SONGS Meets the Market

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is an inoperative nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast of the United States, near San Diego, California. The plant was closed in June 2013 and is in the early stages of being decommissioned. According to Think Progress, the decommissioning process will go on for at least two decades, and the radioactive waste will be stored onsite for the foreseeable future.

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Prop 23 and Out of State Interests

Thomas Friedman’s latest column on “The Terminator vs. Big Oil” adds another dimension to the rampant campaign finance conflicts of interest inherent in our political system.

In particular, Friedman shines a spotlight on California Prop 23, which “proposes to suspend implementation of A.B. 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5 percent. It is currently above 12 percent.” A.B. 32, or California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was designed to put California on a path to reducing greenhouse gases in its air to 1990 levels by 2020, and at the time it was enacted had the support “of Republicans, Democrats, businesses and environmentalists.”

But now, according to Governor Schwarzenegger, speaking at an energy forum last week in Sacramento:

“It is very clear that the oil companies from outside the state that are trying to take out A.B. 32, and trying to take out our environmental laws, have no interest in suspending it, but just to get rid of it… They want to kill A.B. 32. Otherwise they wouldn’t put this provision in there about the 5.5 percent unemployment rate. It’s very rare that California in the last 40 years had an unemployment rate of below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. They’re not interested in our environment; they are only interested in greed and filling their pockets with more money… And they are very deceptive when they say they want to go and create more jobs in California… Since when has [an] oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let’s be honest. If they really are interested in jobs, they would want to protect A.B. 32, because actually it’s green technology that is creating the most jobs right now in California, 10 times more than any other sector.”

In particular, Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro “have led the charge against the landmark climate law, along with Koch Industries, the giant oil conglomerate owned by right-wing megafunders Charles and David Koch. Koch recently donated $1 million to the effort and has been supporting front groups involved in the campaign.”

For me, this raises some interesting questions. At the federal level, foreign interests are technically prohibited from making political contributions (although there is reason to suspect they are being circumvented and not adequately enforced). Why don’t states adopt similar regulations with regard to out of state interests — corporate or otherwise? After all, why should the citizens of a state be held hostage to outside interests of any kind? It seems that residents of a state should have more say over their own governance than a couple of businesses who happen to have facilities located there. Of course, the same goes for other activists.

Latest Wine Finds

Sometime in March, the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits stores sent an email advertising “March Gladness” specials. All the specials were available for order on the internet only, but then delivered to your local retail store at no charge. Among the discounted items were two absolute bargains.

Whitehall Lane Cabernet SauvignonThe first bargain was the Whitehall Lane 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (California). Whitehall Lane is a perennially good cabernet. Normally it retails for between $35 and $45 a bottle, and so, for obvious budgetary reasons has not made too many appearance in my wine cellar since becoming a Ph.D. student. However, discounted to $19.99 a bottle, it is an absolute steal. Although 2004 was not a crowning achievement for Whitehall Lane, there is nothing disappointing about this wine. Expecting it would be worth every penny, I splurged and picked up a case — we have not been disappointed.

In some ways, my second bargain was both a bigger leap into the unknown, and yet, an even safer bet. The Rolf Binder 2004 “Hales” Shiraz Barossa Valley (Australia) normally retails in the $25 to $30 range, though you can find it discounted for $18 to $22. However, the state store was offering it for $7.99 a bottle. Robert Parker rated the wine 90 points, and described it as:

An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. It was aged for 12 months in French and American oak; 10% of the latter was new. It offers an enticing bouquet of wood-smoke, earth, bacon, and blueberry. Supple-textured, plush, and friendly, it has gobs of flavor, excellent grip and length, and enough structure to evolve for 2-3 years. Drink it through 2016. (Source: Wine Advocate, August 2008 as cited on

Rolf Binder "Hales" ShirazA Robert Parker 90 point wine for $8!?!? Despite never having tasted other vintages of Rolf Binder, I settled on 2-1/2 cases — enough in case it was good, not too much in case it wasn’t all that. Suffice to say I should have bought more like 5 cases. This is an amazingly complex and well integrated wine. It has a very lush mouth feel, a long finish, and lots of fine tannins. For $8!?!? Amazing. Also, as I know some people who are not huge fans of shiraz, it is worth mentioning that this wine feels more like a cabernet than a shiraz.


Spencer Roloson Palaterra Napa Valley California 2005

Spencer Roloson Palaterra Napa Valley California 2005

Spencer Roloson Palaterra


Recently I have really come to love the Spencer Roloson Palaterra 2005. According to the winemaker’s website, the Palaterra is a blend of of 59% Syrah, 24% Valdigue, 12% Petite Sirah, 4% Carignane modeled on wines from the Southern Rhone, Provence and the Languedoc.  The 115 year old Carignane vines and the 50 year old Valdigue vines give the wine gnarly old vine character, while the Syrah gives it plenty of fruit, texture and weight. A very original and enjoyable wine.

3 Wines Under $10

Over the holiday I took three wines, each of which cost $10 or less, to one of the family gatherings.  The wines included:

Arthur Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles California 2006 — $9.99

Nine x Nine Zinfandel Lodi California 2006 — $9.99

Bodega Norton Malbec Barrel Select Mendoza Argentina 2006 — $8.99

I had high hopes for all three, especially the Arthur Hills, as finding a decent California Cab for $10 has become almost impossible. Unfortunately, my search continues. The Arthur Hills was by far the worst of the three wines. It had a bizarre nose — think some combination of rotting organic matter and petrol. On the palate it was watery thin with flavors of strawberries — but of a decidedly artifical nature. At any rate, not what you want from a Cab. In short, this is one of the worst wines I can recall drinking in a long while. After a few sips, it went down the drain. It looks like the Gun Bun Cab gets to retain its title as the best California Cab under $15.

Next up was the Nine x Nine Zin. I was hoping for perhaps an alternative to Renwood or Dancing Bull. Certainly for $10 I had no expectations of Ridge… Alas, for me, this wine was also a disappointment. Mind you, it was not so visibly flawed as the Arthur Hills, but it was still just a bit beyond the borderline of acceptable. Of course, in wine as so many other things opinions vary; one of the other wine enthusiasts at the party thought it wasn’t so bad.

The third of the three turned out to be the best. The Norton Malbec was fragrant on the nose and full and lush in the mouth. It would benefit from a bit more grip on the palate and a little less ripenness, but overall, this was a drinkable wine. I have also recommended this wine to some friends who reported back that they enjoyed it very much. Although the Norton will never be mistaken for Kaiken, it is perfectly adequate for social gatherings and everyday drinking.

Two To Try

In addition to the Gun Bun Cab, we had two other noteworthy wines this past weekend.

Kaiken Ultra Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2006
$12.99 — 91 WA | 90 WS

Kaiken Ultra Malbec


First, the Kaiken Ultra Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2006 ($12.99).  A-ma-zing.  Robert Parker rated this wine 91 points.  Loads of fruit and a long long finish.  At $13 this wine is a screaming value.

“The 2006 Ultra Malbec was aged for 12 months in French oak. The oak influence is apparent in the attractive perfume which also has notes of violets, black cherry and a hint of chocolate. This is followed by a structured wine that will benefit from 2-3 years of additional bottle age. The fruit is mouth-filling and has good depth and the firm finish lasts for more than 45 seconds.”  Source:

In addition to the 91 points from Robert Parker, the Kaiken Ultra Malbec also scored 90 points from Wine Spectator.  Visit the Kaiken Wines website for more reviews.

Second, our neighbors Wes and Michelle brought over the Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Alexander Valley 2005.  This was another outstanding wine.  Everything you expect from a California Cabernet.

Gun Bun Cab 2005

Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon Block 13 Sonoma County California 2005

Gun Bun Cabernet Sauvignon Block 13

Gun Bun Cabernet Sauvignon Block 13

We had the Gun Bun Cabernet Sauvignon Block 13 over the weekend.  Wow!  This is the best California Cabernet for under $15 I can recall having in a long while.

BTW, next time you are touring Napa or Sonoma, I highly recommend that you include Gundlach Bundschu on your wine tasting itinerary.  The setting is idyllic and the people are decidedly inviting.  When we lived in Cali in the late 1990s they hosted a summer Shakespeare festival on an open air stage.  People would bring blankets and picnic lunches and drink lots of Gun Bun wine.