Word-of-Mouth Wines 

From Wineaux in the field, recommendations for under-$10 delights.

The holidays are a time when many of us go into entertaining overdrive, throwing fêtes that lighten wallets as much as they lift spirits. But this year in particular, hosts and hostesses turned a sharp eye to their food-and-beverage costs, and many found themselves asking friends, colleagues — even their greater Facebook community — for budget-friendly recommendations on wines to wet their whistles.

Now that the holiday frenzy has passed, we can take a more deliberative, thoughtful look at these recommendations and gauge how they hold up under the clear light of 2009. To that end, this week we've tasted three wines that got a mention during the holiday season — when a friend of a friend of a friend passed along a list of tried-and-true favorites, a Facebook exchange saved an office party, and a mother reminded us that she always knows best.

At $3.99 a bottle, the 2006 Archeo Nero d'Avola gives Two-Buck Chuck Cabernet Sauvignon a run for its money as a Trader Joe's red about which Wineaux rave. Made with 100 percent Nero d'Avola, a popular and plentiful Sicilian grape often compared to Syrah, the Archeo is a simple, medium-bodied wine that to us tasted just a little bit thin, though not distractingly so. True to form, its intriguing aroma had a bit of Syrah-like spice — and, as our Token Winemaker noted, molasses and a hint of pine resin. I'd recommend it as a great Tuesday-nighter, with the caveat that it's not going to knock your socks off.

The 2007 Cline California Zinfandel ($7.99) is more likely to serve that purpose — thanks to its powerful bouquet of pepper, spice, vanilla, honeysuckle, and red fruits like raspberry and strawberry. Add to this the just slightly sweet, well-balanced flavors of still more fruit on the palate, and you've got a great value when you're looking for a whopper of a wine (although its 14 percent alcohol is low for a Zin). If you're feeling like a splurge and want to show some East Bay allegiance, Cline's 2007 Heritage Zinfandel ($34) is made from old-vine grapes grown in Contra Costa County.

My mother adores Mezzacorona's Pinot Grigio, and to her great joy the 2007 vintage fared well in a late-summer blind tasting last year. Wish I could say the same of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.99) from that winery, which is based in northern Italy and grows its grapes in the foothills of the Dolomites. Sure, the Cab was drinkable, but a strange absence of aroma and a flabbiness to the taste would make this wine a dead giveaway as a bargain. We weren't wild about Mezzacorona's 2005 Pinot Noir either, so maybe Mom's got the right idea in sticking with whites from this label. I'll look forward to trying the 2007 Chardonnay, which currently retails at around $5, for a future column.


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