2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

In my ode to 2012 I paid tribute to my greatest (yes there are many) shortcoming as a writer. That being clamming up when it comes to sharing something I really enjoy; like this wine. I fear I can’t convey my sense of excitement. Or sometimes convince myself that I want to provide more context for the overall story (like a bio on winemaker Ed Kurtzman) which I never have time to put together (and it has usually already been done). But not this year, for better or worse I’m just going to get these stories out there and build from there. So let’s get this started…

2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot NoirPrice: $30.00 direct from Sandler Wine Company

What They Said:

Per Weimax “We like his 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. You can’t mistake this for anything other than Pinot Noir. The wine is medium garnet in color and has classic strawberry and cherry-like fruit notes. There’s a touch of a vanillin note in the back. It’s light and aromatic, flavorful and smooth. We suggest cooling it to cellar temperature. It’s not a wine intended for cellaring, so drinking it this year or next is ideal.”

What I Think:

(14.5%) A Pinot made in a bigger style but while retaining its elegance. Nice dark cherry fruit with a touch of cranberry and a “singing” acidity that brings it all together. While the fruit remains this one turns earthy and spicy on a long finish. Intense but not overpowering; a wine that speaks to me. My only regret is that this is my last bottle. Wish I had a few more around. Let that serve as a note for me to start ordering regularly…

Rating: Wow!

2005 Monte Ducay Cariñena Reserva

2005 Monte Ducay Cariñena ReservaPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Latitude Wines

What They Said:

Per Bodegas San Valero (on the ’06) “Beautiful morello cherry colour, with brick red sparkles. Fragrant and delicate in the nose. Refined bouquet, rich and well balanced. The aftertaste is long and persistent.”

What I Think:

As mentioned in a previous post this one has some interesting packaging as it comes wrapped in brown paper. From a marketing perspective I’m not sure how that would have affected me but we will never know as buying this one was a foregone conclusion based on a mostly positive review by Jeff over at Viva la Wino!. Funny enough like him I ripped the wrapper offer expecting to find something underneath but alas no. Either way, no matter. Let’s get to what’s in the bottle.

This one is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon (special shout out to Æsop for tracking that one down!) On opening you get all wood on the nose with the only exception being some barrel spices that manage to sneak through. The palate starts with an overpowering herbal acidity which takes a moment to reveal some sour, under ripe cherry flavors that come across on a juicy backbone before leading to a hot finish. This wine becomes more approachable with time showing some dark fruit aromas on the nose and remnants of the same on the finish. This leaves me in somewhat of a conundrum as initially I almost hated it but found a trace of enjoyment towards the finish. Couple that with the fact that others have liked it and perhaps I’ll give it another try but not likely. If I do, one thing is for sure I’ll be giving it lots of air and pairing it with strong foods or cheeses. Hoping for better I tried the 2008 Darien Tempranillo ($6) the same night and that one didn’t work for me either.

So how about you? Have you had any Spanish wines you’ve enjoyed lately? If so let me know in the comments below. I look forward to hearing!

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Red Lava Syrah

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2005 Red Lava SyrahPer Red Lava Vineyards “Our beautiful, obsidian black wine is concentrated with intense blackberry, mocha and mineral notes, rich tannins and a long supple finish.”

What I Think:

This one goes for $25 on the winery site so picking it up for $8 was a good start! I can’t tell you how tired I get of finding these scenarios. If you are a winery and if you are going to cut your prices be sure to offer them to your most loyal customers. Those that buy direct! Take Rabbit Ridge for example. Their excellent 2008 Allure de Robles goes for $5 a bottle at Trader Joe’s but before it arrived on their shelves they offered it to wine club members for $50 a case. Now that is how you should be treating your best customers!

Sorry for the tangent. Let’s get back to the bottle at hand… Tart red fruit and pepper on the nose are muted by wet wood aromas. Nice rich, red peppery fruit intermingled with blueberries greet you on the palate. A mild black olive component appears in the mid to late palate before leading to a hot, heavy spicy finish that falls apart to reveal thin wood/barrel flavors. A nice wine with nice fruit that is ruined by a bad finish. BTW, this bottle was a heavy one, they didn’t spare any cost there so guessing this wine was meant to be expensive. Nonetheless I don’t see myself buying another bottle. Let me know your thoughts if you do!

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 112 Napa Valley Merlot

2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 112 Napa Valley MerlotPrice: $12.00 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Cameron Confidential: Lot 112 Napa County Merlot represents exceptional value. Sourced from the un-appellated Coombsville and Jamieson Canyon regions (which is why it has the Napa County designation), this wines has the beautiful, supple structure and classic fruit profile of great Napa Merlot (which requires a few minutes of swirling in the glass to get going). Sourced from one of the most-respected wineries in the Napa Valley (where it is sold for $24/bottle), this wine is sure to please those of you who crave Merlot or those of you looking for a supple wine with harmonious mouth feel and great character.

Taste: Dark, almost blackened crimson color; Aromas of cherry, spice, and chocolate spring from the glass underpinned by bright fruit notes of strawberries and plums. A supple, rich mouth feel coupled with well-integrated oak presents a complex, yet smooth Merlot, perfect for that wintertime cocktail party.

What I Think:

Though I am very aware of Cameron Hughes I have rarely tasted his wines. In fact my records show I’ve that this is just the second of his offerings that I’ve sampled (the other being Lot 55 Napa Valley Meritage). For those that need an intro Cameron Hughes is very well known négociant who sources high quality wines from around the world and sells each as a lot in his series. The easiest place to find his wines for those interested is Costco, at least from what I hear…

So let’s get to the wine. On the nose this one shows cherry and oak. When the wine hits your tongue you get a glimpse of soft red fruits that disappear before you can decide if it was strawberry or raspberry. From there the wine becomes dark and rich. This is a very well structured effort that is smooth and balanced throughout. The finish is dusty and chocolaty and leaves your mouth coated with tannins long after the glass is empty. A nice, smooth, easy drinking bottle. I would argue everything you expect for $12 but not more at the same time. If I had to choose whether or not to buy another bottle I’d likely roll the dice on trying something new.

Rating: Pricey

And for those interested in another opinion how about one from the man himself… Check Cameron Hughes in the video below, he start talking about this one around 4:50 into the video. Enjoy!


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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!

2005 Mount Linden Merlot

2005 Mount Linden MerlotPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Mount Linden wines are blended using a careful selection of choice grapes from California’s top winemaking region to produce exceptional wines true to their character. Mount Linden wines focus on rich, pure flavors of California’s best vineyards. The lush, cherry fruit of this Mount Linden Merlot is carried on an exceptionally velvety frame. Aromas of cedar and toasty oak accent the ripe raspberry flavors.”

What I Think:

I’ll keep this one short. This one is full bodied with warm cherry flavors on the palate. It turns sour and finishes just a bit spicy and tannic with vanilla notes (imparted from the barrel). Nice effort for the money, a perfect juicy quaffer that apparently includes some Syrah “to add depth & structure”.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Hunter Ashby Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Hunter Ashby Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Wine Enthusiast “Black currant and cherry flavors, accented with a touch of smoky oak, mark this dry, smooth wine. It has the textural hallmarks of the best of Napa Valley Cabernet, but lacks the richness. Drink now.” — 86 points S.H. (6/1/2008)

What I Think:

This one is made by 2Sons Winery in Rutherford, which I can hardly find a word about. That said I was able to conclusively link the Hinter Ashby name to the Terlato Wines International. Looks like they use it as a “logo” wine as it appears in all their press releases but I can’t find another word about it on their site. I also saw some things that lead me to believe that this label may fall under their Tangley Oaks label. Here nor there, there are plenty of other names I know that can be found under the Terlato umbrella, including Alderbrook, which was a favorite Zin of mine TJ’s was selling a while back. Anyhow, what do you say we take the detectives hat off and get to the wine.

The nose shows cherry and spice. On the palate it is lively early on, dancing on the tongue with a nice acidity coming through. Towards the middle it fades, showing loads of ripe fruits that linger to the finish. A nice effort, this one shows a smooth texture balancing oak, fruit and mineral. If you’re a fan of Napa Cab looking for a discount or looking for an intro to the region this bottle is worth checking out.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Howell Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $14.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2005 Howell Mountain Vineyards Cabernet SauvignonPer Trader Joe’s Ten For The Tasting (pdf) “Come on; get your nose in there. Way in there… the deep crimson hue, the aromas, the body… oh, yes! Handcrafted from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in Napa Valley’s renowned Howell Mountain appellation, this wine has body. Grown in volcanic ash and clay soils along sloping hillside at elevations well over 1,800 feet, the grapes develop distinctly thick skins and robust tannins. And this vintage demonstrates a little more weight and richness than in years past. A hint of bell peppers on the nose dissipates into warm aromas of cedar-y forest and dark berries. On the mouth, the flavors of succulent black cherry are followed by slight hints of hazelnut and tobacco. And because we are helping the producers move out inventories that had been set aside for on-premise markets (aka fine restaurants), we’re selling this lusty Cab for $14.99 – oh, yes!”

What I Think:

As mentioned in the Trader Joe’s Ten for Tasting post I was tipped off on this one by DP. Likewise we covered that this offering typically retails for $60+, given that you can imagine how eager I was to try it once I brought it home. So I quickly found a steak and pulled the cork on this one…

In the glass I found a great nose of fruit balanced perfectly with spice. Some blackberry, allspice and a hint of green rhubarb. On the palate a bit tart up front but quickly balanced with gorgeous, rich fruit as well as spice and mint/methyl notes. The mid-palate is smooth and silky leading to a chalky, inky, dry and lasting finish. This wine is complex, to me, offering, layers and layers that keep you contemplating exactly what it is you are tasting. Regardless, you know it is good things while going through the exercise. As I look for comparisons I quickly come to the Chateau Chevalier from Spring Mountain which took Grape Madness by storm some months back. Both from Napa, both from TJ’s, both fifteen bones and both with a dry, chalky finish but most of all both great values. That said, thank goodness I didn’t drop $60 here or I would likely be disappointed. Others, here in the comments on the site, haven’t been as big as fans as me so feel free to give this one a pass if it is north of your usual price range.

Rating: Wow!

2005 Benson Ferry California North Coast Select Chardonnay

2005 Benson Ferry California North Coast Select ChardonnayPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This delicious Chardonnay showcases the vibrant fruit the grape develops in the North Coast’s coolest vineyard locations. Fresh aromas and flavors of green apple and citrus are accented by understated barrel spice. The light, lithe palate is enhanced by a crisp, lingering finish.”

What I Think:

After my day job gave me a reason to celebrate my wife decided to splurge on some wines and asked for some recommendations at the local Trader Joe’s. This was the 2nd choice as a comparison wine to the La Crema Chardonnay which is soon to be reviewed. I’m not going to dally much on the topic here. This one was unexpected. It was like a Sauvignon Blanc in a Chard bottle. Cutting lemon, citrus notes on a heavy stainless steel backbone courtesy of the barrel. Not for me. Perhaps if you love Sauv Blanc and like Chardonnay you could enjoy this. Just set your expectation accordingly before opening. I’ll be looking past this one in the wine aisle when I visit again to see what’s next.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Fresno State Winery California Syrah

2005 Fresno State Winery California SyrahPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Layers of dark fruit are complimented by an elegant blend of French and American oak. Supple tannins create a memorable and long-lasting finish on this classic Rhone-style red wine. Our Syrah is a perfect companion for grilled steak or lamb.”

What I Think:

Fresno State Winery, interesting I thought. Not UC Davis but certainly in the conversation when discussing the who’s who in the wine education world. That was enough to get it my cart. They have their own dedicated website which leaves me with questions, wondering and once again awe. Awe in the power of Trader Joe’s business model which consistently allows us to drink wines that cost $12 elsewhere for a fraction of the price. Wonder in why the site redirects to a funky URL and questions as to why any site would remove the information about a particular vintage when it is no longer for sale. Not very user focused now, are we?

Now onto the bottle, I am going to keep this one brief. Nose of herbs and fruit. Nice, rich fruit but all the same a bit restrained which is unusual and appealing at this price point. Slightly chalky on the palate. A finish that starts with mint and fades to blackberry & barrel flavors. As I think back to the Trader Joe’s inventory, there is not another Syrah in this price range I like better, nor a label I can remember wanting to try. That must mean Buy It!

Rating: Buy It