2003 Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “If you’ve spent any time around Napa, particularly “up valley”, you’ll find that many of the locals like to quip about Lake County as some kind of “Deliverance” style backwater, where the all the toothless residents are either crank addicts, mentally disabled, or both. Without commenting about the merits of such jokes or what it says about denizens of either county, I will say that some Napa wineries are seeing greener, or at least cheaper, grass on the other side of the fence, and planting and growing good wines up in Lake County.

Among those is Napa and Knights Valley behemoth Beringer, which has put out this Clear Lake Zin, the first wine I have seen from that appellation.

This wine makes a good first impression, with a nose of peppery, briary fruit, braced with with a beam of toasty oak and a touch of chaparral.

There is true zin fruit in the mouth, medium bodied, ripe but a little drier than you’d expect, leading to a finish marked by firm tannins. Very pleasant, especially at this price”

What I Think:

We opened this one for comparison sake when having steak and drinking the Sausal Century Vine Zinfandel. Given that this is my third bottle of the Clear Lake I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But, wow, the difference was extraordinary! The boldness here versus the mellowness of the 130 year old Sausal vines was something else. Now this wine is probably bigger than your average Zinfandel but even still.

On opening this one you get scents of sweet, ripe and definitely hot, brambly fruit with that same mint/menthyl aroma lingering in the background. On the nose you get loads of ripe, bursting blueberries that last through the mid-palate before giving way to a dry dusty backbone that leads to a lip smacking finish. Even better than the last, a sure winner! I’m going to have to keep my eye out for some other wines from the Lake County appellation, be nice to see how this compares to something a little closer to home. Granted with the differences so vivid it was hard to do an apple to apples comparison but this surely held its own versus the Sausal offering though that one cost 4 times as much. I am going to have to start going through these bottles more slowly, only six more to go.

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 “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:

To celebrate the fact that we picked up a case of this wine I decided to open one up and try it out on some friends. I had a bottle last week and was impressed so I was anxious to see what others thought. It was a unanimous success! I enjoyed this bottle as much as the last. Looks like if I really want another case I may be racing my friends to the store.

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:

Given that I recently learned that I don’t like all Carmenere I have been anxious to get back to this old favorite. So when the doorbell rang last night and the pizza had arrived it was the obvious choice. I was as pleased as ever. The fruit flavors seemed even bolder than I had remembered. Other than that I have nothing to add beyond what I have said here in the past. I might need to grab a case of this one to put in reserve because I sure will be said when the day comes that TJ’s has no more…

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 “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:

This wine showed up at Trader Joe’s sometime later in the year in 2006, in my pre-blogging days. As I had a few bottles of this when visiting Argentina earlier in the year I grabbed a bottle. I must have let it sit for a while but when I got around to opening it I was extremely impressed. Upon returning to TJ’s and finding it out of stock it appears others were as well. So when heading out shopping to get some more Rocking Horse the other day I turn the corner and low and behold, what do I see? This wine is back on the shelves, not sure if it is the same vintage or not, and grab two bottles. At this price you can always cook with it if need be.

Before we get to the tasting notes I did some investigation on this bottle. First off the grape, it hails from northeastern Italy’s Piedmont region and has a Croatian lineage. It is most similar to Barbera and is the most widely planted grape in Argentina. It is known for making wines that are generally light, fruity, and immediately drinkable. Another note on this bottle is that it says that a portion of the profits are used to build schools in the region where this wine is grown. I couldn’t afford to hire a private detective but after growing the grapes, harvesting them, making the wine, bottling it and then shipping it to the states how much of my $2 can be left as profits?

I didn’t want to make the same mistake as last time so as soon as I got home I popped the cork. And I was not disappointed. On the nose there is a nice mix of fruit and barrel aromas. On the tongue it starts with light fruit over a drier backbone. As it moves to the mid-palate the dark fruits, brambly berries, come to the front before finishing with a light coat of tannins. A bit on the lighter side this is an excellent quaffer and perfect for any red wine foods! For $2 this is a steal. I’ll be right back; I’m going to get a case.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2003 Rocking Horse Garvey Family Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Great structure and layers of complexity are the hallmarks of this full bodied Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Sumptuous upon entry and showing a dark crimson hue, this delectable wine hints of classic bell pepper, violets and a lingering suggestion of chocolate before bursting into a full bodied black cherry finish. This hand crafted wine was aged in hand selected oak barrels and will be rewarded by proper cellaring.”

What I Think:

Trying to have some patience as I type, yet again what a ridculous value! $24 for the same bottle on the winery site! You have to love TJ’s! That said I can’t help but cut to the chase, get this wine now! Read this when you come back….

Okay good, I opened this after the Marietta as I knew we were having steak and this would be an appropriate pairing. Before I opened it I read the above and thought to myself; Bell Peppers are classic? Who would have ever known? Back to the wine, how high can I sing the praises? On opening this it had a true cabernet noise, what is that? I think I now, so I’ll say this was it. The complexity was apparent at that point. The aromas were briary fruit with oak and a bit of spice lingering behind. On the palate you are struck immediately by dryness. I mean almost puckering dryness that ends up opening to some fruit and then fades back to this (with some time I determine the dryness equals this) earthy and dusty finish. Somewhere you can catch floral notes, I think violets, intermixed with those earthy tones. The texture seemed almost velvety, there is so much to describe here that I feel like I have ADD. The look is deep purple, almost silky. I wonder what the vintage rating was this year, let me add that to my list of things to do… Does this taste older than it is? I want someone that really knows wine to tackle this one and tell me why it seems so unique to me. Either way I want to watch this one age so I’m going to get more now.

Rating: Bulk Buy (for me, you should just grab a bottle until you are sure this style agrees with you)

2003 Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “If you’ve spent any time around Napa, particularly “up valley”, you’ll find that many of the locals like to quip about Lake County as some kind of “Deliverance” style backwater, where the all the toothless residents are either crank addicts, mentally disabled, or both. Without commenting about the merits of such jokes or what it says about denizens of either county, I will say that some Napa wineries are seeing greener, or at least cheaper, grass on the other side of the fence, and planting and growing good wines up in Lake County.

Among those is Napa and Knights Valley behemoth Beringer, which has put out this Clear Lake Zin, the first wine I have seen from that appellation.

This wine makes a good first impression, with a nose of peppery, briary fruit, braced with with a beam of toasty oak and a touch of chaparral.

There is true zin fruit in the mouth, medium bodied, ripe but a little drier than you’d expect, leading to a finish marked by firm tannins. Very pleasant, especially at this price”

What I Think:

Well if you follow this blog you know I had a bottle of this Zinfandel a while back and have chronicled the shopping attempts to track this one down. Between my wife and I it took us three TJ’s to track this one down and when she finally found it we grabbed the last eight bottles they had left. Now that is putting my money where my mouth is on the Bulk Buy rating….Wonder if Parker is doing that when he gives wines extraordinary ratings.

On drinking the wine I wasn’t disappointed in our investment. I took more time to enjoy rather than analyze it but here is the blurb that I threw together for it, “Chewy on the palate, brambly, still very good! I am thrilled to have 7 more bottles around. If you like Zinfandel and you see this one make sure you grab it, you won’t regret it…”

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Marcel Hugg Pinot Blanc

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Americal Beverage Group

What They Said:

Per the winery Found their site but nothing about this or the gewurzt there. Since I couldn’t find anyone to speak on the experts behalf you’ll have to trust me :)

What I Think:

This is a repeat buy for me as I had another bottle of this Pinot Blanc a few weeks back. I don’t have much to add to that initial review except that this one did not disappoint. It was everything I remembered it to be. This wine would be great on its own, with some cheese or seafood or even some Asian cuisine. One thing to always remember with white is not to drink it too cold, it may taste okay but it won’t be able to fully express itself. I have one friend who goes to the opposite extreme and his whites at room temperature. I know that doesn’t work for me so my general plan is to try and put it in the fridge for a half hour and then take it out 5-10 minutes before planning to drink it. No need to take my advice; check out this site for some tips of your own. Back to the wine, I have upped this one to a Bulk Buy. Here’s to enjoying it while it lasts!

Rating: Bulk Buy

2003 Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “If you’ve spent any time around Napa, particularly “up valley”, you’ll find that many of the locals like to quip about Lake County as some kind of “Deliverance” style backwater, where the all the toothless residents are either crank addicts, mentally disabled, or both. Without commenting about the merits of such jokes or what it says about denizens of either county, I will say that some Napa wineries are seeing greener, or at least cheaper, grass on the other side of the fence, and planting and growing good wines up in Lake County.

Among those is Napa and Knights Valley behemoth Beringer, which has put out this Clear Lake Zin, the first wine I have seen from that appellation.

This wine makes a good first impression, with a nose of peppery, briary fruit, braced with with a beam of toasty oak and a touch of chaparral.

There is true zin fruit in the mouth, medium bodied, ripe but a little drier than you’d expect, leading to a finish marked by firm tannins. Very pleasant, especially at this price”

What I Think:

Wow! This wine is listed at $14 on the winery website. Once quaffability gave this one the thumbs up I had to get a bottle. Never knew Clear Lake had an appellation, did you? I guess most people just use the Lake County designation. On popping the cork this seems like a big time winner, a real big nose of dark, brambly fruit mixed with spicy notes. On the tongue it delivers as promised, the structure is nice and rounded. The wine seems almost velvet-like in the mouth with nice, deep fruit flavors once again being front and center. These last through to the end before mixing with peppery undertones to give you a nice smooth finish. I can’t quite call this complex but it sure was a joy to drink.

Just a week ago the Rocking Horse was the best Zin available at TJ’s, no more. This one clearly tasks the throne. It’s wines like these that I feel I need a red alert functionality. That way my “readers” can get to these before they disappear. Hopefully it hasn’t yet cause I sure would like to grab a case!

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:

Well lets get his one started by saying there is no doubt that I think this is the best value priced red wine at TJ’s. It is a blend of 85% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah. At one point I thought Carmenere was a Chilean grape but later learned it hails from Bordeaux though it is seldom found there nowadays. The first few works that come to mind are “dark and deep”. In more detail, smoky tobacco, loads of dark fruit and hints of coffee with some spice to boot. Nice from the first sip all the way through the long lingering finish. If you haven’t had it yet go get yourself some and if you have go get more. Just don’t tell too many people, I don’t want this one to go away.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2004 Castineira Albarino Dry White Wine

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Lately it seems like Albarino is mostly famous for being unknown — or is that an oxymoron? Whatever, it’s a great varietal that more people should try, especially of they’re looking for solid, food-friendly wines at budget prices. The first time I tried an Albarino, I thought of Sauvignon Blanc crossed with dry Reisling, and that’s what you usually get, a nice balance between the floral/mineral elements of Riesling and the citrusy element of Sauvignon Blanc.

This Spanish wine might be best consumed in a darkened room, as the color is a disturbingly electric yellow. The nose is muted, but shows pretty aromas of orange blossoms, lemon, and gravel. It’s rounder and more forward on the palate, with nice balance, good flavors, really good texture, and a surprisingly long finish marked by grapefruit rind.

This is an appealing wine that drinks well by itself or at the table, and it’s an outstanding value. Drinking it, I thought I really need to be drinking more whites, and more Albarino, when I’m looking for good wines under $10.”

What I Think:

I am a bit of a sucker for Spanish wines, lets get that out of the way upfront. That being said this is an excellent wine, especially at this price point. It has all the characteristics of a nice Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Nice and dry in the mouth with that nice mineral undertone and freshness cutting across the palate lingering on for quite some time. I just finished my last bottle of this and returned from the local TJ’s with a 2005 version that has a much prettier label…this is usually a bad sign.  Here’s to hoping it is just as good.

Rating: Bulk Buy