2007 Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage

2007 Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell's MeritagePrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

There is nothing official here. Though the front of the bottle was appealing the back was filled with lyrics I’ve chosen not to retype here. That said feel free to friend up Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage on Facebook.

What I Think:

This Jebediah Drinkwell comes from a rich pedigree. It’s producer, Central Coast Wine Warehouse, has been behind many great values such as the Pancake Cellars, the Caretaker Pinot and my personal favorite the Franc Merlot.

This one reminds of the Franc Merlot from the word go. The blend here is 60% Cab Franc, 27% Merlot, 11% Cab and 1% Malbec and Petite Verdot (versus 70% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot and 4% Petite Sirah for the Franc Merlot) . The heavy Cab Franc is evident throughout this one starting with a healthy dose of green pepper on the nose. The palate shows blackberries with a dusty chocolate component emerging which leads to a nice spicy, white pepper finish. This one drinks smoothly.

2007 Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell's MeritageThat leaves one question, is it worth $5 more than the Franc Merlot? I don’t think so. In fact, given these come from the same producer, have nearly the same blend and are labeled with successive vintages (2006 Franc Merlot and 2007 Jebediah Drinkwell) a conspiracy theorist may say this is the next vintage of that same wine with a different label at double the cost. The time they individually appeared on the shelf may debunk that theory but either way you can still feel free to buy wines from Central Coast Wine Warehouse on sight. This one makes them 4 for 4, albeit at a bit pricier than I would like…

Rating: Buy It

For a few more takes check out Trader Joe’s Wine Compendium (pro) or The Cab Franco Files (con)

2007 Bodegas Luzon Jumilla

2007 Bodegas Luzon JumillaPrice: $6.99 @ K&L Wines imported by The Henry Wine Group

What They Said:

Via wine.com “The 2007 Luzon is 65% Monastrell and 35% Syrah. Purple-colored, it exhibits a bouquet of spice box, violets, and blueberry. On the palate this smooth-textured wine offers generous savory fruit, good balance, and a pure finish. Drink it over the next 2-3 years.” – Wine Advocate (08/08)

Enthusiast’s #1 top value wine of 2008 and 90 points! They write: “Truly captivating wine for under $10? Yes, Luzón’s Monastrell-Syrah blend is exactly that. It delivers huge plum and spice notes, with tobacco, herbs and smoked meat working their way into the game. Remains powerfully fruity and spicy in the mouth, with a long, minty, medicinal finish. Competes with thousands of wines priced higher. Overdelivers by a lot!” (12/15/2008)

From Wine Spectator: “Smoky and inky notes, along with licorice, frame flavors of cassis, mineral and game in this firm, juicy red, which is focused and expressive.” (02/09)

What I Think:

Couple the above praise with the price tag and I’m surprised it took as long as it did for this one to show up on my radar. On opening this wine you know it is no joke. A huge nose filled with black pepper and dark fruits. On the palate it virtually explodes with juicy plum and blackberry flavors that comingle nicely with spice and herb notes in the palate. Towards the end the fruit muscles these to the side and turns slightly tart which leads us into a dry, tannic finish that lingers. Nothing subtle about this one, it beats you over the head.

On a side note, it was interesting to be reading Alice Feiring book, How I Saved the World from Parkerization while drinking this bottle. Guessing this is exactly the type of bottle she had in her crosshairs as she was holding that pen in her hand. While I do fancy the pure, natural wines she advocates for, to me, there is a time and place for these fruit bombs. My only complaint is that there is no reason on earth this bottle should not have been under a screw top. So grab a bottle, make something very hearty (think hamburger or something rich with sauce), pull the cork and enjoy this juicy quaffer.

Rating: Buy It

2007 Chariot Gypsy

2007 Chariot GypsyPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Jim Neal “The Chariot Gypsy 2007 is a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese from great vineyards in the Napa Valley, and Sonoma, and Monterey Counties. Winemaker Jeff Hunsaker describes the wine like this: “The 2007 ‘Gypsy’ displays a dark garnet color with a clear violet edge. It shows mixed fresh berry aromas — raspberry and strawberry, with hints of white pepper and pastry. Very clean and lively with juicy berry fruit, firm acidity and a touch of smooth tannin. Excellent and versatile food wine particularly well suited for pork chops and poultry”. We think it is the perfect everyday red wine!”

What I Think:

For those that missed the shockwave heard around the Trader Joe’s world the Gypsy is back. After falling in love with the ’05 vintage and completely missing the ’06 I wasn’t going to allow myself to be short changed again. So when it began showing up in the wine aisle in early June I began my aimless search around the bay area for my beloved Gypsy. On my fifth stop, in San Rafael, I finally scored and two cases went into the cart (+1 extra so we didn’t have to open to scan). Whew, what a relief.

Now onto the wine itself. The ’07 is a blend of 37% Cabernet, 33% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Syrah and 10% Sangoviese which is quite different than the previous vintages. Curious and hopeful I pour the wine in the glass, what’s the verdict? On the nose I get wet wood and faint floral and spice notes. On the palate it is lively, bright and juicy with loads of fruit. Raspberries that are a tad under ripe add acidity that is balanced by a subtle sweetness. This is followed by nice fruity, peppery, spicy finish. A fruit forward (some may say bomb instead) effort best served with food, you name it pizza, burgers, bbq. Any kind will work. Many recommend giving this one 15-30+ minutes to breathe so open it while cooking. If you’ve never experienced the Chariot Gypsy before this is a delightful $5 super value wine.

2007 Chariot Gypsy
Those that have experienced this wine before have a bit more of a conundrum. This effort is much simpler, not complex and lacks the depth of previous vintages. I compared the ’05 to the Rosenblum Heritage Clone Petite Sirah and felt it compared favorably with many $20 bottles. Yes, the label, retailer and price remain the same but given the changes in blend percentage and a new winemaker it is best not to compare this to previous vintages. Take it for what it is; “what you see is what you get” and that would be an easy drinking, summer BBQ wine. Enjoy!

Rating: Buy It (with a caveat, if you like this one treat it as a Bulk Buy as when it is gone, it is gone for good. Wondering if it is available at your local TJ’s? Check here

Editor’s Note (07-Jul-2009): Added a note on letting this one breathe for 15-30 minutes if you don’t initially find it agreeable.

2006 San Greal Red Supper Wine

2006 San Greal Red Supper WinePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “San Greal the French word for “Holy Grail” is derived from the ancient words sang real, translated to mean “royal blood”. Our “San Greal” Red Supper Wine is produced from our estate vineyards using sustainable farming practices. This wine displays brillant berry aromas with medium astringency and a long expansive finish.”

What I Think:

I hit it off with this wine as soon as I saw it on the shelf. Anytime a new label appears in the Trader Joe’s Wine aisle you know I am going to give it a look. So what did we have here? A red blend from Mendocino (everyone knows I am a big fan, right?) that is humble enough to call itself a “Red Supper Wine”. In the cart it goes. Landing on the San Greal Winery site the good vibes continued. It turns out that the San Greal label is under the Jeriko Estate umbrella which is owned and run by Danny Fetzer. Fetzer? Mendocino? Ring any bells? Danny’s brother Jim, as part of Ceago Vinegarden, was responsible for the 2006 Dynamic Mendocino Red Table Wine which was #1 on the Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List while it lasted. It appears Danny is taking a page out of his big brothers book. Actually, I have no idea who is the older brother but both are also fans of sustainable farming and have had their vineyards Demeter certified as biodynamic.

So what about the juice in the bottle? This one is a blend of 55% Syrah, 23% Merlot and 22% Sangiovese. The nose greets you with inviting dark red fruit and spices. On the palate I am immediately reminded of a Cote du Rhone offering. This one took a bit to open up, it was bottled in late February, but grew on me more and more with each sip over the four days I sampled it. Cherries mixed with blackberries coat the the palate while a proper dose of tannins keeps this perfectly balanced, that said it may be too acidic for some. This one has Top 10 potential and has at minimum joined my CdR rotation with the Perrin and J. Vidal-Fleury. Grab one of these and be on the lookout for other varietals from this label. Their website mentions a Pinot Noir and Cabernet as coming soon, hopefully they make it to Trader Joe’s! The Wine Traveler who had an inside scoop on this one, seems to think they may. Let me know if anyone sees them…

Rating: Buy It

2006 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone

2006 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du RhonePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Brilliant garnet red color. Red fruits and spices on the nose. The mouth reveals rounded tannins (thanks to the stay in the oak barrels), a warm and full-bodied wine with an uncommon and lasting aromatic intensity. The proof that Côtes-du-Rhône can be a serious and elegant wine.”

What I Think:

This wine seems to make an annual appearance at Trader Joe’s and stays briefly before disappearing until the next vintage. This time I grabbed a bottle before it had the chance. Sometimes you have a sense of a brand or label and this has always been one of those cases where I considered this a well pedigreed bottle of $7 wine. I knew J. Vidal-Fleury was an old and famed negociant firm (founded in 1781), what I didn’t know is that they were acquired by Etienne Guigal in 1985 which just further enhances the pedigree referred to above.

Shortly after this wine arrived in the house I pulled the cork out and was greeted by a peppery nose and red fruits aromas. The initial presence on the palate was a bit plain and hot (perhaps tannic) but as it transitioned to the mid-palate lush fruits appeared turning slightly sour as it lingered and was accompanied by white pepper notes on a light tannic finish. The blend seemed to be focused on the grenache side of the typical Cotes du Rhone blending combination thought I couldn’t find any information to validate that. Perhaps I will contact the importer.

This one lives up to its pedigree of being a nice, perfectly balanced blend with fruit and spice making it a good pairing for most spicy and/or meat dishes. I’ll be getting another bottle and would suggest you grab one to try as well…

Rating: Buy It

Editor’s Note (17-Jun-2009): Received an email from the importer that the blend percentage on this one is 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 10% Other.

2005 Callabriga Dao Red

2005 Callabriga Dao RedPrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaton Inc.

What They Said:

Per wine.com “CALLABRIGA DÃO 2005 is deep red in colour with lively aromas of fresh and ripe fruits, and has some notes of resin and aromatic herbs. Full-bodied, it is abundant and firm in tannins, with lively acidity. This acidity is still present on the finish which is lively with notes of fruits.

Callabriga Dão 2005 is produced from a blend of red varieties Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro Preto, expressing the region’s characteristic sensory liveliness.

#57 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2008″

What I Think:

I came across both this Dao and the Douro offering at Trader Joe’s. Having long coveted a TJ’s Portuguese offering (2nd only to my desire for a $5 quaffable Malbec) I grabbed both despite the $9 (lofty by my standard TJ’s price point) at first blush. For those that may not know Portugal has long been known for dessert wines and has only recently begun focusing on producing quality red wines for exports (I know this is a massive generalization). The good news for those of us stateside is that are ultra-affordable. One of my first wine loves was a $9 bottle of Ramos Pinto, ever since I’ve been smitten with these offerings.

Now onto this one, pure pleasure from the start. Rich blackberries on the nose with pepper and mint in the periphery. The color is a dense purple. On the palate you are greeted with flavorful fruit on a dry, leathery, backbone which lingers/tickles on a lasting finish. Velvety smooth and smoky throughout. Warning! I like drier reds and am a sucker for Portugal. That said this is the best sub $10 bottle of Portuguese wine I’ve had in years…Skip the Douro, but splurge and grab a bottle or two of this now. Were it a few dollars cheaper I would likely be buying by the case.

Rating: Buy It

2006 Dynamic Mendocino Red Table Wine

 2006 Dynamic Red Table WinePrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Ceago Vinegarden well not much about the wine but they did have this to say about biodynamic farming; “Our Vineyards are grown and certified Biodynamic by Demeter which adheres to the DYNAMIC farming methods established in the early 1920s by Rudolf Steiner. The Biodynamic Tower on our property is where, during cycles of the year, homeopathic teas are prepared to enhance and regulate plant growth and soil fertility which brings forward the unique qualities that this wine demonstrates. This is our commitment to you…think DYNAMIC!”

I’ll shoot the winery an email and see if they have any thoughts they want to share on the wine itself…

What I Think:

Another wine I have long enjoyed and yet to post. Being easily intrigued by new labels I was quickly drawn to this offering. Interesting label, from Mendocino, seemingly tasty blend and made with care for the environment. A lot to like, and despite the high $9 price point (anyway for me, especially at Trader Joe’s) in the cart it went. Upon getting home looked up Ceago Vinegarden who is behind the label and found that Jim Fetzer, who sold his eponymous label in 1992, is behind the offering which they are selling exclusively at Trader Joe’s. Reason #1,001 I love Trader Joe’s wine. The cheapest bottle Ceago Vinegardens sells on their site, $18. These grapes are biodynamic so you know they are coming from the same place and grown with the same care. Yes, I know the best of the bunch are used elsewhere but still you get the idea. These are high quality grapes. And I get to drink them for half the cost!

Onto the main event; the blend here is 55% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose immediately impresses with a blend of earthy tones and fruit aromas. On the tongue you take notice immediately as the fruit packs a punch, not that it is overpowering but there is a richness and warmth to it that grabs your attention. Towards the middle of the palate a nice earthy structure emerges and the fruit become chewy. A nice tanginess develops which leads to a lasting dry, earthy, lip smacking finish. The finish lingers on with light tannins tickling your throat and a hint of mint. I wouldn’t have thought the Merlot characteristics to be so subdued given it is the predominant grape in the blend. The Cab twins strike a nice balance and the overall result is impressive. I was surprised by the negative sentiments I found over on Cellar Tracker. This one is a winner in my book.

Hopefully TJ’s gets the sister offering from Lake County soon. I am already drooling thinking back to one of my all time favorite finds this Beringer Zin. Yes it is pricey but well worth it. If you see either of these grab them on sight. If your budget allows don’t be afraid to buy in quantity.

Rating: Buy It

2007 Chateau Bois de Lamothe Cotes de Duras Red

2007 Chateau Bois de Lamothe Cotes de Duras RedPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by L. Watson Inc.

What They Said:

Per Coffee Like Wine Another great affordable wine. I think I got this for less than $10 at Trader Joe’s.

On the nose, lots of green veggies, especially asparagus, as well as some red berries.

In the mouth, the asparagus flavor carries through from the nose, and there are also cranberries and some herbs. This is a very tart wine, good acidity and some tannins on the finish. At 12.5 percent alcohol level, this is a wine you can drink several glasses of during dinner and not stagger away in a daze.

Red wines made from the Cotes de Duras region use Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec grapes, according to The Wine Info Site.

What I Think:

Not sure what made me grab this but when I did I was sure it was from the south of France, but it appears the Duras neighbors Bordeaux. On opening the nose is super green or is it all mint? Nice light tannin taste, not much fruit. With time the nose is getting interesting, sensing some spice. Start thinking grenache based but can’t be given the region. Where does the dryness come from….Cab Franc? Bet your bottom dollar I am buying another bottle to try and figure it out. For now let’s call it a 12th bottle but stay tuned for more…

btw, found this blend percentage randomly in my notes Merlot 52%, Cabernet Sauvignon 27%, Cabernet Franc 20%, and Malbec 1%. Thinking I must have gotten it off the bottle. Will confirm when I grab another.

Rating: 12th Bottle

NV Fleur de Maison Red Table Wine

Price: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Bercut & Vandervoort

What They Said:

Per the bottle Round and velvety with a bouquet of ripe fruit flavors, this dry red wine perfectly compliments a variety of meat dishes, pastas and cheese. Produced in France by a family with a long tradition of exceptions winemaking, Fleur de Maison offers recognized quality and affordability. A great everyday wine to always keep on hand. To be served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

What I Think:

When I saw this one on the shelf I had it confused with the La Maison from George Duboeuf (of Beaujolais fame, almost that time!) in my head, so at $3 it seemed worth a shot. As I searched for information I quickly realized my mistake. Surprisingly I was able to track down the importer and thought I had info but alas a 404 error. I emailed to see if they could share any notes on this wine but have yet to hear back.

NV Fleur de Maison Red Table Wine down the drainHopefully you saw my twitter feed on this one. When I find bad wines bad my first option is to try and ignore them… Don’t write tasting notes, don’t try to figure out what is wrong. Keep sipping and hope it gets better. Option one failed. I almost dumped it which (almost) never happens (this would be the 2nd time in like 500 bottles). That said I did open something else. I put a cork in this but wasn’t holding out much hope for another try tomorrow which is bad wine option #2. Alas, no luck which left me with only option #3, drink it when you are already drunk. Given the two youngsters in my household I didn’t see being able to put that into practice anytime soon so down the drain it went. If you have to have a bottle under $3 stick to the Two Buck Chuck, hear the Shiraz is the best now. If you can afford a fiver check the latest Top 10 list for recommendations. But please, keep this $3 in your pocket.

Rating: Avoid It

*photo by j. botter

2005 Chariot Gypsy

2005 Chariot Gypsy

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Zhadi’s Den “The label shows a woman in a red head scarf astride a chariot, very much in the vein of a Major Arcana tarot card. The back only says it was bottled by Jim Neal wines in St. Helena, California. Nothing about varietals. I have no idea what grapes were used in the making of this wine (although its rich, spicy characteristics lead me to suspect a zinfandel or syrah in the blend). The price tag? $4.99. The placard in the store said One Time Buy. When it’s gone, it’s gone. So I had to try it. We took it to the SinC meeting and cracked it open aong with an inexpensive Spanish cava. The cava was okay. The Chariot?

…Drooool…”

What I Think:

Wow, this Jim Neal guy (found on the back of the bottle) is a tough one to track down. But after spending some quality time with my friends at Google (your welcome!) I was able to get to the bottom of this one. I was able to track down both the site for the winery which is terribly out of date and in desperate need of my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services and his first love which happens to be Verjus which I need to look into further (Jessie any pointers…). Fortunately for all of us, his wines are much more approachable than the brand behind them. As mentioned above I was tipped off to this one by Zhadi’s Den and immediately picked up three bottles. Those are now all empty and I am here to sing this wines accolades as well…

In a word “winner, winner”. The nose seemed almost typical California with rich, dark, musty fruit notes. On the palate it seemed very familiar; silky smooth and bold with heavy mint overtones. Then it struck me, this wine had a resounding resemblance to one of my favorites, the Rosenblum San Francisco Bay Petite Sirah. Despite Dana’s report that it is a blend of “Sangiovese, Petite Syrah, Syrah, and Cab” I am guessing this is 60-70% Petite Sirah minimum….And the remaining is likely Syrah (or at least mostly…) The finish was a lasting mix of dark fruits and dry, tingling tannins, extremely pleasant. Get yourself some now as I am heading out to clear out the bay area stores soon…

In the times of this economy I can unequivocally tell you this wine and the Franc Merlot are easily the best $5 bottles of wine I have seen at Trader Joe’s in some time. If you are used to spending $15 or more a bottle and stumbled across this site looking for ways to cut back your budget start here and start fast!

Rating: Bulk Buy