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Looking for Great Wine Values? Trader Joe’s Got Them

June 8, 2018 4 comments

Another trip. Another stop at Trader Joe’s. Another “how do they do it?!” sentiment.

My typical strategy in Trader Joe’s is to see how many wines $20 can buy. This time around, I decided to change that. Somehow, being in San Diego in California, there was sudden desire to focus on California wines. That, and maybe a bit of France – 2018 had been my personal France tasting renaissance so far.

Of course, while I wanted to drink California wine, I was still on the lookout for reasonably priced bottles, not to exceed $20 – by the way, I know that good California wine under $20 is considered “mission impossible” by many, so this was another interesting challenge.

After touching and turning tens and tens of bottles, I settled for maybe not famous, but very well known producers – Benziger Family Winery and St. Clement Vineyards from California. I almost added French GSM to the basket, but instead, went with the Rhone-style white blend – a classic combination of grapes (Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne), and a great value at $6.99. Trade Joe's wines

How did the wines fare? Let me tell you all about it.

2016 Pontificis Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne Pay’s d’Oc IGP (13% ABV, $6.99, $50% Viognier, 35% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne). While Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne combination is a classic blend of Northern Rhone, this wine came from Languedoc, the winemaking region where everything is possible. Was it different than the actual Northern Rhone would be? You bet. Was it still delicious in its own right? By all means.

Light golden color in the glass. After some time, the nose showed classic Viognier perfume of tropical fruit – nothing overboard, but well noticeable. As it is often the case with Marsanne/Roussanne combination, I almost preferred this white wine at the room temperature versus fridge-cold. A touch of lemon and lemon zest on the palate, characteristic plumpness, full body, with some hint of guava. Roll of your tongue goodness, with a perfect amount of acidity on the finish – just bring me some food. Drinkability: 8-/8. And good luck matching this value.

2014 St. Clement Vineyards Pinot Noir Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $9.99). St. Clement Vineyards had been making wines in Napa Valley since the 1970s. One of their wines, a red blend called Oroppas, is one of my favorites, so this was an easy choice.

Bright ruby color in the glass. Dark chocolate, tobacco, and plums on the nose. The palate is perfectly balanced with supple raspberries and blackberries, good firm structure, excellent mouthfeel and presence, and an acidity cleanse on the finish. It might be pure luck – but luck or not, this was one tasty California wine. For $9.99. Drinkability: 8

2015 Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (13.5% ABV, $13.99, 16 months in oak). Benziger winery was founded in 1980, and in the year 2000 became a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. Benziger wines generally offer good value for the money, and who can refuse a California Cabernet from a good producer? Yep, not me.

Dark garnet, almost black in the glass. Beautiful nose of black currant and bell pepper. Unmistakable, textbook Cabernet Sauvignon on the palate – clean fruit, soft, open, black currant, eucalyptus, soft tannins, medium+ body. Lots of pleasure in every sip. Another great California value – well under $20. Drinkability: 8-/8.

Here you go, my friends. Trader Joe’s is unstoppable in its mission of bringing tasty power to the people. What was your favorite Trader Joe’s discovery as of late? I’m off to have another glass of Cab while you are thinking about it.

 

Trader Joe’s Merlot Run

October 31, 2016 13 comments

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.

trader joe wines californiaDeciding 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)
C: garnet
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!

More Trader Joe’s Wine Values – in Orlando, Florida

May 25, 2016 8 comments

Trader Joe's winesAs mentioned many times in this blog, I have a lot of respect for the wine folks at Trader Joe’s, as I rarely come across wines I wouldn’t want to drink second time, no matter where I try them. Trader Joe’s wine inventory differs from state to state (prices also can be a bit different, but this typically caused by the state’s rules, not Trader Joe’s desire), so visiting local Trader Joe’s stores is one of my favorite fun activities during business travel.

This time around I was in Orlando, Florida, and of course, Trader Joe’s was right around the corner. Sometimes, I make it a fun challenge for myself – to get as many wines as possible for, let’s say, $20. During this visit, I was just looking for some reasonably priced wines without any particular spending goal, so I ended up with the selection of 6 bottles priced from $5.99 to $9.99. And if you want another piece of stats, these 6 bottles represented France, Spain, New Zealand and USA. You might ask why you see only 5 bottles in this picture, so keep reading and I will tell you.

Here are the notes for the wines I tasted:

NV La Granja 360 Cava Brut (11.5% ABV, $6.99, 70% Xarel-lo, 30% Parellada) – well, here is my shameful fiasco story. After coming back to the room while it was not too late, my thought was – let me give this wine a good chill, may be I will open it tonight. So the wine went into the freezer instead of the fridge. And yes, the brain failed with the reminder message. Until the next evening. To be greeted with the pile of slush occupying good half of the freezer. For my silver lining, the bottle didn’t blow up – the cork was neatly pushed out instead, so cleanup was reasonably straight forward. No wine for me, and no tasting notes for you. Oh yes, and a memory pointer for me for the next time.

2014 Vignobles Lacheteau Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, Loire Valley (12% ABV, $6.99)
C: straw pale
N: mostly reminiscent of wet ocean air, touch of warm granite minerality
P: slightly bigger body than a typical Muscadet, mineral-driven, restrained acidity, lemon
V: 8-, an excellent wine

2014 J.L. Quinson Côteaux D’Aix en Provence (12.5% ABV, $7.99)
C: onion peel
N: very minerality, gunflint, touch of fruit
P: also very restrained, same as the nose, hint of cranberries
V: 7+, not bad, but you can get more from Provence ( may be no tat this price level though).

2014 Carayon La Rose Languedoc DOP (13% ABV, $5.99)
C: light pink
N: touch of strawberries, lemon, sage
P: a bit more round than a previous wine, good amount of strawberries, light
V: 7+/8-, a steal for the price. Buy it by the case if you see it – your summer will be better with this wine.

2015 Picton Bay Pinot Noir South Island, New Zealand (13% ABV, $7.99)
C: dark ruby
N: smoke, fresh cherries,
P: smokey cherries on the palate with addition of the touch of cranberries, good acidity, perfect balance
V: 8/8+, outstanding wine. I was drinking it bit by bit over the course of 4 days, and it was still very tasty even on the day 4 – note that I didn’t pump the air out, it is a screw top bottle. This quality level for $7.99 – one of the definite QPR champions. Another case buy.

2013 Caretaker Wines Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast (14% ABV, $9.99)
C: bright Ruby
N: Classic Pinot, sage, cherries, hint of forest floor
P: clean, round, fresh acidity, bright crisp cherries, medium body, succulent
V: 7+/8-, interestingly enough, the wine was bright and fresh on the first day, then closed up on the second. I didn’t have an opportunity to see how it would evolve later on, so get it and drink it right away – as “pop’n’pour”, it is an excellent and enjoyable wine.

There you have it, my friends – another successful Trader Joe’s wine encounter. Have you had any of these wines? 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!

 

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!