On the multiple occasions, I wrote about Trader Joe’s wines in this blog. I generally only can taste them when I travel, as Trader Joe’s stores in Connecticut can’t sell wine. Thus if I’m in the close proximity of the Trader Joe’s store, and schedule allows, I always make an effort to taste something new.
While Trader Joe’s wine selection generally includes wines at the different price levels, my focus is always on the most inexpensive wines. The rationale is simple – at $9.99 and above, there is a great selection of wines in my neighborhood wine store. At the same time, there is practically nothing in the $4.99 – $6.99 price range, thus it is very interesting how good (or how bad) such wines can be.
In general, I can’t complain about Trader Joe’s wines. My typical “success rate” is somewhat of the 3 out of 4 ratio – if I would taste 4 wines, at least 3 of them would be at “I want to drink it again” level. But this time, while in San Diego, California, I was simply blown away – 6 out of 6, 3 wines at $4.99 and 3 at $5.99, where perfectly drinkable wines which I would gladly drink again on any day! This was definitely a “how do they do it???” moment, as I would never expect, for instance, Rosé or Zinfandel from California to have such a QPR, to taste as good as they did considering the amount of money I had to pay for them.
Without further ado, let me present to you my 6 out of 6 set of “how do they do it?” wines from Trader Joe’s.
2012 Pancake Cellars Big Day White Paso Robles, California (13.5% ABV, $4.99, 37% Chardonnay, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier, 15% Pinot Blanc, 10% Muscat Canelli) – I can only guess this is modeled after the Conundrum, only this wine I actually enjoyed (and it costs 1/4 of the Conundrum)! Very nice and refreshing nose of white fruit with herbal undertones. On the palate, nice, round, good acidity, white fruit, white apples, very good balance. While not the most complex, definitely very enjoyable! Drinkability: 7+/8-
2013 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles Rosé Paso Robles, California (13.5% ABV, $4.99, Mourvedre 49%, Grenache 26%, Syrah 25%) – you can safely assume that I had zero expectations opening a bottle of Rhone-style Rosé from California which cost $4.99. Boy, was I wrong. The wine was simply outstanding – bright, cheerful, full of strawberries and cranberries, perfect acidity – get it by the case to make your summer days super enjoyable. Drinkability: 8-
2013 J.L. Quinson Cotes de Provence AOP (12.5% ABV, $5.99) – same as the one above, zero expectations for Provence Rosé for $5.99 – sorry, the internal snob is speaking. First sniff and sip – wow, I’m convinced. Perfectly restrained, mineral, light, refreshing acidity – as classic as Provençal Rosé gets, only at half price or even less, depending on the bottle. Another case buy for the summer, in case you need my recommendation. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Oreana Wines Project Happiness Syrah California (13.5% ABV, $5.99) – see the happy face on the label? This is what this wine is – happy. No, this is not the most thought provoking Syrah you can drink, but it is simple, easy to drink, round and balanced, good fruit on the palate, a tiny bit of pepper. Throw in a little barbequed meat – and your face might look exactly as the one on the label. Drinkability: 7
2011 Symington Family Estate Tuella Douro DOC, Portugal (13.5% ABV, $5.99) – Douro wines are slowly but surely gaining their international reputation, so this is definitely a good deal of a very solid wine which you can also age. It was showing a little tight, with reserved fruit expression, but good overall balance and acidity. At this price, if you got some space in the cellar, forget a few bottles there – you might thank me in a 3-4 years. Drinkability: 7
2012 Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, %4.99) – the first smell exhorts the “wow”. Good Zinfandel at $4.99 didn’t sound to me even as a remote possibility. And then this Grower’s reserve comes in – perfectly open, with clean smokey raspberries and blackberries, very round fruit expression on the palate, with the same smokey berries being very present and well matching the nose – the QPR on this wine simply goes through the roof. No, this wine doesn’t have the richness of Turley or Carlisle, but then you don’t need to cellar it for 10 years before you can really enjoy it. If you like Zinfandel – this is definitely the wine you have to experience. Drinkability: 7+/8-
I tip my hat to whomever is responsible for sourcing the wines for Trader Joe’s stores – to say “well done” is almost to say nothing – great job, and please keep doing it over and over again, to the delight of all the wine lovers out there. Cheers!
I was in “zin’s mind” this past Father’s day. I don’t know how did that happened, but when I was thinking what bottle to open for dinner, “how about Zinfandel” thought came over. I had no reason to resist, so Zinfandel was it. And by the way – the title of this post sounds a bit antagonistic – but this is not the idea. I just happened to enjoy recently 3 different Zinfandel wines, hence the wording in the title.
Zinfandel is one of the pretty unique grapes – even if we will count Primitivo as Zinfandel (which technically is incorrect – it is only a very close relative), there are only a handful of places where Zinfandel wines are produced. But – the good news is that California, the primary Zinfandel’s habitat, has no shortage of excellent Zinfandel producers.
If you will take a look at my “Happy Father’s Day” picture, you can see two Zinfandels there – and these are the wines I want to talk about. First, a couple of words about producers. Turley Wine Cellars needs no introduction for any Zinfandel aficionado. Turley produces 28 wines, most of the them are Zinfandel with addition of few Petite Sirah and some others, coming from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Paso Robles and other primary areas in California. Turley is a “cult” winery, and while their wines can be found in some of the very select wine stores and restaurants, one really have to be on their mailing list to have more universal access to their wines (Turley was the first mailing list I was accepted onto – give me a second and slice of lemon to extinguish smile on my face).
The second producer is called The Wine Guerrilla. While not as well known as Turley, they also produce a full range of Zinfandel wines from the different areas in California. It is interesting to point out that The Wine Guerrilla is the only producer (to the best of my knowledge), which doesn’t make any other wines but Zinfandel. When your slogan is “The Art And Soul of Zinfandel”, I guess this is rather appropriate.
I decanted both Turley and Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel for about 2 hours. Yes, I know this is not typical to use a decanter around Zinfandel, but both wineries make wines rather in restrained style, so I really wanted them to open up. First up – 2009 Turley Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel Paso Robles (16% ABV). Even after two hours of decanting, the most I got on the nose was a hint of blackberries and some dark chocolate notes. The very first sip of the wine said “I’m big”. The first words which come to mind to describe this wine are “dense”, “firm”, “structured”. On the very firm structure the perfect fruit is weaved (hmm, interesting composition of the sentence – not a typical one for me, but I like it : ) ). More blackberries and dark chocolate on the palate, but also an “old world style” minerality was coming through, and then acidity was all in check. The wine is perfectly balanced, with tannins, alcohol, fruit and acidity being all together, in harmony. Drinkability: 8-
Now, let’s talk about 2010 Wine Guerrilla Mounts Vineyard Cypress Block Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma (15% ABV, 95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah, 300 cases produced). The wine showed a lot of dark fruit on the nose, mostly blackberries and cherries. On the palate, the wine was not as structurally dense as Turley, but instead it had layers of fruit with very nice luscious texture – ripe blackberries, cherries and dark chocolate, and a hint of eucalyptus. Very good acidity and overall nice and round wine, excellent balance. Drinkability: 8-
Did you notice a label of another Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel at the beginning of this post? It is there not for the purposes of decoration – it is actually another Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel which I had a week ago. 2010 Wine Guerrilla Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (15% ABV, 200 cases produced) was totally unique in its style. To give you an idea, I would call it a Brunello of Zinfandels. After 2+ hours in decanter, the first thing which came to mind after the first sip was “dry”. This wine was soooo dry – uniquely dry for Zinfandel. It was also very herbaceous for the Zinfandel, with lots of dried herbs aromas, such as sage and oregano. It did show some fruit, but in very restrained, dialed back fashion. Definitely the most food friendly Zinfandel I ever tried, very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8
So I have to confess that I have one regret in regards to three wines I presented to you today. One, but big regret – I really want to taste these wines 10 years down the road! No, decanting didn’t do them any justice. These wines have to mature first, and then they will give you an ultimate pleasure. They were great and very enjoyable wines now, but they would become something much much bigger – if I would only have some spares…
Before we part, I want to share a few pictures from the Father’s day. Few weeks ago, my cousin got for me a new charcoal grill which is called “mangal” and it is mostly intended for making a kabob, but of course can be used as generic charcoal grill. Here are few pictures for you – with the warning – it might make you hungry…
That’s all I have for you for now. Ahh, before I will forget – don’t miss the WTSO Cheapskate Wednesday tomorrow, June 19th. Expected to appear are Benziger Pinot Noir, Rioja DOC Crianza, Provenance Merlot, Pomo Nation Cabernet, Expo Cabernet and Edenhall Shiraz, of course in addition to many many other wines. Cheers!
Disclaimer: The Wine Guerrilla wines were provided courtesy of Wine Guerrilla. But of course all opinions are my own.
Let’s start from the answer to the wine quiz #59, Grape Trivia – Zinfandel. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about California’s star grape, Zinfandel.
I know many people prefer to answer quizzes in the Google-free form – however, this Zinfandel quiz was somewhat of an exception. Let’s move on to the answers.
Q1: It was established recently that Zinfandel existed in Croatia under a different name, at least from the 15th century. Do you know what was that name?
A1. This was actually a tricky question. People, I mentioned Crljenak Kaštelanski right in the text of the quiz – I was hoping that this would be enough of a hint that this will not be a right answer. If someone will look into Wikipedia, you will be able to find that “After years of research and DNA testing of vines from vineyards across the globe, a single 90 year old grape vine from the garden of an elderly lady in Split, Croatia, provided the evidence to show that Zinfandel was a Croatian grape that has been known as Tribidrag since at least the 15th century.” So the correct answer for the question #1 is Tribidrag.
Q2: While Zinfandel typically listed on the label, very often some other grapes are added to the blend. Name one grape which can be considered a traditional blending partner of Zinfandel
A2: Petite Sirah. Look at the information on many Zinfandel wines, and you will often see at least some percentage of Petit Sirah to be a part of the blend.
Q3: Pink Zinfandel was discovered by accident. Can you explain how that happen, and possibly use the proper winemaking term for the “accident”
A3: Oops, sorry, I should’ve being checking my writing. It is actually White Zinfandel, not Pink, of course – pink is just a color… Anyway, I see that many of you figured out what I meant ( I will still correct the question) – yes, White Zinfandel was discovered as a result of the accident, which is called “stuck fermentation” – all the yeast dies and fermentation stopped before sugar was fully converted into the alcohol.
Q4: Two California winemakers are largely credited with putting red Zinfandel wines on the wine map. Can you name them?
A4: Most of you mentioned only the wineries – and the question was actually about the winemakers. But thedrunkencyclist was correct mentioning Ridge and Ravenswood – Paul Draper of Ridge and Joel Peterson of Ravenswood are largely considered the pioneers of California Zinfandel.
Q5: Most of the well known Zinfandel producers still make other wines from the different grapes. But there is one winery in California ( at least that I know of), which make nothing but Zinfandel wines. Can you name that winery?
A5: Yes, this was a tough question too. Most of the famous Zinfandel producers – Turley, Ravenswood, Rosenbloom, Seghesio, Robert Biale, and so on – are all producing other wines in addition to their great Zinfandels. The only winery I know of which produces Zinfandel and nothing but Zinfandel is Wine Guerilla – it is not for nothing they are calling themselves “An Art and Soul of Zinfandel”. Take a look at their line up – they are currently offering 13 different kinds of Zinfandel – and nothing but Zinfandel.
Summing it up, we don’t have winners this week, and Jeff, a.k.a. thedrunkencyclist gets an honorable mention with 3 correct answers out of 5.
Now, to the interesting stuff around vine and the web!
Have you heard of Editions Féret? I have to admit that I didn’t, not until I read a Wine Spectator article called “The Book that Defined Bordeaux“. It appears that the book, now called Editions Féret, or simply Le Féret, which started exactly 200 years ago as 84 pages travel guide, and had grown to become a 2,296 pages bible, largely defined Bordeaux wines, starting from famous 1855 classification – it was that book which rated the wines simply based on their prices in 1850, which was taken as a foundation of 1855 classification. Read the article, I think it is quite interesting.
According the post on Dr.Vino’s blog, it appears that during En Premeur, a primary Bordeaux event where new vintages are presented, one and the same wine can be “processed ” differently for the different groups of tasters – Americans will get the wine exposed to more of the new oak, and the same wine for the French audience will be finished to have more subtle showing of the fruit. Is it true? I have no idea. But it gets a final product into an interesting perspective – does it mean that one and the same Bordeaux wine can taste differently depending on where you will buy it ( in US or in Europe)? Hmmm…
Do you like giveaways? Of course you do, who doesn’t? So assuming that you do, please go and check this post at 1WineDude web site – if you leave a comment there, you will get a chance to wine one of the 5 memberships in the French Wine Society. I think it is not a bad deal, huh?
Last but not least – mark your calendars for June 19th – and make room in your wine cellars and their equivalents. Yep – WTSO is doing it again! Famous Cheapskate Wednesday is coming into town on June 19th – for more information please visit WTSO web site (you can find link in the “Buying Wine section to your right) or click this link.
That’s all I have for you for today, folks – the glass is empty. But refill is on on its way. Until the next time – cheers!
Only yesterday I wrote the post about difficult task of figuring out when the wine is at its peak. And then I opened a bottle of 2007 Zinfandel. Unscrewed the top and poured into the glass. Quick swirl, sniff – and I’m blown away. Pure dried figs. Beautiful. Pure. Clean. Nothing gets in the way. Not overpowering. Just clean and firmly present. May be there were other flavors there – from that moment on, I didn’t look for anything else. It was reincarnation of 1997 Le Ragose Amarone, the magnificent moment I keep re-living on and on.
The first sip brought in the same level of perfection. Dry. Round. Crisp, if you can apply that to the red wine. Dried figs, blueberries, sage, eucalyptus. No fruit jams of any kind. No sweetness at all. Prefect balance and harmony. Yes, this kind of wine makes you emotional and forces you to reflect.
The wine – 2007 Wine Guerrilla Goat Trek Vineyard Block 6 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (15.5% ABV). A blend of 87% Zinfandel, 7% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petite Sirah. This wine is made by Wine Guerrilla. And when the have a slogan “Wine Guerrilla – The Art and Soul of Zinfandel”, they are really not kidding. Take a look at their line of Zinfandel wines here.
6 years old wine. Did I manage to hit the peak? I have no idea. Is it possible that the wine would improve further. Quite possible, but this was my last bottle.
Oh yes, and there is a culprit here. The wine I enjoyed so much was a little warmer than the cellar temperature – my wine fridge is set for 55°, so I guess the wine was about 62°-64° when I was drinking it. The next day when I finished the bottle, it was much warmer, probably at about 72° – and while it was good, it was not magical. And the temperature of the wine is literally the last thing I want to deal with instead of just enjoying the wine. Oh well… I’m glad I had this experience in my life. Cheers!
And yet another Saturday is here, and, of course, a new quiz. It will be the last one (at least for now) in the Guessing Game series (previous three can be found here: #29, #30, #31). As promised, this one is about red grapes, but we will kick it up a notch – you have 7 grapes to match with 6 reviews – one grape is there just for fun, but in my opinion, it easily could’ve been for real. So here are your grapes:
A. Cabernet Sauvignon
E. Pinot Noir
And here are the reviews:
1. “complex, yet subtle, with blackberries, minerals and berries. Full-bodied and very velvety, with lovely rich fruit, with chocolate and berry character. Very long and refined. A joy to taste.”
2. “aromas of tar and smoke, with very pure, concentrated blackberry and spice notes underneath mark this exotic, seductive red. Silky and complex, it caresses the palate. It needs a little time to absorb the oak, but this is long and has great potential.”
3. “a seductive red, drawing you in with its pure cherry and floral aromas and flavors, then capturing you with the silky texture and harmonious profile. Stays fresh and elegant, with a long, ethereal finish.”
4. “still tight, with a wall of mocha and raspberry ganache covering the massive core of fig fruit, hoisin sauce and plum cake notes. This is extremely dense but remarkably polished, with a long, tongue-penetrating finish that drips of fruit and spice laid over massive grip.”
5. “delicious stuff; not huge, but impeccably balanced, nuanced and tremendously long and pure. It’s a cascade of currant, blueberry and plum fruit shaded on one side by subtle, toasty oak, on the other by hints of minerality and exotic spice. But it’s the elegance and the length that make this a winner.”
6. “torrent of blackberry, boysenberry and bittersweet ganache notes. But there’s exceptional drive and focus here as well, with a great graphite spine driving through the spice- and floral-infused finish. A stunner for its combination of power and precision.”
For an extra credit, try to figure out the country of origin for the wine in the reviews.
Good Luck! Have a great weekend and drink well! Cheers!
For many years already Valentine’s Day became our “home” holiday. What I mean is that we are not going to the restaurant – instead, we attempt to create the best possible experience at home. This past Valentine’s Day our attempt was quite successful. First, there was a Champagne. Ahh, what so special, say you, a sparkling wine? Well, we don’t drink Krug every day – Krug is our “special” sparkling wine, as both me and my wife fell in love with it 3 years ago, and nothing beat that ever since.
It was Krug Grand Cuvee Brut NV. Beautiful effervescent nose, with only a hint, a whiff of toasted apple, yeast and fresh bread – the same lightness on the palate, with perfect balance of fruit and acidity. Yes, I know, I fail to give you a critic-worthy description with lots of different elements of soil, the fruit and more – so you will need to take my word for it – this is The Champagne. Once you try Krug…well, you will continue to appreciate many other sparkling wines, but Krug will be the one you will crave. And if you care for my rating, I will put Drinkability at 9+.
Believe it or not, but Krug was only the beginning of amazing wine experience. The next wine blew me away in many senses. First, it was a realization of a dream. For the long time, I wanted to try Carlisle Zinfandel – consistently high ratings in Wine Spectator, great reviews – many factors contributed into making Carlisle Zinfandel an object of desire. I signed up for the waiting list for the mailing list, I asked around – all to no avail. Then a few month ago I saw a bottle on the Benchmark Wine Company’s web site, priced at about $30 – voila, I got the bottle. Now I just needed special occasion.
Special occasions are easy, right? Valentine’s Day is special enough for us, so the bottle of 2000 Carlisle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley was opened. The description? One word – “wow”. Beautiful nose of red fruit and smoke (raspberries and blueberries plus a hint of smokiness, to be more precise). Perfect balance of fruit, tannins and acidity on the palate – more playful fruit, eucalyptus, cedar box, spices, tobacco – all components are playing together to deliver an amazing experience.
Here is one interesting note for you. Carlisle web site has a table which is called Drinkability Chart, which lists all the different wines from the different vintages and ideal drinking window for those wines. According to that chart, optimal drinking window for this particular Zinfandel was 2002 – 2005. Well, what can I tell you? If you got a bottle of Carlisle which you think is undrinkable – send it my way, and I will thank you profusely. And just to show you how much I loved this wine, I have to tell you that this is the first time I put Drinkability of wine at 10-! Here is the link to my ratings page – you can judge for yourself.
As you can see, the wines were great – but there was also food. This year we decided to do a Rack of Lamb. Rack of Lamb is a dish which we typically enjoy in the restaurants (especially in French Canada), but it is not that difficult to make at home (once you overcome the sticker shock of a good rack of lamb).
I need a lot of rosemary with my rack of lamb – and this is what we did. A little bit of fresh pepper, and lots of fresh rosemary – with addition of some fresh sage as well. Here is the rack of lamb ready for the oven:
There are couple of techniques which I started using lately when it comes to roasts – and I like the results so far. First one is preheating oven to 500F – temperature is lowered one roast is put in, but it is enough to develop a nice crust. The second one is not using any salt until the roast is done ( so only using finishing salts) – the rationale here is that salt is draining juice out of the meat so it is better to be put on at the last stage. So far I had being very happy with an outcome using these simple rules. After 40 minutes in the oven ( 500F to start, then lowered to 400F), here is the final result:
And here is plated version:
Yes, I know, I should work on presentation – you don’t have to tell me that. But the taste was great, and lamb also paired quite well with the Carlisle Zinfandel – to double the pleasure!
That’s all, folks, for our wonderful Valentine’s Day food and wine experience. It will be hard to beat it next year, so I can only wish tat the next year will be not any worse than this year.
Thanksgiving day – friends, family, lots of food and wines. Culinary delight is definite part of the holiday – every possible ( and impossible) web site is full of new recipes to try and recommendations on what to serve.
I would love to write the blog post right after the dinner – but this would be literally impossible, as desire to sleep after a big meal will interfere. Therefore, let me just share my quick expectations. The staple dish for tonight is turducken – chicken inside duck inside turkey, all de-boned, of course, except turkey legs and wings. That is already in the oven and holds a big promise of the tasty meal ( pictures and details – in the later posts). There will be a lot more of traditional fall flavors – squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes – all taking part in the feast.
Variety of flavors is expected of the food, and it is hard to tell which wine will work the best. Therefore, when in doubt – experiment! We plan to have Beaujolais Nouveau ( Joseph Drouhin), Barolo, Zinfandel and Claraval (Spanish red). Which one will pair the best? Hopefully one of the wines on the table. And if not – wine program for tonight also includes Rivesaltes 1936 and Bruichladdich 12 – expectations, expectations…
What will be on your table tonight?
Until later – Happy Thanksgiving!