Wine 1: 2003 Fairview Sauvignon Blanc. This is a South African wine, made on a goat farm. This company also produces a line of wines that play on the French region Côtes du Rhône--"Goats do Roam". This was a delightful, smooth sauvignon blanc. Hints of smoke and hay, and it tasted even better as it warmed up. I think this is one of the first South African wines I've ever tried. $9.
Wine 2: Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay. I was pretty impressed with this one. I've not had great luck with Aussie chardonnays, but this was surprising. There's almost no nose to it--which is sometimes nice for sparklers. It's easily drinkable, and tastes far better than the price would suggest. This would be a great wine for mimosas or for general toasting if you wanted something above a cheap California sparkler. $7.
Wine 3: 2001 Long Mountain Shiraz. This was the blind bottle, and I was completely off the mark. It tasted like a merlot at first, but had a really strong finish. Lots of delicious fruit aromas, and very smooth on the palate. But the structure--soft beginning, strong finish--is a little confusing, and made it extremely difficult to determine the grape. Incredibly smooth for the price. $10.
Wine 4: 2001 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. I love this grape, and not just because it's so much fun to say. This particular bottle is often referred to as "twig wine", as it comes with a bit of the grape vine tied to the neck of the bottle. Great marketing idea, and the rustic, handwritten look of the label makes it look suitably authentic, as if you'd picked it up from the back of an ox cart in Italy. Nice full-fruit flavor with very soft tannins, and for those of you who have been scared off Italian wines by cheap, baseball-bat-to-the-face chianti, it tastes nothing like that. Favorite memory of this grape: Dad and I split a magnum over the course of a long day of barbecuing. We cooked ribs, pork shoulders, chicken legs, all for about fifty people. Of course, we were eating samples of the meat all day long and drinking the wine, so by the time dinner rolled around we elected to retire to the shade with plates of fresh fruit and a light gamay rouge to refresh the palate.
Wine 5: 2001 Folie à Deux Amador County Zinfandel. I had the 2003 Folie à Deux Menage à Trois Blanc a few weeks ago, and I'm quite fond of the rouge version of that wine. This was my first taste of the pure zin, and I was amazed. It has that smoky black cherry aroma and flavor that one comes to know from zinfandel. It's a very earthy, primal sort of scent, hard to describe. This drinks smoothly, though I have no idea how long it will last. And at the price, I'd almost suggest it instead of the Menage à Trois Rouge, though that one is still more accessible to the casual wine drinker. $15.