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Central Coast Charmers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara -- BT Contributor   
February 2013

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

CPix2_Vino_2-13alifornia’s Central Coast appellation is the kitchen sink of wine regions.

Technically called the “Central Coast American Viticultural Area,” it runs some 250 miles from San Francisco south to Santa Barbara and consists of roughly four million acres, of which almost 100,000 are planted with wine grapes. Home to 350-plus wineries and 29 separate, smaller appellations, it produces about 15 percent of the state’s grapes, which are turned into everything from thimblefuls of extra-virgin (and extra-expensive) juice to titillate the palates of the One Percent to jugs of cheap, indifferent plonk to numb the palates of the rest of us.

Here at Vino, of course, we are neither virginal nor plonkish, merely discriminating in our tastes and careful with our dollars. (Okay, we admit it: We’re overwhelmed by all the wines out there and have been known to scrounge pennies from beneath our sofa cushions.)

It’s easy to be overwhelmed. More than three dozen different varietals are grown within the Central Coast AVA, though Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay constitute the vast majority of plantings. Rhone varietals like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Marsanne, and Roussanne are growing in popularity, owing to consumers’ interest in wines outside the Cabernet-Chardonnay-Merlot Iron Triangle, as well as the Central Coast’s Rhone-friendly warm days-cool nights climate.

Unfortunately, virtually all of those wines cost more than 12 bucks a bottle, as most small producers just can’t compete, price-wise, with the giant-super-mega-wineries that dominate the $12-and-under price point. So despite the bazillions of gallons of Central Coast wines produced each year, finding good -- and inexpensive -- ones is something of a crapshoot.

But we rolled those dice anyway, dear readers, risking our taste buds, stomach lining, and limited budget to uncover a handful of vinous gems. For example, the 2011 Red Pony Ranch Pinot Noir. Run out and buy a case of this wine right now, as I can’t remember another that delivered so much Pinot Noir charm and character for a blessed $11.99.

And here’s the kicker: It dishes up a hefty 14.4-percent alcohol, yet is so well made and well balanced it sits lightly on the palate, with only the tiniest bit of alcoholic hotness at the first sip. After that, it’s pure pleasure, a medium-bodied wine with bright cherry-berry flavors, a dollop of toasty oak, and that beguiling Pinot earthiness. I’d throw in a few more adjectives, but my thesaurus has already gone limp.

Like good, cheap Pinot Noir, good and inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon can be one of those oxy-type morons. Not the 2010 Running With Scissors Cab, though. It shares a certain earthy quality with the Red Pony, but doubles down on the fruit, with pungent black cherry-plum flavors enhanced by quick hits of black olive, cloves, and oak. Good structure and low alcohol (13 percent) give it an elegance that belies its $10 price tag.

Remember how I said even cork dorks like Vino can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of wines on your average supermarket or wine-shop shelf? Well, here’s a good wine-buying tip: The cuter the name, the worse the wine. So a wine named after ice cream might just trip your ick meter. Not that the NV Scoops Red Wine Blend is really icky, just assertively grapey in a candied, cough syrupy, red cherry way. It’s apparently going after the suddenly trendy “sweet red wine” market segment -- a segment that, like “psychopathic assault-weapon owners,” I’d just as soon avoid.

Avoid too the erroneously named Smart Cookie 2010 Chardonnay, a truly odd-tasting liquid that is to Chardonnay what Lindsay Lohan is to sobriety. You’d have to be a real dumb muffin to shell out ten bucks for this dog biscuit.

Thankfully, not all Central Coast Chardonnays channel washed up Hollywood celebutards. The 2010 Sterling Vineyards and 2011 Cupcake (an exception to the “cute name equals crap” rule) offer that big, rich, buttery character most Chardonnay drinkers love, yet do so with enough restraint to keep from becoming cloying. Both are plush and creamy-textured with lots of toasty oak, just held in check by citrus-green apple acidity.

For something lighter and crisper, yet still fruit-driven, there’s the 2011 Coastline Pinot Grigio. Its aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, and white peach carry through to the palate, where the acidity slowly reveals itself in the long, lingering finish. In rolling the dice on the Central Coast AVA, this one comes up aces.

 

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