BOATLOADS OF CHEAP CRAP XI: CRUISE CONTROL



It's been a strange autumn out on the America's Isle of Hospitality; the weather seems to have gone into some kind of convulsion--hot one day, snowing the next, then rain, more heat, fierce wind, sleet, frogs, more sleet, more sunshine. These disturbances in nature, I can't help but think, reflect the turmoil in the House of Coad. My already miniaturized social life has dwindled to sporadic email contacts, mostly to turn down invitations to various events that I would much prefer to attend. But work trumps life, med school tuition must be paid. I don't think I've worked an under-sixty-hour week since we went "vacationing" to Hawaii in May. I've got writeups left over from June, July and September whose details have already faded into the mists of time and massive brain cell death. Then there's the unpleasantness with the whole Joe Perry/Theresa Iverson debacle, that's been hard for us to shake. Some piece of our innocence has been lost, I'm afraid. Plus, I missed Hoke Harden when he was in town, which is very sad, and I still haven't shaken the loss of Fatboy's Festive Favourites. These misfortunes come not singly, but in battallions, as they say, and this seems to be our time to hunker down in our island bunker and ride out the storm.

So it is that the non-narrative nature of the Boatloads of Cheap Crap series comes to my aid--very little effort is required in terms of plotting, quotes, who said what to whom and why, and all those other annoying details that Kane invariably feels compelled to correct me on. Sweet sweet Boatloads, all you ask is five or ten minutes two or three times a week over a few months (well, six months), and presto! you're ready to go.

So, here we go....


CHEAP CRAP THAT IS NOT RED

Laboure-Roi Mâcon-Villages St. Armand 2006 ($8). Gently creamy pear-yellow apple aromatics, touch of fig in there as well. Tastes chardonnayish, medium bodied and compact, with a pleasant tartness and calm creamy flavors. Nothing at all distinctive, but a very decent drinkable if slightly nondescript wine. [Buy again? Yuh, think so.]

Michel Picard Vouvray 2005 ($12). Lightly aromatic, quinine and chamomile hints, subtle minerality, calm and quiet. Tastes simple and straightforward, just a hint of sugar, medium body, loose and languid. Amiable little Vouvray, nondescript but decent enough to pass muster, if muster is kind of sleepy. I understand from the label that Michel Picard is the great-great-grandfather of Jean-Luc Picard, but I'm not sure what that means. Fascinating. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? I think the screwcap pushes it over the line--yup.]

Hugel Alsace 'Gentil' 2005 ($12). It's been a few years since I've managed to get around to trying this staple cheapie from Alsace. The '03 wasn't up to snuff (surprise surprise), but the '05 smells much more promising--lightly lemon-orange citric, touch of underlying rainwatery stoniness. Medium bodied, slightly oily texture, some quiet heft, pleasantly citricfloral, medium acidity. Not a great deal of character, but firm and composed. [Buy again? Yup.]

Francois Chidaine Sauvignon Blanc Touraine 2005 ($10). Grassy grapefruit-ginger aromatics, quiet minerality underneath. Bright and zippily citric, it's a wine a fan of New Zealand sauvignon would like. Cheerful, uncomplicated, a little disappointing if you're expecting Clos Roche Blanche-style complexity, but probably a crowd pleaser, and certainly a good value. [Buy again? Yup.]

E. & M. Berger Grüner Veltliner Kremstal 2005 ($10/1L). Shy tropical-spicy aromatics, pineapple and celeryseed, touch of white pepper, rainwatery hints. Rather robust-tasting, broad and muscular, if somewhat sloppy and loosely wrapped. Still, there's a pleasant tanginess to the fruit, there's an abundance of structure, plus I have a fondness for wines that taste pineappley. Not quite the insane steal that the Höfer grüner is, but close. [Buy again? Oh yeah.]

Three Thieves Pinot Grigio California 'Bandit' 2005 ($8/1L). 'Cheap Wine Snobs Rejoice!' shouts the back of the one-liter tetrapak box that holds this wine. And I do! But wait, is the wine any good? Lessee... smells perfumed, sweet, almost oily-smelling gardenia and light tropical fruit hints. Tastes soft and fleshy, not much substance, but clean and with a light citric zip. Abbreviated finish with a bit of abrasiveness, but genial, fruity and decent pinot gris. Somewhat perversely, the label on the box reads "Bottled by Rebel Wine, Tualatin, OR." Bottled? [Buy again? Sure.]

Pellegrini Vineyards Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island "East End Select' 2005 ($9). Local produce, from the big island immediately to our east. Quiet apple-pear-fig aromatics, touch of toastiness, but mostly gentle pear-yellow apple fruitiness. A sip, and there's a nice lightness here, firm acidity, perhaps a little unfocused but finishes with a pleasantly tart tang. Or perhaps a pleasantly tangy tart, I'm on the fence there. Perfectly drinkable and rather food-friendly, which is a surprise to me. When did they start laying off trying to make California-style butterscotch parfaits? [Buy again? Yes, I think so.]

Covey Run Gewürztraminer Columbia Valley 2005 ($7). Gently fruitcocktail-smelling, peach-lychee-honey aromatics. Tastes soft and just a touch oily, small and just slightly sweet. Pleasant enough, innocuous but with enough varietal character to work with shrimp vindaloo. [Buy again? Yup.]

Banrock Station Semillon Chardonnay South Eastern Australia 2006 ($4). Gentle pear-yellow apple hints laced with vanilla and a light waxiness. Light but flavorful, this smacks of mass production but is really rather agreeable, gently flavorful and lightly creamy. Sort of like a semillon-chardonnay flavored Jell-O shot, broad and unsubtle but a bit of fun and some nice flavor, with a bit of middling acidity as a bonus. Amiable, friendly and cheap. [Buy again? Yup.]

Excelsior Chardonnay Robertson (South Africa) 2006 ($6). Lightly creamy-smelling, vanilla-dusted pear-apple aromatics, sort of generic chardonnay smells. Tastes white-grapey and firm, nicely composed and without much fat. Has some zippy acidity, but it's of the vitamin-C-tablet variety and runs parallel to the fruit rather than supporting it. Still, not bad at all, the flavors are simple but well-focused, you could do worse for six bucks. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Yup.]


CHEAP CRAPPY ROSÉ

Asara Wine Estate Rosé Stellenbosch NV ($6). Simple cherry-berry hints, touch of vanilla, touch of talcum powder minerality. Bright acidity, gentle fruitiness, no complexity to speak of, but nicely balanced amiable little cheap rosé. Bit of astringency on the finish, whaddaya gonna do for six bucks? Strange little tab on the label that says 'remember this wine' that you're supposed to tear off but when you do it rips into pieces! [Buy again? Sure.]


CHEAP CRAP THAT IS NOT CLEAR, YELLOW OR GREEN AND IS FROM FRANCE

Château Jalousie-Beaulieu Bordeaux Supérieur 2005 ($5). Ah, this year's version of the infallible Bordeaux stormcrow. Lesseee... gentle strawberry-plum aromatics, touch of a sort of green stemmy thing, touch of anise, hint of sour milk. Tastes soft and round and blandly generic, with some decent plushness in the middle but no real structure to support it. Turns unpleasantly astringent on the finish, bitter and unpleasantly tannic. Judgment: skip the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux. [Buy again? Nope.]

Château la Grace du Ciel Bordeaux 2005 ($5). Corked.

Château la Grace du Ciel Bordeaux 2005 ($5). Corked.

Château la Grace du Ciel Bordeaux 2005 ($5). This may be my second most corked bottle ever. For a five-dollar Bordeaux, I think I've ended up paying twenty-five bucks to finally get a good one. Okay, it comes of like a ripe 2003, smoky-plummy-creosoteish, licorice and tar couched in dark purple-blackfruit. Low acidity, a bit wan and flat in the middle, loose but decent enough if your expectations are fairly low, and mine are. For five bucks I'll buy it again, assuming they solve their TCA problem and I don't get a procession of corked bottles before one good one. [Buy again? Yes, assuming they solve their TCA problem and I don't get a procession of corked bottles before one good one.]

Domaine des Sablonnettes/Christine et Joél Ménard Gamay Anjou 'les Copines Aussi' 2004 ($10). Interesting, offbeat aromatics--touch of high-toned volatility, whiff of barnyard, lightly juicy plum & strawberry notes. Tastes soft and gentle, medium-lightbodied, loose and caressive. There's an odd sawdusty-cedar hint that flickers in and out in the middle before the finish turns towards plumminess. I find it weird at first, then warm to it, then aren't sure, then kind of dig it. There's a wanness that's charming at first, then less so, but there's a lot of character here, nice little offbeat funky gamay. [Buy again? I suppose.]

Domaine Pelaquié Côtes du Rhône 2005 ($8). Brett. Brett, brett, brett. Bandaids, barnyard, quonset hut, plummy redfruit, bandaids. Tastes metallic, some decent warm red-purple fruit is hard to appreciate beneath the distracting brettiness. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.]

Domaine Pelaquié Lirac 2005 ($8). Much cleaner, dark smoky-licoricey red-blackfruit, not a whole lot going on aromatically, but chewy-rich ripe dark fruit makes for a cheerful rich mouthful. Head and shoulders above the bretty Côte du Rhône. Spend the extra buck, although this has the poisonous bark instead of the safe fake cork. Happily, this one isn't tainted. [Buy again? Oh yeah.]


CHEAP CRAP THAT IS NOT CLEAR, YELLOW OR GREEN AND IS FROM THE IBERIAN PENINSULA

Bodegas San Isidro Monastrell Jumilla 'Genus' 2003 ($6). Crushed brick and dark berry aromatics, simple and ripe. Tastes blowsy, loosely wrapped and soft. There's a certain flavorfulness in a kind of Jell-O fashion, soft and berried. Some gently sandy tannins attempt to provide a bit of structure, but just come off as weird. Loose, soft, just a hint of almost-complexity, not much going on here. [Buy again? No.]

Bodegas Luzon Jumilla 'Luzon Verde' 2005 ($6). The 'green' (organic) version of the same winery's 'Luzon.' Ripe red raspberry jam, saddle leather, smoke. Big ripe blowsy stuff, much along the lines of their non-organic version, maybe a bit shyer in the vanilla candle department. There's a certain spiky quality to the midpalate structure, but all else is a gentle fleshiness, just shy of flab, a wash of soft redness. Yes, it's rather berry-soupy, but if you're looking for a big red ripe blowsy thing, it's a lot of wine for six bucks, although I prefer the regular bottling. [Buy again? Yup.]

Almira Grenache-Syrah Campo de Borja Old Vines 'Los Dos' 2006 ($6). The 2004 version of this wine was one of the standouts of Kane's 'Cheap Spaniards' tasting catastrophe a few years back. My review at the time read Soft, ripe, simple and loose-tasting redfruit. Squishily inoffensive, if not terribly interesting. This year's release is maybe a notch up from that, or perhaps I'm just in a better mood because I haven't tasted a score of borderline-undrinkable potions beforehand. Anyway, it's a calm pool of black-raspberry-scented redfruit, with some quiet tartness at the core and grabby tannins on the finish. There's even a little licoricey streak that emerges in the middle and lingers for a moment or two on the finish. Simple, nicely flavorish, a bit squishy, pleasant enough. [Buy again? Yup.]

Caracol Serrano Monastrell Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon Jumilla Tinto 2005 ($7). Smells ripe and dark, sort of generic but there's a smoky-mezcal hint to the blackberry-raspberry aromatics that lends a bit of interest. There's some slightly spiky acidity, a bit of a SweeTart feel to the structure. Slightly gritty tannins on the finish and no finish to speak of, but it's a friendly little ripe pizza-style wine with a decent amount of focus and some structure. Yeah it's uncomplicated and probably not for the ripe-averse, but not bad at all. [Buy again? Sure.]

Bodegas Borsao Campo de Borja 'Borsao' 2006 (garnacha 75%, tempranillo 25%) ($5). I recall disliking the prestigey version of this wine a few years ago, but this basic model is far more agreeable. Smells grapey and black-raspberried, froot-salady and simple. Tastes pretty much like it smells, ripe red-black fruit with some gently tangy supporting acidity that carries the plushness along rather nimbly, avoiding the impression of heaviness (a lack of concentration also helps with that). Simple and amiable, a grape Slurpee™ of a wine that is very easy to drink if you don't find ripeness a flaw. [Buy again? Yeah, for a fin you could do much worse.]

Real Companhia Velha Vinho Tinto Douro 'Evel' 2003 ($6). Smoky redfruit laced with bacon, earth, leather. Plush and softish at first, some bright structure wells up in the middle, then kind of fades away. Still, at least it put in an appearance. A bit squishy, but not too bad for an '03. Kind of seems like a cheap zin mixed 50/50 with a Côte du Rhône. Nothing too special, but for six bucks it's appealingly fruited and mouthfilling. [Buy again? Yeah, okay.]

Bodegas Pedro Martínez Alesanco Rioja Crianza 2001 ($8). Wow, very woodsoaked, coconut/suntan lotion/vanilla candle over dark cherry-berry fruit. It's medium bodied, ripe and cassisberried, but also just really tastes like a vanilla candle. A bit blowsy, a bit loose, a bit bland, but plush and ripe and soft, for those who like that. Even as a diehard Mets fan, I can't in good conscience recommend Pedro's wine. Good luck with the shoulder surgery, stick to the mound. [Buy again? Nah.]

Lost Vineyards Tempranillo Calatayud NV ($2). Bland aromatics, muted redfruit laced with cinnamon. Tastes thin, lean, medicinal and fairly unpleasant. Medium low acidity, bland and wan. Not very good. [Buy again? Nope, not even for two bucks.]


CHEAP CRAP THAT IS NOT CLEAR, YELLOW OR GREEN AND IS FROM SOUTH AMERICA

Lost Vineyards Vino Tinto Bonarda (80%)/Malbec (20%) Argentina NV ($2). Grapey-smelling, grape jelly laced with spearmint. Soft, lightly jammy and innocuous, grape Kool-Ade with a touch of Doublemint and a light licorice streak. Much like something you'd drink on an airplane, except it would cost five bucks for a .175 ml botlet. What's this 'bonarda' stuff, anyway? [Buy again? Yeah okay, but only because it's two bucks.]

Piazzolla Malbec Mendoza 2005 ($7). The label is rather alarming. It's a drawing of either a Maenad or Isadora Duncan in dance ecstasy. Lisa looks puzzled: "Why is she so happy?" she worries. I don't know. I don't. Smells of raspberry jam and Coppertone. Soft and squishy, loosely wrapped and heavy-tasting, though not particularly dense. Candy-oaky, soupy and ponderous, while also surprisingly bland and hollow. Not highly recommended, despite Isadora's flushed cheeks. Rough tannins bite down on the finish. [Buy again? No.]

2 Brothers Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (50%)/Syrah (50%) Colchagua 'Big Tattoo Red' 2004 ($8). The label begins "This wine, you hold in your hands, comes from two brothers. Alex, a wine importer, and Erik, a tattoo artist." It goes on to explain that fifty cents from the sale of every bottle is donated to breast cancer research in memory of their mother. How can even a hardened cynic resist having his heartstrings tugged? At any rate, I'm happy to report the wine is a friendly, roughish, chewy mouthful of smoky blackberry/blackcurrant fruit. Sometimes cabernet-syrah blends strike me as neither fish nor fowl, but this has a rough gusto that makes it a good match with grilled burgers, which we just happen to have at hand. Smoky red-blackfruit on the nose, touch of iodine even, and perhaps a bit too much toasty woodiness. There's a candied sheen to the dark flavors, but there's that chewy roughnesss underneath. Big and smoky-toasty, medium acidity, not bad if you're not wood-averse, some rough tannins, slightly abrasive finish. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? For Alex and Erik, absolutely.]


CHEAP CRAP THAT IS NOT CLEAR, YELLOW OR GREEN AND IS FROM THE LAND DOWN UNDER

Neptune Island Cabernet 80%-Merlot 20% South Eastern Australia 2005 ($7). Everytime I see just 'cabernet' it's cabernet franc, so I'll assume that's the case here. But frankly, it makes very little difference, as there's no varietal character to speak of. Big purple jam-juice, plum and pomegranate and shoe polish. There's some poky acidity wandering through the plushness, but it's on its own. A big concoction, froot-punchy, bland and industrial. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nah.]

Red Knot Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale 2005 ($9). Big dark ripe cassis-smoke-graphite-cedar aromatics. Rich and ripe tasting, creamy-smoky middle, decent supporting acidity, a bit more on the confected side than I remember the '04 being, but still does a credible impersonation of a gobby-pointy kind of wine. Large-framed, with a bull-in-a-china-shop feelingto it, it's broad and ripe and oaky, with decent acidity and some scratchy tannins for mouthgrapple. Scratches a certain itch, you know? But avoid if oak-averse. STRANGE RED TWIST-TIE TOP WITH A RUBBER STOPPER! [Buy again? Yup.]


CHEAP CRAP THAT IS NOT CLEAR, YELLOW OR GREEN AND IS FROM THE GOOD OL' U.S. OF A.

Gnarly Head Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Old Vines 2005 ($13). Smells ripe and chock full of zinberryliciousness--black cherry, raspberry limned with quiet smoke and toast. Tastes soft and squishy, way shy of anything resembling mouthgrab, it's a soft blanket of black cherry redfruit, rich and pleasantly flavorful but veering uncomfortably towards bloppiness. I look around for some Vitamin C tablets to add a bit of vim, but no dice. Gnarly. [Buy again? Nah.]

Sobon Estate Zinfandel Amador County 'Hillside' 2005 ($8). Medium translucent garnet color. Gently peppery black cherry aromatics, tastes loose and lightish, friendly and ripe. A bit of a throwback zin, on the small, easygoing side. Simple and primary, with a puppyish dark frootiness that has a few low dark spicy notes. Medium-low acidity, gently fleshy wine that relies on lightness of foot and pleasant ripeness to please. A decent quaffing zin. Eight bucks? SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Eight bucks? Screwcap? Yeah, okay.]

Cline Cellars Zinfandel California 'Ancient Vines' 2005 ($11). The 'ancient vines' mentioned on the label seem to be more of a philosophical idea than what's actually in the bottle, as they go on to mention other sources of grapes from all over California. Simple ripe black cherry-raspberry aromatics, my first taste impression is 'black cherry cough syrup', which ain't so hot. Then, under the plush fruit, some espresso bitterness. I don't know, I've liked this wine more in past years, it's been a fairly decent well-fruited cheapie, but this isn't doing it for me tonight at all. [Buy again? Nah.]

Carina Cellars Syrah Santa Barbara County 2003 ($12). Medium-dark saturated purply-garnet color, this smells ripe and shirazzy, dark raspberry and plum laced with toastiness. Tastes generously candy-oaky, almost sweet-tasting, clumsy and broad and with very little finesse. Being fond of Santa Barbara in general terms (both of my siblings went to school there), I bought this as a counterpoint to the Shadow, despite it being a bit pricier. To speak plain, this strikes me as striving for pointiness: the fruit is uncomfortably ripe, there's too much wood and not a whole lot of structure. Well, with air a bit more tanginess emerges in middle, but there's still too much jammy redfruit surrounding it. Were it zinfandel I'd probably cut it more slack, but this is no way to treat syrah, boys. Santa Barbara shiraz. [Buy again? No.]

Joel Gott Syrah California 2005 ($13). Smoky aromatics, seared coconut meat mingling with blackberry/black cherry/vanilla candle hints. Tastes glossy and candied, robust and bumptious, medium acidity does what it can. A bit overblown, a bit hot, a bit tannic, more than a bit generic. Disappointingly pointyish stuff. [Buy again? No. No.]

Parker Station Pinot Noir California 2005 ($13). The label stakes a claim as "the best pinot noir you can afford to drink daily." Hmmm, interesting. Smells warm and fleshy, gentle clove-cola accented cherry fruit. Soft and gentle pinot noir, squishy and vague but ripe and friendly. Astringency on the finish is a dealbreaker: it was decent and innocuous up until the end, but turns weird and chemical-tasting at the last. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nah.]

Francis Ford Coppola Presents California 'Rosso Classico' (Zinfandel 51%, Syrah 29%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%) 2005. Loose, ripe and friendly. Sure, it's a bit watery, but there's an amiably slurpy side to the low-acid fruitpunchiness. A bit of bitterness on the finish doesn't help matters, but this just squeaks by on friendly ripeness. [Buy again? Okay, yes.]

Marietta Cellars California Old Vine Red Lot 42 NV ($12). It's been a couple years since I tried this perennial cheapie favorite, and something seems to have gone awry in the interim. Smells strikingly candy-oaky--raspberry, black cherry with an overall vanilla candle sheen. Still ripe, still fairly rich, but blowsier and hollower than I remember, with jammy pillowy fruit and some astringent tannins on the slightly sour finish. A little disappointing, I've liked this wine for so long and recommended it to so many people as the poster child for what a cheap happy wine from California can be, now to see it like this, it's... well, disappointing. I'll hope it's a fluke in the lot number, which is after all the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. [Buy again? Not this lot, no.]

Morro Bay Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast 2001 ($8). Gentle soft cassis-jam aromatics, touch of cedar, touch of oregano. Tastes soft and squishy, ripe but watery little cabernet sauvignon, blackcurranty and rather bland. Inoffensive, kind of juicy but ultimately unsatisfying. [Buy again? Nope.]

Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon California 2003 ($9). Lightly smoky soft cassisberry aromatics, soft and squishy, watery and ripe. Yes, it's cabernet sauvignon, but sort of a cardboard cutout version, propped in the corner. Some wan varietal character but very little interest here. [Buy again? Nah.]

Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon (51%) Merlot (47%) Cabernet Franc (2%) Columbia Valley 2002 ($10). Simple blackberry-black cherry flavors with an underlying vein of shoe polish. Soft and velvety wine, a bit squishy-spiky, but takes on a skosh more aromatic complexity with air, the black cherry growing a bit less candy-hued, some smokiness welling up. Touch of bitterness on the brief finish. Not bad, not great. [Buy again? Nah.]

Station Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004 ($10). Rather shy dark blackcurrant aromatics with a touch of gravel and Coppertone. Medium-lowish acidity, creamy dark cassisfruit that has very little in the way of mouthgrab but has a friendly puppyish fruitiness. Foursquare California-style cabernet sauvignon meant for quaffing, reminiscent of the day when we used to think of this as the cheap alternative to pricey French wine. Not the most finely honed wine, but friendly and ripe and flavorful. Good stuff for ten bucks, a nice find. [Buy again? Yup.]


TWO CHEAP CRAPPY SWEETIES

Warre's Porto Special Reserve 'Warrior' NV ($12). Ripe and industrial, it has the feel of Frankenberry cereal, but there's some pleasant richness and a lot of flavor. Purists and terroiristas avert your eyes, this is candy for the masses. Nice, rich, sweet, hard to dislike. [Buy again? Yup.]

Quinta do Infantado Tawny Port NV ($15). Red clay and maple syrup aromatics, earthiness mingling with a quiet nuttyberryosity. Medium-sweet, not quite as interesting to me as the Ruby version--the tawny-woody flavors aren't really integrated with the red-clay flavors of the fruit-- but very pleasant and drinkable, with an unassuming composure. [Buy again? If they're out of the Ruby, yes.]


That's all, brothers and sisters. Stay strong.




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