2009 Trajarinho Vinho Verde

Price: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Vinos Unico

What They Said:

2009 Trajarinho Vinho VerdePer K&L Wines “Classic, dry, fizzy Vinho Verde does not get much better than this! This is one of our favorites: crisp, citric, relatively low in alcohol and in a classically dry style. Don’t let the deliciousness fool you, though; this white offers up a whole lot more complexity than the humble price might suggest. More than likely, one could attribute this amazing quality to two factors: First, the rock solid reputation and focus on quality of the Adega Cooperativo Regional de Monçao; and second, their reliance on Trajadura and Alvarinho grapes, which deliver wine of greater complexity and texture than the Paderña grape so commonly grown in the rest of the Vinho Verde region.”

What I Think:

Vinho Verde and I have come a long way in the last two years. When I had my first bottle I was still pretty sure that Vinho Verde was a grape varietal. For those that may not know it is in fact a wine region nestled along the Douro river (map) near the Spanish border. Over the years I’ve appreciated and enjoyed a handful of these wines but attending the Port4lio Tasting back in May reopened my eyes to them. This is one of those I tried then and here were my notes; “An unoaked blend of 65% Alvarinho and 35% Trajadura this one clean and crisp with nice lemon flavors and a bit of spritziness on a very refreshing finish. At $9 everyone should have a bottle of this in their fridge”. So what happened when I spent a little more time with it?

More magic! Spritzy even on the pour. This one is potent & lively on the palate with creamy bubbles and a minerally finish with lingering lemon citrus notes. Crisp, tangy and refreshing. A steal of wine that is perfect for summer sipping. But that is not all folks. There is much more to this wine if you open your mind to it with an intriguing stony, mineral component. This wine is suited to pair with food and would be a perfect compliment for ceviche or a chilled seafood platter. I’ll second my recommendation from above that at $9 everyone should have a bottle (or 2) of this in their fridge.

I’ll have much more to come on Vinho Verde (attended a dinner this week where I tasted a bubbly, a ’98 and a red version) and the wines of Portugal (I grabbed 2 of each mentioned in the Portfolio Tasting post) over the summer. In the meantime give this one a try next time you’re spending a sunny afternoon on the patio. You can thank me later…

Rating: Buy It+

2008 Now & Zen Alsace White

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Underdog Wine

What They Said:

2008 Now & Zen Alsace WhitePer the bottle “Every Now & Zen you’ll find your tastebuds capsizing from the spicy surge of Asian cuisine. Now & Zen’s bright tropical fruit of pineapple, mango and lemon twist awaken the delicious flavors of spicy food and bring peace to the palate.

Now & Zen is a blend of Alsatian varietals that will help you relax, chill and enjoy plates like spicy Szechuan shrimp, chicken or pork stir fry. Bring peace to your dinner.”

What I Think:

This wine, one of my favorites, has been a bit of a chameleon. The 2007 started off as the “Wasabi White” before becoming the “Alsace White” that we know it by today. For the 2008 vintage they decided to add the “Helfrich” name prominently to the label. Guess the ’07 was a bigger success then hoped and they decided they would like some recognition. In fairness it seems it should be shared with the importer, Underdog Wine Merchants, who collaborated with them on this project. Either way label changes make me nervous and I was really hoping this effort would be a worthy successor to the ’07 I so much enjoyed.

In a word it was. This vintage was a blend of 29% Pinot Blanc, 25% Sylvaner, 16% Riesling, 15% Muscat, 15% Gewurztraminer and is classically referred to as Edelzwicker. The Muscat was an addition but the remainder of the blend percentage was fairly consistent from the previous year. This wine starts with citrus and floral notes on the nose which translate nicely to the palate where a bit of mango adds a pleasant sweetness to the texture. The tart, crisp finish delivers lemon and mineral flavors that leave you refreshed and ready for your next sip. An easy drinker that is nicely balanced throughout. As you’ll see above they are strong proponents of pairing this one with spicy Asian cuisine and I wholeheartedly agree this is ideal. Factor in my Alsace bias (see the ’07 post) as you see fit but this is a wine I will be buying again.

Rating: Buy It

2009 Pancake Cellars Big Day White

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Pancake Cellars Big Day WhiteAnother in the series of wines made by the ultra secretive Central Coast Wine Services team. It appears this is primarily a warehouse wine making facility where wines such as Hitching Post Pinot are made. Obviously in their spare time though they are making some juice of their own (and not telling the world about it).

What I Think:

It was funny that I came across this cork’d article that discussed labels as a major factor in driving purchases the day after I opened this wine. That is certainly how this one first made it into my home back in 2007. And it is not only this one; the folks behind this outfit our known for distinctive labels. So much so that I know if they have a new offering available before I even pick it up off the shelf. My personal favorite is still the Franc Merlot. But enough about the label, what about the juice?

This one is a blend of 27% Chardonnay, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Viognier, 21% Muscat Canelli and 4% Pinot Blanc. Not looking at the blend when I first opened this one on its own I found it entirely too sweet. Not what I had remembered from prior experiences. Taking that in stride I paired it with shrimp tacos and refried beans the next night and while it didn’t make me pay attention (or take a lot of notes) it came across as a simple, enjoyable (though slightly characterless) wine showing melon and floral notes throughout. I prefer a Riesling or Gewurztraminer with my spicier food but if you don’t this may be a good alternative.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2007 Luna Vineyards Freakout

2007 Luna Vineyards FreakoutPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Luna Vineyards “The 2007 Freakout is a light golden color, with an enticing nose of ripe pear and hints of lemon. On the palate, the mouthwatering acidity of lemon zest mingles with baked bread and coconut milk, accented by a good dose of minerality. The finish is a delicious blend of pears and vanilla.”

What I Think:

This one is a white blend of 35% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Grigio, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Ribolla Gialla. The winery site, where you will find this one for $16, has some great information on the individual vineyards these grapes are sourced from. The most interesting note is on the Ribolla Gialla which I know as Robola from the time I spent in Greece when I was introduced to the varietal during my visit to Gentilini. The Ribolla Gialla in this bottling is sourced from Elsa’s Vineyard in Napa Valley which is proclaimed to be the only vineyard in America planted with this varietal. So what’s in the bottle?

Floral on the nose, the Sauvignon Blanc dominates early. The palate starts crisp with lemon and floral notes emerging towards the middle and carrying through to the finish. While clean and simple this one lacks the acidity that would make it a go-to summer quaffer in my house. That said, guessing many others will like this more than I do. Certainly nothing wrong with this one for $6, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2009 Green Fin White Wine

2009 Green Fin White WinePrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This Green Fin White Table Wine is made entirely from organically grown grapes. This pale straw colored wine has very intense orange blossom and honey aromatics while delivering a full rich body with a core of pear and nectarine flavors followed by a smooth aftertaste that’s long and focussed. Savor the flavor of this organically grown white table wine with your favorite meal or by itself. Enjoy!”

What I Think:

I heard about this one ages before it arrived, can’t quite remember where I initially came across it. PeterB was the first one to mention it here and tipped me off to the blend components; Sultana (which he notes is also known as Thompson Seedless grape), Columbard and Muscat, which I was able to confirm via Wine Business. So what did I think?

Clear in color and clean with citrus and floral notes on the nose. The early palate shows lemon rocks (mineral) which are eventually washed out by a (residual) sugar component that is close to, but not quite, overpowering. The palate finishes slightly flabby and syrupy before a tart finish that shows promises of crispness. Not to be had on its own, perhaps as a Gewurzt/Riesling substitute with spicy foods. Too sweet for me but guessing many people may think differently. I have one more bottle left; so stay tuned. In the meantime I can’t recommend it based on my palate. If it sounds like it is up your alley feel free to give it a go… Fred predicts it is going to be a “million-bottle plus-brand”, what say you?

Rating: Skip It

2008 d’Arenberg Hermit Crab

2008 d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier-MarsannePrice: $11.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Old Bridge Cellars

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Expressive aromatics of lime and lemon with peaches, pears and apricot stone jumping out of the glass and spicy, floral notes in the background. Great balance on the palate, the luscious stone fruit and ginger spices harmonized by savory nuty characters from the Marsanne. Wonderful combination of freshness, complexity and balance between fruit flavour, acid and alcohol.”

What I Think:

I am a long time fan of d’Arnberg; in fact the Stump Jump Red was my first case purchase at Cost Plus World Market ages ago. Having long wanted to try this one a recent episode of wine library tv brought it top of mind and I grabbed a bottle on my recent visit to K&L Wines. Not familiar with Marsanne I learned that it hails from France and is widely planted in the Hermitage AOC. In fact, the Hermit Crab naming of this wine is an ode to these historical ties. Appellation America had a humorous write-up where I learned that Marsanne is most commonly blended and married with Roussanne. From that article this combination with Viognier is described as one of the “few incidents of infidelity forgiven.” One thing Marsanne does share with Viognier is that both are blended in small percentages into red wines. The Marsanne can serve as up to 15% of red blends of the Hermitage and the Viognier with Shiraz in Australia. Now let’s get to the wine…

d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Vintage Ratings

This one is a blend of 72% Viognier and 28% Marsanne and comes with a long record of accolades. As you can see from the graphic this one consistently rates in the 90′s which is remarkable given the price point. With a grilled shrimp salad on the table we poured the wine in the glass. The nose is a load of fruits and minerals with floral notes interweaved. On the palate it starts with citrus, lemon and lime, before turning to peach and fading to a stony finish. This wine is certainly well made and the acid is very well balanced but to me it seems that one component hasn’t integrated and is disrupting the “flow” of this wine towards the end of the mid-palate. You would think I could identify it but honestly I can’t. I’m thinking it is an oily/kerosene/petroleum like component. Other thoughts were the amount of oak used or a bitter, nut flavor. As I mentioned on twitter; I am surprisingly not a fan. Perhaps it’s Marsanne, I intend to seek out a varietal offering to get some more experience here and see if that might be the issue. The nutty qualities leave me wondering if this could have used some more time in the bottle, could this one improve over the years? Don’t let me opinion sway you here, if you intended to try this I urge you to do so. Then let me know what you think… If you have trouble tracking this one down it is available on wine.com.

Rating: Pricey

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/Viognier

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/ViognierPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This complex, elegant white combines the crisp, fresh citrus flavours of Chardonnay with the rich apricot and honeysuckle character of Viogier to produce a smooth, ripe, vibrantly fruity wine. Delicious on its own, this wine is the perfect partner to seafood, fish, chicken, pasta dishes and salads.”

What I Think:

Had a few tips on this wine, that is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Viognier, from readers and wanted to give it a try. This one reminded me of a boxing match. In the first round the underdog, viognier, coated the mouth with full bodied yellow fruit flavors. Round 2, in the mid-palate , was taken by the Chardonnay showing some a lighter frame and some more vibrant fruit. The finish was a slugfest with each wine competing to rise above the other. Overall these two grapes more clashed than integrated but in a pleasant way. The result is a draw. At $4 you get what you pay for. I’m drinking these bottles to find those that I think are worth double that so I’ll pass on grabbing another bottle. That said, you should feel free to do so if it sounds of interest.

Rating: Skip It

2007 Navarro Edelzwicker

2007 Navarro EdelzwickerPrice: $13.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per Navarro Vineyards “A specialty of Alsace is a blend called Edelzwicker; literally a mixture (zwicker) of Alsace’s noble (edel) grapes: Gewürztraminer (34%), Riesling (32%), Pinot Gris (29%), and Muscat (5%). The price may be small but the flavors and aromas are generous and world class.”

What I Think:

I have many previous disclaimers on my love of Navarro, where I am approaching my ten year anniversary as a member of their wine club (interesting post on this in the future), as well as my love of the Alsace since Hubert Keller long ago culinarily romanced me at Fleur de Lys here in San Francisco. With those facts on the table it should come as a surprise to no one that I have been a long time fan of this offering. That despite its lofty, for me, $13 price tag. On the palate you are greeted with some crisp apple, peach and nectarine flavors that quickly become fuller bodied as we head for the mid palate. Here the fruit becomes more delicate and leads to a sweet, honey finish that lingers nicely, inviting you back for your next sip. There are also pretty floral notes throughout. While I agree with Steve Heimoff that this is good on its own or with spicy food; don’t feel the need to define it so narrowly as the sweetness is balanced by acid. This combination makes it food friendly so feel free to pair this across a wider spectrum of cuisines. Think this one is only available from the winery so if you want some you have to go to the source…

Rating: Wow!

2007 Now & Zen Wasabi White

2007 Now & Zen Wasabi WinePrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Underdog Wine

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Every Now & Zen you’ll find your tastebuds about to capsize from the spicy surge of Asian cuisine enticing you to enjoy a calming sip of our Wasabi White. The bright tropical fruit of pineapple, mango and lemon twist awaken the delicious flavors of spicy food and bring peace to your palate.

Grown in the Alsace region of France, the climate develops well-structured, food-friendly wines. Relax, chill and enjoy a splash of Now & Zen with spicy Szechuan shrimp, chicken or pork stir fry. Now & Zen will bring your dinner peace.”

What I Think:

This one had a lot going for it on sight being from the Alsace. You see I’ve been a big fan ever since my wife to be took me out for my first fine dining experience at Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys here in San Francisco. You see he hails from the Alsace and delectably paired the wines of the region with an incredible meal. To even spark those memories is worth the fiver I dropped on this bottle. How’s that for full disclosure.

On getting it home I did a quick search and found that this one has wider distribution than you usually see from a TJ’s offering. Given that I would generally think this is a bad or “marked” lot that someone needed to liquidate. Around the net the best price on this one is $8, $10 appears to be the average. For locals with a BevMo in the area they are asking $11. I also took note of the importer on this one, Underdog Wine Merchants, a new one to the Trader Joe’s wine aisle. On checking their site I was pleased to see another of my favorites; A Mano. Hope to see some more offerings from this importer at Trader Joe’s soon… Too bad the site didn’t have any information on this bottle itself.

This one was a blend, my first from the region, of 40% Sylvaner, 30% Pinot Blanc, 15% Riesling, 15% Gewurztraminer. Thin pineapple notes on a pretty nose, just a hint of sweetness I could do without. On the palate I find lemon notes and perhaps a hint of lychee. The mouth feel is mellow and refreshing without being overly sweet. The mineral structure makes this a nice balanced effort throughout turning pleasantly tart on the finish. For $8 I might be on the fence but at $5, factor my Alsace bias in as you see fit, I already bought another bottle. Next time maybe I’ll even have it with spicy Szechuan shrimp as they recommend.

Rating: Buy It

2007 Pancake Cellars Big Day White

2007 Pancake Cellars Big Day WhitePrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per corkd.com courtesy of bjwdad; “The nose has scents of pear, lychee and spice. And Gewürztraminer dominates the taste, even at only 12% of the stated blend. This wine is DELICIOUS, and one of the best whites I’ve ever experienced!! Outstanding value, to say the least.”

What I Think:

This label was hard to resist. Again the blend looked intriguing and as I grabbed the bottle to give it a read I got the idea that this was made by the same outfit behind my beloved Franc Merlot. At that point it was just a matter of resisting the urge to put more than one bottle in the cart. I am still trying to validate that these were indeed products of the same winemaker. The Pancake Cellars was made by Central Coast Wine and the Franc Merlot by the Central Coast Wine Warehouse. I was able to track down an email address from the latter and asked for confirmation. I’ll let you know what (if) I hear back.

Now for what was in the bottle. This one was a blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Chardonnay, 12% Gewurztraminer and 1% Pinot Blanc. On the nose it was clean, with light notes of white fruit and minerals. On the tongue it was well balanced. The sauvignon blanc leads while the chardonnay holds through the mid-palate and lingers through the finish. In the finish just a hint of the gewürztraminer sweetness shows itself, from the above review I was expecting much more. All in all, my initial inclination is that this wine isn’t all that distinguishable. That could be taken as a negative but the plus side is that this blend will pair nicely with virtually any food. I prefer the Synergy but perhaps a side by side tasting is in order. Yeah, that works. I’ll grab a bottle and check back in with a second opinion. For now this seems like a 12th bottle.

Rating: 12th Bottle