2007 Pancake Cellars Big Day White

2007 Pancake Cellars Big Day WhitePrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per corkd.com courtesy of bjwdad; “The nose has scents of pear, lychee and spice. And Gewürztraminer dominates the taste, even at only 12% of the stated blend. This wine is DELICIOUS, and one of the best whites I’ve ever experienced!! Outstanding value, to say the least.”

What I Think:

This label was hard to resist. Again the blend looked intriguing and as I grabbed the bottle to give it a read I got the idea that this was made by the same outfit behind my beloved Franc Merlot. At that point it was just a matter of resisting the urge to put more than one bottle in the cart. I am still trying to validate that these were indeed products of the same winemaker. The Pancake Cellars was made by Central Coast Wine and the Franc Merlot by the Central Coast Wine Warehouse. I was able to track down an email address from the latter and asked for confirmation. I’ll let you know what (if) I hear back.

Now for what was in the bottle. This one was a blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Chardonnay, 12% Gewurztraminer and 1% Pinot Blanc. On the nose it was clean, with light notes of white fruit and minerals. On the tongue it was well balanced. The sauvignon blanc leads while the chardonnay holds through the mid-palate and lingers through the finish. In the finish just a hint of the gewürztraminer sweetness shows itself, from the above review I was expecting much more. All in all, my initial inclination is that this wine isn’t all that distinguishable. That could be taken as a negative but the plus side is that this blend will pair nicely with virtually any food. I prefer the Synergy but perhaps a side by side tasting is in order. Yeah, that works. I’ll grab a bottle and check back in with a second opinion. For now this seems like a 12th bottle.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Zarafa Pinotage

2008 Zarafa PinotagePrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Mt. Global LLC

What They Said:

hmmm, not much of an authorative description to be found. I emailed the importer and will update it I hear back… For now let me reference what Wikipedia has to say about Pinotage which is the following: “Pinotage is a red wine grape that is South Africa’s signature variety. It was bred there in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut. It typically produces deep red varietal wines with smoky, bramble and earthy flavors, sometimes with notes of bananas and tropical fruit, but has been criticized for sometimes smelling of acetone.”

What I Think:

On the nose you initially get light tannin followed by sour notes before everything goes dark. A bit of Jekyll and Hyde. On the palate I find dark fruit, tobacco, but most of all smoky. The smokiness remains with me throughout this entire wine experience; literally from beginning to end. A nice dry finish is also part of the equation.

When drinking Pinotage it is difficult to articulate what you are experiencing.  This would typically reflect the fact that you are drinking a unique offering.  The majority of the time this alone would be enought for me to recommend for all to give it a try. Here I see a trap. It would be better for me to recommend something that truly reflects this varietal than something that may turn you off to it forever. That said; let me explain my approach to new varietals at TJ’s. I give them a whirl, if I remotely like them I try to find a bottle between the $10-$20 price point that I can use as a baseline and move from there. That allows me two things. 1) I get a better idea of what the varietal is really about (as much as you can via two bottles) and 2) can compare quality versus cost on that spectrum.

With that in mind, if you grab this one make sure you grab a more expensive sidekick as well; perhpas this Warwick Estate. As for the Zarafa it should be a piece of the overall equation. Which Pinotage would you pair up with it?

Rating: 12th Bottle

btw, just noticed this is my first 2008!

2006 Albero Tempranillo

2006 Albero TempranilloPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Latitude Wines

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Tempranillo Barrica is made by Spain’s Oldest Estate Bottled Winery. Spain’s finest, proudly made with hand selected certified organically grown grapes. Albero Tempranillo Barrica is perfect when enjoying with friends or in giving the gift of wine.” <– thanks for all the helpful information :)

What I Think:

Reading the bottle I find two bits of information for me to start my investigation. The first is to Iranzo Vineyards. Checking the site there is no mention of this offering there. As we learned from the Terrenal Mendoza Cab it could be the case that they are relabeling one of the offerings we see here as the Albero that landed in Trader Joe’s. That is pure speculation of course. The second clue is to Latitude Wines. If anyone from either of these companies is listening I have some advice. Please, I repeat please, never post your web address somewhere (like the bottle!) when you have nothing for me to see on the other end!

Ok, got that off my chest. Now let’s move on to the main event, the wine. As you can see from above the world, nor the winery, has much to say about this one. My friend @oenanist does. He tipped me off to this one via comments and posted a review on cork’d as well. What did I think? On the nose I sensed dark fruit with hints of spice (and possibly some green vegetal) aromas. Sage? Or maybe it was floral, violets? On the palate a nice dose of cherries greeted me that turned a bit sour towards the mid-palate. That was followed by a nice dry finish on the back of the throat that tickled with light tannins. This was night 5, hardly remember day 1 but it seems a lot smoother. Compared to a typical light, juicy Tempranillo this one seems a bit heavier in the mouth and darker in fruit. My verdict, drinkable but not all that memorable. I’d stick with the Raimat over this one but that is just my opinion. Let me know what you think…

Rating: 12th Bottle

2006 Terrenal Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Terrenal Mendoza Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by L. Watson Inc.

What They Said:

Per Daniel Rogov “Dark ruby towards garnet, with soft tannins, hints of spices and a note of chocolate highlighting blackberry and black cherry fruits. Round and appealing, a very good entry-level wine. Drink now.” Score 86. K (Tasted 9 Oct 2008)

What I Think:

I’ve been looking forward to posting this one as it has been a rewarding experience thanks to Shimshon of Welner Wines! From the bottle I was able to track this to Vinas Argentinas which led me to Telteca Winery. From there I emailed the contact us info and Shimshon responded with the wealth of information I am about to share. Didn’t even have to use the other information at my disposal (hand harvested for the Cartellone Family and Jose Pedro Gomez was the winemaker)

The first item of note is that this predominately sells under the Tierra Salvaje label. I’ve had a Carmenere ($4) from them at Trader Joe’s a while back. Tried to track down my tasting notes but not much there. My recollection is that it was good but not great.

As for this one specifically, Terranal (from the label) is a cousin of the term terroir and means earthy. Given I have a Cab from Ruca Malen (btw, if you ever visit Mendoza be sure to have their wine pairing lunch. Fantastic!) I picked up on my trip to Argentina in ’06 I considered this a free preview. On sight, the wine is dark but the nose brings me light raspberry fruit notes with a bit of tannin. It certainly lacks the California Cab characteristics you might expect so prepare yourself. The initial taste is familiar but what…something, can’t place it! A nice tannic backbone and a pleasant mid-palate full of plum and cherry flavors. The only disappointment is that there was little from a finish perspective. All in all, for $4 this is a great introduction to what Cabernet from another región is all about; lighter, fruitier and less tanic. Give it a try. I’m going to grab another bottle. They also have a Malbec in stock which I intend to drink/review soon. Stay tuned…

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Condesa de Sarabella Viura

2007 Condesa de Sarabella ViuraPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per the Importer “Made from ancient low yield viura bush vines planted in the Denomination De Origen high in the mountains of northern spain. It has rich aromas of banana and citrus fruits. Serve as a aperitif or with rice dishes, fish and shellfish.”

What I Think:

Viura was a new grape to me so I did some research. The Wine Info Site was the first stop where I learned this; “In Spain, Macabeo is an important variety for the production of white wine. In Rioja this variety is called Viura.” I paused for a second before moving on as this one is from Catalyud which is a nearby neighbor of Rioja where they apparently use Viura to describe the grape as well. Next, the Wine Geeks clued me in to that “Together with the varietals Parellada and Xarel-lo it is used in the production of the sparkling Spanish wine Cava.”. I dig Cava, cool.

Thoroughly educated I open the bottle. Take a sniff…No banana that’s for sure. Some light fruits on top of notes of grass and hay. On the tongue the initial impression is of Viognier based on the up front viscosity. As we reach the mid palate my thought shifts to a light Sauvignon Blanc which lasts all the way through the citrusy finish. All in all, this wine does not stand up and get noticed and could easily be considered plain. I’ve seen it referred to as a “pleasant little white” which I think is a perfect description. Interested in experiencing something new? Give it a try. Otherwise look elsewhere.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Chateau Bois de Lamothe Cotes de Duras Red

2007 Chateau Bois de Lamothe Cotes de Duras RedPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by L. Watson Inc.

What They Said:

Per Coffee Like Wine Another great affordable wine. I think I got this for less than $10 at Trader Joe’s.

On the nose, lots of green veggies, especially asparagus, as well as some red berries.

In the mouth, the asparagus flavor carries through from the nose, and there are also cranberries and some herbs. This is a very tart wine, good acidity and some tannins on the finish. At 12.5 percent alcohol level, this is a wine you can drink several glasses of during dinner and not stagger away in a daze.

Red wines made from the Cotes de Duras region use Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec grapes, according to The Wine Info Site.

What I Think:

Not sure what made me grab this but when I did I was sure it was from the south of France, but it appears the Duras neighbors Bordeaux. On opening the nose is super green or is it all mint? Nice light tannin taste, not much fruit. With time the nose is getting interesting, sensing some spice. Start thinking grenache based but can’t be given the region. Where does the dryness come from….Cab Franc? Bet your bottom dollar I am buying another bottle to try and figure it out. For now let’s call it a 12th bottle but stay tuned for more…

btw, found this blend percentage randomly in my notes Merlot 52%, Cabernet Sauvignon 27%, Cabernet Franc 20%, and Malbec 1%. Thinking I must have gotten it off the bottle. Will confirm when I grab another.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Cartwheel Shiraz

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Wine World Estates

What They Said:

Per Saratoga Wine Exchange “This is an elegant yet full-bodied Shiraz. It is not overdone like some other Shiraz producers have been doing lately. Ripe black cherry fruit combined with a gorgeous mouthfeel makes this an amazing Australian wine loaded with flavor.”

What I Think:

I found the brief blurb above from the Saratoga Wine Exchange. Good thing, because the winery didn’t even want to mention this one. A little sleuthing turned this nugget up, Cartwheel is a new stand-alone brand range from Beringer Blass. They come in two quality/price tiers: Western Australia and Margaret River respectively. I followed up with their contact us form to try and get some information on this offering but they couldn’t provide anything beyond “Cartwheel Wine is a part of the Foster’s portfolio. Please click onto the link below where you will be re directed to the website. Any information that we are able to disclose, can be found here”. Interesting… I also found a mention that this may have been bottled by the importer here in the US which I believe would be unique…

Now on to the wine, it actually says it is from South Eastern Australia, this doesn’t appear to be a designation that is recognized. Guess they mean the eastern part of the state of Victoria. Anyhow, Trader Joe’s was actually stocking the GSM version of this wine as well, though that disappeared in a hurry. On popping the top I am quickly reminded of the Chasing Clouds, that said the white pepper is readily apparent over a nice layer of initial fruit that fades just a bit too fast! Still, a decent bang for the buck and better than my early impressions of the Kono Baru.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “This minimally oaked Cabernet Sauvignon presents fruit forward aromas and flavors of slight cherry and blueberry throughout the wine; it balances out with fruit, soft oak, and hints of coca on the lingering finish.”-Ray Einberger, Winemaker

What I Think:

If you check back to the 2004 version of this wine, which I was a huge fan of, you will find that Winemaker Ray had the same exact thing to say about that vintage. How can that be Ray? Given that the 2004 was labeled as being from the Columbia Valley and the 2005 vintage has been downgraded to the more generic Washington area. Nothing changes? Or perhaps just some lazy people in the web group that decided to reuse the same content? Hopefully you aren’t doing this to bamboozle the consumers… I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt there.

But as for the wine, things have certainly changed….The nose still shows dark fruit but there is certainly some more oak present. Early on this is showing green notes and is quite disappointing. Day 2 you can see it start to change as these flavors are fading. Perhaps it needs some more time in the bottle? Or is it the change in appellation? Either way it is not the same. And Ray, if you want to debate that, that is a debate I am willing to have…

Oh yeah, the verdict…for now pass on it. I’ll grab another bottle in a few months and let you know if things have changed.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2006 Bear’s Lair Viognier

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per The Wineauxs “Tropical fruit on the nose – papaya and pineapple mostly. Feels a bit viscous in the mouth, some spicy notes, and a bit of fruit – quite dry over all actually. This is interesting as the finish is huge while the palate is somewhat muted….lots of spice and tropical fruit – papaya and maybe even some guava with lingering vanilla bean and at the very end some strong lime notes coming through. An insanely long finish for almost any wine, let alone one under five bones. This is a tough bottles to complain about…dirt cheap and surprisingly complex. I like my Viognier with more melon on the flavor profile but hey – four bucks? I’m sold.”

What I Think:

Google couldn’t help me find much here but Deb sure did. This turns out to be another offering from Bronco Wine Company which maintains no official web presence of their own. Guessing that is largely because their association with a label could often be considered detrimental… Anyhow having a little fun looking around I discovered a few interesting facts courtesy of Wikipedia. Fred Franzia is the nephew of Ernest Gallo and Bronco is the 4th largest producer of wine in the US. Massive! The Wikipedia page also has a list of their brands with Bears’ Lair accounted for.

With the weather as it has been whites have been on the menu often. Given my lack of appreciation for Chardonnay and the fact that I don’t find sweetness all that refreshing we have been drinking Sauvignon Blanc like it was going out of style. Having enjoyed some Viognier in the past I picked up this bottle, as well as the Honeymoon, as I was strolling through the Trader Joe’s Wine section. With a taco salad on the table it seemed like an opportune time to give it a try. To the eye the wine was golden, yellow and the nose showed hints of tropical fruits. Full and viscous is the best way to describe the first sip. The palate is crisp with notes of citrus before giving way to a nice creamy finish. This is a nice offering though subdued throughout. I am use to Viognier being much more expressive. At this price point guessing I shouldn’t be picky. That said I hope the Honeymoon is better. If that is true, won’t be buying this one again.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Spice, blackberries and cassis aromas fill the nose followed by a medium-bodied, concentrated and satin textured mid-palate; the long finish offers silky tannins and dark chocolate notes.” – Ray Einberger, Winemaker

What I Think:

After running through all the Two Vines offerings from Columbia Crest I decided to take a step up the ladder and try the Grand Estates offering of the Cabernet to see if the extra $2 could be justified over the comparable Two Vines Cab bottling. That one was an ’04 and this an ’05 so not exactly an apples to apples comparison but insightful none the less. Both are the same alcohol percentage (13.5%) and similar in acidity levels. The Grand Estates was crushed with 25% whole berries and was aged in 1/3 new oak for sixteen months (versus fourteen months in “lightly” oaked barrels). Know let’s see if we can make sense out of any of this.

With pork chops on the menu the cork on this one was pulled. Spice and black fruit were apparent on the nose with herb notes (likely from not destemming before crushing) lingering in the background. On the palate the wine immediately appears toastier (guessing this is attributable to the differences in barreling). On top of the toast the fruit is well rounded and starts to intermingle with spice towards the middle of the palate before giving way to a long tingling finish ending with a hint of mint. All in all, this one is not as fruit forward as the Two Vines bottling. It is almost as if it is trying to give the illusion of more complexity but I am not buying.

This was tough to rate because without its counterpart it has “Buy It” potential but in light of the competition I can’t recommend it over the Two Vines. Perhaps I’ll grab both again though and do a true side by side tasting. Maybe I’ll even get crazy and do it blind!

Rating: 12th Bottle