2005 Hunter Ashby Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Hunter Ashby Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Wine Enthusiast “Black currant and cherry flavors, accented with a touch of smoky oak, mark this dry, smooth wine. It has the textural hallmarks of the best of Napa Valley Cabernet, but lacks the richness. Drink now.” — 86 points S.H. (6/1/2008)

What I Think:

This one is made by 2Sons Winery in Rutherford, which I can hardly find a word about. That said I was able to conclusively link the Hinter Ashby name to the Terlato Wines International. Looks like they use it as a “logo” wine as it appears in all their press releases but I can’t find another word about it on their site. I also saw some things that lead me to believe that this label may fall under their Tangley Oaks label. Here nor there, there are plenty of other names I know that can be found under the Terlato umbrella, including Alderbrook, which was a favorite Zin of mine TJ’s was selling a while back. Anyhow, what do you say we take the detectives hat off and get to the wine.

The nose shows cherry and spice. On the palate it is lively early on, dancing on the tongue with a nice acidity coming through. Towards the middle it fades, showing loads of ripe fruits that linger to the finish. A nice effort, this one shows a smooth texture balancing oak, fruit and mineral. If you’re a fan of Napa Cab looking for a discount or looking for an intro to the region this bottle is worth checking out.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Howell Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $14.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2005 Howell Mountain Vineyards Cabernet SauvignonPer Trader Joe’s Ten For The Tasting (pdf) “Come on; get your nose in there. Way in there… the deep crimson hue, the aromas, the body… oh, yes! Handcrafted from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in Napa Valley’s renowned Howell Mountain appellation, this wine has body. Grown in volcanic ash and clay soils along sloping hillside at elevations well over 1,800 feet, the grapes develop distinctly thick skins and robust tannins. And this vintage demonstrates a little more weight and richness than in years past. A hint of bell peppers on the nose dissipates into warm aromas of cedar-y forest and dark berries. On the mouth, the flavors of succulent black cherry are followed by slight hints of hazelnut and tobacco. And because we are helping the producers move out inventories that had been set aside for on-premise markets (aka fine restaurants), we’re selling this lusty Cab for $14.99 – oh, yes!”

What I Think:

As mentioned in the Trader Joe’s Ten for Tasting post I was tipped off on this one by DP. Likewise we covered that this offering typically retails for $60+, given that you can imagine how eager I was to try it once I brought it home. So I quickly found a steak and pulled the cork on this one…

In the glass I found a great nose of fruit balanced perfectly with spice. Some blackberry, allspice and a hint of green rhubarb. On the palate a bit tart up front but quickly balanced with gorgeous, rich fruit as well as spice and mint/methyl notes. The mid-palate is smooth and silky leading to a chalky, inky, dry and lasting finish. This wine is complex, to me, offering, layers and layers that keep you contemplating exactly what it is you are tasting. Regardless, you know it is good things while going through the exercise. As I look for comparisons I quickly come to the Chateau Chevalier from Spring Mountain which took Grape Madness by storm some months back. Both from Napa, both from TJ’s, both fifteen bones and both with a dry, chalky finish but most of all both great values. That said, thank goodness I didn’t drop $60 here or I would likely be disappointed. Others, here in the comments on the site, haven’t been as big as fans as me so feel free to give this one a pass if it is north of your usual price range.

Rating: Wow!

2007 Overlake Cabernet Sauvignon

 2007 Overlake Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Nothing to be found. Looks like you are stuck with me on this one…

What I Think:

This one came recommended a month or so ago via a Trader Joe’s (often my beaten path in South San Francisco) cashier who saw me lugging out a case plus of wine and thought I was missing the boat. Y’all know me, love recommendations. We headed over to the aisle to hunt this one down but alas it was out of stock. Fast forward three weeks, headed home from the airport and need to do grocery shopping so headed back here. Perusing the wine aisle and sha-bam there it is. Decent looking label, Lake County which I have some loves for (see Beringer Clear Lake Zin and Dynamic Lake County Red) plus a personal recommendation and three bottles are quickly in the cart. Big buy for me before tasting a drop…

Obviously with expectations high what I needed is for someone to tell me this sucked right before I drank it to get those back in line. Alas no one was available to assist. The nose is typical of a $6 Trader Joe’s Cabernet consisting of darker fruit and oak. The front of the palate initially seems a bit flabby but quickly pulls itself together. The mid palate show nice balance with rich, dark fruit holding throughout which all makes it to the finish where a hint of black pepper is added to the mix. 14.75% alcohol? Are you kidding me? No heat and virtually no tannins. Amazing at $6! My only word of warning (given I’ve consumed 2 of these bottles already) think twice before crossing this one with spicy food (tacos) as that was a pairing that didn’t work, save it for simpler meat dishes

This is the best fruit forward sub $6 Trader Joe’s can since the XS. The “fruit forward” disclaimer came due to my Grape Madness experience with the Fetzer (which upset Sterling in the opening round) which was much more subtle and is worth a try as well. Trying to say what you see is what you get with this one, l don’t expect complexity or layers. That said, if you are interested in a nice, everyday, fruit forward drinker this may be one for you. It is for me, I have a ½ case minimum in mind for me next time I see this one. Sure to make my next Top 10 list which you should be seeing in the next 48 hours.

Rating: Bulk Buy

Additional Thoughts: Lake County: Been a big fan lately. Look for good values out of this region in the next few years as it is relatively “undiscovered”. Had some nice wines from there and am keen to explore further. Next two tasting trips, after Greece (did I mention I leave in less than a week? Any tips?) are here and to Lodi/El Dorado County… Anyone have recommendations for either?

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

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 Rabbit Ridge Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “This Cabernet Sauvignon was barrel-aged in French and American oak for approximately 16 months to achieve the perfect balance. A judicious amount of Petite Verdot and Petite Sirah was added to create this big, concentrated dark Cabernet Sauvignon boasting a great deal of complexity. The wine is totally natural with the exception of yeast added during fermentation. The limestone characteristics of our vineyards allow us to produce this Cabernet Sauvignon with 100% natural acid. 5,040 cases produced.”

What I Think:

After going through quite a bit of the Allure de Robles I was happy to give another Rabbit Ridge offering a try. So when I stumbled across this one at Trader Joe’s it quickly made its way into the cart. Upon arriving home I was keen to find out how much TJ’s saved me this time as the previous bottle was 50% less than the winery price. This time around I arrived at the site to find a notice that this one was only selling at Trader Joe’s for $5.99. Guessing I don’t have much sway but let me at least let me imagine that was because I called them out last time:).

Off the bat this one engulfs you in fruit. On the nose it is loaded with dark fruits with hints of barrel and spice. On the palate you get a lush mouthful of cherry and plum flavors that last into a finish that is only slightly tannic with a bit of mint. I noticed after I finished this one that it has Petite Sirah added which may explain the heavy accentuation of fruit. If you like that then this one is for you. I myself prefer something a bit more restrained and would recommend these as my top three cabernets at Trader Joe’s today:

Let me know what you think!

Rating: Skip It

2005 Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Aromas of truffle, blackberry liqueur and hints of tobacco precede a rich, silky, velvet-textured palate of ripe black fruits and chocolate with a touch of toasty oak on the long, pure finish.” – Juan Munoz Oca, Winemaker

What I Think:

Given my recent success with the Columbia Crest Grand Estates and Two Vines offerings I was curious to see how this old favorite would be after such a bittersweet ending last time around. It quickly became apparent that my fleeting memories were the correct ones. This wine is eminently drinkable but that is about the highest compliment I can pay it. It comes off as made in the laboratory with over the top fruits and a manufactured type of varietal-less appeal. The fruit is big and overwhelming but there isn’t much else going in this one’s favor. You can keep the money in the Chateau Ste. Michelle family but be sure to direct it towards those Columbia Crest bottles. For a $1 less you can get a wine that I would call two times as good. Anyone else out there had both? What do you think?

Rating: Skip It

2005 XS Red California Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per uncork29.com “A couple weeks back while out doing some shopping, we happened upon a relatively new offering from the The Hess Group, which operates one of our favorite wineries here in the valley–The Hess Collection up on beautiful Mount Veeder. It seems as though the 2005 vintage produced a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon, some excess as it were, which Hess has turned into its $6 XS Red 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Never one to pass up trying something new, we bought a bottle and gave it a shot with our homemade pizza. At 13.5% alcohol, the wine was soft on the nose and very fruit forward on the palate. We got hints of plum, blackberry and bell pepper and found it to have a somewhat disappointing finish. All told though, for six bucks you can’t really go wrong with the XS Red for any everyday table wine type-deal”

What I Think:

As mentioned I got the inside scoop on this one from the good people over at letsgokings.com and headed out to track it down. Nearby we have a Trader Joe’s and Cost Plus next door to each either. Upon arrival I ran into Cost Plus to check some things out and as always ended up taking a look at the wine. Low and behold saw this bottle for $5.99. I was on my way to Trader Joe’s next but given that I had my 2 year old son with me I wasn’t coming back to get this one if they didn’t have it next door. So I forked over the $6 just in case. Get next door, they have it, $3.99. I don’t know about you but if I am working at Cost Plus I am taking this bottle out of peoples’ hands and sending them next door. I couldn’t live with that on my conscience. Again I ask, Trader Joe’s how do you do it!

Shortly after I get it home I twist off the screw cap and am greeted with green pepper aromas on the nose. This triggers warning bells for me. In my uneducated mind I attribute this two ways. To fresh wine that has been bottled recently and needs to settle. Or to wine that is just not good. Given the results that follow we know this is indeed a worthwhile effort so “fresh” must be the correct answer in this case. On the palate the wine is fruit forward, but not in an overpowering way which is so often typical in lower priced offerings to hide all of the other flaws. Flavors of plum and dark currant were laid over heavy barrel notes leading to a smoky, spicy finish with just a tinge of green pepper. On day 2, the green pepper was gone from both the nose and the finish making it even that much more pleasant. This wine is very straight forward, a perfect quaffer. Only one question remains, is this declassified juice from the Hess Collection better than the $2.99 Red Flyer offering from Hahn Estates. That is a question I will be happy to answer for you. In the meantime grab a bottle of each and let me know what you think!

Rating: Buy It

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

2004 Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com: “This minimally oaked Cabernet Sauvignon offers fruit-forward aromas and flavors of slight cherry and blueberry throughout. The balance of fruit and soft oak provides a lingering finish with hints of cocoa.” -Ray Einberger, Winemaker

What I Think:

The Columbia Crest Two Vines varietal tour continues with this being the fourth offering I have sampled. Having been pleased with the previous three bottles I had promised to grab the Cab next and as a man of my word am here to report even more good news.

This one makes itself known as soon as you pull the cork. The nose has strong aromas of dark, black fruit with just a hint of chocolate. On the palate this same fruit is lush and readily apparent. As the tasting profile continues the flavors evolve to vanilla and toast (usually barrel induced) leading to a nice velvety finish.

As I said last time, if you are newer to wine or know someone that is point them to these Columbia Crest Two Vines offerings as a way to get a good lay of the land. I’m going to try the rest of them, maybe the Chard will be next!

Rating: Buy It