Razor’s Edge Wines

The Razor’s Edge (per their site) is “the thin line representing a perfect balance between extremes. It is here that our wines can be found, perfectly combining quality and value, complexity and approachability, power and elegance, regional character and purity of flavor. Razor’s Edge wines not only walk the line, they dance upon it.”

Now anyone that knows me is well aware that I would find that a compelling tale. However in this case I had some apprehension as I had tried one of their wines, the Shiraz, long ago and came away disappointed. Nonetheless with a mantra like that I couldn’t help but be eager to give them a try when I received these samples. How did they fare?
Razor's Edge Wines

  • 2009 Razor’s Edge Chardonnay ($12) – (12.5%) 100% Chardonnay – Lighter in color with floral and white citrus fruit on the nose. Juicy and vibrant on the palate with white apple, peach and nectarine flavors. The oak (15% new oak barriques) appears towards the middle and adds a creamy texture but is immediately balanced by a nice adicity which drives through to a clean and pleasant finish. A simple and enjoyable wine for any occasion.
  • 2008 Razor’s Edge Shiraz-Grenache ($12) – (14.5%) 75% Shiraz, 25% Grenache – Medium purple in color; violet on the edges. The nose shows sweet fruits, earth and spice. Starts big and jammy with luscious dark berry fruit on the palate. It remains soft and approachable as the fruit thins and is joined by a peppery, mineral component on the mid-palate. The finish remains fruity but brings in dry, leathery tannins with barrel driven creaminess that linger on nicely together. Nicely structured throughout. I think the Wine Enthusiast liked this one more than me as they named it the number 22 wine in their Top 100 Best Buys of 2010. That said I enjoyed it nonetheless.

So do these wines find the Razor’s Edge? My take is not quite. While both drink nicely and deliver fair value for the price neither make a lasting impression. That said if you have tried these wines I’d love to hear your thoughts. If not have any tips to share on wines that you thought found the “razor’s edge”

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as press samples

2009 12 Apostles Shiraz

2009 12 Apostles ShirazPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Frank-Lin International

What They Said:

Per Aussie Vineyards “The authentic Australian flavors of our Shiraz make a bold introduction and finish with finesse. Aromas of dark berry and licorice fill the palate ahead of fine oak tannins, providing a most satisfying finish.”

What I Think:

If you haven’t paid a visit to the Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles in Australia it is well worth the trip, not to mention the riches of the nearby wine country! Now back to living vicariously, when I first saw this one it gave me flashbacks to the Chasing Clouds Shiraz offering which went for $3 and I enjoyed for quite some time. With that in mind I grabbed a bottle hoping for the best. Given the pressure the wine industry down under appears to be facing we have every reason to do so. Just recently I saw some Jacob’s Creek Shiraz available at my local TJ’s for $5 but it was gone before I knew it. This one appears to have been initially distributed via the Grocery Outlet which claimed that the elsewhere price was $16. 75% off? They must be hurting. Now I’m not the type of guy that cares what I saved, all I care about is what I spent. So what was in the bottle?

Green, chocolate dusty nose with rich plumy fruit on entry that is immediately checked/balanced by acidity. The same nice, bright juicy acidity is present throughout leading to a warm tannic finish that lingers on. Not great but about as good as you are going to get for $4. I already grabbed another bottle just to make sure I wasn’t duped by this one. If it passes that test it would certainly be interesting to taste this one side by side with the Chook Shed. Let me know if anyone else gets to that before I do. Otherwise, if you are a fan of Australian Shiraz give this one a try and if you do let me know what you think…

Rating: Buy It (if your a Shiraz fan…)

2008 Chook Shed Shiraz

2008 Chook Shed ShirazPrice: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Aussie Wine Direct

What They Said:

Per The Province “On the other end of the red wine spectrum -both in geography and style -this new bottle from Down Under plays rock ‘n’roll on the tastebuds. Chook Shed is unapologetically 100 per cent Barossa Valley Shiraz, ripe and opulent with plum, blackberries and cracked pepper. Completely approachable in a generous fruit-forward style, it will play well to a crowd. Better get the barbecue ready, this Shiraz is ready to take on all grilled fare.”

What I Think:

Dark purple in color this one has red fruit, vanilla notes and barrel spices on the nose. Great, inky smooth mouthfeel on entry this one starts nicely balanced. The acidity here is firm,on the cusp of being overbearing but the fruit holds it off to deliver a nice warm, tangy, tannic finish. While not a standout this wine is well made and I’m tempted to grab another bottle. That said I might rather just roll the dice on something else instead. If you are a Shiraz fan definitely give it a try and let me know what you think!

Rating: Pricey

2008 Crane Lake Down Under Chardonnay

Price: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Crane Lake

What They Said:

2008 Down Under ChardonnayPer Wall Street Journal “One other wine stood out. In our notes we wrote: “Crisp, with crackling acidity and good, lemony fruit. Quite fruity, especially on the finish, with a summery mix of fruits like grapefruit and pineapple. Lovely, fresh wine.” When we took the bag off, this was a new wine to us: Down Under by Crane Lake, from the 2008 vintage. When we checked our notes, we were surprised and pleased to see that we had paid just $5.03. As we looked further into this wine, we were even more surprised: It is a wine imported in bulk and bottled in the U.S. The producer: Bronco Wine Co., the very same people who brought you Two-Buck Chuck. This did indeed turn out to be, in effect, Down Under Chuck, the liquid affirmation of one of our theses.”

What I Think:

Have you met Two Buck Chuck’s big sister Three Dollar Koala? Perhaps the first ever Bronco Wine Co. international offering, this one makes its way to your local shelves via an unordinary journey. It arrives from Australia where the grape market is experiencing a serious grape glut which is being widely reported. Some see disaster, others see opportunity. So Fred and his friends have descended, bought some quality product and had it shipped back stateside. That is where it gets interesting. You see 99.99% of wine that arrives on the shores of the United States does so in a bottle. This one however arrives in the equivalent of an oil tanker. Once on shore they “blend, finish and bottle” it before sending it on to Trader Joe’s while preaching to the press that you have been paying too much for Australian wine (read Yellow Tail). And for the record, in Fred’s words, the Bronco Wines aren’t cheap they are “right-priced”.

Now let’s get to the wine. Soft, white fruit that hardly shows on the nose. Nectarine and apples appear on the early palate with a vanilla, oak component appearing mid stream. The finish has a very nice fruit crispness that doesn’t show a hint of acid. To the aforementioned oak, it isn’t overpowering but is certainly noticeable in a subtle way. For someone with oak defenses on high alert this is just enough to trigger the alarm. Given that, I won’t be picking another bottle of this up as I prefer a different Bronco offering, the Blue Fin . That said, if you like a little bit (or a lot) of oak this one is worth a try. After trying it, if you like it, grab a case or two. This is the first batch and you can be certain they have bought the best of the best of the affordable and available grapes. Come batch two, the lowest common denominator might be a couple floors away. For those that remember the original vintage of Two Buck Chuck we know how this saga plays out. Enjoy it while you can…

Rating: 12th Bottle

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

2008 d’Arenberg Hermit Crab

2008 d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier-MarsannePrice: $11.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Old Bridge Cellars

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Expressive aromatics of lime and lemon with peaches, pears and apricot stone jumping out of the glass and spicy, floral notes in the background. Great balance on the palate, the luscious stone fruit and ginger spices harmonized by savory nuty characters from the Marsanne. Wonderful combination of freshness, complexity and balance between fruit flavour, acid and alcohol.”

What I Think:

I am a long time fan of d’Arnberg; in fact the Stump Jump Red was my first case purchase at Cost Plus World Market ages ago. Having long wanted to try this one a recent episode of wine library tv brought it top of mind and I grabbed a bottle on my recent visit to K&L Wines. Not familiar with Marsanne I learned that it hails from France and is widely planted in the Hermitage AOC. In fact, the Hermit Crab naming of this wine is an ode to these historical ties. Appellation America had a humorous write-up where I learned that Marsanne is most commonly blended and married with Roussanne. From that article this combination with Viognier is described as one of the “few incidents of infidelity forgiven.” One thing Marsanne does share with Viognier is that both are blended in small percentages into red wines. The Marsanne can serve as up to 15% of red blends of the Hermitage and the Viognier with Shiraz in Australia. Now let’s get to the wine…

d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Vintage Ratings

This one is a blend of 72% Viognier and 28% Marsanne and comes with a long record of accolades. As you can see from the graphic this one consistently rates in the 90′s which is remarkable given the price point. With a grilled shrimp salad on the table we poured the wine in the glass. The nose is a load of fruits and minerals with floral notes interweaved. On the palate it starts with citrus, lemon and lime, before turning to peach and fading to a stony finish. This wine is certainly well made and the acid is very well balanced but to me it seems that one component hasn’t integrated and is disrupting the “flow” of this wine towards the end of the mid-palate. You would think I could identify it but honestly I can’t. I’m thinking it is an oily/kerosene/petroleum like component. Other thoughts were the amount of oak used or a bitter, nut flavor. As I mentioned on twitter; I am surprisingly not a fan. Perhaps it’s Marsanne, I intend to seek out a varietal offering to get some more experience here and see if that might be the issue. The nutty qualities leave me wondering if this could have used some more time in the bottle, could this one improve over the years? Don’t let me opinion sway you here, if you intended to try this I urge you to do so. Then let me know what you think… If you have trouble tracking this one down it is available on wine.com.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Kono Baru Shiraz

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Don Sebastiani & Sons

What They Said:

Per the winery “This exceptional Shiraz from down under expresses the deep concentration typical of the famous Barossa Valley. The color is inky purple with intense blue fruit such as wild huckleberry and ripe crushed blueberry. The palate has a supple entry while the silky texture is backed by big grape tannins wrapped around boysenberry extract and finishing with a touch of brown sugar and vanillin.

This wine is an exceptional sipper. The generous profile will stand up to braised beef shortribs on a port wine sauce with a parsnip puree or complimentary to grilled wild Salmon fillets, served with heirloom tomato salsa over a bed of arugula.

Most of Australia’s wine is produced in the south-eastern region of the country, an area which, like California, boasts considerable geographic and climatic diversity. Flavors born in the high altitude vineyards of the Adelaide hills, the cool coastal climate of Tasmania, and the deep granitic soils of the Strathbogie Ranges contribute to the distinct characters that gives these wines an international appeal.”

What I Think:

As mentioned when I tried their Riesling some time back these wines were made for blogging. That one wasn’t a hit but the easy to find tasting notes and podcasts have kept these wines top of mind for me. Kudos to Sebastiani & Son’s and the Three Loose Screws label for helping out those of us that are publicizing their products.

Now on to the main event, like the Riesling, this wine was quaffable but seemingly made for the masses as there was little memorable about it. As mentioned via twitter here and here, this wine is marginal stoking thoughts of melted cherry cough drops. That was my initial thought which slowly unwound itself to being medicinal then to herbal and then to the green peppers. I got the tannins but missed the fruit described above. I prefer the Cartwheel so if you have had neither grab that one. If you weren’t happy with the Cartwheel at $4 give this one a try. Maybe it will work for you.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Cartwheel Shiraz

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Wine World Estates

What They Said:

Per Saratoga Wine Exchange “This is an elegant yet full-bodied Shiraz. It is not overdone like some other Shiraz producers have been doing lately. Ripe black cherry fruit combined with a gorgeous mouthfeel makes this an amazing Australian wine loaded with flavor.”

What I Think:

I found the brief blurb above from the Saratoga Wine Exchange. Good thing, because the winery didn’t even want to mention this one. A little sleuthing turned this nugget up, Cartwheel is a new stand-alone brand range from Beringer Blass. They come in two quality/price tiers: Western Australia and Margaret River respectively. I followed up with their contact us form to try and get some information on this offering but they couldn’t provide anything beyond “Cartwheel Wine is a part of the Foster’s portfolio. Please click onto the link below where you will be re directed to the website. Any information that we are able to disclose, can be found here”. Interesting… I also found a mention that this may have been bottled by the importer here in the US which I believe would be unique…

Now on to the wine, it actually says it is from South Eastern Australia, this doesn’t appear to be a designation that is recognized. Guess they mean the eastern part of the state of Victoria. Anyhow, Trader Joe’s was actually stocking the GSM version of this wine as well, though that disappeared in a hurry. On popping the top I am quickly reminded of the Chasing Clouds, that said the white pepper is readily apparent over a nice layer of initial fruit that fades just a bit too fast! Still, a decent bang for the buck and better than my early impressions of the Kono Baru.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Yalumba “Y” Series Shiraz Viognier

Price: $8.99 @ Cost Plus imported by Negociants Napa

What They Said:

Per the winery “This wine is deep purple red in colour with the nose showing initial aromas of violets and sweet berry fruits, messed with the subtle fragrance of apricot and musk. The palate is stylish and approachable, showing sweet berry mid palate fruits with a soft even texture and fine tannin finish.”

What I Think:

I know I promised to get to this one soon after drinking the ’04 but alas, eleven months later I am finally delivering. Back then freshly returned from my vacation in Australia I was somewhat let down on the price ($14) and the bottle itself. On a positive note I did learn some lessons on pairing Shiraz with that bottling that are detailed in the previous post.

Given I’ve had the ’04 and I have notes this offers an interesting opportunity to look at a vertical. The winemaker is the same and I have the statistics on hand. Before looking I would expect this version to be much more acidic. And survey says…

2004 2005
Alc/Vol 14% 13.5%
Total Acid 6.2g/L 6.5g/L
pH 3.57 3.48

Not sure if the difference in Total Acid is significant or not. Also not sure how the Total Acid relates to pH which from my pre-med days I recall as a measure of acid as well. Time for some additional research so stay tuned! Anyhow, happily with the ’05, which is the vintage I was drinking when I was down under, the world has righted itself. At $9 this wine has a lot to offer!

Following my pairing rule we pulled the cork on this one with Filet on the table. This bottle is 94% Shiraz/6% Viognier. In the glass it looks light, ruby but almost effervescent. On the nose you get some floral aromas, from the Viognier which I had a hard time identifying in the ’04 bottling. A bit of dark fruit on the palate before the Viognier takes over leading to a bit of a racy finish with just a hint of sourness. All in all very enjoyable. With the ’06 out I’ll look to continue this experiment. I’ll have to find it…92% Shiraz/8% Viognier. Hopefully it will take me less than 11 months!

Rating: Buy It

2005 Kono Baru Riesling

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “The aromatics of this wine are tropical with mango, passion fruit and apricot fruit notes. The palate is concentrated with stone fruit, ripe Fuji apple and Bartlett pear notes intermingled with honeycomb, petrol, wet stone and mineral flavors. These old vine Rieslings have great capacity to age attractively, in this case into 2010 and possibly beyond.

This Riesling is an excellent food wine. Try it with a John Dory filet in parchment with truffled mashed potatoes and haricot vert. The bright acidity of the wine with spicey bouillabaisse seafood stew, Kumamoto oysters on the half shell with a Champagne mignonette, or refreshing grapefruit and mint salad, is a perfect midsummer, poolside combination.

Most of Australia’s wine is produced in the south-eastern region of the country, an area which, like California, boasts considerable geographic and climatic diversity. It is well known that the Central Goulburn of Victoria area produces an excellent Riesling. Flavors born in the high altitude vineyards of the Adelaide hills, the cool coastal climate of Tasmania, and the deep granitic soils of the Strathbogie Ranges contribute to the distinct characters that gives these wines an international appeal.”

What I Think:

This wine was made for blogging, check out the link above and you’ll see what I mean. Tasting notes, bottle shots and the podcast all linked directly to the wine. That is usability I had never before come across on a winery website. I’m already ready to buy another bottle. The interest continued when I found on the site that Don Sebastiani & Son’s are responsible for this wine under their Three Loose Screws label. This was surprising given that this is an Australian offering.

Unfortunately much of my interest in this bottle ended about here. While the wine was quaffable it certainly didn’t distinguish itself. At times it tasted like Sauvignon Blanc and others just any generic white, I struggled to constantly remind myself that this was suppose to be a Riesling. I’ll be sticking to my favorite German offering but perhaps I’ll give another one of the Kono Baru offerings a try at some point.

Rating: Skip It

2004 Evans & Tate Cabernet Sauvignon Underground Series

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Scott Street Portfolio

What They Said:

Per the distributor or at least I thought so. As you can see her no links for the 2004 Cab nor the ’03. I emailed them to see if they had anything but no response. Wonder what gives. Nothing to be found anywhere on the internet for the ’04. I remember hearing about them going bankrupt. Is that it? Think the sold the whole lot to TJ’s?

What I Think:

This one was a surprise which makes my experience described above even more confounding. I know this winery is located in Western Australia in the Margaret River region. Given that the rest of their bottlings are from this area I am guessing the majority of the fruit for this one must be as well. On the nose you get loads of dark fruit with hints of pepper and spice. The fruit follows in the mouth with spicy overtones leading through to a finish of black fruits that lingers nicely. This wine isn’t complex but it is quaffable and enjoyable. Not sure you can ask for much more at $4. It’s also a screwcap to boot!

Rating: Buy It