2009 Landing Place Chardonnay

2009 Landing Place ChardonnayPrice: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Landing Place Cellars “Lively apple and lemon aromas and flavors, medium bodied, crisp and creamy with a hint of oak.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) This wine, a Rodney Strong offering, starts soft with lemon edges. Medium bodied with spiced, oak overtones which give way to green apple flavors on a medium/short, creamy finish. Simple, balanced and straightforward. While not overly impressive this certainly delivers beyond its $3 price tag…

Rating: 12th Bottle <- A guilt free bottle worth keeping around the house...

Wine Geek Notes: Winemaker = Greg Morthole

2008 BearBoat Pinot Gris

2008 BearBoat Pinot GrisPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per BearBoat Wines “Bearboat Pinot Gris, made from 100% Pinot Gris grapes, has aromas of apricots, nectarines and a perfumed spice. The wine is fairly full-bodied with balanced acidity and oily texture. The finish is clean with good length and extract. Pinot Gris grapes come from cool climate areas – 30% from Russian River, 30% from Sonoma Coast and 40% from Carneros. All these 3 growing areas in Sonoma allow the Pinot Gris to retain pronounced aromatics and fresh acidity. 60% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel to retain nectarine fruit aromas. The rest is fermented in new French oak for added complexity. A half of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation for acidity balance. It’s aged for five months in 40% new French oak for added complexity.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) I really wanted to like this one I did. But I don’t. Seems like he has a decent enough pedigree as K&L Wines was selling the 2007 vintage for $14 but I just don’t get it here. Ripe nectarine and stone fruits on the nose. On the palate this is medium bodied, rich apples, oily & spiced, lemon acidity but the black licorice on the edges distracts throughout never allowing this to come together. Perhaps better with food (I tried it on its own) but I’m not likely to give it another chance…

By the way 2008 seems a little late for this simple offering to be hitting the market; wonder what gives?

Wine Geek Notes: Part of the Rémy Cointreau portfolio

Rating: Skip It

2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

In my ode to 2012 I paid tribute to my greatest (yes there are many) shortcoming as a writer. That being clamming up when it comes to sharing something I really enjoy; like this wine. I fear I can’t convey my sense of excitement. Or sometimes convince myself that I want to provide more context for the overall story (like a bio on winemaker Ed Kurtzman) which I never have time to put together (and it has usually already been done). But not this year, for better or worse I’m just going to get these stories out there and build from there. So let’s get this started…

2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot NoirPrice: $30.00 direct from Sandler Wine Company

What They Said:

Per Weimax “We like his 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. You can’t mistake this for anything other than Pinot Noir. The wine is medium garnet in color and has classic strawberry and cherry-like fruit notes. There’s a touch of a vanillin note in the back. It’s light and aromatic, flavorful and smooth. We suggest cooling it to cellar temperature. It’s not a wine intended for cellaring, so drinking it this year or next is ideal.”

What I Think:

(14.5%) A Pinot made in a bigger style but while retaining its elegance. Nice dark cherry fruit with a touch of cranberry and a “singing” acidity that brings it all together. While the fruit remains this one turns earthy and spicy on a long finish. Intense but not overpowering; a wine that speaks to me. My only regret is that this is my last bottle. Wish I had a few more around. Let that serve as a note for me to start ordering regularly…

Rating: Wow!

2007 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel

2007 St. Francis Old Vines ZinfandelPrice: $19.99 via St. Francis Winery*

What They Said:

Per Wine Enthusiast “A strong Zinfandel, tannic, high in alcohol and fruity, and brimming with wild forest cherry and raspberry liqueur, exotic spices and sweet sandalwood. Drink it with a juicy cheeseburger, a spicy beef burrito and just a nice roast chicken.” Steve Heimoff (2/1/2011) — 86 points

What I Think:

(15.5%) 86% Zinfandel, 5% Mixed Black Grapes, 3% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah – Having family in Europe this is what I would think of taking them to join something in quintessential California style (for better or worse). Ripe, forward fruit, jammy, creamy with a sweet toasted vanilla oak finish that shows some pepper spice while lingering warmly. Not my style but I know many that do like this one. Well-made and widely available at ~$17.

Wine Geek Notes: 41,000 cases made, made from vines a minimum of 50 years old, field blended.

Rating: Good but…(not my style. I prefer the Zin’s from Sausal or Sobon)

*This wine was received as a press sample

2009 Tribunal Cellars Red

2009 Tribunal Cellars RedPrice: $16.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the “top secret” Trader Joe’s spec sheet “Aromas of raspberry and sage combine with a mouthful of chocolate richness to uniquely express our part of California. Prime rib or a juicy T-bone with garlicy rabe are the first things we think of when we sip this wine.”

What I Think:

Tribunal Cellars Red Shelf Talker(15.6%) 26% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 30% Syrah, and 22% other Rhone and Bordeaux varietals – Starts on the downside of up as it is only available via 1.5L bottles (this is the 2nd batch of 2009 and the first to appear as only magnums) which makes me feel like I am being hustled at this price point. That said this wine is big from the get go but integrated. Juicy and focused with spiced fruit turning a bit sweet on the backbone. From there it turns dry on a leathery spiced finish with tangy tannins. Big for me but I know many prefer this style and you could do far worse. For those lucky enough to be spending some time in the mountains this seems like a perfect wine to have by the fire after a day on the slopes…

Wine Geek Notes: ABV per bottle is 15.1%; 7 Months in oak, 25% New French & American; 17 cases to a store, 6 bottles to case

Rating: Buy It

2009 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 C. Donatiello Winery Pinot NoirPer C. Donatiello Winery “Spicy black pepper, dried cranberries, cola, mocha and cherries on the nose. The palate starts bright and clean with deeply layered flavors of raspberry and rhubarb which give way to flavors of cinnamon and chocolate. The finish is long and clean with balanced tannins, acidity and oak.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) $38 via the winery in an etched bottle, clearly not intended for Trader Joe’s where I picked it up for $10. Bright, big and clean while at the same time balanced. Forward fruit with cherry (cranberry) cola flavors and vibrant acidity. A bit of oak creaminess on the backbone before the fruit turns a tad tart with cinnamon spice (and a bit of heat) on the finish. Not my preferred style but well made, no harsh edges and smooth throughout. If you’re a fan of Russian River (or even more broadly California) Pinot Noir you likely can’t go wrong here…

Rating: Buy It (if you’re a California Pinot fan!)

2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot NoirPer Trader Joe’s Food Pilgrimager “Last year, our buyers procured a limited quantity of Sebastopol Hills Pinot for an unmatched in the market price. As quickly as the word got out, the wine ran out. It happens. But it also happens that because we approach our partnerships with respect and prompt payment, we were able to do it again! (It helps, too, that we prefer a great price per bottle to a prominent vineyard on a label.) Our Sonoma County Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir is ripe and fleshy. Aged in French oak for 10 months, it’s well structured. And at $9.99 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s very well priced.”

What I Think:

As mentioned in my review of the ’08 I was able to trace this offering back to Willowbrook Cellars where their standard bottle goes for $24. I was a fan of the ’08 but am always apprehensive when the next vintage arrives (see below for my reasoning). Given that I was curious to see how the ’09 would play out. Here were my notes…

(14.5%) Loads of orange rind, currant and cranberries on the nose. Medium to full bodied on the palate with juicy blueberry fruit and more orange rind flavors along the edges. The mouth feel is smooth and creamy showing just a bit of heat from the barrel. The finish is short but pleasant and lingers on warmly. Given the big fruit and big style (what I call “Pinot on Steroids” which I think I lifted from @RobertDwyer) I suspect this one is getting some help from another varietal or two. A nice wine for sure but I prefer the Picket Fence which I felt was a bit more varietally correct (and it’s a buck cheaper). That said if that weren’t available I’d probably be grabbing some more of this one.

Now back to my new vintage apprehension. When comparing this to the previous vintage I’m guessing the ’08 was the real deal. As in a wine that was made from day one with the intention of being labeled “Willowbrook Cellars”. On the other hand I’m guessing this one was made for Trader Joe’s from the get go. That would likely mean two things: 1) trying to scale production while 2) trying to maintain the price point. And therein lies the conundrum of a successful wine offering at Trader Joe’s From that perspective they did a pretty admirable job of maintaining quality while scaling production. Wonder what the 2010 will be like…

Rating: Pricey

Interested in reading more about the Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir?

  • Good Cheap Vino prefers the Sebastopol Hills to the Picket Fence
  • WineBites likes the Sebastopol Hills but wishes they had made a wine with more subtle complexity

2008 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Steelhead Sauvignon BlancPer Steelhead Wine “This very special wine composed of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes features delicious flavors of citrus and grapefruit zest with pleasant mineral character very reflective of its renowned Dry Creek Valley terroir.” — Steven Canter

What I Think:

Steelhead was in a recent Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer and try as I might I wasn’t able to come across the Zinfandel. Given that when this Sauvignon Blanc showed up I decided to grab three bottles on sight. You see these are the products of Quivira Vineyards which I’ve heard many great things about. Steelhead Wines has its own site where you can buy this one today for $16 a bottle. Well kind of… You see you have to order 3 bottles which costs you $48 or the equivalent of 8 bottles at the $6 price tag Trader Joe’s is offering. Again (calm down Jason) another winery disrespecting their most important customer. Let’s get to my notes before the diatribe begins…

(13.5%) 100% Sauvignon Blanc – Typical in color. Clean, nice, zesty grapefruit on the nose. Plush and balanced with cantaloupe on top of a firm mineral backbone which keeps the palate crisp and refreshing. This one is fuller in the mouth than expected with nice citrus fruit on the edges with a pleasant short finish. This one is lacking the overpowering acidity which makes it food friendly and a good choice for the Thanksgiving dinner table for those thinking ahead. I bought three bottles and am likely to grab some more…

Rating: Buy It

What did others think about the Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc? Again I’ll send you over to Jeff’s at Viva La Wino for a different take.

2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir

Price: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 Picket Fence Pinot NoirPer Picket Fence “This wine has an elegant, pure fruit forward style with the brilliant intensity of rich mouthwatering Bing cherry, blackberry and spice. The luxurious density, beautiful structure and velvety texture on the palate are hallmarks of this vintage and make this wine a superlative example of Russian River Valley Pinot.” – Don Van Staaveren, Winemaker

What I Think:

Really? The winery is selling this one for $30 a bottle on their site (see above link). As if that isn’t bad enough they are making you buy 3 bottles at a time. Typically (warning marketing speak ahead) customers that buy direct are your most valuable (and deliver the highest profit margin). They deserve special consideration instead of getting an extra $20 lifted out of their wallet for each bottle. If I am a winery and I have to unload wine I am making sure that I am sharing those same prices with my most loyal customers. I could go on and on about how wrong this is on so many levels. That said I’ll spare you. Let’s get to the wine…

Warm spice and tart cranberry notes on the nose. The palate starts with surprising weight given how light it looks in the glass. This wine is wound tight with cranberry flavors that merge with bright cherry overtones. The mid-palate shows flashes of cola acidity to keep it nicely balanced. From there the barrel notes emerge and lead to a nice creamy, vanilla finish.

Most Pinots in this price range are what I refer to as “on steroids” with heavier grapes (e.g. Petite Sirah) blended in (see Fin, Blue). This one is a very nice example of what much more expensive Pinot’s deliver. Load up (if you can) and pop one open whenever the mood strikes you. Better yet if you are looking for a Thanksgiving wine on a budget (it is November) look no further!

Rating: Buy It <- And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Interested in reading more about the Picket Fence Pinot Noir? Check out what Robert Dwyer had to say over on the Wellesley Wine Press.

Summer Stash: And the winner is…

Thanks to those that have been following along as I have been cleaning out my Summer Stash. We started with 50+ wines and revealed the final four yesterday which meant there was just one more remaining. With almost the same anticipation as the Wine Spectator 2010 Wine of the Year I am ready to reveal the results. But which should I tell first? The wine or the story….

Let’s go with the story. First I’m not sure who I have given more pet nicknames. This wine or my daughter. I’ve called it “Sunshine”, my favorite was “The Weekend” and my latest with colder weather on the horizon has been “Summer”. Needless to say I have never had a wine that has been more “fun”. It practically begs to be shared with friends; wine geeks first but so enough anyone who will listen! Can I get a drum roll please…

2009 Natural Process Alliance Sauvignon Blanc

I’m sure this isn’t a surprise for many. I first experienced the NPA at a Vintank event earlier this summer and have been smitten by it ever since. Here’s my latest and greatest tasting notes; “(12.8%) Rusty, burnt orange in color (clearly not filtered) almost like the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen. The nose in and of itself is so enjoyable I could spend an hour on it; pineapple, guava, definitely a crazy juicy fruit concoction going on here. On the palate you need to expect the unexpected. Given how big this one is on the nose you are in no way overpowered on the palate. Nice acidity and minerality merges with the aforementioned fruit; as well as nectarine, grapefruit and lime. This absolutely bursts with flavor that last straight through a refreshing finish. So much going on here it’s hard to harness it all… It does what I expect of all wines I love. It keeps me contemplating. And even better makes me not want to write… I look just as forward to dissecting my next bottle of this one as much as I did my first! Hard to believe the excitement has yet to wear off. Here’s to hoping it never does!”2009 Natural Process Alliance Sauvignon Blanc

There you have it. Have you been lucky enough to try the NPA Sauvignon Blanc? Yeah I forgot to mention the downside to this one. It is more or less only available at the winery but for those that live nearby check their restaurant list (@theNPAhardy is that up to date?) where you can at least score a glass… Hope you enjoyed the Summer Stash series. I would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*this wine was purchased with money from my wallet. Many, many, many times…