2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant

Price: $35.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard

What They Said:

2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare VolantPer Bonny Doon Vineyard (pdf) “This cuvée, the 22nd edition of Le Cigare Volant a blend of syrah, grenache, cinsault with just a soupçon of mourvèdre and carignane, make for a bright and wonderfully gamey wine. Very youthful with toasty notes of cherry, birch, sassafras and pomegranate. Pair this racey red with a bloomsdale spinach salad with sherry vinaigrette garnished with carpaccio of tuna or beef. Speaking of beef, a rare steak in any number of variations (tri-tip, hanger, New York, filet) would be quite delish. But more exotic fare such as chicken tikka masala or Tandoori lamb chops will also work wonderfully well. While the zesty ’06 is excellent right now, decanting or aging it for 2-3 more years would be all to the good.”

What I Think:

(13.3%) 43.6% Syrah, 43.5% Grenache, 11.7% Cinsault, 1.1% Mourvedre and 0.1% Carignane – The blend percentage as only Randall and crew would tell it this is my first go round with the Le Cigare Volant. Dark red in color with earthy red fruits, spice and almost a hint sweet on a savory nose. Starts rich and lively on a meaty, chewy palate that shows brambly berry fruit. From there it turns tart, earthy and mineral driven before drying out on a peppery finish where the fruit reemerges before giving way to lingering, lip smacking tannins. Nice tannins and structure this is a wine drinks well now but definitely has a brighter future ahead of it. Thankfully I already have one more on hand… (3,300 cases made)

Rating: Wow!

2008 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard

In honor of today being #CabernetDay (if you are interested in participating you can find details here) I thought I might share a few of my favorites starting with this stunner that “Jon Bonne turned me onto late last year. Broadside is a partnership of Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars and Brian Terrizzi of Giornata that focuses on making artisanal wines with a natural approach that are priced for people to drink, not collect. And based on my experience I must say they are doing a fine job of it (perhaps except that I want to drink and collect this one…)

Price: $18.99 @ Cheese Plus

What They Said:

2008 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita VineyardPer Jon Bonne “The new release of Chris Brockway’s naturally fermented Cabernet from this high-elevation Paso site continues a stellar run. Pretty cassis and cured tobacco, with juicy bramble fruit. Try finding similar quality California Cab for the price.”

What I Think:

(14.1%) 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Verdot – Made with a super non-intervention philosophy you know you are on to something different as soon as this hits your tongue. Lively and pure this one starts with an aggressive flavor profile from the get go showing bright cherries and juicy brambly berries on a firm mineral backbone. These dry out to show tea leave flavors on a mid-palate that features a cola (along with a bit of caramel) tinged acidity leading to grippy, chewy tannins on a smooth, lingering finish. What can I say? I’m smitten. I will certainly be buying again.

Rating: Wow! (that said not your typical California Cabernet, though I wish it were, with only 2% new oak so approach with an open mind)

How about you? What are you drinking for #CabernetDay?

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

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…)

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…

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 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

2007 Roustabout Meritage

2007 Roustabout MeritagePrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “With silky tannins and exceptional texture, this wine opens with notes of black cherries, wild blueberries and cigar box, finishing with nuances of dark chocolate and espresso. Serve with food made by your own hand. Decant for up to an hour.”

What I Think:

Yet another find from the folks over at the Central Coast Wine Warehouse. Looking at the blend percentage I once again start dreaming of a follow-up to the Franc Merlot. Could it deliver on that potential? Let’s check the notes…

(14%) 56% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec – Dark purple in color with brown sugar, blackberry fruit and spice on the nose. This one starts smooth with juicy blueberry flavors and silky tannins. Towards the middle the fruit turns jammy and slightly sweet before starting to dry out with nice cedar notes. The finish shows sweet tobacco and dry, tangy tannins. A true successor (or as close as we can hope for) to the aforementioned Franc Merlot. This one is nice, warm and comforting. A wine well suited for a winter evening. I’m so close to loving this one… Just a bit more acidity to see this through on the finish and I am buying by the case. Despite that I’ll still be grabbing a few more on my next visit as this is a enjoyable wine for the price.

Rating: Buy It

*a quick footnote here that this is a review of the ’07. It looks like the ’08 may be available in some areas as well. I have yet to try that vintage. If you have let us know what you think!

2009 Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Cabernet Franc

2009 Trader Joe's Petit Reserve Cabernet FrancPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “The cool nights and warm days of Paso Robles bring out savory currant and dry cranberry nuances in our Petit Reserve Cabernet Franc.”

What I Think:

I’m not exactly sure why I had such high hopes for this one but something made me buy three bottles on sight. Granted I am a big fan of Cab Franc but that is some aggressive buying. Did it pay off? Let’s see…

Made by Familia Nueva Vineyards this one is light purple with translucent violet on the edges and has a pleasant nose of berries and spice. The palate starts nice with dried cranberry notes but quickly turns thin and becomes disjointed. On the finish heavy barrel driven tannins emerge with only a hint of the sour cherry fruit surviving. Even if it survived in full glory this one leaves a lot to be desired. I bought three of these hoping for good things. I am now plotting on how I can return the other two. I suggest you steer clear but if you happen to give this one a try I would love to hear your thoughts.

Rating: Skip It

Ortman Family Vineyards “O2″ Wines

I’ve heard many good things about Ortman Family Vineyards but never had the chance to try their wines. So when offered the chance to sample the inaugural release of their “O2” series I was glad to have the chance. The “O2” wines were positioned to serve as “A fresh, new generation of affordable wines from the Ortman family”.

Before we answer whether or not they lived up to their positioning there are two important disclaimers. The first being that this is their second label and I have never tasted their first. Given that I can’t offer any comparisons. The second being that this is their inaugural release. Like opening night at a restaurant there are always some kinks to be worked out. With that let’s get to the wines…
3 from Ortman Family...

  • 2009 Ortman Family “O2″ Chardonnay ($18) – (14.2%) This one, hailing from the Central Coast, starts promising when I read “Simply put, overly oaky, cloying Chardonnay is just not our style” from the winery brochure. And this delivers as well. Not your standard butterball turkey here. Nice crispness with peach and apricot on the nose. Crisp on entry with the same fruit flavors before mineral and oak components emerge on the mid-palate. These lead to a first oaky & creamy then tangy, tart lasting finish. This is not your regular Chardonnay as it shows racy acidity throughout. Pleasant but pricey at $18.
  • 2008 Ortman Family “O2″ Sangiovese ($20) – (13.8%) Short on notes for this one hailing from Paso Robles but this was indeed again a nice wine. Starts lively and juicy with cherry cola flavors and dark fruit. A nice acidity emerges mid-palate and leads to dry sage notes on a soft spice finish with lingering tannins. This one shows nice balance throughout.
  • 2007 Ortman Family “O2″ Cuvée Eddy ($20) – (14.2%) Syrah 42%, Grenache 30%, Mourvèdre 19%, Petite Sirah 9% – This one, hailing from San Luis Obispo, starts with plush fruit and barrel spice on the nose. Bright fruit on entry that turns almost creamy on the mid-palate where a nice acidity emerges before a spicy, blackberry briar finish with just a touch of sweetness. A nice wine and an easy drinker but at $20 I can’t say it is worth stretching your budget for.

Now keep in mind when it comes to $20 wines there are few harsher critics out there than me. These wines all offer a fair quality to price ratio, are well made and I enjoyed each one of them. That said at this price point I want a wine to distinguish itself and I didn’t see that here. Reminder that this is the inaugural vintage so as the “kinks” get worked out I am sure we can look forward to better things. Either way if $20 is within your price range give these a try. You’ll be sure to enjoy and they are twist off to boot!

Interested in reading more about the Ortman “O2″ Series?

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