2009 The Wingman Shiraz

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 The Wingman ShirazPer the bottle “Our curiously rich and spicy blend gets its dark color and robust crushed raspberry and Bing cherry characteristics from Shiraz while the Viognier adds a subtle aromatic tropical fruit flavor. Enjoy with BBQ, pizza and pasta in a spicy tomato sauce.”

What I Think:

I couldn’t recall seeing a Shiraz-Viognier blend from California before so given the price I thought I would give it a shot. This one is made in the Owl Ridge Wine Services facility where the Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir also hails. Gives it a bit of street cred but let’s see what’s in the bottle…

(14.3%) 90% Shiraz, 10% Viognier – On pop and pour this one is harsh. I hardly had a sip before putting the cork back in. On night two it showed a little better. Juicy currants and tart cranberry on entry. This one shows a bit more weight (courtesy of the Viognier) on mid-palate but it is otherwise non-existent other than a sharp acidity which emerges. This leads straight into a hot finish that shows some hints of barrel creaminess. Sure you can drink it but if you are paying attention chances are you’ll be wishing you were drinking something else. Not even a good value at this price.

If you are looking for a Shiraz at Trader Joe’s I’d recommend checking out the Chook Shed (disclaimer: I haven’t had the latest vintage) And by the way if you think I didn’t like it Jeff over at Viva la Wino minces even fewer words on this one…

Rating: Skip It

Any one out there have a favorite value Shiraz to share? If so do tell…

2009 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles

Rabbit Ridge WineryTrader Joe’s “other” cult wine. Over the years there have been more than a few accusations of “hording” this offering and not sharing the wealth. The history of the Allures de Robles as I know it lapsed after the 1998 vintage before being resurrected as an NV sometime around 2006. From there it was followed by a 2007 vintage offering. Allure de Robles is an estate grown wine that is made in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style. This one is a traditional Rhone Blend composed of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. With the clones of the grapes being predominantly from the esteemed Tablas Creek Winery which in turn are cut them from the fabled Chateau Beaucastel. For those that don’t recognize the names it is safe to say they are punching well beyond a $5 price tag…

Erich Russell of Rabbit Ridge WineryWhat I find most interesting is that it is made by a real winery. Better yet one that respects their customers first and foremost. I have often lamented those wineries that ship wine off to Trader Joe’s at a steep discount without giving their most valuable customers the opportunity to buy these wines at the same price. When doing so Rabbit Ridge is always my shining example of how to do it right. And while they sell wines from across the pricing spectrum (from $5 up to $30) I’ve always respected the level of detail paid to this offering. Unlike the Chariot Gypsy this one shows variances in ABV (alcohol by volume). The 2009 clocks in at 14.6%; the ‘07 15.4% and ‘08 14.7%. Taking the time, money and effort to refile the label for approval with the TTB annually is just but one indicator that Erich Russell (pictured right) and “the team” from Rabbit Ridge are making the most honest $5 bottle of wine out there to be had.

Per an email from Erich here is what he had to say “The alcohol is indeed a true alcohol at 14.6 and the wine is not manipulated in any way—no acid additions, no water additions, no finning, no mega purple, no concentrate just pure grape juice. It is pretty amazing to me the changes in the wine from 2007 to 2008 to 2009. The 2010 is a really wild one at least individual lots are right now. The bad news is the supply of 2010 will be really low compared to 2009, maybe as much as 60% lower.” And that supply is where things seem to get interesting. Erich mentioned the fact that the Wine Spectator awarding Wine of the Year to another Paso Robles GSM blend is driving prices higher. He is facing a tough conundrum come 2011. One that I have seen many of my favorite value wines face. To raise prices or lower quality. I for one hope Erich will raise the price but am keen to hear your thoughts. If you have a second hop on over to Facebook and cast your vote. In the meantime what do you say we get to this wine…

2009 Rabbit Ridge Allure de RoblesPrice: $4.99 @ 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 price. That’s why we like Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles so much. You would, in ordinary circumstances, expect to pay considerably more for a wine of this quality from the Paso Robles region. These, however, are extraordinary times in which we live, producing both extraordinary wines and extraordinary values.

Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles is crafted from grapes grown on four of the Rabbit Ridge vineyards on the west side of Paso Robles. It’s a Côtes du Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, each grown in a vineyard whose soil and elevation is best suited to the particular varietal. The wine’s strawberry & cherry overtones come courtesy of the Grenache, its medium body a Syrah-specific characteristic and its subtle, earthy undertones from the Mourvèdre. 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 $4.99 a bottle, this wine is a 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:

(14.6%) Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre – Lighter, ruby in color. Strawberry and oak nose. Juicy on the palate with rich, peppery, berry fruit this one turns slight sweet and candied on the mid-palate before a somewhat short finish which once again reveals that peppery streak and a heavy dollop of oak. An affordable sipper well suited for a picnic, keeping you company while cooking or accompanying a meal in need of an easy drinking wine. For $5, while not a revelation, this is better than expected and I’ll be grabbing a few more bottles.

Rating: Buy It (While it may disappoint a few spoiled by previous vintages most will find it money well spent…)

2009 Chariot Gypsy

Ah the Gypsy… Now I’ve written enough a dissertations worth on this one over the years. Trader Joe’s one and only cult wine has become quite a polarizing topic. Is it still good or merely riding on the coattails of what it once was? I can tell you based on my first take that without a doubt this wine was once much better than it is today. That said where did I net out on the 2009 vintage?

2009 Chariot GypsyPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Chariot Wines ” The Chariot Gypsy 2009 tasting notes are coming soon!” Well that sure is helpful! Looks like you are stuck with my opinion…

What I Think:

(13.5%) 34% Zinfandel, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petite Sirah, 15% Merlot, 5% Sangiovese – Dark fruit, spice and barrel on the nose. Juicy on the palate, decent acidity through the mid-palate before a short to medium sweet, creamy vanilla finish. This one fares better when just opened or with food in my humble opinion otherwise it comes off as overly sweet at times (much like the ’08). Speaking of the ’08 I’ll have to do a vertical Gypsy tasting sometime soon to confirm my suspicions. While this wine doesn’t excite me for $5 you you can sure do a lot worse than this…

Should you buy it? The Gypsy is a polarizing wine so let’s start with whether or not you’ve had the Gypsy before. If you have did you like it? Your answer to that question is the same as to whether or not you should buy this vintage. For those that haven’t tried it give it a go. For $5 you can do a whole lot worse. I bought six and am half way through that batch. I like it for what it is; a simple, easy going Tuesday night wine pizza kind of wine that you don’t have to feel guilty you’re not paying too much attention too.

Rating: Buy It <- If you answered the questions above correctly...

What’s your take? Do you like the ’09 Gypsy? Or think it is just riding coattails and memories?

2009 Dynamic Lake County Red Table Wine

I was familiar with the Dynamic Vineyards label and Ceago Vinegarden when I picked this one up. Ceago was founded by Jim Fetzer whose family started their winery in 1968, turned it to organic in 1984 and sold it to Brown-Forman, one of America’s largest alcohol conglomerate, in 1992. He started Ceago soon after (1993) in Mendocino before moving to Clear Lake in Lake County in 2001. Per their site Ceago’s “mission is to craft small lots of wine from estate grown organic and biodynamic grapes using the best of Old and New World winemaking techniques.”

As mentioned I was familiar with this one when I picked it up. For I had very much enjoyed their 2006 offereing. Little did I remember it was the Mendocino which I enjoyed and not the Lake County which I neglected to review at the time given my disappointment. The blend back in 2006 was completely different (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, 20% Malbec) so perhaps it would fare better this time around. Let’s check it out…

2009 Dynamic Lake County Red Table WinePrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

I can’t find a word on this one and since the Ceago Vineyards site still references the 2006 version you’ll have to take my word for it…

What I Think:

(14%) 53% Syrah, 43% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon – Almost cloying on the nose. Off sweet with warm red fruits and spice. Dark in the glass, full bodied and lush on the palate. Problem is little happens between there and the time it dries out on the finish with creamy, vanilla notes on top of light tannins. IMHO this could use more Cabernet in the blend to add some acidity and balance. Then again wine making is not me forte. I’d say this one is good but one dimensional (as noted above). I won’t be buying again but if a fruit forward slightly sweet red is your style feel free to give this one a try.

Rating: Skip It

2009 Benefactor Cellars Red

Way late to the party here but when I saw a lone bottle staring at me from the shelves this weekend I figured it was high time for me to actually get around to this review! The outfit behind this one is DnA Vineyards which opened up shop in 2006. Dennis Patton and his wife Andrea are the proprietors there. Some may recognize Dennis’s name as he has been in the business for 30+ years. He founded Hidden Cellars in 1981 which was sold to Parducci in 1999. He also spearheaded the Coro Mendocino wine consortium along with Paul Dolan.Coro Mendocino

Per the DnA Vineyards site their focus is to make “Custom Crafted Wines” at “Incomparable Price/Quality Ratio”. They do this for numerous clients; Trader Joe’s chief amongst them. This is the third wine of theirs I’ve tried. The first two were both Zinfandels; the 2006 TBD California Zinfandel and the 2007 Rootstock Zinfandel where Dennis himself gave me a lesson in negociant wine-making. Makes sense as this is the grape he is most known for (along with Petite Sirah). You can read more about Dennis in this excellent article.

2009 Benefactor Cellars RedNow per the Coro Mendocino guidelines (or protocol as they say) the wines must have 40-70% Zinfandel; and no second-tier varietal (Barbera, Carignane, Charbono, Grenache, Dolcetto, Primitivo, Petite Sirah and Syrah) can exceed the percentage of the Zinfandel. Lastly a winemaker has “free play” to choose any varietal to comprise up to 10 percent of the final product. The Benefactor Cellars blend is 50% Zinfandel, 40% Syrah and 10% Carignane which meets the Coro Mendocino standards. That said as these wines are distinctively labeled and require peer review I’ve still yet to try one. Anyhow let’s get to this one…

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Benefactor Cellars Red (back label)Per the bottle “Oh erstwhile unstoppable wine market! There are those who have mourned your passing with many a tear, many a boo hoo. But we celebreate the generosity of your death. Those wines which once haunted us from beyond our price range now pour happily – affordably, deliciously, attainably – into our glasses, thanks to you. A toast to failed predictions! To bloated, insupportable markets! Here’s to the Benefactor!”

What I Think:

(14.9%) 50% Zinfandel, 40% Syrah, 10% Carignane – Dark purple in color with warm briary, berry fruit and spice on the nose. It starts with almost candied plum and cherry before a firm acidic structure emerges on the mid-palate to maintain balance. From there it turns oaky and creamy showing vanilla on the finish which thins quickly. From there it lingers on nicely (albeit a bit hot) with a bit of spice and dusty chocolate. This wine is plush, comfortable (familiar) and fruity. An easy, smooth drinker for a $5 spot.

Rating: Buy It

Interested in reading more about the Benefactor Cellars Red?

  • Jeff from Viva la Wino thinks its “actually quite good, especially for $5″. High praise for those that know him…
  • Matt from Trader Joe’s Wine Notes says “Dennis Patton has set the bar very high for wines now occupying the $5 price point”.
  • The folks (or folk) over at Beards & Bellies calls it “a damn fine wine for $4.99″.

2009 Chariot Gypsy White

Sorry to do that to you! I’m sure you read that and right up to the end were expecting something different. That said I felt compelled to share my thoughts here as I have visited at least two stores where they are pitching the white right next to the red version of the Chariot Gypsy. Couple that with the fact that it just showed up in the latest Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer that hit my mailbox and I had to share my thoughts. Long story short I’m not a fan of the white (nor was I of their Sauvignon Blanc from vintages ago). Read on…

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Chariot Gypsy WhitePer Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) “Chariot Gypsy White is made just for us by a small winemaker with a big talent for handcrafting exquisite wines. Known for his ability to combine distinctive grapes to create stellar blends, for Chariot Gypsy White he went with a mind-blowing mélange of some enticing grapes from northern and central California – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Marsanne.

The result is a wine that’s bursting with fresh floral aromas and flavors ranging from fig and almond to apple & pear, with a crisp acidity throughout. Try it with your favorite chicken recipe, our Spinach Lasagna or Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter & Sage. We’re selling each bottle of Chariot Gypsy White for $4.99, which means our goal of delivering a satisfying wine experience for very little money has been accomplished – with style!”

What I Think:

(13%) 37% Chardonnay, 32% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Gewurtraminer, 11% Muscat, 5% Marsanne – Crisp floral nose with honeydew. Juicy sweet nectarine on the palate with a floral, acidic structure that shows a bit sweet and a tad syrupy throughout. Keeping this one thoroughly chilled will take the edge off that. At the end of the day I don’t have anything bad to say about this wine but it has a very limited range for my palate. Beyond pairing with spicy Asian cuisine I don’t have much use for it. Couple that with the fact that these off dry offerings are a dime a dozen at Trader Joe’s (see Green Fin, Now & Zen) and I’m not likely to buy again…

Rating: Skip It

2009 Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc

I headed out to Trader Joe’s last week in search of a few wines. joshiemac told me this one was available and I had my eye out for some others. I thought I’d give the Robert Stemmler a try, received a tip on the Henry’s Drive Shiraz and and having heard good things was on the lookout for the Trader Joe’s Garnacha. The Henry’s Drive was not to be found. Oddly enough (see “Lazy Bones” picture) the Robert Stemmler label threw me off as I remembered it being more classic. After looking around it seems not to have changed though my thought process may have. If I am going to drop $20 on a Pinot there are lots of option out there including this Belle Glos which I have previously enjoyed and comes highly recommended by The Wellesley Wine Press. The Garnacha? Found it but decided to grab a bottle from K&L Wines that I had been wanting to try. Anyhow enough of the chitter chatter. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

2009 Lazy Bones Cabernet FrancPrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “I don’t care if you call me Lazy Bones, I love to lounge away the day alone. Why mix with others when being myself is so beautiful? When the day’s at my pace, I can relish small pleasures like ripe cherries, spiced blackberries, the aromas of sweet wood and fresh herbs. Afterall, there’s no shame in putting off today what can truly wait ‘till tomorrow.”

What I Think:

Rarely have I felt so poorly about my decision making as typing in the “What They Said” above already knowing how bad this one was. Sadly, given this was an offering from the Central Coast Wine Warehouse, who I (use to?) trust and as I was coming off the recent success of the Roustabout (which no one, myself included, can now seem to find) I had high hopes for this one.

This one doesn’t go wrong on the nose which shows underripe blueberry and stone notes. Nor on the initial entry which comes off as light and juicy on the palate. But from there it spirals… By the time this one makes it to the middle of the tongue it feels as if an oak barrel has transformed into a WWF wrestler and has you locked in the Iron Shiek’s sleeper hold. There is no acidity or tag team partner to save you and no matter how many times you tap the mat the wood flavors keep on choking you and choking you. I don’t pour much wine down the drain but this left me no choice. Easily the worst offering I’ve had from the Central Coast Wine Warehouse folks. Pick up anything else on the Trader Joe’s wine shelves priced at $7 and you will be better off…

Rating: Avoid It

Despite this I still do love me some Cabernet Franc. I wonder if Trader Joe’s still carries the Santa Ynez Cab Franc (I know they have the Gewurzt); if so perhaps I’ll grab a bottle soon. How about you? Anyone have a favorite Cab Franc under the $12 price range to share? If so would love to hear about it…

2009 Zin 91 Old Vine Zinfandel

2009 	Zin 91 Old Vine ZinfandelPrice: $13.00*

What They Said:

Per Opici Wines “The aromas are classic of an old vine Zinfandel: spicy and jammy. Notes of black pepper, raspberry, and boysenberry lead to hints of cinnamon, sandalwood, and clove to create the bouquet. On the palate, the wine carries over the spicy notes, as well as black cherry and cassis flavors. The oak-aging gives it a supple and velvety texture. Fruit-forward with balanced acidity and alcohol.”

What I Think:

From what I have been told this wine came to be when wine industry legend Hubert Opici woke up on his 91st birthday and decided to make a wine similar to what the family made at the old (now defunct) Opici Winery in Cucamonga — an easy drinking, affordable, everyday red wine made principally from Zinfandel grapes. Sounds like a good story. My first thought was who is Hubert Opici? Quite an interesting and well respected man I’ve since learned (see bottom of this post). And my second thought was Cucamonga as in Rancho? Southern California? And it is true that once upon a time they were indeed making wine in this area. Stories aside they don’t matter unless the wine is good. Did this one deliver? Here’s my notes…

(14%) 82% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah – The nose here is near perfect Zinfandel with nice dark fruit, spice and barrel notes. This one is juicy and smooth with nice ripe berry (raspberry and boysenberry) fruit on the palate. From there a nice black pepper spicy component emerges on the mid-palate. This is a big wine but maintains a semblance of balance between the fruit, acidity and alcohol. The finish brings a full plethora of barrel flavors; oak, creaminess and vanilla, that linger on with nice tingly tannins.

Now I don’t know about you but for me the days of drinking a truly enjoyable Zinfandel for $10 are long gone. There are plenty of big jammy fruit bomb available in this price range but I prefer something much more balanced. Given the $11 this one is likely to cost you at retail it is well worth the price of entry. If you find it be sure to let me know what you think…

Rating: Buy It

Interested in learning more about Hubert Opici?

*this wine was received as press sample

2009 Tilia Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $7.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Winebow Brands International

What They Said:

2009 Tilia Cabernet Sauvignon91 points Wines & Spirits: “Lightly floral and decidedly fruity, this is rich in cherry flavors that give it a fresh, clean air. A selection from organically farmed vineyards in Mendoza, the fruit is pure and direct, with enough tannin for an Argentine asado.” (06/10)

What I Think:

(13.9%) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – Another offering from the Catena family wine stable this one is dark purple in color turning ruby on the edges. You get sweet red currant on the nose. Full bodied and juicy on the palate with oak emerging on the mid-palate which adds loads of vanilla and layers of soft tannins to the finish. I’m not sure how Wine & Spirits got to 91 points on this one. Perhaps they were having a rough day in the tasting room. That said this is a perfectly drinkable everyday wine at a nice price point. Don’t buy it for the 91 points. In fact forget about them. I bet you’ll enjoy it even more without the lofty expectations to live up to. I know I am going to try that the 2nd time around…

Rating: 12th Bottle

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra

Now Randall Grahm is a character and I mean that in the very best way. I’ve previously referred to him as the Dos Equis man of the wine world and he never ceases to amuse. Be it his thoughts on blending the latest Cigare Volant or his letter introducing (pdf) the Contra he always finds a way to entertain.

So what is this Contra all about? For starters where did it get its name? From the Gonsalves vineyard in Contra Costa county from which 79% of this one hails. Did I mention this vineyard is a field blend? Oh how I love a field blend! The couch? Yip! Apparently in the vineyard there is a lot of “discarded junk lying around including the couch shown in the picture.” Interesting but let’s cut to the chase. How is juice in the bottle…

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards ContraPrice: $14.00*

What They Said:

Per Bonny Doon Vineyard Winemaker and President-for-Life Randall Grahm “Contra unites the earthy rusticity of old-vine carignane – that hard, stoniness that if untempered may be a tad too austere for some – with the luscious, opulent fruitiness of a number of the softer blending grapes. In the wine, you’ve got rocks and raspberries (or maybe they’re mulberries or blackberries), a lively acidity, tannins that are firm but perfectly ripe, and the result is an amazing experience that is both intellectual and sensual. It is hard to really articulate why this experience is so special, but the yin and yang of soft and hard, of fruit and earth, creates the most electrifying aesthetic frisson.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) 55% Carignane, 15% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 7% Petite Sirah, 5% Zinfandel and 3% Syrah – Soft nose with sour cherry, forest floor and spice notes. Lively and juicy on the palate this one shows mulberry fruit, a touch of red licorice and a hint of earthiness on a mineral, stony backbone. Its firm acidity & structure throughout make this super food friendly and a match for many a meal. As it evolves in the glass the fruit becomes plush and take center stage with the mineral notes moving to the edges. The finish is smooth and short with barrel notes but the lingering effect is slightly hot. On the plus side it lasts for ages while open under the screw top. I drank mine over a week plus and saw little oxidative effects even on day 8. With the constant friction between old world and new this is a fun wine to spend time with and I am already on the lookout for another bottle. Feel free to grab some for yourself while you wait for my follow up report…

Rating: Interesting <- a new rating in honor of Randall who believes as I do that the “wine tasting experience is far more about the experiencer than the experienced.”

Interested in reading more about the Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra?

  • RJ’s Wine Blog discusses Randall Grahm literature skills and calls the Contra a “Great ‘good’ wine.”
  • Jon Bonne writes it has the “perfect profile for a big meal.”
  • Palate Press calls it a mix of elegance and muscle and recommends pairing it with roast duck.
  • Katie of Gonzo Gastronomy says “All that for $14? I’d have gladly paid $20…”

*this wine was received as press sample