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 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas

Price: $21.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

2007 Tablas Creek Côtes de TablasPer K&L Wines “93 points Robert Parker: “The 2007 Côtes de Tablas is a sensational wine as well as a great bargain. The fact that it is finished with a screw cap may give some consumers the wrong impression, but this is a serious, mouthfilling red. A blend of 50% Grenache and the balance equal parts Syrah and Counoise, it exhibits sweet, gamy notes along with plenty of pepper, licorice, roasted herb, blackberry, and cassis characteristics, a velvety, lush texture, a full-bodied richness, beautifully integrated acidity, abundant Provencal typicity, and good minerality for a wine of such remarkable flavor depth. Enjoy it over the next 5-6 years.” (08/09)

Tablas Creek, a partnership between Robert Haas and the Perrin family of France’s famed Château de Beaucastel, has been at the forefront of growing and producing top-notch Rhône varietals for more than 20 years. Their “Côtes de Tablas” blend of Grenache, Syrah and Counoise is an homage to the wines of the Southern Rhône kissed by the California sun. The 2007 vintage is fantastic and alluring from the moment you pop the cork. Lead by bright red cherry aromas underscored by hints of iron, game and fresh cracked black pepper, the bouquet translates seamlessly to the palate, which is fresh and spicy with a vein of anise that weaves itself through to the finish. Like other Perrin wines, this medium-bodied beauty is built for the table. Try it with braised short ribs, grilled hanger steak with shallots or bucatini all’Amatriciana.”

What I Think:

Tablas Creek is a wine I have been meaning to try for years. With that it silently became the movie that everyone raved about. Expectations growing each day as you await the experience. A bit ago they had a tasting at K&L Wines but I managed to catch a cold around that time. From my sick bed I added a couple bottles to my virtual cart which I picked up a few months later. Then the wine sat in the rack begging for me to drink it. Last Friday I took it up on the offer but could it meet the lofty expectations?

This effort was 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 25% Counoise. Anyone ever had a varietal bottling of Counoise? I haven’t but would love to give it a try. No better way to learn about a grape. Speaking of learning something crossed my mind when drinking this bottle; currants. This is a smell/taste that crosses my mind often. I need to get more familiar with it. I decided that part of my New Year’s Blogging Resolution (#nybr) will be to explore a different flavor component each month. The goal being to familiarize myself with each and expand my wine tasting vocabulary. Anise may be my early choice for February. Who else has wine related resolutions to share? Ok, ok let’s get to the wine…

The Côtes de Tablas greeted me with an expressive nose showing spicebox, herb, black cherry and dark brambly fruits notes. It was medium to dark garnet in color. The entry to the palate showed a glimpse of fruit that is quickly enveloped into a tight, but balanced, acidic wrapper from which emerges a dry, finish laced with red licorice flavors. My initial impression was that this wine was clearly well made, a bit tight and enjoyable without being memorable. Those that know me are aware I am looking for more than that in a $20 bottle. After four nights I learned that this one just needed more time in the bottle. Though enjoyable initially a few days of air made a world of difference. With time the front of the palate softened and the wine now greeted you with nice, warm fruit on entry while still holding its balance with a nice acidity emerging towards the middle that leads to a long, dry, chalky finish. In hindsight, I would have liked to let this one lie for at least another year (or decanted for a few hours). Had I checked earlier perhaps the Tablas Creek vintage chart (pdf) could have saved the day. It currently lists the ‘07 Côtes de Tablas as “early maturity”. The ’06 is drinking at “peak maturity”. I wonder if I can find a bottle for comparisons sake. In the mean time what to do about that bottle of ’07 Esprit de Beaucastel

Rating: Pricey

2007 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles

2007 Rabbit Ridge Allure de RoblesPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Holiday Guide “This is a Rhône style red wine that could only come from Paso Robles. Why? The nutrient-dense, limestone-rich soils produce grapes of great character. And the variety of climate conditions within the region create distinctive flavor profiles that are unquestionably Rhône-esque, but with a definitively Central Coast vibe.

Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles is a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Medium-bodied with strawberry and cherry overtones from the Grenache, the wine inherits an earthiness from the Mourvedre and supple body from the Syrah. Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles is an excellent sipping wine, wonderful with strong cheeses and a natural with roasted meats like our Prime Rib Roast or Frenched Pork Chops. It’s a great value at only $4.99 – only at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s.”

What I Think:

This is a wine that seems to be getting better and better with each vintage. I initially enjoyed a NV version some 30 months ago and was excited to see this one in the store recently! And my excitement was justified… My first thoughts via twitter were “Drinking the Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles (tj’s, $5). Big wine @15.4% a bit hot. But bold, fruity and enjoyable. I’ll be getting more.” And I must admit, I was very happy it had the structure to balance out that high ABV%. I’ve already grabbed another half of a case…

Per Rabbit Ridge winemaker Erich Russell this one is roughly 45-50% Grenache, 25-30% Mourvedre, with the balance being Syrah, Petite Sirah and six or so more grapes (Erich fell free to update once you get the final %’s). Big, bold dark fruit throughout but as mentioned balanced, coating your mouth with plush fruit and tannins. A dry, chalky finish follows that is loaded with white pepper and lingers on and on. From the above the “nutrient-dense” soils ring true. Strawberry and cherry do not. Either way grab yourself a bunch of this one while it last. A perfect wine to serve over the holidays!

Rating: Bulk Buy

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 Blue Fin Petite Sirah

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Blue Fin Petite SirahPer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “Considering its longevity and historical significance, we think Petite Sirah is a wine that hasn’t gotten too much respect. It has often been accused of being too strong, too forceful, and too red (as if that makes sense) for the fancy folks in the wine world. But we’ve recently found a number of Petite Sirahs that break this stereotype – they’re bold and fruity, to be sure, but they also feature softer tannins, making them much more easy-drinking and accessible.

If a wine tastes good but is too heavy for your wallet, though, we’re back in “no respect” territory. And that’s really what makes Blue Fin Petite Sirah such a find. This is an “only at Trader Joe’s” California red that was 40% aged in American oak barrels to soften the tannins. The result is a full-bodied yet mellow-drinking wine, with cherry and black plum aromas and a hint of chocolate raspberry on the palate. Appropriate with pizza and red sauced pastas as well as with grilled meats, at only $3.99 a bottle, Blue Fin Petite Sirah is always appropriate for your pocketbook. Quality + price = value. A simple equation. Only at Trader Joe’s.”

What I Think:

The third of the offerings from Blue Fin which is another product of Bronco Wine Co.. I thought the Chard was nice and didn’t think so highly of the Pinot so I guess this Petite Sirah is now the tie breaker. So would it deliver?

What can I say? In this case I think the description from Trader Joe’s may be one of the more accurate I have ever seen. It pretty much says this wine is a Petite Sirah that isn’t a Petite Sirah. And that is true. A pleasant wine, with little to no varietal characteristics. Smooth drinking with muted fruit and light acids that provide some soft, unexpected tannins. It can surprisingly be referred to as “mellow”. Easy to sip if you are pre-occupied elsewhere but not much to taste here. I’ll be steering clear of this one in the future but at $4 if you have the impulse to give it a try good ahead and do so.

Rating: Skip It

2007 Trentatre Rosso

2007 Trentatre RossoPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Santini Fine Wines

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Trentatre in Italian means: Thirty-three. We came up with this belnd of three exciting varietals quite by chance when barrel tasting “TATA” a Montepulciano is the winemaker’s cellar. Amongst the barrels of Montepulciano ageing in the wine cellars, we discovered Merlot and Cabernet which had been sitting in oak barrels for quite some time used on occasions for blending. We were of the opinion that if one was to make a wine using Montepulciano (earthy, tannic with hints of cherry) with Cabernet (rich, intense and long lasting) and then add Merlot (soft, ripe and juicy) we may have reinvented the wheel (just kidding). Blending an equal amount of these three varietals, barrel aged for six months and bada-bing you get 33! Hence the name Trentatre.”

What I Think:

Another one I’ve been drinking for a while, this was bottle three or four, but been slow to review. As mentioned above, Trentatre is Italian for “33” which represents the blend percentage for three grapes that make up this wine; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Montepulciano. This one is super Tuscan-“ish” compared to my standby Italian offerings which are bright and acidic. On the nose you get dried cherry petals and a hint of mint. The palate starts with the same cherries before delivering a coffee (grounds) component. The body is full and plush and the wine is well balanced with tannins throughout. The finish is dry, a bit chalky and shows some oak along with lasting, dusty chocolate notes. It seems to have more age to it than the “2007” listed on the bottle. Perhaps the Cab and Merlot were truly sitting around for “quite some time”. Either way, I’m sure I’ll grab another bottle or two of this one on my next Trader Joe’s run.

Rating: Buy It

2007 Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc

Price: $19.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

2007 Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet FrancPer K&L Wines “Like a domestic Chinon, the Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc showcases the varietal at its best. Sourced from the High Chaparral, Cross Springs and La Sierra vineyards in Lake County, with small amounts of fruit from the Cafferata and Stanton vineyards in the Napa Valley. Violet-hued with a dark nose full of black cherry fruit underscored by lavender, sage and fennel aromas. In the mouth the cherry fruit envelops your senses with soft tannins and savory herbs. Easy to drink, especially with a slight chill on it, this wine is food-friendly, fun and ready to drink. One star from the Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine: “This lively, fruit-focused wine recalls the comparatively lighter Cabernet Francs of France’s Loire Valley, and, while very much showing a touch of the brushy, dried-leaf qualities often found from the grape, it holds tannin in check and smacks of cherry-like fruit from beginning to end. A few years of age should find it in top form, but it will make a pleasurable partner to steaks and chops even now.” (05/09)”

What I Think:

Wow, this is the most compelling wine I’ve had in some time. Not so sure about the “domestic Chinon” but this is a winner straight out of the gate. In the glass it shows a nice shiny purple color. The nose is inviting. Some red fruit notes and loads of flowers and herbs, violet and mint come to mind. Bold flavors greet you in the mouth. Loads of red cherries assert themselves through the middle of the palate delivering a great mouth feel throughout. The finish unexpectedly transforms to a light finish of dried cherries, herbs and floral notes accompanied by pleasant, soft, unending tannins which deliver just enough acidity to keep the balance perfectly in check. Remarkable! And it is even better with food. A very flavorful and fruit forward wine that at the same time manages to be elegant and restrained. Checking the vineyards on this one I see it is 90% Lake County (with the rest from Napa Valley), yet another reason to explore this region more. Thanks to Vinography for bringing this one to my attention. I’ll definitely be grabbing some more of this one. And for those of you that read here often, for a wine that checks in at $20, you know that is very high praise. I’m already looking forward to the next bottle…

Rating: Wow!

2007 Epicuro Vermentino

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

2007 Epicuro VermentinoPer the bottle “Made only with Vermintino grape, this is a great wine with a straw yellow color and fruity, fragrant, well orchestrated aroma. The flavor is full, soft and rich. Perfect with pasta, unmatured cheeses, traditional dishes of fish or white meat.”

What I Think:

Joe’s Sears recently covered this one and given that I have had it before and had another bottle in the house I figured it was due time I give this one a review. For your random fact today I offer that this hails from the region of Lazio which includes Rome. As many readers know, the Epicuro label is a favorite of mine so when this showed up six plus months ago I was quick to grab it. Since then I have received numerous recommendations, thanks to all, to make sure I didn’t miss this one.

So why did it take me so long to review? Frankly because I still haven’t passed a final verdict on this one. At times I like it and others it seems like a quaffable and innocuous wine. On the nose I never seem to get much, a bit of mineral and grass at best. On the palate, if you really pay attention, you get some melon rind flavors over a stony, metallic backbone that leads to a nutty almond finish that intermingles with herb flavors. This is an easy quaffer but difficult wine to taste. If you grab it try pairing it with shellfish.

Rating: 12th Bottle

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 Trumpeter Malbec

2007 Trumpeter MalbecPrice: $9.99 @ Pasternak Wines imported by Pasternak Wine

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Inky and dense with attractive berry aromas and a touch of cinnamon and sweet spice. A fully, fruity wine, with excellent body, intense tannins, flavors of cherry, blackberry, boysenberry and plum intermingled with hints of cardamom and pepper, and a long, full finish.”

“Juicy raspberry, blackberry and fig flavors are backed by well-integrated toast on the medium-weight finish. Drink now.” 87 Points, Wine Spectator, February 28, 2009

What I Think:

The Trumpeter label is under the Familia Rutini umbrella which dates back to 1885. They currently own estates in five different areas of Mendoza. If I recall correctly, this one use to carry the Tupungato designation on its label though that now seems to have disappeared. Given that this wine is widely available and Familia Rutini has 255 hectares under vine I was thinking perhaps these grapes are being, at least partially, sourced. Then I realized I had no idea what I was talking about and set out to learn a bit more. To get to bottles you need to know how many hectoliters of wine they get per hectare. This can vary drastically and averages near 25hl in Spain to areas of the Mosel that yield 100hl. Let’s assume 60hl here. Given I know 1 hectoliter equals 133 bottles we arrive at approximately 170,000 cases from 255 hectares. Visiting the Rutini Wines website I found that they reported producing 7-8 million (80k hl) liters annually which equates to 888,000 cases. Reversing my previous exercise this would require a yield 313hl per hectare. It looks like my instinct on them sourcing grapes is correct. Wow did I wander off the topic here, apologies! Let’s get back to the wine shall we…

This wine, which I received as a sample some time back, is exactly what you’d expect from a Malbec. Juicy and dense, loaded with plum flavors intermingled with spices that lead to a warm, vanilla toasty (barrel tannins?) finish. Add this one to the long line (Alamos, Pascual Toso, Terrazas de los Andes) of quality Malbec’s out there for less than a $10 spot. Don’t hesitate to pick this one up should it grab your attention, it makes a perfect pairing with nearly any evening summer barbeque.

Rating: Buy It