Given the unseasonably warm weather of late (and do we need to start a pool about when the term unseasonable has to be struck from the dictionary as meaningless?), it seemed time to wash the spiders out of the trusty, not-too-rusty Weber and grill up some veggies and fish for a heaping helping of tacos. While perhaps nothing beats a good homemade margarita to accompany such a feast with friends, it's a bit too easy to have a second and maybe more margaritas, and then the night just becomes a tempestuous tequila haze. If the weather wants to stay warm into the evening, it might be better to find a wine to quaff, especially if that wine can pour inexpensively. I mean, we all love our friends, but we can't share the top shelf every time they come over (or they will never stop coming over).
Therefore I made a run to Trader Joe's and bought five whites, all non-chardonnay division (butter and oak aren't exactly taco-tastic), priced from $3.99 to $6.99, wines for which only two of the five printed on their corks, so they're saving money everywhere. And then we ate and tasted, and here's our report, ranking the wines from least liked to most:
5. Trader Joe's 2012 Petit Reserve Viognier, Paso Robles ($6.99)
While viognier can come off like Froot Loops when done poorly, this wine goes too far in the other austere direction, really bringing one of Paso Robles' most noted geologically characteristics -- limestone. So if you want to know what that is in a wine, drink this. Otherwise, there's not enough of the peach or nectarine or other pit fruits you'd hope for in this varietal.
4. Pancake Cellars 2012 Big Day White, Paso Robles ($4.99)
An odd blend of, in order, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, pinot blanc, and muscat canelli -- and somehow the sweeter of the grapes take this very pale white to an off-dry place. The good news is it tastes less sugary than it smells. The label suggests flavors of white peach and apple, which it does have, plus cantaloupe and lemongrass, which it doesn't. And speaking of blends, one taster at the end of the evening mixed all five wines into one glass. She was not pleased. That also proves winemakers really do work when crafting blends.
3. Green Fin 2012 White Table Wine, California ($3.99)
Brought to you by the same people who make Two-Buck Chuck -- Bronco Wine Company -- so that makes Green Fin their upscale label. Think about that for a moment. The bottle doesn't name grapes, and the internet suggests those change with each vintage. This 2012 is a tad sweet -- something like candied pineapple -- but one taster unabashedly admitted, "I feel like if it were a warm day and it had an ice cube in it I could get hammered on it."
2. Smoking Loon 2012 Viognier California ($6.99)
It's easy to assume a wine has a supposedly witty little short story on its back label to avoid talking about what's actually in the bottle, but this floral wine could be an okay gateway drug to the world of the lovely Rhone grape viognier. Think grapefruit mugging apricots, but a bit gently; as one taster joked, "I'm picturing a loon in a little smoking jacket."
1. Spiral Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($5.99)
One taster called it a "pass/fail sauvignon blanc," which is a bit harsh especially in light of the other wines tasted - this is easily a B-. You get more tropical fruit on the nose, perhaps even coconut one taster suggested, but the palate is relatively straightforward lemon with a pleasing minerality. Works with the food pretty well, as the full-flavored tacos do all the taste bud heavy lifting.