2007 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel

2007 St. Francis Old Vines ZinfandelPrice: $19.99 via St. Francis Winery*

What They Said:

Per Wine Enthusiast “A strong Zinfandel, tannic, high in alcohol and fruity, and brimming with wild forest cherry and raspberry liqueur, exotic spices and sweet sandalwood. Drink it with a juicy cheeseburger, a spicy beef burrito and just a nice roast chicken.” Steve Heimoff (2/1/2011) — 86 points

What I Think:

(15.5%) 86% Zinfandel, 5% Mixed Black Grapes, 3% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah – Having family in Europe this is what I would think of taking them to join something in quintessential California style (for better or worse). Ripe, forward fruit, jammy, creamy with a sweet toasted vanilla oak finish that shows some pepper spice while lingering warmly. Not my style but I know many that do like this one. Well-made and widely available at ~$17.

Wine Geek Notes: 41,000 cases made, made from vines a minimum of 50 years old, field blended.

Rating: Good but…(not my style. I prefer the Zin’s from Sausal or Sobon)

*This wine was received as a press sample

2009 Hillgate Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Hillgate ZinfandelPer the bottle “Just beyond these gates are the majestic hillside vineyards that reach into untouched and untamed wilderness of a region known for its beauty and clear air, where the wines have become notable for their fruit forward syle and awards are more and more abundant. Welcome to Hillgate, Gate to the Hills Lake County, California.” <- Wow that is helpful, isn't it!

What I Think:

My friends at the TTB tell me this label is tied to the Laird Family Estate in Napa. As my initial search turned up no connection between the estate and Lake County the origins of this one will remain a mystery. I’ve reached out to the winery to see if they would be willing to share any information and will certainly let you know if I hear back. But for now onto the main event…

(14.9%) To cut to the chase the most impressive Trader Joe’s wine find I’ve had in some time. Big nose of dark, peppery fruit. Smooth, rich and bold on the palate. Certainly fruit forward but without turning jammy (as many at this price point do). Soft tannins with a nice vanilla (barrel driven) creaminess on a pleasant, lasting peppery finish. A perfect match for summer barbeque. I plan on grabbing at least six more. Give it a try and let me know what you think…

Rating: Buy It

And while you’re out and about you might want to grab the Rousanne under the same label to see if it hits the mark. Mine is chilling in the refrigerator now…

2009 Zin 91 Old Vine Zinfandel

2009 	Zin 91 Old Vine ZinfandelPrice: $13.00*

What They Said:

Per Opici Wines “The aromas are classic of an old vine Zinfandel: spicy and jammy. Notes of black pepper, raspberry, and boysenberry lead to hints of cinnamon, sandalwood, and clove to create the bouquet. On the palate, the wine carries over the spicy notes, as well as black cherry and cassis flavors. The oak-aging gives it a supple and velvety texture. Fruit-forward with balanced acidity and alcohol.”

What I Think:

From what I have been told this wine came to be when wine industry legend Hubert Opici woke up on his 91st birthday and decided to make a wine similar to what the family made at the old (now defunct) Opici Winery in Cucamonga — an easy drinking, affordable, everyday red wine made principally from Zinfandel grapes. Sounds like a good story. My first thought was who is Hubert Opici? Quite an interesting and well respected man I’ve since learned (see bottom of this post). And my second thought was Cucamonga as in Rancho? Southern California? And it is true that once upon a time they were indeed making wine in this area. Stories aside they don’t matter unless the wine is good. Did this one deliver? Here’s my notes…

(14%) 82% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah – The nose here is near perfect Zinfandel with nice dark fruit, spice and barrel notes. This one is juicy and smooth with nice ripe berry (raspberry and boysenberry) fruit on the palate. From there a nice black pepper spicy component emerges on the mid-palate. This is a big wine but maintains a semblance of balance between the fruit, acidity and alcohol. The finish brings a full plethora of barrel flavors; oak, creaminess and vanilla, that linger on with nice tingly tannins.

Now I don’t know about you but for me the days of drinking a truly enjoyable Zinfandel for $10 are long gone. There are plenty of big jammy fruit bomb available in this price range but I prefer something much more balanced. Given the $11 this one is likely to cost you at retail it is well worth the price of entry. If you find it be sure to let me know what you think…

Rating: Buy It

Interested in learning more about Hubert Opici?

*this wine was received as press sample

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

2007 Fife Sonoma County Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Fife Sonoma County ZinfandelPer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “Inviting – like a warm hug with the right amount of squeeze. Juicy cherries and warm, sweet cloves harmonize with soft French oak. The finish holds on just long enough.”

Subsequent searches turn up numerous reports of bankruptcy at Fife Vineyards. The note of interest to me here is that these articles are dated circa 2006 and this wine is labeled ’07. That leaves a nagging question I can’t answer. Did the previous management bottle these wines and unload them? Or did someone buy the label? This latter scenario becomes particular interesting as for the life of me I can’t find any reference to a previous vintage of Fife Sonoma Zin. If anyone out there has info please pass it along…

What I Think:

First a few bits of insider information from the Encintas Trader Joe’s Food and Wine Blog (check’em out if you haven’t yet). They were able to track down some facts on this one that I couldn’t track down on my own. The first being that the suggested retail on this one was $28.99. The 2nd being that this is a blend of 91% Zinfandel and 9% Carignane. I need to get looped into these sources!

So what’s in the bottle? You are greeted with hot, cherry cedar notes on the nose. The initial palate shows dried herb and cherry flavors. The mid-palate is juicy and at points slightly sour. Throughout the palate is subdued and forced to the background as velvety, warm, oaky notes constantly push them self to the fore. This isn’t a bad thing; it is a pleasing warm with spice box notes on the edge. This one doesn’t offer much complexity but other than that nothing bad to say. A straightforward wine, what you see is what you get. Few will be disappointed; a nice match for spicy chili. I’m not rushing to buy more but thinking it has a pretty good chance of ending up on my table again. Perhaps I’ll try the Cuvee first…

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Shannon Ridge Zinfandel

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Shannon Ridge ZinfandelPer Shannon Ridge “Shannon Ridge Vineyards & Winery, on the steep mountain slopes in Lake County, uses sustainable farming practices to produce the finest mountain fruit possible. Our winemakers are impassioned to create wines that represent the best of our vineyards. This Zinfandel is a bold wine with nice flavors of white mocha, creamy vanilla, raspberry, strawberry, clove, and rhubarb with a long finish on the palate. Served with aged cheese or spicy beef dishes.”

What I Think:

This one (a blend of 76% Zinfandel, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petite Sirah) started all fruit and with time began to show a bit more balance as the acidity started to break through. This is the inverse of what I usually experience with wines, wonder how come… In the end it had a nice tight, sour cherry flavor profile (almost akin to the candy) and was loaded with deep, warm fruit and spicy, peppery notes on the finish. This one represents a pleasant alternative to the somewhat typical jammy fruit bombs you see in this price range. Definitely worth a try if you enjoy balanced Zins.

2008 Shannon Ridge Wrangler RoseShannon Ridge also offers a Syrah (which joshiemac has great things to say about), a Sauvignon Blanc (heard mixed results) and a Wrangler Rose which I apparently drank before I was able to take notes. That must be a good sign. Perhaps I’ll pick up a four pack on my next visit though my instinct is telling me these may already be gone from Trader Joe’s for good.

Rating: Buy It

2006 Sobon Estate Rocky Top Zinfandel

Price: $12.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

2006 Sobon Estate Rocky Top Zinfandel Per K&L Wines “Rocky Top Tennessee may be home sweet home to Lynn Anderson, but Rocky Top in Amador is home to some fine old Zinfandel vines, and that’s good news for all of us! A very shy producing vineyard with soils of volcanic ash and boulders, this site produces old vine Zinfandel of immense proportions. The very floral, vanilla and raspberry jam aromas are very forward and inviting. The flavors match the aromas, with a rich juicy component. The finish is long and velvety-rich.”

What I Think:

For those that say twitter doesn’t sell wine like Steve Heimoff, here is a firm example of where it does. After coming across @sobonwine hearing about their wines my curiosity was piqued. This led me to K&L Wines where I paid for this bottle of Rocky Top with money. Wow a real example of selling something on twitter… Oh, by the way Dell also made a little bit of money via twitter. But I digress, let’s get to the wine.

This wine is 92% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Syrah, 2% Carignane and 2% Barbera. K&L nicely describes the terroir of this wine above. On the nose you are greeted with rich aromas of dark berries and dusty mocha chocolate. On the palate you are greeted with more purple fruits; plums and blackberries, with a slightly tart cherry component that along with the tannins keeps this wine in perfect balance. The finish was long, velvety and delightful. This is the best Zinfandel I have been introduced to in a while and another reminder that I need to get out and visit Amador County (and Lodi too!) soon. There are a ton of interesting wines coming out of the area that are friendly on the pocketbook. This one is a great example of that and I highly recommend it for Zindependence Day. What are you drinking tomorrow?

Rating: Wow!

2004 Santino Sierra Foothills Zinfandel

2004 Santino Sierra Foothills ZinfandelPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per No Merlot on the ’03 “The Santino Zin is sturdy and full of rich raspberries and blackberries, plums, and spice aromas. The mouth is flush with berry fruit that hook up with almonds, cinnamon and pepper that finishes with slight tartness but shows some sense of harmonic convergence. Nice Zin for the price. Matches well with spicy and hearty foods.” (editors note: they also give great back story on how Santino became part of Renwood)

What I Think:

Per my database here this is my fourth bottle of the Santino Zin and I have yet to post, shame on me. Why not? Let’s blame it on research. The Santino site only mentions the ’06, so I emailed them to check in on the ’04. Never heard back. Then, from the above, I learned of the internal dysfunction that led to Santino becoming part of Renwood, a very well respected winery from the region. Regardless Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator had this to say of the winery in his recent book ”One of the leading wineries in the Sierra Foothills.” Couple all of this with my curiosity of the region, they grow a ton of off the beaten path grapes (Italian mostly) and people whose opinion I respect such as Megan, of Wine Clubbie being such huge fans of the area, and I have been thrilled to see this time and time again as I visit Trader Joe’s…

On to the main event. This wine is simple but a winner. On the nose a mix of red fruit and wood. In the mouth you get dark forward fruit with a dry, tannic herbal mid-palate (think sage) that leads to a slightly sour note reminiscent of raspberries. The finish is chewy, lingering and peppery. This wine falls in line with what I think of as typical from this region; particularly the finish. All in all, well balanced and worth the money. Another wine that fits this profile is the TJ’s Growers Reserve Zin. Same price, just as nice; but fruitier…

As for the Santino, I am going to get some more. After I do so everyone else should feel free to do the same.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Gravity Hills Tumbling Tractor Zinfandel

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery which seems to be on the ’02 but the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer used the same description so we will roll with it….”But it all results in a delightful wine with elegance and complexity that’s lacking in some of the super-ripe, alcoholic Zins from the area. Sniff the exuberant bouquet of raspberries, blackberries, cinnamon and ginger. Feel the ample roundness in your mouth, with layers of fruit, spice and oak continually unfolding. Savor the long, balanced finish.”

What I Think:

This goes for $15 on the winery website. Again amazing and curious as to how Trader Joe’s can offer it at $5. Perhaps the winery is defunct? Nothing on the website is updated since August 2006.

Now to the bottle, not overly fruity, more dry…is it Zin or is it just any red? No berries and only a bit of the spice that I would expect. Mint and hints of herb are more apparent and remind me more of a Cab and that is even before the slightly medicinal finish. Not over the top like the Red Flyer so it doesn’t seem like this was made in the lab.

All that said, not sure why I want to give this one a pass. Guessing because I wished I liked it more as I’d feel like I was getting a steal. I did grab the syrah, perhaps that will make me feel better! As for this one you should take a pass, if you want a $5 Zin grab this TBD offering…

Rating: Skip It

2006 Old Moon Zinfandel

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per corkd.com “LOTS of juicy cherry in the nose, along with noticeable alcohol that more breathing helps to dissipate. Hint of pepper. The taste is thick & very juicy, w/ cherry & grape dominating. It’s heartier than the 2005. At 14% it should last awhile, too, so I’m going back for a couple more bottles. Good stuff!”

What I Think:

As you may know I have been on the hunt for a good TJ’s Zinfandel for some time. After seeing this in the Fearless Flyer and on an end cap promotional placement I thought I would give it a go. It is made by the Trader Moon Wine Co. which I would presume is an exclusive Trader Joe’s operation as they are responsible for anything with a moon in it at TJ’s. Honey Moon, Purple Moon, Tuscan Moon, etc.

So the “Old Vines” designation likely raised my hopes a bit too much here as I was hoping for varietal characteristics at a minimum in this $5 bottling. Instead I felt like I found half-concocted over the top fruit flavors. A ton of cherry which is not typical of a Zin and a bit of plum and spice as well. That said at this price point I would take it over the Cline or the Ravenswood, but if I want a sure thing I’ll grab the Rocking Horse.

All in all, sometimes I know I expect too much and this may be one of them. I’ll likely grab it again at some point to make sure my initial inclinations were correct. If I do, you’ll be the first to hear.

Rating: 12th Bottle