Thanksgiving wine notes

Camp Viejo Rioja Tempranillo 2010 (Spain)--- excellent, not super-complex but lots of bright cherry fruit and some vanilla, yet not cloyingly sweet; a modicum of tannin helps out here.  This was not one of my contributions, but I'm pretty sure it's reasonably priced---has been in the past. Probably 8 points on my scale, 85 or so on a Robert Parker / Wine Advocate style 100 point scale.  Just basically delicious; I'm delighted to find out about this.  I enjoyed some Campo Viejo pretty well years ago (the 1979 and 1983 I think)...the basic flavor profile is still similar but this seems fresher and a bit fuller-bodied and more tannic, perhaps due to a more modern winemaking style nowadays.  I recall being impressed with the vanilla and caramel notes and smoothness, but ultimately finding the wine a bit simple and uninspiring when I tried more bottles (perhaps of later vintage).  Traditional Rioja style involves holding the wine in very large oak casks, often until quite a bit of tannin has dropped.  Also it sometimes involves strong flavors of American oak, which are probably providing the vanilla notes here just like they did in the eighties, but seem to be under better control now or at least have more fruit and tannin to balance them.  So I'm very glad to have rediscovered this in improved form thanks to our Thanksgiving hosts.

Rosemount "Diamond" Shiraz, 2010 (Australia).  Tasty enough, somewhat similar to the Campo Viejo in having a reasonably rich, fruit-forward style, but a bit less polished and balanced, and the flavors slightly less appealing.  A little too sweet for my taste too.  Drinkable enough though, and perhaps it would be fairer to retry this with food (I had it before dinner and did not come back to it).  Perhaps 6.5 points on my scale, maybe 75-78 on a Parkeresque one.  I'm guessing it and the Campo Viejo are in a similar $10ish price range, and the Campo Viejo definitely beats it in my mind.

2001 Faller Riesling Geisberg Grand Cru (Alsace, France).  Really excellent Alsatian Riesling from the Geisberg, a Grand Cru vineyard in the village of Ribeauvillé that I brought back from a visit to Alsace.  It's aged nicely, comes across as honeyed but still reasonably crisp, with some slight floral notes and hints of minerality, good balance, maybe some slight hints of Brett at first that blew off quite quickly.  Good length finish, too. Definitely ready to drink. I'd say 8.5-9 points or so on my scale, maybe 87-89 on the Parker scale.  Perfect Thanksgiving wine, too.  I would definitely seek this out again if I'm in Alsace, and am quite happy that I have a few more bottles of miscellaneous Rieslings from Faller in the cellar.

2001 Perrin "Les Sinards" Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Excellent, the 11 years of age having mellowed it to where it's much more approachable than a young Chateauneuf usually is, but still with enough tannin to give it good structure.  Medium full bodied, with a good balance of fruitiness and some autumn leaf kind of impressions.  With the Faller, the most complex and interesting wine of the afternoon.  Probably near its peak but should be good for another 4-5 years at least.  Very tasty; I'm afraid this may be my only bottle but I will keep an eye out for other vintages.  Perrin's Côtes du Rhône and Vacqueyras tend to have a house style that I find slightly glyceriny in mouthfeel and smoother and less tannic than the average while still quite flavorful...not necessarily a bad thing.  This wine doesn't really have that style, though: the texture is pretty much classic Chateauneuf, though toward the mellower and more approachable end of the range.  I'd say probably 8.5 points on my 10 point scale; 87 on a Parkeresque 100 point scale.




2009 Chateau Mayne-Guyon, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

The 2009 Chateau Mayne-Guyon Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux is from one of the lesser Bordeaux areas on the right bank of the Gironde.  For $8 at Trader Joe's, a very good deal.  I can recall, back in the days when this appelation was Côtes de Blaye  and Premieres Côtes de Blaye, it and Côtes de Bourg had a reputation as a good source of cheap Bordeaux often better than plain old Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur.  But the characteristics of the area, when incorporated into a lesser wine, were sometimes a bit offputting:  dark, kind of gritty tannins, some vegetal (maybe green pepper) elements to the flavors, and some dark, unfocused elements to the flavor associated with the tannins that overpowered the fruitiness.  Interestingly, this wine has these characteristics, but in a good way.  The vegetality is very slight, just adding a note of complexity, the tannins are very noticeable and a bit coarse (seeming smoother with time in the glass, and also after a day in the fridge) but not out-of-contol-gritty, and the fruit flavors are quite rich, so they stand up well to the somewhat tarry, mineral elements.  This could either be an excellent ager for about 5 years, or not.  It's hard for me to know without experience aging these wines.  The issue is whether the tannins smooth out and drop, and the fruit stays, and (in the best case) the tarry elements develop into something quite complex and exotic, or the tannins stay gritty, the wine dries out, and (worst case) the tarry elements develop into something strong but weird and annoying.  It is very tasty now in any case. $8 at Trader Joe's is a really excellent deal.  This seems to be a regular wine at TJ's;  I think the 2009 may be exceptionally good, for this wine and for Bordeaux overall.  This was much more interesting and balanced than most $8 wines produced in the US, and quite full-bodied.  (Despite the word "balanced", no-one should get the idea that this is suave and velvety... this is fairly punchy, virile stuff.)  I have had difficulty finding good minor Bordeaux in supermarkets around here... but TJ's seems to have a slew of them. This stands up quite well to cheese, even blue cheese.  Excellent with TJ's  "Le petit crême" hexagonal cheese from the Rhône-Alpes department of France, and their Italian Gorgonzola.

Point rating?  Let's say 8 / 10, for exhibiting what I think is a clear expression of the Blaye terroir, while avoiding the pitfalls sometimes associated with it, and for being a darn tasty, full-bodied drink with plenty of dark berry and red berry fruit, a bit of almost dirty but tasty minerality and tarriness, and only slight hints of green pepper or maybe olive.  I suppose I should maybe put this at 7.5 to leave some dynamic range... but you must remember, my 10 point scale is like the the one on a guitar amp... it goes to 11.  For comparison, and so you don't just multiply by 10 and think of it as a Wine Advocate rating, if I were rating this on the Robert Parker 100 point scale, I think it would get about 86-87 given my experience with Parker-rated wines.

2010 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgeuil "Alouette"

Bourgueil is a French wine appelation in the Loire valley, which along with  nearby Chinon is the best known Loire appelation for red wine, produced from the Cabernet Franc grape.  The 2010 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgeuil "Alouettes", which I think I got at the Casa Sena wine store in Santa Fe, is fabulous.  Imported by Berkeley's Kermit Lynch, always a good sign.  The wine has spicy and slightly herbal elements typical of Bourgueil, along with some good fruitiness.  Quite a bit of tannin for a Loire red, but not annoyingly tight... the tannins seem relatively loosely held, within a rather sappy, fruity, but not overly alcoholic or jammy, liquid.  Delicious.  Also relatively complex, with definite minerality and perhaps tarriness on the palate, and in the long finish carried by the tannins that stick to the mouth.  Fairly harmonious, too.  I would be curious to see how this evolves over the next 5 years---seems a good candidate for cellaring although definitely delicious now.  The only Bourgueil (or Chinon...) I've had that comes close to being this good was in a restaurant in Paris a few years back... this was strikingly reminiscent of that.  I will definitely be on the lookout for more.  Increasingly I feel that numerical scores are silly, but I'll give this a 9 out of 10 as it's just plain delicious and full of typical Bourgueil terroir.  Went pretty well with lentils cooked with a relatively mild example of a Ethiopian-style berebere red chili sauce, with sides of quinoa, and cauliflower.  As always with spicy-hot dishes, some of the complexity of the wine is masked by the spice, but it was still a good combination.

Trivia note: the wine is named "Alouettes", meaning "nightingales", perhaps the name of a vineyard.  The label features a bird, and some musical notes on the staff.  And some care was evidently taken, because the notes are actually those of "Alouette, gentil Alouette".

Summer Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Pouilly Fumé, Cave des Perrières négociant, around $12.99 at Trader Joe's.  Seems also to be associated with Lacheteau (who provided a nice Vouvray that was available at Trader Joe's last year), as the web address on the back label  is theirs.  A very nice example of what a Sauvignon from the Loire should be---good fruit, fairly lively acidity, a bit of grassiness or chalkiness, and a fairly elegant, balanced impression overall.  Not quite as taut or refined as some Pouilly Fumés might be, but then again, cheaper than most.  A slight "wateriness" that is not necessarily a bad thing, probably correlated to the impression of less acidity than a typical Loire SB.  Went very well with both squash blossom risotto, and pasta with pesto.  A good deal, and a wine I'd rate around, oh, say 8 on my 10 point scale that goes to 11.   Our local TJ's has moved on to the 2010, though (not tasted).

Castoro Cellars 2009 Fumé Blanc (Paso Robles, California).  Tasted at cellar temperature (and spit not swallowed), seems really excellent.  Possibly a hint of a bit of spiciness, maybe even green chile, with a balanced but very full-flavored overall impression and a long finish.  (Will update after drinking more of it.)  A relatively darker yellow than the above Pouilly, possibly correlated with the stronger flavor impression though the Pouilly is certainly not weak.  Fumé Blanc is a term (invented by Mondavi, I think) for California Sauvignon Blanc that is intended to resemble one from the Loire.  Probably around an 8.5.  Again, this is likely last year's vintage but TJ's regularly has wines from Castoro (which is a well-regarded Paso Robles winery, not some label invented for TJ's).

2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ines Winery, cheap at TJ's although this vintage may no longer be available.  This was less balanced and a bit rougher than either of the above two, but still quite drinkable, more refined and enjoyable than a random cheap California SB.  Some of it went into the squash blossom risotto.   Probably a produced-for-TJ's label, but none the worse for that.  I'm not going to rate it since it's been too long since I drank it and I didn't take notes, but it's definitely one to check out when available as an inexpensive wine suitable for either cooking or drinking.

Vega De Castilla Ribera del Duero; Columbia Crest Two Vines

Two relatively inexpensive wines from Trader Joe's, one of them in two vintages  Although Two Vines is said on the label to refer to their trellising system, the 2008 and 2009 Two Vines wines from reliable Washington State mass-market wine producer Columbia Crest are made almost entirely, and in almost equal measure, from two grapes: Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  The 2008, recommended by one of TJ's often-knowledgeable and always enthusiastic in-store staff, was indeed a good buy in the $7ish range.  Quite full-bodied, and with a dose of chewy tannin, the first day it was a bit on the foxy, grapy, and somewhat unbalanced side for my taste, but consumed over four or five days (my wife and I don't exactly slug back the juice with the best of them), it smoothed out, lost most of the foxiness, and exhibited a fair amount of complexity, tasty blackcurrantish flavors and hints of tar and the like.  Worked well with a variety of foods including some somewhat tough-on-wine ones like cheese, and pasta with beans, tomatoes, collard and mustard greens.  I suspect it would age interestingly for up to five years or so, maybe more.  The 2009 was decidedly lighter, with some similar foxiness that didn't go away, initally seeming a bit more suave and velvety but not developing over its period of being open.  However, with some fairly bright red fruit flavors, including strawberry and, I fancy, cherry, it went remarkably well with a wonderful dish my wife adapted from Jeff Smith's excellent cookbok "The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors".  To wit, Yugoslavian njoki (=gnocchi) of potato, wheat flour, ricotta and an egg (with a slight spicing of nutmeg and paprika), with an intense sauce of cherries, tomato, red wine, and (in place of the specified duck) huge reconstituted dried lima beans.  The dish was clearly the main attraction here, but the wine just happened to echo it really nicely.  I once read, probably in something by Hugh Johnson, that there are two main strategies for pairing wine with food:  go for a contrast in which each heightens, and somehow sets off, the other's flavor; or go for a harmony, in which aspects of the wine echo and underline flavors and textures in the food; this was clearly a fortuitous example of the latter.  The 2009 Two Vines also went pretty well with a vegetarian paella, but overall was not as satisfying as the 2008; definitely a simple wine, and slightly out of balance and with slightly off-putting elements of foxiness or perhaps even a slight cough syrupy sweetness.  Not a bad wine, it definitely enhanced some meals, though I probably won't be buying more for later.  I'd give the 2009 a  6.5 or 7 out of 10 (keep in mind that for me, this is definitely "worth drinking", and probably a bit better than you might think if you multiplied by 10 and compared to Robert Parker's scores).  The 2008 would get another point, probably a 7.5, perhaps 8.

The Vega De (I think that's an E nested inside the D on the label) Castilla Ribera del Duero Oak Aged 08 (from the Tempranillo grape) was on the order of $10.  A really excellent wine, relatively simple but not one-dimensional, remarkably well balanced for 14% alcohol.  I have had some Ribera del Dueros, mainly in restaurants, that were disappointing, kind of mushroomy and stale-ish, but also a fabulous one in a wine bar in Madrid that had the fresh, velvety, lush and balanced deliciousness that it sometimes seems you can buy even in young wine.  (I have a bottle in my cellar and will report when consumed.)  This does not have that voluptuousness, but it is just really tasty, with honest, non-foxy, non-funky fruit flavors (maybe blackberry, and after it's been open for a while, definitely cherry) that are not at all jammy and cloying, backed up by a decent, but not mouth-puckering, measure of tannin.  A little bit of complexity comes from some leafy, or tea, flavors behind the fruit.  Maybe this is the Ribera del Duero ("Banks of the Duero"---same river as the Douro of Portgual's Port-growing region) terroir coming through---the same terroir that can manifest as a bit mushroomy, vegetal, or funky in a suboptimal scenario.  This wine also reminded me of Graham Greene's novel Monsignor Quixote, in which one of the two central characters (I forget if it is the priest or the communist) will only drink wine bought in jugs straight from the winemaker (they keep a huge jug of such wine in their jalopy Rosinante), because he thinks the stuff sold in bottles is too pompous, adulterated, processed, and poncey.  This stuff is in a bottle, and even (bad news!) has a vintage barely acknowledged on the label, which also evinces some somewhat cool design---white, with the text in some mod-twiggy-medievalish font, the nested "DE" in gold, and a silhouette of a vine that looks like a sketch for some twiggy art installation---but I fancy it's got the straightforward, grapey, winey, non-fruit-bomb flavors that the priest, or the communist, were looking for.  Goes great with more of the veggie paella.  I guess 8.5 out of 10, although it's essentially a perfect example of what it is striving to be, which is an unpretentious but flawless and tasty wine for drinking with unpretentious but flawless and tasty food, like my veggie paella.  (I guess I'm reserving the extra 1.5 points for something more pompous and poncey.)

2009 Domaine Arlaud Bourgogne "Roncevie"

I picked up a bottle of the Domaine Arlaud Bourgogne "Roncevie" at the Casa Sena wine shop in Santa Fe the other day. (Warm thanks to PJ there for the recommendation.) Tried it last night with dinner. Very fresh and pure-tasting Pinot Noir. Light to medium-bodied, but reasonably intense with what seems to me a very Burgundian makeup---fine but somewhat mouth-coating tannins, a slight bit of smokiness or caramel (from oak, probably) overlaying bright fruit, primarily strawberry or perhaps cherry-like flavors. Reasonably velvety and well-integrated, and getting a bit more intense over the course of the meal. Not extraordinarily complex, but delicious. As I recall this wasn't inexpensive (Burgundy, unfortunately, never is), but pretty impressive for the price. It has the rare and pleasing taste of a natural, minimally messed with, clean and alive wine. A find I'm very happy with. I might rate it 8.5 or 9 on a 10 point scale, but it's basically a perfect example of what it is---a delicious, not overweening red Bourgogne. It went very well with a dinner of Venetian style smothered cabbage (finely shredded and slow cooked with sauteed onion, garlic, and a little red wine vinegar) and a pasta sauced with collard and mustard greens, white beans, and tomatoes.

A look at the importer's (North Berkeley Wine's) website reveals some information about Domaine Arlaud, which is based in the great Côtes-de-Nuits wine town of Morey St.-Denis, and about the 2008 vintage of this wine. According to this, Roncevie is surrounded by vineyards designated Gevrey-Chambertin, which helps explain its quality.

Jaffurs 2010 Syrah

Jaffurs is a Santa Barbara, California area winery that makes wines from Rhône varietal grapes. Everything I've ever tried of theirs has been excellent. The 2010 Syrah is truly outstanding, and based on a half-bottle, drinking very well now. It seemed more open, less tannic, much more hedonistic than other Jaffurs Syrahs I've had at this stage in their lives. (I realize now that this may be because the others were single-vineyard wines, whereas this is their Santa Barbara County offering.) But just as complex, perhaps more complex. Very balanced, somewhat velvety, mixing sweet fruit flavors like blueberry, maybe boysenberry, maybe raspberry with darker, more mineral and spicy notes. Some vanilla notes as well. My only worry about this wine is whether, at 14.7% alcohol and already seeming relatively open, it will age well. But the flavors are so intense and well integrated with each other that it's a pretty good bet. It does not taste at all "hot" (overalcoholic) despite the high percentage. It may mature faster than other Jaffurs Syrahs. Evolving
somewhat in the glass...getting a bit more tannic and slightly less velvety, with different aspects of the flavor coming to the fore at different times. Definitely up there with the best Syrahs I've had, of any type. Expensive (direct from the winery, it's $15 for a half bottle, $27 a bottle, before shipping), but worth it.

Wines for the 99% from South America via Trader Joe's: Panilonco 2009 Carmenère, La Finca 2010 Malbec

I have to hand it to Trader Joe's for the generally very high quality to price ratio in their wine section.  I recently reviewed several cheap or reasonably priced wines from TJ's, and here are a couple more.

The 2010 La Finca Malbec, Oak Aged, from Mendoza, Argentina, is another recommended bargain from TJ's at $3.99.  It has that typical Malbec fruitiness, reminiscent of blackberries and also of some of the old-time Italian-American wines from California, but it is not syrupy or overripe, or overconcentrated, and it has a nice bit of tannin to add backbone to the fruit.  Very quaffable with pizza and such.  On a par in quality  with the 2010 La Finca Cabernet I reviewed earlier.

The 2009 Panilonco Carmenère, D.O. Colchagua Valley, Chile, is also a typical expression of the grape, and another fantastic bargain at TJ's for $4.99.  It has the ripe, somewhat sappy, open mouthfeel of the Panilonco Cabernet-Malbec I reviewed earlier, but plummy flavors with a hint of spice (cloves or allspice?), and some dark complexity, perhaps leafiness.  It definitely resembles some Italian Carmenères I've had from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, but is a bit less tightly structured and softer, though not excessively alcoholic or syrupy.  It also bears some resemblance to a good, softer-styled Bordeaux, even though the latter are made from different grapes.

These are both just plain well-made, tasty wines, not spoiled by overreaching.  Each of them is a clear expression of typical flavors of their respective grapes.  If you've never tried these grapes, this is a good chance to find out what kind of wine they make for very little money.  The Carmenère is perhaps a bit more complex, but they're both interesting and enjoyable wines---and fabulous deals at TJ's price.   You'd be hard pressed to find a better red than either of these for under $10, and even spending more is certainly no guarantee of something you'll enjoy drinking more than these bottles.

Wine at Trader Joe's I: Cheap and good. (Wingman 2009 Shiraz, Trader Joe's Petit Reserve 2009 Tempranillo, Panilonco 2010 Merlot-Malbec, La Finca 2010 Cabernet, Trader Joe's 2009 Reserve Cabernet Mendocino)

Many of you have probably discovered that Trader Joe's is a great place to get wine.  I wasn't impressed the few times I sampled their famed "two-buck Chuck" wines  under their Charles Shaw label (now three or four bucks), and that probably slowed my adoption of TJ's as a wine source, but about a year ago I gave their other wines a try and discovered that they are a great source of quality, excellent-value-for-money wines.  You won't find the most high-end, handcrafted, and often expensive wines here, but if you're planning on spending $4 to $20 for a wine, you'll probably do better at TJ's than most places.  I believe that they can use their volume buying capability, and long-term contracting capability, to grab large lots of wine or grapes that are pretty good but not quite what some pretty good winery wants in its expensive blend; or to buy the excess production of a good winery that can't sell all its production at premium prices, or perhaps even to work directly with both winemakers who don't grow, and growers, to get what they want made for them.  They are privately held by a German family business, which I speculate (quite baselessly) may give them some special connections with or insight into medium and low priced Bordeaux of quality, since Germany seems to traditionally have good reasonably priced Bordeaux available, that you don't see in the states.  (More on TJ's Bordeaux in a later post.)

Some recent finds in the super-value department:

2009 Trader Joe's Petit Reserve Tempranillo, California.   Don't precisely recall the price, probably in the $4-6 range.  Rather velvety mouthfeel, with some nice but not overbearing mouthcoating tannins, a little bit of hotness or roughness but not too much.  Good strong berry fruit flavors, not overdone, though not an especially dry wine.  Veering a little toward candy but not too much.  And, late in the meal, some dark, toasty, minerally, really surprising complex tastes emerging that remind me of nothing so much as the excellent (and far more expensive) Syrahs and Grenaches made by Jaffurs in the Santa Barbara area.  Definitely has California forwardness compared to most Spanish Tempranillos, but a really good wine for the money.  If the dark complexity holds up or develops upon finishing the bottle over the next few days, this could be not just a very good, but a stunning, value.  I plan to buy more if it's still available (this may have been purchased several months, perhaps even six months, back).

2009 "The Wingman" California Shiraz (90%) / Viognier (10%), County Fair Wines (Sebastopol, CA).  $6.99.  On first opening, this has a classic Cotes-du-Rhone-like nose and mouth, with some autumn-leaf and slightly spicy components, dark berry fruits and very slight hints of mineral or tar.  The mouthfeel is smoother and fuller than a generic Cotes-du-Rhone, and slightly glyceriny, probably due in part to the Viognier, which may be responsible for a bit of a floral, aromatic note (the label mentions tropical fruits).  There's also more blueberry, a typical feature in some Syrahs (notably some Aussies, and Cornas).    Reasonably well balanced, perhaps a little bit elegant though not velvety, with some relatively coarse tannin that feels loosely held in a fairly "watery" (not a criticism, and doesn't imply lightness) wine.  Holds up well over a few days, too...mostly losing the leafy and floral elements, though, and some of the fresher berry elements.    My son thought the label was "awesome" features a male harpy with a turn-of-the-century (1900ish) moustachioed face, cutaway revealing skeletal and visceral components, armor or stocking-clad human legs, wings of course...and various diagrams and quill-pen writing in a 19th century European calligraphic style.  Quite weird and slightly pretentious...I would probably not normally buy a wine with this label, but a TJ's staffer recommended it, and rightly so.  I bought two more bottles on a return visit.  This wine is an excellent value, and a fairly unusual wine.  Closest comparison is probably certain mid-range ($20ish) Australian Shirazes, but this is a bit less alcoholic and tannic, which may be good thing for current drinking.

2010 "Panilonco" Merlot-Malbec, Colchagua Valley, Chile. $4.99.  Produced by Vinedos Errazuriz Ovalle.  This is a great deal on a hearty but very drinkable red.  It seems to me to have delicious ripe-tomato flavors in addition to a decent amount of berry fruit and somewhat chewy tannins, along with a teeny bit of darker, more complex flavor.  I like it much better than the "Trader Joe's Coastal" Cabernets and Zins I've tried at the same price which have a similar overall profile, but are less balanced and have some foxy (Concord-grape-like) flavors and sometimes a slighlty offputting amount of vegetality.  Again, I could use another bottle or two.

2010 La Finca Cabernet, Argentina. $3.99.  This was great with burgers,  both veggie and beef, at a Democratic Party barbeque.  (It would probably be just as good at a Republican party barbeque.)   I seriously doubt you will find a better red for $3.99 anywhere, although TJ's Epicuro Salice Salentino is in the same price range, and as good (but different).  Very drinkable, combines some blackberry and other dark fruit flavors with little tea and tarriness, medium body supported by a  modicum of somewhat chewy tannin, a relatively loose structure but reasonably good balance.  Most importantly, a wine you just want to drink more of, not a tiring overalcoholic or overbearing-with-fruit wine, but not wimpy either.  Kind of like a good example of a less vegetal Bordeaux Superieur, but more enjoyable to drink than most Bordeaux superieurs I've ruin across even in the $10-18 range, as the latter often have the flaw (possibly due in part to poor conditions during transport from Europe to the US) of being relatively full-bodied, strongly flavored, and decently tannic, but with something a bit bitter and austere, a slightly excessive hit of vegetality and olives on occasion, and more importantly, somewhat closed or unexpressive.  I went back to get more and the labels were still on the shelves but all the La Finca wines, save five or six bottles of Chardonnay, were gone from the shelves.  (They also make a Merlot and a Malbec, and I think also another white, like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon blanc.)  That tends to happen at TJ's---people identify the best bargains, and load up.

2009 Trader Joe's Reserve Cabernet, Mendocino, California. $9.99.  Vinted and bottled by DNA Wines, Ukiah, CA.  Made from organic grapes.  This wine is softer and more elegant than any of the above.  On the other hand, at $10 it doesn't really qualify as "cheap".  I have had good luck with all the TJ's Reserve wines I've tried (besides this, two vintages of Dry Creek Reserve Cabernet (2008 and 2009) and a Dry Creek Reserve Zinfandel).   This one indeed has plummy flavors as claimed on the label... I think of the dark purple-black-skinned plums with reddish-orange to pale-orange flesh.  Add to that some clovish elements, dark berry fruit, hints of complexity, fine tannins in moderation, and you have a really nice wine, quite different from the Dry Creek cabernets, and I fancy showing some typically Mendocino characteristics and flavors.  Ready to drink now, or age a few years; perhaps slightly low in acid and loose in structure for long aging, but it might be worth a try.  Excellent value, distinctive, flavorful, and easy to drink Cabernet.  Again, I plan to get two or three more bottles.

Silvio Jermann 2006 Vintage Tunina

My brother-in-law and his wife gave us a bottle of Silvio Jermann's 2006 Vintage Tunina, from  the region of Friuli/Venezia-Giulia.  IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) Venezia Giulia.  Fantastic, and though a much more expansive and complex wine, reminded me of savoring an afternoon glass of wine with them in a wine bar or two in Venice last summer.   Very Friulian in its clear, almost lemon-yellow color and its clarity of fruit.  Fairly intensely flavored, but balanced, very smooth in a slightly glyceriny or unctuous (that's good in this case!) way.  I didn't notice any oak, just pure, deep, complex grape flavors.  Maybe hints of coconut, lemon, a tiny hint of bitter green stemminess, maybe some hay, but this kind of analysis is beside the point.  Really delicious wine, which had some of the intense but soft characteristics of a fresh, not-so-botrytized great Sauternes, like maybe Lafaurie-Peyraguey, but without the sweetness or caramel.  Bottom line: you won't go wrong with this one.  Just plain delicious.

Worked with an excellent pasta/beans/chard/parmesan dish my wife put together, but would likely go with just about any not-too-gamey poultry dish, fish---even, or perhaps especially because of its relative softness and lack of herbaceousness, salmon---or perhaps even prosciutto or some other charcuterie-type first course.  Probably would be nice with a cream-and-wild-mushroom sauced pasta.