2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant

Price: $35.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard

What They Said:

2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare VolantPer Bonny Doon Vineyard (pdf) “This cuvée, the 22nd edition of Le Cigare Volant a blend of syrah, grenache, cinsault with just a soupçon of mourvèdre and carignane, make for a bright and wonderfully gamey wine. Very youthful with toasty notes of cherry, birch, sassafras and pomegranate. Pair this racey red with a bloomsdale spinach salad with sherry vinaigrette garnished with carpaccio of tuna or beef. Speaking of beef, a rare steak in any number of variations (tri-tip, hanger, New York, filet) would be quite delish. But more exotic fare such as chicken tikka masala or Tandoori lamb chops will also work wonderfully well. While the zesty ’06 is excellent right now, decanting or aging it for 2-3 more years would be all to the good.”

What I Think:

(13.3%) 43.6% Syrah, 43.5% Grenache, 11.7% Cinsault, 1.1% Mourvedre and 0.1% Carignane – The blend percentage as only Randall and crew would tell it this is my first go round with the Le Cigare Volant. Dark red in color with earthy red fruits, spice and almost a hint sweet on a savory nose. Starts rich and lively on a meaty, chewy palate that shows brambly berry fruit. From there it turns tart, earthy and mineral driven before drying out on a peppery finish where the fruit reemerges before giving way to lingering, lip smacking tannins. Nice tannins and structure this is a wine drinks well now but definitely has a brighter future ahead of it. Thankfully I already have one more on hand… (3,300 cases made)

Rating: Wow!

Hangtown Red Lot 41

NV Hangtown Red Lot 41Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Boeger Winery “Luscious and jammy aromas of: cedar, earth, vanilla, caramel, cherries, plums and oak. Rich flavors of dark fruits, gentle tannins and balances acidity make this the intimate BBQ companion.”

What I Think:

Hailing from El Dorado county this one seems to be a regular (or not so much) hodgepodge. Lot 38 was Zin, Cab, Barbera and Petite Sirah. Lot 42 was a Barbera and Zinfandel blend. And they move fast. They announced Lot 41 on Feb 28th and they are already on to Lot 42. A search turns up that the Hangtown Red also has quite a legacy having first been bottled back in 1975. I found this interesting article that did a great job of sharing the back story. While it appears there was once some information available on Lot 41 that is no longer the case. That said it looks like the winery does a good job of offering these for fair prices ($8.75) on their site while working with Trader Joe’s at the same time. I’m always happy to see that!

(14.1%) Blend Unknown – Nice fruity nose this translates to the palate with rich plum flavors. A bit of acidity emerges as the mid-palate dries out and starts to show some gentle, chewy tannins which lead to a plush, creamy finish (showing vanilla and oak) with just a hint of sweetness that lingers together nicely. This is Trader Joe’s sweet spot as they deliver many wines with the same taste profile.

In the article mentioned above they quoted Greg Boeger as saying the Hangtown Red “isn’t meant to be a statement wine. Nonetheless, it has a lot to say of how Californians live and eat, as well as their fondness for wines that can be counted on for character and value.” To that end I think they hit the mark. This is an affordable, approachable everyday wine that I’ll certainly be grabbing another bottle of. I think many of you will be pleased if you do the same.

Rating: Buy It

2009 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles

Rabbit Ridge WineryTrader Joe’s “other” cult wine. Over the years there have been more than a few accusations of “hording” this offering and not sharing the wealth. The history of the Allures de Robles as I know it lapsed after the 1998 vintage before being resurrected as an NV sometime around 2006. From there it was followed by a 2007 vintage offering. Allure de Robles is an estate grown wine that is made in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style. This one is a traditional Rhone Blend composed of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. With the clones of the grapes being predominantly from the esteemed Tablas Creek Winery which in turn are cut them from the fabled Chateau Beaucastel. For those that don’t recognize the names it is safe to say they are punching well beyond a $5 price tag…

Erich Russell of Rabbit Ridge WineryWhat I find most interesting is that it is made by a real winery. Better yet one that respects their customers first and foremost. I have often lamented those wineries that ship wine off to Trader Joe’s at a steep discount without giving their most valuable customers the opportunity to buy these wines at the same price. When doing so Rabbit Ridge is always my shining example of how to do it right. And while they sell wines from across the pricing spectrum (from $5 up to $30) I’ve always respected the level of detail paid to this offering. Unlike the Chariot Gypsy this one shows variances in ABV (alcohol by volume). The 2009 clocks in at 14.6%; the ‘07 15.4% and ‘08 14.7%. Taking the time, money and effort to refile the label for approval with the TTB annually is just but one indicator that Erich Russell (pictured right) and “the team” from Rabbit Ridge are making the most honest $5 bottle of wine out there to be had.

Per an email from Erich here is what he had to say “The alcohol is indeed a true alcohol at 14.6 and the wine is not manipulated in any way—no acid additions, no water additions, no finning, no mega purple, no concentrate just pure grape juice. It is pretty amazing to me the changes in the wine from 2007 to 2008 to 2009. The 2010 is a really wild one at least individual lots are right now. The bad news is the supply of 2010 will be really low compared to 2009, maybe as much as 60% lower.” And that supply is where things seem to get interesting. Erich mentioned the fact that the Wine Spectator awarding Wine of the Year to another Paso Robles GSM blend is driving prices higher. He is facing a tough conundrum come 2011. One that I have seen many of my favorite value wines face. To raise prices or lower quality. I for one hope Erich will raise the price but am keen to hear your thoughts. If you have a second hop on over to Facebook and cast your vote. In the meantime what do you say we get to this wine…

2009 Rabbit Ridge Allure de RoblesPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) “Oh, how we love a good wine. But what we love even more is a good wine at a great price. That’s why we like Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles so much. You would, in ordinary circumstances, expect to pay considerably more for a wine of this quality from the Paso Robles region. These, however, are extraordinary times in which we live, producing both extraordinary wines and extraordinary values.

Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles is crafted from grapes grown on four of the Rabbit Ridge vineyards on the west side of Paso Robles. It’s a Côtes du Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, each grown in a vineyard whose soil and elevation is best suited to the particular varietal. The wine’s strawberry & cherry overtones come courtesy of the Grenache, its medium body a Syrah-specific characteristic and its subtle, earthy undertones from the Mourvèdre. This is an excellent wine to serve with our Vintage Reserve Cheddar (p. 7) and makes a cheery companion to our Stuffed Pork Chops (p. 21) at dinnertime. At $4.99 a bottle, this wine is a terrific value that won’t be around forever. Get yours while it lasts; because when it’s gone, we can’t guarantee we can get more.”

What I Think:

(14.6%) Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre – Lighter, ruby in color. Strawberry and oak nose. Juicy on the palate with rich, peppery, berry fruit this one turns slight sweet and candied on the mid-palate before a somewhat short finish which once again reveals that peppery streak and a heavy dollop of oak. An affordable sipper well suited for a picnic, keeping you company while cooking or accompanying a meal in need of an easy drinking wine. For $5, while not a revelation, this is better than expected and I’ll be grabbing a few more bottles.

Rating: Buy It (While it may disappoint a few spoiled by previous vintages most will find it money well spent…)

2009 Chariot Gypsy

Ah the Gypsy… Now I’ve written enough a dissertations worth on this one over the years. Trader Joe’s one and only cult wine has become quite a polarizing topic. Is it still good or merely riding on the coattails of what it once was? I can tell you based on my first take that without a doubt this wine was once much better than it is today. That said where did I net out on the 2009 vintage?

2009 Chariot GypsyPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Chariot Wines ” The Chariot Gypsy 2009 tasting notes are coming soon!” Well that sure is helpful! Looks like you are stuck with my opinion…

What I Think:

(13.5%) 34% Zinfandel, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petite Sirah, 15% Merlot, 5% Sangiovese – Dark fruit, spice and barrel on the nose. Juicy on the palate, decent acidity through the mid-palate before a short to medium sweet, creamy vanilla finish. This one fares better when just opened or with food in my humble opinion otherwise it comes off as overly sweet at times (much like the ’08). Speaking of the ’08 I’ll have to do a vertical Gypsy tasting sometime soon to confirm my suspicions. While this wine doesn’t excite me for $5 you you can sure do a lot worse than this…

Should you buy it? The Gypsy is a polarizing wine so let’s start with whether or not you’ve had the Gypsy before. If you have did you like it? Your answer to that question is the same as to whether or not you should buy this vintage. For those that haven’t tried it give it a go. For $5 you can do a whole lot worse. I bought six and am half way through that batch. I like it for what it is; a simple, easy going Tuesday night wine pizza kind of wine that you don’t have to feel guilty you’re not paying too much attention too.

Rating: Buy It <- If you answered the questions above correctly...

What’s your take? Do you like the ’09 Gypsy? Or think it is just riding coattails and memories?

2009 Dynamic Lake County Red Table Wine

I was familiar with the Dynamic Vineyards label and Ceago Vinegarden when I picked this one up. Ceago was founded by Jim Fetzer whose family started their winery in 1968, turned it to organic in 1984 and sold it to Brown-Forman, one of America’s largest alcohol conglomerate, in 1992. He started Ceago soon after (1993) in Mendocino before moving to Clear Lake in Lake County in 2001. Per their site Ceago’s “mission is to craft small lots of wine from estate grown organic and biodynamic grapes using the best of Old and New World winemaking techniques.”

As mentioned I was familiar with this one when I picked it up. For I had very much enjoyed their 2006 offereing. Little did I remember it was the Mendocino which I enjoyed and not the Lake County which I neglected to review at the time given my disappointment. The blend back in 2006 was completely different (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, 20% Malbec) so perhaps it would fare better this time around. Let’s check it out…

2009 Dynamic Lake County Red Table WinePrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

I can’t find a word on this one and since the Ceago Vineyards site still references the 2006 version you’ll have to take my word for it…

What I Think:

(14%) 53% Syrah, 43% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon – Almost cloying on the nose. Off sweet with warm red fruits and spice. Dark in the glass, full bodied and lush on the palate. Problem is little happens between there and the time it dries out on the finish with creamy, vanilla notes on top of light tannins. IMHO this could use more Cabernet in the blend to add some acidity and balance. Then again wine making is not me forte. I’d say this one is good but one dimensional (as noted above). I won’t be buying again but if a fruit forward slightly sweet red is your style feel free to give this one a try.

Rating: Skip It

2009 Benefactor Cellars Red

Way late to the party here but when I saw a lone bottle staring at me from the shelves this weekend I figured it was high time for me to actually get around to this review! The outfit behind this one is DnA Vineyards which opened up shop in 2006. Dennis Patton and his wife Andrea are the proprietors there. Some may recognize Dennis’s name as he has been in the business for 30+ years. He founded Hidden Cellars in 1981 which was sold to Parducci in 1999. He also spearheaded the Coro Mendocino wine consortium along with Paul Dolan.Coro Mendocino

Per the DnA Vineyards site their focus is to make “Custom Crafted Wines” at “Incomparable Price/Quality Ratio”. They do this for numerous clients; Trader Joe’s chief amongst them. This is the third wine of theirs I’ve tried. The first two were both Zinfandels; the 2006 TBD California Zinfandel and the 2007 Rootstock Zinfandel where Dennis himself gave me a lesson in negociant wine-making. Makes sense as this is the grape he is most known for (along with Petite Sirah). You can read more about Dennis in this excellent article.

2009 Benefactor Cellars RedNow per the Coro Mendocino guidelines (or protocol as they say) the wines must have 40-70% Zinfandel; and no second-tier varietal (Barbera, Carignane, Charbono, Grenache, Dolcetto, Primitivo, Petite Sirah and Syrah) can exceed the percentage of the Zinfandel. Lastly a winemaker has “free play” to choose any varietal to comprise up to 10 percent of the final product. The Benefactor Cellars blend is 50% Zinfandel, 40% Syrah and 10% Carignane which meets the Coro Mendocino standards. That said as these wines are distinctively labeled and require peer review I’ve still yet to try one. Anyhow let’s get to this one…

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Benefactor Cellars Red (back label)Per the bottle “Oh erstwhile unstoppable wine market! There are those who have mourned your passing with many a tear, many a boo hoo. But we celebreate the generosity of your death. Those wines which once haunted us from beyond our price range now pour happily – affordably, deliciously, attainably – into our glasses, thanks to you. A toast to failed predictions! To bloated, insupportable markets! Here’s to the Benefactor!”

What I Think:

(14.9%) 50% Zinfandel, 40% Syrah, 10% Carignane – Dark purple in color with warm briary, berry fruit and spice on the nose. It starts with almost candied plum and cherry before a firm acidic structure emerges on the mid-palate to maintain balance. From there it turns oaky and creamy showing vanilla on the finish which thins quickly. From there it lingers on nicely (albeit a bit hot) with a bit of spice and dusty chocolate. This wine is plush, comfortable (familiar) and fruity. An easy, smooth drinker for a $5 spot.

Rating: Buy It

Interested in reading more about the Benefactor Cellars Red?

  • Jeff from Viva la Wino thinks its “actually quite good, especially for $5″. High praise for those that know him…
  • Matt from Trader Joe’s Wine Notes says “Dennis Patton has set the bar very high for wines now occupying the $5 price point”.
  • The folks (or folk) over at Beards & Bellies calls it “a damn fine wine for $4.99″.

2006 Chapillon Priorat Reves

Price: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Latitude Wines

What They Said:

2006 Chapillon Priorat RevesPer Trader Joe’s (pdf) “Tenacity and grace—that’s Priorat. This small region, southeast of Barcelona, is known for its steep hillsides, hot days and unforgiving, slate-based soils (known locally as licorella). Cultivated since the Carthusian monks in the Middle Ages, this formidable terroir, now a Spanish Denominació d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ1), gives rise to grapes that are equal parts perseverance and elegance. Their juice is surreal: intense and stunningly structured with soft tannins. Experience it in Rêves.”

What I Think:

(14%) 40% Carignan, 35% Garnacha, 25% Syrah – Dense and dark in the glass. Aromatically interesting with dark fruit, sweet cigarbox, spice and graphite notes. Supple and dense (again) on entry with tart blackberry flavors this one shows slight creaminess and vanilla on the mid-palate before leading to a short, dry leathery finish with mild tannins. On open it seemed overly oaked but this blew off with time. This wine showed nice structure and balanced throughout. Certainly an interesting find for $9.

Rating: Buy It – This wine might not be for all but if you like a dry, rich, dense wine or are comfortable trying something new at this price point it is worth giving this one a shot.

For those willing to spend just a bit more Joe over at Good Cheap Vino recommends the 2003 Les Mines Priorat which you can pick up as part of the 5 cent sale at BevMo for $12.52 a bottle. Joe has this to say; “This bottle is severely under-priced and could easily take on bottles that are $40-$50.” and compared it to the Reves as so “for $4 more, the Les Mines Priorat 2003 is 20 times better”. I know I am going to try and track a bottle down and you may want to do the same…

2006 Oreana ? Red Table Wine

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2006 Oreana ? Red Table WinePer Oreana Winery “A soft, satiny, sexy wine, with voluptuous black cherry and blackberry fruit, plus layers of chocolate and spices suggestive of cinnamon, mint and more. Powerful and complex, yet open and accessible.”

What I Think:

This one is an offering from the folks at Oreana Winery who you may be familiar with as they are the same folks behind the Project Happiness label and Mission Point Pinot Noir that have long graced the Trader Joe’s shelves. Now I’ve heard from many over the years that were fans of this wine but had yet to try it and figured it was due time to rectify that so on a recent visit in the cart it went. The bottle says “Mistake of fate?” and tell the story of an accidental blending of two lots. Funny, guessing the NV bottling also said the same. The story just doesn’t hold water anymore (just like the Trentatre but we will save that for another day). Good thing this winemaker doesn’t work for me or he’d be fired! Or would he? Let’s see what the bottle has to say?

(14.5%) Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon – Dark, almost opaque in the glass. Once you get near this one it is cloying from the get go. Big, flabby and sweet on the palate if you view the glass half empty. For the half full crew this comes across as a big, relatively smooth fruit bomb with puckering black cherry flavors that shows dry pepper notes on the back end. Either way there is lingering heat on the finish. How do you view the glass? I’m half empty on this one as it seems like a headache waiting to happen. That said feel free to give it a shot if it sounds like it may be up your alley…

Rating: 12th Bottle

Stay tuned for more reviews soon! Unfortunately most of mine as of last have been of the self and peer type as we go through performance reviews at the day job… Hope you are all drinking well!

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra

Now Randall Grahm is a character and I mean that in the very best way. I’ve previously referred to him as the Dos Equis man of the wine world and he never ceases to amuse. Be it his thoughts on blending the latest Cigare Volant or his letter introducing (pdf) the Contra he always finds a way to entertain.

So what is this Contra all about? For starters where did it get its name? From the Gonsalves vineyard in Contra Costa county from which 79% of this one hails. Did I mention this vineyard is a field blend? Oh how I love a field blend! The couch? Yip! Apparently in the vineyard there is a lot of “discarded junk lying around including the couch shown in the picture.” Interesting but let’s cut to the chase. How is juice in the bottle…

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards ContraPrice: $14.00*

What They Said:

Per Bonny Doon Vineyard Winemaker and President-for-Life Randall Grahm “Contra unites the earthy rusticity of old-vine carignane – that hard, stoniness that if untempered may be a tad too austere for some – with the luscious, opulent fruitiness of a number of the softer blending grapes. In the wine, you’ve got rocks and raspberries (or maybe they’re mulberries or blackberries), a lively acidity, tannins that are firm but perfectly ripe, and the result is an amazing experience that is both intellectual and sensual. It is hard to really articulate why this experience is so special, but the yin and yang of soft and hard, of fruit and earth, creates the most electrifying aesthetic frisson.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) 55% Carignane, 15% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 7% Petite Sirah, 5% Zinfandel and 3% Syrah – Soft nose with sour cherry, forest floor and spice notes. Lively and juicy on the palate this one shows mulberry fruit, a touch of red licorice and a hint of earthiness on a mineral, stony backbone. Its firm acidity & structure throughout make this super food friendly and a match for many a meal. As it evolves in the glass the fruit becomes plush and take center stage with the mineral notes moving to the edges. The finish is smooth and short with barrel notes but the lingering effect is slightly hot. On the plus side it lasts for ages while open under the screw top. I drank mine over a week plus and saw little oxidative effects even on day 8. With the constant friction between old world and new this is a fun wine to spend time with and I am already on the lookout for another bottle. Feel free to grab some for yourself while you wait for my follow up report…

Rating: Interesting <- a new rating in honor of Randall who believes as I do that the “wine tasting experience is far more about the experiencer than the experienced.”

Interested in reading more about the Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra?

  • RJ’s Wine Blog discusses Randall Grahm literature skills and calls the Contra a “Great ‘good’ wine.”
  • Jon Bonne writes it has the “perfect profile for a big meal.”
  • Palate Press calls it a mix of elegance and muscle and recommends pairing it with roast duck.
  • Katie of Gonzo Gastronomy says “All that for $14? I’d have gladly paid $20…”

*this wine was received as press sample

2008 Dos Brotos Ranch Red

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Dos Brotos Ranch RedPer the bottle “Every vine we grow us meticulously hand pruned annually by our extended family of vineyard workers. We cherish and respect these folks for the expertise they bring to our vineyards. All of our vines are spur pruned, leaving two buds per spur (Dos Brotos). “Dos Brotos, Por Favor” is a term you will hear echoed throughout our vineyards every pruning season from January through March. Our Ranch Red is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Tempranillo. So please try our wines and like our extended family would say Disfrutalo! (Enjoy)”

What I Think:

As mentioned in my value hunting post this one is a kitchen sink blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo that per my friends at the TTB appears to be at least loosely affiliated with the folks at Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Dark garnet in color with nice, dark fruit and spice on a pleasant nose. Juicy and jammy on the palate with dark black cherry fruit flavors. Smooth but completely lacking in tannins and acidity. This allows barrel notes to quickly assert themselves before turning damp and earthy which ultimately dries out the finish. While this wine has redeeming qualities and is easy to drink I find myself walking away undecided. At times this wine seems rich and velvety (especially at 13.5% abv) and at others fruit bomb-ish with a disappointingly short finish. Will I give it a 2nd try? At $7 I’m thinking not but you never know…

Rating: 12th Bottle

What did others have to say about the Dos Brotos Ranch Red? Here’s some thoughts from the gang at justagrape.com.