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The Envelope Please

Posted: Dec 30, 2008 10:41am ET

The wines I drank last night were very good, even excellent. I opted for two Syrahs that I had never tasted but were mentioned in your comments in my Dec. 4 blog: 2006 Owen Roe Syrah Ex Umbris Columbia Valley ($27) and Kinton Syrah Santa Barbara County ($22).

Granted, these were not cheap bottles of wine. I couldn’t afford drinking a bottle like that every night. But they were relative values and offered lots of fruit and character for the money. Tonight I am going to go and look for bottles that cost $10 to $15 a bottle. Any ideas?

Anyway, both Syrahs went really well with the grilled spicy pork and hearty lamb sausages. They cut through the flavorful, smoky meat with their vibrant fruit and soft tannins. I thought the Ex Umbris was the better of the two, with more balance and freshness, but the Kinton was rich and impressive. The latter turned a little too jammy as it warmed up in the glass, but some people may prefer it.

Here are my tasting notes:

2006 Owen Roe Syrah Ex Umbris Columbia Valley: Coffee, meat and tar aromas with hints of blueberry and blackberry. Full-bodied, with soft tannins and a bright finish. Citrusy as well as vibrant dark berry character on the finish. Love the brambly fruit to this. Clean. 90 points, non-blind.

2005 Kinton Syrah Santa Barbara County: Blackberry jam, tar and licorice aromas follow through to a full body, with lots of cassis and jam on the finish. Pretty wine, very dense as it opens. A little too jammy in the end. 88 points, non-blind.

I just looked up the wines in our database and I see that Harvey Steiman gave the Roe 89 points and James Laube scored the Kinton 87 points, so I am not too far off.

I am sure that most of you agree, but Syrah and other Rhône varietals offer much better value than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and are more interesting. Think about all the stupidly priced California Cabs. The Syrahs last night were on the same level for me as a top St.-Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage. The Roe could even stand up to a few Hermitages. So they offered very good value and are examples of my mantra for the times: "We need $25 bottles that taste like $50 and $75 bottles."

Thanks for the recommendations! It made my dinner with my parents and children a feast and not just a simple meal.

Jeb Singleton
Fairfax, VA —  December 30, 2008 12:11pm ET
James, how about Jip Jip Rocks Limestone Coast Shiraz? Not sure if you were looking for syrah/shiraz in that range, but might be your best bet. That's one of my favorite everyday drinkers and is around $13.
Tyler Mcafee
Houston, TX —  December 30, 2008 12:39pm ET
What's for dinner tonight?
Tom Benson
Bellevue, WA —  December 30, 2008 12:48pm ET
James, if you're looking for a Washington Syrah in the $15 range I would strongly recommend the Barnard Griffin Syrah, look for the tulip label it's an excellent value.
James Suckling
 —  December 30, 2008 12:50pm ET
I am going to grill some chicken and serve it with a salsa verde.
Bill Norrish
Groton, MA —  December 30, 2008 1:01pm ET
How about Columbia Crest - Horse Heaven, Reserve or Grand Estates Cab for less $15? I find the Columbia Crest with its wide distribution as the best bet when travelling when there are limited choices.
Steven Glazer
Orinda —  December 30, 2008 1:23pm ET
Ok, don't laugh but on the quality/value scale, Gallo's Sonoma Red does pretty well in some years. A few years ago, I did a blind tasting with a dozen friends of 12 reds under $10. It came out on top. I haven't tried the vintage out on the shelf so roll the dice if you are inspired.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  December 30, 2008 1:28pm ET
I have remnants of cases of both of those syrahs in my cellar (I like the Kinton better...its my cali trained taste buds I guess but both are awesome wines). $10 to 15....its hard to go local but the Columbia Crest Grand Estates series from Washinton (Cab, Syrah, merlot and Chard) offer a lot of bang for the buck (and they are
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  December 30, 2008 1:33pm ET
I just thought of a local wine for < $15...the 4 Vines paso Robles syrah, Naked Chard and california Zin are pretty solid and worth checking out...BevMo has them for ~$13 I think.
Tyler Mcafee
Houston, TX —  December 30, 2008 4:14pm ET
Go with an off-dry Gew¿rztraminer from a recent vintage. The sweetness and tangy citrus flavors should pair great with the spicy, tangy salsa verde and grilled chicken. Something like the 2007 Columbia Valley Gew¿rztraminer from Columbia Winery is right in your price range.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  December 30, 2008 4:42pm ET
Frei Brother's reserve chardonnay at 12$ would go well with Chicken and salsa verde.

I still like the finca luzon 06 at 6$ =)

happy holidays
Mike Gries
Cedar Rapids, Iowa —  December 30, 2008 4:44pm ET
Owen Roe is rapidly becoming one of my favorite wineries. I recently had the Sinister Hand 2006, a GSM blend, and it was execellent. As far as a $10 - $15 range wine, one that I find to be very consistent is the J Lohr Paso Robles Cabernet - a simple but very drinkable wine.
Peter A Siddiqui
Chicago —  December 30, 2008 6:51pm ET
I like Gruet Brut N.V. sparkling wine from New Mexico. It's everywhere (at least in Chicago), and I think its delicious ($14.99 at Sam's). The bubbles may clash with the salsa. I think the Koonunga Hill Cab/Shiraz blend is reliably good, too. It's about $10.
Charles Leary
North Carolina —  December 30, 2008 7:23pm ET

I agree with your thoughts about the relative value of Rhone varietials. I like the smoky, meaty attributes of the 2007 Casta¿o Monastrell from Yecla, Spain. It's usually available for around $10. However, my wife doesn't like it nearly as much, ably describing the finish as being reminiscent of cocktail wieners!

Paul Northrop
Thousand Oaks —  December 30, 2008 9:59pm ET
James, Although this is probably a little late, how about 2003 Gualdo del Re Val di Cornia Suvereto Federico Primo. I just ordered some from K&L for $14.99. Another suggestion is the 2006 Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet. A little young but tasty. And only $11.99. Cheer & Happy New Years.
Mark Reinman
NJ —  December 30, 2008 10:19pm ET
I'm a huge fan of the 03 Taja Reserve-- my favorite sub-$10 bottle of the year!
La Quinta, CA —  December 30, 2008 11:08pm ET
James. Long time no talk. Try going to Old Town Cellar in Old Town La Quinta. Great wine selection/Wine Bar. Call me if you plan on going. Will meet you there for some wine geek fun. Cheers! Dustin
costa mesa, ca —  December 31, 2008 6:43am ET
James, Glad you liked the Ex Umbris. You're boys in Orange have it at $19.99. Killer deal! Happy New Year!
Fairport, NY —  December 31, 2008 9:00am ET
For pure value...can you beat Folie a Deux Menage a Trois (less than $10)or even Columbia Crest Vineyard 10? (less than $7) Either in red or white...this is likely too mundane for you though, James? Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your family!
Ann Suchta
Wimington, Delaware —  December 31, 2008 1:06pm ET
James, as others have noted, the Columbia Crest Grand Estates wines are usually safe bets in the $10-$12 range. Also Colosi Nero D'Avola Silcia IGT and Domain de Mayran Lirac are pretty solid values at about $12. There are better values in the lesser known varietals and regions.
Mark Reinman
NJ —  December 31, 2008 1:56pm ET
I also had a bottle of 2006 Nieto Sentiner Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (from Mendoza) the other night -- fantastic value at $9! Happy New Year to you and your family, James, and to everyone on your blog!

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