Summertime Sippers on Tap

I don’t need a calendar to tell me when it’s time to switch to lighter reds and sprightly whites.

Summertime sippers are the order of the day as temperatures rise across wine country.

My new favorite summer wine comes from a brand new winery — Urban Legend — in Oakland’s Jack London Square. The 2009 rosato di barbera ($16, 65 cases) is made from a rustic Italian grape that presents a lovely strawberry-centric palate. Click here to read more about Urban Legend

I really enjoyed a pair of low-cost bottles over the past week from different producers who aren’t exactly household names. Well, one of the labels does have some cachet — it’s a second-cousin of the much-publicized “Two Buck Chuck” from Charles Shaw.

I picked up a bottle of Crane Lake petite sirah (2008, $3.99) on a shopping trip to the Berkeley Bowl. I was standing in line at the cash register when I spied a nearby display of bargain wines. Nothing looked particularly exciting, but the Crane Lake label caught my eye.

At that price, I was just hoping for a red wine that wasn’t horrible. In fact, the wine was delicious.

It wasn’t complex, but it was smooth. There was a fruit forward character that belies the sometimes harsh tendencies of this varietal. The petite sirah would work well with barbecue ribs, burgers and other smoky, grilled foods.

I got interested in learning more about the wine, but a quick search of the internet didn’t turn up much background on Crane Lake or its lineage. I dug deeper.

Finally, I located the winery in Ceres. Where’s that, you ask? A quick dash to Google told me it was near Modesto at the same address as Bronco Wine Co. — the bargain-wine conglomerate that owns the Charles Shaw brand that sold for $48/case at Trader Joe’s.

Don’t bother looking for a Bronco Wine website. There isn’t one. The company, which controls more than 35,000 acres of vineyards, makes oceans of wine under Crane Lake and more than four dozen other labels.

Southern Hemisphere Surprise

The second bargain wine of the week comes from Chile. It’s a 2009 chardonnay from Viu Manent ($5.99) that I picked up on the bottom shelf of the wine aisle at Lucky’s. I wanted something different from the usual lineup of grocery store chardonnay, and I got a winner.

Pure luck. I didn’t know the label and am not an expert on Chilean whites, but the wine tasted great. Most California chardonnay at this price point is flabby, but not this wine. It was crisp, clean and flavorful — unoaked — and it was a great foil for a dish of tuna poke and white rice. It would work just as well with lemon chicken or white bean salad.

One More Bargain Red

I’d happily bring a case of Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend zinfandel to a summer cookout and I bet I’d be invited back again!

I received a sample of the 2008 zinfandel ($10) from the winery and it’s another fruit forward bottle made from a mix of grapes from all over wine country. The blend — 77 percent zinfandel, 18 percent petite sirah and 5 percent carignane — tastes of summer strawberries with just enough oak to give it some zip in the mouth. A glass of this wine was even better after a night in the refrigerator. The slight chill accentuates the fruitiness of the juice in a really good way.

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