Authentic Red, Gnarly Head

Gnarly Head is kind of one of our standards at the house. It’s reliable, nicely priced, and tends to be gentle on the non-aficionado palate. It’s a favorite for my book club ladies, or a random dinner party. I usually grab an Old Vine Zin, or Merlot. Even a Pinot Noir.

We picked up a few bottles of wine last time we were mooching around Ward’s, including two different Gnarly Heads. At my most recent book club gathering, I accidentally pulled out the Authentic Red instead of the Merlot because I was in a hurry. But when we opened it and poured it around, I actually had a “Whoa, what is this?” moment in the madness of female discussion. (The Man often comments about how we all seem to talk at the same time, at the top of our voices, and he can’t understand how we call it a conversation.)

The Man was quite put out that we drank the Red before he got to it, so when we were at Ward’s today he grabbed two bottles. Just to be safe. While we waited for his tomatoes to roast down for a red sauce, we opened the Authentic Red. Which, can I say–if you are making red sauce that takes several hours, have something to eat in the mean time to offset the alcohol intake.

Anyhow, we opened the Authentic Red with some high expectations because of my “hold the phone” experience in the midst of female insanity. Honestly, we were not disappointed. Initially there’s this low, mellow rolling flavor that bursts out into this high, grassy sensation. There are lovely earthy notes of raisins and dates rooting it deeply in the caramel zone, but then you get these big, loopy, rolling spirals of flavor that open up delicious fruit and sunshine flavors.

The high alcohol content (14.5% ABV) gives it some phenomenally long legs (and again, not something for an empty stomach while cooking). It’s mostly a zinfandel, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon blended in. Even on the bottle, Gnarly Head recommends the wine is paired with big flavor dishes. They’re not kidding. Big flavors. You know when you’re listening to a Maria Callas aria and she just opens up and lays into you with that voice. Huge rolling loops of intensity.

The nice thing was that as we drank this bottle (waiting for the red sauce to cook), the wine breathed out the sharp grassy flavors, leaving a rich, lush velvety flavor curve. Like a true redhead, it was big and bold and loud. Now I’m kind of glad we have a second bottle. I definitely want another taste of the Authentic Red.

Gnarly Head
Authentic Red
Vintage 2010
Lodi, California
About $6-8


Pacific Redwood, Organic Red Wine

Pacific Redwood Wine

September 5, 1965. Michael Fallon, a San Francisco journalist, uses the term ‘hippie‘ in an article about the new generation of beatniks gathering in the Haight-Ashbury area. A lot of people point to this as the first recognizable use of the term that brands a generation, culture, and way of life.

California is still home to a significant population of hippies–the original version and the new vintages of them. I myself was born in California and come from authentic hippie stock. This is why I am making an effort to get over my temporary fixation with Spanish wine and try more California wines. This is also why I lean towards organic anything. (And why when my doctor disapproved of my not having had many of my shots as a child, I had to explain that I felt lucky to at least have a real birth certificate.)

Over the years, the hippies that lived and thrived in northern California grew weary of covertly growing their lucrative crop of the Devil’s Weed, and a few turned to the newest cash crop—grapes. Wine grapes to be specific. They slowly became farmers, then vintners, then they became famous. And rich. And it was all legal. They got thanked by the state of California’s tourism captains. The French hated them. It changed the face of the countryside, now littered with B&Bs and tasting rooms among the grapes.

Now when people think about wine in the US, they think about Northern California. And Paul Giamatti. Because most people saw the movie Sideways after all of the hoo-ha about it. (I prefer Bottle Shock because you learn more about wine, and there’s less whining. No pun intended.) The people that like to draw lines and make categories out of things say there’s three major wine regions in California. Or possibly four. Depending on who you talk to. They also use words like viticulture, appellation, and riparian zones. These people crack me up.

The three, or four, regions are Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and possibly Lake County. Each of these regions are broken down into sub-regions, and of course there are all kind of outlying regions that aren’t as cool or famous. Wine country is about wine the same way that Comic-Con is about comic books. There’s so much more. And the extreme tourism brought on by the fame is further distorting the earthy traditions of the region’s wineries.

Anyhow, being from good hippie stock, and being born in California, I’ve had the nagging feeling that I should drink more California wines. Fortunately the wine buyer at Ward’s seems to think the same thing and has been stocking some interesting options lately. I picked up this Pacific Redwood organic red along with a Chilean and a Spanish.

I’m a bit wary of the organic wines, especially when they advertise they are not just organically grown, but have no added sulfides. They can sometimes be quite rough and need a bit of time to breathe after opening. But this Pacific Redwood from Mendocino County was bright from the opening and didn’t oxidize until it had been open for about an hour. The dark purple-red wine had a very wet and juicy mouth feel, but a mildly woody nose. It initially tasted sweet and young, with lots of berry flavors throughout. There were lovely undertones of honey, and then it finished with a dry peppery flavor before disappearing cleanly.

Overall it was a light, young wine that I would drink again. A little sweeter than I prefer, but quite enjoyable with some snacks or a light meal. I want to try it against a little honey-barbecue baked tofu. Mmmmmm.

So my exploration of California wine continues. With the rise of somewhat legal medical marijuana in the state, one has to wonder if the hippies-turned-vintners feel the urge to return to their original crops, or if they like the more robust success of the less edgy wine culture. I hope they stick with it. At least until California gets that next big earth quake and falls into the Pacific.

Pacific Redwood
Organic Red
About $6-8


Ménage à Trois Wines

Menage a Trois wineDespite its kitchy, catchy branding, the Ménage à Trois line of wine is worth checking out. This has been a standard at book club here since some smart ass brought the first bottle for a laugh.

The premise is that for each of the four styles of wine, there is a blend of three varietals, hence the wink at the naughty threesome concept. Folie à Deux has several vineyards in Napa Valley, and has been producing wine for a few decades. You can tell from their branding and website that they invested a chunk of change into marketing, but it was a sound investment to support a decent wine offering.

Our usual at book club is the California Red, a blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. It is a young wine with a great, wet mouth feel and lots of berry flavor notes. It’s lovely for those non-wine people who like a glass once in a while but don’t know more than “red, white, pink, or bubbles” when it comes to choosing wine. We like to have a bottle of this in the rack at home as a standard.

I’m just not even going to talk about the California Rosé because I’ve not knowingly had rosé wine before, and don’t know if I plan on changing that ever. I just can’t get out of my head that it’s the zenith of girly-girl sugar syrup, and I would feel too self-conscious holding a glass of that in public. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not very butch. I love pink. I ONLY own high heels. I have a Hello Kitty toaster (and I use it!). But pink wine? Hm.

The California White blend is high on my list of options in the summer when I’m looking for something to chill down and drink outside. Especially if I’m going to a friend’s event and need to bring a bottle with a lot of curb appeal. Because really, how fun is it to bring something with a naughty label to a party? Chilled down, this blend still has a sweetness that can get tiring if you don’t like white wine. On the other hand, it’s still that kind of wine that will satisfy wine novices without offending people who know a little bit about wine. The low papaya flavor supports the high lime notes, and the crisp mouth feel is tasty on a hot day. It’s a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc, and moscato, so the sassy bite saves it from the sweetness.

The Chardonnay blends grapes from three counties in the region, each offering their own characteristics to this balanced bottle. It has a mild flavor curve from start to finish, with just a leaning towards the middle citrus notes. The mouth feel hints at the classic buttery, round sensations, but it is saved by the light floral fragrance and clean finish. I’m picky about my chards, having fallen head over heels for some fun wine on our trip the NY Finger Lakes region. Ménage à Trois’ Chardonnay is nice to have on hand and bring to events because it’s affordable and quite drinkable though. I favor it over their White blend if I’m faced with a friend who doesn’t do red wine. (*cough*Freak!*cough*)

Folie à Deux does offer a selection aside from these four blends, but these are the easiest to get and can be found at reasonable prices. I’d be interested to try some of their single varietal bottles someday since I’ve not actively explored the Napa wines yet.

The Ménage à Trois blends can usually be found for $8 to $10 each, and they come in mixed cases so you’re bound to find all four wherever you see one. We usually have the 2007 and 2008 bottles, but I’ve just seen a 2009 on the shelf recently. Might have to pick up one.

We book club ladies have (mostly) stopped making threesome jokes whenever someone brings a bottle. But it’s fun to bring it out and serve it to someone who hasn’t had it yet. It’s amazing the variety of jokes that pop out of even the most conservative mouth.

Ménage à Trois
by Folie à Deux
California Blends
About $8-10 bottle
• California Red
• California White
• Chardonnay
• Rosé


Cupcake Merlot, 2007

Cupcake Merlot, 2007

A few people had suggested trying Cupcake wine, so I thought I’d pick up a bottle for my next book club. They are my wine guinea pigs and a name like Cupcake wouldn’t embarrass them too badly. Getting a bunch of busy women together sometimes fails and book club was canceled that week. So out of sheer curiosity later in the week, The Man and I opened this bottle after dinner.

The wine lived up to the name. Not that I’m saying it was bad. It was on the timid side though. Very mild for such a dark red, with dried fruit flavors and barely a hint of cocoa. And it had a slightly rusty finish.

It also oxidized pretty quickly, so after an hour of being open, it was getting hard to drink. A wine with a stronger flavor might have carried this a little longer, but it was so mild, this became the dominant flavor too quickly.

This hasn’t put us off the Cupcake wines though. There was absolutely a potential there. I want to try a white. Looks like they also have some interesting specialty bottles, including a riesling from Germany. I’m giving Cupcake another chance.

2007 Merlot
Central Coast, California
About $8/bottle