2008 Rio Vaca Chardonnay

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Rio Vaca ChardonnayPer the bottle “We grow world-class Chardonnay grapes on our Rio Vaca estate vineyard alongside the Vaca Mountains just twenty miles east of California’s most renowned wine growing region. Vaca Small Lot Reserve Chardonnay is barrel fermented in 100% French oak to enhance its ripe pineapple, guava and crisp citrus flavors and to impart a long, richly textured finish.”

What I Think:

Whereas the URL (vacawines.com which doesn’t resolve) that is on the bottle is of little help our friends at the TTB can tell us this comes courtesy of Constellation Brands. Some mention of Mondavi and some Ravenswood but nothing definitive there. That said I did find a Rio Vaca Vineyards brand page on the Constellation site that indicated this wine was meant to be priced around $15 retail and was made by Blake Kuhn which may sound familiar to fans of Toasted Head wines. The brand page claims these wines are “Estate-vineyard focused wines just 20 miles from Oakville and Stags Leap on the eastern side of the Vaca Mountains but just $15 instead of $50″. What say the juice? Glad you asked…

Nice pineapple and citrus notes on the nose. Makes me flash back to my younger days when I use to slice pineapple after pineapple before marinating them in Malibu rum and heading off to the Jimmy Buffet concert. And it doesn’t disappoint from there. Rich, full bodied and structured with crisp green apple flavors on the palate and (or but for me…) a toasty, buttery banana finish that lingers on nicely. I actually find this pleasant which make me guess most California Chardonnay lovers would really dig it for $6. If you are out there and have had this one I’d love to hear your thoughts. Otherwise I recommend you grab a bottle soon. I’m headed out to grab more tomorrow and this is all but a lock to appear in the next rendition of my Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wines List!

Rating: Buy It (<- Almost unheard of for Chardonnay...)

Special shout-out to @ericsinsideout for the tip on this one!

The Top 10 Trader Joe’s Classic Wines

The Top 10 Trader Joe’s Classic WinesA few days ago when I published the latest Trader Joe’s Top 10 wines list I mentioned that I often hear from folks who can’t find many of the wines included. My news to those people at the time was not to fret for another list was on the way. A list of wines you should be able drop into your local store whenever the need arises. So here you have it. 4+ years of Trader Joe’s wine tasting culminated into a single list of “classics” that produce quality wines at fantastic prices vintage after vintage. Without further adieu…

After looking this over I see two wines that already seem to be missing. Both from Columbia Crest. The Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon of which I recently had the ’06 and found it outstanding and the Two Vines Merlot which is always a nice, easy drinker. Did I miss any of your favorites? Any of these not available in your local market? Let me know in the comments below…

The Trader Joe's Wall of Fame...In the meantime I’ll start pondering my next Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wines List. Perhaps the “Wall of Fame”? Here are some contenders I’ve recently had that would be likely suspects to appear…

Not much to say about these wines other than I wish I had a time machine. If I did I would back up the truck and grab a few cases of each of these. The Clos LaChance Merlot is a fantastic wine of which I sadly only have one more. Time to go find Doc Brown…

Top 10 Trader Joe’s Wines: The Holiday Edition

Top 10 Trader Joe’s Wines: The Holiday EditionYes it is true. After leaving everyone hanging for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year I wanted to make sure I didn’t do the same this year. So with that the new and improved Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List is now available. Plenty of choices for Thanksgiving dinner, gift ideas for Christmas or bubbly to ring in the New Year. Hopefully a little something for everybody. And for those that can’t find these don’t fret. Leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to help you find something you like. And just in case you are shy I have a list of the Top 10 classics, those wines that have delivered vintage after vintage, ready to publish in the next few days. So without further adieu I present the latest:

Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List

Enjoy! And let me know your thoughts. Stay tuned for the aforementioned classics list as well as my report on my top wines of 2010. Until then may you find something good in your glass!

2007 Roustabout Meritage

2007 Roustabout MeritagePrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “With silky tannins and exceptional texture, this wine opens with notes of black cherries, wild blueberries and cigar box, finishing with nuances of dark chocolate and espresso. Serve with food made by your own hand. Decant for up to an hour.”

What I Think:

Yet another find from the folks over at the Central Coast Wine Warehouse. Looking at the blend percentage I once again start dreaming of a follow-up to the Franc Merlot. Could it deliver on that potential? Let’s check the notes…

(14%) 56% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec – Dark purple in color with brown sugar, blackberry fruit and spice on the nose. This one starts smooth with juicy blueberry flavors and silky tannins. Towards the middle the fruit turns jammy and slightly sweet before starting to dry out with nice cedar notes. The finish shows sweet tobacco and dry, tangy tannins. A true successor (or as close as we can hope for) to the aforementioned Franc Merlot. This one is nice, warm and comforting. A wine well suited for a winter evening. I’m so close to loving this one… Just a bit more acidity to see this through on the finish and I am buying by the case. Despite that I’ll still be grabbing a few more on my next visit as this is a enjoyable wine for the price.

Rating: Buy It

*a quick footnote here that this is a review of the ’07. It looks like the ’08 may be available in some areas as well. I have yet to try that vintage. If you have let us know what you think!

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.

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

The Chariot Arrives

I’m sure many of you are already read my post on the return of the Gypsy. Also guessing those interested are well aware of the multitude of comments confirming sightings of this wine all across California (I have asked my insiders to look into potential arrival in Phoenix and beyond). Michael Rodgers was the first one to break the release date which was indeed yesterday, February 9th. So after work I headed over to my local store. Once inside I was expecting a big end cap display but found nothing. Checking the shelves I found it and grabbed a bottle. One you say? Indeed! You see, I had a corkscrew and glass waiting in the car. So I headed out to the parking lot to do some tasting. For those interested in my first, and perhaps last, attempt at video blogging here was my initial take…

To recap, thinking this one was juicy, fruit forward and a nice easy quaffer. What have I learned sampling it over the last 24 hours? The fruit on this one softer and rounder which at first led me to believe this was a lighter version. Night #2 I’m thinking that is not the case. The wine added some depth over night. Overall, early perceptions are that this one is “very pleasant” and is likely to improve as it settles into the bottle. Easily as good as 1/2 the $12 bottles I drink. A perfect red table wine for any house.

Given the change in the first 24 hours, I’m going to give it another 48 hours or so before doing a more thorough review. In the meantime feel free to share your thoughts!

2008 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2008 Sebastopol Hills Pinot NoirNada, the bottle said absolutely nothing. So the detective work began and I think I found my new best friend. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) registry where a search returned these results. This led me to the Owl Ridge Wines which happens to be located in Sebastopol. Once here, Google helped me locate some text near the bottom of the page referencing people to their affiliated winery, Willowbrook Cellars , for information on outstanding Pinot Noirs. A visit there led me to their online store which had a 2008 Sonoma County Pinot on offer with the alcohol content listed as 14.5%, wouldn’t you know it the same as the Sebastopol Hills. Do we have conclusive evidence? Nope, though I have emailed the winery seeking confirmation and will report back if we do. For those that believe we have corroborated enough facts you can find more information about the Willowbrook offering on the winery website where their Sonoma County offering goes for $24.

What I Think:

So what about the wine itself? I opened this with hamburgers on the menu and it’s a beauty. You’re greeted with blueberry, herbs and mint on the nose. The palate delivers deep fruit flavors on a well balanced and structured profile. A nice acidity emerges late in the mid-palate and leads to a dry, herbal lingering finish. This one has some very nice depth and length to it. I need to grab a few more bottles of this one before it disappears…

Rating: Buy It

Top 10 Trader Joe’s Wines: The New Year’s Version

2007 Trentatre RossoApologies! I missed Thanksgiving and yet again Xmas. With that I promised facing an 0-2 count I would deliver for New Year’s. At least for those waiting until the last minute to do your shopping! Little was inspiring me to publish a new Top 10 list, so much so that I was heading towards writing the classics list just to highlight those wines that had delivered vintage after vintage. Sometime over the last few weeks I realized I had more than enough new offerings to publish a Top 10 list of interest and without further adieu I present the latest:

Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List

Enjoy! And let me know your thoughts. Stay tuned for the aforementioned classics list as well as my report on my top wines of 2009.