As some of you might know, I can never pass on visiting the local Trader Joe’s when traveling – as long as it offers wine (which seems to be the case so far in the most places I visit). Last week I was in Santa Clara in California, so the trip to the nearby Trader Joe’s was unavoidable.
Deciding on what wine to buy at Trader Joe’s is difficult. I always take price into account, but then there are lots of wines in the same, super-reasonable prices range of $5 -$8. The next option is the label – yes, I’m a sucker for creative labels, and then, of course, the region comes to play.
As I slowly walked along the wine shelves, the label of Jebediah Drinkwell’s caught my eye – it was strangely attractive – plus I like Meritage wines, so it was an easy decision. I picked up Trellis Merlot because it was a Merlot (and October is a Merlot month) – and I was really curious to see what $4.99 can buy you from Sonoma. Cecilia Beretta was the third bottle I got – wanted to go outside of California, and “Partially dried grapes” always sounds like a music to me.
Looking at the wines later on, the idea of #MerlotMe dedication came along – would all these wines be Merlot based? To my delight, in addition to the 100% Merlot from Sonoma, two other wines also had substantial Merlot content, so here you go my friends, a Merlot run at Trader Joe’s.
Here are my notes:
NV Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage Red Wine Paso Robles ($5.99, 37% Petite Verdot, 31% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec)
C: dark Ruby
N: touch of smoke, roasted meat,
P: soft fruit, blackberries, tobacco, good acidity, medium-long finish
V: 7+/8-, quite enjoyable
2014 Trellis Merlot Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $4.99)
N: restrained, distant hint of cassis, herbs
P: soft, round, cassis, good acidity
V: 7+, excellent QPR
2014 Cecilia Beretta Soraie Veneto IGT (14% ABV, $7.99, 40% Merlot, 30% Corvina, 20% Cabernet, 10% Croatina, grapes dried for a few weeks before pressing)
C: dark garnet
N: touch of blueberry pie, quite restrained
P: touch of blueberries, tobacco, hint of dried fruit, good power but round, soft tannins, medium finish
V: 7+, will work well with food – pasta with some hearty tomato sauce would be perfect
As you can tell, it is pretty amazing what $18 can buy you at Trader Joe’s. Also, it is my second experience with non-vintage wine at Trader Joe’s, and I’m definitely impressed with the quality of that wine.
Do you buy wines at Trader Joe’s? Any interesting finds you care to share? Cheers!
Let me ask you something – what is your relationship with Merlot? Are you still under the influence of Miles?
Believe it or not, but movie Sideways had an impact on consumer’s attention to Merlot – up until two years ago, I couldn’t see Merlot wines on the shelves of my neighborhood wine store – simply for the luck of demand.
But situation is changing, and people are happily asking for and drinking Merlot again. Over the past 2 month, I had at least 4 Merlot or predominantly Merlot wines, which were outstanding, from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Long Island New York and Macedonia:
Merlot deserves an utmost respect as it makes wonderful wines on its own (Petrus or Masseto, anyone?), and it also plays perfectly well in the blends.
November 7th is an International Merlot day, and all you have to do is to find a bottle of your favorite Merlot, open it, [invite your friends over – however, this is entirely optional], and have fun. Better yet, find a bottle of Merlot you never had before, and be surprised. By the way, how are your Merlot skills? Do you think you know everything about black-skinned grape? You can test your knowledge with the Grape Trivia quiz which I used to run every Saturday – here is the one about Merlot.
Merlot is well worth your attention, so please don’t be Miles. And if you got a second, leave a note for me below about your favorite Merlot wine. Cheers!
It was definitively bright and sunny. And somewhat windy. And not warm at all. But it didn’t stop us from adhering to a delightful tradition couple of weeks ago – day trip with friends to the Long Island wine country. We’ve done it for the past 7 years if not longer, with very little interruptions (had to miss last year, unfortunately) – visit a few wineries, taste wines, spend few hours in leisurely lunch in a great company.
It was very interesting to observe how the things were changing over those years – some for better, some for worse. As the love of wine is on the upswing in the US over the same 7, may be 10 years, this clearly was visible in sheer number of people you would see at Long Island wineries – more people every year. Of course it is a good thing – outside of the fact that you have to stand longer in line to the tasting counter. I don’t count this as good or bad – this is just a fact. What definitely improving for the better is a quality of the wine. Every year, the number of “wow” wines in seemingly the same tasting lineup was increasing. And not only the “wow” wines, but also “very solid wines”. So this is definitely good and I love the trend.
What is not good? Well, let me start from the most questionable gripe around the wine – prices. Yes, I understand that winery is a business, and they charge what they can, and have a cost justification. But $48 for a bottle of Long Island Riesling? It is a good Riesling, but it is not the wine which worth $48. Or $110 for a Long Island Merlot? I understand that the grapes were harvested by hand, and that it is only made in the special years, but again, strictly judging from the taste, this is not a wine which worth $110, for sure if you don’t have an expense account.
I also have to mention the usual sad state of knowledge of their own wines by the people minding the tasting room. One month ago I was told that new and very talented winemaker started at the Jamesport Vineyards. When I asked gentleman at the tasting counter at Jamesport about their new winemaker and if he made any of the wines we are currently tasting, I got back a shy smile and an answer “of course, he made all of them” – that would include even wines from 2007… Oh well…
True, pricing and affordability are extremely subjective – I’m sure there are plenty of people in this world who will gladly pay the $110 for that bottle of wine and also get a case – I’m just not one of them (but this is nobody else’ problem but mine). What I have much bigger issue with is food. As I told you, one of our most favorite activities during the wine country visit is 2 (or longer) hours lunch. For years, our preferred lunch destination was Paumanok winery – they have very nice patio with lots of tables outside, beautiful views and very good wines. We would bring our food – everything you need to make tasty sandwiches, as well as cheese, nuts, fruits – anything you would use to support a slow conversation over a glass(es) of wine. We would find the table, buy a few bottles of wine right at the winery and enjoy ourselves. About 4 years back situation changed, and we had to pay to reserve the table and to use the glasses, but I think we were getting back some of the money towards tasting fees and/or wines. No problems, still works for me. This year, the rules are new again – no outside food allowed. Okay, so it is probably replaced by some sort of deli counter or may be a food truck outside, you would think? Nope. You get the whole menu, but mostly with the items such as pâté or some cheeses, and a little bit of cold cuts. The cold cuts tray for $20 has 6 slices of salami, 6–8 tiny pieces of cheese and about the same quantity of olives and cornichons. All the pâté look like they came directly from Trader Joe’s, and they were served right in the plastic wrap with the short baguette on a side. This is simply wrong, in my opinion. If you are not allowing people to bring their own food anymore, then you should provide an appropriate alternative – or don’t do it at all. Don’t get me wrong – we still had a great time, but the food, unfortunately, was detrimental part of the experience.
Done with the “bad” – now let’s go back to the good (best) part – the wines themselves. We started our tasting at Jamesport Vineyards winery, which always was one of my favorite wineries on Long Island.
Here are the favorite wines of the tasting:
2014 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Blanc ($16.95, blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc) – playful, open nose with white fruit, simple, clean, delicious overall
2013 Jamesport Vineyards Riesling ($25.95) – perfect, classic nose with a touch of Petrol and restrained fruit, nice and clean on the palate – excellent overall.
2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Red ($16.95, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah) – outstanding. Warm profile, nicely perfumed, good fresh red fruit, delicious
2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End Cabernet Franc ($17.95) – Classic, touch of green notes on the nose, crisp palate, touch of salinity, excellent
2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Merlot ($34.95) – Tobacco and field flowers on the nose, great palate, clean, concentrated, delicious
2010 Jamesport Vineyards Mélange de Trois ($34.95, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) – Great power, concentrated, excellent
2007 Jamesport Vineyards Jubilant Reserve ($34.95, predominantly Cabernet Franc, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and tiny amounts of Syrah and Petite Verdot) – Nice concentration, good depth
2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Syrah ($24.95) – nice peppery notes, classic, open, clean – an excellent cold climate Syrah overall.
Then, of course, Paumanok. Quite honestly, I don’t even remember such a variety of wines offered at Paumanok – Reserve, Single vineyards, wow – lots of excellent wines. I have to admit that at the time of the tasting at Paumanok I was hungry and lazy at the same time, so I simply tasted the wine without taking any notes – here is the limited set of impressions from the Paumanok wines I tried.
Believe it or not, but my favorite wine from Paumanok tasting was 2010 Paumanok Blanc de Blancs ($45) – yep, classic sparkling wine, with perfect nose of yeast and freshly toasted bread, and apple and fresh bread on the palate. Delicious! 2014 Paumanok Chenin Blanc ($28) was fresh and vibrant, and 2013 Paumanok Cabernet Franc ($30) was clean and varietally correct. From the Grand Vintage collection, 2014 Grand Vintage Chardonnay ($45) was excellent, dry and crisp, 2013 Assemblage ($50) and 2013 Grand Vintage Cabernet Franc ($35) were excellent as well, but my favorite was 2013 Grand Vintage Merlot ($40), with deliciously powerful and balanced palate. Lastly, from the Single Vineyard collection, I really liked both 2010 Merlot Tuthills Lane Vineyard ($75) and 2010 Petite Verdot Apollo Drive Vineyard ($75) – they were different, but equally outstanding.
Lastly, for the first time over all these years I made it to the South Fork of Long Island (Hamptons), where we visited Duck Walk and Wölffer Estate wineries. There was nothing at Duck Walk to write home about. At Wölffer Estate, we didn’t do a real tasting as we visited place called The Wine Stand, where you can buy wine by the glass or bottle – main winery was closed for the wedding. Here is what we tried:
2014 Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle ($24, 41% Chardonnay, 29% Gewürztraminer, 20% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris) was fresh and very nicely balanced, which is always appreciated in the white blends. 2012 Wölffer Estate Christian’s Cuvee Merlot ($110, 96.5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.5% Petit Verdot) was the wine I mentioned before. It was simply not ready – tight, with limited fruit expression. May be 5+ years in the cellar would do wonders…
There you have it – a trip to Long Island wine country with all the good and bad. Unquestionably, we had a great time with friends, and this is what matters. Yes, it would be even better without the gripes, but we can’t have it all, can we? Well, I wish that all your problems would be only small annoyances in this life. And yes, head over to the Long Island wine country, as the wines are delicious. And may be try to sneak in a sandwich? Cheers!
Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Barolo Boys, California Wine Month, Tasters Must Read and more
Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #112: Grape Trivia – Müller-Thurgau.
In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about the white grape called Müller-Thurgau.
Here are the questions, now with the answers:
Q1: Which country is not known to produce Müller-Thurgau wines:
a. Australia, b. England, c. Hungary, d. South Africa, e. United States
A1: South Africa. The rest of the countries make wines out of Müller-Thurgau
Q2: True or False: In 2010, plantings of Riesling in Germany were double in size compare to those of Müller-Thurgau
A2: False. Plantings of Riesling were barely exceeding plantings of Müller-Thurgau (it was even the other way around few years before – Müller-Thurgau was one of the most planted grapes in Germany).
Q3: Wine Spectator calls wines with 90-94 ratings “Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style”. True or False: There are Müller-Thurgau wines rated as Outstanding by Wine Spectator.
A3: True. However very few, but yes, there are Müller-Thurgau among Outstanding wines, with 92 been the highest rating.
Q4: Which one doesn’t belong and why:
a. Kerner, b. Müller-Thurgau, c. Scheurebe, d. Sylvaner
A4: Sylvaner. The rest of the grapes are the result of crossing between Riesling and other grapes.
Q5: True or False: There are no sparkling wines produced from Müller-Thurgau
A5: False. All grapes are used today to produce sparkling wines, and Müller-Thurgau is no exception. According to the reviews, some of the Müller-Thurgau sparkling wines are very good.
When it comes to the results, this is something I was afraid of – nobody took the challenge. I can’t blame anyone – the grape, generally famous for its appearance in often insipid Liebfrauenmilch wines, doesn’t incite people to spend time researching information about it. Well, I will stick to my plan, nevertheless, and the next quiz will be about Pinot Blanc – start studying!
Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!
Barolo Boys are coming! Well, this might be a bit of a weigh announcement. Let’s try it again. The movie “Barolo Boys. The Story of a Revolution” is coming to the theaters near you. The movie, which took two years in the making, will profile a number of famous Barolo winemakers, talking about the winemaking revolution which took place on the hills of Piedmont in the 80s and 90s. The movie will open on September 26th in Italy, and will be showing at the beginning of November in New York. To wet your appetite, here is the preview:
Did you know that September is California Wine Month? Of course you don’t have to drink only California wines during the whole month of September, but on the second thought – why not? So many amazing wines coming out from California, one month will not be even nearly enough to get a clear picture of what wines California can produce. To celebrate California wines, there will be lots of special events in California and beyond – here is the link for you to read more about California wines and all the festivities around it.
Yes, Matt Kramer is one of my very favorite wine writers, and it is showing. Here is yet another reference to one of his articles. If you are serious about tasting the wines, this is a must article to read. I want to stress the difference between tasting wines and enjoying them. To say you enjoy the glass of wine, you really don’t have to dig into it, and try to figure out “texture”, “mouthfeel”, “midpalate density”, “fruit” and many other descriptors. Enjoying wine is pretty much a binary activity – you either enjoy it or not. For all of us who passionately pursues the geeky, technical side of wine, this article is a godsend. Taking Montrachet as an example, Matt Kramer goes into the depth of explanations about texture, mouthfeel, ageability and many other elements which are near and dear to every oenophile’s wine geeky side. Don’t miss it – and I would even suggest reading it multiple times to let it all settle in.
Last one for today, a mixture of curious and borderline funny. As part of the 10 year anniversary of the movie Sideways (produced in 2004), the Merlot Taste-Off will take place on September 13th in Solvang in California – the town closely associated with the movie and one of the main characters, Miles, exclaiming “I’m not drinking no f*ing Merlot”. Here is the information about the event – of course you have to be in Solvang to take part in it. I wonder what Miles would say about it…
And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!
Let’s start from the answer to our weekly wine quiz #76, grape trivia – Roussanne. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Roussanne.
Here are the questions, now with the answers:
Q1: Explain the source of the name Roussanne
A1: Name Roussanne most like comes from the word “roux”, which refers to the reddish color of the grapes.
Q2: Which one doesn’t belong and why:
a. Hermitage, b. Côte-Rôtie, c. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, d. St.-Joseph
A2: b. Côte-Rôtie. Roussanne is allowed to be blended into the red wines of the three other regions – but the white grape allowed to be used in Côte-Rôtie is Viognier.
Q3: Outside of Northern Rhône, the traditional bending partner of Roussanne is…
A3: Grenache Blanc is the most popular blending partner for Roussanne outside of Northern Rhône
Q4: Roussanne was re-introduced in California in the 1980s, only to be proven in the late 1990s to be not the Roussanne but another grape. Do you know what grape was that?
A4: Viognier. Randall Grahm, winemaker from Bonny Doon winery, brought [illegally] a number of cuttings of supposedly Roussanne from France at the beginning of 1980s. In 1998 it was found that the grape is actually Viognier, not the Roussanne.
Q5: One of the first California “Roussanne” wines from the 1980s had a specific name. Can you name that wine?
A5: The “Roussanne” wine was produced by Randall Grahm under the name of Le Sophiste.
Sadly, there was very little participation in this quiz – I have to acknowledge Julian at VinoInLove, who was a sole participant – thank you Julian! I guess I’m going to far into the vineyard with some of my latest quizzes… Well, one more white grape, and we are switching back to the red right after.
Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!
First of all, we have a new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge! Now in its 4th round, it is hosted by The Wine Kat, winner of the round #3. The theme of the #MWWC4 is… OOPS!, and I can tell you that oops is looming, as the submission deadline is already very close, it is only two weeks away – October 23rd. Get your writing pants… oops, may be glass? Writing hat? Well, whatever oops gets you moving, get it on and start writing. The theme announcement and all the important dates can be found here.
Just a quick question at the moment. What do you think of Merlot? Do you still have an image of Miles “I’m not drinking no #$%^ Merlot”, or does it trickle back to you table and Cellar? Well, I can tell you that about 100 Merlot producers from California want to make sure you will once again look at Merlot seriously. Tomorrow, October 10th, is actually the start of #MerlotMe, a month-long celebration of Merlot, taking place both with the live events and all over the social media. You can find more details about the festivities here – and don’t wait, grab your bottle already!
Continuing the theme of Merlot, I wanted to share with you this video, made by one of the Merlot pioneers, Gundlach Bundschu:
And for no other reason, but just for your enjoyment on this Wine Wednesday, here is the video which I wanted to share a while ago – a “Blurred Lines” parody, made by the enterprising folks at Jordan (in addition to making great wines, they also have one of the best social media outreach in the wine industry):
That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!
Merlot is one of the most popular grapes in the world, used both for blending and single-varietal wines. Merlot has thin dark blue colored skin, and its taste profile typically includes plums, blackberries, chocolate and tobacco notes. As it is often compared with Cabernet Sauvignon, one of its most popular blending companions, Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, has higher sugar content and lesser level of tannins. While France has the biggest plantings of Merlot in the world, Merlot is universally grown in literally every wine producing country – great Merlot wines are produced in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, California, Washington, Long Island, Spain, Chile, Argentina and many other places.
Done with basic facts – let’s proceed with our quiz now, shall we?
Q1: Merlot was named after a:
Q2: Name the movie where Merlot was dissed on uncountable number of occasions
Q3: One of the grapes from the list below was assumed to be a Merlot – but it was not. Do you know which grape was mistaken for the Merlot? Bonus question – name the country where confusion took place.
Q4: Some place, some time ago, Merlot successfully crossed (by accident) with Cabernet grape, and formed a new grape which produces pretty unique wines. Can you name that grape?
Q5: Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, France makes some of the very best (and most expensive) wines in the world, and those wines are 100% Merlot. Then there is another 100% Merlot wine, made in another country, which is considered a successful competition to Petrus and done very well against it in a number of blind tastings. Can you name that wine?
Have fun, good luck and enjoy your weekend! 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!