I liked the 2009 Chateau Mayne-Guyon Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux a lot, in fact thought it one of the best values around in red wine. A quick note to let you know I liked the 2010 Chateau Mayne-Guyon, also available at Trader Joe's, even better. I drank it a few months ago, so you can take details with a grain of salt, but I'd say it's more elegant, less chunky and tarry, than the 2009, but still fairly full-bodied and quite flavorful. More emphasis on delicious berry fruit, a bit less on dark/minerally tastes, but still enough of the latter for complexity, enough tannin to avoid flabbiness and suggest ageability, and perhaps a bit better balanced than the 2009 as well. I'd guess this would be serious competition for much more expensive (and properly aged) Bordeaux---perhaps not 2nd classed growths but probably some of the better Crus Bourgeois---in a blind tasting. Another no-brainer for multiple bottle purchases at $8. If one has to rate, I guess I'd say 8/10 on a 10-point scale that goes to 11, corresponding to around 87-89 Parker points, and I'm probably being conservative here. On my last visit to TJ's there was a big empty spot with one or two bottles of this on the shelf, so perhaps the secret is out... I already got my stash of four or five bottles.
No, the Wine Roundup is not some event Trader Joe's sponsors out in its Wild West locations like Santa Fe, it's just me rounding up some empties I wanted to post about before chucking them.
Chateau Haut Sorillon, Bordeaux Supérieur, 2010. Tasty and medium bodied, not complex but fairly balanced and without any of the characteristics that can be offputting in inexpensive Bordeaux. Excellent with tomato and pasta salad and with bread and cheese (Manchego and Cambozola) while picnicking at St. John's College's Wednesday night Music on the Hill. Kind of the straight-ahead hard bop of wine...gets the job done in a satisfying but not ultra-flashy or revelatory way, like one of your more your basic Hank Mobley or Lee Morgan cuts. Very good value at 8 bucks. Lessay 8 points or so on my 10 point scale that goes to 11. 85 on a Parkeresque scale.
Looks like one NatashaZ93 is keeping far better track than I have time or capacity to, of the TJ value parade...here's her take on the Haut S.
Panilonco Carménère DOC Colchagua (Chile) 2011 Reserva. I liked the 2009. I like this too, maybe even better. Uncomplicated, good varietal flavor, good plush fruitiness and a bit of green tomatoey acidity (but not too much). Yup. This'll set you back all of 4 bucks. I'd say 7.5 points... 83 on a Parkerish scale.
Bois de Lamothe AOC Côtes de Duras 2010 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon. Good stuff. Along the same lines as the Haut Sorillon (very Bordeaux like) but a bit more austere and rustic, and possibly a hint of something funky in the nose but not enough to be offputting. Good flavors of blackberry, a little vegetality to add complexity, maybe even a bit of tarriness. Another 4 buck wonder! If one must rate, I'd say the same as above... 7.5, or 83 Parkeresque points. No, not that Parker... this is more like early Jackie McLean.
I blended together the last glass or so worth of the Panilonco and the Lamothe after they'd been sitting in the fridge for close on a week...it made quite a good blend, possibly even better than each wine alone. Panilonco added lushness, the Lamothe restrained the Carménère's fruitiness a bit.
Over the past couple of months I've had four remarkable red wines from the Piedmont region of Italy. The Langhe---the region 30 or so miles south and southeast of Turin, whose hills, dotted with old castles and churches and commanding panoramic views, begin to rise just south of the wine, truffle, and nougat town of Alba, is the source of most of the best Italian wines made from the local Nebbiolo grape (a few other places in Italy, such as Ghemme and Gattinara in northeastern Piedmont, also traditionally use the grape). Three of the wines I'll discuss in this post are made from Nebbiolo: one from each of the two noble red-wine appelations, Barolo and Barbaresco, within the Langhe, and a straight Nebbiolo Langhe which, however, could legally have been sold as a Barbaresco. The fourth wine is a Barbera d'Asti, from the region roughly north of the Langhe, around the town of Asti.
The 2005 "La Loggia" Barolo, at around $15 from Trader Joe's (probably sold out in many TJ's), while not at the level of true greatness that the appellation is apparently capable of, is an excellent wine and a great bargain. It is on the light side of medium-bodied, somewhat tight or closed, but with some good raspberry flavor, hints of carameliness or vanilla in the nose and mouth, perhaps violets or rose petals or at any rate something floral, though only a hint, and most interestingly a definite rhubarb-ish note that I've found in some other Barolos and Barbarescos and that is very pleasant, becoming more noticeable in the finish. Reasonably well balanced and smooth. Tannins are noticeable, showing a bit of bite but not in a harsh way, and feel relatively fine-grained. This is not a blockbuster complex Barolo, nor does it exactly have a silky velvety feel that the lusher, more immediately appealing ones do, but it is not priced like high-end Barolos either. And it definitely gives a taste of some of the characteristics Nebbiolo exhibits in these high-end wines, and is a very enjoyable and interesting wine in its own right.
The 2009 "Rocca dell'Olmo" Barbaresco, $10 from TJ's, is an even better value. It doesn't show much in the nose, perhaps a bit of strawberry, but in the mouth is fuller bodied than the Barolo, opening up over time in the glass though still not acquiring much of a nose. Flavors are more intense, with strawberry, perhaps cherry, perhaps floral notes again, and darker, more mineral notes along with the pleasing and interesting rhubarb-like flavor mentioned in connection with the La Loggia above. The finish maintains the same flavors experienced with the wine in the mouth, but is extraordinarily long and flavorful, definitely the most impressive aspect of this wine. Tannins are a bit more pronounced and have a peppery, slightly coarser-grained feel than those in the Barolo, but are definitely under control and not coarse. This went extremely well with a vegetarian supper of quinoa and a salad of chopped red and green peppers, tomatoes, feta, and mint dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The rhubarb-ish vegetal elements apparently echoed and complemented these tastes nicely.
I bought 5 or 6 more of these to age after trying this bottle. The finish on this is first-rate, what one would expect from a great wine, and if bottle-age gives it a significant and complex bouquet, as seems possible, it will in fact have developed into a great or near-great wine... for 10 bucks. We will see. If this works, I'm guessing it will peak at around 3-7 years (from now, i.e. 7-11 years from the vintage). An extraordinary value in any case.
The third Nebbiolo is a plain Nebbiolo delle Langhe 2009 from Sottimano. A bit more expensive ($22, not including mixed-half-case-discount, from the Casa Sena wine shop in Santa Fe). This is a really excellent wine. The description of the 2010 vintage, linked above, makes it clear that the wine could legal be labeled Barbaresco (from the "cru" area of Basarin, in fact), but has been downclassified by the winery to Langhe Nebbiolo because the vines are youngish (13-14 years old at the time of the 2009 vintage), and "cannot yet express the richness of polyphenols or all the aromas and the "nuances" that an important cru like this could have." That right there tells you something about the values and aims of this winery: many US wineries would have no problem considering vines that old more than ready for their higher-priced bottlings. When tasted just after opening, this wine seems a bit on the light and tight side, with fine but slightly aggressive tannins, but still quite flavorful and balanced, with much more of a nose (still red berries but also typical Nebbiolo floral elements) than the Rocca dell'Olmo. It rapidly opens up to become a bit more velvety and smooth on the palate than the Rocca, the tannins starting to carry the flavor around the mouth and make it stick, the flavors developing to include more definite notes of caramel and hints of minerality. Good length of finish, maybe less dark and mineral than the Rocca's, but still complex. I got the feeling from this wine's opening up to be fairly complex, but grapey and natural, and intense on the palate, that it was likely unfiltered. Sure enough, looking at it in the glass (the color is relatively toward the violet rather than red end of the red-wine spectrum) one can see a slight cloudiness of grapey particulate matter, and the Sottimano website confirms that it's neither filtered nor fined. A very good sign. From the website, it looks like the other wines they make are high-end Barolos and Barbarescos from named vineyards; Casa Sena has some of them, priced in the $60ish range. These probably are fuller-bodied, somewhat more tannic, and probably really need at least 7 years of age, perhaps substantially more. The Langhe Nebbiolo is good now, will likely benefit substantially from about 3-5 years of aging, but is not going to need (or perhaps, handle) the aging that the Barolos and Barbarescos do. Still, a very serious wine from what is clearly a very serious estate, a real taste of what serious winemaking with a light touch can do to grapes from an area with real terroir, and another excellent bargain even though not cheap. On my next visit to Casa Sena, I scarfed up the last two bottles for my cellar, and it looks like that may be the last of the 2009 around here. (Kokoman, at Pojoaque Pueblo, now has the 2010 though...).
Finally, there's the 2010 Rocca dell'Olmo Barbera d'Asti. Barbera makes fairly full-bodied, lusty wines with elements of leafiness, often fairly chewy tannins, and a bit of dark complexity. Matt Kramer has said it's rubber-like. Barbera from Asti (southeast of Turin---Barbaresco separates it from the Alba region and the Barolo appelation) is usually less expensive, and a bit more acidic, even sharper, than Barbera d'Alba. This wine has a bit of that sharpness, but also the full body, chewy tannins, and tasty autumn-leafy flavors that are usually evident in Barbera d'Alba. An excellent buy at $6. From TJ's again, of course; I'm guessing Rocca dell'Olmo is a label put together for them by some Piedmontese négociant with whom they have a big contract. Perhaps this négociant has the local connections to buy up lots of wine from producers in the high-end appelations, that end up being not quite up to the standards of the super-expensive producers, perhaps because they are lighter than desired, slightly unbalanced, or just didn't fit into the final blend. It seems to me that that may be one of TJ's major modus operandi in both Europe and California (though in the latter case, many of the wines get sold under TJ's own name). The somewhat lower standards and much lower prices, though, probably apply mainly to the high end appelations (Barbaresco and Barolo in this case). This Barbera d'Asti is in no way an inferior example: it is just what a Barbera d'Asti should be, not super-complex or elegant, but a good full-bodied wine tasting fully of the Barbera grape, with just the right hint of the Asti tartness and acidity, an excellent wine to have with strongly flavored foods, and priced, I think, at about what such a bottle would cost in Italy.
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.
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.
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.)