Liquid Assets

Unscrew your wine!

After decades of cork supremacy, screw tops are suddenly the rage in wine. And why not? Corks do very little for wine, other than ruin almost one bottle per case by imparting a wet-cardboard smell. I admit there's not much cachet in throwing a romantic dinner party and unscrewing your wine du jour, but knowing that what you pour will be as close to the winemaker's goals as possible takes away some stress. I've been trying some screw-topped wines recently and have found that the wine does taste fresher and more vibrant. So far, my favorite reasonably priced wines with screw tops are made by Bonny Doon Vineyard and Pepi Winery.

Randall Grahm is the iconoclast leading the charge against corks. His winery, Bonny Doon Vineyards, makes consistently good wines ranging from $8 up to $32, and besides putting screw tops on every one of his wines, he's putting excellent juice in his bottles. He also likes to put jokes on his labels. For example, his most expensive wines have a discreet flying saucer attacking a French chateau, while his least expensive show a prisoner escaping from the big house on tied-together sheets. These last wines come from a vineyard nestled against one of California's most notorious prisons, Soledad, known affectionately by its residents as the Big House. Grahm likes the location because the land is cheap. But don't let all the fooling around disguise the fact that Bonny Doon is making several lines of pretty spectacular inexpensive wine. The Ca' del Solo label uses California grapes to make uncomplicated, Italian-style wines. Three of the Ca' del Solo wines are called Big House, in honor of the vineyard location. There is a white, a red, and a pink, and all offer rich flavors and intense aromas for under $10. Grahm's secret is blending up to 20 grapes to arrive at his concept of a great casual wine, one you can drink with a burger while you've got your feet up, watching the world go by.

Pepi Winery has recently moved to screw caps, and – wonder of all wonders in this day and age – they've lowered the prices on their wines! Beginning with the new releases, which should start hitting the stores about the time you read this, all of Pepi's wines will be priced below $10 (sometimes way below). I've had a chance to taste their prior, more expensive vintages against the new ones with screw tops, and I can attest that, if anything, the quality has gone up. The new releases will include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and Sangiovese for red-wine lovers. For white-wine drinkers, they will offer Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay. I've tried the Cab and Merlot in the reds and the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio in the whites. My general impressions are that these Pepi wines are top-notch and fully competitive with a lot of more expensive ($15 or so) California wines. The two reds are opulent and weighty for the price but with enough acids to make them good food wines. Even though there are thousands of wonderful Sauvignon Blancs these days, Pepi's stands out for its bright flavors and combination of pineapple and light caramel aromas. But the winner for the Pepi range, a wine you should go out and try tonight, is their Pinot Grigio. The grapes come from Oregon, the best spot in the U.S. for Pinot Grigio, and the Pepi wine is competitive among a bunch of $20-plus Oregon offerings.

Put any of these wines on your table, and everyone will want to talk about the screw caps. Once they've tasted, they'll want to talk about the wines.

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Bonny Doon, Pepi

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