Best of Trader Joe’s Wine – Top 10 Wines of March 2008

If you arrived here and are interested in the latest top 10 list, click here. Otherwise please read on.

And I’m back for more with lots of new discoveries this month. To repeat the ground rules, the only one is that the wines listed all have to have been either purchased or available during the month to which the post refers. Again I will place the rankings from the previous month in parenthesis and provide some details on those that have fallen out of the rankings. Without further adieu here are the rankings:

1. 2005 Epicuro Aglianico – $5 (Feb Rank: 1) – Third month in a row and still enjoying each and every bottle.

2. 2006 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere – $7 (Feb Rank: 2) – Old reliable. When it just “needs” to be good I grab this one every time.

3. 2004 Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon – $6 (Feb Rank: NR) – I’ve been doing a varietal tour of the Columbia Crest Two Vines and this one was a revelation. If you are new to wine start here!

4. 2006 Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc – $8 (Feb Rank: 4) – Now that the weather is getting better I expect to be enjoying this one more and more often.

5. 2006 Michel Leon Gewurztraminer – $7 (Feb Rank: NR) – A worthy Alsacian replacement for the Marcel Hugg.

6. 2006 Castle Rock Monterrey County Pinot Noir – $10 (Feb Rank: 9) – I had another bottle this month and was pleased. Still seems pricey but if you just have to have a Pinot this is the one.

7. 2006 Callaway California Chardonnay – $5 (Feb Rank: NR) – Those regular readers out there may be picking themselves off the floor finding a Chard here but it is true. Give it a try and you’ll see why!

8. 2005 Kono Sauvignon Blanc – $8 (Feb Rank: 6) – Still in stock and with warmer weather looming looking forward to drinking some more white.

9. 2004 Evans & Tate Cabernet Sauvignon Underground Series – $5 (Feb Rank: NR) – Can’t quite remember if this cost $4 or $5 but either way this screwcap is a great offering for the price.

10. 2003 Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot – $6 (Feb Rank: 5) – This one falls though not sure if it isn’t being treated unfairly based on a sibling being rated #3. I still have another bottle here so I haven’t stopped buying it yet.

Falling – these have seen their stock fall over the last month…

2006 Aquila d’Oro Toscana – $4 (Feb Rank: 8) – Still nice but with the Aglianico ranking #1 my focus has shifted outside of Italy for the time being.

2005 Archero Nero d’ Avola Ruggero di Tasso – $4 (Feb Rank: 10) – Ditto above!

Gone – these appear to no longer be available…let me know if you have seen them!

2005 Rocking Horse Napa Valley Zinfandel – $8 (Feb Rank: 3) – Think this may still be around but haven’t seen it lately…

2004 Chasing Clouds Central Ranges Shiraz – $3 (Feb Rank: 7) – Again ditto above!

That’s a wrap! If you are enjoying these Top 10 list please leave me a comment to let me know. Been a little less motivated to post lately so I could use the feedback!

Best of Trader Joe’s Wine – Top 10 Wines of February 2008

If you arrived here and are interested in the latest top 10 list, click here. Otherwise please read on.

The calendar has turned meaning it is time to review the Top 10 Trader Joe’s Wines for February. To repeat the ground rules, the only one is that the wines listed all have to have been either purchased or available during the month to which the post refers. As a new addition to this post I will place the rankings from the previous month in parenthesis and provide some details on those that have fallen out of the rankings. Without further adieu here they are with some quick notes for a recap:

1. 2005 Epicuro Aglianico – $5 (Jan Rank: 1) – My relentlessness paid off here when I was able to grab a case. Just saw it again in Daly City yesterday. If I drink it fast enough maybe I can get another…

2. 2006 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere – $7 (Jan Rank: 2) – This wine is as dependable as it gets. You can always find it and it is always good. Given the lack of good, affordable Zinfandel I have been heavily reliant on this one over the last three months or so.

3. 2005 Rocking Horse Napa Valley Zinfandel – $8 (Jan Rank: NR) – As the post clearly shows I put this one through the ringer and it delivered with the pressure on. Not the big fruit variety but a nice balanced effort that hasn’t been seen at Trader Joe’s for quite some time.

4. 2006 Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc – $8 (Jan Rank: 3) – This one still amazes me and I’m not the only one who thinks so!

5. 2003 Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot – $6 (Jan Rank: NR) – A Merlot here? I can barely believe it myself. But with three more bottles in the rack it must be real.

6. 2005 Kono Sauvignon Blanc – $8 (Jan Rank: 7) – Oh so refreshing! Love the zingy, lemony, lip smacking finish.

7. 2004 Chasing Clouds Central Ranges Shiraz – $3 (Jan Rank: 10) – Moved up the ranks by beating the Block 50 Shiraz which is twice the cost of this one.

8. 2006 Aquila d’Oro Toscana – $4 (Jan Rank: NR) – Another surprise as this hails from Northern Italy. A light, fruity quaffer that is high in acid making it a perfect compliment for your pasta tonight. I picked up the Chianti the other day we’ll see if that one can make the cut as well.

9. 2006 Castle Rock Monterrey County Pinot Noir – $10 (Jan Rank: NR) – At this price I hate to put it in here but a great drinking Pinot for $10 deserves the acclaim. Be sure to note this is the Monterrey bottling, my experience with the Willamette was not quite as good

10. 2005 Archero Nero d’ Avola Ruggero di Tasso – $4 (Jan Rank: 9) – Was thinking when I had the above that only one of these would make the cut. After further review they are different enough that I made room for both. This one has much heavier fruit with earthy undertones that make it a much more rustic effort.

Falling – these have seen their stock fall over the last month…

2006 Abrazo Del Toro Carinena Tinto – $5 (Jan Rank: 4) – May have jumped the gun on this one. I’ve had a few more bottles and while still good I remembered it having a little more fruit to balance out the acid.

2003 Epicuro Salice Salentino Riserva – $5 (Jan Rank: 5) – I’ve had another three bottles of this and still find it interesting the problem is at the end of the night I find myself straddling the fence. Those ranked this month don’t leave me is this dilemma…

Gone – these appear to no longer be available…let me know if you have seen them!

2005 Marcel Hugg Gewurztraminer – $8 (Jan Rank: 6th) – Hope this one reappears at some point. The Alsace at these prices is unheard of…

2005 Chalk Creek Mendocino County Petite Sirah -$5 (Jan Rank: 8th) – Would have really liked to try another bottle of this one…

Best of Trader Joe’s Wine – Top 10 Wines of January 2008

If you arrived here and are interested in the latest top 10 list, click here. Otherwise please read on.

Following the success of my Top 10 TJ’s Wines of 2007 post I have decided to make it a monthly staple. With that, here are the ground rules, actually just one which makes it simple. The wines listed all have to have been either purchased or available during the month to which the post refers. Without further adieu here they are with some quick notes for a recap:

1. 2005 Epicuro Aglianico ($5) – Aglianico’ at TJ’s, I couldn’t believe it. Like my mom always told me if it seems to good to be true it must be. I grabbed two bottles on initial sight and went back two days later and it was gone. I’ve since tried 5 more locations some multiple times to no avail…Hope the next shipment is on the way.

2. 2006 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere ($7) – Not the ’05 but still a winner. The combination of fruit, smoke and spice can’t be beat.

3. 2006 Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc ($8) – Wow! This is likely the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had that isn’t from New Zealand. Get yourself a bottle.

4. 2006 Abrazo Del Toro Carinena Tinto ($5) – This blend of Grenache/Tempranillo (80/20) delivers tastes of strawberries on a dry backbone that led to a earthy, spicy finish. I grabbed another half case of this one.

5. 2003 Epicuro Salice Salentino Riserva ($5) – A big month for Italian wines, perhaps I have found my niche in Southern Italy.

6. 2005 Marcel Hugg Gewurztraminer ($8) – A great introduction to the Alsace for those unfamiliar and an opportunity for me to stock up before it disappears!

7. 2005 Kono Sauvignon Blanc ($8) – Anyone that hasn’t had a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand start here, get it while it last.

8. 2005 Chalk Creek Mendocino County Petite Sirah ($5) – Rich & robust with hints of varietal character. A lot of bang for your buck but for some from a fruit perspective this may be too far over the top.

9. 2005 Archero Nero d’ Avola Ruggero di Tasso ($4) – This one just reappeared in the stores, guessing the first batch was a success and they went back to get more. Hopefully the quality hasn’t slipped. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

10. 2004 Chasing Clouds Central Ranges Shiraz ($3) – A bit of barnyard and earthiness in the nose with dark fruits and chocolate lingering within. The palate holds itself together quite well for the $3 investment.

2006 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo CarmenerePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits

What They Said:

Per wine.com: “Notes of dark plums and spice, generously framed by toasty American oak with a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture. Excellent with fresh light dishes based in meats, vegetables and fresh herbs. Also a good accompaniment to ripe cheeses such as Gouda, Gruyere or a dry goat cheese.”

What I Think:

Quaffability has a nice write up here and I likewise enjoyed the 2005 version and considered it a work of perfection at the price point. So as you can expect with a new vintage in stores I approached a new bottle with a healthy dose of skepticism.

In a nutshell? A notch below the ’05. That said it had a lot of room to work with. You still get chocolate, mint and spice on the nose. The tongue greets you with the smokiness and fruit that you may remember well before finishing on a spicy, cocoa backbone that lives on in the mouth. It may be splitting hairs but the ’06 version seems less integrated, less fruit on the nose and throughout, a hint of green/farmyard on the nose and palate. This may sound like a downer so let me lift it back up, this is still a winner. I’ll be buying bottles at a time all year long until the ’07 arrives and we repeat this exercise.

Rating: Buy It

2006 Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com on the 2006 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc: “Explosive aromas brimming with lemon, lime and citrus blossom mingle with gooseberry and passionfruit to proudly proclaim this wine’s varietal. A generous, fruit-forward palate shows juicy citrus flavors of lime, grapefruit and tangerine, balanced by bright, crisp acidity. The pleasant finish persists on the palate with great length of flavor. This is an easy-sipping, eminently drinkable wine that doesn’t sacrifice complexity or varietal character in its quest to be flat-out enjoyable. The perfect apéritif, this wine also makes an ideal partner to oysters and nearly any shellfish, as well as salads and light fish and chicken dishes.”

What I Think:

Given the recent tasting I wanted to see where this one fit in the Sauvignon Blanc pecking order. The answer? Way better than the Santa Ynez and likely as good as the Groth at a fraction of the cost!

You get exactly what you expect here, and even more. From the pale, straw color to the citrus aromas. In the mouth you get it all as well; light, crisp and tart. Full of lemon and lime flavors with some mild floral overtones all interlaced on a crisp, acidic backbone. This is a keeper and there is plenty to go around for everyone. Feel free to buy more than one.

Rating: Bulk Buy

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 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

Best of Trader Joe’s Wine – Top 10 Wines of 2007

If you arrived here and are interested in the latest top 10 list, click here. Otherwise please read on.

I thought I would put together a little recap of my version of the top ten wines of the year from Trader Joe’s.  Unfortunately, few remain.  I have seen three of these as of late and have reason to believe you may be able to discover two of the others.  Another three have moved on to the next vintage leaving the top two nowhere to be found (meaning if you do let me know).  Without further adieu here they are with some quick notes for a recap:

1. 2003 Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel ($7) – This wine is fantastic, I was able to procure 9 bottles, 6 of which have made there way down the hatch.  Still looking forward to the last 3 bottles and keen to try more from the Clear Lake area, wish this was still around.

2. 2005 Santa Ynez Valley Winery Cabernet Franc ($9) – Wow did I miss the boat on this one.  After reading about this on quaffability I grabbed two bottles.  By the time I made it back it was gone.  Would love to stumble across another case of this!

3. 2005 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere ($7) – So sad this one has gone, made it thorugh another half a case before it disappeared, now on to 2006 which still is worth buying but I would rank it a bit lower than this offering.

4. 2005 Santa Ynez Valley Winery Gewurztraminer ($7) – A great gewurtz and one of the first of a few I was able to sample from this winery. Each one has been a hit, don’t hesitate to buy them on sight! The ’05 is history but the ’06 is in the stores now. Lucky me, still one in the rack.

5. 2005 Marcel Hugg Pinot Blanc ($8) – This one is from the Alsatian region of France which I have always found compelling and this Pinot Blanc is a winner.  Alas it is all gone except for the one last bottle in the fridge, though I think there may still be some bottles lurking in the stores if you look hard enough.

6. 2004 Castineira Albarino Dry White Wine ($8) – A sucker for all things Spanish this one quickly worked its way into my repertoire and then disappeared just as fast. The ’06 appeared shortly there after but isn’t in the same league. Keep your fingers crossed for ’07.

7. 2005 Kono Sauvignon Blanc ($8) – Finally one that is still available. Anyone that hasn’t had a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand start here, get it while it last.

8. 2005 Marcel Hugg Gewurztraminer ($8) – The second winery to have multiple appearances in the top 10 and the second bottling to still be seen on the shelves. A great introduction to the Alsace for those unfamiliar and an opportunity for me to stock up before it disappears!

9. 2003 Rocking Horse Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) – The most interesting wine on this list in that it is not made for the masses, a real dry chalky number that many may not find appealing. I like it, you may not which may be why it is still on the shelves. Makes me wonder if it has any aging potential. I still have two bottles and the chance to grab more.

10. NV Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles ($6) – Another interesting choice to round out the list, a blend that is primarily of GSM which I always find intriguing, and from the central coast certainly unexpected. On taste if doesn’t match the typical GSM profile at all, it comes across more as a cheap man’s Pinot with nice light fruit. I’ll take it and you may be able to as well if you look hard enough. It is still lurking in stores on occasion.

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And now on to the bonus round….Hard to call anything in particular out as the value wines of the year in a Trader Joe’s capacity so let’s call these the top two quaffers of the year.  These are wines that you can open guilt free after the first of the night has disappeared and know that you won’t be disappointed if you did.  Without further ado…

1. 2005 Amaicha Bonarda ($2) – The best of the best. Open it to make a spaghetti sauce and finish after the bottle of the night is gone. I bought three cases of this one and but a bit remains. Good luck in the stores here in CA but back in WI where I was for Xmas you can pay $5 a bottle. As for me I’ll just enjoy the bottles I have left.

2. 2005 Archero Nero d’ Avola Ruggero di Tasso ($4) – An Italian wine, my struggles with Italy are well documented, much to my surprise. The Nero d’ Avola grape hails from Sicily and I’ll be looking in that direction more in the future.

Both of these bottles makes me wonder what you can get from these grapes if you spend just a bit more, I’m guessing just disappointment. Much the same as when I realized this one was no longer in the stores. As a goal for 2008 I’ll try to publish a monthly list so you can get these while they are still in the stores. Happy New Year to all!

2005 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo CarmenerePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits

What They Said:

Per wine.com: “Looking for an amazing value, delicious and new wine? This wine was what Bordeaux was originally primarily made from, now its found almost exclusively in Chile. This is a delicious example of this incredible variety, which combines the best of Cabernet and Merlot – Concha y Toro makes the best examples of this unique variety in the world.

Dark and deep red. Attractive aromas of dark plums, blackcurrant and chocolate, with hints of coffee and toasted American oak. Notes of dark plums and spice, with a generous touch of toasted American oak and a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture.

Enjoy with fresh light dishes based on meat and vegetables. Also a good accompaniment to ripe cheese.”

What I Think:

Scary, where to start? I have 36 wines waiting for posting. I thought this Carmenere might be a good place to start. This bottle took a ride with me to Tahoe some months back. Given that I came straight home from the office and hopped in the car to drive 3 hours straight through I certainly needed a glass when I was on the other end. It certainly disappoint. Nor the next night when it went up a rather impressive set of palates and wines.

As always, this wine was smoky on the nose with dark fruits and a hint of chocolate. In the mouth it was bold, full bodied and spicy with a nice woody/vanilla lingering finish with. All this time and it’s still the one. It’s like being at the top of the best seller list for a year. There’s no wine at Trader Joe’s that I would rather buy. You should too…

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Santa Ynez Valley Winery Cabernet Franc

Santa Ynez Valley Winery Cabernet FrancPrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Having spent a good chunk of the past week putting together an email blast for winery that ruffled a few feathers by selling their first release of Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Franc for $100, I was very interested when I spotted this Cab Franc at TJ’s , for $7.99 (I think). Folks don’t think of this Santa Barbara County appellation as a source for CF, as it’s known for Chard and Pinot Noir, of course, as well as Syrah. I had never heard of this winery before – the back label says it’s a new second label of Kalyra.

This wine is hot on the nose, but after the alcohol blows off there are some good leafy mineraly aromas overlaid by dusty cassis. The mouth offers nice silky texture, medium body, and good balance, with a short but tasty finish. Not much oak here. This is a lighter style of CF, more Chinon with some added fruit than Saint-Emilion. If I remember the price correctly, it’s a good value.”

What I Think:

Just opened this tonight and haven’t finished it yet but get this one if you see it. In fact add the label to your all stars category. Whenever you see something new from this winery get it. They produce a lot of bang for the buck…I’ll post a complete review later.

Done now and still smiling, this is good stuff! As mentioned on quaffability I was somewhat curious about Cab Franc from the Central Coast. Given that it is relative rare to find this bottled as a varietal offering at all in CA this was about the last place I would expect to see it. Checking the Kalyra site I find no mention of this wine but no worries it is a winner. On the nose I found some mineral notes overshadowed by mint or some similar leafy/aroma notes. In the mouth the wine is smooth. For Cab Franc the weight seems normal, the fruit is nice and the finish while not long is pleasant. Got another one of this sitting in the rack, looking forward to it…

Rating: Bulk Buy