Do you ever stand in the wine aisle of your local store and scratch your head wondering why some wines are $15 and some $150? Well, the taste tells you why most of the time. However, there are some quite marvelous wines out there on the shelves that give a high yield for a small investment. I discovered this week’s two beauties by word of mouth from my wine-mad friend, Rick from San Diego. Courtesy of my wine buddy, two sensational wines for rock bottom prices are on the table for this week’s tasting.

First on the table is Robert Hall’s 2005 Rhone de Robles. This is a Rhone-style red available from the vineyard for $18, but at your local Trader Joe’s for $10.99. Hall’s winemaker, Don Brady, has created a fine Grenache/ Syrah blend (with a little extra thrown in for good measure) seasoned in European oak and containing hints of spicy pepper and berries. This is a robust red with a pleasant nose, which is ready to drink immediately with those juicy steaks or ribs you’re planning on for the weekend barbecue.

Rhone de Robles

From another wonderful Paso Robles winery comes Andrew Murray’s Tous Les Jours, a sinfully good Syrah with a $16 price tag out of the winery. Produced from a blend of Paso Robles Syrah and grapes from the estate vineyard, TLJ is a saucy red with plenty of interesting ingredients like cherry, blackberry and raspberry. This is a heavy red with a big bouquet, spicy overtones and a hint of musky herbs. Tous Les Jours is a marvelous quaff for a reasonable price and, as its name suggests, a great choice as an everyday table wine.

Tous Les Jours

Have you ever wondered if you could make wine out of coffee beans, or what’s the difference between “Shiraz” and “Syrah”? Well if you have, then The Wine Maker’s Answer Book by Alison Crowe should be on your bookshelf. Crowe, a longtime columnist for Wine Maker Magazine, has put together a Q&A guide answering everything you ever wanted to know about wine but were afraid to ask — I discovered that to make a standard 59-gallon barrel of wine you need to have about 800 pounds of grapes.

Crowe’s book is targeted at the professional and amateur vintner. Whether you’re squeezing your grapes in the bathtub or running a winery in Napa Valley, you will become a discerning “oenophile” in no time at all. As Brad Ring says in the foreward, “Alison’s answers will expand your understanding of wine and winemaking no matter if you are a first-time winemaker or a knowledgeable veteran with many harvests under your belt.”

I certainly increased my knowledge of wine and winemaking over the weekend as I read this informative and well-written book. Now all I need is to convince my avocado ranching landlord to cut down the “avo” trees and plant grapes instead. With Crowe’s know-how and my proclivity for the grape I think I can make it in the winemaking business. Happy tasting!