Toast back to school with Arrogant Frog and Côte Mas

My house is very quiet today. This morning my 10th grader reluctantly said goodbye to sleeping in late and spending his days working at the bike shop and skateboarding around town with buddies until curfew. My oldest son started college last week.

Way, way back (yet not so long ago), when my college freshman was a toddler, a mom in my Mothers of Preschoolers group who had five children, the youngest who were twins, spoke to us about the first day of school.

She said that when her oldest three children went to kindergarten she cried at the bus stop. When the twins went to kindergarten, she served mimosas! She counted it as success that she had raised five children who she could send off with confidence.

There is much to celebrate when our kids go back to school. I'm not talking about the stereotypical harried parent who "deserves" a drink because they put up with their kids all summer.

I'm talking about toasting the new year and new opportunities. I make my resolutions in September, not January. I always see back to school time as the new year - much more so than January 1st. There have been very few years of my life when early September didn't mean new beginnings for me. I went straight from college to teaching, so even when I wasn't a student, I was in school.

I'm also talking about toasting our parenting skills - and often times our child advocacy skills when they're needed at a school. Toasting the back to school photos littering Facebook timelines. Toasting parents who may have it tough because their children have special needs, learning disabilities or social anxiety. Toasting yourself if you are one of those parents. I'm talking about toasting our children and the opportunities education provides them.

In September, when fall starts nature's dormancy, it simultaneously begins growth for our children. That is something to be excited about and celebrate.

A glimpse of my desk when I'm wine tasting and writing about wine.

(A peak at my desk as I'm writing and tasting - complete with my designated spit cup. The actual drinking and toasting will happen later this evening.)

The thing is, by the time you're done buying new shoes, 3" binders, and backpacks for the new school year, there's not that much left in the budget for wine to celebrate with. But, you may have just enough left to buy a bottle or two of $9.99 Arrogant Frog, an estate bottled French wine created and produced by Jean-Claude Mas, a fourth generation winemaker. These are not the typical ten buck bottles from mass producers that you may be familiar with.

I first tried Arrogant Frog's 2016 Rosé back in June, right before school let out. #Winestudio, a wine education program that happens through Twitter, was celebrating rosé for the month, and it was one of the wines we chatted about on Twitter. When I do #Winestudio, I invite friends over and we share the wine. Wine is meant to be shared. We loved this rosé and couldn't believe it was a $10 wine - from the south of France!

The rosé - or Lily Pad Pink - has a lovely medium pink color. It has aromas of flowers and ripe red fruit - strawberry, some cherry - with just a hint of sweetness.

When I was asked if I'd like some samples additional of Arrogant Frog and Côté Mas wines (another of Jean-Claude Mas labels), I confidently said yes.

In addition to another bottle of the rosé, which I shared with friends recently and drank it with mounds of steamed crabs - a great pairing - I also received a bottle of Arrogant Frog 2016 Cabernet-Merlot ($9.99) and Côte Mas 2016 Rouge Intense Sud De France ($10.99).

The cab-merlot - Ribet Red - is a bit spicy with hints of vanilla, black currant and ripe berries. On day 2, some big cherry comes out and it's just as drinkable as day 1. This is an easy drinking wine, with light tannins. The first words out of my mouth when I opened it were "this is really enjoyable." Even though I'd had the rosé and enjoyed it, a good $10 rosé is not all that difficult to come by. A good $10 cab-merlot is a different story. Pairing recommendations from the winery: red meat, barbecue, hard cheese.

The Rouge Intense comes in a liter bottle that has 33 percent more wine than a standard 750ml bottle - an extra glass for not a lot of extra money. A combination of grenache, carignan, consult, merlot and syrah, these bold grapes play nicely together and make a really pleasing red table wine. This is a crowd pleaser with cherry, pomegranate, medium tannins and a finish that's longer than an $11 bigger bottle should have.

There are so many $10-$12 blah wines out there that people buy because they're well known and have the right price. When I find wines in that price range that are not blah, that are enjoyable to drink, and have the qualities of the grapes they are made from, I am absolutely going to tell people about them.

I'm telling you right now about Arrogant Frog and Côte Mas wines. These are value wines that fit your "I'm just about broke after buying school supplies" budget that drink like you still have a few dollars left in your wallet. The fact that they're made from grapes grown using sustainable and biodynamic principles (see below) make them an even more impressive value.

About Domaines Paul Mas (from their PR info): Jean-Claude Mas has blazed the trail for fine winemaking in the Languedoc region of the South of France. A fourth-generation vine grower and first generation vigneron (a person who cultivates grapes for winemaking and makes wine from those grapes), Jean-Claude took the helm of Domaines Paul Mas in 2000. He defines the character of Paul Mas wines as "Luxe Rural," an appreciation of the simple pleasures of life artfully rendered by nature. It is the spirit of the south of France. Domaines Paul Mas sources the highest quality grapes from twelve family-owned estates and premier growers in the Langedoc to make wines of authenticity and refinement. All of them are managed using principles of sustainability and biodynamism. The end result is a family of magnificently charming wines that burst forward with the personality of the Langudeoc. Jean-Claude's tenacity and vision have taken root: the 2015 Drinks International sommelier poll ranked Domaines Paul Mas 16th of the top 50 most admired wine brands.

Disclaimer: The wines talked about in this piece were sent to me as media samples.

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