2005 Chariot Gypsy

2005 Chariot Gypsy

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Zhadi’s Den “The label shows a woman in a red head scarf astride a chariot, very much in the vein of a Major Arcana tarot card. The back only says it was bottled by Jim Neal wines in St. Helena, California. Nothing about varietals. I have no idea what grapes were used in the making of this wine (although its rich, spicy characteristics lead me to suspect a zinfandel or syrah in the blend). The price tag? $4.99. The placard in the store said One Time Buy. When it’s gone, it’s gone. So I had to try it. We took it to the SinC meeting and cracked it open aong with an inexpensive Spanish cava. The cava was okay. The Chariot?

…Drooool…”

What I Think:

Wow, this Jim Neal guy (found on the back of the bottle) is a tough one to track down. But after spending some quality time with my friends at Google (your welcome!) I was able to get to the bottom of this one. I was able to track down both the site for the winery which is terribly out of date and in desperate need of my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services and his first love which happens to be Verjus which I need to look into further (Jessie any pointers…). Fortunately for all of us, his wines are much more approachable than the brand behind them. As mentioned above I was tipped off to this one by Zhadi’s Den and immediately picked up three bottles. Those are now all empty and I am here to sing this wines accolades as well…

In a word “winner, winner”. The nose seemed almost typical California with rich, dark, musty fruit notes. On the palate it seemed very familiar; silky smooth and bold with heavy mint overtones. Then it struck me, this wine had a resounding resemblance to one of my favorites, the Rosenblum San Francisco Bay Petite Sirah. Despite Dana’s report that it is a blend of “Sangiovese, Petite Syrah, Syrah, and Cab” I am guessing this is 60-70% Petite Sirah minimum….And the remaining is likely Syrah (or at least mostly…) The finish was a lasting mix of dark fruits and dry, tingling tannins, extremely pleasant. Get yourself some now as I am heading out to clear out the bay area stores soon…

In the times of this economy I can unequivocally tell you this wine and the Franc Merlot are easily the best $5 bottles of wine I have seen at Trader Joe’s in some time. If you are used to spending $15 or more a bottle and stumbled across this site looking for ways to cut back your budget start here and start fast!

Rating: Bulk Buy

2006 The California Wine Party Franc Merlot

2006 The California Wine Party Franc MerlotPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per corkd.com “Recent find at Trader Joe’s. The nose has an intriguing mix of earth, fruit and herbs (rosemary? basil?). Good tannin & some fennel. The taste has some luscious blackberry and an herby finish. Different, and I really like it. Much more interesting than the typical $5 wine.”

What I Think:

As I mentioned here this one is a winner. I backed up that sentiment again ranking the Franc Merlot #2 in my Top 10 list of Trader Joe’s Wines and even more so when I cleaned the last case off of the shelf at my local TJ’s last weekend. All that said I am a sucker for Cabernet Franc and this one is heavy in that department (70% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot and 4% Petite Sirah). Given a varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc can rarely be found for less than $10 and we have a potential steal on our hands already!

On pouring this one in the glass you find a great nose full of spice and peppers. Slightly green but in a pleasant way. You can tell it is heavy on the Cabernet Franc as the characteristics shine through. That said the fruit is a little more robust here. It is smooth up front before cherries burst through the peppery undertones. The soft tannins stay in the background and the chewy, cherry flavors linger on leading to a long dry finish. One word of caution put it away if your dessert comes with chocolate. That said buy a case for every other occasion! This is the best $5 red I’ve had at Trader Joe’s in quite some time.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2006 Pascual Toso Maipu Valley Malbec

Price: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by TGIC Importers

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines ”91 points and the #1 wine on the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2007″ from Wine Enthusiast: “A year or two ago when Paul Hobbs began consulting for Toso things changed for the better. This is the rare Best Buy that can swim with the big fish and give them a run for the money. Pop the cork and enjoy lusty dark aromas of Turkish tobacco and berry compote. In the mouth, there’s a riot of fruit flavors to ponder followed by a smooth, lusty finish.” (12/1/2007) 90 points and a “Best Buy” in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. (no tasting note given, Dec. 2007) That’s right we can actually offer you a #1 wine from someone’s list. Those end of the year best lists are so frustrating for us. We usually have our stock answer, “Sorry, it sold out months ago.” But not this time, this time we can say, “How much would you like?” And I couldn’t think of a better wine to give to any customer looking for sheer value. This Malbec is attached to Paul Hobbs and it shows. His trademark velvety texture and boisterous fruit flavors are all on display here. The solid tannins keep everything held together while the sappy boysenberry fruit, clove spice and vanilla laced finish are sure to please. (Bryan Brick, K&L)”

What I Think:

I had been meaning to grab this one for a while. Ever since K&L sent out an email proclaiming this the “Best Red Available under $10” it has been hard to come by. Couple that with being ranked the “#1 wine on the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2007″ from Wine Enthusiast and you can imagine it is getting difficult. The third feather in the cap was Paul Hobbs involvement who made this “Cocodrilo” that I just had to grab a case of. And I still haven’t mentioned a price tag of single digits ($9). And uh, oh yah, it is a single vineyard offering. It’s been a struggle but recently a friend of mine scored me a bottle and it was worth the wait!

Loads of dark fruit and smoke on the nose, on the palate the fruit delivers with hints of vanilla and barrel spice making the finish as velvety as can be. The combination makes this a hands down winner. To be fair, value wines are plentiful coming out of Argentina. I’ve had offerings from Alamos and Terrazas de los Andes that blow the quality to price ratio straight out of the water. That said those two were enjoyable based on the forwardness of their fruit and didn’t display near the complexity of this one. Wonder if I can find anymore! I’ll sure be looking…

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Bodega Pirineos Mesache Blanco

Price: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Winebow Brands International

What They Said:

Per Wine Advocate “The 2005 Mesache Blanco is an intriguing blend of 35% late-harvested Macabeo, 35% Gewurztraminer, and 30% Chardonnay fermented and aged in stainless steel. Light gold in color, the bouquet of this crisp, refreshing effort is given a lift by the Gewurztraminer component. In addition to the lychees, there is a hint a banana and other tropical fruits. On the palate, this dry, medium-bodied wine is surprisingly ripe, rich, and long. Drink it over the next two years. 2/28/2007″

What I Think:

Wow! Nice stuff! I was shocked here…A very unique mixture that attracted me as something new. This was a winner, a lovely combination. Chard usually leads to my dismay but provided great balance here vs. the sweet, crispness of the gewurzt which introduced the hints of citrus fruits. Amazingly full bodied with a long finish. Like nothing you have ever had before, get some now.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2006 Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com on the 2006 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc: “Explosive aromas brimming with lemon, lime and citrus blossom mingle with gooseberry and passionfruit to proudly proclaim this wine’s varietal. A generous, fruit-forward palate shows juicy citrus flavors of lime, grapefruit and tangerine, balanced by bright, crisp acidity. The pleasant finish persists on the palate with great length of flavor. This is an easy-sipping, eminently drinkable wine that doesn’t sacrifice complexity or varietal character in its quest to be flat-out enjoyable. The perfect apéritif, this wine also makes an ideal partner to oysters and nearly any shellfish, as well as salads and light fish and chicken dishes.”

What I Think:

Given the recent tasting I wanted to see where this one fit in the Sauvignon Blanc pecking order. The answer? Way better than the Santa Ynez and likely as good as the Groth at a fraction of the cost!

You get exactly what you expect here, and even more. From the pale, straw color to the citrus aromas. In the mouth you get it all as well; light, crisp and tart. Full of lemon and lime flavors with some mild floral overtones all interlaced on a crisp, acidic backbone. This is a keeper and there is plenty to go around for everyone. Feel free to buy more than one.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Epicuro Aglianico

2005 Epicuro AglianicoPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This red wine shows intense blackberry and cherry notes harmoniously exalted by a light spicy background. Smooth and velvety with a firm backbone. Perfect with red meat, ham and mature cheeses”

What I Think:

Ah my nemesis, Italian wine. I want to like them but am often confounded. The Aglianico grape I discovered at Delfina Pizzeria some time back. I have since purchased a few bottles but have paid north of $15 for each. To see this offering at TJ’s for $5 was so delightful that I bought two bottles before even tasting it. You’re probably saying “Wow, he sure did splurge!” mockingly but for me this is a rarity. These wines hail from southern Italy which is no shock to me as the other Italian varietals I enjoy (Nero d’ Avola from Sicily and Primitivo from Puglia) are found here as well. Back to my opening, perhaps it is the wines from the northern region that leave me confounded…

As soon as I got this home it ended up on the table with pizza and I quickly confirmed my intuition to buy multiple bottles was correct. On first taste, the wine struck me as light, fruity and slightly on the dry side reminding me of many Spanish efforts I enjoy. The nose showed mainly cherries with some barrel scents and spiciness lingering in the background. A great value at this price, almost a lock to make the Top 10 for January. In fact yesterday I went hunting for more but struck out as they did not have it in South San Francisco.  They did however have another offering from the same label I grabbed based on the quality found here. I’ll have to get back to Brannan Street quickly!

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo CarmenerePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits

What They Said:

Per wine.com: “Looking for an amazing value, delicious and new wine? This wine was what Bordeaux was originally primarily made from, now its found almost exclusively in Chile. This is a delicious example of this incredible variety, which combines the best of Cabernet and Merlot – Concha y Toro makes the best examples of this unique variety in the world.

Dark and deep red. Attractive aromas of dark plums, blackcurrant and chocolate, with hints of coffee and toasted American oak. Notes of dark plums and spice, with a generous touch of toasted American oak and a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture.

Enjoy with fresh light dishes based on meat and vegetables. Also a good accompaniment to ripe cheese.”

What I Think:

Scary, where to start? I have 36 wines waiting for posting. I thought this Carmenere might be a good place to start. This bottle took a ride with me to Tahoe some months back. Given that I came straight home from the office and hopped in the car to drive 3 hours straight through I certainly needed a glass when I was on the other end. It certainly disappoint. Nor the next night when it went up a rather impressive set of palates and wines.

As always, this wine was smoky on the nose with dark fruits and a hint of chocolate. In the mouth it was bold, full bodied and spicy with a nice woody/vanilla lingering finish with. All this time and it’s still the one. It’s like being at the top of the best seller list for a year. There’s no wine at Trader Joe’s that I would rather buy. You should too…

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Santa Ynez Valley Winery Cabernet Franc

Santa Ynez Valley Winery Cabernet FrancPrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Having spent a good chunk of the past week putting together an email blast for winery that ruffled a few feathers by selling their first release of Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Franc for $100, I was very interested when I spotted this Cab Franc at TJ’s , for $7.99 (I think). Folks don’t think of this Santa Barbara County appellation as a source for CF, as it’s known for Chard and Pinot Noir, of course, as well as Syrah. I had never heard of this winery before – the back label says it’s a new second label of Kalyra.

This wine is hot on the nose, but after the alcohol blows off there are some good leafy mineraly aromas overlaid by dusty cassis. The mouth offers nice silky texture, medium body, and good balance, with a short but tasty finish. Not much oak here. This is a lighter style of CF, more Chinon with some added fruit than Saint-Emilion. If I remember the price correctly, it’s a good value.”

What I Think:

Just opened this tonight and haven’t finished it yet but get this one if you see it. In fact add the label to your all stars category. Whenever you see something new from this winery get it. They produce a lot of bang for the buck…I’ll post a complete review later.

Done now and still smiling, this is good stuff! As mentioned on quaffability I was somewhat curious about Cab Franc from the Central Coast. Given that it is relative rare to find this bottled as a varietal offering at all in CA this was about the last place I would expect to see it. Checking the Kalyra site I find no mention of this wine but no worries it is a winner. On the nose I found some mineral notes overshadowed by mint or some similar leafy/aroma notes. In the mouth the wine is smooth. For Cab Franc the weight seems normal, the fruit is nice and the finish while not long is pleasant. Got another one of this sitting in the rack, looking forward to it…

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Amaicha Bonarda

Price: $1.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Goldschmidt Vineyards

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer from October of 2006; “Amaicha wines are named after a small village in the northern Argentinean province of Tucuman. “The indigenous people of this town have a special reverence for what they call Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and they celebrate their admiration for the earth’s goodness with both festivals and a way of life that respects the elements around them – Earth, Moon, Sun & Water. That respect extends to the cultivation of the grapes that are used to create Amaicha wines.”

Amaicha Bonarda “is a red wine that originates in Italy, but is actually the most widely grown grape in Argentina. It produces a lush, medium-bodied wine with ripe plum and blackberry flavors. This one’s terrific for cocktails and equally appropriate for serving with pasta or even meatloaf.”

What I Think:

We had some friends over some nights ago to baby-sit. These friends are perhaps some of my only regular readers of this blog. My wife made them some dinner and I left them a range of bottles to select from including this, my other TJ’s favorite the 2005 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere and another option that I used to make sure I didn’t look like a cheapskate. He chose the Bonarda. I can tell you that he seemed quite happy with his choice that evening and I tried to entice him to provide some guest commentary which I have yet to receive. Should that make it my way I will be sure to update here.

Bottom line, a $2 bottle of wine you can serve to babysitters. What else could the rating be?

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Amaicha Bonarda

Price: $1.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Goldschmidt Vineyards

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer from October of 2006; “Amaicha wines are named after a small village in the northern Argentinean province of Tucuman. “The indigenous people of this town have a special reverence for what they call Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and they celebrate their admiration for the earth’s goodness with both festivals and a way of life that respects the elements around them – Earth, Moon, Sun & Water. That respect extends to the cultivation of the grapes that are used to create Amaicha wines.”

Amaicha Bonarda “is a red wine that originates in Italy, but is actually the most widely grown grape in Argentina. It produces a lush, medium-bodied wine with ripe plum and blackberry flavors. This one’s terrific for cocktails and equally appropriate for serving with pasta or even meatloaf.”

What I Think:

I have been watching a lot of the Tour de France lately and by some strange way came to think of this wine in regards to the cyclist that compete there day in and day out. Given that this was the 4th of the 26th bottles of this is Bonarda I have on hand you could view each as a stage. Some days you will certainly be on top form and others you may not be quite as up to the task.

For those that remember my last encounter with this wine was the first time this wine showed what the cyclist would refer to as a crack in the armor (or armour depending on my audience). With bolognese on the menu it was time to give this wine another try. Well tonight this bottle was “back on form” in tour talk. I’ll stop there with the analogies as my wife always told me that I haven’t been any good with them anyway. It starts with light, lively aromas with wooden overtone omnipresent and the fruit slowly comes forward. It is almost as if you slowly lowered your head right into the barrel. The palate doesn’t match, when I say that I mainly mean in the context of light. On the tongue you are immediately greeted with barrel flavors but the fruit quickly establishes itself at the front of your palate leading to a balance, toasty, spicy finish. The thing that struck me tonight was that this wine is certainly more manufactured in the winery than I previously allowed myself to believe. At $2 of course I was in denial but I was happy there!

Rating: Bulk Buy