Our Wine of the Week: Casino Mine Ranch Simone 2018

This week, our Wine of the Week was an easy choice. Not that any of the other wines were bad, but the Casino Mine Ranch Simone 2018 was hands down the best of the week. We have been fans of Casino Mine Ranch and their entire portfolio of wines since our first visit a little over a year ago. We were so impressed, we even wrote about it

The Simone wine is a tribute to Simone Vanophem Shaw, who founded the ranch in 1936. Simone is Great Aunt to Rich and Jim Merryman, the current owners of the ranch. Simone’s is a fascinating life story, filled with adventure and elegance; from living with her father at his Alaskan fold mine, to jet-setting to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and other glamorous destinations, to later buying and managing this beautiful, rugged ranch property in Amador County. The Simone wine embodies the lady. As the Casino Mine Ranch website describes it:

“Like its namesake, it’s elegant yet tough, and brims with joie de vivre. It’s a wine for feasting, both opulent and earthy, best enjoyed while wearing dungarees and boots. Or, alternately, diamonds, furs, and pearls.”

The Casino Mine Ranch Simone 2018 is a blend of 57% Mourvèdre and 43% Grenache Noir. As with all of their wines, Simone is made with 100% estate grown fruit. It is a rich, lush, powerhouse of a wine, perfect for cold winter nights and pot roast. 

Ruby color. Aromas of raspberry, cherry, and smoke. On the palate, flavors of blackberry bramble, raspberry, cherry, cola, tobacco, white pepper, and smoke. Medium body, lively acidity, and smooth tannins. Magical paired with pot roast.

We wish we could have met Simone, we know we would have loved her. But at least we can enjoy the wine made and named in her honor. 

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo Credit: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Valentine’s Day Brunch with Lucien Albrecht

In lieu of our wine of the week, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with brunch! Cheese blintzes topped with peach-blueberry purée (peaches from our own back yard, frozen last summer) and some pink bubbles! Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé is always the right choice for a romantic meal, at any time of day! 

We’ve been fans of Lucien Albrecht wines for some time, and have written about some of them in this blog, including the Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. As a non-vintage wine, there may be some variations year to year, but we’ve never been disappointed. Here are our notes from Valentine’s Day 2021, followed by what we believe are some drool-worthy snaps. Keeping it short, since as they say, a picture paints a thousand words!

Delightful and perfect for Valentine’s Day brunch. Salmon color. Steady streams of tiny bubbles. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry, with hints of yeast and cream. Vibrant acidity and a medium finish. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Selecting our wine of the week this week was pleasantly challenging. We had to choose between two wines that were both equally impressive. The deciding factor in our decision was the fact that we have another bottle of one of them, so we can revisit it to feature in a future week. And so it is, that our wine of the week is La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020, from the Curico Valley in Chile.

We’ve become big fans of Sauvignon Blanc in the past few years. Light, crisp, and refreshing, it is also quite versatile in food pairing. Often considered a summertime wine, we enjoy Sauvignon Blanc year-round. While New Zealand, specifically Marlborough, has taken center stage in the world of Sauvignon Blanc, the grape originated in France, and is now planted world wide. (Fun fact: Sauvignon Blanc is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other being Cabernet Franc.) 

In general, at least to our palates, we have concluded there are three overarching styles of Sauvignon Blanc: 

  • The French style found White Bordeaux, or Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley – often blended with Semillon, resulting in a fuller, rounder wine, with gooseberry, green apple, pear, and citrus.
  • The New Zealand style – grassy, cut straw, grapefruit, lemon, and occasionally cat pee (yes, this is actually a desirable quality in a Sauvignon Blanc!) with light body and zesty acidity.
  • The Northern California style – bursting with tropical fruit; pineapple, mango, passionfruit;  and stone fruit; apricot, peach, nectarine; with a bit more body and softer acidity. 

As we said, this is a general observation. Plenty of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc have pineapple or other tropical fruit flavors, and NorCal can show grassy, apple and pear notes. With Sauvignon Blanc, style transcends location. Any of these styles can be produced in any of the growing regions. We’ve just come to associate these styles with these places. 

Make no mistake, we enjoy all the different styles. Thus is the approachability and appeal of Sauvignon Blanc. However, we each have our preferences. Robyn prefers the fresh, clean citrusy style from New Zealand, while Kent favors the tropical and stone fruit from NorCal. 

Always eager to explore new wines, we thought we’d try the La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020 with our meal of grilled fish tacos. A bargain at just $8.99 from Wine.com, we’d put this up against Sauvingon Blancs at three times that price! The biggest surprise was that we had expected more of a New Zealand style, as most of our Chilean Sauvignon Blanc experiences have been, but La Playa is decidedly NorCal, in our estimation. 

Pale golden color. Aromas and flavors of fresh tropical fruit; pineapple, mango, and lychee; with citrus, including lime and quince. Soft mouthfeel with medium acidity and a pleasing finish.

La Playa Vineyards produces only sustainably farmed wines, using native yeasts. They also produce Chardonnay and Viognier, along with a red wine lineup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, and a red blend. We have tasted their Dry Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, several months ago, and it was equally delicious. 

What was your wine of the week? 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: m2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

We like to explore the world through wine, eagerly trying wines from various countries, at various price points. Some wines we wouldn’t drink again, others go on the rotation list, and some are really impressive. Here is our favorite wine of this past week. 

With the post-holiday COVID-19 curve finally tapering off and the regional stay-at-home orders lifted, we ventured out for the first time in months. On a beautiful, warm January afternoon, we took the short walk from home to our favorite local wine bar, Platinum Wine Lounge, for some al fresco wine and nibbles. 

As we sat on the patio, basking in the late afternoon sunshine, we perused the wine list. Platinum features many local wines, from the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. We decided on the m2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, and we were not disappointed.

Recognize this building? Image credit: Google Maps

If you’ve ever been wine tasting in Lodi and driven down Peltier Road between I-5 and Highway 99, you’ve seen m2 Wine’s distinctive steel winery and tasting room. We have always enjoyed m2’s wines, and their Old Vines Zinfandel is among our favorites in their portfolio. The Old Vines Zinfandel 2017 is a single-vineyard wine, from the Soucie Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA. The vines were planted in 1916. While there’s no legal definition for “Old Vines”, I’d say 101 years meets the generally accepted definition.

Photo credit: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

m2 Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, Soucie Vineyard, Mokelumne River AVA

Clear dark ruby color. On the nose, aromas of bing cherry, cranberry, blackberry, and smoke. These notes continue on the palate, with flavors of cherry, plum, blackberry, and cranberry, with white pepper and vanilla. Medium-plus body, with soft, supple tannins and medium acidity. Very nicely balanced, with a long finish of red fruit and baking spice. 

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds  

Two Beauties from Black Stallion

Even during a pandemic, and with wineries and tasting rooms shut down due to regional stay-at-home orders, the work of the farmers, winemakers, and winery staff continues. Though nobody can visit, vines are tended, grapes harvested and crushed, and wine production must press on. (See what we did there?) So it is at Black Stallion Estate Winery. We were fortunate enough to receive samples of two of Black Stallion’s wines recently: Black Stallion Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc 2019, and Black Stallion Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

We’ve been intrigued by Black Stallion Estate Winery’s history since we first heard of them. Located along the Silverado Trail, on the east side of the Napa Valley, the property was once the Silverado Western Center. The equestria center was home to prize-winning horses, and complete with an indoor riding track and outdoor arena. The original equestrian center has been converted and is now the winery’s production facility.  

Crafted by winemaker Ralf Holdenried, these wines are classic Napa Valley; complex but decidedly drinkable and delicious. Ralf has more than 20 years of harvest experience, and this translates into the quality of the finished product. 

Black Stallion Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (SRP $22)

Pale straw color. The nose is a burst of fresh pineapple with some citrus/lemon. On the palate, the pineapple continues with quince, lemon lime, white peach, and a hint of chalky minerals. Fresh and lively with zesty acidity. Nicely balanced with a crisp finish. 

Black Stallion Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (SRP $60) 

Opaque purple color. Aromas of plum, blackberry bramble, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, blackberry, stewed plum, cassis, black cherry, vanilla, and caramel, with white pepper and baking spice. Medium-plus body, soft tannins, and medium-minus acidity. Soft, creamy mouthfeel and a long finish of black fruit and spice. Outstanding paired with grilled lamb chops. 

After tasting these wines, we have no doubt that despite the challenges of this past year, the wines of the 2020 vintage will be stunning! We can hardly wait to try them. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Book Review: Professional Drinking

For many people, the term “Professional Drinking” conjures up images of humorous t-shirts one would wear to a frat party. Being the wine geek that I am, when I read the title of this book, my mind went to my dream job: Wine and Spirits Critic, tasting fine wine and spirits for a living. In reality, this book is not about either of those things. 

The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are my own. I received no additional compensation.

Somewhat surprisingly, Professional Drinking, by Jim Schleckser, is more of a business book. Jim Schleckser has more than 30 years of professional drinking experience. As the CEO of the Inc. CEO Project, a CEO coaching business, Jim has entertained and coached business people all over the world. That he is also a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliersand has an Advanced certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust only strengthens his drinking street cred. 

Yet the fact that Professional Drinking stems from Jim’s business experience, and is largely about how to entertain, engage, and responsibly drink in business settings, it is far from a typical, stuffy, boring business book. Jim’s writing style is personable and approachable, sprinkled with humor as well as insight, and occasional embarrassing stories from Jim’s own experiences. (Something about a hot tub and the entire software development team?)

The book opens with a brief biography, in which Jim tells the tale of his introduction to wine, involving a case of 1982 Chateau Haut-Brion that his father received as a gift from a business associate. Not a bad way to start a wine journey.

Throughout the book, Jim takes us through an imagined business party. Covering virtually all occasions from lunch, to a more formal dinner, to entertaining associates at home, Jim provides valuable insight into pre-meal beer or cocktails, moving to wine time, and onto the meal. Chapters include such topics as the history of wine, the 100-point rating scale, and wine clubs. Jim even weighs in on the raging debate over screwcap versus cork. 

Have you ever been intimidated by a massive wine list at a restaurant? Professional Drinking has you covered. Need help deciding what wines to stock in your cellar at home for entertaining? Yup, Jim helps you out there, too. He discusses still wine, sparkling wine, wine storage, and many more topics. 

It also turns out that Jim is as personable and approachable as his writing style. When he emailed me to offer a copy of his book, he also offered to schedule a Zoom call for an interview. I took him up on his offer, and found Jim to be quite friendly, engaging, and welcoming. We talked and laughed about wine, cocktails, childhood and young adult memories of jug wines, travel, and life in general. I asked about the hot tub and software development team story. Jim let me in on the background, but his secret is safe with me! 

On wine clubs, we agreed that there are many of varying quality, and most are good for people new to wine. They give newbies an opportunity to explore different varietals and regions, and that’s always a good thing. 

I asked Jim his strategy for holiday wines. I’ve heard different schools of thought; do you bring the good stuff knowing that your Drunk Uncle will guzzle that $100 Bordeaux like it’s a can of Bud on a hot day? Or do you withhold the quality and pour only cheaper wines? Jim typically follows more of a hybrid model. He’ll bring one or two “killer bottles” to enjoy; this allows the family and other guests to try something they might never purchase themselves. Then, he’ll bring out the daily drinkers that are perennial crowd-pleasers. A sound strategy that I intend to employ from now on. 

In summary, Professional Drinking is a captivating, informative book that has something for everyone, even if you’re not in business. No matter your position on the Org Chart, your drinking experience, or your life-path in general, you’re sure to be entertained and learn a few things when you read Professional Drinking. You can get your copy by following this link to the Professional Drinking website.

  • By Kent Reynolds

Movie Night with Harken Chardonnay

You really have to respect someone who stands on principle. Someone who knows what they like, and what they want. And when they can’t find it, they make it themselves. So it is with Harken Winery and their 2019 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. The folks at Harken were missing the big, buttery Chardonnays that were so popular a few years ago. But since many wineries have moved away from that style, and many consumers favoring the lighter, more fruit forward style of lightly-oaked or unoaked, big, buttery Chardonnay has become a little harder to find. So Harken decided…well, we’ll let them tell it themselves. From their website:

“We created Harken Chardonnay because we missed that rich, oaky taste of Chardonnays gone by. At some point, someone decided that those great toasty notes and buttery finish went out of style. We think that’s crazy. So we brought it back. Honoring the days when things were done right – including the art of winemaking.”

A while back, we received an offer to sample this wine. While we’re not generally big, oaky, buttery Chardonnay fans, we agreed to give it a try. The suggestion in the media release and accompanying sample pack was to enjoy Harken 2019 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay on a Movie Night! 

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

In the middle of a pandemic, with Shelter-in-Place still safety precautions still prevalent, an at-home movie night sounded like a great way to relax and enjoy some wine. (Though some movie theaters have opened, you won’t find us in one for some time to come.) 

The sample package was cleverly and expertly presented. When the box arrived, it was big enough for two bottles. Instead, as we excitedly unpacked the box, what we found was this:

Inside the movie-reel themed tin, they had provided me the only other thing we’d need: popcorn!

It’s been a busy summer, despite the restrictions and limitations of COVID-19. As you may recall from a previous post, or maybe from our Instagram feed, in the midst of all the crazy, we moved. Finally settled into our new home, we logged into Netflix to enjoy our Movie Night. 

Spoiler Alert: The wine was quite good! Though not our preferred style, it is a well made, balanced wine. Here’s our official Vivino tasting notes:

As advertised. Old school, full throttle, oaky, buttery, California Chardonnay. Rich golden color. On the nose, butter, oak, toast, pear, and apple. On the palate, more butter, caramel, toasted marshmallow, butterscotch, Bartlett pear, yellow apple, and hints of pineapple and citrus. Full body, creamy mouthfeel, medium acidity, and medium finish. Not exactly my style, but nicely balanced and a classic representation of buttery Chardonnay.

If you or someone you know enjoys the big, bold, full-bodied, unapologetically oaky, buttery style of Chardonnay, be sure to grab some Harken 2019 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (SRP $15). Pop some popcorn, log into Netflix or your favorite movie delivery option, settle in on the couch, and enjoy your own butter-based movie night. 

As an added bonus, now through September 30, 2020, you can enter to win one year’s worth of movies or a free movie credit. Harken Wines has partnered with FandangoNOW for this sweepstakes. No purchase necessary. Be sure to enter here for your chance to win!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Book Review: What Varietal is That?

Who else has the COVID blues? I’m sure some have it worse than I do. My symptoms are a general melancholy, restlessness, and boredom. One would think that with all the extra time on my hands with shelter-in-place, I’d have more time to devote to this blog, and my social media platforms. However, contributing to my COVID blues is the inability to get out and explore, which results in a lack of content and creativity. How many times can you post a picture of a bottle of wine in the same dining room or boring backyard?   

Fortunately, not long ago I received an email from Darby Higgs, offering me a complimentary copy of his new book, What Varietal is That?  (Also fortunately, we recently moved – yes, mid-COVID – and our new house has a much nicer, park-like backyard, perfect for relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.)

The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are my own. I received no additional compensation.

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What Varietal is That? is an informative and educational book detailing 86 major wine grapes from around the world. It’s a fairly short read, only 127 pages in all, but those pages pack a punch! Darby’s subtitle for the book is “A Beginner’s Guide to the Most Important Wine Grape Varieties”, but don’t let that fool you, or dissuade you if you don’t consider yourself a “beginner.” There are a lot of varieties listed that I’d never heard of! And I’m a proud member of the Wine Century Club, with well over 140 different varieties under my belt…or more accurately, in my belly!  

After a brief introduction, in which he takes on one of the most controversial topics in wine: “varietal” versus “variety”, along with some history and a dabbling into science, Darby gets to the heart of the matter. Starting with white grapes, the author details the country of origin, typical aromas and flavors, and food pairings, along with a description of the wines produced and the history of each grape. Conveniently organized in alphabetical order, the book is a worthwhile reference for wine students of any level. 

What Varietal is That? is available in digital format at Smashwords for just $6.99. You can also order a paper copy from Amazon

If you like What Varietal is That?, and enjoy Australian wines, check out Darby’s other book, Rare Ozzies: A Hundred Rare Australian Wine Varieties. In this one, Darby outlines 100 grapes used in Australian wine production. 

Check these books out and dive right in. You may learn a few things, like I did, and they’ll help you through the rest of the COVID blues summer. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds 

A Very Good Omen

When the Shelter-in-Place orders first rolled out, there was a lot of tension and anxiety around what it all means, what we will do during quarantine, and how long it will last. There was also uncertainty about supplies, not only how to get them, but whether there would even be the products we need. Would life resemble any form of normalcy?

Only a few days into the lockdown, we received a very good omen. Actually, two Omens and an Oro Bello. While we get the occasional sample of wine, we normally receive an email offering the sample. This time, the wine just arrived unannounced! Looks like we’re going to be just fine.

The following wines were provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Omen and Oro Bello wines are produced and distributed by Atlas Wine Company. With headquarters in Napa, Atlas Wine Company is building a portfolio of wines that are sustainable, approachable, and ready to drink; no long-term cellaring required, though they would hold up well if you laid them down. They source grapes from “hidden gem” vineyards. These vineyards are located in regions that are perhaps less well known, but are up and coming, and producing excellent fruit. Places like Calaveras County in the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Madera, and Rouge Valley, Oregon. Grapes from these areas come at a much lower cost than say, Napa, which allows Atlas Wine Company to produce wines that are affordable.

The real test of any wine, of course, is opening the bottle! All of the wines we received proved to be exceptional, and quite food friendly. The Omen line is comprised of red wines, while Oro Bello is whites and rosé.

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Omen Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($40)

This is a single vineyard wine, from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard in Calaveras County. Since Calaveras County has not yet received it’s own (well deserved) AVA designation, this wine is labeled with the Sierra Foothills AVA.

Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of rube blackberry, black currant, and clove. On the palate, rich and full bodied with flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, plum, and black cherry, with clove, baking spice, leather, and tobacco. Bright acidity makes it quite food friendly; we enjoyed it with grilled rib eye steak. Long finish of black fruit and black pepper.

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Omen Wines Red Blend 2018 ($20)

Another Sierra Foothills AVA wine, this is one tasty blend.

A juicy blend of 63% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 8% Barbera, and 8% Petite Sirah. Inky purple color. On the nose there are aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry, and fresh black pepper. Flavors of Marionberry pie, black cherry, dark plum, blueberry, and smoky, spicy notes. Rich, full bodied, with soft tannins and medium acidity. Long, spicy finish. The label says “Pairs great with burgers.” And, boy, they’re not wrong!

 

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Oro Bello Chardonnay 2018 ($35)

Another single vineyard delight, this wine hails from the Fallenleaf Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. After press, the wine was transferred to neutral French Oak barrels to mature. This is the style of Chardonnay we really enjoy, with little to no oak influence.

Golden straw color. Wonderful citrus and tropical nose, with pineapple and lemon-lime notes, and the slightest hint of butterscotch. On the palate, fresh and clean, with pear, apple, pineapple, and citrus, with slight butter and butterscotch flavors. Medium body and lively acidity. Paired with grilled salmon with lemons, a very complementary pairing.

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Omen and Oro Bello wines are available for purchase online at their respective websites. We definitely recommend giving them a try. As a special thank you, through the rest of 2020, readers and followers of Appetite for Wine can receive 15% off when you use the coupon code: APPETITE15! Just go to https://store.atlaswineco.com/#/ and enter the coupon code at checkout!

In addition to the samples we received, the Omen line also includes a non-single vineyard California Cabernet Sauvignon  and an Oregon Pinot Noir. The Oro Bello line offers a non-single vineyard Chardonnay, a Russian River AVA Rosé of Pinot Noir, and a couple of canned wines; a Blanc de Blancs, and a newly released Light Chardonnay, with lower ABV and fewer calories. Whether you chose red, white, or rosé, still or sparkling, it’s never wrong to seek out a good omen! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Summer in a Bottle: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2018

Despite the pandemic, shelter-in-place orders, face masks and gloves, the earth keeps turning and here in the Northern Hemisphere, days are getting longer and warmer. Summer is almost upon us! While we aren’t likely to be taking a vacation this year, we can still enjoy the summer season virtually, and with a good bottle of wine, of course! 

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Line 39 Wines produces a budget-friendly lineup of wines, all quite approachable and easy drinking. We recently received a sample of their Sauvignon Blanc 2018, and decided to enjoy it at our weekly Social Distancing Happy Hour with the neighbors. 

Line 39 Wines is named for the 39th parallel, that runs through the heart of California wine country. Line 39 Wines sources grapes from the best regions of California, to create versatile, expressive, and sophisticated wines. As they say on their website, “Line 39 is a real place, but it’s also a state of mind. Find yourself along Line 39.”

With travel limited, add some fun to your virtual summer travels with the Random Holiday Generator at Earth Roulette. Generate a destination (many are places you’ve probably never heard of) and then learn about what’s there; the culture, the people, the sights, and of course, the food and wine! Thanks to Calhoun & Company Communications for the suggestion.

Here’s what we thought of Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2018, while enjoying some sunshine on the front lawn with the neighbors…all 6 feet apart, naturally! 

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Pale straw color. Aromas of tree fruit and tropical fruit. Flavors of apricot, peach, mango, pineapple, and citrus. Surprisingly full body, with smooth, round mouthfeel and medium acidity. Delightful finish. Great paired with social distancing happy hour with the neighbors. Summer in a bottle. And at just $12 (SRP) it’s a superb value, too!

Line 39 Wines are widely available at most grocery stores across the U.S. You can also shop online if you are trying to stay out of stores. If you tend to avoid so-called “grocery store” wines, give Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2018 a try. You might just find it’s your new weeknight white wine.  

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds