2008 d’Arenberg Hermit Crab

2008 d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier-MarsannePrice: $11.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Old Bridge Cellars

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Expressive aromatics of lime and lemon with peaches, pears and apricot stone jumping out of the glass and spicy, floral notes in the background. Great balance on the palate, the luscious stone fruit and ginger spices harmonized by savory nuty characters from the Marsanne. Wonderful combination of freshness, complexity and balance between fruit flavour, acid and alcohol.”

What I Think:

I am a long time fan of d’Arnberg; in fact the Stump Jump Red was my first case purchase at Cost Plus World Market ages ago. Having long wanted to try this one a recent episode of wine library tv brought it top of mind and I grabbed a bottle on my recent visit to K&L Wines. Not familiar with Marsanne I learned that it hails from France and is widely planted in the Hermitage AOC. In fact, the Hermit Crab naming of this wine is an ode to these historical ties. Appellation America had a humorous write-up where I learned that Marsanne is most commonly blended and married with Roussanne. From that article this combination with Viognier is described as one of the “few incidents of infidelity forgiven.” One thing Marsanne does share with Viognier is that both are blended in small percentages into red wines. The Marsanne can serve as up to 15% of red blends of the Hermitage and the Viognier with Shiraz in Australia. Now let’s get to the wine…

d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Vintage Ratings

This one is a blend of 72% Viognier and 28% Marsanne and comes with a long record of accolades. As you can see from the graphic this one consistently rates in the 90′s which is remarkable given the price point. With a grilled shrimp salad on the table we poured the wine in the glass. The nose is a load of fruits and minerals with floral notes interweaved. On the palate it starts with citrus, lemon and lime, before turning to peach and fading to a stony finish. This wine is certainly well made and the acid is very well balanced but to me it seems that one component hasn’t integrated and is disrupting the “flow” of this wine towards the end of the mid-palate. You would think I could identify it but honestly I can’t. I’m thinking it is an oily/kerosene/petroleum like component. Other thoughts were the amount of oak used or a bitter, nut flavor. As I mentioned on twitter; I am surprisingly not a fan. Perhaps it’s Marsanne, I intend to seek out a varietal offering to get some more experience here and see if that might be the issue. The nutty qualities leave me wondering if this could have used some more time in the bottle, could this one improve over the years? Don’t let me opinion sway you here, if you intended to try this I urge you to do so. Then let me know what you think… If you have trouble tracking this one down it is available on wine.com.

Rating: Pricey

2003 Trinchero Mary’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

2003 Trinchero Mary's Vineyard Sauvignon BlancPrice: $16.00 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Per Trinchero “Ripe fruit, great acid. Year in, year out, that’s the modus operandi of Mary’s Sauvignon Blanc. The 2003 is one of our best ever from this site. The nose is all grass, dried herbs, lanolin and a hint of Vanilla; the palate is dense, concentrated and firm. Good stuff!”

What I Think:

Trinchero already held a special place in my heart as we served their 1999 Family Cabernet Sauvignon at our wedding in 2003. I was surprised to find that I have yet to review that wine as we still have a case left and open one every year on our anniversary. So when a friend brought by this Mary’s Vineyard, which is located in Napa Valley, I was excited to give it a try. Couple that with the fact that my only other experience with Sauvignon Blanc from this region has been the memorable Groth offering and we seemed well positioned for a enjoyable experience.

Shall I set the mood? On a sunny day, lunch was served on the patio. With a southwestern chicken salad on the table the cork was pulled. The nose? Somewhat typical, light citrus notes with grass and mineral undertones. On the palate? Strange, different. Some initial light white fruits on the palate. A hint of citrus on the finish. And some off putting, creamy, oak in between with no acidity to speak of. This one took some getting used to. The mouth feel and texture leaned towards chardonnay as both were heavier than expected. This was likely due to half of the wine being aged in used oak for four months. One of the side effects of this was a wet wood component that muted many of the other flavors that were present. Perhaps, being a 2003, this one was past its prime. Either way it delivered a different experience that what I thought was on tap. Was it interesting? For me, different usually is. Was it one I want to have again? Not so much. Those that know me are aware Chardonnay is not my favorite. So next time I want a Sauvignon Blanc from the US I’ll be grabbing the Geyser Peak.

Rating: Pricey

2006 Vinum Cellars Clarksburg Petite Sirah Reserve

2006 Vinum Cellars Clarksburg Petite Sirah ReservePrice: $12.99 @ Whole Foods

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Nothing like a little inside joke to spark your curiosity. “Pets” is a nickname for Petite Sirah used by vet (veteran, not veterinarian) growers like Ken Wilson, who owns the vineyard where the fruit for this wine comes from. A portion of the profits for this wine will be donated to the San Francisco SPCA animal shelter in memory of Wilson’s dog, Tanker. Inky in color, this is wine that will leave a mark on your teeth and your memory. Notes of wet clay, lavender and clove lead into dark huckleberry fruit on the nose and palate. Subtle notes of vanilla cola linger on the finish. The wine had massive, teethcoating tannins and intense concentration to boot. It’s easy to see another correlation between this and pets, in the more traditional sense, it can easily become your new best friend.”

What I Think:

My curiosity on this one was easy to capture when my friend and colleague of RJ’s Wine Blog gave it a thumbs up and later ranked it as his #5 wine in his Top 10 of 2008 list. Couple his thumbs up with my enjoyment of all things Petite Sirah and it was an easy sale. In trying to tie this back to the winery site I found this PETS offering which seems to be the same, that said you can see my label clearly doesn’t match, can anyone confirm this is the same bottle?

Once the bottle made it home I was quick to open it. The nose was typical Petite Sirah. Initially, I was not to impressed. $13? Thinking immediately what do I have from Trader Joe’s to do a taste-off with… I felt this was tightly wound and full of tannins. To be certain it didn’t need some air I was sure to drink it over a few days, not much help. Full of dark but muted fruit and lacking the type of finish I expect from a Petite Sirah. I’m a fan of big and chewy but this one didn’t get it done. Even my wife, who rarely does so, gave it a thumbs down. Now, perhaps this is the case of the overhyped movie that ends up falling flat. Couple that with my dramatic rise in expectations with double digit price tags and this one may have had the chips stacked against it from the get go. Not bad by any means but at this price point I was expecting a bit more. That said feel free to give it a try, most love it. Perhaps I stand along on this one but I’ll spend my money elsewhere. Seen two Petite Sirahs at Trader Joe’s, one was the Rendition, I’ll give a try and see if it turns out better.

Rating: Pricey

2006 Navarro Brut Sparkling Wine

2006 Navarro Brut Sparkling WinePrice: $25.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per Navarro Vineyards “Most winemakers focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for sparkling wine but Navarro admits to a rebel streak. In 1989 we made our first sparkling Gewürztraminer and fans still ask when we’ll make more. This is our third bottling. We don’t make it every vintage because most years we are fairly confident that we will get our grapes to 24° Brix, perfect for our signature still Gewürz. In 2006 we weren’t sure. The vintage was cold and late and the grapes had already turned a lovely ripe, russet color at only 20° Brix. Just as importantly, it was one of the rare vintages where we had several blocks of Gewürztraminer with no millerandage; all the berries were normal-sized two-seeded berries. The ratio of free-run juice to skins was high, promoting fine flavors, clean aromas and high natural acidity, perfect for sparkling wine. We decided to celebrate with this bottling. We blended 10% Chardonnay into the cuvée to strengthen the wine’s backbone. Delicate peach and spice in the aromas and flavors combined with fresh baked-bread yeastiness and a dazzling citrusy finish. Silver Medal winner.”

What I Think:

Gewurzt, interesting. This one came in my last wine club shipment, only the 3rd time they’ve actually made it since 1989. Offers a nice sweetness that isn’t quite as cloyey as usual. Fizzing and yeasty with a bit of citrus on the backbone. Hints of crisp apple notes appear sporadically throughout. Full disclaimer, I’m not a huge fan of Champagne so dropping $25 is pretty much never in the picture. If that seems reasonable to you, definitely get this one. Certainly enjoyable, I’d just rather buy a nice bottle of red…

Rating: Pricey

2007 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot Noir

2007 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot NoirPrice: $12.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) We set out to find a couple of magical wines that had the character, style and pedigree of really good reds. And yet, we dreamed both would have reasonable prices far lower than wines of this caliber normally command. Fulfilling our fantasies required a dedication to tasting and patience. Really good wines don’t grow on trees after all. Many tasting panels later, we discovered these wines worthy of the moniker Trader Joe’s Reserve. The Grand Reserve Pinot Noir has spent six months in oak to develop its grand complexity. This wine is rich with smoky plum, black cherry and raspberry. We watch our costs carefully, so we can offer values that might make others blush (or, rosé). We’re selling each 750 ml bottle of Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands for $12.99.

What I Think:

Wow, upon reflection I still can’t believe I paid $13 for a bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s. Further confounding this is that it was one of their very own private labeled bottles. This one had some background before it arrived. Angela and her crew called it a favorite in reviewing the majority of Trader Joe’s Pinot Noir offerings. Shortly thereafter Danny gave it a solid two thumbs down, saying after a single sip that he saved himself some coin. Obviously at this price point my expectations are sky high. The only thing tempering them is knowing how good it is to find quality Pinot at a reasonable price point.

Now let’s move on to the main event. On opening an aromatic nose smelling of light fruits, cherries and raspberries, with hints of cola. On the palate holy moly! I am initially blown away by fruit, a bit on the sweet side even. This needed time to blow off, wonder if that is the sip Danny had. After giving this one some time the fruits mellow with cherries and cranberries predominant on a light frame that lasts and linger through a long finish with barrel notes, a bit of spice and sour fruit. All in all, this was nice but I need a bit more than just fruit. I would have liked a bit more complexity or if not a range of flavors. I much prefer this Hayman & Hill which also hails from Santa Lucia and is even a few bucks cheaper…

Rating: Pricey

2006 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Our Castle Rock Pinot Noir was produced from grapes grown in Northern California’s beautiful Mendocino County, where vineyards were first planted in the early 1860’s. Here, the headwaters of the Russian River carve a fertile and rugged landscape. The warm summers, cool springs, crisp falls and wet winters make ideal growing conditions for Pinot Noir grapes, in a climate similar to that of the Burgundy region of France, where the grapes were first established. This elegant and medium-bodied wine has delicate aromas of violet and rose petals, complex flavors and long silky textures, with layers of strawberry and raspberry leading into a long refined finish.”

And from the Wine Spectator, “Aromas of ripe cherry, tree bark and wild raspberry are elegant, stylish and balanced, with nice focus and a lingering finish. Drink now. 110,000 cases made.” (86 points, $12)

What I Think:

After having my friends treat me to a few bottles of the Castle Rock from Willamette and Monterrey I figured I could invest in this Mendocino on my own. Given Mendocino is the home of my beloved Navarro expectations immediately escalated and I was sure I had a winner on my hand before I even made it home…

So a few evenings later with salmon on the menu this wine found its way to the table. The bouquet showed some light fruit and floral notes on top of woody overtones. On the tongue it started with cherries and then shifted towards cola type flavors. The mid-palate had a twang (perhaps orange rind) before heading on to a smooth finish. This wine is good but not stunning. That leaves the question, at $10 is that enough for a Pinot? I am personally on the fence so will answer “sometimes”. It sure would be interesting to try all three of these side by side. Furthermore, given that I have tried three it would seem foolish not to grab the California Cuvee offering as well. Has anybody else had that one? If so, what do you think?

Rating: Pricey

2004 Tessier Cour Cheverny “La Porte Doree”

Price: $11.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Premier Wine Company

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “This is from very old vines, 60-85 years of age, to be exact, and these aren’t your average white grape vines, either. This wine is made from the rare Romorantin grape, grown on heavy clay soils. The wine is fermented in three to five-year old Burgundy barrels and undergoes partial malo-lactic fermentation, which lends a very rich, almost viscous mouthfeel to an otherwise extremely mineral white. You can taste this beautiful, esoteric white for days after you’ve enjoyed a glass. Wow! Philippe Tessier has just converted the domaine to totally organic viticulture, too.”

What I Think:

This wine, from the Loire value caught my eye in the K&L newsletter based on the description above. After that I did a little research and found the following: Romorantin is a traditional French variety of white wine grape, that is a sibling of Chardonnay. Once quite widely grown in the Loire, it has now only seen in the Cour-Cheverny AOC. It produces intense, minerally wines somewhat reminiscent of Chablis. I found elsewhere that Cour-Cheverny has a total of 11 wineries that call it home. Love to find these types of bottles.

Now on to the wine which we served it with Mediterranean style fish. Interesting I find a golden brown coloring, not the straw or yellow you may expect. Also interesting as the texture on the tongue is that of a dessert wine but the taste is something altogether different. Here you find almost zero sweetness. The nose shows mostly mineral leaving the texture to come as an even larger surprise. You get citrus notes to accompany this on the palate before a finish advertised as long that I found somewhat disappointing based on all the hype. At the end of the day this wine was extremely interesting but I didn’t dig it. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t but either way I guarantee you’ll have an interesting experience. The kind you only need once.

Rating: Pricey

NV Sausal Cellar Cats Red Zinfandel

Price: $13.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “The Cellar Cats Red is an estate Zinfandel named after Sophie and Gypise the two little black cats that have taken over the winery, literally! Gypsie wandered into the winery one day and captured the hearts of Peachie and Cindy, two of the winery owners, but then quickly disappeared. Unbeknownst to them, she birthed a litter of kittens in the cellar. When they were discovered, they were presumed to be dead, but at the last moment, they realized they were still alive, but just barely. Only one survived, her daughter, later named Sophie. The cats live at the winery here in beautiful Alexander Valley and needless to say, they are spoiled as if they were the heirs to the family fortune, hmmm, what fortune? One day, very near Sophies first birthday, the Demostene family decided to make a wine in honor of the cats, hence, The Cellar Cats Red was born. The popularity of this wine was so great, that it has now become an annual bottling.

This is our lightest, fruitiest Zinfandel. This wine craves a warm night on the porch or by the pool. No need to eat with this one, but it does pair nicely with hamburgers or even cheese and appetizers.”

What I Think:

Many know that I am a member of the Sausal wine club. The winery is located in the Alexander Valley area of Sonoma and known for their old vine Zinfandels. This is one of their latest offerings. It is the bottom of their four rung offering, two of the others have been written up here. Amazingly this one is made from 50-90 year old vines at a very fair cost of $13. Super mellow with loads of dark fruit this one is a winner. If $13 is an everyday drinker for you get a case. In my case I am going to need to do some further evaluation on the field. Stay tuned…I reserve my right to update this one based on my findings.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Rosenblum Hillside Vineyards Syrah

Price: $25.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “This wine was aged in barrels specially designed for Syrah, this opaque-purple wine is incredibly complex and enticing with aromatics and flavors of smoky blackberry, white pepper and herbes de Provence, wrapped in a blanket of cassis with hints of anise.

Pair this sumptuous Syrah with marinated, grilled elk tenderloin, duck à l’orange ora hearty cassoulet.”

What I Think:

As dinner took a bit longer than expected this wine helped fill the gap between appetizers (2006 Rosenblum Rust Ridge Napa Valley Chardonnay) and the main course (2005 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel) on New Year’s Eve. As the second Rosenblum of the evening it had some ground to make up as its sibling disappointed. For a while I have been thinking of redeploying my wine club money elsewhere, perhaps Ridge or Martin Family Vineyards. Most likely know that Rosenblum is widely known for Zinfandel’s so I was curious to what this Syrah would deliver. With the pressure on this one answered the bell though in a very typical fashion. When I open their wines I know what I am going to get and that is what happened here. The wine was heavy in the mouth with lush dark fruits and some spice to finish it off. Again, a nice effort but at $25 there isn’t anything that stands up and makes you take notice here. At $15 it would have been acceptable but given how rarely I spend this kind of money Rosenblum is officially on probation.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel

Price: $27.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Located high on Spring Mountain, overlooking the Napa Valley, York Creek Vineyard has been the source for some of Ridge’s most notable zins. Aged in a combination of new, two and four year old oak allows the vineyard and the varietal’s mountain iterations to shine through. The addition of petite sirah adds richness and structure. Bound to be another Ridge favorite, grab some for your cellar and watch this develop over the next five or six years.”

What I Think:

This is a wine recently given to me by my wife to celebrate a special occasion. I loved the 2003 Ridge, put a half case of the ’04 in the cellar and decided to open this one to celebrate New Year’s. Given the write-up above has no mention of tasting notes it likely should have been an indicator to let it lie a little longer. Of course I didn’t heed the advice. Like the others I had tried the Petite Sirah in this field blend already added a subtleness that you wouldn’t expect in a Zinfandel. Unfortunately the time in the bottle has yet to allow the flavors to shine through. Or perhaps it was the sub-optimal pairing with roasted chicken. Either way this wasn’t the revelation I was hoping for. It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the offering but should this make it my way again I’ll give it a couple more years in the bottle. I recommend you do the same.

By the way, interestingly I noticed that the blend does change slightly from year to year which I initially did not expect from a field blend, guessing it is based on yields, any other thoughts?

Rating: Pricey