Trader Joe’s and Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Trader Joe's and Chateauneuf-du-PapeEvery time I go to Trader Joe’s I see this, that or the other new mostly generic looking label staring back at me from the shelves promising to deliver expensive wines (e.g. Barolo, Amarone, …) at a fraction of the cost. My initial inclination is always to give it a try and hope for the best but I have been disappointed too may times to succumb to that reaction. As my parents always told me if it sounds too good to be true chances are it is. Nonetheless each time I head down the wine aisle that temptation once again strikes and I have to remind myself to be strong. Such is the case with this Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Now it turns out this is not a generic label. The 2008 is available for $20. I can find mentions of the 2005, 2006 and even a mention of the 1999 vintage. Here’s what Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer had to say about the 2009:

    Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Val De La Pierre:This red Rhône blend holds your palate rapt. What do you expect from a bottle that bears the emblem of the Holy See? Named for “the Pope’s new castle,” Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a landmark wine region in the southern Rhône that burgeoned under the cultivation of the 14th Century Avignon Popes. It produces legendary wines. Present vintage included. A perfect storm of climactic conditions and opportune veraison (onset of ripening) yielded grapes with concentrated acidity and balanced structure. This blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 7.5% Mourvèdre and 7.5% Cinsault presents sweet plum with notes of white pepper and black tea. It’s roll-your-tongue-over-your-teeth juicy. Ready to drink now, it also will age well; so, pour it with your turkey, present it to your friends or cellar it—at our price of $9.99, you can do it all for less than you might find a bottle elsewhere.

Perhaps a telling tale that they lead with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape designation before mentioning the producer, no? So what did others have to say? Jeff over at Viva la Wino faintly praised (vs. the ’08) but mostly panned it. joshiemac mentioned it wasn’t half bad once spun through the Vinturi. But based on what I have heard to date my perspective remains unchanged. These wines are expensive for a reason and while you don’t have to pay top dollar you are going to have to open your wallet a bit further than normal to acquire a quality product. If I can’t do that I’d rather spend my $10, $15 or $20 on a known commodity that I am sure I will enjoy. How about you? Have you bought it? If so what did you think? Care to try and change my mind?

* photo courtesy of Viva la Wino!

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!

Let’s start at the beginning. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Why you ask? What could be more pure would be my response. Spending a day and sharing a meal with family and friends with as little commercialism as could possibly be imagined. No pressure to deliver the perfect gift like Christmas. Even Mother’s Day needs a card and likely a brunch spot. Valentine’s Day? Yip! Thanksgiving? Happy Thanksgiving Turkey 2010Just show up, preferably with a big appetite, and spend some time with those near and dear to you. That’s it…

And the meaning of the holiday itself? It serves as a reminder to be cognizant of all that we have to be thankful for. I consider myself to be a self aware individual but yet from time to time still find myself getting wound up in the day to day of things and losing perspective of the bigger picture. Sure maybe I would prefer this house or that car. Or maybe those wines! Those all matter little. I am a lucky man with a beautiful wife I love, two great kids that I adore and so much more. If anything it is a shame that there is only one holiday a year to celebrate that. Anyone want to join me in my efforts to start commandeering other holidays? Christmas could be Thanksgiving II. Valentine’s Day could be Thanksgiving III. Anyone?

If Thanksgiving has a single flaw it may be the pressure that is placed on finding just the right wine to accompany the meal. Article after article of Thanksgiving wine recommendations hit the wire. Recommending this Pinot Noir or that Riesling. Now I know these articles are very beneficial to some and for them I am glad they are available. That said when I think back to yesterday I wonder what could possibly be the “perfect pairing” with the foods I saw on the table. Salad, green beans with bacon, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet yams, cranberries, applesauce, jello mold and of course the turkey. Personally I’m not even sure milk could handle all of these pairings…

Happy Thanksgiving Wine 2010So what do I recommend you ask? An easy decision for me! Pick your favorite wines and share the enjoyment you get from them with those you love. Here’s what was on our table:

The NPA Suavignon Blanc was my selection and was as always “fun”. My 81 year old father-in-law digs it as does my 21 year old niece and everyone in between. The ’97 Navarro was nice but certainly passed its prime. My wife’s cousin brought the 2007 Navarro (<- she’s a keeper) which while young is an already an excellent Pinot. This also offered everyone an exceptional learning opportunity to taste these wines a decade apart. The difference was stark. Starting with the color of the wines, from the nose to the plate and all the way through. The Frank Family was new to me but funny enough had a few family tie-ins. From the same Swiss heritage (my wife’s heritage) to their location near Larkmead where the aforementioned keeper cousin got married. The wine definitely let’s you know that it is a Napa Cab straight out of the gate. Big and bold on the palate this one has firm tannins and just enough acidity to keep it balanced. This wine is certainly full bodied and shows some spice throughout before the oak kicks in on a creamy, vanilla finish.

So there you have it. Now it is time to thank all of you. For following along, letting me know what you think and recommending me your favorite wines. I always enjoy hearing from you and would love to hear what was on your table in the comments below. I certainly hope you and your families had a great Thanksgiving!

Another Trader Joe’s Wine Shopping Run

As some of you may have guessed based on recent reviews I squeezed in a recent Trader Joe’s shopping trip. What did I see? A whole new end cap of the 2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir (my review on the ’08), a handful of new offerings from Poet’s Row (which appears to be a Kunde Estate’s offering) and an interesting placement of a Bridgeway Cellars Merlot. For one reason or another I passed on all of these. Say what? So what exactly did I pick up you ask? Let’s see…

Another Trader Joe's Wine Shopping Run...

  • 2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir (3 @ $8.99) – Just following my own advice to “Buy It” here. I cleaned the shelves off at my local Trader Joe’s and would still grab another half case or so should I come across it. A worthy wine selection for those looking for something to pair with Thanksgiving turkey…
  • 2008 Trader Joe’s Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir (1 @ $9.99) – This one came recommended from Angela as a worthy competitor to the above mentioned Picket Fence. Andy and Matt agreed. Carneros Pinot is very unique in style to me so looking forward to giving this one a try…
  • 2009 Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Cabernet Franc (3 @ $5.99) – Still trying to figure out why I grabbed three of these. As per my review I was not a fan. Worried that I was overly harsh on the wine based on my personal shopping decision I tried this one again last night. It didn’t do anything to change my initial opinion…
  • 2007 Roustabout Meritage (2 @ $5.99) – Another one from the folks over at the Central Coast Wine Warehouse. Looking at the blend percentage I once again started dreaming of this one as a follow-up to the Franc Merlot. My initial taste last night was very promising. Looking forward to spending some more time with this one tonight.
  • 2008 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc (3 @ $5.99) – I never got to try the Zinfandel of this offering (which is a Quivira Vineyards label) and I wasn’t going to let the same happen with the Sauvignon Blanc. And I am glad I jumped on it as this turned out to be a really nice wine! As mentioned in my review this is another one worth considering for the Thanksgiving table. If that is already full don’t worry as this one is well suited for everyday sipping as well…

How about you all? Have you had anything of interest at Trader Joe’s lately that I am missing? Let me know in the comments below…

Ortman Family Vineyards “O2″ Wines

I’ve heard many good things about Ortman Family Vineyards but never had the chance to try their wines. So when offered the chance to sample the inaugural release of their “O2” series I was glad to have the chance. The “O2” wines were positioned to serve as “A fresh, new generation of affordable wines from the Ortman family”.

Before we answer whether or not they lived up to their positioning there are two important disclaimers. The first being that this is their second label and I have never tasted their first. Given that I can’t offer any comparisons. The second being that this is their inaugural release. Like opening night at a restaurant there are always some kinks to be worked out. With that let’s get to the wines…
3 from Ortman Family...

  • 2009 Ortman Family “O2″ Chardonnay ($18) – (14.2%) This one, hailing from the Central Coast, starts promising when I read “Simply put, overly oaky, cloying Chardonnay is just not our style” from the winery brochure. And this delivers as well. Not your standard butterball turkey here. Nice crispness with peach and apricot on the nose. Crisp on entry with the same fruit flavors before mineral and oak components emerge on the mid-palate. These lead to a first oaky & creamy then tangy, tart lasting finish. This is not your regular Chardonnay as it shows racy acidity throughout. Pleasant but pricey at $18.
  • 2008 Ortman Family “O2″ Sangiovese ($20) – (13.8%) Short on notes for this one hailing from Paso Robles but this was indeed again a nice wine. Starts lively and juicy with cherry cola flavors and dark fruit. A nice acidity emerges mid-palate and leads to dry sage notes on a soft spice finish with lingering tannins. This one shows nice balance throughout.
  • 2007 Ortman Family “O2″ Cuvée Eddy ($20) – (14.2%) Syrah 42%, Grenache 30%, Mourvèdre 19%, Petite Sirah 9% – This one, hailing from San Luis Obispo, starts with plush fruit and barrel spice on the nose. Bright fruit on entry that turns almost creamy on the mid-palate where a nice acidity emerges before a spicy, blackberry briar finish with just a touch of sweetness. A nice wine and an easy drinker but at $20 I can’t say it is worth stretching your budget for.

Now keep in mind when it comes to $20 wines there are few harsher critics out there than me. These wines all offer a fair quality to price ratio, are well made and I enjoyed each one of them. That said at this price point I want a wine to distinguish itself and I didn’t see that here. Reminder that this is the inaugural vintage so as the “kinks” get worked out I am sure we can look forward to better things. Either way if $20 is within your price range give these a try. You’ll be sure to enjoy and they are twist off to boot!

Interested in reading more about the Ortman “O2″ Series?

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as press samples

Clearing out the summer stash…

Clearing out the summer stash... Upon arriving home from work last night I found a cranky wife. You see I keep many empty bottles around the house with the intent of writing about them at some point. As that number begins to swell the children start to think they are fun to play with. So after a particular challenging day my wife said enough was enough. And after doing the count I can’t say I blame her. It appears nearly 75 bottles was her breaking point.

Now the challenge to me. Write or get off the pot! I have tasting notes in varying degrees for all of these somewhere but they will never make it to a finished post. So what to do? Given that this is a solid six months of backlog (though I cleared those from Trader Joe’s last week) I decided to catalog them, share my thoughts and select my top 5 wines from the group…

With that buckle in. I have a busy weekend ahead…

Summer Stash: A load of Sauvignon Blanc…

The summer brings warm temperatures (okay well maybe not so warm this year) which tend to solar power my appetite for crisp, refreshing white wines and Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorites. As you’ll see below I had a chance to drink quite a few (all samples) over the last six months. What was my overall take? There is a lot of very good Sauvignon Blanc available for less than $12 and for a man like me on a strict budget that is good news. All of the prices below are suggested retail and you can expect to find these cheaper at your local wine outlet. So what have I been drinking?

a few from Chile...

The Veramonte is one of my favorites and is a bottle I buy regularly (last reviewed the ’08). This ’09 vintage once again offered solid value with nice lemon, vibrant minerality and great acidity. An easy wine to like. The Cono Sur was quite nice as well and was a bit fuller and rounder than the Veramonte. Definitely a more food friendly wine which again offers very good QPR. The Los Vascos (the Rothschild joint venture in Chile) is likely the most widely available and makes a fine choice for the $8 or so it will be going for.

a few more from Chile...

Here we see the price points start to jump a bit. Is it justified? The Casa Silva was certainly unique starting with a slight spritz and showing some lingering (talc like) spice on the finish but I found it more tight and biting than crisp. The Valdivieso while dramatically different from your traditional Sauvignon Blanc. Yet it was more a fun, challenging and enjoyable experience than it was a pleasure to drink. The Haras showed tight acidity with stony minerality and layers of lemon flavors. While nice it came across as a bit closed. The Undarraga was enjoyable with beautiful honeydew notes and a flinty finish. The Ventisquero was the most memorable of this lot. A nice mouth feel and a rotisserie of flavors on the mid-palate (predominately cantaloupe) leading to a lingering finish with white pepper notes. If I were to buy one of these the Ventisquero would likely be my pick.

and some potential values...

The Dashwood (’08 review) is another ultra popular value choice. I found the Morro Bay to be a bit uninspired. That said the Jaja de Jau was a pleasant surprise. Super light (11.5%) but bright, clean and crisp. Given you can pick this one up for around $7 it is a winner; simple and enjoyable.

There you have it. Did you have a favorite Sauvignon Blanc this summer? (PSA: my favorite has yet to be revealed) Have you had any of these? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as a press sample. That said I have purchased many bottles of the Veramonte using my very own wallet.

Summer Stash: A load from Argentina…

I long to go back to Mendoza and often practice the reverse mantra that if you can’t be there bring it to you. Malbec, asada and flipping through pictures from our visit a few years back usually tends to scratch the itch. That said sooner or later I am going to have to book my return trip but until then I’ll just keep drinking more than my fair share of Argentinean wines. Again here I had a chance to drink quite a few (all samples) over the last six months. What was my overall take? Malbec, to me, is still one of the most consistent places to find value offerings and furthermore some of the $20 wines more than delivered on their price points. So what have I been drinking you ask?a few from Terrazas de los Andes...

Terrazas Los Andes and I go way back. Their Malbec (I last reviewed the ’06) is one of the wines I most often recommend to people. This was my first experiences with the Malbec Reserva (which I drank from a 375ml bottle) and it certainly showed more restraint and a few extra layers of complexity. As for the Torrontes Reserva the aromatics on the nose weren’t quite as exciting as I usually find them. Why the wine itself was fine I wouldn’t stretch your budget for this one with so many $10 (See Finca La Linda below) options readily available.

a few from Luigi Bosca...

I have actually previous reviewed the Finca La Linda and as mentioned while I found it nice next time I would prefer to give some others; like this Zolo, a try. The Pinot I found very new world in style. This wine is big and powerful with oak influencing throughout. Well made but not a match for my palate as at this price point I want something more restrained and elegant. The Merlot was an easy and enjoyable drinker but north of the price point I’m willing to pay for that type of offering. But oh the Malbec! This one has a nose of dark berries, dusty chocolate and black pepper. A brooding wine that could knock you over with fruit if it pleased that instead chooses to some nice values...show restraint and layers of flavor. A sure winner and the best of the Argentinean wines I sampled this summer.

This Santa Ana really surprised me as despite my travels through Australia I had come across very few Shiraz blends I had enjoyed. This one was spicy and juicy on the palate with a nice structure. Firm acidity kept it balanced and made it food friendly. The Bodega Norton was a Bordeaux-ish blend that showed sweet fruit and nice meaty characteristics. I’d love to try it with a few more years in the bottle as this has the potential to be something else. As for the Alamos this is another long time favorite (last reviewed the ’06). and a few nice Malbecs...My notes on the ’09 say: “Young, light & juicy w/ loads of stawberries on balanced acidity with a dry spicy finish. Crowdpleaser! Buy this one more often.”

The Nieto Senetiner was new to me. It showed bold red fruit and soft, velvety tannins with pepper spice on the finish. Well balanced with layers of flavors. Yet another very good value. The Dona Paula is a big wine with rich fruit that dries quickly showing a leathery, pepper finish that is laden with barrel notes and tannins. For this price I’m tempted to buy a few and sit them as again this one seems to have the opportunity to evolve into something special.

There you have it. Did you have a favorite Argentinean wine this summer? Have you had any of these? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as a press sample. That said I have purchased many bottles of the Terrazas de los Andes and Alamos with my very own wallet.

Summer Stash: Some Riesling and a Grüner Veltliner…

Riesling has always been intriguing to me and I’ve long wanted to explore it further but yet to do so. On the other hand Grüner Veltliner is quite new to me but quite intriguing as well. Why? Because both can deliver loads of value. You can drink some very high quality offerings of these at affordable prices. This is even more true (at least in the case of Riesling, does Grüner Veltliner age well?) when you are looking to cellar some wines. Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to sample a handful of these. What was my overall take? That I need to do a lot more exploring with these two grapes! So let’s take a look at those I have been drinking…two rielsings and a gruner...

Both of these Rieslings are designated as Kabinett which is on the lower end of the sweetness scale (and to my liking). Did I mention the other thing I love about Riesling? The low ABV (10.5% and 9.5% here). The Pfeffo has a great nose of plush white fruit over a nice mineral bed. The palate shows more of the same with juicy apple flavors and a firm acidity that shines through to keep this one balanced. Very nice but I would have preferred a bit more crispness here. The Marcobrunn was totally lacking the fruit on the nose yet much sweeter (and slightly syrupy) on the palate. Both are well suited to be paired with spicy Asian cuisine. As for Forstreiter; it showed rock, talc and mineral on the nose with loads of white pepper lingering nearby. The palate starts with racy grapefruit flavors before the acidity kicks in and leads to a tangy, mineral finish. Next time I have to pair this one with food!
and the wines of Heinz Eifel...

Warning! Wine geekery adhead… When I first started learning about Riesling the thing I struggled most with was what the difference between the designations meant. Spätlese vs. Auslese? Say what? Eventually I realized the easiest way to think about these is by their level of sweetness. The designations, starting with least sweet, are rank ordered above. So what did I love most about these wines? The chance to try them all at once! We had an Indian dinner party and brought these all out. It was a wonderful tasting opportunity to try different wines with the same foods (my tip is the spicier the food the sweeter the wine) and was a really enjoyable evening for all involved. So my wine geek friends go grab these and give it a try on your own. You’ll be glad you did!

There you have it. Have you had any of these? Any similar favorites to share? (PSA: my favorite has yet to be revealed) Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*as indicated above these wines were indeed all received as press samples.

Summer Stash: A few from Greece…

Ah, Greece. For those that don’t know I spent some time there eighteen months ago and was treated to some great wine experiences that I failed to chronicle. Thus every time I think about their wines I start feeling guilty but when they won their first World Cup game earlier this summer I couldn’t not open a bottle to celebrate the occasion. So what did I open? a few from Greece...

I opened the Porfyros (13.5%) which was a Bordeaux blend that showed nice dry herbs, mushrooms and cherry on the nose. The palate was light and lively with warm dark fruits and violet flavors. Very well balanced with a touch of acidity and a warm pleasing finish. A very nice wine that unfortunately isn’t available in the states. Guess I’ll have to pack my bags and head back that way ;) As for the two from Skouras these are perfect (and affordable) intros to Greece wine. The white is one of my annual favorites. The delicate Moscofilero (70%) blends with the Roditis (30%) which is decidedly not and the result is splendid. Pure lemon flavors with floral overtones on a mineral backbone with bracing acidity. Crisp & refreshing; this one is perfect for the patio but even better with seafood. The red is a bit smoky with almost sweet red fruit on the nose. Light, juicy (with a bit of the leaves too) and savory on the palate with a nice warm, lingering spice on the finish. An enjoyable and affordable Greek offering that clocks in at a typical Greek 12.5% abv.

There you have it. So what did I learn? That I really appreciate how food friendly their red wines are and that I need to be drinking a whole lot more of them. Have you tried the wines of Greece? If not I highly recommend you do. I can share my introduction to their offerings to help you get started. If you have tried them do you have any favorites to share? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*other than the Porfyros which I picked up at the winery these were purchased with my own real American dollars…

Summer Stash: Revisting the Port4lio Tasting 2010

While I’m at home working on this post Luis (@VinosUnico) & Frank (@BlueDanubeWine) are busy driving the #25grapes bus all over California. Tonight they are in San Francisco which means I am decidedly in the wrong place. What is this #25grapes tasting you ask? You won’t come across your “ordinary” grapes here but rather a bunch you have likely never heard of (take a look), such as Bical, Maria Gomes, Crljenak Kastelanski and Irsai Oliver. Luckily for me I was able to join them for their Port4lio Tasting back in May and have been revisiting a handful of those wines throughout the summer. Which ones? Glad you asked…

a few Portuguese whites...

You’ll see two bottles of the Trajarinho (my review) but I think I drank more like a hundred. A perfect summer wine; ‘nuff said! The Muralhas ( my review of the ‘05) is a more refined version of Vinho Verde; just as crisp and refreshing but more structured and better fit to pair with a meal. a few reds...

The Urbanite Redart is another of my summer favorites and a wine I often recommend. Here is the review I posted to Grape Stories ; “(13.8%) 40% Cabernet, 30% Syrah and 20% Zinfandel – Big juicy blackberry fruit up front on a creamy vanilla backbone. Seems like it may go over the top but a solid dose of acidity kicks in to help maintain the balance and manage the plush, rich fruit. A smooth and pleasing full flavored wine with a warm, toasty finish showing hints of barrel spice that linger on nicely for some time. Nice depth/complexity for the price point!”
a few from off the beaten path...

The Hilltop (11%) shows a nice, light stony nose with peach notes. Light bodied with a firm mineral backbone and lemon stone fruits on the back of the palate. I found it clean, simple and pleasing. A perfect match for a sunny day. The Dingac (12%) is a light, juicy red that can be paired with meals where you might more traditionally reach for a white. That said it is lively and has enough acidity to stand up to the pasta I enjoyed with this one. The Crnko Jarenincan (1L, 11%) is floral driven and off sweet in texture with nice acidity. A pleasant, refreshing wine that though hailing from Slovenia enlists the common suspects in this blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. A fine quaffer with a pop top to boot…

There you have it. Have you had any of these? Any similar favorites to share? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

* I paid for all these wines with real American dollars though Luis at Vinos Unico did hook me up at wholesale cost. Thanks Luis!