behind these wines.

Why is this cool? Because it allows you my technonarti friends, to use Google Maps, a tool most of us know and love, to integrate with the wine regions of the world. While I don’t have a Crackberry or an iPhone (yet) I can see the application of this tool going mobile, while crusiing around Dry Creek looking at an interactive map.

With Mapovino, users can add comments, photos, link to maps in their blogs, and even add blog links on the map. It will also wine and geography information from Wikipedia to expand on your knowledge interactively.

Why do I bring this up you ask? Well they are doing their 2nd beta “tasting” in San Francisco next week, and I plan to go to learn more about hte tool and mingle with my fellow wine geeks.

July 7th 7-9pm
Please RSVP by registering here


Happy Zindependance!

It’s the last day of June, and as summer wears on, there are more and more wine events filling my calendar. Even though I try to pick events that are new and exciting, sometimes you just can’t resist.

I am looking forward to the long weekend which is only…um four more days away. Now that the smoke has cleared and the fog is back, i can actually breathe and will probably be looking for a BBQ or two. As luck would have it, there are some new events to choose from so I won’t be bored.

Pinot Days was nice, but I didn’t find anything new that knocked my socks off, sadly. Maybe I’m just becoming jaded? Or maybe it’s just that I didn’t swallow as much wine and I could / should have. There is something in the ceremony of spitting that loses some of that delicious pinot flavor.

Other than the Urbano open house this weekend, Mounts Family Winery is also having an open house up in Dry Creek. This is a great opportunity to taste their small lot wines, since they are not open to the public every weekend.

Mounts will be hosting a BBQ and Wine tasting on Saturday & Sunday, while they will be open for tasting on the 4th itself.

If you’re in to beer, and let’s face it, who isn’t! Around the World in 80 Beers is having it’s July installment at O’Neill’s pub in Ghiradelli Square on Saturday. Goldstar hGoogleas half-price tickets if you are interested.



July is for Wine-ing!

The 4th of July is made for picnics, beer, lemonade and potato salad.
That makes the 5th of July perfect for wine!
Urbano Cellars is having a release party to celebrate their new wines.

  • 2006 Dry Creek Syrah – 290 cases
  • 2007 Green Valley (Solano) Vin Rose’ – 135 cases
  • 2007 Lodi Viognier – 30 cases
  • 2007 Lodi Five Barrel Blend -125 cases
  • 2005 Green Valley (Solano) Zinfandel – 125 cases

Join me in toasting these new releases across the bay with Urbano at Periscope Cellars (click for Google Map) in Emeryville. Afterwards, we can mosey on down to Lost Canyon and maybe even invade Rosenblum. Check out other East Bay wineries at East Bay Vintners Alliance.

As I was reading the list for the July 19th Santa Cruz Mountain Passport, I was happy to see there are now several wineries in the San Carlos / Redwood City / Woodside area.

Check out the list of mid-Peninsula wineries:

  • Domenico Wines
  • La Honda Winery
  • Aptos Creek
  • Kings Mountain
  • Michael Martella

As much as I love driving down to Santa Cruz, with the gas prices and beach traffic the way they are right now – wouldn’t it be fun to go local?

PS if you want to Caltrain, you can walk to Dominico from the San Carlos station!


Happy Monday!

So you know it’s a good party when the aftermath takes 4 trips to the recycling bin to empty the kitchen of bottles.

Thanks all for celebrating my weekend (oh yeah and my 22nd birthday) with me!
There were some tasty wines indeed, and after a day of sleep to recover, I will have to do some reading to see what we drank and what I restocked on.




Red Wine & Brews Festival – Carmel Valley

I was recently in Carmel Valley wine tasting, and was happily impressed by most of the offerings, particularly from Parsonage and Bernardus.
My friend just told me he would be manning his hand crafted woodcrafts booth (Green Tree Designs) at the festival, so why not come down and check it out?



Wine Blogging Wednesday #46, Rhone Whites

Be sure to stop by Vinquire and take a look at our Wine Blogging Wednesday efforst.

For those of you who don’t know, once a month we get togheter a group, and taste in a particular theme.

This month, that theme was Rhone varital white wines. We were a little madcap, and tasting 6, from both France and abroad.

You can see the results here:



June Already!

So you’ll have to forgive me for not doing this sooner, but I decided to migrate my email list to a blog. Mind you, I am not an experience blogger, so please bear with me!
I’ll be adding things here as I think of them, or as they come up, so be sure to bookmark me and check back regularly.

How is it June! Well, as shocked as I am, June is the month for wine. And birthdays. And vacations. So many things, so little time! 

With the global climate shift causing strange and unusual weather patterns, I decided that I better drink as much good wine as possible to stave off the bevy of new illnesses we will probably get.
No no, I’m not a pessimist. Just looking for an excuse! Thanks to Gabriella from Catavino, who’s doctor told her to drink more and eat more meat, I am following suit. 

Open House

Saturday June 21
Happy Anniversary to Crushpad!


an Francisco Wine Enthusiasts Meet the Winemakers

Wednesday June 25
I really enjoy these meet the winemakers sessions, because it gives us a chance to get to know some very small producers that you might not otherwise get to know.
This month, it might be our final episode because we have had a hard time attracting crowds. Please take a moment, find a friend, and come on down to see and try:

Sterling Albert Winery
Concord’s only winery and winemaker, will be pouring wines sourced from grapes grown on Mt. Diablo where many of the state’s more respected vineyards grew before Prohibition. You’ll also enjoy his Lake County Cab Franc from 35 year old vines that will produce no more, having recently been pulled out to make way for progress.

Pietra Santa Winery
Pietra Santa, located next door to Josh Jensen’s Calera winery, will be sampling estate wines from Cienega Valley including their Super Tuscan Blend Sassolino as well as their SangioveseDolcetto. and

Vin Nostro
The winemaker of Vin Nostro, Dario Zucconi, whose family owns Tomasso’s pizzaria, will join us to pour his double gold medal winners, the 2004 Alexander Valley Cab and ’05 Syrah from the Red Hills AVA (Lake County) and his ’05 Dry Creek Valley Zin.

Harvest Moon Winery
Among its wines, Harvest Moon Estate & Winery will be showcasing several Zins from the Russian River appellation.

Tuesday June 24
Ottimista Enoteca Pinot Pairings
$25 reservations required.
Six pinot producers will pour their finest to those interested in tasting and celebrating pinot noir, as paired with pinot-centric foods. Ottimista Enotecca-Cafe is known for its pairings; this is a tasting you do not want to miss.

  • Churchill Cellars
  • Handley Cellars
  • Olson Ogden Wines
  • Philo Ridge Vineyards
  • Hirsch Vineyard and Winery
  • Kanzler Vineyards
Thursday June 26
Table Hop Dinners

  • Isa
  • Jack Fallstaff

Saturday June 28
Focus Tasting Series

This year we are offering three Focus Tastings, each with a regional focus. Each of these tastings will feature 16 of the best producers efforts within the theme. We will drink the wines blind and reveal them after each flight. While you are tasting the wines, the winemakers
ll field questions, discuss their own wines and the uniqueness of the region they are representing, and share their colorful stories about making some of the most exciting pinots available. All of this will happen while you are sitting and tasting some of the finest pinots on the market.


  1. Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills and Central Coast – 6/28/2008 1-3pm Cost: $ 80 SOLD OUT
  2. Best of Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley 6/28/2008 4-6pm Cost: $ 80
  3. Best of Russian River Valley and Santa Maria Valley 6/28/2008 7-9pm Cost: $ 80

Sunday June 29
Seminar Series
Our Sunday Seminar Series offer specific opportunities to appreciate wines of particular styles, or from particular regions or vineyards. Each Series consists of three unique, topical tastings: Appellation, Vineyard and Misto. The “Appellation Tasting” is a tasting of pinots from a specific appellation or region. The “Vineyard Tasting” is a tasting of pinots from a specific vineyard. The “Misto Tasting” is mix of pinot-related topics, ranging from an alcohol level study to a clonal study to a study of the effects of the various barrel types – you choose. A ticket to the Sunday Seminar Series includes the Grand Festival. Sunday Seminar Series ticket holders may enter the Grand Festival at 11AM with members of the Trade, and taste for one hour before heading to your particular seminar series. Seminars are two hours in length, so you may re-enter the Grand Festival at 2PM to enjoy three more hours of tasting pinot and meeting winemakers.

Grand Tasting

Sunday’s Grand Tasting will showcase 170 producers of pinot noir. This is California’s largest single gathering of pinot producers, as well as its most varied. Consumers will be able to sample up to 400 pinots from every important region in California, Oregon, New Zealand, and Burgundy, and to meet the winemakers who create them. We will also offer a number of pinots for auction, donating various charities.


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