2008 La Granja Tempranillo

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

2008 La Granja TempranilloPer the bottle “La Granga 360, means in Spanish “The Farm 360″. It is located in a traditional Tempranillo grape wine growing region in the north of Spain. The little pig is flying because it expresses a song which the Spanish children sing when somebody has asked for something which is impossible to realize, has a dream or says something absurd.

An everyday drinking soft rounded, juicy red wine, with rich ripe raspberry flavors. A great match for barbeque roasted pork chops, spare ribs, sausages, grilled vegetables, and cheeses.”

What I Think:

This one is from the same producer, and the same region, as the company behind the Abrazo label and imported by Evaki who also brings other familiar names such as Condesa de Sarabella and Panilonco to Trader Joe’s. These wines are generally priced in the $5 neighborhood and deliver on that price point. That said, none have had me scrambling back to buy that next bottle. Most leave me with a lingering curiosity of whether the next bottle might be better. In a nutshell, they do just enough to make you think about coming back for more. With that context in mind we cracked the screw cap on this one.

On opening this one was super tight with the acid notes overpowering all else so back went on the cap. I tried it again the following night, what an improvement. The bottle description on this one is extremely accurate, at least the tasting notes I can’t really attest to the rest. On the palate you are greeted with juicy berry/cherry flavors that are met with a dry, herbal component towards the middle that integrates nicely. The finish coats the mouth dry cherry fruits that don’t necessarily last, they just stay. Literally. It leaves you smacking your tongue until you decide to wash them away. I mentioned early most bottles from this imported leave me wondering if the next bottle can be any better, I’m just hoping this one is as good as my first experience as it has the potential to be my favorite Spanish red in recent memory from Trader Joe’s. I’m going to grab a few more bottles; you might want to do the same. I’ll confirm with my 2nd bottle but, as mentioned, be sure to give this one some time (perhaps even overnight) if it starts off wound up a little too tight.

Rating: Buy It

If you’re interested in another take check out what Jeff had to say about this one on Viva la Wino!

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/Viognier

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/ViognierPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This complex, elegant white combines the crisp, fresh citrus flavours of Chardonnay with the rich apricot and honeysuckle character of Viogier to produce a smooth, ripe, vibrantly fruity wine. Delicious on its own, this wine is the perfect partner to seafood, fish, chicken, pasta dishes and salads.”

What I Think:

Had a few tips on this wine, that is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Viognier, from readers and wanted to give it a try. This one reminded me of a boxing match. In the first round the underdog, viognier, coated the mouth with full bodied yellow fruit flavors. Round 2, in the mid-palate , was taken by the Chardonnay showing some a lighter frame and some more vibrant fruit. The finish was a slugfest with each wine competing to rise above the other. Overall these two grapes more clashed than integrated but in a pleasant way. The result is a draw. At $4 you get what you pay for. I’m drinking these bottles to find those that I think are worth double that so I’ll pass on grabbing another bottle. That said, you should feel free to do so if it sounds of interest.

Rating: Skip It

2007 Condesa de Sarabella Viura

2007 Condesa de Sarabella ViuraPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per the Importer “Made from ancient low yield viura bush vines planted in the Denomination De Origen high in the mountains of northern spain. It has rich aromas of banana and citrus fruits. Serve as a aperitif or with rice dishes, fish and shellfish.”

What I Think:

Viura was a new grape to me so I did some research. The Wine Info Site was the first stop where I learned this; “In Spain, Macabeo is an important variety for the production of white wine. In Rioja this variety is called Viura.” I paused for a second before moving on as this one is from Catalyud which is a nearby neighbor of Rioja where they apparently use Viura to describe the grape as well. Next, the Wine Geeks clued me in to that “Together with the varietals Parellada and Xarel-lo it is used in the production of the sparkling Spanish wine Cava.”. I dig Cava, cool.

Thoroughly educated I open the bottle. Take a sniff…No banana that’s for sure. Some light fruits on top of notes of grass and hay. On the tongue the initial impression is of Viognier based on the up front viscosity. As we reach the mid palate my thought shifts to a light Sauvignon Blanc which lasts all the way through the citrusy finish. All in all, this wine does not stand up and get noticed and could easily be considered plain. I’ve seen it referred to as a “pleasant little white” which I think is a perfect description. Interested in experiencing something new? Give it a try. Otherwise look elsewhere.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2006 Abrazo Del Toro Carinena Tinto

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per quaffability “First was a new 2006 vintage of the Grenacha Tempranilo blend; like the previously reviewed 2004 and 2005 versions, this is an amazing value with much more in the way of spicy fruit flavors than anybody can expect these days for $3.99 (sometimes it’s $2.99). A great wine for the price.”

What I Think:

After reading about this one over on quaffability I decided to heed John’s advice and pass on the syrah but give this Grenache/Tempranillo (80/20) blend he has been enjoying for years a go. On doing some research I found this wine comes from the far north of Spain from a region named Aragon bordering France and the Pyrenees. I enjoy many of the wines from the French side so this seemed like a good indicator. Other notes of interest include; Calatayud is the big appellation in this region which also includes the sparkling area of Cava.

With carne asada on the menu this seems like the logical answer and it didn’t disappoint. Slightly similar to the Aglianico I had recently enjoyed, I found light red fruit on the nose with hints of spice running along the backbone. A bit on the dry side there were tastes of strawberries that led to a earthy, spicy finish. This is quite a pleasing effort and a wine worth having around for everyday drinking and then some.  I know I’ll be getting more.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Panilonco Carmenere

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Carmenere is more obscure than the fifth Beatle. The sixth grape of the famed five Bordeaux varietals, usually compared to Petit Verdot for the sturdy qualities it adds to Cabernet blends, Carmenere is not even grown in Bordeaux anymore. It does have a new home in Chile, where it’s blended into Cabernet and also bottled solo on occasion and noted for its smoky/earthy flavor profiles.

Carmenere makes for some interesting wines in Chile — but this is not one of them. The Panilonco starts of with aromas of dirt and cherries. It’s not unpleasant but a little plonky… some green aromas come along with some cooked, and there’s a whiff of something vaguely chemical as well. The good news is that the off aromas mostly dissipate after a couple hours.

In the mouth the wine is more clean, with soft tannins and nice texture . The finish is short – more like a memory than real flavors.

While it’s not bad for the price, and I’ve no regrets about pulling the cork on this one, I won’t be running out for another bottle anytime soon.”

What I Think:

I grabbed a bottle of this when I was out shopping to get some more Rocking Horse. Giving the price tag on those I was focusing on some low cost alternatives to round out the case and this caught my eye. Given my infatuation with the Casillero del Diablo and my disappointing experience with the Calina I was somewhat curious to see where this one would fall in. By the way the name of this wine translated appears to be “Chief of Lions”.

The first thing I noticed is that all three were from different regions within Chile. The Casillero del Diablo had loads of fruit which I was expecting to be the norm where as the Calina didn’t show me much of anything. I could see the terroir angle in my head. Opening this one you immediately realize that it wouldn’t align perfectly with either of the other 2. On the nose this bottle was earthy, there were aromas of cherries but they were a bit muted. On the palate these were a little clearer and held before the earthiness, dust and dirt, came back into the picture. The finish seemed heavily barrel influenced. This wine is certainly worth the price of admission and if it didn’t have to go head to head with the reigning champ it may have been worthy of some accolades. Given the $4 price tag I did ponder whether the extra $3 spent on a bottle of the Casillero del Diablo was worth it. The answer was a resounding yes. Dig in the couch for loose change if you have to.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Castineira Albarino Dry White Wine

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Couldn’t find any good tasting notes specific to the 2005 so I guess you have to trust me for the time being.

What I Think:

Oh the disappointment, I saw the new label and immediately sensed trouble. If I were to make the ten commandments of buying wine at TJ’s somewhere in the upper half would be “Thou shalt always be scared of a new label.” The reasoning for this is lots of the bottlings at TJ’s are private labels. When I see a new label you can usually ascertain that this is not from the first run and means that this version was made from a different batch of grapes. Given that it is different batch of grapes and this bunch was bought after the first my thought process leads me to believe that it is of a lower quality and thus my expectations plummet. I learned this with $2 Buck Chuck way back. When it first came out it was drinkable, as time passed though it would get worse and worse. I figured they were making this on a supply and demand basis. As supply dwindled and demand remained they would buy more juice and get it in the bottle with quality degrading as the supply of juice dwindled. Could be wrong as they would have to have wines sitting in barrels waiting to go but the logic all makes sense in theory so I am sticking to it.

Now back to this wine and why that last diatribe doesn’t even matter. When I got home I realized this was a different vintage. The one that I had come to know and love was the ’04 and this was an ’05. Still leery of the label change, why mess with a good thing! When I finally opened it my suspicions seem warranted though only mildly. This one certainly seemed weaker. It just didn’t have the same zing to it that the ’04 did. It was there, but it wasn’t there if that could possible make sense. It just didn’t seem to have the depth of varietal characteristics that the previous version did. The citrus flavors seem blunted in comparison and the raciness that use to last through the finish now seems a little overly acidic and becomes bitter and sour towards the end. This one certainly isn’t the discovery its predecessor is though I would love to try the two side by side. Maybe I can track down a bottle of that ’04, in the meantime I’ll try and do some research on vintage reports for this region.

For now I’ll rate this one as 12th bottle more based on my memories of the ’04 that this effort. Just want to make sure before I strike it from the list. Feel free to wait for the next write up or move on in the meantime. The Kono Sauvignon Blanc would certainly be a better choice if you are just grabbing one bottle for dinner.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2004 Castineira Albarino Dry White Wine

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Lately it seems like Albarino is mostly famous for being unknown — or is that an oxymoron? Whatever, it’s a great varietal that more people should try, especially of they’re looking for solid, food-friendly wines at budget prices. The first time I tried an Albarino, I thought of Sauvignon Blanc crossed with dry Reisling, and that’s what you usually get, a nice balance between the floral/mineral elements of Riesling and the citrusy element of Sauvignon Blanc.

This Spanish wine might be best consumed in a darkened room, as the color is a disturbingly electric yellow. The nose is muted, but shows pretty aromas of orange blossoms, lemon, and gravel. It’s rounder and more forward on the palate, with nice balance, good flavors, really good texture, and a surprisingly long finish marked by grapefruit rind.

This is an appealing wine that drinks well by itself or at the table, and it’s an outstanding value. Drinking it, I thought I really need to be drinking more whites, and more Albarino, when I’m looking for good wines under $10.”

What I Think:

I am a bit of a sucker for Spanish wines, lets get that out of the way upfront. That being said this is an excellent wine, especially at this price point. It has all the characteristics of a nice Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Nice and dry in the mouth with that nice mineral undertone and freshness cutting across the palate lingering on for quite some time. I just finished my last bottle of this and returned from the local TJ’s with a 2005 version that has a much prettier label…this is usually a bad sign.  Here’s to hoping it is just as good.

Rating: Bulk Buy