About jason

Jason enjoys exploring the world of wine, a new varietal or region lies around every corner. He views the wine world as a treasure hunt for grown-ups. This often leads him to the Trader Joe’s wine aisle where he can assess the latest finds to search for nuggets. He has no credentials and doesn’t claim to. Jason describes himself as a “professional consumer”. He’s just sharing what he liked, didn’t or loved and lessons he is learning along the way. In doing so, he hopes to help all filter through the masses of wines to find those that deliver tremendous value to the wallet and the palate. So next time you head out to Trader Joe’s grab his latest Top 10 list and if you feel so inclined leave it in the aisle for the person behind you when you are done. Jason can be reached via email at jason at jasonswineblog dot com or on twitter: @jasonswineblog.

2010 Pontificis Red

2010 Pontificis RedPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Latitude Wines

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s “The meal isn’t quite ready… still. An interesting, smooth-drinking bottle is just the thing to placate palates and provoke conversation – a “bridge builder,” if you will. This cheeky nod to Châteauneuf-du-Pape is perfect. Made from the signature Côtes du Rhône GSM blend – Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre – Pontificis boasts intense aromas of black fruits with spicy nuances and floral hints. With satiny tannins, it’s rich and full-flavored without being dogmatic (too early for that). It’s good. It could even carry you right through the turkey, should you wish, and you may very well at our price of $5.99* for a 750 ml bottle.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre – This one comes in a formidable bottle and starts with dark, voluminous fruit but balanced, smooth and spiced too. Nice stuff. Not complex but I’d be pleased with this one in the $10-12 range so definitely worth stocking up on at $6. I picked up another half case. And if you’re looking, given the blend, this is a fine match for turkey. Drink up!

Rating: Bulk Buy <- been a long time since I dished one of these out…

Wine Geek Notes: Appears to be associated with Laurent Delaunay and hat tip to my friend Pierre for turning me onto this one

Trader Joe’s Thursday Vol. VI

Navarro VineyardsNavarro Vineyards Once in a Blue Moon saleFirst a public service announcement: Navarro Vineyards, who as long time readers know I am a big fan of, is literally holding a “Once in a Blue Moon” sale with 25% off case purchases plus 1 cent shipping through Sunday, September 23rd. Having been a club member for ten plus years I can attest that this is the first sale of this type I can remember. If you’ve been meaning to try this winery I can’t think of a better opportunity. I heartily recommend the Edelzwicker, Gewurzt and Pinot Noir. You can even round out your case with Hungry Hollow selections at less than $8 a bottle. (Editors Update: Apologies as I’ve since learned Hungry Hollow Wines are excluded) Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

So as you likely know by now I took the majority of the summer off (a chunk of it in Croatia) to recharge my batteries. Now that I am back stateside I’m trying to get back into the swing of things including regular visits to the Trader Joe’s wine aisles. I was pleased to see the Buena Vista Pinot (still delivering) was still in stock and found some others that came highly recommended. But first be sure to check out Angela’s latest inside scoop which covers the next vintage of Rabbit Ridge, Seismic Sauvignon Blanc and TJ’s Petit Reserve Gewurzt among a litany of their other Reserve and Grand Reserve offerings. And on a more important note congratulations to Angela on launching her new wine business! She has been an extraordinary contributor here and I see lots of happy customers in her future!

Trader Joe’s Thursday Vol. VIAs for what I tasted first up was the 2011 Floriana Gruner Veltliner ($6) from Hungary. Gruner Veltliner? Hungary? You are not misreading and this is the 2nd vintage to boot. Jameson Fink has been lucky enough to try both and preferred the later vintage. I found it simple, dry and refreshing. Not a world beater but certainly delivers on its $6 price range. Next up was the 2009 Landing Place Chardonnay ($3) which I was turned onto by Viva la Wino (as well as Angela). At a mere three bones this one delivers simple satisfaction. Perfect for week night dinners and budget balancing.

I also came across the Concannon Petite Sirah ($6) and Stonehedge Old Vine Zinfandel Reserve ($10) from Amador County at a recent work event. The Concannon was nice, showing some big fruit along with spice while avoiding going completely (it was teetering) over the top. On the other hand I found the Stonehedge to be too much. Loads of fruit without tannins or acidity to keep it in check. If you like bombastic fruit bombs this one should be right up your alley.

So how about you? What are your current favorites at Trader Joe’s? Could certainly use the tips as we gear up for the holidays Top 10 wines list so please do let me know…

2011 Floriana Gruner Veltliner

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:
2011 Floriana Gruner Veltliner
Per the bottle “Fresh and lively with appetizing aromas of lemon and apple and just a touch of white pepper.”

What I Think:

(12%) Gruner Veltliner? Hungary? Yes you’re reading that right and it’s not bad either. A slight spritz to start, this one is simple, dry and straight forward showing lemon notes with medium acidity and spiced edges. While it has some, it lacks that white pepper kick I crave in a Gruner. At $6 it delivers (and you get a twist-off to boot) but given Allram and the like can be had for $11 a liter I’m not racing out to buy it again…

Rating: 12th Bottle <- A nice, simple, dry, everyday wine to consider keeping on hand

2009 Landing Place Chardonnay

2009 Landing Place ChardonnayPrice: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Landing Place Cellars “Lively apple and lemon aromas and flavors, medium bodied, crisp and creamy with a hint of oak.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) This wine, a Rodney Strong offering, starts soft with lemon edges. Medium bodied with spiced, oak overtones which give way to green apple flavors on a medium/short, creamy finish. Simple, balanced and straightforward. While not overly impressive this certainly delivers beyond its $3 price tag…

Rating: 12th Bottle <- A guilt free bottle worth keeping around the house...

Wine Geek Notes: Winemaker = Greg Morthole

Wines of Croatia: A visit to Konavle

Konavle Wine MapWhen traveling internationally I often find myself in the market aisles trying to make heads or tails of the offerings they have available. Such was the case last week in Cavtat where I came across a few rosés. Given I was on the shores of the Adriatic and seafood was on the mind this of course had appeal. In checking the labels I found one from the local southern Dalmatian region of Konavle which I had earlier read about. I had scanned the nearby mountain side and wondered how they could make wines from grape exposed to so much sun. Only later did I learn that a mere 20km or south of Dubrovnik a small sets of hills rise near the sea creating a small valley that traces down towards the border with Montenegro.

The rose mentioned above was made out of kadarun, an autochthonous varietal from Konavle which as least one believes could make a nice, light summer red which is something Croatia currently lacks (Editor’s note: though the recent rosé of Plavac Mali I had from Vinarija Bartulovic is a nice substitute). This is just a sampling from my very enjoyable conversation with Ivo Ivaniš which also covered natural wine (really just turning the clock back to what Ivo’s grandfather did), his career as a wine taster and the best use of oak (and from which country) in the wine making process .

Dubrovacki Podrumi tasting roomThat wine, which I bought by the way, was made by Dubrovacki Podrumi. One of the 8 or 9 wineries that call this region home. Dubrovacki Podrumi was originally founded in 1876 but despite its history it is going through somewhat of a rebirth. For many years, under Communist rule, the winery was controlled by the government where the focus was on quantity not quality. This was followed by the destruction levied by the Homeland War in the early 1990’s. It wasn’t until 2002 that the winery was again privatized. When Ivo’s brother became a shareholder in the newly privatized Dubrovacki Podrumi he returned to Croatia from the Netherlands where he had lived for the past 16 years.

Dubrovacki Podrumi MerlotinaAnd with that the pendulum swung to quality not quantity. Ivo was brought on as a consultant, along with Jan van Lissum, for the top label of wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Plavac Mali produced from 40 year old vines. Each of these wines sees a combination of Croatian, Hungarian and French oak (new and used). After spending time in the barrel it usually finishes aging in stainless steel or large casks prior to bottling. I had a chance to taste each and came away impressed. The Cabernet (Trajectum) is soft and smooth, the Plavac Mali has juicy, dark fruits with lasting, smooth tannins and the Merlot (Merlotina) is one anybody who claims not to the like the grape should be made to try. I am generally not a fan (and wasn’t swayed just because Ivo’s twitter handle is @merlotina) but was stunned by the depth, the fruit. In a word “opulent”. Looking forward to spending some more time with this one as I left the winery with a bottle in hand.

And while the top end impressed, the standard offerings held up nicely especially given their $5-$7 price point in local markets. In addition to the rosé I had a chance to taste the Malvasija Dubrovacka (fuller bodied than those from Istria) and Crljenak Kaštelanski (one of the parents of Zinfandel). And this level of quality has been true of nearly all of the wines I’ve tasted over the last two weeks. Stateside they are more likely to run you $10-$15 but consider giving one a try. Better yet visit the Dubrovnik area (it’s stunning!) and be sure to take a break from the beaches and history to taste some vino!

How about you? Have you tried Croatian wine? If so what’s your favorite? Any tips to share?

2010 Thymiopoulos Young Vines Xinomavro

I’ve had Xinomavro (Ksee-no-ma-vro), a Greek varietal meaning “Acid Black”, on my mind for a while and my hope is to follow up with a post on why (hint: because the wines are excellent and affordable) soon. That said in the meantime something is better than the alternative so I wanted to share this enjoyable wine for the time being…

2010 Thymiopoulos Young Vines XinomavroPrice: $13.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Athenne Imports

What They Said:

Per Athenne Importers Splendid, purple red colour. Complex, typical bouquet of red small fruits, cherry, blackberry, plum. Full mouth, rounded tannins, balanced acidity. Long and pleasant aftertaste. The vineyards are located at Trilofos and Fytia, at southern tip of the appellation of Naoussa.

What I Think:

(13.5%) The 2nd vintage of the single vineyard that has been bottled it is the younger sibling of the Uranos offering from the same winery that is only made from 15+ year old vines. Bright, brooding red cherries up front with fresh acidity and spiced cinnamon notes before soft, chalky, minerally tannins (the limestone shines through) take over on a dry, lingering finish. Smooth, pure and focused throughout. While good on its own this one shines with burgers. Perhaps a bit simple at $14 compared to some of its brethren that cost just a few dollars more but certainly an enjoyable wine…

Rating: Worth Exploring

Wine Geek Notes: Imported by Athenne Importers, biodynamic, fruit from 5-15 year old vines

QOTD: How about you? Have you tried Xinomavro? And if so what are your favorites?

2011 Weingut Allram Grüner Veltliner

2011 Weingut Allram Grüner VeltlinerPrice: $10.99 (for 1L) @ K&L Wines imported by Latitude Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “From some of the top sites in the Kamptal. Michaela Haas is the 4th generation of this family to run the 23 ha domaine. Fermented and aged in stainless steel and bottled with a crown cap, this is the perfect liter – fresh, light and snappy; delivering all the thirst quenching qualities you look for in a wine like this. The nose is textbook Gruner Veltliner filled with spice and pepper, snap pea and grapefruit. It is sleek, focused and juicy owing to the wonderful bright acid structure of the 2011 vintage.”

What I Think:

(13%) Fresh and zippy with bright, juicy grapefruit before a refreshing, white pepper laced finish that lingers on nicely. A thirst quencher except that it keeps calling you back for more. Before you know it the 1L bottle is gone. Perhaps Grüner on summer solstice should become a new tradition. Between this and the Franz Etz one should always be on hand…

Rating: Buy It

Wine Geek Notes: Direct K&L import, Fermented and aged in stainless steel, Pop-top so have your bottle opener handy

2009 Bodegas Vinae Mureri Xiloca

2008 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc - SemillonPrice: $9.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Classical Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Located just outside of the Calatayud D.O. (famous for Las Rocas, amongst other inexpensive Garnachas), Xiloca actually reminds me of the incredible value these wines presented about 10 or so years ago: big, juicy, spicy, plump berry fruit, without the sense of overt fruitiness nor dumbed down to simplicity, which unfortunately has become very common in many Spanish (and French) Garnachas of late. Produced from vines averaging 80 years, yielding only 1/3 ton per acre (!), in arguably one of the world’s best suited terroirs for Garnacha, this wine offers a whole lot for the money. Highly recommended.” (Joe Manekin, K&L Spanish Wine Buyer)

What I Think:

(14%) 100% Grenache – Picked this one up after receiving an email offer from K&L Wines. Rich, earthy nose loaded with cherries. On the palate this one is rich, lush and juicy but yet balanced. Nice spice and berry fruit but backed by a mineral, rocky acidity that adds dimension to this wine. Very enjoyable with nice layers of complexity and an earthy finish that goes on and on. Granted I’m a sucker for Grenache but at $10 this is a gem! Just bought 3 more bottles…

Rating: Buy It

Wine Geek Notes: Imported by Classical Wines; Produced from vines averaging 80 years; Yields managed to only 1/3 ton per acre

Trader Joe’s Thursday Vol. V

2008 Buena Vista Pinot NoirAs you’ll likely see I shared my thoughts on the Bonterra Rose ($3) but definitely have a multitude of other Trader Joe’s wines on my radar. First and foremost is the Buena Vista Pinot Noir which I have been drinking and enjoying on a regular basis. I am now a case+ into this one and headed out to do yet another bulk buy over the weekend. Folks if you’ve yet to try this one please do. Definitely justifying its position as the #1 rated wine on my Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List. In my minds eye it is the best of the best for what you will find in a $10 Pinot.

Outside of that there are a number of other wines I am looking to pick up starting with the Floriana Gruner from Hungary ($6 via Viva la Wino), the Vin Koru New Zealand Sauv Blanc ($6 via Brian who is a wine guy at the La Jolla Trader Joe’s), the latest vintage of the Tribunal ($10 via many; my thoughts on the ’09 here) and finally the Yountville Meritage ($13 via Angela and JB) version of the Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve label. I’ll let you know what I track down but in the meantime please let me know if I am missing any of your new (or old) favorites…

2009 Bonterra Rose

2009 Bonterra RosePrice: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Bonterra (pdf) “Our Rosé continues to exemplify the standard we set with our first vintage – a dry, crisp, complex and refreshing Rosé with beautiful color. We’ve used a collection of varietals to contribute surprising complexity and a beautiful deep-pink color. For this vintage we focused on Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Carignane and just a little Grenache, all from Mendocino County. The grapes were picked when they had achieved a great balance of ripe fruit and racy acidity. They were then cold-fermented in stainless steel to preserve the great floral and fruit aromas. The knock-your-socks-off color is just the beginning. Chilled a bit, the wine reveals aromas and flavors of strawberry, tart cherry, raspberries, watermelon, and spice with a wonderful dry, lingering finish.

What I Think:

(13.4%) 45% Sangiovese, 26% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 9% Grenache – Bright pink (more than I like) and aged this one starts off on the wrong foot but at $3 I couldn’t help but roll the dice. Simple and mineral driven on the palate with spiced edges. Not much fruit left here but you get some faint strawberries on a dry, clean palate with a nice, crisp finish. Certainly not a bad wine to drink but not one you want to spend time “tasting”. Worth buying at $3 if you are looking for something to mindlessly sip on this summer. I may even grab another bottle or two for myself but this isn’t the steal of a deal I was hoping it might have been…

Rating: Try It (at $2.99 you don’t have much to lose…)

Wine Geek Notes: Certified organic; Twist-off