Yes, it's the end of summertime here on America's Isle of Hospitality. The sweltering heatwaves of August are just a fond memory, the locustlike buzzing of airconditioners fading to a gentle background drone.

In summertime the off-islanders flock here in droves to enjoy our relaxed island lifestyle and stroll our scenic historical walks. The Fourth of July is the peak of the tourist season, bringing tens of thousands to crowd our southern tip for the fireworks while our tiny street teems with visitors, our lone subway station backs up for hours like Willett's Point after a playoff, our manatee gawked at beyond the capacity of most seagoing mammals to endure.

In short, it's a little exhausting. The pressures to live up to the community standards for hospitality hang awkwardly on the shoulders of borderline misanthropes like your humble narrator. As a consequence, I found myself upping my consumption of Cheap CrapŞ, combing the shelves of local establishments for the cheapest, the crappiest, the offbeatest.

And here they are, the fruits of a long summer's labor...


Fâmega Vinho Verde 2005 ($6). Gently spritzy mineral water with a touch of alcohol, sugar and lime rind. Kind of like a minimalist wine cooler. Could use a bit of structure, but it's okay for what it is, though thoroughly unremarkable. [Buy again? No, not really.]

Domaine de la Borne Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine 'Cuvée Servir Frais' 2005 ($10). Rich but restrained smellies--hay and quinine, gentle yellow apple, hint of yeast. Tastes bright and vivid, medium-high acidity clothed in earthy-minerally flesh. Very flavorful, tart and breezy wine, delightful. If this is representative of '05 Muscadets, it might be time to buy three or four. [Buy again? Yes, yes.]

Neil Ellis Wines Sauvignon Blanc South Africa Coastal Region 'Sincerely' 2004 ($12). Another entry in our favorite genre of New World wines consciously fashioned in imitation of Old World wines ("Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" says the back label, while the front is designed to look like a Sancerre label). Smells of jalape–o pepper and lemon cream right up front, segueing into a quiet grapefruitiness. Tastes bright and cheerful, lightly creamy, middling acidity with a soft mouthfeel, easy to sip, relatively uncomplicated. More New Zealand than Loire Valley, but well made and friendly. [Buy again? Yes, by the bottleload.]

Vi–a San Pedro Sauvignon Blanc Central Valley (Chile, not California) "35 South" 2003 ($8). Quiet lemon-canteloupe aromatics, whiff of honeysuckle whiteflorality. Medium crisp and neutral tasting up front, gently creamy, turning white grapefruity in the middle and holding that citric tone through the finish. There's a sense of wateriness, but it seems straightforward and decent, a very mellow little sauvignon, decent but somewhat underwhelming. [Buy again? No.]

Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Touraine 2004 ($11). Gentle ginger-plaster aromatics, lightly lemony smelling. Tastes gentle and flavorful, softish but with a bright acidic core. Pretty stuff, soothing and relaxed and smile-inducing. These people are so reliably great that I simply don't buy their wines much anymore. Another lovely wine for chump change, year after year, no news here. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? In theory, yes.]

Château Guiraud Bordeaux Blanc Sec 2003 ($13). A sniff, and there's a touch of coconut and an odd curry note at first, over a base of celery-infused lemon cream. Tastes round and soft, lemon-ginger and vanilla rise up in the middle and overwhelm a light stony streak, then linger briefly on the finish. There's acidity, but not enough to bind the squishy fruit into anything close to focus. Not bad, but dull and broad. [Buy again? No.]

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch ($14). Pale lemon-straw color. Smells of stony lemon-pineapple with a light whiff of rattan. There's seems to be an unsubtle woodiness, but the wine carries it pretty well. Quite structured and vivid, crisply bright and well honed. Good, tart stuff. [Buy again? Yes, I think so.]

Château Soucherie (Tijou) Anjou Blanc 2005 ($12). Stony aromatics, chalk mingling with lemon and gardenia whiteflorality, pleasant but aromatically shy. Tastes pure and racy, with a certain looseness in the middle, tangy stonyfloral fruit that turns vague, but nicely vague. A pretty, charmingly inconsequential wine that has a light purity to it that I like a lot. [Buy again? Yup.]

Hogue Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2002 ($8). Smells like buttered popcorn, yellow pear and seared caramel. Tastes crisp and lean, but also tastes like it smells--buttered popcorn, yellow pear, seared caramel. Apart from the aromas and flavors this is a decently built wine, but I can't get past them, or the notion that any wine should taste like buttered popcorn, yellow pear and seared caramel. Ick. [Buy again? Never.]

Echeverria Chardonnay Molina 'Unwooded' (Chile) 2005 ($6). Rather neutral aromatics, shy pear and yellow apple hints, kind of reserved but sort of appealing in a gentle, nonintrusive way. Tastes quiet and fresh-fruity, rather grapejuicy really, which isn't too bad all in all. Medium acidity that's a little spiky but not overly so. Amiable little wine, unadorned and friendly. [Buy again? Sure.]

Adelsheim Vineyards Pinot Gris Oregon 2003 ($12). Quiet, neutral aromatics--light plumeria, unripe pineapple. A sip, and it's a little spritzy, soft at the edges but with a gently nippy tartness at the core. Smooth, soothingly easygoing wine, with a surprisingly long finish. Small and unadorned but very pleasant. [Buy again? Definitely.]


Domaine du Roc Minervois Cuvée Expression 2001 ($14). Medium-dark purply garnet color. Boisterous plum/black raspberry aromatics, licorice and tar underneath. Tastes very concentrated, almost reduced. Glossy textured, healthily wooded and rather musclebound, Minervois shiraz. [Buy again? No.]

Eric Texier C™te du Rh™ne Villages Séguret Vieilles Vignes Non FiltrŽ 2000 ($14). Blackberry-plum aromatics, subtle hints of earth, leather and iodine, touch of acetone volatility. Tastes smooth and chewy, darkly raspberried, rich and firm, very nice, maybe just the hints of some early secondary complexity. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Sure.]

Caves des Vignerons de Saumur Saumur Réserve des Vignerons 2004 ($10). Medium-dark garnet, deeply colored. Aromatically rather inert, quiet dark cherry-berry laced with hints of tar, gravel and tobacco leaf. Composed and foursquare, if a bit characterless, oddly smooth and ripe but sandily tannic on the finish. The acidity is firm, the wine is compact and pleasant enough with Lisa's grilled chicken breasts, despite a certain generic quality. [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.]

VIgnobles Paul Jeune/Domaine Monpertuis Vin de Pays du Gard 'Cuvée Counoise' 2004 ($9). Gentle cherry-grapejuicy aromatics, slight candied edge. Tastes strangely fleshy-spiky, loose redfruit with some puckery cherry SweeTart flavorosity. Thin, fleshy, sour and candied; a peculiar combination. [Buy again? No.]

Domaine des Terres DorŽes Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2003 ($14). Light plum-mineral aromatics. Tastes medium-lightbodied, gentle and loose, spreads languidly out on my tongue. A gentle wine, all rocks and plumstones, until some sandy tannins kick in on the finish. A bit watery, but honest and balanced enough to get by. [Buy again? I'll wait for the '04]

Ets Vinicoles de Gironde Cabernet-Merlot Grand Vin de Bordeaux 'Premius' 2002 ($5). Wow, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux for only five bucks! What a steal! Or... not. Simple cherry-berry aromatics, actually smells like almost nothing, maybe a hint of tarry-toastiness, um... not much else. Tastes red, quite red. Simple and red, with medium acidity and a watery middle. Okay, so it's no great shakes, but I have to admit you could do worse for five bucks in Bordeaux, as the wine actually has a smidgen of flavor and decent structure and isn't flawed in any real sense other than being industrial and having a strange chemical note on the finish. But when I'm talking five buck Bordeaux my standards are very low--if I don't go blind after drinking it, it's a buy again. [Buy again? Grand Vin--sure.]

Château Grand Champ Bordeaux 2003 ($7). I know what you're thinking: SEVEN BUCKS for Bordeaux?! Why splurge on this stuff when the Premius Grand Vin can be had for two dollars less? Well just hang on a minute--despite the larger chunk of change it'll set you back, it's got a lot more guts, more heft. Strangely, it smells like pretty much nothing, light plum-berry with some dark tarry piping. Tastes more substantial, fleshy and loose and plumpishly simple, with low acidity and a light green-herby streak amidst the redplumberryness. Throw in some aggressive sandy tannins, and how can you go wrong? Has that jammy Oz-wine-with-animal-label feel to it, except with just the tiniest hint of herbaceousness. [Buy again? No, not really.]

Pascal Granger Beaujolais-Villages 2005 ($12). Smells of cherry pits and talc, lightly juicy-minerally. Tart, almost sour, very tightly wrapped, although lightbodied and on the thin side. A vivid little gamay, but a little severe to be completely satisfying, and there's not much of a finish. [Buy again? No.]

Jacky Renard Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre Cépage Pinot Noir 2003 ($11). Plain cherryfruity aromatics, gentle stirrings of plum and dirt. Lightbodied, loose and plump, with some spiky acidity hiding in the fleshy folds and a few gritty tannins on the finish. Amiable enough, nonfreaky and decent, but out of balance. [Buy again? No.]

Domaine du Château Vieux/Fabrice Rousset Vin de Pays de la Drome Vieilles Vignes 2001 ($10). Medium dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells dark and ripely earthy-gamy, smoky plum-berry and leatherbark notes. A sip, and geez, it's ripe and dark but there's a shrill vein of acidity screeching down under my tongue. Tough to avoid the squinchy face with this one, although it's got some good rich dark fruit in there as well. Um, maybe I'll wait for the 2003...? [Buy again? In two years' time.]

Celler de Saint Louis Brignoles Vin de Pays du Var 'La Brasserie Rouge' 2003 ($5). Gentle raspberry-plum aromatics, touch of earthiness, hint of barnyardy funk. Blowsy, loose and vague, with middling acidity. The price is right, but the wine has a certain sterility, a stripped-down quality that leaves very little behind except a sort of Kool-Adey type of beverage. Even for five bucks it's not much of a bargain. [Buy again? No.]


Castle Rock Pinot Noir Monterey County 2005 ($10). Gentle cherry/grapejuice-clove aromatics. Soft clovey pinot fruit, loose and vague but recognizably pinotish. Kind of vague, kind of wan, but gently friendly at the same time. It's simple and tritonal plum-cherry-earthish, but fairly genuine and rather likeable as a kind of cocktail pinot. Not bad, could use a spine, but not bad. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes.]

Solaris Pinot Noir Carneros 2004 ($10). Gentle plum-clove-raspberry aromatics, smells calm and fruity. More cohesive and less spoofy tasting than the '03, with a brief tangy-berry finish instead of a burny-burnt one. There's still a bit of unintegrated heat, but the wine seems simple and smooth and pleasant, a step up from last year. [Buy again? Yep.]

Duck Pond Cellars Pinot Noir Oregon 2003 ($13). Medium light garnet color. Smells funkily reductive at first, eventually that blows off, leaving behind simple cherry-barky aromatics, touch of forest floor here. Tastes light and loose, pleasant enough to sip, along the lines of a generic Bourgogne with a splash of cherry syrup. Decent enough and seems honest, if not particularly interesting. [Buy again? Probably not.]

Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Vintner's Blend' 2003 ($9). Aromatically inert, wan hints of cherry and blackcurrant, smells sort of stripped-down. Tastes ripe and watery, more flavor than the aromatics would suggest, but very generic. There's some nice juiciness right up front, but it gets dilute in the middle and turns roughly tannic on the finish. Has some pleasant ripe fruit and decent acidity, but very little character. [Buy again? No.]

Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Keyes Canyon Ranches 2003 ($12). Ripe aromatics, velvety creme de cassis mingling with cherry preserves and a dark tarriness. Tastes slightly candyfruity, but there's a pleasant matte quality to the mouthfeel, and that along with middling acidity and some sandy-rough tannins give the wine some much-needed mouthgrab. There's a cartoonish quality here, as if it were a slightly sketchy caricature of a big pointy-style cabernet sauvignon, but it's juicy and flavorful and really quite nice, in a simple kind of way. [Buy again? Yup.]

Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2002 ($13). Corked. Back it goes.

Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2003 ($13). Dusty blackberry-cassis aromatics, sweet smelling fruit with dirt-mineral undertones. The acidity is a bit spiky, stands out against the fruit background, doesn't so much pitch in as stand on the sidelines and cheer, but its heart is in the right place. Tarry-licorice notes arise in the middle and mingle with dark cassis on the finish, which is medium-shortish. Quite flavorful, focused and tasty cabernet sauvignon. [Buy again? Sure.]

Napa Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 2001 ($14). Can anyone tell me where this wine is from? Smells dark and ripe, cassis-blueberry laced with toast and licorice. Fleshy and chewy-textured wine, with some strangely spiky acidity burbling up in the middle, then disappearing. Broad and unsubtle, foursquare bullyboy Napa cabernet sauvignon, better than many and cheaper than most. [Buy again? No.]

Gallo of Sonoma Syrah Sonoma County Reserve 2002 ($10). Medium-dark garnet, blackish at the core, lots of sediment. Smells of ripe blackberries laced with smoked meat and dust. Tastes dark and earthy, plum-blackberry fruit, slightly overassertive acidity, unusual combination of glossy mouthfeel with gritty tannins on the finish. Interesting wine, certainly by-the-numbers, but well made and robust, almost chewy. A ton of sediment at the bottom and stuck to the inside of the bottle. Lots of richness and substance here, some small measure of complexity as well. [Buy again? Yup.]

Ravenswood Syrah Sonoma County 'Icon' 2001 ($13). Dark garnet color. A good whiff of funky reductive swampiness at first, fades away quickly, then shy blackberry & eucalyptus, new-spaded sod. A sip, and it's got a glossy, slightly candied mouthfeel right up front, then suddenly turns gland-squeezingly tart, puckery-shrill and freaky. Unpleasant. [Buy again? Only if your surname is Sacher-Masoch. Didn't this wine used to cost a lot more?]

Hayman Hill Shiraz-Viognier Monterey County Reserve Selection 2002 (93% shiraz, 7% viognier) ($12). Yikes, it's shiraz all right--smells purple, plum and blackberry mingled with an odd cementdust note and persistent burnt-tarry streak. Tastes thick and concentrated, reduced really, plum preserves, grittily tannic, an overconcentrated bullyboy of a wine. No finesse, but plenty of rich fruity-smokiness. [Buy again? No.]

McManis Family Vineyards Petite Sirah California 2004 ($10). Dark blackberry-pomegranate and hot roofing tar, chewy-smelling, like blackberry-tar chewing gum. Tastes firm and composed, ripe but not particularly plush, more roughish-textured, with a certain surprising lightness in the middle. It's a little ungainly, a little abrasive, but for those of us who like a bit of a rough edge, it's a winner. Very nice, firm acidity, medium-length pomegranate-laced finish. A lot of wine for ten bucks. [Buy again? Sure thing.]

Guenoc Petite Sirah North Coast 2002 ($13). Big Duranteish nose--pomegranate and blackberry, sawdust, hot tar. Tastes rich, dense and coarse, a rough-edged wine. Medium acidity, matte mouthfeel, tangy purply-pomegranate finish. The wooding seems slathered on like whitewash, but apart from that the wine has a certain roguish charm, an unapologetic bad-boy appeal. Dig it. [Buy again? Who can resist a bad boy?]

Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel California NV ($6). Simple raspberry-cherry aromatics, with a touch of VA. Tastes fresh and frooty, like zin nouveau, loose and light, with low acidity and no tannic action whatsoever. Strangely, the lack of backbone doesn't compromise the wine, as there's some almost puckery-tart raspberry flavors to give it lift. Fluffy wine, without substance but very easy to drink. Funny, you don't see a lot of decent nonvintage zinfandel these days. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Six bucks? Sure, why not.]

Sea Star Zinfandel California 2004 ($6). One-note black cherry fruit, slight sweetness to the wine. Loose, medium-low acidity, watery, a bit insipid, really. What's up with the sugar in supposedly dry wines? FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.]

Six Prong Red Wine Columbia Valley 2002 ($12). I received this as a gift from an anonymous admirer, who I suspect was tickled by the name. At any rate, it smells like it's auditioning for an understudy role in the Gobfield Follies--ripe cassis & cherry candy laced with vanilla and toasty cedar hints, squat and tritonal and rather bumptious, Danny DeVito in a glass. [Buy again? Only for the name.]

Peterson Winery California 'Zero Manipulation' California (78% Carignan from Tollini Vineyard Redwood County Mendocino, 14% Syrah from the Soon to Be Famous Gravity Flow Vineyard in Sonoma County, 8% Mourvedre from Norton Ranch in Dry Creek Valley) 2004 ($12). Medium dark purply-garnet color. Smells darkly earthy, grapey blackfruit with a shy gravelly undertone. A sip, and it's quite surprisingly crisp, vivid acidity supporting juicy-tart, slightly candied but stony-hard-at-the-core fruit. Fine glassy tannins on the medium-quick finish. A happy combination of juiciness and structure, very appealing California wine. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes, a couple more bottles right away.]


Craftsman Cabernet Franc Szekszard Region (Hungary) 2003 ($8). If you can't get excited about an eight dollar cabernet franc from Hungary, you must be dead inside! Medium garnet color. Vague cherry-berry aromatics, watery smelling, like a dilute fruit punch. Tastes medium-lightbodied, some rather characterless cherry-berry fruit, medium acidity, wan and bland stuff. How sad, given the high expectations we all have for Hungary's cheap cabernet franc producers! [Buy again? Absolutely! Not!]


Consorzio Servizi Agrari Frescobaldi Rosso Toscana 'Rèmole' 2003 ($8). The label proclaims that this is made mostly of sangiovese, with 'una piccola quantita di cabernet,' although it doesn't specify which cabernet, one has to assume franc I suppose. Simple ripe cherry-black cherry aromatics, simple ripe black cherry-cherry flavors. Cookie-cutter wine, would outshine most coach class airline wines. Fleshy, red and round, a decent generic red with enough acidity to not be ponderous. Nothing to complain about, actually has a pleasant freshness to it, but brings Velveeta to mind. [Buy again? No, I don't think so.]

A-Mano Primitivo Puglia 2001 ($8). Medium dark purply-garnet color. Smells gently ripe, black cherry with a good infusion of blueberry & shoe polish. Tastes soft and fleshy, squishy and fruitbowlish. The low acidity is marginally offset by a matte mouthfeel and a light licorice vein that emerges in the middle and holds out until some light glassy tannins sweep it away. Loose and frooty zin without a touch of complexity or pretension. In other words, passable burger wine. [Buy again? I guess. Nongeeks sure seem to like it, anyway.]

Lost Vineyards of Italy Vino da Tavola Rosso ($2). Medium light garnet color. Simple fruit punchy cherry-plum aromatics. Tastes soft and gently fruity, on the wan side but friendly and simple wine. Medium-low acidity, soft fleshiness, light body, watery middle. A simple, easygoing, innocuous little wine that is bland but not freaky or manipulated. Not too bad, really, kind of decent pizza wine. [Buy again? For TWO BUCKS? Damn straight, I can always cook with 'em.]

Enrico Pierrazzuoli/Tenuta Le Farnete Barco Reale di Carmignano 2003 ($8). Dark cherry-plum aromatics, hints of anise, some quiet gravelly stoniness down deep. Tastes a bit chunky, there's a wateriness in the middle and a simplicity to the flavors. On the other hand, it's pleasantly crisp, actually has some decent focus. There are some rough tannins on the finish, but the roughness actually adds to the simple-country-wine feel. It's close, but it's kind of oddly amiable, and remarkably full of chunks of sediment. [Buy again? Yes, just barely.]

Brusco dei Barbi Toscana 2002 ($13). Smells juicyfruity, blackcherry, plum, hint of leather, almost nouveauish. Tastes equally soft and juicy, cherrypit and blackberry flavors, simple light and uncomplicated. Cherrypit flavors linger on the finish, which is mediumlength. Pleasant, insubstantial wine, amiably forgettable. [Buy again? Nah.]

Tenuta Maggiore Croatina Sentito Provincia di Pavia 2002 ($7). Smells quietly earthy, brown-herb and sage mingling with hints of redfruit. Tastes thin and austere, with very little in the way of overt fruit and a lot of abrasive tannin. No, A LOT; 'croatina' is apparently Italian for 'tannat.' Medium acidity, light bodied and loosely wrapped, watery in the middle. Odd, but not very pleasant. [Buy again? Nope.]


Solario Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley Reserve (Chile) 2004 ($7). Medium-light garnet color. Soft, gently spicy aromatics, plum-strawberry dusted with clove, stony undertones. Light, ethereal wine, loose and vague but smoothly quaffable and velvety. It at leasts tastes like pinot noir, and for seven bucks I'll take it. [Buy again? Sure.]

Solario Syrah Central Valley (Chile) 2005 ($6). Grapey blackberry, shoe polish hints. Simple, juicy and medium-bodied, a sort of syrah nouveau-style wine. There's middling acidity, a light smoky flavor in the middle, more grapey-blackberry flavors on the finish. There's actually a pleasant substance to the flavors, simple as they may be, and a bit of structure, including a tannic buzz at the end. For six bucks you could do worse. [Buy again? Sure.]

Domaine Monte de Luz Syrah San Jose (Uruguay) 2005 ($6). Smoky dark purpleberry and blackfruit aromatics, light smoked meat hints, simple but kind of comfortable smells. Tastes juicy and tangy, two-dimensional but with a certain rough-edged rusticity that I find charming. The acidity is surprisingly assertive and the wine is on the lean side, giving the wine some decent mouthgrab. For six bucks you could do a lot worse. [Buy again? Yup.]

Domaine Monte de Luz Tannat San Jose (Uruguay) 2005 ($6). Shy aromatics, grapey blackberry, light touch of earthy funk, dark tarriness down deep, but quite reserved, nosally speaking, not giving much. Crisp acidity, medium-lean and borderline racy, plum and blackberry flavors dissolve into a familiar tannic haze on the finish. Yup, it's tannat all right. This could be a baseline Madiran from a midlevel producer in a ripe year, although it's a bit plummier than you usually see there. Anyway, the syrah is more expressive but this has some interesting character and pleasant abrasiveness. Both the wines are quite firm and lean, surprisingly so to me, good food wines. [Buy again? Yup.]


Château Gravas Sauternes 2001 ($12/.375). Happily expressive smellies, pineapple candy, vanilla, touch of flintiness, hint of botrytis, hay. Tastes rich and sweet, glossy-textured and borderline viscous. The acidity is on the spiky side, but does its job sufficiently to keep the midpalate from sticking to the roof of my mouth. Not the most complex or balanced Sauternes, but there's a lot going on and it's cheerful stuff, just shy of being a bit much. [Buy again? Sure thing.]

Château Manos Cadillac 2003 ($10/.375). Quite sulfurous, firecrackery hints, along with a touch of sour milk lacticity. Sweet and richly sugared, with some slightly shrill acidity and lemony-vanilla flavors. Decent, but clumsy and a bit paunchy. [Buy again? Nah.]

Here endeth the summer of cheapness, and with the end of the summer [url=""]The Tram[/url] is restored to us. What new adventures in highwire hipster frugality will the autumn bring?

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