2007 MacMurray Central Coast Pinot Noir

Price: $13.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 MacMurray Central Coast Pinot Noir90 points Wine Enthusiast: Currently hard and tart in acids and tannins, but loaded with sweet, ripe fruit, this Pinot is silky enough to drink now, which most consumers probably will. But if you give it until sometime in 2010, the cherries, cola, sandalwood and spices will mesh and improve.” (12/09)

89 points Wine Spectator Review: Ripe, floral, perfumed aromas of black cherry and raspberry are pure and zesty. Full-bodied, balanced and delicate, showing just the right touch of acidity and tannins, with pleasant mineral and earth notes. Drink now through 2012.

What I Think:

As you know Trader Joe’s has been flush in reasonably priced, well made Pinot. It started with the Castle Rock, then the Caretaker to the Davis Bynum followed by the Sebastopol Hills…you get the idea. And I haven’t even tried the Lane Tanner offerings yet! Next on that list is this MacMurray Ranch which is part of the Gallo brand portfolio. Suggested retail price on this bottle is $24 and it primarily sourced from the Olson Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands. What about the juice inside you say…

This one is like sticking your nose in a berry patch, complete with leaf and brambly accents. Very inviting begs you to dive in and delivers loads of juiciness when you do. Nice acidity emerges towards the mid-palate and is balanced by a nice cranberry component that is present throughout. The finish is tart but pleasant (reminded me exactly of Ocean Spray Cranberry juice) and has a spicy (clove) kick that lingers on long after you have put the glass down. A nice wine that delivers on the price point. That said I would go lower than the 90 from Wine Enthusiast and maybe even the 89 from Wine Spectator on this one. My ultimate gauge, would I buy it again? For $10 I would. At $14 I’m on the fence, we will see next time I hit the store!

Rating: Pricey

2007 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas

Price: $21.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

2007 Tablas Creek Côtes de TablasPer K&L Wines “93 points Robert Parker: “The 2007 Côtes de Tablas is a sensational wine as well as a great bargain. The fact that it is finished with a screw cap may give some consumers the wrong impression, but this is a serious, mouthfilling red. A blend of 50% Grenache and the balance equal parts Syrah and Counoise, it exhibits sweet, gamy notes along with plenty of pepper, licorice, roasted herb, blackberry, and cassis characteristics, a velvety, lush texture, a full-bodied richness, beautifully integrated acidity, abundant Provencal typicity, and good minerality for a wine of such remarkable flavor depth. Enjoy it over the next 5-6 years.” (08/09)

Tablas Creek, a partnership between Robert Haas and the Perrin family of France’s famed Château de Beaucastel, has been at the forefront of growing and producing top-notch Rhône varietals for more than 20 years. Their “Côtes de Tablas” blend of Grenache, Syrah and Counoise is an homage to the wines of the Southern Rhône kissed by the California sun. The 2007 vintage is fantastic and alluring from the moment you pop the cork. Lead by bright red cherry aromas underscored by hints of iron, game and fresh cracked black pepper, the bouquet translates seamlessly to the palate, which is fresh and spicy with a vein of anise that weaves itself through to the finish. Like other Perrin wines, this medium-bodied beauty is built for the table. Try it with braised short ribs, grilled hanger steak with shallots or bucatini all’Amatriciana.”

What I Think:

Tablas Creek is a wine I have been meaning to try for years. With that it silently became the movie that everyone raved about. Expectations growing each day as you await the experience. A bit ago they had a tasting at K&L Wines but I managed to catch a cold around that time. From my sick bed I added a couple bottles to my virtual cart which I picked up a few months later. Then the wine sat in the rack begging for me to drink it. Last Friday I took it up on the offer but could it meet the lofty expectations?

This effort was 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 25% Counoise. Anyone ever had a varietal bottling of Counoise? I haven’t but would love to give it a try. No better way to learn about a grape. Speaking of learning something crossed my mind when drinking this bottle; currants. This is a smell/taste that crosses my mind often. I need to get more familiar with it. I decided that part of my New Year’s Blogging Resolution (#nybr) will be to explore a different flavor component each month. The goal being to familiarize myself with each and expand my wine tasting vocabulary. Anise may be my early choice for February. Who else has wine related resolutions to share? Ok, ok let’s get to the wine…

The Côtes de Tablas greeted me with an expressive nose showing spicebox, herb, black cherry and dark brambly fruits notes. It was medium to dark garnet in color. The entry to the palate showed a glimpse of fruit that is quickly enveloped into a tight, but balanced, acidic wrapper from which emerges a dry, finish laced with red licorice flavors. My initial impression was that this wine was clearly well made, a bit tight and enjoyable without being memorable. Those that know me are aware I am looking for more than that in a $20 bottle. After four nights I learned that this one just needed more time in the bottle. Though enjoyable initially a few days of air made a world of difference. With time the front of the palate softened and the wine now greeted you with nice, warm fruit on entry while still holding its balance with a nice acidity emerging towards the middle that leads to a long, dry, chalky finish. In hindsight, I would have liked to let this one lie for at least another year (or decanted for a few hours). Had I checked earlier perhaps the Tablas Creek vintage chart (pdf) could have saved the day. It currently lists the ‘07 Côtes de Tablas as “early maturity”. The ’06 is drinking at “peak maturity”. I wonder if I can find a bottle for comparisons sake. In the mean time what to do about that bottle of ’07 Esprit de Beaucastel

Rating: Pricey

2007 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles

2007 Rabbit Ridge Allure de RoblesPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Holiday Guide “This is a Rhône style red wine that could only come from Paso Robles. Why? The nutrient-dense, limestone-rich soils produce grapes of great character. And the variety of climate conditions within the region create distinctive flavor profiles that are unquestionably Rhône-esque, but with a definitively Central Coast vibe.

Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles is a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Medium-bodied with strawberry and cherry overtones from the Grenache, the wine inherits an earthiness from the Mourvedre and supple body from the Syrah. Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles is an excellent sipping wine, wonderful with strong cheeses and a natural with roasted meats like our Prime Rib Roast or Frenched Pork Chops. It’s a great value at only $4.99 – only at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s.”

What I Think:

This is a wine that seems to be getting better and better with each vintage. I initially enjoyed a NV version some 30 months ago and was excited to see this one in the store recently! And my excitement was justified… My first thoughts via twitter were “Drinking the Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles (tj’s, $5). Big wine @15.4% a bit hot. But bold, fruity and enjoyable. I’ll be getting more.” And I must admit, I was very happy it had the structure to balance out that high ABV%. I’ve already grabbed another half of a case…

Per Rabbit Ridge winemaker Erich Russell this one is roughly 45-50% Grenache, 25-30% Mourvedre, with the balance being Syrah, Petite Sirah and six or so more grapes (Erich fell free to update once you get the final %’s). Big, bold dark fruit throughout but as mentioned balanced, coating your mouth with plush fruit and tannins. A dry, chalky finish follows that is loaded with white pepper and lingers on and on. From the above the “nutrient-dense” soils ring true. Strawberry and cherry do not. Either way grab yourself a bunch of this one while it last. A perfect wine to serve over the holidays!

Rating: Bulk Buy

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

2007 Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage

2007 Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell's MeritagePrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

There is nothing official here. Though the front of the bottle was appealing the back was filled with lyrics I’ve chosen not to retype here. That said feel free to friend up Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage on Facebook.

What I Think:

This Jebediah Drinkwell comes from a rich pedigree. It’s producer, Central Coast Wine Warehouse, has been behind many great values such as the Pancake Cellars, the Caretaker Pinot and my personal favorite the Franc Merlot.

This one reminds of the Franc Merlot from the word go. The blend here is 60% Cab Franc, 27% Merlot, 11% Cab and 1% Malbec and Petite Verdot (versus 70% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot and 4% Petite Sirah for the Franc Merlot) . The heavy Cab Franc is evident throughout this one starting with a healthy dose of green pepper on the nose. The palate shows blackberries with a dusty chocolate component emerging which leads to a nice spicy, white pepper finish. This one drinks smoothly.

2007 Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell's MeritageThat leaves one question, is it worth $5 more than the Franc Merlot? I don’t think so. In fact, given these come from the same producer, have nearly the same blend and are labeled with successive vintages (2006 Franc Merlot and 2007 Jebediah Drinkwell) a conspiracy theorist may say this is the next vintage of that same wine with a different label at double the cost. The time they individually appeared on the shelf may debunk that theory but either way you can still feel free to buy wines from Central Coast Wine Warehouse on sight. This one makes them 4 for 4, albeit at a bit pricier than I would like…

Rating: Buy It

For a few more takes check out Trader Joe’s Wine Compendium (pro) or The Cab Franco Files (con)

2008 Caretaker Pinot Noir

 2008 Caretaker Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Ruby in color the 2008 Caretaker delicate and floral with rose petal, raspberry and strawberry aromas. The palate is exuberant with sweet red berries that continue into a soft, earthy plum finish.”

What I Think:

Nary a word about this one to be found on the internet but that’s okay I knew that before I brought it home. You see, this one is a product of the Central Coast Wine Warehouse which appears to be a shared production facility. This is the same place that delivered the The California Wine Party Franc Merlot and the Pancake Cellars Big Day White. I’m still pretty certain the Central Coast Wine Warehouse is an operation/business that uses this facility to create the wine. But that is becoming less clear by the bottle… Here nor there, based on my history with the Franc Merlot I bought two bottles of this one on site. Seeing the listing of the  2008 Caretaker Pinot Noir
Pinot clones they used on the back label only reinforced my decision.

Shortly after bringing it in the house it is on the table. Opening it my first thought is really! A 2008 Pinot already? 7 months from the vine to my table. My initial inclinations proved right as this one came across disjointed and with little balance. I sensed the delicate, floral nature on the nose. But the palate couldn’t bring anything together. Not a bad wine, likely very young and needing some time. For now, no fruit and lots of acidity. No way I could recommend this over the Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot. I’ll let you know if the 2nd bottle changes my mind but thinking unlikely at this point…

Rating: Skip It

2007 Pancake Cellars Big Day White

2007 Pancake Cellars Big Day WhitePrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per corkd.com courtesy of bjwdad; “The nose has scents of pear, lychee and spice. And Gewürztraminer dominates the taste, even at only 12% of the stated blend. This wine is DELICIOUS, and one of the best whites I’ve ever experienced!! Outstanding value, to say the least.”

What I Think:

This label was hard to resist. Again the blend looked intriguing and as I grabbed the bottle to give it a read I got the idea that this was made by the same outfit behind my beloved Franc Merlot. At that point it was just a matter of resisting the urge to put more than one bottle in the cart. I am still trying to validate that these were indeed products of the same winemaker. The Pancake Cellars was made by Central Coast Wine and the Franc Merlot by the Central Coast Wine Warehouse. I was able to track down an email address from the latter and asked for confirmation. I’ll let you know what (if) I hear back.

Now for what was in the bottle. This one was a blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Chardonnay, 12% Gewurztraminer and 1% Pinot Blanc. On the nose it was clean, with light notes of white fruit and minerals. On the tongue it was well balanced. The sauvignon blanc leads while the chardonnay holds through the mid-palate and lingers through the finish. In the finish just a hint of the gewürztraminer sweetness shows itself, from the above review I was expecting much more. All in all, my initial inclination is that this wine isn’t all that distinguishable. That could be taken as a negative but the plus side is that this blend will pair nicely with virtually any food. I prefer the Synergy but perhaps a side by side tasting is in order. Yeah, that works. I’ll grab a bottle and check back in with a second opinion. For now this seems like a 12th bottle.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2006 The California Wine Party Franc Merlot

2006 The California Wine Party Franc MerlotPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per corkd.com “Recent find at Trader Joe’s. The nose has an intriguing mix of earth, fruit and herbs (rosemary? basil?). Good tannin & some fennel. The taste has some luscious blackberry and an herby finish. Different, and I really like it. Much more interesting than the typical $5 wine.”

What I Think:

As I mentioned here this one is a winner. I backed up that sentiment again ranking the Franc Merlot #2 in my Top 10 list of Trader Joe’s Wines and even more so when I cleaned the last case off of the shelf at my local TJ’s last weekend. All that said I am a sucker for Cabernet Franc and this one is heavy in that department (70% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot and 4% Petite Sirah). Given a varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc can rarely be found for less than $10 and we have a potential steal on our hands already!

On pouring this one in the glass you find a great nose full of spice and peppers. Slightly green but in a pleasant way. You can tell it is heavy on the Cabernet Franc as the characteristics shine through. That said the fruit is a little more robust here. It is smooth up front before cherries burst through the peppery undertones. The soft tannins stay in the background and the chewy, cherry flavors linger on leading to a long dry finish. One word of caution put it away if your dessert comes with chocolate. That said buy a case for every other occasion! This is the best $5 red I’ve had at Trader Joe’s in quite some time.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2006 Rabbit Ridge Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “This Cabernet Sauvignon was barrel-aged in French and American oak for approximately 16 months to achieve the perfect balance. A judicious amount of Petite Verdot and Petite Sirah was added to create this big, concentrated dark Cabernet Sauvignon boasting a great deal of complexity. The wine is totally natural with the exception of yeast added during fermentation. The limestone characteristics of our vineyards allow us to produce this Cabernet Sauvignon with 100% natural acid. 5,040 cases produced.”

What I Think:

After going through quite a bit of the Allure de Robles I was happy to give another Rabbit Ridge offering a try. So when I stumbled across this one at Trader Joe’s it quickly made its way into the cart. Upon arriving home I was keen to find out how much TJ’s saved me this time as the previous bottle was 50% less than the winery price. This time around I arrived at the site to find a notice that this one was only selling at Trader Joe’s for $5.99. Guessing I don’t have much sway but let me at least let me imagine that was because I called them out last time:).

Off the bat this one engulfs you in fruit. On the nose it is loaded with dark fruits with hints of barrel and spice. On the palate you get a lush mouthful of cherry and plum flavors that last into a finish that is only slightly tannic with a bit of mint. I noticed after I finished this one that it has Petite Sirah added which may explain the heavy accentuation of fruit. If you like that then this one is for you. I myself prefer something a bit more restrained and would recommend these as my top three cabernets at Trader Joe’s today:

Let me know what you think!

Rating: Skip It