Some wines try hard to charm you with their uniqueness and their quirks; others just win on charm without trying too hard.
Orpheus Wines 2013 Mendocino Orange Muscat ($26) Our top qualifier this week is a basket case in a bottle. This wine showed up at our doorstep with its own, improvised warning label—besides the usual government one. Enclosed with a goofy spiral plastic cork called a Zork, this cat-themed wine (Muscat, anyone?) actually hisses when opened. Seems it was not done partying when put to bed, and woke up to the sound of bubbles. This "frizzante" character was a surprise even for its makers, an artsy, Kenwood-based family winery—hence, the warning label. Not really orange, it's a light, medium-dry wine with a hint of pine spicing up an aroma that's precisely like Orange Julius. A breakfast wine if there ever was one, sub it for mimosas. If this review is too quirky-ironic, here's the takeaway: this is a thoroughly enjoyable, deliciously different wine, a unique and quirky find that's actually earned those stripes. Meow.
Barrymore by Carmel Road 2013 Pinot Grigio ($14.99) If you think like me, you might have expected a Chardonnay for actress Drew Barrymore's first co-branded wine, but if you like drinking the juice of canned fruit cocktail, you'll be happy with this wine.
Cherry Tart by Cherry Pie 2013 California Chardonnay ($14.99) If you want to know if there's a Rainier cherry character to this wine, the answer is no—and you are way too gosh darn clever for this wine lineup. This is a smoky, perfunctorily singed Chard with fresh apple flavors and few malolactic thrills.
Verse & Chorus 2012 Napa Valley Red Blend ($20) In this blend, purring with domesticated tannins, Merlot plays its natural part. With plush, sweet and plummy flavors, it's fun to drink. Recording artist Mat Kearney has something to do with this wine, made in concert with Peju and John Anthony Vineyards.
Layer Cake 2012 Sea of Stones Mendoza Red Blend ($14.99) Smoky, meaty, a little sweaty, this Malbec-based blend inspires a picture from an old cookbook—you know, that thickly crusted roast surrounded by baked fruits, apples and carrots?
Educated Guess 2012 Napa Valley Merlot ($21.99) My educated guess about this wine turns out to be wrong: it's not a sweet style. There's more leather and bitter baking chocolate than plum sauce here, and the sticky tannin is lonely for want of more fruit extract. My second guess is, this is another post-Sideways Merlot that's trying too hard to beef up and not be Merlot. Be yourself.