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

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

2005 Kono Baru Shiraz

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Don Sebastiani & Sons

What They Said:

Per the winery “This exceptional Shiraz from down under expresses the deep concentration typical of the famous Barossa Valley. The color is inky purple with intense blue fruit such as wild huckleberry and ripe crushed blueberry. The palate has a supple entry while the silky texture is backed by big grape tannins wrapped around boysenberry extract and finishing with a touch of brown sugar and vanillin.

This wine is an exceptional sipper. The generous profile will stand up to braised beef shortribs on a port wine sauce with a parsnip puree or complimentary to grilled wild Salmon fillets, served with heirloom tomato salsa over a bed of arugula.

Most of Australia’s wine is produced in the south-eastern region of the country, an area which, like California, boasts considerable geographic and climatic diversity. Flavors born in the high altitude vineyards of the Adelaide hills, the cool coastal climate of Tasmania, and the deep granitic soils of the Strathbogie Ranges contribute to the distinct characters that gives these wines an international appeal.”

What I Think:

As mentioned when I tried their Riesling some time back these wines were made for blogging. That one wasn’t a hit but the easy to find tasting notes and podcasts have kept these wines top of mind for me. Kudos to Sebastiani & Son’s and the Three Loose Screws label for helping out those of us that are publicizing their products.

Now on to the main event, like the Riesling, this wine was quaffable but seemingly made for the masses as there was little memorable about it. As mentioned via twitter here and here, this wine is marginal stoking thoughts of melted cherry cough drops. That was my initial thought which slowly unwound itself to being medicinal then to herbal and then to the green peppers. I got the tannins but missed the fruit described above. I prefer the Cartwheel so if you have had neither grab that one. If you weren’t happy with the Cartwheel at $4 give this one a try. Maybe it will work for you.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Cartwheel Shiraz

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Wine World Estates

What They Said:

Per Saratoga Wine Exchange “This is an elegant yet full-bodied Shiraz. It is not overdone like some other Shiraz producers have been doing lately. Ripe black cherry fruit combined with a gorgeous mouthfeel makes this an amazing Australian wine loaded with flavor.”

What I Think:

I found the brief blurb above from the Saratoga Wine Exchange. Good thing, because the winery didn’t even want to mention this one. A little sleuthing turned this nugget up, Cartwheel is a new stand-alone brand range from Beringer Blass. They come in two quality/price tiers: Western Australia and Margaret River respectively. I followed up with their contact us form to try and get some information on this offering but they couldn’t provide anything beyond “Cartwheel Wine is a part of the Foster’s portfolio. Please click onto the link below where you will be re directed to the website. Any information that we are able to disclose, can be found here”. Interesting… I also found a mention that this may have been bottled by the importer here in the US which I believe would be unique…

Now on to the wine, it actually says it is from South Eastern Australia, this doesn’t appear to be a designation that is recognized. Guess they mean the eastern part of the state of Victoria. Anyhow, Trader Joe’s was actually stocking the GSM version of this wine as well, though that disappeared in a hurry. On popping the top I am quickly reminded of the Chasing Clouds, that said the white pepper is readily apparent over a nice layer of initial fruit that fades just a bit too fast! Still, a decent bang for the buck and better than my early impressions of the Kono Baru.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “This minimally oaked Cabernet Sauvignon presents fruit forward aromas and flavors of slight cherry and blueberry throughout the wine; it balances out with fruit, soft oak, and hints of coca on the lingering finish.”-Ray Einberger, Winemaker

What I Think:

If you check back to the 2004 version of this wine, which I was a huge fan of, you will find that Winemaker Ray had the same exact thing to say about that vintage. How can that be Ray? Given that the 2004 was labeled as being from the Columbia Valley and the 2005 vintage has been downgraded to the more generic Washington area. Nothing changes? Or perhaps just some lazy people in the web group that decided to reuse the same content? Hopefully you aren’t doing this to bamboozle the consumers… I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt there.

But as for the wine, things have certainly changed….The nose still shows dark fruit but there is certainly some more oak present. Early on this is showing green notes and is quite disappointing. Day 2 you can see it start to change as these flavors are fading. Perhaps it needs some more time in the bottle? Or is it the change in appellation? Either way it is not the same. And Ray, if you want to debate that, that is a debate I am willing to have…

Oh yeah, the verdict…for now pass on it. I’ll grab another bottle in a few months and let you know if things have changed.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Jepson Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Bright, clean and crisp. Reflecting characteristics of hay, herbs and citrus. The grapefruit and lime flavors are subtly balanced by a little melon and kiwi. A very versatile wine, paring up nicely with seafood, chicken breast, salads and creamy pasta dishes.”

What I Think:

This one started and finished nice on the palate but was a mess in between… Was it too cold? As always more flavors started to emerge as it warmed up. Nice minerally finish but tart leaving you with a slight tang…hints of floral, lemon and citrus throughout. If you don’t taste it let it cool. Perhaps it is time for a wine fridge so I can get the temperature right…Any generous readers out there?

Worth a go if you don’t want to spend for the more expensive Geyser Peak ($8), Kono ($8) or (yet to be reviewed) King Shag ($7). That said I would recommend splurging, that is what I’ll be doing. By the way, $11.50 on the Jepson website. $2.99 at Trader Joe’s…

Rating: Skip It

2005 Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Aromas of truffle, blackberry liqueur and hints of tobacco precede a rich, silky, velvet-textured palate of ripe black fruits and chocolate with a touch of toasty oak on the long, pure finish.” – Juan Munoz Oca, Winemaker

What I Think:

Given my recent success with the Columbia Crest Grand Estates and Two Vines offerings I was curious to see how this old favorite would be after such a bittersweet ending last time around. It quickly became apparent that my fleeting memories were the correct ones. This wine is eminently drinkable but that is about the highest compliment I can pay it. It comes off as made in the laboratory with over the top fruits and a manufactured type of varietal-less appeal. The fruit is big and overwhelming but there isn’t much else going in this one’s favor. You can keep the money in the Chateau Ste. Michelle family but be sure to direct it towards those Columbia Crest bottles. For a $1 less you can get a wine that I would call two times as good. Anyone else out there had both? What do you think?

Rating: Skip It

2005 XS Red California Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per uncork29.com “A couple weeks back while out doing some shopping, we happened upon a relatively new offering from the The Hess Group, which operates one of our favorite wineries here in the valley–The Hess Collection up on beautiful Mount Veeder. It seems as though the 2005 vintage produced a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon, some excess as it were, which Hess has turned into its $6 XS Red 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Never one to pass up trying something new, we bought a bottle and gave it a shot with our homemade pizza. At 13.5% alcohol, the wine was soft on the nose and very fruit forward on the palate. We got hints of plum, blackberry and bell pepper and found it to have a somewhat disappointing finish. All told though, for six bucks you can’t really go wrong with the XS Red for any everyday table wine type-deal”

What I Think:

As mentioned I got the inside scoop on this one from the good people over at letsgokings.com and headed out to track it down. Nearby we have a Trader Joe’s and Cost Plus next door to each either. Upon arrival I ran into Cost Plus to check some things out and as always ended up taking a look at the wine. Low and behold saw this bottle for $5.99. I was on my way to Trader Joe’s next but given that I had my 2 year old son with me I wasn’t coming back to get this one if they didn’t have it next door. So I forked over the $6 just in case. Get next door, they have it, $3.99. I don’t know about you but if I am working at Cost Plus I am taking this bottle out of peoples’ hands and sending them next door. I couldn’t live with that on my conscience. Again I ask, Trader Joe’s how do you do it!

Shortly after I get it home I twist off the screw cap and am greeted with green pepper aromas on the nose. This triggers warning bells for me. In my uneducated mind I attribute this two ways. To fresh wine that has been bottled recently and needs to settle. Or to wine that is just not good. Given the results that follow we know this is indeed a worthwhile effort so “fresh” must be the correct answer in this case. On the palate the wine is fruit forward, but not in an overpowering way which is so often typical in lower priced offerings to hide all of the other flaws. Flavors of plum and dark currant were laid over heavy barrel notes leading to a smoky, spicy finish with just a tinge of green pepper. On day 2, the green pepper was gone from both the nose and the finish making it even that much more pleasant. This wine is very straight forward, a perfect quaffer. Only one question remains, is this declassified juice from the Hess Collection better than the $2.99 Red Flyer offering from Hahn Estates. That is a question I will be happy to answer for you. In the meantime grab a bottle of each and let me know what you think!

Rating: Buy It

2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Spice, blackberries and cassis aromas fill the nose followed by a medium-bodied, concentrated and satin textured mid-palate; the long finish offers silky tannins and dark chocolate notes.” – Ray Einberger, Winemaker

What I Think:

After running through all the Two Vines offerings from Columbia Crest I decided to take a step up the ladder and try the Grand Estates offering of the Cabernet to see if the extra $2 could be justified over the comparable Two Vines Cab bottling. That one was an ’04 and this an ’05 so not exactly an apples to apples comparison but insightful none the less. Both are the same alcohol percentage (13.5%) and similar in acidity levels. The Grand Estates was crushed with 25% whole berries and was aged in 1/3 new oak for sixteen months (versus fourteen months in “lightly” oaked barrels). Know let’s see if we can make sense out of any of this.

With pork chops on the menu the cork on this one was pulled. Spice and black fruit were apparent on the nose with herb notes (likely from not destemming before crushing) lingering in the background. On the palate the wine immediately appears toastier (guessing this is attributable to the differences in barreling). On top of the toast the fruit is well rounded and starts to intermingle with spice towards the middle of the palate before giving way to a long tingling finish ending with a hint of mint. All in all, this one is not as fruit forward as the Two Vines bottling. It is almost as if it is trying to give the illusion of more complexity but I am not buying.

This was tough to rate because without its counterpart it has “Buy It” potential but in light of the competition I can’t recommend it over the Two Vines. Perhaps I’ll grab both again though and do a true side by side tasting. Maybe I’ll even get crazy and do it blind!

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 York Mountain Paso Robles Viognier

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery (pdf) “Our Viognier is rich and complex with aromas of peaches, apricots and honeysuckle, along with a lingering spicy finish. Its bold flavors will match well with Asian, Cajun or Indian cuisine. We love it with sushi.”

What I Think:

I picked this one up the same day I grabbed the Martin & Weyrich Nebbiolo Reserve, at the time I had no idea that they were both made by the same company (Martin & Weyrich). Similar to the Nebbiolo Trader Joe’s seems to be dealing a steal on this Viognier which is going for $22 on the winery site. Would love a peek inside how the process of these finding their way into a Trader Joe’s works. My guess on these is that they are taking up space in a warehouse and need to be moved. A broker is called to liquidate stock. The broker calls Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s tastes. Trader Joe’s likes. Trader Joe’s offers $1 a bottle, broker says $20, they meet around $4 and Trader Joe’s sells for $6. I wonder how close to accurate that is.

Anyway back to the matter at hand. We had salmon on the menu and friends on the way over for dinner so I threw this in the fridge and opened the Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot so that we had a few options available. Randomly, my friend Eric brought over this same exact bottle over that night which was a curios coincidence. In a previous post I mentioned that I thought Viognier’s from the US were on the sweeter side. This one certainly helped debunk that myth. On the nose it showed some light notes of white fruit on top of a mineral, stony backdrop. On the palate white peach and pear came to the fore. The texture was full and rich before fading to a slightly crisp finale. I didn’t get any hint of the spicy finish they mentioned on the bottle. I initially thought perhaps I had overcooled the wine but upon letting it get to room temperature it was still nowhere to be found. Regardless, this is worth another thought I would pass on the Asian food pairing recommended above. Luckily I have another on standby. Look for an update here soon.

Rating: 12th Bottle