2007 Luna Vineyards Freakout

2007 Luna Vineyards FreakoutPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Luna Vineyards “The 2007 Freakout is a light golden color, with an enticing nose of ripe pear and hints of lemon. On the palate, the mouthwatering acidity of lemon zest mingles with baked bread and coconut milk, accented by a good dose of minerality. The finish is a delicious blend of pears and vanilla.”

What I Think:

This one is a white blend of 35% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Grigio, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Ribolla Gialla. The winery site, where you will find this one for $16, has some great information on the individual vineyards these grapes are sourced from. The most interesting note is on the Ribolla Gialla which I know as Robola from the time I spent in Greece when I was introduced to the varietal during my visit to Gentilini. The Ribolla Gialla in this bottling is sourced from Elsa’s Vineyard in Napa Valley which is proclaimed to be the only vineyard in America planted with this varietal. So what’s in the bottle?

Floral on the nose, the Sauvignon Blanc dominates early. The palate starts crisp with lemon and floral notes emerging towards the middle and carrying through to the finish. While clean and simple this one lacks the acidity that would make it a go-to summer quaffer in my house. That said, guessing many others will like this more than I do. Certainly nothing wrong with this one for $6, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Fife Sonoma County Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Fife Sonoma County ZinfandelPer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “Inviting – like a warm hug with the right amount of squeeze. Juicy cherries and warm, sweet cloves harmonize with soft French oak. The finish holds on just long enough.”

Subsequent searches turn up numerous reports of bankruptcy at Fife Vineyards. The note of interest to me here is that these articles are dated circa 2006 and this wine is labeled ’07. That leaves a nagging question I can’t answer. Did the previous management bottle these wines and unload them? Or did someone buy the label? This latter scenario becomes particular interesting as for the life of me I can’t find any reference to a previous vintage of Fife Sonoma Zin. If anyone out there has info please pass it along…

What I Think:

First a few bits of insider information from the Encintas Trader Joe’s Food and Wine Blog (check’em out if you haven’t yet). They were able to track down some facts on this one that I couldn’t track down on my own. The first being that the suggested retail on this one was $28.99. The 2nd being that this is a blend of 91% Zinfandel and 9% Carignane. I need to get looped into these sources!

So what’s in the bottle? You are greeted with hot, cherry cedar notes on the nose. The initial palate shows dried herb and cherry flavors. The mid-palate is juicy and at points slightly sour. Throughout the palate is subdued and forced to the background as velvety, warm, oaky notes constantly push them self to the fore. This isn’t a bad thing; it is a pleasing warm with spice box notes on the edge. This one doesn’t offer much complexity but other than that nothing bad to say. A straightforward wine, what you see is what you get. Few will be disappointed; a nice match for spicy chili. I’m not rushing to buy more but thinking it has a pretty good chance of ending up on my table again. Perhaps I’ll try the Cuvee first…

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Spiral Wines Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Spiral Wines Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Not a word, some mumbo jumbo that had nothing to do with the wine on the bottle. A google search turned up a phone number, a call to the number led to Fior di Sole which is a premium bulk wine supplier in Napa Valley who “separates itself from the competition by creating quality, not just quantity-based lots purposed for the bulk wine market.” To wrap up the story the custom/private label winemaking unit goes by the moniker Spiral Wines. Anyhow I sent them a message, I’ll let you know should I hear anything back on the wine itself…

What I Think:

A Napa Cab for five bones? First thought, must be a Bronco Wine Co. offering in the same vain as Napa Creek or Napa Landing. If DP hadn’t tipped me off to this one in his comment I might have glossed right past it. As you can tell from the research above my initial perception was not correct. Which leads me to my next thought…is the economy really at the point where we can get a bottle of Napa Valley Cab for $4.99? It seems so, next thought. Who sold this wine off in bulk? We will likely never know. But there is one questions we can answer: Is it any good?

The nose is muted but displays some faint cherry and oak aromas. In the mouth this medium bodied efforts starts juicy before a firm acidity quickly shows itself. Towards the mid-palate cherry and plum notes emerge. These give way to a dry, herbal finish that shows a hint of creaminess on a finish that lingers nicely. As I mentioned on twitter this one grew on me with each sip. Though it shows some good pieces; fruit, creaminess, herbs and acidity, they don’t quite all come together here. That said, I see a glimpse of potential here. It is worth another bottle to see if perhaps some more time to integrate these components will treat this bottle kindly. Stay tuned…

Rating: 12th Bottle (for now…)

Anyone else out there had this one? Love to hear your thoughts.

2008 VINTJS Chardonnay

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 VINTJS ChardonnayPer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “VINTJS Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay is a bright, crisp Chardonnay fermented in French oak casks. A touch of rich, vivid tropical fruit makes this wine a good partner to pasta with cream sauce or young cheeses like our Baby Swiss.”

What I Think:

I mentioned in my post about the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer that the new VINTJS offerings weren’t on my shopping list until I realized they were made by Bob Lindquist of Au Bon Climat and Qupe. So that solved the first problem. The second? Drumroll… It’s the grape. Many times over I have precluded my Chardonnay posts by reminding everyone that I am not a fan of the varietal. Once again I feel compelled to do so but won’t go deeper, if interested in more you can find the latest on my story here. When I open this one I immediately think that is the typical $20 California Chardonnay that everyone knows and loves, except for me apparently. Big oak jumps out on the nose. Once it blows off some nice apple and nectarine notes intermingle themselves. On the palate you are greeted with forward fruit, “bright” from the description above rings true. The mid-palate becomes creamy and this lasts through the end where it is met with a touch of acidity that adds crispness and creates a lasting finish that lingers on and on. Many people pay big $$ for this flavor profile. Gary Vee calls it “buttered popcorn Chard”. If that sounds like it is up your alley grab a bottle or two, guessing this could be a winner for you. As for me, my hunt for a Chard I agree with continues. That said, I’m looking forward to trying the Syrah.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Epicuro Vermentino

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

2007 Epicuro VermentinoPer the bottle “Made only with Vermintino grape, this is a great wine with a straw yellow color and fruity, fragrant, well orchestrated aroma. The flavor is full, soft and rich. Perfect with pasta, unmatured cheeses, traditional dishes of fish or white meat.”

What I Think:

Joe’s Sears recently covered this one and given that I have had it before and had another bottle in the house I figured it was due time I give this one a review. For your random fact today I offer that this hails from the region of Lazio which includes Rome. As many readers know, the Epicuro label is a favorite of mine so when this showed up six plus months ago I was quick to grab it. Since then I have received numerous recommendations, thanks to all, to make sure I didn’t miss this one.

So why did it take me so long to review? Frankly because I still haven’t passed a final verdict on this one. At times I like it and others it seems like a quaffable and innocuous wine. On the nose I never seem to get much, a bit of mineral and grass at best. On the palate, if you really pay attention, you get some melon rind flavors over a stony, metallic backbone that leads to a nutty almond finish that intermingles with herb flavors. This is an easy quaffer but difficult wine to taste. If you grab it try pairing it with shellfish.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Terracita Tempranillo

2008 Terracita TempranilloPrice: $9.00 @ Pasternak Wines imported by Pasternak Wine

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Feel like dancing the Flamenco, running with the bulls or lounging on the Costa del Sur? Grab a bottle of Terracita, gather your friends and share a little piece of authentic Spain. Terracita is elegant and full bodied, balancing the signature red raspberry flavors of Tempranillo with vanilla and toasted coconut. A solid choice with barbeque spicy sauces and tapas of course.”

What I Think:

This one is made by Bodegas Roqueta and hails from the “region” of Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla which is similar to Vins de Pays designation of France. The “Vinos de la Tierra” designations are, according to Spanish law, a transitional term for areas that can, after 5 years, apply for “Denominación de Origen” status. During this time they benefit from greater freedom than exists under the D.O. system to produce wines as they wish. This gives them leeway in terms of more flexible vineyard management, vinification and aging techniques with more “approved” varietals. The result can be wines that are more innovative and exciting than those of D.O.s. What was the result here? A nice, light wine (which I received as a sample some time back) bursting with bright cherries integrated onto a dry, herbal, earthy backbone with hints of oak, toast and vanilla on the finish. In a word quaffable. Feel free to grab this one whenever that fits the bill.

Rating: 12th Bottle

If you’re interested in another take check out what Rob had to say about this one on the Wine Post.

2008 Crane Lake Down Under Chardonnay

Price: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Crane Lake

What They Said:

2008 Down Under ChardonnayPer Wall Street Journal “One other wine stood out. In our notes we wrote: “Crisp, with crackling acidity and good, lemony fruit. Quite fruity, especially on the finish, with a summery mix of fruits like grapefruit and pineapple. Lovely, fresh wine.” When we took the bag off, this was a new wine to us: Down Under by Crane Lake, from the 2008 vintage. When we checked our notes, we were surprised and pleased to see that we had paid just $5.03. As we looked further into this wine, we were even more surprised: It is a wine imported in bulk and bottled in the U.S. The producer: Bronco Wine Co., the very same people who brought you Two-Buck Chuck. This did indeed turn out to be, in effect, Down Under Chuck, the liquid affirmation of one of our theses.”

What I Think:

Have you met Two Buck Chuck’s big sister Three Dollar Koala? Perhaps the first ever Bronco Wine Co. international offering, this one makes its way to your local shelves via an unordinary journey. It arrives from Australia where the grape market is experiencing a serious grape glut which is being widely reported. Some see disaster, others see opportunity. So Fred and his friends have descended, bought some quality product and had it shipped back stateside. That is where it gets interesting. You see 99.99% of wine that arrives on the shores of the United States does so in a bottle. This one however arrives in the equivalent of an oil tanker. Once on shore they “blend, finish and bottle” it before sending it on to Trader Joe’s while preaching to the press that you have been paying too much for Australian wine (read Yellow Tail). And for the record, in Fred’s words, the Bronco Wines aren’t cheap they are “right-priced”.

Now let’s get to the wine. Soft, white fruit that hardly shows on the nose. Nectarine and apples appear on the early palate with a vanilla, oak component appearing mid stream. The finish has a very nice fruit crispness that doesn’t show a hint of acid. To the aforementioned oak, it isn’t overpowering but is certainly noticeable in a subtle way. For someone with oak defenses on high alert this is just enough to trigger the alarm. Given that, I won’t be picking another bottle of this up as I prefer a different Bronco offering, the Blue Fin . That said, if you like a little bit (or a lot) of oak this one is worth a try. After trying it, if you like it, grab a case or two. This is the first batch and you can be certain they have bought the best of the best of the affordable and available grapes. Come batch two, the lowest common denominator might be a couple floors away. For those that remember the original vintage of Two Buck Chuck we know how this saga plays out. Enjoy it while you can…

Rating: 12th Bottle

If you’re interested in another take on this one check out what Jeff had to say about this one on Viva la Wino!

2008 VINTJS Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 VINTJS Sauvignon BlancPer Trader Joe’s Ten For The Tasting (pdf) “Attention grabbing, but not the kind of slap-you-in-the-face of a New Zealand vintage, our 2008 VINTJS Sauvignon Blanc boasts focused intensity and rounded floral characteristics. Produced by a famed, family-owned, sustainably-farmed winery in Rutherford, this is a crisp, mouthwatering blend of 78% Sauvignon Blanc and 22% Sémillon. It delivers zesty aromas and flavors of lemon, ruby red grapefruit, guava and juicy lime. Deliciously smooth in the mouth, the finish is long and cleansing.”

What I Think:

As mentioned yesterday I found this one via the Trader Joe’s Ten For The Tasting. Why did it stand out? As I said there; after watching many of my fellow bloggers enjoy the St. Supery as part of Twitter Taste Live Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley was top of mind. Couple that with this one being a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (78%) and Semillion (22%), a combination I feel in love with years back in New Zealand on my honeymoon, and this one was an easy choice.

That’s all good and dandy but what about what was in the bottle. This one is not for those looking for the grassy New Zealand style and is worlds different than my mainstay CA Sauvignon Blanc, the Geyser Peak. On the nose your greeted with nice, ripe lime and guava notes. It starts with a bit of acid navigating from crisper, slightly tart fruits at the front of the palate to ripe tropical fruits towards the end. It finishes fuller in body, a hint sweet and dripping with candied nectarines. Not what I was expecting from a Sauvignon Blanc but I was pleased nonetheless. Think I may grab another.

Rating: 12th Bottle

Wines of Wisconsin: Botham Vineyards Riesling

Wines of Wisconsin: Wisconsin Winery Association Members MapBeing a wine lover and a native son it is somewhat surprising that tasting the wines of my birthplace has yet to occur. On the other hand we are known for our beer and cheese and I personally didn’t even realize that this chasm existed. But like a good parent my mother was aware and chose to rectify by lugging a number of bottles to the Bay Area on her last visit. Among those was this Botham Vineyards Riesling. Before we get to the bottle, let’s do a 30 second version on Wine and Wisconsin to provide some perspective.

Wisconsin was the original American home of Agoston Haraszthy, a pioneer, who is sometimes referred to as the “Father of California Viticulture” having introduced more than three hundred varieties of European grapes to the region. Needless to say it didn’t take him long to figure out Wisconsin wasn’t the promised land for winemakers. That said, others would step in to continue his quest and today Bob Wollersheim is recognized by many as the father of the Wisconsin wine industry”. A pioneer as well, Bob began his work in 1972 and experimented 1972 with hundreds of varieties of grapevines to see which would suit the colder climates. Today Wisconsin is home to one AVA (Lake Wisconsin) and some forty wineries. Typically most wineries import grapes (from California, Washington, and New York States) and do the production here in the state. Others mix imported grapes with estate-grown grapes while only a few producers actually make wine entirely from locally grown grapes. I couldn’t find any statistics on how much wine the state is producing but I did keep finding one sentence that appears to be a local favorite. I will use it here to summarize my findings: “The Wisconsin River Valley isn’t the Napa Valley. But it also doesn’t have a shred of snobbery.”

NV Botham Vineyards Riesling
NV Botham Vineyards Riesling

Price: $9.50 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Per Botham Vineyards “Crafted in the Johannesburg style for gentle sweetness, our Riesling is smooth, rich, mouth-filling pleasure. Imagine drinking velvet and you’ll understand the essence of this wine’s deep and beautifully balanced character.”

What I Think:

Botham Vineyards is located 110 miles due west of my hometown Milwaukee or 30 miles from the state capital of Madison. Their story begins around 1990 when Peter Botham, after dabbling with vines in Maryland, decided to return to Wisconsin and begin a winery of his own. The inaugural vintage was a thousand cases (if my conversion from gallons is correct) in 1993 and today they produce roughly 12,000 cases annually. When asked about his winemaking style Peter said he tries to create a regional flavor in his wines by growing 10 percent to 15 percent of his grapes and buying the rest from New York’s Finger Lakes region, which has a similar but slightly more moderate climate. In addition to a passion for wine Peter shares the same for vintage cars. The winery holds an annual Vintage Celebration to merge these two passions with a car show at the winery with the vineyards just at the peak of its growing season. Knowing Wisconsin as I do I can imagine this is a well attended and a huge hit!

So, finally to the juice, what did I think? For starters; semi dry can mean a lot of different things to different people. In this case for me it meant semi sweet, given my preference for Rieslings made in a dry style. This one had floral notes on the nose, a great mouth feel and a unique mineral, flintiness that kept the sweetness in check (just barely). If you want to taste something local or want to explore different regions and/or interpretations of a varietal this one is worth a try. Interesting enough for me I have wanted to explore the wines of the Finger Lakes in New York. Looks like in a roundabout way I got a head start with this one.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Blue Fin Chardonnay

2008 Blue Fin ChardonnayPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “For a number of years, we sold a great-tasting Chardonnay called Blue Fin that was made for us by one of Napa’s oldest wineries. And then they decided to “retire” the label. Bad. Then, fortuitously, one of our long-term wine partners bought the label, and offered us a great deal on Blue Fin Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Good. As we mentioned, this is a label we (and you) know and love, so quality and consistency are key. After all, what good is a low price if the wine doesn’t taste good? We guarantee Blue Fin Wines taste as good as ever. Blue Fin Chardonnay features elegant flavors of fig, tropical fruit and spice, with just a hint of vanilla. This is a truly refreshing wine.”

What I Think:

An unnamed long-term wine partner? Do tell… it has now proven to be yet another offering from Bronco Wine Co. most famously known for lavishing the world in Two Buck Chuck. With that out of the way let me try to remain objective. Couple that with the fact that I usually don’t get along with Chardonnay and that may be a difficult task. With the wine in the glass I was greeted with a bouquet of nectarines. On the palate the wine was fresh and crisp. At this end of the price scale the only oak you get is toasted chips which they thankfully passed on for this offering. The palate is filled with white apple flavors leading to a steely balance on the finish. This one brings an old saying to mind; “Simple is as simple does.” Chalk this one up as a surprise, a nice, easy going picnic wine.

Rating: 12th Bottle