2009 Trader Joe’s Petite Verdot Reserve

2009 Trader Joe's Petit Verdot ReservePrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle not a thing. Even more surprisingly given the label I was astonished to learn this one was made by the folks at Central Coast Wine Warehouse whom regualar readers will recognize as one of my favorite producers in the Trader Joe’s wine aisle. That said everyone appears to be keeping tight lips on this offering. The best I was able to find is that the 2006 (and I believe the ’07) were grown and bottled by Ancient Peaks Winery, whose Petite Verdot retails for over $30. Was the 2009 as well? If anyone out there has any information to share please send it my way…

What I Think:

This came highly recommended from a few of my Trader Joe’s insiders (Angela and Matt) so you know I had to give it a try. This one starts rich, plush and velvety with blackberry fruit before grippy tannins emerge and intermingle with peppery spices that last through a lingering finish that dries your mouth straight to a pucker. I like it! Reminds me that I need to be drinking more of this varietal. Given the price point this is a great first bottle to explore but I’m thinking I want to expand my Petite Verdot horizons with my next purchase. Perhaps revisiting this Urbano Cellars I enjoyed late last year would be prudent. How about you all out there? Any favorite Petite Verdot’s to point me in the direction of?

Rating: Pricey

2009 Emergence White

2009 Emergence WhitePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “In the soil of Paso Robles this traditional cuvee reaches a new elevation. Classic in style with bright acidity, prevalent minerality and rich, round midpalate, Emergence possesses a bouquet of red grapefruit zest, ripe melon, muddled lime and warmed marzipan. This precocious wine pairs easily with vegetable Marsala burgers, grilled chicken sausages or Pad Prik King.”

What I Think:

This one is a blend of 33% Grenache Blanc, 29% Marsanne, 25% Viognier and 13% Roussanne. Certainly a mix of white grapes from off the beaten path. That said the bottle calls this a “traditional cuvee”. Really? Where? Now the wine world is big and I could very well be sticking my foot in my mouth but I’m calling BS here. All that aside this one is made by the folks over at Central Coast Wine Warehouse who have delivered their fair share of winners. That said I tried the red and while it delivered for the price point it didn’t do much more. So how about the white? This one started with dissenting opinions from two trusted palates. Danny on the downside found it bland and CabFrancophile found it to be exciting. Staring at the 14.5% ABV I was curious as to what my take would be.

You are greeted with a big, rich floral blast on the nose. On the palate this one is viscous, almost sweet, with flavors of peaches and cantaloupe before a nice acidity (though I would prefer more) emerges to keep this one in balance. The finish is mineral driven, though slightly hot (14.5%), and pleasant. For me this one is made for food as it doesn’t have the crispness or acidity to meet my refreshment criteria. That said I’m still a fan. I’ll grab another bottle and see if I can’t figure out a good pairing for this one. Stay tuned!

Rating: Buy It

2008 Novella Synergy

2008 Novella SynergyPrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

This wine was once a part of the Eos Estate Winery portfolio. If it still is it is no longer recognized as such. Nary a word about it can be found on their site. That said according to my friends at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) they are indeed still affiliated but appear to be keeping it on the down low. Curious…

Anyhow the bottle had this to say: “Raspberry, black cherry and lilac aromas open this full-bodied, supremely balanced wine. Cherry and berry flavors lead to a long, elegant finish of blackberry, cedar and spice.”

What I Think:

I had this one many moons ago but hadn’t tried it in ages. So when JerryK recently recommended it I decided to give it another shot. A kitchen sink blend this one is 45% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Sirah, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Sangiovese. Quite a hodgepodge wouldn’t you say? How did it turn out you ask?

The nose greets you with wafts of black cherry aromas. The first sip shows this same nice, plush fruit. The palate is smooth and balanced throughout before leading to a creamy finish laden with cedar, dark berry and vanilla notes. These eventually give way to pleasant barrel tannins which linger nicely. This wine is not complex by any means. That said it is not one dimensional either and to me that is all you can ask for in a $7 wine (and more). I’ve had many a bottle that cost three times as much and yet deliver far less. If you are a Zinfandel lover looking for a reasonable priced bottle look no further. Same for those of you that just love at a tasty bottle of wine…

Rating: Buy It

2009 Pancake Cellars Big Day White

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Pancake Cellars Big Day WhiteAnother in the series of wines made by the ultra secretive Central Coast Wine Services team. It appears this is primarily a warehouse wine making facility where wines such as Hitching Post Pinot are made. Obviously in their spare time though they are making some juice of their own (and not telling the world about it).

What I Think:

It was funny that I came across this cork’d article that discussed labels as a major factor in driving purchases the day after I opened this wine. That is certainly how this one first made it into my home back in 2007. And it is not only this one; the folks behind this outfit our known for distinctive labels. So much so that I know if they have a new offering available before I even pick it up off the shelf. My personal favorite is still the Franc Merlot. But enough about the label, what about the juice?

This one is a blend of 27% Chardonnay, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Viognier, 21% Muscat Canelli and 4% Pinot Blanc. Not looking at the blend when I first opened this one on its own I found it entirely too sweet. Not what I had remembered from prior experiences. Taking that in stride I paired it with shrimp tacos and refried beans the next night and while it didn’t make me pay attention (or take a lot of notes) it came across as a simple, enjoyable (though slightly characterless) wine showing melon and floral notes throughout. I prefer a Riesling or Gewurztraminer with my spicier food but if you don’t this may be a good alternative.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles

2008 Rabbit Ridge Allure de RoblesPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

As many of you know I’ve long been a fan of the Allure de Robles so I was excited to hear from the winemaker, Erich Russell, that the 2008 vintage would be hitting Trader Joe’s shelves soon. He also had this to say: “The good news is that there is way less alcohol 14.8 instead of 15.3 on the 2007. There are less harsh tannins making the wine even more balanced. This vintage has been the fastest selling vintage around the United States of any Allure de Robles. There is very little Petite Sirah in this vintage and much more Grenache. The very bad news is that since this wine was selling so fast around the country Trader Joes will be getting about 25% less than the 2007.” With Erich’s warning I grabbed a bunch as soon as I saw it.

What I Think:

The nose is big and full of, well I want to say jamberry bramble. Given that is from one of the many children’s books I have memorized why don’t I say brambly red and blackberry aromas so it is more comprehensible. With the wine in my glass I readied myself for the fruit explosion but it never materialized. The front of the palate is loaded with earthy, red fruits on a vanilla bean backbone. These fruits are balanced by a black pepper acidity which not only keeps them in check but dominates the back end of the palate and lingers on through the finish. This wine is much truer to it Rhone style than the previous vintage. I wonder how much lower (’07 was ~28%) on the Syrah/Petite Sirah, I’ll shoot Erich an email and see if I can’t get the final blend percentage. This one is smooth and easy to drink, my favorite yet! Stock up while you can and grab this one next time you are headed out to fire up the grill…

Rating: Bulk Buy

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

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)

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