Some people think I'm a wine snob. And maybe I am; I just don't see any point in drinking things that don't taste good. By that token I'm a whisky snob, a beer snob - even a pop snob. If the only beer on offer is Coors Light, I'll have a Coke, and if it's Diet Caffeine Free Vanilla Cherry Coke then sod it, I'll just drink water.
That's not to say I won't experiment. I've had cheap wines that surprised me, and expensive wines that were undrinkable. I try not to assume anything from the label; after all you never know until you try it. But there are a few warning signs that can make me approach the bottle with the reticence of a four-year-old faced with an unfamiliar green vegetable.
California AVA I've had several really good wines that carry the California appellation. Stefania Haut Tubbe for example is a blend of Santa Clara valley and Santa Cruz Mountains fruit. Kathryn Kennedy's Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best Californian examples I've tasted - it's sourced from vineyards in three different counties. Fogarty's Skyline and Cinnabar's Mercury Rising are good examples of decent value blends that carry the generic appellation. But overall those are the exceptions rather than the rule, and they come from winemakers that I already know and respect. On the other hand, the supermarket shelves are full of generic California crap, blended from bulk purchases and perked up with residual sugar, oak powder and Mega Purple.
Non-vintage is fine for Champagnes and fortified wines, but is rarely a good sign on table wines. There are of course exceptions; for example ZD Abacus is produced using the Solera system and thus can't carry a vintage date, but overall it's a bad sign.
French AOCs on labels, such as "Californian Champagne", "Mountain Chablis" or "Burgundy Select". It's the wine equivalent of buying a "Rolex" watch from a street trader. The exception to this rule is of course Claret; I can't understand why the EU decided to make this a protected term, especially considering that it's British not French in origin.
Rapazzini Burgundy Select managed to hit all three trigger points at once. A non-vintage blend of un-named grapes - is there any Pinot Noir in there at all I wonder? - it's a light, soft, fruity wine; the sort that comes in litre carafes in Italian restaurants.
Kirigin Estate Red, Santa Clara Valley is honest about what it is and where it comes from. At a guess it's a blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, possibly others, with a fair amount of oak influence and a little more character than the "Burgundy Select".
There's nothing wrong with either of these wines; then again there's nothing particularly right with them either. They are drinkable, but not memorable, and not something I would consider buying again. In the $10-$15 price range there are plenty of better options, particularly from South America or Australia.