2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Price: $16.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast ChardonnayPer La Crema “The 2007 release of our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay bursts with vivid citrus and fresh green apple aromas, laced with subtle notes of honeysuckle and clove. On the palate, flavors broaden into rich spiced apple and crisp lime zest, with vanilla and caramel tones adding richness and texture on the finish.” – Melissa Stackhouse, La Crema Winemaker

90 points Robert Parker: “There are 6,200 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Russian River. It exhibits plenty of tropical fruit and honeysuckle along with a touch of spice, full-bodied, rich flavors, and a subtle note of oak. This wine was 100% barrel-fermented and was put through 100% malolactic fermentation, but the oak is kept in the background.” (12/08)

90 points from Wine Enthusiast: “A beautiful Chardonnay, with a chalky minerality that anchors and braces ripe fruit flavors of Bosc pears and pineapples, subtlely accented with new smoky oak. Bone dry, this polished wine shows lots of finesse and complexity.” (02/09)

What I Think:

First off, for those that may have find this posting by accident (as well as for those that may have forgotten), please be aware that I am not a fan of the vast majority of California Chardonnay. I prefer fruit to oak and find that for my taste many come across as unbalanced. This leads me in the direction of those that are made using stainless steel or in some other unoaked fashion. The Catch 22 here is that my wife loves California Chard and in an effort to keep a happy household it is a good idea for me to put my personal wishes aside and “suck it up” every now and again. And that is the long way of telling you how the La Crema found its way to my table recently.

The wine was medium gold in color. The nose made me immediately step back as I was overtaken by oak. When I put my nose back in the glass I found some white fruit notes. On the palate, you get the rich, creamy texture (which usually lets me know secondary malolactic fermentation occurred) with subdued apple/pear flavors and the faintest hint acidity. The finish delivers the oak barrel in spades with buttery caramel and vanilla flavors that linger for a bit before fading away. My take here is that either the fruit is slightly underwhelming or the oak is overwhelming. That said on my “butter scale” this one is not on the popcorn side and when paired with food (roasted chicken) had its merits, perhaps I am getting accustomed.

To prove I’m not in the majority here let’s see take a peek at what the critics had to say. Parker said “…a subtle note of oak. … but the oak is kept in the background.” And the Enthusiast this “…subtlely accented with new smoky oak.” And they both scored it 90 points. Yip, I guess I am way overly sensitive to oak. Guess I’ll keep trying to refine my palate though, for the good of my marriage!

Rating: Pricey

For those out there that want to give this one a try it is available at wine.com.

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

2007 Bodegas Luzon Jumilla

2007 Bodegas Luzon JumillaPrice: $6.99 @ K&L Wines imported by The Henry Wine Group

What They Said:

Via wine.com “The 2007 Luzon is 65% Monastrell and 35% Syrah. Purple-colored, it exhibits a bouquet of spice box, violets, and blueberry. On the palate this smooth-textured wine offers generous savory fruit, good balance, and a pure finish. Drink it over the next 2-3 years.” – Wine Advocate (08/08)

Enthusiast’s #1 top value wine of 2008 and 90 points! They write: “Truly captivating wine for under $10? Yes, Luzón’s Monastrell-Syrah blend is exactly that. It delivers huge plum and spice notes, with tobacco, herbs and smoked meat working their way into the game. Remains powerfully fruity and spicy in the mouth, with a long, minty, medicinal finish. Competes with thousands of wines priced higher. Overdelivers by a lot!” (12/15/2008)

From Wine Spectator: “Smoky and inky notes, along with licorice, frame flavors of cassis, mineral and game in this firm, juicy red, which is focused and expressive.” (02/09)

What I Think:

Couple the above praise with the price tag and I’m surprised it took as long as it did for this one to show up on my radar. On opening this wine you know it is no joke. A huge nose filled with black pepper and dark fruits. On the palate it virtually explodes with juicy plum and blackberry flavors that comingle nicely with spice and herb notes in the palate. Towards the end the fruit muscles these to the side and turns slightly tart which leads us into a dry, tannic finish that lingers. Nothing subtle about this one, it beats you over the head.

On a side note, it was interesting to be reading Alice Feiring book, How I Saved the World from Parkerization while drinking this bottle. Guessing this is exactly the type of bottle she had in her crosshairs as she was holding that pen in her hand. While I do fancy the pure, natural wines she advocates for, to me, there is a time and place for these fruit bombs. My only complaint is that there is no reason on earth this bottle should not have been under a screw top. So grab a bottle, make something very hearty (think hamburger or something rich with sauce), pull the cork and enjoy this juicy quaffer.

Rating: Buy It

2007 Sobon Estate ReZerve Primitivo

2007 Sobon Estate ReZerve PrimitivoPrice: $24.00 @ Sobon Estates

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Big, rich ad full bodied; with toasty, jammy aromas and forward fruity flavors. Genetically related to Zinfandel, but strikingly different in balance and intensity.”

What I Think:

This is a wine that twitter made me crave, too bad their search doesn’t work or I would show you why. Fresh off the Rocky Top Zinfandel I loved I had to get this one. In a rare episode where it seems I am living the dream Sobon Wines offered to send a bottle my way, lucky me! My experience with Primitivo from Italy (from where it hails) does not run all that deep but this is only the 2nd I’ve tried stateside (the other is Perry Creek but I didn’t record any tasting notes, shame on me!). Anyhow let’s get to it…

With pizza in the oven this was an easy choice. If a bottle were to be judged solely on its weight this one would be liquid gold as it is super heavy. On opening the nose was smoky, hot and dusty and the palate was heavy on oak, a bit surprisingly given it was aged in 1 to 2 year old oak. This all blew off with some time and became toasty with a nose of cooked/stewed plums showing a small hint of green. Once it cleared the palate showed nicely balanced fruit and hearty acid, the combo hardly indicate the high alcohol content (15.3%). The end shows tart fruit, white pepper and tamed tannins leading to a finish of great tangy notes that last and last. This last paragraph is really my best guess. This wine is hard to figure out and keeps you guessing. A challenge for sure, but one that I look forward to taking again, just be sure to give this one some time to open up. Next time I want to taste this one side by side with an Italian bottling to better assess the different styles between the continents. Kudos to Sobon for not only working with Primitivo but Sangiovese and Barbera amongst many other uncommon varietals here in the states.

By the way, have I mentioned everyone should be visiting Amador County? For the record, I haven’t yet. They are bottling a ton of unique grapes that few other work with here in California. Those that read often are tiring of hearing me say this so here is my promise to you, before the end of August I will make a visit to Amador County happen. You heard it here first! Stay tuned…

Rating: Pricey

2007 Chariot Gypsy

2007 Chariot GypsyPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Jim Neal “The Chariot Gypsy 2007 is a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese from great vineyards in the Napa Valley, and Sonoma, and Monterey Counties. Winemaker Jeff Hunsaker describes the wine like this: “The 2007 ‘Gypsy’ displays a dark garnet color with a clear violet edge. It shows mixed fresh berry aromas — raspberry and strawberry, with hints of white pepper and pastry. Very clean and lively with juicy berry fruit, firm acidity and a touch of smooth tannin. Excellent and versatile food wine particularly well suited for pork chops and poultry”. We think it is the perfect everyday red wine!”

What I Think:

For those that missed the shockwave heard around the Trader Joe’s world the Gypsy is back. After falling in love with the ’05 vintage and completely missing the ’06 I wasn’t going to allow myself to be short changed again. So when it began showing up in the wine aisle in early June I began my aimless search around the bay area for my beloved Gypsy. On my fifth stop, in San Rafael, I finally scored and two cases went into the cart (+1 extra so we didn’t have to open to scan). Whew, what a relief.

Now onto the wine itself. The ’07 is a blend of 37% Cabernet, 33% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Syrah and 10% Sangoviese which is quite different than the previous vintages. Curious and hopeful I pour the wine in the glass, what’s the verdict? On the nose I get wet wood and faint floral and spice notes. On the palate it is lively, bright and juicy with loads of fruit. Raspberries that are a tad under ripe add acidity that is balanced by a subtle sweetness. This is followed by nice fruity, peppery, spicy finish. A fruit forward (some may say bomb instead) effort best served with food, you name it pizza, burgers, bbq. Any kind will work. Many recommend giving this one 15-30+ minutes to breathe so open it while cooking. If you’ve never experienced the Chariot Gypsy before this is a delightful $5 super value wine.

2007 Chariot Gypsy
Those that have experienced this wine before have a bit more of a conundrum. This effort is much simpler, not complex and lacks the depth of previous vintages. I compared the ’05 to the Rosenblum Heritage Clone Petite Sirah and felt it compared favorably with many $20 bottles. Yes, the label, retailer and price remain the same but given the changes in blend percentage and a new winemaker it is best not to compare this to previous vintages. Take it for what it is; “what you see is what you get” and that would be an easy drinking, summer BBQ wine. Enjoy!

Rating: Buy It (with a caveat, if you like this one treat it as a Bulk Buy as when it is gone, it is gone for good. Wondering if it is available at your local TJ’s? Check here

Editor’s Note (07-Jul-2009): Added a note on letting this one breathe for 15-30 minutes if you don’t initially find it agreeable.

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 Overlake Cabernet Sauvignon

 2007 Overlake Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Nothing to be found. Looks like you are stuck with me on this one…

What I Think:

This one came recommended a month or so ago via a Trader Joe’s (often my beaten path in South San Francisco) cashier who saw me lugging out a case plus of wine and thought I was missing the boat. Y’all know me, love recommendations. We headed over to the aisle to hunt this one down but alas it was out of stock. Fast forward three weeks, headed home from the airport and need to do grocery shopping so headed back here. Perusing the wine aisle and sha-bam there it is. Decent looking label, Lake County which I have some loves for (see Beringer Clear Lake Zin and Dynamic Lake County Red) plus a personal recommendation and three bottles are quickly in the cart. Big buy for me before tasting a drop…

Obviously with expectations high what I needed is for someone to tell me this sucked right before I drank it to get those back in line. Alas no one was available to assist. The nose is typical of a $6 Trader Joe’s Cabernet consisting of darker fruit and oak. The front of the palate initially seems a bit flabby but quickly pulls itself together. The mid palate show nice balance with rich, dark fruit holding throughout which all makes it to the finish where a hint of black pepper is added to the mix. 14.75% alcohol? Are you kidding me? No heat and virtually no tannins. Amazing at $6! My only word of warning (given I’ve consumed 2 of these bottles already) think twice before crossing this one with spicy food (tacos) as that was a pairing that didn’t work, save it for simpler meat dishes

This is the best fruit forward sub $6 Trader Joe’s can since the XS. The “fruit forward” disclaimer came due to my Grape Madness experience with the Fetzer (which upset Sterling in the opening round) which was much more subtle and is worth a try as well. Trying to say what you see is what you get with this one, l don’t expect complexity or layers. That said, if you are interested in a nice, everyday, fruit forward drinker this may be one for you. It is for me, I have a ½ case minimum in mind for me next time I see this one. Sure to make my next Top 10 list which you should be seeing in the next 48 hours.

Rating: Bulk Buy

Additional Thoughts: Lake County: Been a big fan lately. Look for good values out of this region in the next few years as it is relatively “undiscovered”. Had some nice wines from there and am keen to explore further. Next two tasting trips, after Greece (did I mention I leave in less than a week? Any tips?) are here and to Lodi/El Dorado County… Anyone have recommendations for either?

2007 Ruston Semillon

 2007 Ruston SemillonPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Ruston Vines well nothing on this bottle of course. Unfortunately often the case when these end up at Trader Joe’s. One thing, wineries please! I repeat please! Don’t put your web address on the bottle if I can’t find any more info about the wine. Thanks.

What I Think:

I first fell for this one during my honeymoon in New Zealand. The Pegasus Bay Sauv/Sem was delightful! Ever since I have harbored a soft spot for this grape. Rare to find a US bottling so I was excited to find this one on the shelf at Trader Joe’s. Found the the winery site on the bottle but as usual no mention of this product can be found there. Why is that Ruston? Leave a comment or email me. Would love to know…

Now on to the good stuff. This one hails from Delorimier Vineyard in Alexander Valley. Color is strawish but dark. A nose of floral aromas with mineral, citrus notes lurking near by. On the palate, nice viscosity and what I would call typical Semillon flavors which is complimentary at this price point. Nice smooth finish with a bit of acid leaves this wine nicely balanced. Afterwards I see this clocks in at 14.7% which seems high but the wine is still a winner in my eyes. Like Semillon? Never had it before? You want to grab this bottle. I know I’ll be grabbing a few more!

Rating: Buy It

2007 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir

2007 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Castle Rock “Our Castle Rock Pinot Noir was produced from grapes grown in Northern California’s beautiful Mendocino County, where vineyards were first planted in the early 1860’s. Here, the headwaters of the Russian River carve a fertile and rugged landscape. The warm summers, cool springs, crisp falls and wet winters make ideal growing conditions for Pinot Noir grapes, in a climate similar to that of the Burgundy region of France, where the grapes were first established. This elegant and medium-bodied wine has delicate aromas of violet and rose petals, complex flavors and long silky textures, with layers of strawberry and raspberry leading into a long refined finish.”

What I Think:

This wine was first brought to my attention via a comment from Diane Diane in late October. As my experience with the ’06 wasn’t that great I wasn’t super keen to grab it. After it scored another recommendation on twitter from Big Wine Blog I decided to track it down.

And boy, am I glad I did! Delicate, floral perfumed nose. Lilacs? Rose petals? I definitely need to smell more flowers to get better at isolating these scents as floral is about as far as I can usually get. At the front of the palate nice, soft strawberries. Lingers nicely through the mid palate leading to a slightly dry finish with silky tannins and flavors of orange rind. Easily worth every cent of the $10 I paid. Slightly reminds me of all time favorite Pinot which is also from Mendocino, the Navarro I grabbed some more and am thrilled to have a go to bottle of Pinot for the near future!

Rating: Buy It+

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