Posts Tagged ‘Trader Joe’s wines’

Trader Joe’s Wines: Combining Great and Value

November 15, 2019 8 comments

I travel for business (let’s get it straight – I actually like it). One of my small personal pleasures in such travel is exploring the local wine scene if time allows. I always check for the wineries close to my location (if I have a car, sometimes, those wineries don’t even have to be close). If I can’t find wineries, I’m happy to visit local stores, especially when they come with recommendations, as during my recent visit to Texas and discovering the Spec’s wine store.

When it comes to the wine stores, I have one which stands aside. It is not really a wine store, it is a grocery store that also sells wine. I’m not trying to be mysterious here, you already saw it in the title – yes, I’m talking about Trader Joe’s stores. Trader Joe’s stores can be found pretty much everywhere in the USA, and the store which is less than a mile from my house is considered best on the East Coast (you should see the line of cars trying to enter the parking lot Saturday morning, ohh). But – Trader Joe’s in Connecticut only sell beer, so I have to look for Trader Joe’s wines elsewhere, and this is where the travel comes handy.

What so special about Trader Joe’s wines? Glad you asked, as the answer is very simple – QPR, which stands for Quality Price Ratio. While Trader Joe’s sells some wines from the producers you would easily recognize, the absolute majority of the Trader Joe’s wines are so-called “private labels”. Trader Joe’s is working with producers all around the world to find very inexpensive wines, which also happen to be really tasty. I don’t know how it is possible to have consistently good tasting wines in the $4.99 – $9.99 range, but they actually manage to do it. Those wines might not blow your socks off (some might), but the wines are solid, well made, and yes, tasty. Here you can find an account of some of my past Trader Joe’s visits to check it for yourself. – the question “how do they do it” is always paramount in these explorations.

My visit to Trader Joe’s in Reno, Nevada gave me another round of excitement and envy. Magnums of French Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine and Prosecco for … wait for it … $12.99? How do they do it? No, I didn’t taste these two but based on my prior experience with Trader Joe’s wines, I can imagine that these will be decent  wines. I can continue this “how do they do it” theme for a long time, as the prices for most of the wines are just mind-boggling. Here is a glimpse of the shelves, see it for yourself:

Obvously there is a limit to how many wines I can taste during a short trip, so here is what I do. I set myself a limit, which is practically always at $20, to get as many wines as will attract my attention. I don’t believe I was ever been able to stay within this exact range, but I usually cut it pretty close. First of all, I select the wines by the label, but then I think if I want to try a Portuguese wine or a California wine more. There is no science to my decision process, it is more of a spur of the moment – but having a price limit set helps to make it more organized.

My selection this time consisted of 2 wines from France and 2 wines from Califonia – without having any intent for it to happen this way. I saw two very attractive labels for the California wines, and then Cote du Rhone white wine for $5.99 and French Rosé for $4.99 – there is absolutely no chance those would be good, right? Yes, I blew my budget by $4 to the grand total of $24 for 4 wines – do you expect any of those wines to be any good?

Here is a graphical account of my loot:

And here are the tasting notes:

2017 Phigment Red Wine Blend California (13.5% ABV, $5.99)
Concentrated Ruby
Dark fruit, mint, coffee, a touch of cassis
Fresh crunchy berries, sweet tobacco, baking spices, soft texture, good acidity. Characteristic Lodi touch of cinnamon. Long, pleasant finish.
7+, excellent QPR.

2018 Cellier des Vignes Prestige Côtes DI Rhône AOC (13% ABV, $5.99)
Light golden
Whitestone fruit, a touch of smoke, a hint of pineapple
Clean, fresh, good acidity, a touch of golden delicious apples and white plums, medium finish
8-, excellent, good by itself, should be even better with food

2018 Fleur de Treille Rosé Vin de France (12% ABV, $4.99, 55% Cinsault, 45% Grenache)
Onion peel pink
Strawberries on the nose, nice, clean
Strawberries on the palate, good concentration, good acidity, a nice presence of fruit, nice lemon notes on the finish
8-/8, outstanding QPR, an excellent wine. Really impressive.

NV Gambler’s Flash Red Table Wine Paso Robles ( 13.9% ABV, $6.99, a blend of grapes from 2 vintages)
Dark Garnet, practically black
Serious gunflint, a touch of funk, tart cherries, sage, pleasant
Wow, dark fruit, smoke, touch of coffee, medium-plus body, sweet cherries undertones, perfect balance
8-/8, this is a lot of wine for the money! Great QPR, easy to drink, lots of pleasure, just wow
Definitely an 8 on the second day.

I don’t know how it is possible. 4 out 4 are nicely drinking wines. I would buy either one of them again in the instant – it would be perfect with or without a meal, with a friend and without a friend, these are just good wines at good prices.

Three out of four are a bit of a mystery in terms of grape composition. I would only take a guess on Gambler’s Flash to say that in my opinion, Grenache or Malbec should be a part of the blend – just a guess, don’t think I will ever know if this was correct.

But what I know for sure is that Trader Joe’s did it again – 4 wines, 4 outstanding values, and one happy wine lover.

Have you recently discovered any Trader Joe’s gems on your own? Cheers!

Trader Joe’s Wines – Values and More Values

April 28, 2018 8 comments

The wine aisles of Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to visit when I travel. Where I live, in Connecticut, Trader Joe’s stores are only allowed to sell beer. Trader Joe’s stores are known for their great selection and great prices, and that is true for everything Trader Joe’s sells – including the wine. Thus any Trader Joe’s store which sells wine is an opportunity to visit a toy store for adults, which I definitely can’t miss.

This time around I ventured into the Trader Joe’s in Costa Mesa in California. Usually, the “wine” selection in Trader Joe’s in California goes way beyond just wine – scotch, bourbon, tequila, cognac, and more. At the store in Costa Mesa I was particularly impressed with Mezcal selection – would love to bring some home, but you know how business travel is nowadays – does the bottle worth a trouble of checking in the luggage?

So yes, wine it is. When buying wine at Trader Joe’s during my business trips, I always approach it in a simple way – I’m looking for value. Here is $20, let’s get as many bottles as possible with the $20, and let’s see how they will fare. Truth be told, I rarely manage to stay under $20, but still, I make an effort to be as close as possible to that $20 budget (before taxes, of course).

How does $23.45 sound next to the $20 budget? In absolute terms – I’m over the budget by 17%. In relative terms, 5 bottles of wine for $23.45? If the wine even half drinkable, it is not a bad deal, would you agree? I think so. Oh yes, and I also cheated a bit. Don’t worry, I didn’t cheat anyone in particular, it is this story which has a few flaws, so please allow me to explain.

First, I saw an attractive bottle, unusual shape, attractive label, $9.99, the wine called “Susumaniello” from Puglia – something I never saw before. I was planning to visit my close friends later that day, so I thought that this bottle looked good enough to bring with me (wanna call me a cheap bustard? please, be my guest). But -Trader Joe’s was having a little tasting (they always do for food – I guess they also do it for wine where the wine is sold – for sure in California) – and this exact bottle of wine was offered for tasting. So I did have a sip of 2016 Ruggero di Bardo Susumaniello Puglia IGP ($9.99) – it had a medium body, restrained profile with mostly cherry notes on the palate. To my delight, it appeared that behind the cool label was also a new rare, indigenous grape I never had before – Susumaniello, a nice addition to the collection (I really need to iupdate my “grape counter” on the page).

The wine was good, but I already tasted it, so I needed a different idea for the wine to bring to dinner, so I settled for 2012 Château Roudier Montague-Saint-Emilion (13% ABV, $12.99), which happened to be a classic Bordeaux – well, maybe not so classic but more of modern variation – warm fruit and spices on the nose, black currant on the palate, soft tannins, round, velvety – an excellent Bordeaux for the price. It also paired very well with Korean short ribs (Bulgogi) we had for dinner. Drinkability: 7+/8-, very good overall.

From here on, here are my tasting notes for the five wines I was able to play with over the next few days – these are the wines I paid $23.45 for.

2016 Joseph Händler Riesling Pfalz (9.5% ABV, $4.99) – straw pale color. Nose at first muted, literally nonexistent, then opening up into white flowers, touch of honey and candied peach. Clean acidity, lemon, candied lemon, crisp, good minerality, not over the top. Drinkability: 8-, and incredible value at $4.99. Just wow. I know Rieslings can be inexpensive, but this is a whole lot of German Riesling for the price.

Simpler Wines Too Uncanny Red Wine Blend Australia (13.8% ABV, $2.99/375 ml can) – this wine had no vintage indication, so I guess we should consider it to be a non-vintage. Dark ruby color. Fresh fruity nose, young berries, then herbaceous undertones show up. Very good acidity on the palate, blackberries, cherries, mint, surprisingly balanced and very easy to drink. A bit of an alcohol burn, but still wow. 7+/8-, yet another excellent value. Nicely drinkable on the second day from the open can.

2016 Union Wine Co Underwood Pinot Noir Oregon (13% ABV, $4.99) – as you can see in the picture, the only place where I found a year specified was on the bottom of the can. Is that really vintage indication? I have no idea, but I will consider it to be so.
Ruby color. Mushrooms and smoke on the nose, touch of cherries. Sweet cherries on the palate, nice minerality, good acidity, medium body, good balance, touch of tart raspberries, hint of black pepper. Very nice overall. Drinkability: 8-, impressive.

2016 Nero Marone Edizione Privata Italy (14% ABV, $6.99) dark ruby color. Restrained nose, herbal, not much fruit. A hint of raspberries, tart cherries on the palate, minerality, medium body, good acidity. Interesting, not bad but a bit underwhelming in the amount of fruit. Drinkability: 7+, might be more of a food wine.

2017 Viñas Chileans Rosario Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Valle Central Chile (13% ABV, $3.49) – a classic Chilean cab, a touch of green bell pepper, soft blueberries and blackberries, medium body, easy to drink from the get-go. Nicely paired with grilled snapper. Drinkability: 7+, truly lots of wine for the money.

Here you are, my friends – another successful encounter with the Trader Joe’s wines. The Riesling was my favorite, but really, all the wines were good and an amazing value. What are your latest value wines discoveries? Can you beat the Pfalz Riesling at $4.99? Cheers!


Trader Joe’s Wine Finds – December 2015

January 9, 2016 6 comments

Trader Joe’s wines are not a new subject in this blog – you can read some of the earlier posts here. Every time I’m in a close proximity to a Trader Joe’s store which sells wine (not all of them do – I know, you would’ve never thought that it can be the case, especially if you live in California), I always make an effort to buy a few wines, usually trying to spend as little as possible, but to try as many wines as possible. Here is the report on the last visit to the Trader Joe’s store in Brookline, Massachusetts.

2014 Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc Paso Robles (13.9% ABV, $6.99)
C: Ruby
N: touch of the cotton candy, mint, hint of black currant
P: light to medium body, fresh blackberries, good acidity, easy to drink
V: 7, it is drinkable, but bigger body and some structure is desired.

NV ONX MOON Red Wine California (13.5% ABV, $8.99)
C: dark garnet
N: dark fruit, dark chocolate, very inviting
P: good power, round, more dark chocolate, good structure
V: 7+, very good wine

2014 Laurent Dublanc Tradition et Terroir Côtes-du-Rhône AOP (13% ABV, $6.99)
C: Garnet
N: plums, sweet chocolate, touch of eucalyptus
P: open, clean, fresh cherries, medium body, round, touch of herbal notes.
V: 7+, nice, soft and simple, very round.

2014 Sauvignon de Seguin Vin de Bordeaux AOC (12% ABV), $6.99)
C: straw pale
N: intense, inviting, candied lemon, fresh citrus, very promising
P: perfect. Fresh, grassy, crisp, laid back, touch of fresh lemon, just excellent.
V: 7+/8-. Very impressive for the money, but even ignoring the cost – this is simply delicious, well drinkable wine.

2013 Purple Moon Shiraz California (12% ABV or less, $3.99)
C: dark ruby
N: fresh crushed berries, intense fruity
P: ripe blackberries, tobacco, touch of pepper, good acidity
V: 7-/7, simple, easy to drink, a simple BBQ wine, will go great with ribs. Excellent QPR at this price

2013 Archeo Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane IGP (13% ABV, $4.99)
C: garnet
N: vegetative, restrained, hint of blackberries, distant touch of gunflint
P: presence of volcanic soil, good acidity, leather, nice astringency, good overall balance
V: 7+, pleasant with an excellent QPR

2013 Columbia River Landing Riesling Columbia Valley Washington (10.5% ABV, $4.99)
C: light golden
N: inviting, hint of honey, candied fruit
P: round, ripe apples, candied lemon, good acidity, perflctly smooth balance
V: 8-, may be best of tasting. Great classic Riesling expression with all the taste components being in perfect balance – not an easy fit for white wines in general, and Riesling particularly. I guess I have to call QPR on this wine “phenomenal”.

There you have it, my friends. What were your latest value wine discoveries? Cheers!

My #ZinfandelDay experiences – [mostly value] Zinfandels

November 22, 2014 9 comments

I like to celebrate grape holidays in a close proximity of my wine fridge – there is always a good chance that I have a good bottle of the appropriate celebratory wine. So if I would’ve been next to my cellar for the #ZinfandelDay, I would be able to chose between Turley, Carlisle and St. Francis – not too shabby, right? Only I wasn’t. I was traveling, so it was the whole different game.

Once again, I was in California. As it was mentioned many times in this blog, when I’m in a close proxomity of Trader Joe’s which sells wine, then Trader Joe’s it is. So I went to Trader Joe’s and bought 3 different Zinfandel wines – two of the Trader Joe’s own labels, and Ravenswood. Literally next door to my hotel, on my way back, I saw a store called Grocery Outlet, which I never heard of before. So I had to stop by and check it out. Interestingly enough, the store also had a wine section with the number of very interesting bottles, with prices starting from $2.99. When I saw another Zinfandel at $5.99, it was also quick and easy decision. And now, there were four.

Below I will share with you my notes on the wines, which ranged in prices from $4.99 to $9.99. Some of the takeaways were quite interesting, as I tasted the wines over a few days, but I will let you read through my notes as they are. And there was one more Zinfandel to mention. Here we go:

zinfandels2012 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Vintners Blend California (13.5% ABV, $7.99) – Crushed red fruit on the nose, touch of earthiness. Palate is a little thin on the finish, first showing a burst of dark fruit and smoke, but again, the finish was disintegrated with sharp acidity. This was the end of my notes on the first day – as you can see, I didn’t really like it. At the end of the second day, however, the wine showed a lot more round, integrated and balanced – dark fruit, spices and touch of herbs (sage). Drinkability: 7+

2013 Trader Joe’s Zinfandel Growers’s Reserve Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $4.99, made with organically grown grapes) – Touch of fresh berries on the nose. Smoke, clean fruit, blueberries and blackberries on the palate. Clean, simple, easy to drink. Opened up even more at the end of day 3 (!) – smoke, sandalwood, round with nice open complexity. My favorite out of the 4. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2012 Trader Joe’s Reserve Zinfandel Lot #92 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $9.99) – dark fruit on the nose with touch of blackberries. Hint of smoke and roasted notes on the palate, blackberries, restrained, somewhat round, but need more substance. This was the end of the day 1 – an okay wine (I’ve been nice here), but not anything interesting. At the end of the day 3 (!), very noticeable tannins came out with smoke and dark fruit, overall much better than before. Needs time? Drinkability: 7-/7+ (on day 3)

2009 Parallax Zinfandel Amador County, Sierra Foothills (15.1% ABV, $5.99 at Grocery Outlet)  – touch of fresh blueberries on the nose, just a touch. Round, clean, blackberries on the palate. Touch of earthiness. Finish somewhat lacking, need more complexity – this was an initial assessment at the end of the day 1. At the end of the  day 2 – nice complexity, spices, lots of blackberries, very noticeable tannins. An excellent steak wine, good balance, more dark fruit. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8-

So what do you think? A very interesting experience, if you ask me. It took these wines a few days to change and open up – the biggest winners were Parallax Zinfandel and Ravenswood, which improved quite a bit, from barely drinkable to pretty much delicious. And the most interesting wine was probably the least expensive Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel, which tasted fine from the very beginning and even throughout the three days. Considering its taste profile, it would make it a perfect Thanksgiving wine, as it will match a wide range of flavors.

Well, to top it all off, I need to include one more Zinfandel here. On the exact #ZinfandelDay, we had dinner at the 71 Saint Peter restaurant in San Jose, and as you can imagine, I wanted to start the dinner with the Zinfandel, just to properly acknowledge the holiday. Out of only three Zinfandel wines available on the wine list, 2012 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22 winery, $45 at the restaurant) was highly recommended by the staff. You know, when you drink the wine in the restaurant, you don’t have a luxury of playing with it for 3 days to see what will happen… The wine had ripe blackberries on the nose, and was dark, firm and concentrated on the palate, and also had some nice black fruit. I think it would open up more if it was given a chance, but it was gone way too quickly, so in the interest of fairness, I will not rate this wine.

There you have it, my friends – my [mostly value] Zinfandel experiences, with some interesting outcome, when even the inexpensive wines can evolve and surprise you. How was your #ZinfandelDay? Cheers!


Kosher Wines: Trader Joe’s Overdelivers, And More

September 22, 2014 23 comments

Terrenal winesI don’t know if there is a single “group” of wines out there, which can brag about such an incredible improvement over the past 10-15 years, as kosher wines. This, of course, is a US-centered opinion, but from my personal experience, 15 years ago, I had to cringe at the thought of Manishewitz cloying concoction as a mandatory element of celebration. About 5-7 years ago, the availability of the dry table kosher wines greatly increased, but for the real wine experience, you had to either pay a lot for the Israeli wines (or have good friends who would take care of you), or resort to the insipid, cooked, unbalanced international wines, proudly advertizing that they are appropriately kosher.

To be kosher, the wine should be made only by the fully observant Jewish people – similarly to any other kosher foods, there are many rules to be followed to make sure the wines will qualify as kosher wines. This is not necessarily a difficult part. The challenging part is related to the special word which appears on some of the wine labels next to the word “kosher” – this special word is “mevushal”. I will not give you the whole history behind the need for the wine to be mevushal (here is the link where you can learn in detail if curious), but here is a quick explanation. Even if the wine is made kosher, it will become “non-kosher” is handled by non-observing people at any moment – pouring etc. However, if the wine is heated to 180F for some time, it becomes “mevushal” – and no matter who will handle mevushal wine, it will still qualify as “kosher”.

Yes – making the wine “mevushal”, which means “cooked” in Hebrew, is an issue, and that explains the problem with the taste – “cooked” wine is one of the well known wine faults (with the exception of Madeira), and no oenophile would be happy faced with the cooked wine. But – the flash pasteurization (rapid heat up for 2-3 seconds), which is known to least alter the real taste of the product, became the tool of choice in making the wine “mevushal” as of late, and the resulting wines improved dramatically.

Now you know everything you need to know about kosher and mevushal wines – let’s move from the theory to practice. Once again, today’s wines are (primarily – I have also a bonus for you) the Trader Joe’s wines, and yes, they are value priced. To be entirely honest, this was not my idea to look for the kosher wines at Trader Joe’s. This post could’ve been easily titled “from your letters” – over the past few month, I got a few of the e-mails from different people, asking for my opinion about few of the Trader Joe’s kosher wines (yes, I was flattered, no questions). My general problem with Trader Joe’s wines is simple – in Connecticut, where I live, Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell the wine. So I had to wait for the opportunity to visit my friends in Boston, where Trader Joe’s sells the wines, and voila – got four different kosher wines (for the whooping $22 for all four). That’s all – now you have the full story, and we can (finally!) talk about the wines.

I had 3 wines made by the same producer, Terrenal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Malbec. The first two are from Spain (not a typical location for the Cabernet and Chardonnay wines, huh?), and the last one is from Argentina (of course). All three wines are designated as kosher, but only the last one (Malbec) is also a mevushal wine. And the last wine I tried from Trader Joe’s was SaraBee Moscato.

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2012 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon Yecla, Spain (13.5% ABV, $4.99, kosher, not mevushal) – this was the most unusual experience. On the nose, the wine showed tobacco, coffee, cherries and herbs. On the palate, the wine kept changing, showing green tannins, touch of cherries and cherry pit. After two days (you know me 🙂 ), the green tannins were replaced by the powdery tannins, and wine became more open and balanced. I still have an issue with this wine, as it didn’t show a tiniest trait of Cabernet Sauvignon – but it would be perfectly fitting as Grenache. So either this wine has a good portion of Grenache as part of the blend, or the soil/terroir trumpets the grape tremendously. Drinkability: 7-

2012 Terrenal Chardonnay, Spain (12.5% ABV, $4.99, kosher, not mevushal) – totally different experience compared to the previous wine. As a side note, I don’t remember ever having a Chardonnay from Spain – now I have. On the nose – nice, clean fruit, white apple, hint of tropical fruit, vanilla. Similarly clean package on the palate – nice acidity, apple, vanilla, white stone fruit. Good balance. This was not mind-blowing, but perfectly drinkable and pleasant wine. If you are looking for the white kosher wine, this is definitely recommended. Drinkability: 7/7+

2013 Terrenal Malbec I.P. Mendoza, Argentina (13% ABV, $4.99, kosher, mevushal) – in a word, excellent. On the nose, ripe blackberries, tobacco, baking spice. On the palate, delicious fresh berries without much of sweetness, round, balanced, good acidity, touch of ripe plum, gentle tannins. Again, I would highly recommend it if you are looking for the red kosher mevushal (!) wine. Drinkability: 7+

NV SaraBee Moscato Puglia IGT, Italy (5.5%ABV, $6.99, kosher, mevushal) – sweet, very sweet. Sweetness on the nose, and the same on the palate. Well, this wine is designated on the label as “sweet white wine”, and that is exactly what it is. Very light effervescence, almost unnoticeable. I wouldn’t drink this wine by itself, but – it would be a perfect accompaniment for any dessert dish – an apple strudel, sponge cake, cookies – it will universally fit any non-chocolate dessert. The interesting fact is that while this wine was lacking acidity, it was not perceived a cloying, still had a lightness in it. It also represents a great value as a kosher mevushal wine at $6.99. Drinkability: by itself – 6, with dessert – 7/7+.

There is one more wine I want to mention – 2010 Shiloh Secret Reserve Shiraz Judean Hills, Israel (14.8% ABV, $38, kosher, mevushal). This might not be even fair to mention this wine matter-of-factly at the end of the post, but just in case you are looking for an upscale wine which still should be kosher, this might be your perfect choice (it is available in US). On the nose, dark concentrated fruit and a touch of savory herbs, sage and lavender. On the palate, great concentration of dark berries, blackberries, pepper undertones, brooding, powerful, firm structure and perfectly dense mouthfeel, supple tannins, and balancing acidity. A pleasure in every sip. Drinkability: 8

So here are some of the kosher wines you might enjoy in time of the Jewish high holidays, or just at any time. I do think that Terrenal wines from Trader Joe’s simply over-deliver at the price point of $4.99, so Trader Joe’s has done it again – whomever is responsible for Trader Joe’s wine portfolio can definitely give themselves a pat on the back.

And we are done here. If you ever had any of the wines I mentioned, I would love to know what you think about them. If you have any comments about kosher wines in general, please don’t be shy. Cheers!

Trader Joe’s Wines – Again Exceeding Expectations

November 24, 2013 24 comments

Every time I get in a close proximity of the Trader Joe’s stores which sell wine, I always have to go and check out what is happening there – and, of course, try some wines. This time it was in November in California.

I don’t get to visit the Trader Joe’s wine section all that often – yes, we have Trader Joe’s here in Connecticut, but the only type of alcohol the stores can sell here is beer. My last experience with the wine section in Trader Joe’s was about a year ago. This time, I thought that the selection of wines and hard liquors expanded quite a bit, even though it was rather substantial even before. This time I saw a number of large format bottles, including 3L Italian wine for about $20! More spirits, including Calvados for $19.99 (I challenge you to find a Calvados for such a price at any wine store you frequent). I don’t know how Trader Joe’s can do this, but this is pretty remarkable.

Usually, when you see a cheap bottle of wine, the thought is – is that any good? So clearly in the spirit of research, I willingly subjected myself to the scientific drinking experiment – what $20 can buy for you? Okay, I have to be honest with you – I spent more money. A whole $3 more. So the experiment should be officially called “What wine $23 can buy for you at Trader Joe’s”. You can see my tasting line up in the picture below, and the notes follow right after.

What $23 can buy you at Trader Joe's

What $23 can buy you at Trader Joe’s

And here are the notes:

2012 Cosmia Pinot Noir Sonoma County (13.5% ABV, $7.99) – ruby red in the glass, sweet cherries with a touch of smokiness on the nose, dark sweet cherries on the palate with some mushroom notes, round, simple, medium to long finish. Probably [one of] the best Pinot Noir wines the money can buy for $8. Drinkability: 7+

2013 Trader Joe’s Vinas Chilenas Chardonnay Reserva, Valle Central, Chile (13% ABV, $2.99) – light straw color in the glass, white apples, vanilla and touch of tropical fruit on the nose, crispy apple on the palate, vanilla, nice acidity, very round and balanced. Note that most of the notes are taken on the day number 4 after the bottle was opened – stored with the regular cork in the fridge. Pretty spectacular considering the price. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Cala de Poeti Maremma Toscana IGT, Italy (13% ABV, $5.99) – A super-Tuscan for $5.99, huh? Should be pretty laughable, you think? Not at all! Dark garnet color in the glass, nose of dark plums and herbs, dark cherries, eucalyptus, tart raspberries and dark chocolate on the palate, firm structure, still present tannins (on the day 4!), excellent balance. I’m duly impressed. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Black Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel, California (12.5% ABV, $5.99) – dark garnet color in the glass, gunpowder (!) and cherries on the nose (yep, I know, sorry), raspberries and blueberries on the palate, but not overly sweet, with balancing acidity, more of tobacco and gunpowder note on the palate (is that “too much sulfites”? No idea, the wine didn’t give me any adverse reaction). Quite an unusual rendition of Zinfandel, but very, very enjoyable. Drinkability: 7+

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That’s all I have for you for today. Have you tasted these Trader Joe’s wines? What do you think of them? What do you think about Trader Joe’s wines in general? Comment away! Cheers!

Axial Vinos – Spanish Wine Intro

November 8, 2013 13 comments

A while ago I got an email from the Axial Vinos marketing, informing me that two of the Spanish wines from Axial Vinos portfolio had been recently added to the Trader Joe’s wine selection. I was also asked if I would accept a sample of the wines. As you might now, I have a difficult relationship with the samples – I don’t actively solicit them, and I consider each request individually. To be entirely honest, I had less than a handful of requests for sending the samples, and so far I didn’t reject any. I don’t have a strong criteria for rejection, it would probably have to be something like a Crane Lake of Sutter Home, for me to say “no, thank you”, but nevertheless, that makes me feel better.

As the wines which were offered to me were Spanish wines, which are some of my favorites in the world, of course I said “yes, please”. A few weeks later, the wines arrived, and then I had an opportunity to taste them – and now I would like to share my impressions with you.

Before we get to the wines, a few words about Axial Vinos. It appears that Axial Vinos is an export company, which works with the wineries in different regions of Spain, where it sources all of their wines. Axial Vinos portfolio includes more than a dozen of different wineries, located in all the leading regions, such as Ribera Del Duero, La Rioja, Penedes and others.

Now, let’s talk about the wines. From the get go, I really liked the packaging:

Axial Vinos

You know, this additional layer of paper, wrapped around the  bottles, enhances an element of mystery. Wine in the bottle is always a mystery, this is what makes it such fun – you really don’t know what is there, behind the cork, so your imagination can run wild, simply based on all the visual cues – the shape of the bottle, the label, the capsule. Here you can’t clearly see even those details, so the mystery multiplies.

But of course the next step is to unwrap the bottles (and admire the labels):

Avial VinosOkay, so we are done looking at the bottles, let’s talk about the content.

2012 Zumaya Tempranillo Ribera del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, 100% Tempranillo)  – nice and simple, food friendly wine. Hint of dark fruit on the nose, some blackberries and espresso notes on the palate. Tannins are soft and light, good acidity, good balance. Easy to drink. Drinkability: 7

2011 LA MANO Mencía Roble Bierzo DO (13% ABV, 100% Mencía) – what I like about Mencía-based wines as a whole is energy. Somehow all the Mencía wines I tasted to the date have this universal bright and uplifting character. This wine had nice, freshly pressed juice on the nose with the prevailing aromas of the fresh cherries. Similar cherries/plum profile on the palate, simple, clean, medium body, round dark fruit, easy to drink. Drinkability: 7+

NV La Granja 360 Cava Brut (11.5% ABV, 70% Xarel-lo, 30% Parellada) – simple and elegant, perfectly refreshing, just a touch of sweetness, good acidity, very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8-

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All in all, this 3 wines can serve as a perfect introduction into the wonderful world of Spanish wines. To all the lucky people who can buy their wines at Trader Joe’s (Trader Joe’s in Connecticut doesn’t sell wines, so I’m not one of them), I highly recommend not to miss on all these wines. Considering that the Turkey Day is coming, I believe all three wines will pair quite well with the Thanksgiving feast, and I’m sure you will not break the bank to get them. If you will try or have tried these wines already – let me know what do you think.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. Enjoy your Friday – and the weekend is coming! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Just The Wine Quiz Answer

November 28, 2012 3 comments

Meritage time!

Today’s Meritage will be only about the wine quiz. I had very limited time to find sharing-worthy news – and I failed.

In the last wine quiz #38, you were supposed to play a game of “find the differences” between two labels of the wine. I’m happy to report that we have a winner, vinoinlove – he correctly identified 3 differences between labels – the name of the wine (Tiare Imperiale versus Le Fiarre), ABV listed on the labels ( 14% and 14.5%) and even size of the labels ( there is a small difference in the size). Congratulations!

Quite honestly, I have to admit that I wanted someone to take the comparison a little further. When I saw the two bottles, the similarity between the front labels was almost shocking and it took me a few moments to realize that there are some differences there (okay, call me slow). When I tried to compare the wines, my expectations were that they will taste indistinguishably the same – and they were not! Tiare Imperiale was a lot more round and polished, were Le Fiarre was not bad, but rather rough on edges. Turning the bottles over and looking at the back labels clearly pointed to the fact that these are two different wines – Tiare Imperiale is made out of all 13 grapes allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape  appellation, and Le Fiarre is made out of 4:


So in my cryptic comments, I was hoping that someone will say that most likely the wines tasted differently and were made from the different grapes – but apparently I didn’t succeed. Just an additional interesting fact – Le Fiarre wine came from from Trader Joe’s ( at $19.99), and Tiare Imperiale was acquired through Wine Till Sold Out, and purchase price was something like $25 with $55 listed as a retail. I would not recommend Le Fiarre (while $19.99 is a bargain, there are other much better wines in that price category) – but Tieare Imperiale is a good wine in the $25 range – I wouldn’t take it for $55 though. Another interesting fact is that both wines seems to be private labeled for Skalli and have virtually no additional information available on Internet.

That’s all I have for you today, folks. Cheers!

More Great Values from Trader Joe’s

September 13, 2012 15 comments

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…

Anyway, keeping all the non-relevant rants aside, let me talk about few more wine discoveries at Trader Joe’s.

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-

And here are couple of finds from my trip to California back in April – hope some of them are still available!

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!

This Wine Costs What?!

April 18, 2012 12 comments

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!

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