Again this is one of those posts which was supposed to be quick, short and easy, a sequel to the first post about great value wines which can be found at Trader Joe’s stores. This post was started on April 30th! And it was hanging in the drafts section until now. Why? Beats me…
Last week, while visiting state of Washington, it was an “aha” moment – why not explore the local Trader Joe’s with the two-prong goal – fine some local Washington wines and spend not more than $20.
I was able to accomplish both – spent $19.97 (okay, before taxes) on three bottles, and two of them were from Washington! Here are the notes:
Barnard Griffin Cabernet Merlot Columbia Valley (13.3% ABV, $8.99) – blend of 65% cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. Only after I took the first sip and got over the initial “hmmm, this is nice!” I realized that this is a non-vintage wine. In general, I have a tendency to avoid non-vintage wines outside of sparkling category, which might be a mistake – I had a great experience with Mitch Cosentino’s Ol’ Red, which was also a non-vintage wine. The Barnard Griffin Cab Merlot had dark garnet, very inviting color. It needed about 15-20 minutes of breathing time to open up. It had a nose of dark fruit with the hint of cocoa. On the palate, it had supple blackberries, dark chocolate, tobacco and may be touch of cinnamon (just a nice touch) – soft, balanced, easy to drink. This was definitely the wine to drink again. I don’t know if you can find it outside of Washington state, but I would suggest you will look for it – worth a try. Drinkability: 8-
2008 Snoqualmie Syrah Columbia Valley (13.5% ABV, $6.99) – took me a little while to realize, why the name Snoqualmie sounds so familiar – I used to drink Snoqualmie Naked Riesling before, and I remember liking it quite a bit. So instead of giving you a description of this wine, how about I will just tell you – go get it by the case – is that a sufficient description for you? Dark, dense, a bit chewy, ripe plums and blueberries on the palate, good tannins, touch of pepper, good balance. The wine only started to open up on the second day, actually showing some mouth-coating tannins, so I’m sure it got at least 5-7 years of life on it (or more). Definitely the wine I would be happy to drink every day – yeah, only Trader Joe’s in Connecticut don’t sell wine… Again, this wine is worth seeking. Drinkability: 7+
2009 Santa Barbara Landing Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County (13% ABV, $3.99) – this wine was a pure experiment – how can $3.99 California Chardonnay taste. Admittedly, I was not blown away at all (was that really expected at that price level?). This was the wine without sense of place. In a blind tasting, it would puzzle many, I think, as it lacks any of the characteristic traits – butter, vanilla, toasted oak. It has some overall sweet notes, may be somewhat of a white peach pedigree, but that is about the only characteristic I would give. Lacks acidity and balance. Was it terrible? No. Would I drink it again – no. At that price range (little as it is), Vinho Verde from Portugal would give you a lot more pleasure. Drinkability: 6-
2010 La Ferme Julien Luberon AOC Rhone Valley Vineyards (13% ABV, $4.99) – blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Rousanne (aspiring Wine Century Club enrollees, take notice – 4 good varieties). Green pear and lemon zest on the nose, grapefruit with some gooseberries on the palate, very nice acidity, overall very good balance. Drinkability: 8-
2008 Babble Mendocino County Red Wine (13.7% ABV, $6.99) – blend of 36% Petite Syrah, 26% Syrah, 17% Merlot, 10% Carignane, 10% Grenache and 1% Malbec. Deep purple color, hint of blackberries on the nose, touch of oak, some cherries and a bit of spice box on the palate, very gentle tannins, good acidity. Paired very well with TJ’s Pulled Beef Brisket in smoky BBQ sauce. The text on the label is priceless and somewhat nicely mocking all the “over-sophisticated” wine reviews. Drinkability: 7+.
I need to mention one more great value discovery from Trader Joe’s stores – Poggio Basso Grappa.
Just curious, how many of you, my readers out there, just had shivers after reading that word “Grappa”? If you did, it is okay, because you simply were deprived of great grappas. Grappa is distilled spirit, made out of grapes, also known for high alcohol content (around 55% is typical). Even 10 years ago, a lot of grappas reaching the US were made out of grape leftovers (skins, seeds, etc.) after the wine production, and was showing in the sharp, attacking taste (not really drinkable, if you ask me). Now situation is different, with a lot of grappas made out of single grape (which is usually listed on the label in such a case), and not leftovers, but actual grapes. These grappas are delicate, flavorful and effervescent, and really give you a lot of pleasure – but you have to pay for it, as most of those excellent grappas will be priced north of $50.
Here comes Trader Joe’s with its Poggio Basso Grappa del Piemonte (40% ABV, 500 ml) – while this is not a single-grape grappa, it is perfectly balanced, with nice fruit profile, very delicate – it is a powerful spirit, but perfectly drinkable and enjoyable all for (you knew that the puncheons was coming) $9.99. No matter what you think of grappas, if you have an access to the Trader Joe’s which carries it, you owe it to yourself to try it – you might discover your new favorite drink.
That’s all for today, folks. Cheers!
If you follow the wine discussions in the social media world, one of the most controversial (and therefore, popular and recurrent) subjects is price of wine. There is a full range of opinions out there, as you can imagine, from some people religiously advocating cheapest possible wines as their one and only choice, to those who pay $2500 for a bottle of Screaming Eagle or Chateau Petrus (to tell you the truth, I’m really curious as to what percentage of those spending the money on Screaming Eagle actually end up drinking it versus selling later on at an auction – but this is a subject for the whole another post). There had being also posts and articles advocating that consumers must buy only cheap wines due to the fact that majority is incapable to understand the difference between cheap and expensive wine anyway – here you can find my response to one such a post.
Why am I talking about the
cheap value wines all of a sudden? While in California, I visited Trader Joe’s store near by. In Connecticut, where I live, Trader Joe’s sells only beer. In Massachusetts, Trader Joe’s has very good selection of wines (I wrote a few posts about those wines before – here are couple of links for you – one about Amarone and one more generic). Wine selection at this Trader Joe’s in San Diego definitely beats the Boston store hands down – great representation of many regions, with a lot of wines offered at a great prices. So I decided to run a simple experiment – let’s see what I can get for a $20. I spent $21 on three bottles of wine, and when I tasted the Dearly Beloved Forever Red … this blog post was born.
I will give you my tasting notes a bit later, but let me tell you – this wine was simply very, very good – at the price of $6.99, which I’m sure constitutes cheap wine in anyone’s book. I wonder how many people would reach out for this wine because of the label alone, which looks very cool, and then will put it back because they would think at $6.99 it can’t be good? I would very likely ignore this wine too, if I would not be conducting this experiment (not anymore, of course – after tasting it, I know I need a case). So what is driving the consumer behavior around the cheap wine? Outside of elitism, clever wine marketing and all the wine press which is trying to convince us that only more expensive is better, I think we have one fundamental issue coming out from our experience with cheap stuff. How many of you came back from the dollar store just to realize that what was looking almost as a treasure chest full of stuff for $10 or $15 is actually a $10 or $15 worth of junk, none of which can be used for its intended purpose? How many of us bought the cheapest tool just to understand that probability of killing oneself is a lot higher than probability of actually accomplishing the job you got the tool for? How many of us used cheapest possible material for a project, only to regret your decision every minute after and ending up paying a lot more than we would if we wouldn’t be so frugal to begin with? I think this experience is programming us to effectively disregard the cheap option simply from the fear of disappointment.
We transpose this experience onto our dealings with the wine world – and in a lot of cases we effectively end up losing. I have to tell you that I had a lot of $15-$20 wines, which end up being not good at all, with or without any comparison with this Dear Beloved wine. I tasted many $50 and $100 bottles which are not bad, but don’t give you nearly as much pleasure as this wine. Am I saying that from now on I will only be buying the wines for $6.99 or less? Not at all. And if anyone wants to spoil me with Chateau Petrus or DRC, I will be forever obliged. But if we will be able to avoid making assumptions and judgements based on the price of wine alone, we would be far better off in finding the wines we like at the prices we can afford. This is not simple. I would love to conduct a simple experiment – pour this wine to the two different glasses and tell people that wine in one costs $6.99, and the same wine in another one costs $19.99, and see how many people will wholeheartedly advocate the $19.99 wine to be far more superior to the $6.99 one. I’m sure it will be a fun exercise – something you should try at home (if you do, I will be glad to hear about your results). So we really need to work on our wine buying habits – we definitely will be far better off if we do.
Now, let me share the tasting notes with you. First, here are all three wines ($20.97 total + tax):
Let’s start with 2011 Caves du Journalet Cotes du Rhone (13% ABV, $4.99) – very soft and round. The wine rolls very smoothly in your mouth – very subtle tannins, good red fruit, good acidity – nice balance, nothing stands out, just round and smooth. Very easy to drink. Doesn’t give you any amazing “oompf”, but I’m sure would be a great party wine as it will appeal to the broad audience. Drinkability: 7.
Next – 2009 Dear Beloved Forever Red Central Coast, California (13.5% ABV, $6.99). Very nice nose of blackberries and some spice. More of the same on the palate – good red and black fruit, plums, ripe blueberries, warm spice, hint of eucalyptus, medium to full body, round tannins and and acidity, very balanced ( and stayed that way for 3 days). This is the description of much more expensive wine, but – $6.99 is $6.99… Definitely the wine to buy by the case. Drinkability: 8.
Last one - 2009 Blason de Bourgogne Montagny Premier Cru, Burgundy (13% ABV, $8.99) – Burgundy for $9? Can that be even drinkable? Nice and balanced. Nose of white apple and lychees. Very round on the palate, white fruit, with distant hint of vanilla and toasted oak, may be a tiny touch of butter. Good balance, good acidity – should be a good food wine. Drinkability: 7+.
That’s all for today folks. I’m glad it is a #WineWednesday, so this post will hopefully give you some food for thoughts. What are your great experiences with the
cheap value wines, and what are the “not cheap wines” you regretted buying? Share it all here. Cheers and happy #WW!