More Great Adventures in Cheap Wine

Copyright © 2015 SYDNEY SCHUSTER

My last posts about liquid refreshments were such big hits, here’s some more!


And now, the bad news. 2012 wines blow.

What 1929 was to the stock market, what 1963 and 2000 were to presidential debacles, what 2001 was to the demise of the Fourth Amendment and 3,000 people who mostly weren’t bothering anyone, 2012 is to wine.

I say this because every single 2012 I’ve tried — and there is no nice way to put this — sucked so loud I needed earmuffs to drink it.

Flat. Bitter. Mediciney. Weird colors. I will not touch any more 2012s with a barge pole. Unless someone gives me one for free, in which case I’ll cook with it. Maybe. 2012s are not — repeat NOT —  going to improve with age.

Why? A good question. And I have a theory. So permit me to winesplain.

Before you suggest that perhaps my neighborhood packies park their stock too close to the radiator, let me just say this: All wines usually aren’t bad at once.

That means the problem with the 2012s is something else, something way bigger. (Although the radiator thing is pretty bad too, and it actually happened at one store I used to frequent and don’t anymore.) That’s why this is such a disaster. Being a wine aficionado without being a dick is hard enough without obstacles like this.

As you know, we here at Casa Loco are ardent fans of cheap good wine. We consume it like pop. We don’t care if it has a screw cap. We’re fond of spritzers and goofy cocktails. It’s not that we don’t have refined palates. It’s just that, for the most part, expensive wine is wasted on us because we’ll drink it with corndogs. Plus also, fake wine sucks.

Until 2012 it was easy to score cheap delicious wines from all over the world. It’s stupid not to. Our go-to winners were Berco Do Infante Regional, a $6 super-Tuscan-like red from Portugal that I just adored, and a bangin’ $9 Medoc from Chateau Haut Queyran. Good stuff! Until 2012. Our first bottle of 2012 Berco mostly went into the ragout. There was not a second. And after we cleaned out the 2011 Haut Queyran Medocs, the store didn’t get any more.

Chateau Haut Queyran

Chateau Haut Queyran Medoc

An endless parade of 2012 swill ensued, along with my theory: I suspected 2012 was the first year wine growers got slammed by climate change, and it was major. Too much heat or cold, too much rain or not enough, hail in deserts, shorter growing seasons. The result: a uniform awfulness of product beyond description (and the reason I didn’t post about wine for a long time).

I figured I’d interview some real experts to get the poop, because I was going there anyway.

Everyone should have a wine store like my favorite, owned by two guys  named Terry and Terry (I am not making this up) who sample everything they sell because they, you know, care. So I can always ask Terry, “Is this any good?” and they’ll answer “Yes!” or “Maybe get this other one instead.”

Anyway, I asked them what’s the deal with the 2012s. There was a lot of whispering and shoulder shrugging, followed by crickets.

Okay. So next I visited the Interwebs to see what I could find about the death march that is 2012 wine. Here ya go:

It turns out 2012 was a benchmark year in wine fails. According to this lady who clearly knows more than I do, European vineyards were ravaged by bad weather in 2012, “leading to what could be the worst grape harvest in 50 years.” Crop damage was so widespread, some fancypants French and Italian vintners, such as Château d’Yquem, wrote off 2012 altogether rather than produce crap wine.

So much for Europe (and my beloved Berco and Medoc). Unfortunately, I endured equally vile stuff from South America, so don’t believe any PR blather about what a great year 2012 was for their malbecs and carmeneres. It wasn’t. Although some whites took somewhat less of a beating. We did get all the way through a 2012 Concha Y Toro sauvignon blanc magnum. Not terrible, just meh.

Now if you’ll recall, 2012 also was the year Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of the east coast of the US and seven other countries, so don’t expect anything good from them. Not that I was such a fan, but Martha’s Vineyard and Newport do produce wine that some people actually don’t mind drinking when it doesn’t taste like lighter fluid.

Over on the left coast, 2011 was the start of a rough streak for the Northwest. Which makes me sad, because Oregon and Washington state wines had always been among my favorites. I remember a pre-climate change Columbia Crest Two Vines shiraz so divine, it made me weep. RIP, my friend.

Northern California wines got T-boned too, with their climate-related slide starting back in 2010. Out-of-control wildfires aren’t helping them, either. I’d bag Napa and Sonoma brands for now. Also Central Valley. The current drought there pretty much ensures they won’t be producing anything promising any time soon. (Read Wine Spectator‘s excellent explainer of events leading up to the 2012 California debacle.)

Reportedly SoCal wines dodged the ick bullet. But I tired of them a while back — the whites are too minerally and acidic for my taste, the reds too big and unnecessarily complex, and most are stupid expensive.

Doubters: Check out this chart below from Wine Folly. It only covers 2004 to 2011 vintages, but the point’s pretty obvious.

Vintage Badness Chart

Vintage Badness Chart

For what it’s worth, this guy here swears some 2012 German wines aren’t so bad. And while Australia had smaller 2012 crop yields due to drought, they’re not necessarily nasty-ass ones so don’t dismiss them out of hand if you can afford the jacked-up prices.

Now if one were to ask me, I’d guess that many 2012 wines that did make it to stores are “special blends” cobbled together from leftover dregs of previous years and recent rejects that in a million years would never have made it into any bottle. Except, obviously, in an emergency. Which clearly 2012 is. And I’m guessing the few 2012s that don’t suck aren’t really made from 2012 harvests.

Mystery wines to try at your own risk

Mystery wines to try at your own risk

I’m telling ya, it’s been a long year waiting for reinforcements to replace the dogshit 2012s that still bogart the store shelves. So it was with great emotion and gratitude that I flung myself upon the 2013s that finally rolled in and, just last week, a 2014! I was so happy to see it, I took a picture.

Frontera malbec

Frontera malbec (above) is a long-time bargain fave here at Casa Loco. (If you have a choice, 2014 is better than 2013.)

And now you know what torpedoed 2012. Take a moment. Breathe. Then buy something else, okay? Anything else. Thank me later.

Herewith are some wines that are affordable, available now, pretty damn tasty and, most important, not 2012s. Enjoy!

🍷Tricky (Rabbit) Reserva Sauvignon Blanc/Carmenere blend (white, from Chile) 2013 $11.49
🍷The Bean Pinotage (red, from South Africa) 2014 $12
🍷Concha Y Toro Frontera Malbec (Argentina) 2014 $10 magnum!
🍷Concha Y Toro Frontera Carmenere (Chile) 2014 $10 magnum!
🍷Black River Malbec (Argentina) 2014 $12 magnum!
🍷Hedges Family Estate CMS Red Blend (Cab/Merlot/Syrah from Columbia Valley, Washington state) 2011 $12
🍷Lab Vinho Regional Lisboa White Blend (Vital, Arinto, Moscatel, and Sauvignon Blanc, from Portugal) 2013 $6
🍷Lab Vinho Regional Lisboa Red Blend (Castelao, Tinta Roriz, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional, from Portugal) 2013 $6
🍷Slavcek Sivi Pinot (white, from Slovenia) 2014 $13 (a splurge for a bargain wine, and totes worth it!)
🍷Mandrarossa Nero D’Avola (red, from Sicily) 2013 $10
🍷Purato Nero D’Avola (organic red, from Sicily) 2013 $13
🍷Tilia Bonarda (red, from Argentina) 2013 $10
🍷Fairview Goats Do Roam (Cote du Rhone-style red blend from South Africa) 2014 $10
🍷Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava (bubbly goodness from Spain) 2014 $11
🍷Mionetta Prosecco Brut (bubbly goodness from Italy) $13
🍷Terrilogio Primitivo (red, from Italy) 2014 $10
🍷Morgan Cotes du Crow’s (syrah and grenache blend from Monterey) 2013 $18 — well worth the splurge!)
🍷Ninety+ Cellars Old Vine Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina) 2014 (earthier) and 2015 (cleaner; Lot 23 is awesome) $11


Copyright © 2015 SYDNEY SCHUSTER — All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.
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Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party video advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.


Margaritaville | You Know You Want to Go

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I love margaritas! There. I said it and I’m proud. Bite me.

I slouch with distinguished company. Other lovers of the Elixir of Youth include Rachel, Joey, and Charlie (a.k.a. Aisha Tyler) on Friends. Bing Crosby loved margaritas so much, he became the original importer of Herradura (my fave tequila!), because how else could you get a decent margarita in Hollywood in the 1950s? Ernest Hemingway famously drank 15 margaritas in one sitting, and they’re what he was chugging when he died (and the reason it took so long to finish the job). I am not making this up.

“I had a dream last night that I drank the largest margarita in Texas,” said P. Salyer, a total stranger on the Interweb. “When I woke up, there was salt on the toilet lid and rim. Sure, it sounds gross, but at least now I have an explanation for the blue tongue.”

Yes, the margarita is a widely beloved American libation. Okay, an American libation probably invented in Mexico. (They make them with key limes there. You can too — yum!)

Depending on which story you believe, the drink’s origin was a bar in Ensenada, or Tijuana or Galveston or Acapulco, in the 1940s. The bartender was farting around with new cocktail recipes when in blows the German ambassador’s daughter, or a Ziegfeld girl or a Dallas socialite or Peggy Lee or Rita Hayworth, all of whose names coincidentally are (or translate to) Margarita in Mexicanian. You can guess the rest.

More recently, Esquire Magazine interviewed four Wall Streeters in a bar who gave the following reasons why they were drinking margaritas:

1. “Because he got one.”
2. “The vodka didn’t go down well.”
3. “Because it’s been a long week.”
4. “Because I’m an alcoholic.”

Yep, you just can’t go wrong with a margarita, be it basic or tarted up. Tequila. Triple sec. Fresh lime juice. Heaven in a trough, I say.

There are many kinds of margaritas, some quite tasty and worth trying. That’s why this special holiday installment of Drink To Write, Write To Drink focuses on — duh — margaritas.

Don’t get me wrong. I won’t drink just ANY margarita. Like, I think most frozen margaritas are stupid. And stay away from that fake lemon/lime stuff in a packet — that crap’s for astronauts. And I hate cocktails that don’t taste like liquor (mudslide, dog?). They’re for teenyboppers (and my next post), not sophisticated sots like me and you. On a diet? Can’t help you there, either. This is a different type of therapy.

To me, a margarita says, “So what if my day sucked? I have THIS!” I even own a collection of ridiculous glasses just for serving margaritas. I say if the Lord didn’t want you to drink margaritas, S/He wouldn’t have put so much vitamin C in them.

So here are some great margarita recipes. Each makes one drink unless otherwise stated.


Let’s just get this part out of the way upfront. Always use fresh juice (and fresh fruit, if possible and where applicable).

And here’s how to rim a margarita glass with salt (or whatever):

Rub the rim of a chilled cocktail glass with a lime or lemon wedge and dip the rim in salt until it’s coated. Coarse or kosher salt works great.


Classic Margarita
2 parts tequila
2 parts triple sec
1 part lime juice

Rim the glass with salt. Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into the glass, and serve.

Chocolate Margarita (C’mon — I dare you!)
1-1/2 oz tequila
1 oz Godiva liquor
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
3/4 oz cream or half and half
2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz lime juice
Stirrings Cocoa Rimmer

Rim the glass with the cocoa rimmer. Combine all ingredients in a shaker full of ice and pour into the glass.

Chambord Raspberry Margarita
4 cups frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 oz tequila
2 oz Gran Marnier
3 oz Chambord
2 oz lime juice
Whole, fresh raspberries (for garnish)
1 cup sugar (for glasses)

In a blender, combine frozen raspberries, lemon juice, tequila, Gran Marnier, Chambord and ice. Blend until smooth. Rim margarita glasses with sugar. Pour the raspberry margaritas into the glasses.

Strawberry Margarita
Cracked ice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz strawberries (frozen okay)
1/2 oz strawberry schnapps
1 oz tequila

Rim a cocktail glass with sugar. Fill the glass with cracked ice. Add tequila, strawberry liqueur, lime juice, and strawberries. Shake and strain into the glass.

Blue Margarita
Yields: 2 to 3 servings

1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 oz tequila
2 oz triple sec
2 oz lime juice
2 oz blue curacao
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
2 (1/4-inch) slices of star fruit for garnish (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Place tequila, triple sec, lime juice, blue curacao, and sugar in the shaker; shake hard for 30 seconds. Rim margarita glasses with coarse salt. Strain the margarita into the glasses. Garnish each with a slice of star fruit or a lime wedge.

Carrot Margarita (sounds worse than it tastes)
3 oz blanco or reposado tequila
3 oz carrot juice
1 oz lime juice
1-1/2 oz orange liqueur
ice cubes

Combine all ingredients and serve on the rocks.

Red Chile–Guava Margarita
Yields: Many

2-1/2 cups chile-infused tequila (see recipe)
1-1/2 cups triple sec
1-1/2 cups guava nectar
1 cup orange juice
1-1/2 cups lime juice
10 lime wedges
10 small red chiles, for garnish (optional)

Chile-Infused Tequila:
6 small, dried red chiles (or fresh serranos), halved lengthwise, seeds removed
1 750-mL bottle of tequila
Place red chiles in tequila. Allow to infuse for 1 to 2 days.

Drink prep: Combine tequila, triple sec, guava nectar, orange juice, and lime juice in a pitcher and reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use. To serve, rim a rocks glass with salt. Fill the glass with ice, add the margarita mixture, and garnish with a skewered chile pepper (but only if you want to).

Banana Margarita (just shut up and try it)
1 oz creme de bananes
1 oz gold tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 mashed banana

Rim a frosted double-cocktail glass with sugar. Fill the glass with crushed ice, add the ingredients and blend briefly. Serve with a lemon juice-dipped slice of banana.

Blackjack Margarita
1-1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz Chambord raspberry liqueur
4 oz lime juice

Fill a large margarita glass with ice. Add tequila, triple sec, and Chambord. Add the lime juice. Shake, garnish with a lime wedge and serve.

Watermelon Margarita
16 oz seeded, blended watermelons
1/2 lime
6 oz tequila
3 oz triple sec
1 tablespoon sugar

Cut up a watermelon, removing seeds. Liquify in a blender until you have about 16 oz. Add remaining ingredients, top with ice and blend until smooth. Taste and add sugar if watermelon isn’t sweet enough. Serve in a margarita glass with a sugar-coated rim.

Jamaican Margarita
This recipe uses hibiscus blossoms. They can be found at Latin grocery stores. Take the time to boil the blossoms in sugar and water as described and then steep; this infuses more flavor than just steeping them in warm water.

1 cup dried hibiscus blossoms (about 2 oz)
3 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups tequila
1/2 cup lime juice
1/3 cup triple sec or other orange-flavored liqueur
8 lime slices

Place blossoms in a strainer; rinse under cold water. Combine blossoms, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Strain; discard blossoms. Cover and chill hibiscus mixture. Combine hibiscus mixture, tequila, juice, and triple sec. Serve over ice. Garnish with lime slices.

Blackberry Margarita
Yields: 8 servings (about 1/2 cup each)

1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar (for glasses)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lime
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup blanco tequila
3/4 cup Grand Marnier
2/3 cup lime juice
12 oz fresh blackberries

Combine 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar and the salt in a dish. Cut the lime into 9 wedges. Use one to rub the rims of 8 glasses, and dip them in the salt mixture. Combine water and 1/2 cup sugar in a microwave-safe glass cup. Microwave at high for 2-1/2 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar; cool. Combine syrup, tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice, and blackberries in a blender; process until smooth. Strain mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a pitcher; discard solids. Serve over ice. Garnish with remaining lime wedges.

Almond Margarita
1-1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz lime juice
1 dozen almonds

Put all ingredients in a blender with ice and pulse for a minute. Pour into a salt-rimmed margarita glass. Garnish with an almond.

Asian Pear Margarita
Yields: 2 servings

3 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz asian pear cider
3 oz silver tequila
1 oz triple sec

Put ice in a cocktail shaker, add ingredients, and shake vigorously until ice cold; strain and serve on the rocks or straight up.

Ginger Margarita
Kosher salt
1 quarter-size slice of fresh ginger
One 1/4-inch slice of Thai chile
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-1/2 oz anejo tequila
1/2 oz Cointreau
1 lime wedge

Rim a margarita glass with the salt. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the ginger, chile, sugar and lemon juice. Add the tequila, Cointreau and ice and shake. Strain into the glass over ice. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge and fasten it to the glass.

Blood Orange Margarita
Yield: Serves an army

1 quart fresh blood orange juice or fresh orange juice
1-1/2 cup lime juice
1-1/2 cup Cointreau or other orange liqueur
3-1/2 cups silver tequila
Coarse salt
1 blood orange wedge or orange wedge
12 thin blood orange slices or orange slices
12 small sage sprigs or leaves

In a large pitcher, mix the juices, Cointreau and tequila. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes. Rim a couple million martini glasses with an orange wedge and salt. Add ice to the pitcher and stir well, then strain into the glasses. Garnish each drink with a blood orange slice and sage sprig.

Azuñia Margarita
2-1/2 oz Azuñia Platinum or Reposado Tequila
1 oz Azuñia Organic Agave Nectar
1 oz water
2 oz lime juice
sea salt

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 5 seconds and pour into a salt-rimmed Pilsner glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

2 oz silver tequila
1 oz blue curacao
3/4 oz lime juice
dash of simple syrup
splash of prosecco
Lime twist to garnish

In a cocktail shaker, shake tequila, blue curacao, lime juice and simple syrup with ice. Strain into rocks glass with salted rim over ice. Top with prosecco. Garnish with lime twist.

Yellow Watermelon Chipotle Margarita
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle
2 oz reposado tequila
1-1/2 oz watermelon juice (see instructions)
3/4 oz elderflower liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice
lime wedge

To make the watermelon juice: Remove rind and seeds of watermelon and cut flesh into 2″ chunks. Place in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Then process until smooth and liquidy. Strain through a fine sieve. Transfer juice to a large squeeze bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. Refrigerate up to 3 days.

Place the sugar, salt and chipotle powder in a bowl and mix well. Spread on a small plate. Moisten the rim of a cocktail glass with the lime wedge and dip the glass rim in the sugar/salt/chipotle mixture. Shake all the other ingredients with ice cubes until a thin layer of frost appears on the outside of the shaker. Pour into the glass and serve.

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! (Also available in paperback.) Thanks.

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.