Cupcake sauvignon blanc review

14 06 2012

Hello!  Today we review a 2011 sauvignon blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley, selling at Costco for just $7.89.

WOW do I ever like this wine.  The 2011 Cupcake sauvignon blanc is a summer party hit — it has a fun name, a lighthearted yet classy label, and its taste is tangy and refreshing, with lemon, a little lime, and just a whisper of  grapefruit and honeysuckle.  It does nothing wrong, and with the crazy low price, this is kind of a big deal.  In fact, why isn’t everybody talking about this?  What is going on!?  Why isn’t this wine on the FRONT PAGE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES?   EVERY DAY?

I would like to humbly suggest that you hurry to Costco and buy as much of this little stunner as your family can afford.   Or, to Total Wine, where it sells for a mere $7.97.  Or anyplace you can find it, really.  That guy at the slot machine is laughing because Cupcake 2011 sauvignon blanc is a Best Value winner, even at $12.  And it is highly:

Recommended.





artezin zinfandel review: ACH-CHOO!!!

4 04 2012

Today we look at a $15 California red zinfandel from 2009.

Hey!  It’s spring of 2012, it’s pretty outside, and you might be in a hurry.  So let me break this down quickly for you.  The 2009 artezin zinfandel has a cool label, it’s affordable, it smells complex and wonderful, and on your tongue it gives you:

1.  high-quality, freshly-ground pepper that may make you sneeze,

2.  black licorice, and

3.  drum roll…. it’s not too sweet.

Plus at 14.5% alcohol, it will rock your block.  I love this wine!  It has its own flavor, not that typical California red goulash.  THANK you, artezin, from Hess vineyards.  You have blessed us with a red that we can take to any party and show people that we are on the “inside track,” while not breaking the bank.

In the realm of $10-20 wines, artezin zinfandel  is sophisticated, deep, dark, and delicious.  And it is definitely:

Recommended.





Cannonball merlot review: CANNONBALLLLL!!!

29 03 2012

Hello!  Tonight we look at a 2009 Napa Valley, California merlot that costs around $15.

Look out:  here’s an addictive light-to-medium-bodied red wine with a fun label that everybody at the party will love.  Blackstone merlot’s former winemaker is behind this.   I got a free sample from the winery, and then bought another six bottles.

A bit  on the sweet side, Cannonball merlot is fun (like your first real cannonball at the pool) and friendly, yet strangely seductive.  It smells like a sweet cabernet, and has some cabernet-ish blackcurrant flavors in addition to black cherry, apple, vanilla and cinnamon when it hits your tongue.

The 2009 Cannonball merlot is:

Cannonbal merlot reviewRecommended.

EDIT:  I recently took this wine to a blind wine tasting featuring 16 wines from around the world.   I didn’t even know if it was included in the 8 wines I tasted.

On a scale of 1 (horrible) to 5 (incredibly great), I rated everything a 1, 2, or 3.   Except one wine, which I rated a 4, and wrote “Nice!!”  Yes, it was this Cannonball merlot.





Astrolabe pinot noir review: MEET, GEORGE, JETSON!

26 01 2012

Today we check out a 2008 pinot noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough area which costs around $26.  I got this one as a free sample. 

Astrolabe fills a nice niche:  it has a cool name, a cool label, and it’s a pinot in the $25-30 price range.  Thus, it is perfect to bring to a swanky party, or to deliver as a nice gift.   That is, if it’s delicious.

Guess what?  Astrolabe pinot is delicious.  When I first tried it, I liked it instantly.  The aroma is like roses, smoky spices and freshly dug soil — the deep, rich kind that never appears in your own garden without help from Home Depot.  In your mouth, Astrolabe is medium-bodied, bright (actually it’s “bright!!”), spicy, minerally, rhubarby, and floral, with a hint of plumb but none of that cherry lozenge sweetness that is so common in California pinot noirs.  And it’s not too minerally, as so many New Zealand pinot noirs seem to be. 

And yet, while being complex, it also has a clean, almost healthy feel to it, which borders on flat-out awesome and makes me feel like I’m drinking wine from the future, where there is no pollution and everything sparkles with life-giving purity.

The next time you’re off to a classy party, or you want to give a nice gift, or you just want to enjoy a snappy, fresh pinot that will make you live to 100, this one needs serious consideration.  Astrolabe pinot is highly:

Astrolabe Pinot Noir reviewRecommended.





Heavyweight cabernet sauvignon review

28 09 2011

This review has been updated here.

As we continue our white-hot series of affordable one-word cabernets that begin with the letter H, we arrive at a 2007 red that is 76% cabernet sauvignon, 14% syrah and 10% zinfandel.  It is around $13 and is from Lodi, California.

Heavyweight is allowed to be called a cabernet because it has at least 75% of that grape.  It’s nice to know the rest, since they don’t have to tell us.  Here, the syrah and zin add extra power, spice, richness and warmth — punch, if you will — to this surprisingly good cabernet.  You also get smooth tannins, very dark burgundy color, and the expected currants/black raspberry/”other dark fruits” flavors.  Actually that 14% of syrah is almost overpowering, to the point where this wine doesn’t taste like a typical cabernet sauvignon.  It’s more jammy, more fun, and frankly, sweeter.

But who cares?  It’s really good.  It’s only $13.  And it will be a big hit at a party, because of the name, the cool artistic label, and the knockout taste.   Heavyweight 2007 cab is:

Heavyweight cabernet sauvignonRecommended.





Schloss Kinzer gruner veltliner review: summer wine with emotional baggage

9 07 2011

Today we check out a 2009 gruner veltliner from Austria that cost me $13 at Premier Wine in Wilmington, Delaware.  But you get a full 1 liter instead of the usual 0.75-liter bottle, so think of it as a $9.75 wine.

This more-for-the-money white wine is delicious and PERFECT for summer.  It’s light.  It’s refreshing.  It has hints of vanilla and minerality.  But mostly it’s honeysuckle, melon and zingy citrus that will be cooling off your taste buds.  A nice balance of mellow sweetness against tangy lime, this uncommon grape with the funny name sort of tastes like a cross between pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.  It’s more dry than sweet.

The floral aroma is lovely — and on day 2 it actually brought a tear to my eye, by reminding me strongly of a smell I enjoyed at summer camp when I was just 5.  (I’m still not sure what that aroma was, but it might have been simply the grass we played on.)  It’s not a “great” wine, but being light, refreshing, and coming in a full liter bottle, Schloss Kinzer is definitely a party wine.  I liked this Austrian the moment I tasted it at the store.  It is:  

Schloss Kinzer gruner veltliner reviewRecommended.





Barista pinotage review: coffee, anyone?

1 07 2011

Today we review a 2009 pinotage from South Africa that cost me $14.99.

John at Premier Wine in Wilmington, Delaware recommended this robust red wine to me, and he was dead on.  Barista, as he stated, is the most espresso-like wine you will probably ever taste. 

The aroma is like a hearty cabernet sauvignon combined with coffee liqueur.  In the mouth, Barista is medium-bodied, with prominent mouth-drying tannins and flavors of espresso, combined with black cherry and rhubarb, and just a hint of dusty, unsweetened dark chocolate.  Really quite amazing.

Barista is serious, yet fun at the same time because of its Starbucks overtones.  And it’s delicious.  It’s great to bring to a party, when you want a red that people will like, and will also get them talking.  This one is highly:

Barista pinotage reviewRecommended.





Project Paso red wine blend review: HEY NOW

3 06 2011

Today we look at the 2009 Project Paso red blend from Paso Robles California, which costs around $11.

This is a second label from Sebastiani.  It’s fun and flavorful, with an original personality that will save your life if you are bored to death with same-tasting California reds.  In fact, it is all-around excellent for an $11 wine.  At 14.8% alcohol, it will rock your block.  This is party wine, people.

The fun begins with the funky new unwrappable rubber “cork”, built into the red/orange lid.  Project Paso red blend smells like caramel.  When first opened, it is reserved, with pleasurable medium-bodied texture but mysterious flavors.  On Day 2 it blossoms, jammy, intense, and filled with deep dark fruit.  Moderate tannins.  Luscious black raspberry and cranberry flavors meet up with dark coffee and spices, spices, spices.  All with a slight “dusty” quality.  Brought to a dinner party recently, the bottle was quickly consumed.

A blend of grenache, zinfandel, petite sirah and mourvedre, Project Paso is a clear Best Value winner — hence the guy at the slot machine.  It is enthusiastically:

Project Paso red wine blend review

Recommended.





flipflop riesling review: kick back and have a sip

23 05 2011

Today we review a 2009 riesling from Washington State that costs $7.

Hi!  Today’s burning question:  “At this low price, how good can it be?”  I’m happy to report that this wine with the carefree name is officially “really good.” Yes, it’s fairly sweet, but it’s less sweet than most rieslings.  That’s cool.  It’s fun, light, and it doesn’t do anything wrong.  With flavors of melon and peach, flipflop riesling is pretty much the ultimate party wine.

That’s good.  But there’s more.  Flipflop is actually kind of a big deal, because this $7 wonder is just as good as the Mack Daddy of affordable riesling, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is also a bargain but costs a bit more than flipflop.   

In fact, the only disappointing thing about this bottle for me was the grammatically challenged slogan, “to each, their own.”  A little singular/plural issue there.  Oh well – I’m glad they are making wine at flipflop, and not worrying about grammar. 

flipflop riesling reviewRecommended, and, hereby awarded a Best Value designation.





Kirkland Columbia Valley merlot review

22 05 2011

Today we examine a 2009 merlot from Washington State that costs $9 at Costco.

OK Washington merlot has a reputation.  That being, it is generally on the sweeter side.  It’s a good choice if you want to bring a white wine drinker over to the dark side.

Kirkland Signature Columbia Valley merlot falls right in line with that reputation.  And, it’s pretty good:  soft, medium-bodied, and pleasant.  Warm blackberries, with spicy chocolate.  It’s great for a party — most people will be happy to sip it, and it’s a conversation starter, as in: who knew that such a “bargain brand” could taste this good?  (Idiot wine snobs may talk behind your back, as if you brought some wine that you found at a gas station.  Screw ’em.)  It’s got some mouth-drying tannins, but it mostly soothes you with vague deep, dark fruit flavors.  It does almost nothing wrong. 

I found myself pouring glass after glass, a very positive indicator here at Wineguider.  This easy-drinking red is:

Kirkland Columbia Valley merlot reviewRecommended.





Jacob’s Creek reserve chardonnay review – HOLY FREAKING

29 04 2011

Today we review a 2007 $14 chardonnay from south Australia.

Holy freaking COW this Jacob’s Creek reserve chard is good.  It costs around $14.  If you find it for $20, you should still buy it.  Below, you can read part of a real, grown-up review of this wonderful white wine, from a website that usually requires you to pay in order to benefit from their wisdom. Bring this to a party and everybody who has been choking down California chardonnay will love you.

Much better on the 2nd day after opening, this bargain chard with a real cork from the other side of the world has aromas of butterscotch and tastes fresh, natural, and real — with acidic citrus flavors like lime, balanced by round tropical notes like mango (and some butterscotch). 

More, please! 

Highly recommended, and a “Best Value”.   

Jacob's Creek reserve chardonnay review

From Jancis Robinson.com (I added the emphasis):

“As detailed in Chardonnays – Oz vs the rest, I ended up giving the same relatively enthusiastic score, 16.5 out of 20, to Jacob’s Creek regular Chardonnay 2008 [a $6 value monster that your Wineguider recommended in 2009 form, right here] as to Bruno Colin’s Premier Cru Morgeot 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet [a fine French chardonnay that sells for $50-$80], and gave an even higher score to the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2008.

The distinguishing mark of the Jacob’s Creek Chardonnays is that Phil Laffer has steered their stylistic evolution in parallel with the dramatic change in the style of the average Australian Chardonnay much higher up the ranks, towards something much leaner and more refreshing. More Chablis than the old heavily oaked monsters. 

The main changes Laffer has made in recent years have been to treat the Chardonnay grapes as though they were fragile Riesling, picking them at night, protecting them assiduously from oxygen, minimising the time between vineyard and winery. Laffer reckons even his regular Chardonnay should last five to six years, ‘which certainly wasn’t the case five years ago’.”





Le Jade picpoul review

23 03 2011

Today we look at a 2009 picpoul from France, which costs around $11, give or take a couple dollars.  Actually, it’s a “picpoul de pinet.”   Whatever.

I don’t pretend to be a French wine expert, but I can tell you that this refreshing, affordable white wine is really good.  It’s nice and crisp, smelling like lemon and grapefruit.  It tastes like lemon/lime, grapefruit, pineapple, honeydew, and a little bit of green pepper.  Tart.  Fairly dry, but also round.  Minerally.  Friendly.  And easy-drinking, at 12.5% alcohol. 

Picpoul is not a common grape.  So most people haven’t heard of it, and that’s why this wine is great to bring to a party.  Everybody will be asking, “what IS this??”  (In a good way.)  Great with shellfish, chinese food, or any cheese, especially “big” cheeses.  At any price under $15, this Frenchy white is a Best Value, and is definitely:

Le Jade picpoul reviewRecommended.





Tilia malbec review: keep it simple

4 03 2011

Today we check out a 2009 malbec from Mendoza, Argentina that cost me $8.

I first had Tilia at a restaurant.  It was a cheaper red, among a collection of overpriced, mediocre labels — that was not a great sign for Tilia.

But I tried it, together with pasta in a spicy red sauce, and really liked it!  It’s very juicy, fairly deep and dark, and most importantly at such a low price, it does nothing wrong (unless you like your wine bone-dry).  To test the bar effect,** I tried it at home, and it held up:  for only $8, Tilia is a no-brainer that you will enjoy with a burger, pizza, that pasta and red sauce, or by itself.  Not much complexity or tannins — just a simple, dark-fruited and easy-drinking red that has more to offer than your usual Yellow Tail / Barefoot / etc. 

Plus it’s a malbec, which is all the rage these days, so it’s a great choice to bring to a party.

Tilia malbec review

Recommended.

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**The mysterious “bar effect” often makes a wine seem captivating, original and wonderful when you’re out among the bright lights and beautiful people, only to disappoint gravely when you drink it at home in front of the kitchen sink.





Kenwood pinot noir review: holy MACKEREL

23 02 2011

Today we look at a California pinot that I bought for $13, on sale — usually $15.

Whoa!  Kenwood Russian River Valley 2009 pinot noir is damn good!  It really tastes like pinot noir.  It’s easy-drinking, at 13.5% alcohol.  And it’s delicious– I want to keep drinking glass after glass.

Who knew?  This label seems like such a huge, mass-production winery.  It’s not.  Then again, it’s not a tiny boutique, either.  I have to admit, I did not expect a pinot noir from this label to be this good.  It is medium-bodied, so it’s not “see-through” in your glass.  Yet, it won’t overpower whatever you’re eating.  It has that very “pinot” combination of roses, cola, cherry and mushroom, with a bit of spice.  It’s on the juicier side of things, rather than earthy and dry.  And it has zero — zero — pinot noir “stinkyness,” which many people love, but I am not so crazy about.

This is a great middle-of-the-road, non-controversial pinot noir.  If somebody tells you to bring pinot to a dinner party, bring Kenwood Russian River.  Sure, there are some that are a little better at $15, like the Mark West Santa Lucia Highlands — but that is a limited production wine.  Considering availability, I am not sure that anything at this price beats Kenwood.  And if you can find it for $13 as I did, it’s a no-brainer.

Kenwood pinot noir reviewHighly recommended.





Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz cabernet review – STRIKER!

6 01 2011

Today we examine a 2008 southern Aussie blend that you can buy at Costco for $7.69.

This medium-to-full-bodied red smells like a nice cab with some black cherry shiraz notes, but on your tongue it’s jammy blueberry shiraz all the way, balanced by soft tannins and a touch of chocolate.  It’s better on day 2: you get more cabernet, and less alcohol.

And it’s a screamer.  In fact, let me be frank — 

it’s the new value red wine top dog — the big cheese, the head honcho — Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz/cab blend is HIGHLY desirable even at $13, and it’s better than many $20 wines I have tried.  It’s warm.  Tilted toward the sweet side of the sweet/dry spectrum.  Big, but won’t overpower most food.  It was the only red served at the hip New Year’s party I attended in posh West Chester, PA, and it beat 14 other reds in my friends’ $15-or-less blind tasting. 

Our past favorites in the red wine value race are narrowly eclipsed by this reliable Godzilla.  Highly recommended, and a blatant “Best Value” red.   Bravo! 

Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz cabernet review





Martini & Rossi sparkling rose review – PARTY PEOPLE IN THE HOUSE

4 12 2010

New Year’s is coming, so it’s time for bubbly.  Today, it’s a $15 Italian rose sparkling wine.    

OK I have an announcement:  there are no rules when it comes to bubbly.  Sure, “champagne” has to come from France, but really, any bubbly is fine.  Do whatever the hell you want.  Here’s why:  unless you spend a whole lot of money, it usually tastes like crap!  Yeah!  Woo hoo!!  Take your shirt off!!  It just doesn’t matter.  With that in mind, today we review Martini & Rossi sparkling rose.

The verdict?  It’s young and innocent and happy, and it doesn’t make me grimace or swear when I taste it, and the bottle looks EXACTLY LIKE this $53 bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte rose champagne that you’re droolin’ all over, which I will review next.  Nice!

In fact, it’s pretty damn good, and you should buy it.  Especially if you want a drinkable, sweeter bubbly and you don’t want to break the damn bank.

And you don’t want to break the bank.  Because on New Year’s Eve, bubbly isn’t really important — you’re much more worried about your shoes being banged up, your clothes not fitting right, throwing up, and the ever-present nightmare, trying to be cool at the party without coming off like a WEIRDO.  Where does the “quality of the champagne” rank, in this evening?  Minus 14?  So, I hereby give you full permission to buy this lovely $15 rose from Italy.

Party on!   (God, that made me sound like a weirdo, didn’t it?)Martini & Rossi sparkling rose review





Chateau Montet sauvignon blanc review

19 07 2010

Hello there! Today’s review is being brought to you by a Guest Reviewer, That Girl.  It is my pleasure to review a wine that Wineguider would not fall passionately in love with, but which J’adore!

Today we review a Sauvignon White Bordeaux wine from France, produced by Chateau Montet, an arm of Chateau Haut Guillebot, located in the Dordogne region of France.  It costs $8.99. Translation: It’s a white wine from the South Eastern region of France and it’s inexpensive.

Bottom Line: Don’t let the price fool you; it’s a buy, buy, buy. If I could stock my bedroom closet full of this stuff, I would (but where would I put my shoes?).

The pink label pays homage to its female owner heritage; beyond that, the label is fairly bla. The wine is not.

Warning: If you like your wine sweet, read no further; this wine is not for you. If on the other hand, you like your wine as dry as a calcium block with a hint of grapefruit, go for it. 

Oh dear. It seems I’ve broken Wineguider’s cardinal rule about no Wine Snob talk. Carrying on… this wine reminds me of sitting on a porch in summer, under a perfect sky, my feet up … with a cool drink. In France. Where I don’t live. This wine makes me forget that I have work on Monday morning. And that’s what I love about Chateau Montet’s Sauvignon; its timelessness and ability to transport.

What it is not: Sweet. Complex. Expensive.

What it is: Dry. Light. Simple. Grapefruit overtones with a mineral finish that lingers on the tongue. Hits all the right bells, without blowing my budget. At $8.99, I can buy two; one for my friend’s party and the other for my bedroom closet.

Highly recommended.

Chateau Montet sauvignon blanc review





Espiral vinho verde review

27 06 2010

Today we review a white wine from Portugal available at Trader Joe’s for the remarkable price of $4.

Let’s be honest, at this low price, a wine doesn’t have to do very much to achieve a recommendation.  As long as it doesn’t suck, it should be recommendable.  (In fact, this wine was featured in the “Cheap Wines That Don’t Suck” column in the San Francisco Weekly.)  But this wine actually does some things very well.   

Espiral vinho verde is perfect for a starter wine at a summer party.   “Starter” meaning that the guests are just arriving, it was hot as a firecracker outside, and they are saying hello and getting comfortable.  Why does Espiral work here?  It’s light.  REALLY light.  And it’s fun, because it’s a little bit bubbly.  Effervescent.  Spritzy.  It’s also fun because, as my foodie friends who introduced me to Espiral pointed out, it tastes like a green apple Jolly Rancher.  Finally, it’s very low alcohol, so it won’t bog anybody down as they begin to enjoy your party.

On the downside, depending on your tastes, this crisp white wine is very simple, lacking depth and “oomph”.  And it’s extremely dry.  Some people want their white wine to provide some ooey-gooey sweetness.   (Although I think some of these people will come around once you lay the Jolly Rancher comparison on them.)

Serve this one very well-chilled.  Enjoy!

Espiral vinho verde review





The Birdman pinot grigio review

19 06 2010

Today we review a $10 pinot grigio made in California by Big House vineyards.

The Birdman is a fun wine with a crazy jail-themed label that makes it great for bringing to a party.  But don’t be fooled — the contents are serious.  This is no watery, weak pinot grigio.  Best served well chilled, it’s intense, refreshing, and good on its own, but better when paired with food.   That’s because The Birdman has some nice complexity, so it will enhance almost anything you are eating.  Subtle tropical flavors are followed by a tart, clean finish, with a zing. 

A nice feature:  if you are cooped up in chardonnay-only mode, this could be THE wine to help you break out.  Why?  Because  this powerhouse pinot grigio tastes like it has been injected with a good un-oaked chardonnay.  So for those who are stuck in the sub-basement of Kendall Jackson, Robert Mondavi and other chardonnays, here is a familiar-tasting, chardonnay-like key that could ease you out into different wines, better times and broader, sunlit uplands.

Finally, fans of sweet wine may be challenged by The Birdman.  It tastes a bit alcohol-heavy (13.5% content), and it’s more dry than sweet.  

Recommended.The Birdman pinot grigio review





La Chapelle de la Bastide picpoul review

11 06 2010

Today we review a $10 picpoul blanc, a French white wine. 

This white with the pretty green bottle and the difficult French name (La Chapelle de la Bastide Picpoul de Pinet 2008 …whew!) is dry and tart, with citrus and a hint of sweetness, but mostly a large dose of minerality.  It’s not QUITE like licking a block of calcium, but there is a clear mineral character and aftertaste to this wine.  Actually it’s more like an afterfeel left on your tongue.  It’s not for everybody, but I like it.

Will this wine change your life, with waves of delicious new flavors and deep complexity?  No.  But it’s only $10, so it’s definitely worth trying because it’s just so different.   I enjoy this on its own, and I can see pairing it with almost anything, other than a meat dish.  Pasta?  Sure.  Shrimp hors d’œuvres?  Absolutely.  Hummus?  A salad course?  Whatever!  And it’s always fun to bring to a party because the odds are very high that nobody else will have ever tried a picpoul (or, probably, even heard of it).  

How is it different from a sauvignon blanc?  It’s not as clean.  Unless you drink this picpoul ice-cold, it will make a definite statement on your taste buds and won’t let go as easily as a sauvignon blanc will.

Recommended, for a time when you want to try something different and affordable.

La Chapelle de la Bastide picpoul review




Sexy Wine Bomb red wine review

1 06 2010

Welcome to Wineguider’s wine blog!

Our first post will review Sexy Wine Bomb’s “Blends Have More Fun”, a red wine from California that costs $10 a bottle.

This red is a blend (Merlot: 38%, Zinfandel: 38%, Syrah: 23%, Petite Syrah: 1%) that has a warm, fruit-forward taste with nothing weird going on and a bit of oak and spice in its finish.  I liked it right away.  That loving feeling might wane over time, but so far, this stuff is a hit — and that first impression is just what you need if you’re looking for a wine to bring to a party.  Not to mention the reasonable price tag, and the conversation-starting label, which depicts a bomb next to a sexy female silhouette from an 18-wheeler’s mudflap.

With this wide variety of grapes, you’d expect some complexity, and you do get it, but it’s a $10 version of complexity.   Good enough to be entertaining but not academy award-winning.  Sexy Wine Bomb is a new winery, and this is their first offering, so they need it to work.  And I think it does.  It’s not perfect, and it’s not fall-down-on-the-floor delicious, but at this price it’s appealing and a very solid contender. 

The winery’s quirky website states that the grapes come from “all over California,” but more importantly provides verbatim comments from their pre-release marketing survey (many of which are very negative and are still provided with cheerful commentary from the winemakers).  My favorite comment:  “NO.”

But I say, “YES.”  Enjoy!Sexy Wine Bomb "Blends Have More Fun" red wine