2008 Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir

2008 Santa Barbara Landing Pinot NoirPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) “Oh, how we love a good wine. But what we love even more is a good wine at a great value. That’s why we like Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir so much. You would, in ordinary circumstances, expect to pay considerably more for a wine of this quality from the Santa Barbara region. These, however, are extraordinary times in which we live, and it seems that extraordinary times produce both extraordinary wines and extraordinary values. Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir is a silky red wine crafted from grapes grown throughout the coastal vineyards of the Santa Barbara growing region. At first blush, you’ll notice aromas of strawberry, cherry and cedar. At first sip, the berries burst on your tongue and mingle with a bit of oaky-ness that leads to soft tannins and a smooth finish. This is an excellent wine to serve with our Vintage Reserve Cheddar (p. 7) and makes a cheery companion to our Stuffed Pork Chops (p. 21) at dinnertime. At $3.99 a bottle, this wine is a really terrific value that won’t be around forever. Get yours while it lasts, because when it’s gone we can’t guarantee we can get more.”

What I Think:

2008 Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir (color in bottle)(13.5%) On the lighter side (see picture) but the right color. Garnet at the core with light reddish, orange edges. Right nose as it shows some strawberry notes with cloves. On the palate it is smooth and goes down easy. Rich but decent acidity with fake oak creaminess and manageable heat on the finish. It is clear this is nowhere near 100% Pinot and I’m guessing Syrah is its partner in crime. Far better than the Blue Fin offering Bronco put out last year. I’d have to say it is drinkable in a lighter, generic red kind of way. That said for $4 it could be far worse. I’d like to be harsher but while I won’t be buying this wine I have a hard time telling you not to if you were initially inclined to do so…

Rating: Skip It

2008 Rio Vaca Chardonnay

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Rio Vaca ChardonnayPer the bottle “We grow world-class Chardonnay grapes on our Rio Vaca estate vineyard alongside the Vaca Mountains just twenty miles east of California’s most renowned wine growing region. Vaca Small Lot Reserve Chardonnay is barrel fermented in 100% French oak to enhance its ripe pineapple, guava and crisp citrus flavors and to impart a long, richly textured finish.”

What I Think:

Whereas the URL (vacawines.com which doesn’t resolve) that is on the bottle is of little help our friends at the TTB can tell us this comes courtesy of Constellation Brands. Some mention of Mondavi and some Ravenswood but nothing definitive there. That said I did find a Rio Vaca Vineyards brand page on the Constellation site that indicated this wine was meant to be priced around $15 retail and was made by Blake Kuhn which may sound familiar to fans of Toasted Head wines. The brand page claims these wines are “Estate-vineyard focused wines just 20 miles from Oakville and Stags Leap on the eastern side of the Vaca Mountains but just $15 instead of $50″. What say the juice? Glad you asked…

Nice pineapple and citrus notes on the nose. Makes me flash back to my younger days when I use to slice pineapple after pineapple before marinating them in Malibu rum and heading off to the Jimmy Buffet concert. And it doesn’t disappoint from there. Rich, full bodied and structured with crisp green apple flavors on the palate and (or but for me…) a toasty, buttery banana finish that lingers on nicely. I actually find this pleasant which make me guess most California Chardonnay lovers would really dig it for $6. If you are out there and have had this one I’d love to hear your thoughts. Otherwise I recommend you grab a bottle soon. I’m headed out to grab more tomorrow and this is all but a lock to appear in the next rendition of my Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wines List!

Rating: Buy It (<- Almost unheard of for Chardonnay...)

Special shout-out to @ericsinsideout for the tip on this one!

2008 Liberte Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a guest post from Bob Dwyer of the The Wellesley Wine Press which, for those not familiar, covers “a consumer’s view on finding, enjoying, and sharing great wines at great prices” so as you can imagine we are often sharing tips! If you are interested in taking a look for yourself check out his value alerts or his latest hyper value finds.
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2008 Liberte Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s in Framingham, MA

What They Said:

Per the bottle “With its elegant red huge and powerful palate this 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon delivers an exceptional bouquet of blackberries, autumnal leaves and baking spices followed by opulent flavors of clove and marzipan. Serve with stuffed poblano peppers, roasted beet salad or tortilla soup with pressed Cuban sandwiches. Decant 15 to 30 minutes.”

What Bob Thinks:

A surprisingly hefty bottle with a raised label for a $9.99 California Cab. When I mentioned to the wine helmsman at Trader Joe’s that the label reminded me of the Chariot Gypsy he pointed out 3 or 4 other wines that have a similar looking woman on the label (Novella Synergy for example).

Deep dark red/burgundy in color. Not quite opaque but nearly. On the nose I get black pepper, deep black fruit and a little vegetal component I’d associate with Chilean reds blind. The mouthfeel is quite smooth initially, but on the backend I catch a little heat from alcohol with nice savory aromas lingering on in the glass. All in all a flavorful Paso Robles red priced on par with the amount of enjoyment it delivered.

Bob’s Rating: 12th Bottle
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Thanks again to Bob for sharing this post. Have any of you had this wine? If so we would love to hear what you think in the comments below…

2008 St. Lukes Blind River Sauvignon Blanc

2008 St. Lukes Blind River Sauvignon BlancPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Lineage Imports

What They Said:

Per St. Lukes Estate Wines well nothing… We do get this from the bottle: “This elegant Sauvignon Blanc was made with grapes grown on the company’s Blind River vineyards in the Awatere Valley region of Marlborough. The nose shows lifted stone fruit aromas. The richly structured palate has an underlying mineral note and a long finish, expressing the terroir of the region.

What I Think:

It seems this one normally goes for around $24 and has been relatively well respected over the last few vintages. The ’06 was confused with Sancerre (Angela would love to hear your thoughts…) and the ’07 received some positive press as well. The ’08? Missing in action. About the only mention I can find is a “coming soon” from the winery itself. Why the mystery? Don’t know but rather than ponder let’s get to the wine…

(13.5%) This one is more mineral driven than would be expected of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with a flinty, charcoal component immediately prevalent. That said there are still plenty of lemon/citrus notes here and as it warms some of that more traditional grassiness comes to bear. Crisp with bright acidity throughout on a firm mineral structure that leads to a finish which lingers nicely. Not your everyday Kiwi offering and a pleasant alternative (if you drink lots of NZ Sauv Blanc like me) to the status quo. This isn’t a wine for everyone but I’ll likely be grabbing another bottle sometime soon.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Steelhead Sauvignon BlancPer Steelhead Wine “This very special wine composed of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes features delicious flavors of citrus and grapefruit zest with pleasant mineral character very reflective of its renowned Dry Creek Valley terroir.” — Steven Canter

What I Think:

Steelhead was in a recent Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer and try as I might I wasn’t able to come across the Zinfandel. Given that when this Sauvignon Blanc showed up I decided to grab three bottles on sight. You see these are the products of Quivira Vineyards which I’ve heard many great things about. Steelhead Wines has its own site where you can buy this one today for $16 a bottle. Well kind of… You see you have to order 3 bottles which costs you $48 or the equivalent of 8 bottles at the $6 price tag Trader Joe’s is offering. Again (calm down Jason) another winery disrespecting their most important customer. Let’s get to my notes before the diatribe begins…

(13.5%) 100% Sauvignon Blanc – Typical in color. Clean, nice, zesty grapefruit on the nose. Plush and balanced with cantaloupe on top of a firm mineral backbone which keeps the palate crisp and refreshing. This one is fuller in the mouth than expected with nice citrus fruit on the edges with a pleasant short finish. This one is lacking the overpowering acidity which makes it food friendly and a good choice for the Thanksgiving dinner table for those thinking ahead. I bought three bottles and am likely to grab some more…

Rating: Buy It

What did others think about the Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc? Again I’ll send you over to Jeff’s at Viva La Wino for a different take.

2008 Dos Brotos Ranch Red

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Dos Brotos Ranch RedPer the bottle “Every vine we grow us meticulously hand pruned annually by our extended family of vineyard workers. We cherish and respect these folks for the expertise they bring to our vineyards. All of our vines are spur pruned, leaving two buds per spur (Dos Brotos). “Dos Brotos, Por Favor” is a term you will hear echoed throughout our vineyards every pruning season from January through March. Our Ranch Red is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Tempranillo. So please try our wines and like our extended family would say Disfrutalo! (Enjoy)”

What I Think:

As mentioned in my value hunting post this one is a kitchen sink blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo that per my friends at the TTB appears to be at least loosely affiliated with the folks at Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Dark garnet in color with nice, dark fruit and spice on a pleasant nose. Juicy and jammy on the palate with dark black cherry fruit flavors. Smooth but completely lacking in tannins and acidity. This allows barrel notes to quickly assert themselves before turning damp and earthy which ultimately dries out the finish. While this wine has redeeming qualities and is easy to drink I find myself walking away undecided. At times this wine seems rich and velvety (especially at 13.5% abv) and at others fruit bomb-ish with a disappointingly short finish. Will I give it a 2nd try? At $7 I’m thinking not but you never know…

Rating: 12th Bottle

What did others have to say about the Dos Brotos Ranch Red? Here’s some thoughts from the gang at justagrape.com.

2008 Novella Synergy

2008 Novella SynergyPrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

This wine was once a part of the Eos Estate Winery portfolio. If it still is it is no longer recognized as such. Nary a word about it can be found on their site. That said according to my friends at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) they are indeed still affiliated but appear to be keeping it on the down low. Curious…

Anyhow the bottle had this to say: “Raspberry, black cherry and lilac aromas open this full-bodied, supremely balanced wine. Cherry and berry flavors lead to a long, elegant finish of blackberry, cedar and spice.”

What I Think:

I had this one many moons ago but hadn’t tried it in ages. So when JerryK recently recommended it I decided to give it another shot. A kitchen sink blend this one is 45% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Sirah, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Sangiovese. Quite a hodgepodge wouldn’t you say? How did it turn out you ask?

The nose greets you with wafts of black cherry aromas. The first sip shows this same nice, plush fruit. The palate is smooth and balanced throughout before leading to a creamy finish laden with cedar, dark berry and vanilla notes. These eventually give way to pleasant barrel tannins which linger nicely. This wine is not complex by any means. That said it is not one dimensional either and to me that is all you can ask for in a $7 wine (and more). I’ve had many a bottle that cost three times as much and yet deliver far less. If you are a Zinfandel lover looking for a reasonable priced bottle look no further. Same for those of you that just love at a tasty bottle of wine…

Rating: Buy It

2008 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Red

2008 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap RedPrice: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Vineyard Brands

What They Said:

Per Wine Enthusiast (via K&L) 89 points and a Best Buy: “A nose of red fruit, spice and violet is followed by fresh but lush aromas of cherries, blackberries and a touch of smoke and dark chocolate. Smooth and integrated, with a pretty, aromatic character.” (11/09)

What I Think:

And my South African wine adventure continues. I had a chance to taste the ’09 version of this one, a blend of 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre, 2% Viognier, at the tasting event I recently attended and had this to say; “Nice bright red fruits and spices. It struck me as a perfect grilling wine.” How did the ’08 pan out?

Smoky and spicy upfront on the nose this one is lively on the palate showing sour cherry and red berry flavors with a tannic acidity taking over before an earthy, black pepper finish leaves your mouth lingering with dry, herbal, chocolate notes. The above makes it sound as if I liked the wine more than I did. I actually found it slightly disjointed which runs counter to the Wine Enthusiast review which called this one “well integrated”. Looks like many of the folks over at CellarTracker agree with me as it has a community rating of 85.4 (vs. WE 89). For me, I didn’t do it side by side but, I remember liking the ’09 more. That said I prefer this to the Porcupine Ridge Syrah but neither compare to the Kanonkop Kadette which is easily still my favorite new discovery.

That’s it for the reds I grabbed the first time around. Perhaps I’ll pickup some more soon. If you have any recommendations let me know. Anyone had the Goats du Roam lately? Remember that one being nice vintages ago…

Rating: Pricey

2008 Kanonkop Kadette

Price: $10.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Cape Classics

What They Said:

2008 Kanonkop KadettePer K&L Wines “91 points and a Best Buy from the Wine Enthusiast: “This blend of Pinotage, Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc is full-bodied and complex, with layered aromas of cherry, banana and warming spices, and smooth, elegant flavors of cedar, cherry, tobacco smoke and red berries. Velvety, soft tannins and a clean finish give it a classy touch. The wine can age, but drink now and you won’t be disappointed.” (12/09)”

What I Think:

Those that have been following along are aware that after attending a recent tasting of South African wines my interest was piqued to learn more. The first wine I tried was the Porcupine Ridge Syrah which is made by Boekenhoutskloof (see “B” in my 2009 Year in Review post). It was a nice wine in its own right but will now be most remembered for the comment left by reader MenloSteve recommending this one…

The Kadette, a second bottling for Kanonkop, is a blend of 45% Pinotage, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc. Unsurprisingly this one starts Pinotage-ish on the nose greeting you with loads of smokiness while allowing some plums aromas to sneak through. A nice, juicy cherry palate lasts well into the finish before an earthy component loaded with warm barrel spices takes over and drives this one home. Great mouthfeel, balanced fruit with enough acidity to keep it honest.

This wine may not be overly complex but it is extremely enjoyable to drink nonetheless. To put this in context I will present two facts. The first is that I always taste a wine over two days (minimum) to see if there are any changes for the better or the worse. This usually isn’t a problem but I so enjoyed this wine it was hard to resist pouring it all in one sitting (I did). Second and perhaps even more impressive was the feedback from my wife (average rating a sip and push the glass in my direction) who gave this a triple pour! I’d recommend this to anyone open to exploring the wines of South Africa. It is certainly now my favorite value wine from the region. I already placed an order for 3 more bottles. If you decide to give it a try be sure to let me know what you think!

Rating: Wow!

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