2008 Sauvignon Republic Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Sauvignon Republic

What They Said:

2008 Sauvignon Republic Stellenbosch Sauvignon BlancPer Sauvignon Republic “Ancient shale and granitic soils, ocean breezes, and a favorable exposure result in tropical juicy-fruit flavors with herbal nuances and minerality. Serve with spicy world foods including Southeast Asisan, Indian and New World Hispanic. Citrus notes refresh the palate for each bite.”

What I Think:

I grabbed this one and put it in the cart, within moments I saw another offering from the Russian River under the same label. I reacted with suspicion, not sure why as there are a number of vintners out there now tying together wines from around the world under the same brand umbrella. The Espiritu de Argentina and Espiritu de Chile sister labels are the first that come to mind. Cameron Hughes is perhaps the most well known of those that operate on this model. By the way, have I mentioned lately why I love Trader Joe’s wine? If you are one of the unfortunate few without one nearby you can pick up a bottle of this from wine.com for $22. Just slightly north of 3x the $7 you can grab it for at TJ’s. Savings aren’t the end of the story you still have to deliver! So let’s see what’s in the bottle…

The bottle recommended a pairing with spicy Southeast Asian food so this one was opened with Thai red chicken curry on the table. In the glass this one was very light in color, not golden by any means more of a straw color. On the nose I find a bit of citrus with nice white stone fruit intermingled throughout. The palate opens with lemons that are backed by a nice crisp, mineral backbone. A hint of grassiness appears toward the middle before mineral, stony notes emerge on the finish. A very nice wine, one that I will be buying again. I’m guessing the same can be said for the Marlborough, in my fridge and 91 points from the Wine Spectator, and the Russian River bottling. For a gift idea, check out this tasting mat (pdf) and grab all three. Hurry as I am sure they won’t last long!

Rating: Buy It

2008 Spiral Wines Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Spiral Wines Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Not a word, some mumbo jumbo that had nothing to do with the wine on the bottle. A google search turned up a phone number, a call to the number led to Fior di Sole which is a premium bulk wine supplier in Napa Valley who “separates itself from the competition by creating quality, not just quantity-based lots purposed for the bulk wine market.” To wrap up the story the custom/private label winemaking unit goes by the moniker Spiral Wines. Anyhow I sent them a message, I’ll let you know should I hear anything back on the wine itself…

What I Think:

A Napa Cab for five bones? First thought, must be a Bronco Wine Co. offering in the same vain as Napa Creek or Napa Landing. If DP hadn’t tipped me off to this one in his comment I might have glossed right past it. As you can tell from the research above my initial perception was not correct. Which leads me to my next thought…is the economy really at the point where we can get a bottle of Napa Valley Cab for $4.99? It seems so, next thought. Who sold this wine off in bulk? We will likely never know. But there is one questions we can answer: Is it any good?

The nose is muted but displays some faint cherry and oak aromas. In the mouth this medium bodied efforts starts juicy before a firm acidity quickly shows itself. Towards the mid-palate cherry and plum notes emerge. These give way to a dry, herbal finish that shows a hint of creaminess on a finish that lingers nicely. As I mentioned on twitter this one grew on me with each sip. Though it shows some good pieces; fruit, creaminess, herbs and acidity, they don’t quite all come together here. That said, I see a glimpse of potential here. It is worth another bottle to see if perhaps some more time to integrate these components will treat this bottle kindly. Stay tuned…

Rating: 12th Bottle (for now…)

Anyone else out there had this one? Love to hear your thoughts.

2008 VINTJS Syrah

2008 VINTJS SyrahPrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “VINTJS Central Coast Syrah is a blend of Paso Robles (warm climate) and Santa Barbara (cool climate) grapes, aged for nine months in neutral French barrels. From the cool climate we get spice, acidity and balance, while the warm climate contributes soft, round, lush fruit. Together, they create a stellar Syrah in the classic Rhône style, redolent of black cherry and pepper.”

What I Think:

This is the 2nd wine I’ve reviewed in the latest from the VINTJS series. As mentioned when discussing the Chardonnay I learned while reading the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer that these wines were made by Bob Lindquist of Qupe. I’ve had their Qupe Syrah offering and was a fan so I was anxiously awaiting giving this one a try.

With steak on the table this was an easy choice and it delivered. The nose displayed herb notes and dried cherries. The palate showed terrific balance and nice acidity. Fruit is present but stays in the background; this one is not a fruit bomb by any means. The end is loaded with white pepper and under ripe berry flavors that lead to a slight pucker on the finish. It shows a bit of elegance that leads me to believe this one has some room to grow with aging. So that leaves one question, is this a side project with its own juice? Or did they decide to bottle a little bit less of the ’08 Syrah and throw the VINTJS label on the remainder. Perhaps I’ll email Bob and see what he has to say. Or maybe I’ll do a bottle comparison. This one was marked “8265 A 35” on the bottom. Be interesting to see if the same can be found on the Qupe. Regardless, this one is worth seeking out. I’ll be grabbing more…

Rating: Buy It

2008 VINTJS Chardonnay

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 VINTJS ChardonnayPer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “VINTJS Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay is a bright, crisp Chardonnay fermented in French oak casks. A touch of rich, vivid tropical fruit makes this wine a good partner to pasta with cream sauce or young cheeses like our Baby Swiss.”

What I Think:

I mentioned in my post about the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer that the new VINTJS offerings weren’t on my shopping list until I realized they were made by Bob Lindquist of Au Bon Climat and Qupe. So that solved the first problem. The second? Drumroll… It’s the grape. Many times over I have precluded my Chardonnay posts by reminding everyone that I am not a fan of the varietal. Once again I feel compelled to do so but won’t go deeper, if interested in more you can find the latest on my story here. When I open this one I immediately think that is the typical $20 California Chardonnay that everyone knows and loves, except for me apparently. Big oak jumps out on the nose. Once it blows off some nice apple and nectarine notes intermingle themselves. On the palate you are greeted with forward fruit, “bright” from the description above rings true. The mid-palate becomes creamy and this lasts through the end where it is met with a touch of acidity that adds crispness and creates a lasting finish that lingers on and on. Many people pay big $$ for this flavor profile. Gary Vee calls it “buttered popcorn Chard”. If that sounds like it is up your alley grab a bottle or two, guessing this could be a winner for you. As for me, my hunt for a Chard I agree with continues. That said, I’m looking forward to trying the Syrah.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio

2008 Italo Cescon Pinot GrigioPrice: $14.99 @ Vintage Wine & Spirits imported by Bacco Wine & Spirit

What They Said:

Per Italo Cescon “A deep yellow, straw-like color. Intense aroma with slight hints of nutmeg, peach, and acacia. A dry, fresh wine with strong, fruity overtones and orange peel. It has a rich, persistent flavor. Is best served with seafood dishes.”

What I Think:

After a haircut I was wandering around town and the magnet drew me into the local wine shop. Given that I hadn’t come in for anything in particular I asked the folks there to share their favorites under $20 with me. This is one of those they identified as being a staff favorite, so even though a bit pricey for me, I decided to give it a go. This one is light in color and shows some bubbles in the glass. On the nose I get mostly floral aromas with hints of lemon. The front of the palate is crisp and clean with stony white fruit flavors appearing towards the middle. From there the zingy acid and mineral component come to the fore leading into a finish that shows notes of nutmeg. This is a pleasant wine for sipping on a warm afternoon.

As I was writing this post I came to a realization that while I find most Pinot Grigio’s from Italy very agreeable they rarely capture my full attention. As I followed this thought a bit further I was reminded of memories of fantastic Pinot Blanc’s I’ve had from the Alsace (disclaimer: As long time readers know I have a soft spot for the region). Once upon a time, Trader Joe’s had a fantastic Marcel Hugg offering from the region which I enjoyed immensely. I’ll have to grab another offering from the area soon. Let me know if anyone has any recommendations.

Rating: Pricey

2008 La Finca Malbec

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Americal Beverage Group

What They Said:

2008 La Finca MalbecPer the bottle “The vineyards of Finca La Celia lie in the foothills of the Argentine Andes. Stunning purple color. Its bouquet is intense, rich in blackcurrant, vanilla and spices. On the palate the soft and succulent ripe fruits follow through with surprising delicacy. The tannins are silky, coming subtly from the forefront and giving a lingering finish. This is a wine to enjoy with meat dishes and pasta with meat and tomato sauces.”

What I Think:

Long a sucker for the wines of Argentina I have waited endlessly for Trader Joe’s to deliver me a knockout in the super value category as there are an abundance of very pleasing wines available in the $8-$12 price range. But the list of wines that has disappointed me is long and distinguished; La Boca, Terrenal and Fuerza roll readily from my tongue. Could these La Finca offerings change the tides of history? It started off positive with a mention of not only a winery but the website for Finca La Celia. Granted, I had never heard of the winery but for many Trader Joe’s offerings I can spend quite some time trying to determine exactly who it was that made the wine in the bottle. In this case someone was proud that they were behind this one. As I browsed the site it became clear that maybe “proud” wasn’t the right choice of words as there was no mention of the “La Finca” offerings to be found. But hey at least they were willing to admit it! Let’s see what the wine had to say about itself…

Quite a build up, followed by quite a letdown. Hey, I wanted to share my real life experience with this bottle! Surprisingly light in color, really hot on the nose with hints of white pepper. The palate has some berry flavors on top of a highly acidic backbone that holds on through the the finish. This wine shows no varietal correctness and at best is innocuous. Looking at the bottle the 12.5% alcohol content confirms my suspicion that this is much lighter than your ordinary Malbec that typically clocks in at 14-15%. By the way, La Finca is also offering a Cabernet, steer clear of that one as well. Nothing special here.

It continues to puzzle me that Trader Joe’s can’t deliver on my favorite red value varietal. Look like I’ll be stocking up on the Pascual Toso again soon…

Rating: Skip It

2008 Terracita Tempranillo

2008 Terracita TempranilloPrice: $9.00 @ Pasternak Wines imported by Pasternak Wine

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Feel like dancing the Flamenco, running with the bulls or lounging on the Costa del Sur? Grab a bottle of Terracita, gather your friends and share a little piece of authentic Spain. Terracita is elegant and full bodied, balancing the signature red raspberry flavors of Tempranillo with vanilla and toasted coconut. A solid choice with barbeque spicy sauces and tapas of course.”

What I Think:

This one is made by Bodegas Roqueta and hails from the “region” of Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla which is similar to Vins de Pays designation of France. The “Vinos de la Tierra” designations are, according to Spanish law, a transitional term for areas that can, after 5 years, apply for “Denominación de Origen” status. During this time they benefit from greater freedom than exists under the D.O. system to produce wines as they wish. This gives them leeway in terms of more flexible vineyard management, vinification and aging techniques with more “approved” varietals. The result can be wines that are more innovative and exciting than those of D.O.s. What was the result here? A nice, light wine (which I received as a sample some time back) bursting with bright cherries integrated onto a dry, herbal, earthy backbone with hints of oak, toast and vanilla on the finish. In a word quaffable. Feel free to grab this one whenever that fits the bill.

Rating: 12th Bottle

If you’re interested in another take check out what Rob had to say about this one on the Wine Post.

2008 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Pasternak Wine

What They Said:

2008 Dashwood Sauvignon BlancPer K&L Wines “90 points in the Wine Spectator: “Vivid, refreshing and brimming with lime-accented pear, star fruit and light vanilla flavors, lingering nicely on the expressive finish. Drink now. 2,000 cases imported” (April 2009) Meyer lemon, tangerine, lime zest, papaya and pineapple. A veritable cocktail of fruit flavors, but fortunately the Dashwood never tastes like fruit cocktail. Nor is it overwhelmed with the grassy, herbal flavors that sometimes plague the value wines of New Zealand. This wine has lovely delineation of flavors ranging from the citrus to the tropical, but it never becomes cloying or overbearing. The Kim Crawford SB may currently hold the crown as our best-selling Kiwi wine, but for less money (and, I feel, better quality) the Dashwood should easily knock it from its throne.. All this and a terrific review in the Wine Spectator and you have our best bargain in Sauvignon Blanc this year. (Keith Mabry, K&L Hollywood)”

What I Think:

I was tipped off to this one by Danny a while back and shortly thereafter picked up a bottle. The bottle made it to the fridge and eventually onto the table and into the glass. As I stuck my nose in for the @garyvee sniffy, sniff it was as if I was standing under a lime tree near a pile of freshly cut grass which was dumped over a bed of rocks lying next to a cool stream. Were you able to follow all that? Now that I’ve had my fun with words let’s try this a different way. You get fresh cut grass and mineral on the nose. Once in the mouth you’re greeted with limes galore on a nice acidic backbone. Meyer lemons and gooseberry greet you on the mid palate leading to a tart, crisp finish. This one is a winner. There is a lot of great value Sauvignon Blanc’s coming out of New Zealand. If you’re still looking for your go to bottle, of if me you like a little variety, definitely give this one a try. Thanks again to Danny for the tip!

Rating: Buy It

2008 La Granja Tempranillo

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

2008 La Granja TempranilloPer the bottle “La Granga 360, means in Spanish “The Farm 360″. It is located in a traditional Tempranillo grape wine growing region in the north of Spain. The little pig is flying because it expresses a song which the Spanish children sing when somebody has asked for something which is impossible to realize, has a dream or says something absurd.

An everyday drinking soft rounded, juicy red wine, with rich ripe raspberry flavors. A great match for barbeque roasted pork chops, spare ribs, sausages, grilled vegetables, and cheeses.”

What I Think:

This one is from the same producer, and the same region, as the company behind the Abrazo label and imported by Evaki who also brings other familiar names such as Condesa de Sarabella and Panilonco to Trader Joe’s. These wines are generally priced in the $5 neighborhood and deliver on that price point. That said, none have had me scrambling back to buy that next bottle. Most leave me with a lingering curiosity of whether the next bottle might be better. In a nutshell, they do just enough to make you think about coming back for more. With that context in mind we cracked the screw cap on this one.

On opening this one was super tight with the acid notes overpowering all else so back went on the cap. I tried it again the following night, what an improvement. The bottle description on this one is extremely accurate, at least the tasting notes I can’t really attest to the rest. On the palate you are greeted with juicy berry/cherry flavors that are met with a dry, herbal component towards the middle that integrates nicely. The finish coats the mouth dry cherry fruits that don’t necessarily last, they just stay. Literally. It leaves you smacking your tongue until you decide to wash them away. I mentioned early most bottles from this imported leave me wondering if the next bottle can be any better, I’m just hoping this one is as good as my first experience as it has the potential to be my favorite Spanish red in recent memory from Trader Joe’s. I’m going to grab a few more bottles; you might want to do the same. I’ll confirm with my 2nd bottle but, as mentioned, be sure to give this one some time (perhaps even overnight) if it starts off wound up a little too tight.

Rating: Buy It

If you’re interested in another take check out what Jeff had to say about this one on Viva la Wino!

2008 Picton Bay Pinot Noir

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by L. Watson Inc.

What They Said:

2008 Picton Bay Pinot NoirPer the bottle “This wine is made from grapes grown in Marlborough and Nelson, Picton Bay Pinot Noir is fresh with delicious red fruit flavours, enticing spicy aromas, and a smooth, fine texture. Drink now or cellar until 2012.”

What I Think:

I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while and on a recent evening it finally made its way to the table. On opening the bottle it was bursting with red berry fruits on the nose. On the palate this one starts smooth and balanced. Towards the middle an acidic backbone emerges showing light fruit flavors which lead to warm, tingly tannins on the finish. On opening it was a bit hot but it blew off with time leaving behind this tight, racy acidic wine that delivers a lot of bang for the buck. If I were to redo the Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List today this one would certainly claim a spot.

That said, this one may not be for everybody as it doesn’t deliver the big fruit many look for. It is much closer to, what I think of as, a Pinot from Oregon with a leaner style balancing red fruit and structured acidity. So how does it compare to the Redtree Pinot Noir ($7) which the Wine Spectator loved. Though I’ve yet to review it, I have tried the Redtree and it comes off more juicy and fruit forward. It also lacks the structure and balance that the Picton Bay, which I prefer, delivers. With the Castle Rock, the Caretaker and this one Trader Joe’s currently finds itself awash in nice drinking Pinot’s that cost you less than a ten spot. Which is your fave? Think I’ll grab some more of all three.

Rating: Buy It