Abraham Lincoln has always been America’s coolest president. Sure, Teddy Roosevelt was a “Rough Rider” before it sounded like the most popular guy at a gay bachelor party. And Ron Reagan was a bad actor, Bill Clinton blew a sax and Barack Obama started hosting jam sessions at the White House.
The guy wore a stovepipe hat, ended slavery and kept the union together before getting shot at a play. The 16th President was a Renaissance man! And that was before Hollywood revealed him as a badass vampire hunter.
Now, Honest Abe was a known teetotaler. (Some reports say that he drank beer for a while, on his doctor’s advice, but I suspect that excuse didn’t work for him any more than it has for me.) But I digress. Truth is, Lincoln’s profile on the penny is the centerpiece of a decidedly understated label that masks a very respectable wine. This “California Smart Wine,” as the label promises, is not intended to increase your IQ, but to harken back to Honest Abe’s era when folks knew the value of a penny.
Of course, there’s no virtue in being penny wise and pound foolish. The Wine Slobs might scrimp on the payout, but we’re not interested in buying cheap wine just for the sake of cheap wine. It’s got to be good — or at least have a cool label or an interesting story.
But we do know the value of a $10 bill, and we gladly surrendered one after tasting this Pinot at our local Rosauer’s. Now, if you are familiar with Rosauer’s, you know that you can easily spend 10 bucks on a bunch of arugula, some capellini mushrooms and an organic, free-range chicken breast. So getting a bottle of tasty vino for $9.99 seemed an especially good deal.
It wasn’t just the price that appealed to us. Even the tiny plastic cups at the tasting table revealed a fruity but robust pinot. The color’s actually a little thin, which makes the flavors seem that much more dramatic. The aroma is somewhat unique, with cherry cola and light cinnamon coming to mind, just like the vintner’s website says. They also claim “sassafras,” but frankly, I don’t know what that smells like, so I’m gonna take their word.
When it comes to flavors, cherry is the obvious leader here, but there are plenty of berry notes in the middle and a cranberry-infused finish that combine to make this a very well-rounded wine. The makers also claim wild strawberry, candy cap mushroom and sandalwood. Mushrooms and sandalwood sound like the beginnings of a good Saturday night for sure, but I can’t confirm the connection to this wine.
“The Other Guys,” makers of Pennywise, take themselves pretty seriously, it seems. But they come by it honestly as the fourth generation of winemakers in a family that began growing grapes near Sonoma, Calif., in the late 1890s. The “laid-back guys” make “stand-out wines” under a half-dozen labels. This particular blend combines 60% Clarksburg Pinot grapes, 39% Monterey grapes and a touch of Paso Robles sirah for a pleasing, middle-of-the-road wine that would pair well with a wide range of dishes — brie and crusty bread, chicken, pasta with white sauce, a salad laden with herbed croutons and slivered almonds.
No matter what you prefer as accompaniment, this is an all-purpose wine that, once tried, is sure to keep turning up in your wine rack. Kind of like a bad penny.
Aromatique: Surprisingly complex, with hints of cherry cola, raspberry and cinnamon.
SipQuips: Cherry, not overly tart, with sweet berries and just a touch of oak.
Kitchen couplings: Would pair well with a wide range of foods, including Finnish summer soup, which is what I enjoyed it with. Soft cheeses, good bread. Vegetable dishes, light pasta and chicken would all be good choices.