So, haven't been very diligent about posting wine reviews, I know. I thought I'd do a more educational entry this time. At a recent cave tasting in Napa, I learned (it was probably obvious to many others) that wine labels actually MEAN something. It's not just branding plus artwork. Here is a PDF that more specifically explains it in pictures.
Essentially, if a wine is said to be from "California" or "Central Coast" or "Northern Coast," that means the grapes could have come from a bunch of places all over California, then just machine blended together and fermented in some factory location. If it was from specifically Napa Valley (a vintner-designated appellation), or Calistoga (a sub-appellation within Napa Valley), then 85% of the grapes had to be from that region. If it says "Estate Grown" or "Estate Vinted" that means that all the wine was made on the premises of the winery, which must be in the same area as the wine is grown.
At the moment, my goal is to memorize the 16 different sub-appellations of Napa Valley, so that when I go there I have more of an understanding of what to expect from wineries in different regions. Artesa, for example, is in Los Carneros, which is better known for its Chardonnay than, say, Calistoga, which is primarily known for it's red wine varietals. In some areas because of the soil the grapes are smaller and the flavor is more concentrated, higher skin to fruit ratio, etc.
The real test: We avoided all "vague" locations on the wines we bought from Safeway, and will be sampling them over the next month. We will see if they are up to snuff. They were also, for the record, all under $20. No need to spend exorbitantly for wine.
On another note, I made a modified-ginger martini last night with the new Platinum Russian Standard vodka we bought (as opposed to just normal Russian Standard, our usual vodka) and I gotta say - it is definitely smoother. I was able to swish the martini in my mouth and the tingling sensation was only due to the ginger syrup.