This installment of Boatloads of Cheap Crap finds me bouncing back a bit from the kinds of $4-6 wines that were featured so prominently in Boatloads II and III. A recent spate of especially late nights at work and the quite good price one can get for blood plasma these days has resulted in a bit more discetionary income for our household; after several family conferences the decision was made to to plow our newfound lucre right back into the noble cause of raising my standard of drinking at least to gutter level.

So here's what I bought...


Vinum Cellars Roussanne Santa Barbara County 2001 ($13). I like most of what these folks do, so when I saw this I thought I'd give it a try, but damn, it smells oaky--not just oaky, but WOOD-SOAKED. Was there a marketing meeting in which someone decided to emulate a Sine Qua Non monstrosity? Butterscotch-pineapple, lemon-cream soaked with toasted vanilla, the wine smells like tropical French toast, eggs and all. Underneath the carpentry there seems to be some interesting waxy-tropical fruit, hints of paraffin. The mouthfeel is rather oily-viscous, the acidity is firm at the core but there's pillowiness showing around the edges. It's a bit hot, too--damn, it's reeling closer and closer to awfulness with every sip. [Buy again? No and no.]

Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc California Vintner's Reserve 2003 ($10). Light limey-citric notes mix with a honeydew streak, simple and lightly creamy smelling. Tastes much like it smells, the acidity is bright, the midpalate melon-citric and the finish brief and a bit hot. Decent foursquare sauvignon, by-the-numbers and boring as hell. Would do in a pinch at a fish place where there was nothing else but chardonnay on the list, but otherwise a solid pass. [Buy again? No.]

Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc Clarksburg 2003 ($9). "Produced in a crisp Loire Valley style," the label proclaims, and for once that's fairly accurate. Aromatically subdued, light lemon-honeydew underpinned with a rainwatery minerality. Tastes brisk and tart, a light bodied wine with lemony acidity--taut center, looser melony edges. The Loire Schnauzer's declaration of Clarksburg as 'The Vouvray of California' seems a bit less absurd after tasting this. [Buy again? Yes.]

Jacob's Creek Riesling Reserve South Australia 2003 ($14). Lots of vinyl and lemon hints here, smells like a beanbag chair wiped down with Lemon Pledgeª. With air a bit more of a tart yellow appleskin character comes out. Tastes basically dry, perhaps a hint of sugar to soften the minerally edges. Mostly vinyl and wet rocks, quiet lemon-whiteflower hints lurk in the background. Nice middleweight riesling, focused at the core but loosening out at the edges to a stonyfloral softness. Actually pretty decent--restrained, focused and flavorful, opening with air. if it were cheaper I'd call it a good deal on a medium-complex riesling. As it is, it's just a bit too expensive. The next day it's holding together nicely; I want to like it and I almost want to give it a thumb's-up, but it just doesn't quite make it at that price. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? A semireluctant nope.]

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sevre etc. 2004 ($11). The color is back to normal, transparent palest straw, after last year's deeper lemon color. Rather shy aromatics at first, opens up to smell rocky and stoney, touch of limeskin, more rocks and stones. Ah yes, back on form. Lean-bodied and bright-tasting, vivid but not shrill acidity, there's a sense of ease to its nerviness that soothes wonderfully on a hot summer night. Long gin 'n tonic-laced finish, really nice wine. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? In a heartbeat.]

Kanu Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch Limited Release 2004 ($10). Erm, perhaps 'limited' to how much they can sell? The label gives a peculiarly specific list of five dishes that this wine can be served with (grilled shrimp, potato and onion tarts, steamed mussels, mushroom risotto and vegetable stir fry). Not being rulebreakers, we have to wait until one comes around to have it. Bright nose, green chile pepper and a light creamy-grapefruit streak. Middleweight, not extravagant, really rather quiet, less gonzo than Kiwi versions. Tastes very white-grapefruity, kind of foursquare, crisp and bright but with rounded edges, a rather restrained style. Decent and well built but unremarkable and not very distinctive. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Uhhh... nah, I guess not.]

Nyakas Cellars Pinot Gris Hungary 'Monarchia' 2003 ($7). Pale straw, with greyish-tan undertones. Smells quiet, light whiteflower and melon hints, honeysuckle and cantaloupe perhaps. Tastes rather soft around the edges, but with a hint of racy acidity running underneath the velvety flesh. The initial flowerfruity wave rolls over in the middle, turning towards minerality as it heads into the finish. Rather Alsatian in style, it has a certain compactness and restaint that I like, while remaining varietally flavorful. Nice enough. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, sure.]

Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Rueda 2002 ($7). Grapefruit and sweet honeydew aromatics, hints of white flowers, velvety-smooth smelling. Smooth, medium acidity and lightly creamy mouthfeel. Tart fruit compensates for fairly shy acidity, gives the wine some midpalate zing. [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.]


Château Grande Cassagne Rosé Costières de Nîmes 2003 ($9). Poofy cotton candy and cherry candy on the nose, simple and frooty-smelling, very light minerality. VERY light. Tastes big and lightly jammy, a plump little rose that seems almost like a cocktail, like Chambord on the rocks. [Buy again? I'd say no, but I actually did buy it again, so yes, I guess.]


Les Vignerons de Cases de Pène Vin de Pays des Pyrenées-Orientales Cuvée de Peña 2003 ($8). Dark red-black fruit, blackberry and black cherry, red plum, laced with a freshly-spaded soil earthiness and a touch of saddle leather, with a faint minty menthol high note. Tastes blackberried, loose and ripe and medium-sized, a bit soft and fleshy but pleasantly flavorful and straightforwardly simple. Touch of shoyu on the finish, slightly abrasive, but a pretty decent little wine, tasty and quite quaffable. [Buy again? Yup.]

Château de Pizay Morgon 2003 ($13). Medium-light garnet color. Smells lightly of strawberry and black cherries, simply fruity. Loose, fleshy fruit combined with some oddly aggressive sweet-tart acidity. Straightforward and unexciting, out of whack. [Buy again? Nope.]

Massane Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 'Arauris' 2001 ($8). Medium garnet color. Quiet, baked-brick/berry/earth aromatics. Red- and blackfruit circle each other listlessly. The acidity is rather low, the mouthfeel fleshy. Loosely wrapped and a bit vague in the middle, the flavors focus a bit more as they head into the finish, which is brief but interesting (length is overrated). It's a wine that I'd happily drink from a carafe in a café somewhere in Boise, but it's just a bit too vague and aimless here tonight, for all its honesty. I'm typing down a negative response, when Lisa takes a sip and says "Ooh, real wine," which is enough to push it back into qualified yes territory. [Buy again? Yes, just barely.]

Moillard Côtes-du-Rhône Les Violettes 2003 ($8). What a cute squatty little bottle! I'm a sucker for cute squatty bottles. Leaner and more structured than I'd expected from an '03, there's no blowsiness to speak of--the acidity is crisp and not spiky, if it's been acidified it's been done well. The wine itself is rather medium-light bodied, so that would probably help. Easygoing, pretty darn nice, and I just love the little squatty puntless bottle. [Buy again? Sure.]

Eric Texier Côte du Rhône Brézème 1998 ($12). Boy, this was a good cheap wine a few years back. I was a bit wary of it because internet recluse and known pessimist Andrew Munro Scott had claimed his last bottle was undrinkable because of out-of-whack acidity. Not so with me. Smells smoky-bacony, iodine and blackberry. Yes, the acidity is rather hard, slightly offputting at first, but either I soon become acclimated or it relaxes with a bit of aeration. Probably the former. Very aromatic, but yes, a bit obsidian-hard. [Buy again? If I could, sure.]

Domaine Viret Côte du Rhône Villages Saint-Maurice 'Cosmic' 2000 ($14). Ripe dark red tarry-berry fruit, leather and smoke. Smooth, plush and ripe, a bit more dilute than the '99 version but very friendly and puppyish, almost gobby. Hard not to just swill it down, it's such a smooth, warm mouthful of dark redness. Yeah, it could use a little more structure and complexity, but what do you want from a place named after a Saint "Maurice"? Plush, fleshy and velvety-smooth, a crowd-pleaser. Not quite up to the last release, but who among us is? [Buy again? Yup.]

Domaine des Deux Ânes Corbières 2001 ($10). Two asses is one ass too many, if you ask me. Actually, the name makes sense as there's a good whiff of barnyard up front, along with a band-aid brand adhesive bandage strip streak as well, on top of some dark blackberry-plum fruit. I don't mind a bit of brett, and this is within my funky-tolerance range. A soothing leathery-mineral aspect wells up quietly in the midpalate, the blackfruit flavors acquiring a deep cherrypit tartness that carries through the earthy-dark finish. Medium-bodied, with firm acidity and a slightly rough tannic bite, a very pleasant, compactly built wine with some good character if you don't mind a bit of funkiness. [Buy again? Yes.]

Domaine des Pensées Sauvages Corbières 2001 ($11). An old friend, although not as corked as I remember. Light whiff of Band-Aid/quonset hut brettiness over blackberry-black cherry-earthy fruit, streak of barnyard that emerges more with air. Medium-bodied, with a juicy blackberriness that I don't remember from the late-90s versions, comes at you rather forward at first, turns quieter and stonier in the middle, then turns earthy-dirty on the finish, dirt and blackberries, yum. Lots of character, fine balance, buoyant acidity, a real nice little wine. {Buy again? You bet.]

Château Rougi Bordeaux Cuvée Speciale 2003 ($8). Eight dollar Bordeaux from a freak vintage, what could go wrong? Smells of cherry and cotton candy, lightly confected and rather wan, hint of smoke, just a hint of a dark note. Tastes round and dilute, watered down cherry juice. Not really objectionable, just hardly seems like wine, grabless and watery and lightly frootpunchy. No, on second thought it's somewhat objectionable. Lame. [Buy again? No.]

Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence 2003 ($9). Medium dead red. Light aromatics, tree bark and plaster over cherry-cassis, smells vague and rather wan. Tastes a bit more flavorful, still seems dilute, but straightforwardly so. The wine is definitely wan and watery, but there's an honesty that's charming and helps make it palatable. Sort of. Okay, not, it's just kind of watery. Watery-cassis wine, with some fine sandy tannins. Pass. [Buy again? Nope.]


A to Z Pinot Noir Oregon 2003 ($14). Medium garnet color. Smells rhubarby, cherry-rhubarb and talc, light hints of clove dusted throughout. Medium bodied and rather spry, tart lean redfruit turns spicier on the finish. Decent varietal character, nice focus, pleasantly crisp, so why don't I like it more? I dunno, just doesn't hold my interest. [Buy again? No.]

Hedges Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2002 ($10). Jeez, where's the malbec? Plump and ripe, soft redfruit aromatics, plum-cassis and black cherry, hint of cedar, tar. Poofy-dark redfruit, low acidity and a lot of velvety-fleshiness. There's an amiabilty to the simple dark fruit, but it just lays in my mouth like a bored hooker, flat on its back and unimpressed. There's a bit of bitterness arising through the fruit in the finish, some slightly abrasive tannins. This has the straightforward-jammy appeal of, say, the Marietta OV Cuvée in one sense, but lacks focus and mouthgrab, just too limp even for me. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.]

De Loach Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($9). So diffuse and fruity-soft it could well be cabernet nouveau. That said, it's perfectly pleasant as a quaffer, a spineless little quaffer. Shame, as about six or seven years ago I really used to like the De Loach single vineyard zins, which I haven't seen in a while. Watery, bleh. [Buy again? Nuh-uh.]

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2001 ($14). Clean ripe blackcurrant-cedar aromatics, foursquare California cabernet nose, with just a hint of gravel underneath. Good focus, dark cassis and smoke up front, compact and turning towards blackfruit in the middle, light buzz of tarry anise on the finish. Firm and ripe, but matte-textured and not candied. A firm. pleasant little cabernet, quite restrained (indeed, almost elegant) yet managing a quiet juiciness. The acidity is a bit shy, but just a bit--a relatively simple wine but a very well made one, balanced and poised. [Buy again? Yussir.]

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Monterey County 2003 ($10). Soft cherry-cola-clove aromatics. Pleasant, light and diffuse, medium-low acidity, medium-light bodied (despite 14.5% alcohol). Innocuous, soft and pleasant, well-composed and with just a hint of earthiness that goes a long way towards ameliorating the tritone flavorosity. No finish, but whaddaya want? It tastes like pinot and drinks like pinot, not bad, could use a bit more spine, but not bad at all. [Buy again? Yes.]

Twin Fin Pinot Noir California 2003 ($10). Smells calm and clean, plum-cherry laced with light cola hints. Vague and soothing, a pleathery-smooth low acid slurping pinot, the same theory behind their 'shiraz,' which carried it off better in a jammy-purple way. Clean, correct and nondescript, lacking in mouthgrab and focus. Finishes with a brief hit of plum-cherry-clove, more of the same as before. Yes, there's varietal character here and the wine is fairly unspoofulated and amiably loose, but just not a whole lot going on. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? No.]

Twin Fin Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($10). More of the same, smells of ripe plum, cassis and shoe polish. Loose, jammy-ripe and just slightly sweet, but the fun is trickling out at the corners and the wine is just rather jammy-bloated and lacking in spine, focus and character. Candyfruity and hollow, a step up from airline wine, but only just. Stick with the 'shiraz' if you're looking for a jammy party wine. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nope.]

Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc California 2001 ($7). Medium-dark garnet color. Ripe, earthy nose, dark tobacco-cassis fruit laced with African violets and smoke, light vanillin sheen. Rather glossy-textured, but an underlying earthiness helps add interest. Medium acidity, rather creamy but with enough structure to get by. There's a candy-oaky quality, the wine isn't terribly complex, but a certain rusticity, a pleasant roughness, keeps it from cloying. The finish has a cigar-butt tobacco flavor, but there's dark earthy plum-cassis as well. Not bad at all, a good buy at the price. The wine has cohesion and a certain sense of itself. [Buy again? Yup.]

Michael & David Phillips Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine '7 Deadly Zins' 2003 ($14). I've avoided buying this for some time now because of the dopey name, but eventually it's the only zin on the shelves of my local boozeteria that I haven't tried, so here goes... Whee, boisterously ripe black cherry/raspberry aromatics, cherry kirsch mingled with licorice and shoe polish. Big, wacky zin, happily over the top. Creamy-velvety right up front, then broad squishy redfruit washes over my tongue like storm surge. Kind of clumsy, but has a St. Bernardish kind of appeal: if you're fond of goofy zins, this is a winner at a decent price. [Buy again? Yup.]


Morichetti Malbec Mendoza 2002 ($13). Shiny purple wine, dark blackberry-plum-toast aromatics, hint of coral chips, kind of a briny note, that's odd, didn't expect that. Big, robust wine, taut and ripe and rather glossy-wooded, with rough blackfruity edges and sawdusty tannins. Bit too spoofulated for me, even for Mendoza Malbec. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.]

Geo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley "Ona" 2003 ($9). "'Ona' is the name of one of the bravest native tribes that lived in the fjords of Southern Chile." Who knew that Chile was the home of tribes of cabernet-loving fjord dwellers? Not I, that's who. Smells of black cherry and cassis, along with a smoky-graphite streak, something like a burnt pencil. Tastes soft and cassis-curranty, juicy and quietly candied. Not much finish, inoffensive and amiably juicy. [Buy again? Nah.]

Bodega Enrique Foster Malbec Mendoza 'Ique' 2003 ($9). Ripe and dense-smelling, blackberries, violets and a dark earthiness, then plumskin and toast. Tastes dark and glossy, a shiny wine that's quite dense and just a smidge candied, the ripeness overwhelms the rather rough quality at the core and subsumes some toasty woodiness as well. Amiable, rich and ripe, with decent structure, calm but firm acidity and some roughneck tannins. Quite nice, a purple-black wall of fruit with just a bit of complexity and friendly richness, the zin treatment on malbec seems to work well at times, and this is one of them. Burger-friendly stuff. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes.]

Baron Philippe de Rothschild 'Escudo Rojo' Chile 2002 ($13). Aargh, corked. Try try again...

Baron Philippe de Rothschild 'Escudo Rojo' Chile 2002 ($13). Medium-dark garnet color. Smells dark and smoky, tobacco-cassis right at first, with air blackberry-toasty notes come to the fore. Generously wooded, the flavors turn plummy in the middle, then veer back towards blackfruit on the finish, finishing with a cigarstub tobacco note. Meaty and muscular, there's supple medium acidity and some rough tannins. This has the feel of a marketing project, a focus group version of a goblovers' Bordeaux, but it's actually not bad, getting in and scratching some nooks and crannies that less abrasive wines don't reach. I find myself enjoying it despite myself. [Buy again? Yes, but don't tell anyone.]


Bodega Coop. NTRA. SRA. Del Rosario SCCL Tempranillo Ribera del Duero 'Torremoron' 2003 ($8). Smells of black raspberry and balsamic vinegar, light background gravelly stoniness. Dark and balsamic-tasting, plum-blackberry and tobacco. Loosely wrapped, showing a vague blowsiness and tendencey towards aimlessness in the midpalate, but also a pleasant striation of flavors and borderline complex aromatics. Medium-length, slightly medicinal finish is a bit of a distraction, but overall a rather pleasant puppyish wine; it has a way of disarming my critical circuits and just swirling around in my mouth saying "Relax, man, life isn't so bad..." [Buy again? Yah, I think so.]

El Coto de Riojo Rioja Crianza 2001 ($11). Whoops, corked. Back to the store with you, have to try again later.

El Coto de Riojo Rioja Crianza 2001 ($11). Smells of light cherry, sandalwood and vanilla. Rather soft but with enough acidity to get by, a medium-light bodied tempranillo that is decently drinkable but quite nondescript. Loosely wrapped, understuffed and vaguely fleshy. Too woody, too, as the finish has more to do with oak than fruit. I don't know, it's a foursquare crianza that's hard to dislike for any reason other than its complete lack of distinction. I'm trying to listen to what it's saying, but it's just reading aloud the minutes of the most recent meeting of the Madrid Association of Certified Public Accountants. [Buy again? No.]

Bodegas Campos Reales Tempranillo La Mancha 2003 ($9). Smells of raspberries and rocks, fruit-ripe aromatics at first, then the smell of hot stones sneaks up on you. Velvety-smooth mouthfeel, ripe and supple, with just a bit of spikiness to the acidity. Pleasant, simple and quaffable wine--medium-bodied with bit of pillowiness around the middle, finishes with a snappy tang of licorice. Not entirely of a piece, but friendly enough and eminently drinkable. [Buy again? Yup.]

Real Companhia Vinicola do Norte de Portugal Vinho Tinto Douro 'Evel' 1999 ($7). Muted leatherberry aromatics; touch of barnyard, touch of freshly-turned sod. Loose, amiable, a bit of licorice surfaces in the midpalate. Pleasantly earthy and unassuming, quiet redfruit and a good dose of dirt. Medium-low acidity, but the wine is rather quiet and small so it seems almost sufficient. I like it more than it sounds, no pretensions to be anything other than a vague little slurping wine, and as that it succeeds. [Buy again? Yes.]

Conde de Vimioso Vinho Regional Ribatejano 2002 ($10). Medium garnet color. Dark cinnamon-laced black raspberry aromatics, dark tarry smokiness underneath, maybe just a hint of high-toned volatility. Ripe and rough-edged, but rather lithe and light on its feet at the same time. There's a pleasant sort of zinny quality (remember, to me that's a compliment), a robust fruitiness that comes at you right up front, then calms considably and fades to a quiet smoky-barky redfruitiness in the midpalate. Amiably loose, not terribly well-honed, but a very interesting wine, pretty darn good for the money and I'll buy more. [Buy again? Yes.]


Grant Burge Shiraz Barossa 'Barossa Vines' 2002 ($10). Barossa jam, really. If this were boiled down about 25% it would taste like some of those weird Marquis-Phillips potions; as it is it's merely spoofulated shiraz, corpulently ripe plum-jammy fruit hung onto a frame of weird spiky acidity. Bit of bug-spray in the nose doesn't help convince me much, either. On the bright side, it's quite flavorful in a big, jammy way, although the flavors turn otherwordly again as the finish grinds to an abrupt halt. With some air the bugspray fades and the wine turns more routine and less freaky, but still very little of interest besides jammy ripeness. Did I mention it was jammy? [Buy again? No.]

Aussie Island Wines Shiraz Australia 'Dinky Do' 2002 ($7). It was either this or the slightly dumber-sounding "Woop Woop." Smells purple, like grape jelly and shoe polish. Tastes very much like smells, spiked grape Kool-Aidª with an odd rubber-tire/chemical aftertaste. Blech, hard to gag down: the cat ends up drinking most of this. [Buy again? NO NO NO.]


Brancott Vineyards Pinot Noir Marlborough 2003 ($12). Medium-light garnet color. Cola-cherry aromatics, hint of tea and tree bark. Thin, taut and bright pinot, simple and nervy and rather hardhearted, not giving much away. Nice balance, pleasantly thin and toned, but the finish is a bit roughly tannic and there's a shortage of flesh around the spine. The elements seem to all be there, but I like it less than I feel I should, given its structure-oriented makeup and the relatively low price. I dunno, it just doesn't have enough going on to carry off the severe-pinot act. Maybe it needs time, but I'm not convinced. [Buy again? No.]

'Kiwi' Red Table Wine New Zealand 2004 ($12). Light garnet color, pale and translucent. Lightly aromatic, cherries and wet rocks. Pleasant minerality, very bright and crisp, don't know what's in it, but it comes off as a bright simple little pinot, cheerily cherried and uncomplicated. Actually quite nice, light bodied and friendly. Rather loosely wrapped, could use a bit more focus, but that's a quibble, it's a pleasant little wine that goes well with tomato-sausage rigatone. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Sho nuff.]


Duff Gordon Porto 1994 ($14). What to make of a vintage port from 1994 that sells for fourteen bucks? The cork disintegrates on contact, but let's give it a shot... hmm... bricky-brownish color, more developed-looking than I'd expect... smells warm and cocoaberried, quiet aromatics, sweet dusty cocoa, tea, tree bark and dried berry. Tastes muted and rather old, the medium-plus sweetness coming to the forefront and giving the earthy-bricky fruit the whiff of simplicity. This port is cooked. Yup, there's heat damage here, although it holds it pretty well and it comes across kind of like a caricature of aging, there's no denying it's too old for such a young wine. Still, as I said it does hold it well, the dried-fruit quality melding with the forepalate sweetness to lend a kind of preserved charm to the wine. If good chenin holds corkiness better than any other wine, vintage port holds heat damage better than anything else (besides Madeira, obviously). The heat on the finish is accentuated as the sweetness lingers only briefly, leaving a licoricey aftertaste. There's also about an inch of pure chunky sludge at the bottom. Pretty good for cooked wine, but not a buy again. [Buy again? Didn't you hear what I just said?]

That's all the Cheap Crap for now, kids. See you next time!

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