2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot NoirPer Trader Joe’s Food Pilgrimager “Last year, our buyers procured a limited quantity of Sebastopol Hills Pinot for an unmatched in the market price. As quickly as the word got out, the wine ran out. It happens. But it also happens that because we approach our partnerships with respect and prompt payment, we were able to do it again! (It helps, too, that we prefer a great price per bottle to a prominent vineyard on a label.) Our Sonoma County Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir is ripe and fleshy. Aged in French oak for 10 months, it’s well structured. And at $9.99 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s very well priced.”

What I Think:

As mentioned in my review of the ’08 I was able to trace this offering back to Willowbrook Cellars where their standard bottle goes for $24. I was a fan of the ’08 but am always apprehensive when the next vintage arrives (see below for my reasoning). Given that I was curious to see how the ’09 would play out. Here were my notes…

(14.5%) Loads of orange rind, currant and cranberries on the nose. Medium to full bodied on the palate with juicy blueberry fruit and more orange rind flavors along the edges. The mouth feel is smooth and creamy showing just a bit of heat from the barrel. The finish is short but pleasant and lingers on warmly. Given the big fruit and big style (what I call “Pinot on Steroids” which I think I lifted from @RobertDwyer) I suspect this one is getting some help from another varietal or two. A nice wine for sure but I prefer the Picket Fence which I felt was a bit more varietally correct (and it’s a buck cheaper). That said if that weren’t available I’d probably be grabbing some more of this one.

Now back to my new vintage apprehension. When comparing this to the previous vintage I’m guessing the ’08 was the real deal. As in a wine that was made from day one with the intention of being labeled “Willowbrook Cellars”. On the other hand I’m guessing this one was made for Trader Joe’s from the get go. That would likely mean two things: 1) trying to scale production while 2) trying to maintain the price point. And therein lies the conundrum of a successful wine offering at Trader Joe’s From that perspective they did a pretty admirable job of maintaining quality while scaling production. Wonder what the 2010 will be like…

Rating: Pricey

Interested in reading more about the Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir?

  • Good Cheap Vino prefers the Sebastopol Hills to the Picket Fence
  • WineBites likes the Sebastopol Hills but wishes they had made a wine with more subtle complexity

2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir

Price: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Picket Fence Pinot NoirPer Picket Fence “This wine has an elegant, pure fruit forward style with the brilliant intensity of rich mouthwatering Bing cherry, blackberry and spice. The luxurious density, beautiful structure and velvety texture on the palate are hallmarks of this vintage and make this wine a superlative example of Russian River Valley Pinot.” – Don Van Staaveren, Winemaker

What I Think:

Really? The winery is selling this one for $30 a bottle on their site (see above link). As if that isn’t bad enough they are making you buy 3 bottles at a time. Typically (warning marketing speak ahead) customers that buy direct are your most valuable (and deliver the highest profit margin). They deserve special consideration instead of getting an extra $20 lifted out of their wallet for each bottle. If I am a winery and I have to unload wine I am making sure that I am sharing those same prices with my most loyal customers. I could go on and on about how wrong this is on so many levels. That said I’ll spare you. Let’s get to the wine…

Warm spice and tart cranberry notes on the nose. The palate starts with surprising weight given how light it looks in the glass. This wine is wound tight with cranberry flavors that merge with bright cherry overtones. The mid-palate shows flashes of cola acidity to keep it nicely balanced. From there the barrel notes emerge and lead to a nice creamy, vanilla finish.

Most Pinots in this price range are what I refer to as “on steroids” with heavier grapes (e.g. Petite Sirah) blended in (see Fin, Blue). This one is a very nice example of what much more expensive Pinot’s deliver. Load up (if you can) and pop one open whenever the mood strikes you. Better yet if you are looking for a Thanksgiving wine on a budget (it is November) look no further!

Rating: Buy It <- And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Interested in reading more about the Picket Fence Pinot Noir? Check out what Robert Dwyer had to say over on the Wellesley Wine Press.

2009 VINTJS Pinot Noir

2009 VINTJS Pinot NoirPrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Wine by Joe (on the 2008 which goes for $19 on the winery site) “Listen to the fine and enticing “snap-crack” of the seal as you twist it off. Put the Band-Aids back in the medicine cabinet… this aint no cork sealed wine. This wine slips into your mouth with gorgeous rich blackberry aromas with a touch of leather, too. The flavors mirror the aromas with a soft and velvety mouthfeel which wraps around your tongue delivering the impression of sweetness from the soft ripe tannins. I know what you are thinking… How can Joe deliver such a good Oregon Pinot Noir for the money you are asking!!?? Yes, I know, you want to drink more…”

What I Think:

I found this Willamette offering from the same maker as the recently reviewed Pinot Gris and, as Gary Vee would say, I decided to give it a whirl. How did it go?

Faint in color at the core and almost brown on the edges this one is light from the get go. Bright on the nose this one starts nicely showing racy acidity which leads to tart cranberry and orange rind flavors before giving way to a slightly harsh finish. That’s the best that can be said. On the flip side I might look at this one as thin, sour and under ripe. Whereas the Pinot Gris was well made I don’t get that sense here as it seems disjointed at times. Not enough Jekyll & too much Hyde for me. I won’t be buying this one again. Anyone have a recent favorite Pinot favorite in this price range to share?

Rating: Skip It

2008 Hamilton-Steven’s Pinot Noir

Price: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Hamilton-Steven's Pinot NoirPer the bottle Deep garnet red with spicy sweet aromas of dark plum, cedar and anise. Rich, complex flavors of cherry pie, spice and bittersweet chocolate finish silky smooth.

What I Think:

I think I was able to track this one back to Grove Street Winery who are affiliated with Windsor Vineyards where the Russian River Pinot goes for $28. I’m not insinuating this is the same wine by any stretch of the imagination but I think it is fair to say that there are resources being shared across this effort that give this bottling, at a third the cost, the potential to be a value play. Can the juice match the potential?

Great light, red strawberry color with the same on the nose coupled with cedar and spice. This one is on the attack bringing a full mouth feel straightaway. Lively acidity and brambly fruits turn juicy on the mid-palate leading to tart, under ripe fruits that mesh with barrel spices and warm tannins on the finish. Though it seems a tad nitpicky there is a bit of a hot spot toward the back of the mid-palate that throws this one momentarily out of sorts. That is enough to keep me from loving this wine but it is still a pleasant, smooth drinking Pinot Noir for $9 which leaves you nothing to complain about. Not to mention it is light years better than the Chateau Chevalier which goes for a buck more. If you are looking for a go to Pinot in this price range you should give this one a try. Otherwise if you already have one I’d love to hear all about it!

Rating: Buy It

2006 Chateau Chevalier Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2006 Chateau Chevalier Pinot NoirBarely a whisper of this one on their site. Being a fan of their Cab offering and initially giving this bottle the once over I become suspect. But the facts check out. I had just never noticed that Chateau Chevalier is made by Spring Mountain Vineyard (perhaps a 2nd label? The ’06 Spring Mountain Pinot went for $55) and comes in a bottle unbefiiting of the projected quality. All indications are that the same team and same effort is involved here and, as mentioned, given I am a fan of the Cab that is a good thing. Despite that the only mention from the winery is a “coming soon” designation on their awards page.

What I Think:

So what’s in the bottle? In a word “disappointment”. The brownish, amber color on this one makes it look beyond its years. The nose starts super promising with dried cherry and black tea aromas. In the mouth this one starts flat with thin cherry flavors (and an accompanying acidity for balance) and sadly never changes before eventually drying out to a moderate tannic finish. It almost tasted as if its best days were behind it. Given the color I wonder if that wasn’t the case. Either way, quite a letdown!

Rating: Skip It

2007 MacMurray Central Coast Pinot Noir

Price: $13.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 MacMurray Central Coast Pinot Noir90 points Wine Enthusiast: Currently hard and tart in acids and tannins, but loaded with sweet, ripe fruit, this Pinot is silky enough to drink now, which most consumers probably will. But if you give it until sometime in 2010, the cherries, cola, sandalwood and spices will mesh and improve.” (12/09)

89 points Wine Spectator Review: Ripe, floral, perfumed aromas of black cherry and raspberry are pure and zesty. Full-bodied, balanced and delicate, showing just the right touch of acidity and tannins, with pleasant mineral and earth notes. Drink now through 2012.

What I Think:

As you know Trader Joe’s has been flush in reasonably priced, well made Pinot. It started with the Castle Rock, then the Caretaker to the Davis Bynum followed by the Sebastopol Hills…you get the idea. And I haven’t even tried the Lane Tanner offerings yet! Next on that list is this MacMurray Ranch which is part of the Gallo brand portfolio. Suggested retail price on this bottle is $24 and it primarily sourced from the Olson Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands. What about the juice inside you say…

This one is like sticking your nose in a berry patch, complete with leaf and brambly accents. Very inviting begs you to dive in and delivers loads of juiciness when you do. Nice acidity emerges towards the mid-palate and is balanced by a nice cranberry component that is present throughout. The finish is tart but pleasant (reminded me exactly of Ocean Spray Cranberry juice) and has a spicy (clove) kick that lingers on long after you have put the glass down. A nice wine that delivers on the price point. That said I would go lower than the 90 from Wine Enthusiast and maybe even the 89 from Wine Spectator on this one. My ultimate gauge, would I buy it again? For $10 I would. At $14 I’m on the fence, we will see next time I hit the store!

Rating: Pricey

2008 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Sebastopol Hills Pinot NoirNada, the bottle said absolutely nothing. So the detective work began and I think I found my new best friend. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) registry where a search returned these results. This led me to the Owl Ridge Wines which happens to be located in Sebastopol. Once here, Google helped me locate some text near the bottom of the page referencing people to their affiliated winery, Willowbrook Cellars , for information on outstanding Pinot Noirs. A visit there led me to their online store which had a 2008 Sonoma County Pinot on offer with the alcohol content listed as 14.5%, wouldn’t you know it the same as the Sebastopol Hills. Do we have conclusive evidence? Nope, though I have emailed the winery seeking confirmation and will report back if we do. For those that believe we have corroborated enough facts you can find more information about the Willowbrook offering on the winery website where their Sonoma County offering goes for $24.

What I Think:

So what about the wine itself? I opened this with hamburgers on the menu and it’s a beauty. You’re greeted with blueberry, herbs and mint on the nose. The palate delivers deep fruit flavors on a well balanced and structured profile. A nice acidity emerges late in the mid-palate and leads to a dry, herbal lingering finish. This one has some very nice depth and length to it. I need to grab a few more bottles of this one before it disappears…

Rating: Buy It

2006 Windbreak Pinot Noir

2006 Windbreak Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per San Antonio Winery “Windbreak is handcrafted at Orcutt Road Cellars in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. Both clonal selections are fermented separately in small, open-top tanks. The cap is “punched down” in order to delicately extract color without creating excessive tannins. After aging in French oak barrels, the individual lots are evaluated and blended. The wine is dark and structured with intense flavors of black cherry and raspberry. Barrel aging contributes nuances of oak spice and cedar with a long, mouth-filling finish.”

What I Think:

This one is a product of the San Antonio Winery and the ’07 goes for $35 a bottle on the site which also mentions in its awards that it received 89 Points from the Wine Enthusiast in September 2008. As to the brand, the description from the bottle describes the Windbreak (brand) as the rows of trees planted to protect the vines from the maritime winds.

This one is light brownish red in color, almost sun-baked mud. 14.5% abv. On the nose this one offers black cherries, rhubarb and green pepper action. The palate greets you with forward, bright fruit and racy acidity. The structure is sound but the acidity is a bit overwhelming for me to grab another bottle. Especially considering the stellar Pinot lineup Trader Joe’s has on the shelves today. Granted I might be getting greedy and expecting a bit much but there are plenty of options out there. What’s your favorite $10 Pinot Noir today?

Rating: Pricey

2005 Davis Bynum Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir

Price: $14.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2005 Davis Bynum Allen Vineyard Pinot NoirPer Davis Bynum “Davis Bynum Pinot Noir is driven by vineyard sites. From the legendary Allen vineyard between the river itself and Westside Road – adjacent to Rochioli – this Pinot Noir is redolent of dried cherry, herb and cola aromas, with a soft mouthfeel and bold flavors of cherry, earth, and orange zest which carry brightly to the finish.”

What I Think:

While the recession may be cramping your style in some areas your wine drinking palate is subject to getting spoiled if you can find a spare $15 every now and again. The first example of this at Trader Joe’s was this Howell Mountain Cab which retailed at $60. This single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley that retailed at an already relative “bargain” $40 is another in what I am sure is to be a long line of many more to come.

Beautiful aromas of dried cherries and herbs greet you on the nose. It is readily apparent that this is not a fruit driven Pinot from the start. With a smile on my face, I find more cherries at the front of the palate. These are held in check by a firm acid backbone that delivers the cherry cola flavors that I have come to expect from this region. Earthy and mineral components are present as well. The mouthfeel is velvety and smooth throughout and finishes bright and (orange) zesty. This wine is beautiful and elegant. People may say this goes better with this or that but feel free to ignore them and drink this with whatever you wish, even on its own. I am already looking forward to my next bottle…

Rating: Wow!

2008 Picton Bay Pinot Noir

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by L. Watson Inc.

What They Said:

2008 Picton Bay Pinot NoirPer the bottle “This wine is made from grapes grown in Marlborough and Nelson, Picton Bay Pinot Noir is fresh with delicious red fruit flavours, enticing spicy aromas, and a smooth, fine texture. Drink now or cellar until 2012.”

What I Think:

I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while and on a recent evening it finally made its way to the table. On opening the bottle it was bursting with red berry fruits on the nose. On the palate this one starts smooth and balanced. Towards the middle an acidic backbone emerges showing light fruit flavors which lead to warm, tingly tannins on the finish. On opening it was a bit hot but it blew off with time leaving behind this tight, racy acidic wine that delivers a lot of bang for the buck. If I were to redo the Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List today this one would certainly claim a spot.

That said, this one may not be for everybody as it doesn’t deliver the big fruit many look for. It is much closer to, what I think of as, a Pinot from Oregon with a leaner style balancing red fruit and structured acidity. So how does it compare to the Redtree Pinot Noir ($7) which the Wine Spectator loved. Though I’ve yet to review it, I have tried the Redtree and it comes off more juicy and fruit forward. It also lacks the structure and balance that the Picton Bay, which I prefer, delivers. With the Castle Rock, the Caretaker and this one Trader Joe’s currently finds itself awash in nice drinking Pinot’s that cost you less than a ten spot. Which is your fave? Think I’ll grab some more of all three.

Rating: Buy It