Revisiting the Epicuro red wines

I remember when these wines burst onto the scene late 2007/early 2008 and how much I enjoyed them back then. I’ve certainly drank more than my fair share of these over the years but haven’t posted my thoughts in quite some time. Given I slotted the Aglianico into the 10th position of my Top 10 list and the 8th in the classics I thought it would be prudent to revisit the lineup. With that here we go….
Revisiting the Epicuro red wines

  • 2008 Epicuro Aglianico ($5) – (13.5%) Juicy blackberry and clove notes on the nose. The palate starts with lots of oak and big fruit completely lacking of acidity and/or balance. A jammy mid-palate serves tart blackberries and sage, herbal spice on a quick finish with harsh tannins. Such a shame it makes me wish I had more of the ’05 left. This serves as a textbook case study in the economics of Trader Joe’s wine. It generally follows these steps: 1) Source a new wine. 2) Wine sells well. 3) Ask winemaker to produce more quantity next year but price can’t change. 4) Next vintage is not as good as previous vintage. Snowball that by a few vintages and you have a sad story. Unless you are just looking for something to cook with (and steal a few sips from) I’d steer clear of this one…
  • 2008 Epicuro Nero d’Avola ($5) – (13%) Light fruit and wood on the nose. Juicy with soft, warm fruit on the palate, Despite being only 13% this one seems to be lacking the acidity I would like to see. A bit flabby all the way to the finish before grippy tannins appear in an attempt to rescue this one. While quaffable and fine for everyday “drinking” I would steer well clear if you are looking for a wine to spend some quality time with…
  • 2006 Epicuro Salice Salentino Riserva ($5) – (13%) 80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera – Dark purple in the glass, ruby on the edges with dusty, warm fruit and barrel spice on the nose. The palate starts with a mouthful of sweet, juicy cherry and raspberry flavors shrouded in oak which is readily apparent throughout. Despite this shortcoming this wine is light bodied and well balanced with a firm acidic structure that makes it food friendly and a fine companion for cooking. The finish is of dry, tongue smacking tannins that lingers moderately. At this price there is little to complain about…

So there you have it. Disappointing but can’t say I didn’t expect it. My little rant within the Aglianico review rings true for many offerings that start out as great values at Trader Joe’s dating back all the way to Charles Shaw. That one will definitely be falling off both of my lists and the Salice Salentino could be a potential replacement. How about you? Have you had any of the Epicuro offerings as of late? If so I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…

2007 Epicuro Vermentino

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

2007 Epicuro VermentinoPer the bottle “Made only with Vermintino grape, this is a great wine with a straw yellow color and fruity, fragrant, well orchestrated aroma. The flavor is full, soft and rich. Perfect with pasta, unmatured cheeses, traditional dishes of fish or white meat.”

What I Think:

Joe’s Sears recently covered this one and given that I have had it before and had another bottle in the house I figured it was due time I give this one a review. For your random fact today I offer that this hails from the region of Lazio which includes Rome. As many readers know, the Epicuro label is a favorite of mine so when this showed up six plus months ago I was quick to grab it. Since then I have received numerous recommendations, thanks to all, to make sure I didn’t miss this one.

So why did it take me so long to review? Frankly because I still haven’t passed a final verdict on this one. At times I like it and others it seems like a quaffable and innocuous wine. On the nose I never seem to get much, a bit of mineral and grass at best. On the palate, if you really pay attention, you get some melon rind flavors over a stony, metallic backbone that leads to a nutty almond finish that intermingles with herb flavors. This is an easy quaffer but difficult wine to taste. If you grab it try pairing it with shellfish.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2006 Epicuro Nero d’ Avola

2006 Epicuro Nero d' AvolaPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Made only with the Nero d’Avola grapes, this is a great wine with a beautiful rich, bright garnered colour and full bouquet redolent of berries, cherries and spices. The flavour is clear-cut, full-bodied and elegant. Perfect with grilled red meats and game. Serve at 18 degrees Celsius.”

What I Think:

I was fired up to find out about this one via a comment from Jesse Porter. I quite enjoyed the Archero offering and had meant to try a pricier version of this varietal but never got around to it. Nevertheless I was thrilled to land this one on a recent shopping trip which I noted via twitter.

To cut to the chase, the nose smells of simple berry fruit with a hint of dustiness and a bit of spice. In the mouth a full bodied, firm structure greets you leading into a supple palate full of light, ripe red fruit. This lasts until within a fraction of the finish when a tart, astringent finale ends the taste. This one is a winner as is Epicuro, they are certainly the most consistent Italian wine label at Trader Joe’s. Feel free to buy this one along with any others offerings from this label you may find.

Rating: Buy It

2006 Chiusa Grande Tommolo Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo

2006 Chiusa Grande Tommolo Montepulciano d AbruzzoPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per The Wine Rack “While the 2006 vintage is a little rougher around the edges than the 2004 Chiusa Grande Tommolo Montepulciano, I reviewed earlier, it still is an incredible bargain. Still only $5.00 at Trader Joe’s and made from hand picked organically grown grapes. Similarities with the 2004 are the nose of fresh cherry and violets, the cherry/blueberry flavors and the long finish. However this vintage carries a bit of heat on finish and a trace of alcohol/heat at the end of the aromas. Disregarding the comparison to 2004 this is still a nice wine and a sweet value.”

What I Think:

This odyssey started with a tip from oenanist and continued tonight with my second bottle. Amazingly I was able to track the winery down and find tasting notes (warning PDF) for what appeared to be the same wine though the pictures are vastly different.

About time for a review, no? On the nose this one is delicate and shows hints of flowers and tart cherries. On the palate this wine is simple and I mean so in a good way! Medium to light weight a ride of cherries (with the stems) along a light tannic backdrop. It is likely better served with some red sauced pasta. From end to end, this a clean journey balancing fruit with tannins and spice. The finish is a bit hot and dry bit overall this is one to buy. Next time I want to line this up side by side with the 2005 Epicuro Aglianico. Don’t see this as the #1 ranked wine, just wondering how far off it is…. BTW, did I mention this was organic? Also saw some notes saying it was hand-picked, hard to believe that can be accomplished at this price point.

Rating: Buy It

*photo by Rick Audet

2003 Gaetano D’Aquino Chianti Riserva

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per the winery “With a vinous bouquet of good intensity that refines with aging, a Riserva is barrel-aged at least two years. It consists of a full, dry, slightly tannic, harmonious flavor and is best served with grilled meats, game and seasoned cheeses. Serve at room temperature and open one hour before serving.”

What I Think:

Given my lackluster experience with Trader Joe’s Chianti I was enthused to find a recommendation for this one. Most of the other chatter in the blogsphere was much less glowing so I open the bottle cautiously optimistic.

Now onto the wine. .. A search of the importer’s site showed that this one has some Canaiole Nero and Trebbiano blended in with the Sangiovese. On the nose you are greeted with notes of cherry. The palate starts a bit off with some barrel type flavors up front that give way to a nice light fruit and lead to a minty, slightly tannic finish. This one didn’t work for me but most Chianti’s haven’t historically. Anyone think they have one that can break the spell?

Rating: Skip It

2003 Epicuro Salice Salentino Riserva

2003 Epicuro Salice Salentino RiservaPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per snooth.com “A great value, I’d be happy to drink this on a regular basis. It’s a blend of 80% negroamaro and 20% malvasia nera, with mineral and berry notes. It is dry, and light-bodied for a red wine. Some may find this a little watery, but it has a flavorful finish. No heavy alcohol fumes or need to breathe first, like so many wines at this price point.”

What I Think:

After trying their Aglianico I was willing to try the rest of their offerings. Like the previous bottle and the Nero d’ Avola I’ve previously enjoyed this wine was also from southern Italy. This one was a blend of 80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera which immediately sends me to Wikipedia as I have heard of neither. Negroamaro is grown almost exclusively in Puglia which is also the home of Primitivo (a relative of Zinfandel) which I have much enjoyed. All signs seem to be pointing in this ones favor.

On opening my interest is piqued. The nose was full of earth and herbs. On the palate more of the same, very earthy and robust with hints of cherries. The finish was long and flavorful, with fruit tailing off to a woody, smoky ending. Another keeper from southern Italy which has clearly put itself on my map.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Epicuro Aglianico

2005 Epicuro AglianicoPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This red wine shows intense blackberry and cherry notes harmoniously exalted by a light spicy background. Smooth and velvety with a firm backbone. Perfect with red meat, ham and mature cheeses”

What I Think:

Ah my nemesis, Italian wine. I want to like them but am often confounded. The Aglianico grape I discovered at Delfina Pizzeria some time back. I have since purchased a few bottles but have paid north of $15 for each. To see this offering at TJ’s for $5 was so delightful that I bought two bottles before even tasting it. You’re probably saying “Wow, he sure did splurge!” mockingly but for me this is a rarity. These wines hail from southern Italy which is no shock to me as the other Italian varietals I enjoy (Nero d’ Avola from Sicily and Primitivo from Puglia) are found here as well. Back to my opening, perhaps it is the wines from the northern region that leave me confounded…

As soon as I got this home it ended up on the table with pizza and I quickly confirmed my intuition to buy multiple bottles was correct. On first taste, the wine struck me as light, fruity and slightly on the dry side reminding me of many Spanish efforts I enjoy. The nose showed mainly cherries with some barrel scents and spiciness lingering in the background. A great value at this price, almost a lock to make the Top 10 for January. In fact yesterday I went hunting for more but struck out as they did not have it in South San Francisco.  They did however have another offering from the same label I grabbed based on the quality found here. I’ll have to get back to Brannan Street quickly!

Rating: Bulk Buy

2006 Gaetano D’Aquino Pinot Grigio

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per the distributor ” This wine is ideal outside of a meal. It is delicious with hors d’ oeuvres and fish dishes, particullarly lobster and crabmeat. Also an excellent companion for soups and white meats. Serve chilled at a temperature of 8°-10° C.”

What I Think:

This one has been in the fridge for a while as I was keen to try it. I came home from a business trip to find my wife had opened it in my absence. No worries, there is plenty left for an opinion. I pull out the stopper and don’t get the sound I like, it hasn’t been pumped. I now realize I can’t pass negative judgment on this experience even if I want to. Not to bother, it must be good. Even in this state at a bare minimum it was very quaffable. Many of the flavors had been muted but at this price it was still well worth the money. Looking forward to seeing what the next bottle brings.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Archero Nero d’ Avola Ruggero di Tasso

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per quaffability (for the 2003 version) “This is a jelly-jar wine, and it went fine with grilled tri-tip served with Arugula salad and Parmesan. I’ve never been to Sicily but I can certainly imagine knocking back this stuff by the carafe in a cafe there. It’s an anti-Parkerized wine. Very light in body, fruity and juicy, without much extract and virtually no tannin. Very little acid, too, so there is a sense of roundness as well as lightness.

The wine is not complex at all it’s just juicy with strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Definitely Quaffable, this would not be bad at all chilled or even on ice.”

What I Think:

My struggles with Italian wine have been almost as covered as the Paris Hilton goes to jail story. That said whenever I visit Delfina Pizzeria they usually have a varietal on the menu there that I have never heard of but enjoy. They turned me on to Aglianico sometime ago. When walking by the other day I just glimpsed and noticed a few Nero d’ Avola offerings on their wine list. It made me smile as I had found this Archero bottling at TJ’s.

So a few nights after walking by I decided to open a bottle to eat with my gourmet TJ’s Mac & Cheese. It was kind of pasta so Italian wine seemed like a good idea. The fruit flavors were definitely present and forward, seeming almost jammy like on the palate. A nice wine but not with this food. I finished it with a glass of milk before enjoying a glass of this as a digestive. I think this one is still best suited to play the role of getting pulled out towards the end of the evening…Of for those of you that like a different wine before dinner this would certainly be an option then as well. TJ’s was nearly out last time I checked but if I find it I am certainly game for a few more bottles at this price.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Archero Nero d’ Avola Ruggero di Tasso

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by D’Aquino Italian Imports

What They Said:

Per quaffability (for the 2003 version) “This is a jelly-jar wine, and it went fine with grilled tri-tip served with Arugula salad and Parmesan. I’ve never been to Sicily but I can certainly imagine knocking back this stuff by the carafe in a cafe there. It’s an anti-Parkerized wine. Very light in body, fruity and juicy, without much extract and virtually no tannin. Very little acid, too, so there is a sense of roundness as well as lightness.

The wine is not complex at all it’s just juicy with strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Definitely Quaffable, this would not be bad at all chilled or even on ice.”

What I Think:

This Nero d’ Avola is a wine that I had about a month or so back that piqued my curiosity. I thought I had learned two important lessons then, the first being that this bottle needs some air and the second that it was too light for pairing with food. I think I was wrong on both accounts. I opened this one late one evening as I was enjoying the wine we were having with dinner and was immediately satisfied. Perhaps my expectations were set low but I was pleased with the dark, jam-like flavors on the nose. These translated directly to the palate and the lack of tannins made it thoroughly pleasurable to drink. To top off my list of bad assumptions, the next night I made some pasta in a slightly sweeter, rather than my usual spicy, style and this wine showed well again. This time, it was a glass of this that I wanted to save for tomorrow.

That being said I would guess this has limited range from a pairing perspective so tread carefully or feel free to drink it all on its own. I have yet to try it chilled as mentioned above and likely won’t as it doesn’t fit my fancy. If it does yours, let me know how it goes.

This one certainly deserves that graduation from 12th Bottle to Buy It. At $3.99 you can’t go wrong. This is what I call the perfect “guilt-free” wine for any occasion. At this price you’ll never regret opening another bottle.

Rating: Buy It