2005 Red Lava Syrah

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2005 Red Lava SyrahPer Red Lava Vineyards “Our beautiful, obsidian black wine is concentrated with intense blackberry, mocha and mineral notes, rich tannins and a long supple finish.”

What I Think:

This one goes for $25 on the winery site so picking it up for $8 was a good start! I can’t tell you how tired I get of finding these scenarios. If you are a winery and if you are going to cut your prices be sure to offer them to your most loyal customers. Those that buy direct! Take Rabbit Ridge for example. Their excellent 2008 Allure de Robles goes for $5 a bottle at Trader Joe’s but before it arrived on their shelves they offered it to wine club members for $50 a case. Now that is how you should be treating your best customers!

Sorry for the tangent. Let’s get back to the bottle at hand… Tart red fruit and pepper on the nose are muted by wet wood aromas. Nice rich, red peppery fruit intermingled with blueberries greet you on the palate. A mild black olive component appears in the mid to late palate before leading to a hot, heavy spicy finish that falls apart to reveal thin wood/barrel flavors. A nice wine with nice fruit that is ruined by a bad finish. BTW, this bottle was a heavy one, they didn’t spare any cost there so guessing this wine was meant to be expensive. Nonetheless I don’t see myself buying another bottle. Let me know your thoughts if you do!

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Trinchero Family Riesling

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Trinchero Family RieslingPer Trinchero “The nose is a seductive blend of honeysuckle and white peaches. Green apple, kiwi and banana mingle on the palate. The hint of residual sugar is perfectly balanced with sufficient acidity to display a nice long tropical fruit finish. This is not the typical sweet-style California Riesling—it is clean, and not cloying.”

What I Think:

Floral, honeyed and a bit syrupy on the nose. This one was overly sweet to go with the chicken I prepared. Based on the wineries description this was not what I was hoping for. That said, not bad either. For the 2nd bottle I’ll stick to my traditional spicy Asian food pairing here as this one does not have a hint of crispness. All that said, I’m not likely to buy this one again.

Rating: Skip It

2009 Green Fin White Wine

2009 Green Fin White WinePrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This Green Fin White Table Wine is made entirely from organically grown grapes. This pale straw colored wine has very intense orange blossom and honey aromatics while delivering a full rich body with a core of pear and nectarine flavors followed by a smooth aftertaste that’s long and focussed. Savor the flavor of this organically grown white table wine with your favorite meal or by itself. Enjoy!”

What I Think:

I heard about this one ages before it arrived, can’t quite remember where I initially came across it. PeterB was the first one to mention it here and tipped me off to the blend components; Sultana (which he notes is also known as Thompson Seedless grape), Columbard and Muscat, which I was able to confirm via Wine Business. So what did I think?

Clear in color and clean with citrus and floral notes on the nose. The early palate shows lemon rocks (mineral) which are eventually washed out by a (residual) sugar component that is close to, but not quite, overpowering. The palate finishes slightly flabby and syrupy before a tart finish that shows promises of crispness. Not to be had on its own, perhaps as a Gewurzt/Riesling substitute with spicy foods. Too sweet for me but guessing many people may think differently. I have one more bottle left; so stay tuned. In the meantime I can’t recommend it based on my palate. If it sounds like it is up your alley feel free to give it a go… Fred predicts it is going to be a “million-bottle plus-brand”, what say you?

Rating: Skip It

2007 Rootstock Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Rootstock ZinfandelMy initial Google search returned nothing. The back of the bottle noted that this one is made by DnA Vineyareds which I recognized from two previous offerings; Trader Joe’s Captain’s Catch and the TBD Zinfandel. The DnA Vineyards site hardly exists hasn’t been updated in ages. Failing on that front I decide to give the COLA registry a try and learned that the Mendocino Wine Group is ultimately behind this one. They are responsible for numerous labels with Paraducci being the most widely known offering (and for football fans the Mike Ditka wine label which I didn’t know existed…). Neither Rootstock or DnA Vineyards are mentioned on the site. Looks like yet another TJ’s orphan wine!

So what did the bottle have to say? “Combining four different Lodi Zinfandels and blending in a special lot of Lodi Petite Sirah gives this succulent wine added depth and color. This wine is full bodied and round with very integrated tannins that lead to a long and silky finish. The mouthfeel harbors licorice and cedar with a slight fennel note in the background. Versatility is the key here when considering what food to pair with; burgers, pastas and grilled veggies all work wonderfully.”

What I Think:

Reading my review on the TBD Zin which also was mostly Lodi Zinfandel I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t almost the same juice, with the same winemaking team under a different label. I find myself playing the role of skeptic as I put this on the table to pair with meatloaf.

So, what’s in the bottle? On the nose you are greeted with bright, hot cherry notes. On the palate this one is big & fruity but mostly one dimensional. You think a spice component is going to emerge near the mid palate but it quickly falls apart. The wine then turns hot leading to a slightly chalky finish before the heat once again emerges and lingers on. This one is not to be had on its own (IMHO), much better with food. But then even still it is rough around the edges. I may be being a bit harsh but couple my experience with the $6.99 price tag and I am not likely to buy this one again. By the way to my earlier point on playing the skeptic, my notes on the TBD Zin don’t sound all that different. But then again I do always enjoy a good conspiracy theory…

Rating: Skip It

2008 Spiral Wines Chardonnay

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Spiral Wines ChardonnayPer Trader Joe’s Holiday Guide “Affable, quaffable – this is a Chardonnay that balances acidity, body and flavors gracefully. Having aged for 8 months in French & American Oak, it has a round mouthfeel that spirals in complexity serving to highlight the fruit driven character of the wine. It delivers floral aromas and flavors of crisp green apple, fresh cut peaches… a touch of honey. Elegantly framed by hints of spice, vanilla and toasted oak – it serves well with a holiday meal.”

What I Think:

I covered what I knew about the Spiral Wines label earlier. As mentioned there, this one seems to be a sourced concoction. Are you interested in my take? I find this one full of nectarines but lacking a crispness and/or acid to balance this one out. Fruity and flabby in my opinion though perhaps I should try another bottle before passing judgment. That said the VINTJS is much better for the $ in my humble opinion. What do you think?

Rating: Skip It

2007 Blue Fin Petite Sirah

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Blue Fin Petite SirahPer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “Considering its longevity and historical significance, we think Petite Sirah is a wine that hasn’t gotten too much respect. It has often been accused of being too strong, too forceful, and too red (as if that makes sense) for the fancy folks in the wine world. But we’ve recently found a number of Petite Sirahs that break this stereotype – they’re bold and fruity, to be sure, but they also feature softer tannins, making them much more easy-drinking and accessible.

If a wine tastes good but is too heavy for your wallet, though, we’re back in “no respect” territory. And that’s really what makes Blue Fin Petite Sirah such a find. This is an “only at Trader Joe’s” California red that was 40% aged in American oak barrels to soften the tannins. The result is a full-bodied yet mellow-drinking wine, with cherry and black plum aromas and a hint of chocolate raspberry on the palate. Appropriate with pizza and red sauced pastas as well as with grilled meats, at only $3.99 a bottle, Blue Fin Petite Sirah is always appropriate for your pocketbook. Quality + price = value. A simple equation. Only at Trader Joe’s.”

What I Think:

The third of the offerings from Blue Fin which is another product of Bronco Wine Co.. I thought the Chard was nice and didn’t think so highly of the Pinot so I guess this Petite Sirah is now the tie breaker. So would it deliver?

What can I say? In this case I think the description from Trader Joe’s may be one of the more accurate I have ever seen. It pretty much says this wine is a Petite Sirah that isn’t a Petite Sirah. And that is true. A pleasant wine, with little to no varietal characteristics. Smooth drinking with muted fruit and light acids that provide some soft, unexpected tannins. It can surprisingly be referred to as “mellow”. Easy to sip if you are pre-occupied elsewhere but not much to taste here. I’ll be steering clear of this one in the future but at $4 if you have the impulse to give it a try good ahead and do so.

Rating: Skip It

2008 La Finca Malbec

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Americal Beverage Group

What They Said:

2008 La Finca MalbecPer the bottle “The vineyards of Finca La Celia lie in the foothills of the Argentine Andes. Stunning purple color. Its bouquet is intense, rich in blackcurrant, vanilla and spices. On the palate the soft and succulent ripe fruits follow through with surprising delicacy. The tannins are silky, coming subtly from the forefront and giving a lingering finish. This is a wine to enjoy with meat dishes and pasta with meat and tomato sauces.”

What I Think:

Long a sucker for the wines of Argentina I have waited endlessly for Trader Joe’s to deliver me a knockout in the super value category as there are an abundance of very pleasing wines available in the $8-$12 price range. But the list of wines that has disappointed me is long and distinguished; La Boca, Terrenal and Fuerza roll readily from my tongue. Could these La Finca offerings change the tides of history? It started off positive with a mention of not only a winery but the website for Finca La Celia. Granted, I had never heard of the winery but for many Trader Joe’s offerings I can spend quite some time trying to determine exactly who it was that made the wine in the bottle. In this case someone was proud that they were behind this one. As I browsed the site it became clear that maybe “proud” wasn’t the right choice of words as there was no mention of the “La Finca” offerings to be found. But hey at least they were willing to admit it! Let’s see what the wine had to say about itself…

Quite a build up, followed by quite a letdown. Hey, I wanted to share my real life experience with this bottle! Surprisingly light in color, really hot on the nose with hints of white pepper. The palate has some berry flavors on top of a highly acidic backbone that holds on through the the finish. This wine shows no varietal correctness and at best is innocuous. Looking at the bottle the 12.5% alcohol content confirms my suspicion that this is much lighter than your ordinary Malbec that typically clocks in at 14-15%. By the way, La Finca is also offering a Cabernet, steer clear of that one as well. Nothing special here.

It continues to puzzle me that Trader Joe’s can’t deliver on my favorite red value varietal. Look like I’ll be stocking up on the Pascual Toso again soon…

Rating: Skip It

2008 Blue Fin Pinot Noir

2008 Blue Fin Pinot NoirPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “Blue Fin Pinot Noir, a new addition to the Blue Fin family, is a vibrant, ruby-colored wine with rich, fresh berry and currant flavors and a velvety smooth finish. This wine is priced at the ridiculously low $3.99 a bottle – a perfect example of our favorite equation: quality + price = value.”

What I Think:

The counterpart to the Chardonnay this is a $4 Pinot Noir which violates my sensibilities given the struggles I have finding good Pinots under $10. But given the story line here includes Fred Franzia and Bronco Wine Co. I am intrigued to see if this could be the Two Buck Chuck of the Pinot world. In short, it might be.

My initial impression was not good. My first notes were thin, hot with a hint of fruit notes. Over the next few days the nose revealed some faint strawberry aromas and even showed the slightest hint of varietal characteristics but the heat and tannins remained. Guessing this one includes a lot of stems. That thought got me wondering; what is the minimum percentage required by law to label something as Pinot? Would including the stems make it easier to get to that number? Guessing it can’t get better than this at $4 otherwise Fred would know how. Not worth it to me, I’ll still be dropping a ten spot on the Castle Rock.

And that is how my review would have ended had it not been for so many people defending the Blue Fin both on twitter and in the comments here on the blog. Did I miss something that everyone else is getting? Was my bottle bad? This is only the 2nd time I’ve felt this way. For Exhibit 1a see: Sparkling ,Albero. Next shopping trip I’ll grab another bottle of each and give both a do over. I know Bob Dwyer is working on a review for this wine over on The Wellesley Wine Press but in the mean time here is what he had to say on Cellar Tracker:

“A very simple, straightforward and drinkable wine. Mild strawberry and cherry aromas on the nose. Perhaps limited aromatically. Really tasty on the initial attack (with a surprising amount of flavor), but fades extremely quickly and is gone in a flash (both the finish and the bottle). An intriguing play at $3.99.”

UPDATE: Bob has now posted his full review. For those interested check it our over on The Wellesley Wine Press.

Stay tuned for more on this one…

Rating: Skip It (for now)

Editor’s Note (07-Jul-2009):Updated the post to include a link to The Wellesley Wine Press review.

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/Viognier

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/ViognierPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This complex, elegant white combines the crisp, fresh citrus flavours of Chardonnay with the rich apricot and honeysuckle character of Viogier to produce a smooth, ripe, vibrantly fruity wine. Delicious on its own, this wine is the perfect partner to seafood, fish, chicken, pasta dishes and salads.”

What I Think:

Had a few tips on this wine, that is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Viognier, from readers and wanted to give it a try. This one reminded me of a boxing match. In the first round the underdog, viognier, coated the mouth with full bodied yellow fruit flavors. Round 2, in the mid-palate , was taken by the Chardonnay showing some a lighter frame and some more vibrant fruit. The finish was a slugfest with each wine competing to rise above the other. Overall these two grapes more clashed than integrated but in a pleasant way. The result is a draw. At $4 you get what you pay for. I’m drinking these bottles to find those that I think are worth double that so I’ll pass on grabbing another bottle. That said, you should feel free to do so if it sounds of interest.

Rating: Skip It

NV Albero Sparkling White

NV Albero Sparkling WhitePrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Latitude Wines

What They Said:

Per RJ’s Wine Blog “Very nice bubbly for $5, that’s for sure. Nice acidity levels, but still a creamy / buttery finish, with just a touch of lemon and the right amount of crispness. The bubbles are closer to a Prosecco than a champagne, which I really like because I think you can taste the fruit and the wine more with lighter bubbles than with most champagnes. Definitely competes with a $15 – $20 bottle of champagne and much more flavor than most sub-$15 champagnes I’ve tasted. Overall, a great value at $5.”

What I Think:

Having tried both the Monastrell (Mourvedre) and Tempranillo from Albero with lukewarm results this one was on my pass list until I stumbled on RJ’s review mentioned above. On opening the first thing I notice is the lack of bubbles in the glass, as in almost none. On the nose crisp white fruit notes, apple and pears. Simple on the palate, not much flavor at all. The overall structure is yeasty and/or creamy but nothing is happening on top of it. Just a slight hint of citrus/tartness on the finish. Nothing wrong with this one, just better options available. That said, I think this one jsut doesn’t match my palate as the sentiment on this one across the blogsphere as been widely positive.  At 11.5% reminds me of the NV Espiral Vinho Verde from Portugal which checks in at 9%. I prefer that one, with its effervescent quality it reminds me more of a sparkler than a still white wine.

In need of other sparkling recommendations? The Zonin Prosecco is my pick in the more traditional flavor profile style. Another favorite is the Schloss Biebrich Sekt from Germany.

Rating: Skip It

Editor’s Note (05-Jun-2009): Per my comment below I modified this post to reflect that the general impressions of this wine across the internet have been largely positive.