Hunting for White Wine Bargains at Trader Joe’s

The Back Story:

A couple weeks ago, I offered up a couple red wine bargains from Trader Joe’s (the results of which you can see here) for all of you spending-conscious people out there. During the process, I realized that the single greatest bargain I had found so far (not hyperbole) had as of yet not been committed to writing (or whatever literary verb best describes typing on a keyboard and placing your thoughts in cyberspace (RIP Gutenberg) ).

First, this inspired a flood of parentheticals (as good wines are wont to do), but once I had surmounted my obsession with these wonderful (and addictive) punctuation marks (temporarily, obviously), I opened up another bottle of said wine (for timely research, of course) along with a recommended wine from Catherine Mears (@catmears if you’re a Twitter kind of person).

The two wines we’re going to be profiling today are the 2008 Honey Moon Viognier, my personal vote for the greatest bargain wine out there, and the 2009 Vinas Chilenas Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, my personal vote for… a pretty good wine in its own right.

You don’t have to take my word on the Honey Moon, either. When I first got into the online wine world, I happened upon the Cheap Wine Challenge being hosted by Raelinn at Wine Ophelia. I seconded Dezel’s Honey Moon nomination, which you can see at My Vine Spot. Definitely check it out, as he describes in detail when he entered the Honey Moon into several blind tastings. Of course, the Honey Moon, at $4, dominated the competition. Jason also throws his support behind this gem at Jason’s Wine Blog and gives a little more background for it as well.

Need my word on it still? Fine, let’s go to the board.

The Results:

honey moon label2008 Honey Moon Viognier, from California

The appearance of the wine is a light gold. It displays a fairly high viscosity and appears to have a smooth, full texture.

The nose of the wine is almost entirely tropical. With notes of mango, apricot, and honey, it smells just like mango nectar. At 13.5% alcohol, you can barely tell it’s there. This is a wonderfully aromatic wine.

The mouth feel of the wine is very crisp, full-bodied but not syrupy. It has an active acidity that stands up to the considerable sweetness very well.

The flavor of the wine is also largely tropical. The attack is a wonderful blend of peach and honey with a tropical fruit and minerality blend on the mid-palate.  The medium-long finish consists of mango and grapefruit. The acidity and alcohol match the considerable flavors and sweetness extremely well. This wine has every opportunity to become a syrupy mess, but it exhibits an incredible harmony.

Price ranges from $4 to $6, and it’s worth more than twice that. 9/10

2009 Vinas Chilenas Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, from Chile

Vinas Chilenas Sauvignon Blanc LabelThe appearance of the wine is very pale greenish-gold. The swirl suggests a medium viscosity and a lean texture.

The nose of the wine has a very strong citrus. I’m getting pineapple, peach, and a light, sweet floral scent like honeysuckle.

The mouth feel of the wine is rather light-bodied, a little bit oily, with a firm tanginess.

The flavor of the wine is, like the nose, a heavy citrus. Main fruit flavors are lime and pineapple, followed by a tart apple. There’s a slight hint of tropical fruit and a medium finish of peach. The wine has a crisp acidity, making it off-dry with a noticeable but not heavy sweetness. The alcohol flavor is subdued at 13.5% and props up the flavor well.

This one didn’t wow me like the Honey Moon, but it’s an above average wine at an inches-from-the-floor price of $4 to $6. 7/10

For the Casual Drinker:

The Honey Moon is an aggressive, sweet, acidic, fruity monster. I love to uncork this wine and just relax, letting the potent flavors and sensations wash over me. The Vinas Chilenas is a more subdued specimen, still fantastic in its own right but one that really shines when its paired with a deserving food. Try a chicken or seafood, maybe a creole chicken pasta or shrimp scampi. There’s enough sweetness there to handle a little heat, and the flavors are well suited to either a cream-sauce or a simpler pasta offering.

The Conclusion:

As I’ve generally found with bargain wines, the bargain whites have outperformed the reds. I’ve still got plenty of bargains to choose from, though, so I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this experiment in the near future (sometime when I’m a little cash strapped).

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 6

The Backstory:

I’m noticing a trend in my higher-scoring boxed wines, and it’s something that I set out to prove with this experiment. Artisanal wineries are beginning to use the boxed wine packaging to great benefit. Now that I’ve had my third offering from them, I can safely say now without feeling like a shill that Octavin Home Wine Bar is leading the charge of bringing boxed wine out of the supermarket territory and into the, well, the wine bar territory. I’ve paid for one of theirs (the Pinot Evil) and received two samples so far, and those three are my top scoring boxed wines thus far. See my review of the Monthaven Chardonnay for a description of their business model.

The 2008 Big House Red is a California blend of thirteen different varietals. It might sound like a lot, but the 2006 blend actually had twenty grapes that went into the mix. The winemaker, Georgetta Dane, essentially sets out every year to create a dynamic blend out of a vast palette of varietals. This year, the winning varietals were as follows: Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Montepuliciano, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Algianico, Tannat, Nero D’Avola, Sargentino, Touriga, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. I can’t even begin to crunch the individual characteristics each varietal brings to the blend, but as far as the overall wine is concerned, I’ve got you covered.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a very deep reddish violet, a pure translucency with a bright violet tint at the edge. The swirl suggests a somewhat thin texture and viscosity.

The nose of the wine is rather hot with notes of black cherry and redcurrant. There’s a certain baking spice smell to it, leather, and and a perfume-y floral scent that’s heavy in violets.

The mouth feel of the wine is medium-bodied with a somewhat lean and dusty texture. It’s a far cry from the “big red” feel that the varietals in the blend would suggest. That’s not a knock against it, it’s just a bit unusual.

The flavor of the wine is an interesting profile of an atypical “fruit bomb.” It’s jammy, I definitely get that, but there’s a distinct absence of the typical sweeter red and black vine and tree fruits. The fruit I’m getting on the attack is cranberry, matched very well by a very light, powdery dryness. It has a surprisingly meek flavor considering the varietals involved and the alcohol level of 13.5%. It’s almost harmonious; the acidity is a bit low but palpable. The alcohol, however, integrates very well into the flavor. The tannins are softer than you would expect, but with the nuanced flavor, it’s a good balance. There are also hints of plum, allspice, and vanilla on the mid-palate. I’m getting oak, but it’s not overwhelming. There’s a medium finish of rhubarb, which is actually a pleasant flavor to fade out on.

For the Casual Drinker:

This wine has the potential to be a big, hearty fruit bomb, but the enormous blend softens it out and tones down the fruit flavors with some vegetable and floral qualities. It’s not sweet, not too potent, not overly alcoholic… it’s an all-around smooth and nuanced wine. It’s bigger than a Pinot Noir, meeker than a Syrah, and leaner than a Cabernet Sauvignon. This limits its pairing options: it’s more suited to a cheese or pork dish, something that doesn’t contain an overwhelming amount of spice, pepper, and tomato. I tried it with a tamer creole-chicken-based pasta dish, and the wine was just mellow enough to match.

The Conclusion:

This is the first boxed wine I’ve experienced so far that I would absolutely recommend to someone. It certainly surpasses the quality of most bottled wines in its price range (at $21.99 for 3 liters, it would retail at approximately $5.50 per bottle). I’d rank it well above the Pinot Evil, which was my front-runner for the best boxed wine thus far. 7/10

Also good to see the discriminating drinker over at Drink Hacker giving this a try. Check out the glowing review of this wine as well as the not-quite-as-glowing review of the Monthaven Chardonnay

Note: this wine was provided by the distributor as a sample.

I missed this yesterday, but for a second opinion on this wine, check out Brian Wing’s Norcal Wingman for his review posted May 10.

Current Line-up:

Big House Red, California 2008

  • Week 0 – 7/10 – lean, light texture, floral and red-fruit flavors, good balance, slightly hot nose, medium finish

Wine Cube California Vintner’s Red Blend 2008

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – weak structure, heavy oak nose, red-fruit profile, heavy vanilla oak flavor, light-bodied, very short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – exactly the same as before. Somehow, and I don’t know how, this sweet vanilla red wine manages to be drinkable.

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium-bodied, way too bitter finish.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – similar balance in acidity and alcohol, similar flavors and nose, similar bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – starting to taste a bit more imbalanced, flavors and nose have faded slightly, finish is less bitter

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Still hot on the tongue, balanced acidity, flavors are all holding true. Nose hasn’t changed.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose and flavor are still the same, mediocre but not any worse.
  • Week 3 – 2/10 – A slightly unusual, chemical flavor is starting to come forward. It’s really affecting the flavor.

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – slightly imbalanced acidity, balanced alcohol, earthy nose, red fruit flavor, short finish, slight metallic undertaste.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Still as fresh as when it was opened. Similar earthiness, red fruits, short finish, slightly imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Still tasting pretty fresh. Still balanced. Flavor tastes on par with previous tastings.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Flavor is beginning to diminish, causing the alcohol flavor and metallic taste to come through more.
  • Week 4 – 4/10 – Holding steady from last week. Still a slightly off flavor, but it hasn’t diminished since.

Retired Line-up:

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – imbalanced acidity and alcohol, smooth texture, no loss in flavor, hot nose, maybe a bit more bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Still imbalanced, same texture, flavor, and nose. Holding its meager flavor well.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – There’s something a little off on the flavor, but it’s not enough to drop the score. Still mostly the same.
  • Week 4 – 2/10 – Tastes very soft now, like the structure is beginning to deteriorate. Weak flavor, alcohol is strangely no longer prominent in the flavor
  • Week 5 – 2/10 – The flavor profile is very different. Very soft, very meek, hardly representative of the big fruit that preceded it.
  • Average score: 2.6/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 3/10. Had a pretty decent stay, though it came from humble beginnings. If nothing else, you’ve got over a month to drink it.

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – lost nothing on the nose, lost some flavor, still very imbalanced acidity, similar mouth feel, texture, increased sourness
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Nose and flavor are starting to get musty, still overly acidic, beginning to taste flat, metallic, alcohol flavor still balanced
  • Week 3 – 1/10 – Nose and flavor lost distinguishing characteristics. Taste mostly of acid and alcohol. Flavor is officially wince-inducing. Consider this guy retired.
  • Average score: 2.5/10. Length of stay = 3 weeks. Final score is 2/10. Started off all right, but deteriorated too quickly to make it a contender for the best boxed wine.

Chardonnay as a (sort of) Cold Medicine

The Backstory:

This week has been an absolute hell of being not healthy for me. I overworked my body playing in the sun all weekend and developed a stomach bug in the process. Combining an exhausted me with an aggressive microbe leads to decidedly unfortunate consequences. I finally recovered enough last night to uncork and really enjoy a wine again. Since my experience with tasting food and drink was like drinking stale milk and chewing paper for 3 straight days, I needed something with enough oomph to knock my palate around and bring me back to life. Unfortunately, after that one glorious night of getting a taste of wine, I’m back under the weather with yet another ailment. This one’s got the nose and throat on lockdown, so it looks like last night’s affair will have to get me through the week.

What’s the 2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Chardonnay got for me in regards to helping me get back on the wine-tasting horse? It comes from the Mendoza Valley, specifically the colder area that rests above 1000 m.a.s.l. (meters above sea level). This area is particularly kind to the noble grapes and Malbec, leading to a rapid growth of wineries in the area. The propensity for high acidity in this region combined with the proven quality of the plantings here means you can expect a fuller, better developed white wine. Is it enough to suit my convalescent palate? You bet your stemless Bordeaux glass, it is.

The Results:

2009 Gouguenheim Chardonnay bottleThe appearance of the wine is a light gold color with a noticeable depth. It appears to have a medium texture, not syrupy but substantial.

The nose of the wine is rather rustic; it has a very orchard-y smell, consisting primarily of ripe apples, pear cider, and peach for the fruit combined with a light floral scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is actually fairly delicate. It’s medium-bodied, but its texture feels lighter and more airy as it moves about the mouth.

The flavor of the wine is what stands out the most. It is very dry, but it has a very full fruit flavor. The attack is heavy ripe apples and pineapple, and you can easily detect the decent alcohol (13%) and high acidity. The acidity is prominently featured in the flavor, and it would simply overwhelm the wine if the flavors weren’t so expressive and it didn’t have that touch of sweetness. There’s a distinct hint of honeysuckle and buttery cheese, a pleasant diversion from the usual orchard fruits I was expecting, and a medium peach finish. As it stands, the only knock I have against this wine is it’s just a little imbalanced… too much alcohol heat and acidity for the flavor. If it weren’t so robust, it would utterly fall apart.

The Conclusion:

Coming out of a sickness that impacted my ability to taste, this was a fantastic wine to bring be back from the brink. With a lively acidity, full, robust flavor, and enough sweetness to match the aggressiveness, it makes for a great under-$10 white wine. 6/10

Note: this wine was provided by the distributor as a sample.

Bonus wine-pairing:

Coma Therapy by Strata. A normally hard-rock-styled band with a vocalist who has some serious pipes tones it down just enough to make an edgy, ominous ballad. A wine with a serious kick and acidity tempers the aggressiveness with some sweetness and cool flavors. Enjoy!

My Letter Regarding HR 5034 to Our Representatives

I wanted to post my letter that I wrote to Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan and Representative David E. Price, all my Congressional representatives in North Carolina.

For those of you unfamiliar with HR 5034, the resolution is a bill pushed by the National Beer Wholesalers of America and currently co-sponsored by 22 members of the House of Representatives that seeks to restrict the federal government’s ability to determine alcohol shipping policy. Their eventual goal is to get protection from the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution so that states can restrict or even prohibit direct shipping from wineries to consumers. The result will be that distributors will take even more control of wine distribution in the country, restricting our freedom to buy wine directly from wineries. What this means is you will only be able to buy the wine that is sold in stores in your area. No more ordering online. There is no logical reason to do this for our sake. We as consumers don’t need this heinous “protection.”

I’m asking for your support in defeating HR 5034. Passing this measure will severely limit our ability to choose which wines we purchase, putting our selection at the mercy of distributors who are more concerned about their profits than our choice. The many states that currently allow direct shipping prove that the current system works for us. Why take away our freedom of choice in the name of special interests?

This is an issue of individual and business rights. While the National Beer Wholesalers of America (NBWA) is ostensibly lobbying on behalf of states’ rights, what they are actually doing is trying to trample our individual rights while soliciting special favors from states. The only goal of this federal law is to eliminate any judicial recourse we would have in defeating laws that would needlessly and negatively impact wineries. It would effectively create a loophole in the explicit Commerce Clause of the U.S.  Constitution.

The Constitution should be above special interests, no matter how much they’re paying Washington. Please consider very carefully how you plan to vote on this measure, as it will indicate whether you truly have the best interests of your constituents in mind.

Sincerely,

Joshua S. Sweeney
If you want to join the fight in preventing this power grab from taking effect, you can do so by writing, emailing, faxing, or calling your Congressional representatives. If you’re unsure of how to do this, you can let Free the Grapes do it for you. Visit their site here:

Simply personalize the letters to the House and Senate members, add your address information, and Free the Grapes will determine your representatives and email or fax your letters to them for you.

Also, please join the Facebook Group Stop HR 5034 for additional info, news, and updates: http://www.facebook.com/STOPHR5034

Please take time to do this. If this bill passes, and your state ends direct shipping, you will only be able to buy what wholesalers provide for you. Being able to try wines from Virginia, Michigan, Arizona, Texas — almost any state you don’t live in, really — will require actually being in those states unless a wholesaler decides to sell it in your hometown.

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 5

The Backstory:

There’s really not much to the story of this wine, the 2008 Vintner’s Red Blend Wine Cube, California. It’s a Target exclusive, out of a set of at least eight varieties, and according to their packaging is the only one to win a significant gold medal. Information about this vintage of the wine is nearly impossible to find. All I have is the packaging to go on: it’s a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, percentages unknown. That’s it.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is more translucent than I would have expected, a deep red with a slight violet tint at the very edge. It appears to be rather thin.

The nose of the wine is primarily red-fruits, though it’s also very oaky, and there are distinct cherry and strawberry scents. At 13.5% alcohol, the nose is a bit hot, but it’s not terrible.

The mouth feel of the wine is rather thin and rather light-bodied. There’s not much structure to this wine.

The flavor of the wine is way overoaked… I’m getting a ton of vanilla and a rather high amount of sweetness, and it’s overwhelming almost all the meager red-fruit flavors. What I can detect is a black cherry and strawberry, and it’s got a rather high amount of alcohol flavor. Very short finish. It honestly tastes like weak vanilla extract.

For the Casual Drinker:

It’s not a typical red, though it’s a more typical cheap red. I cannot see that many people would be willing to drink down 3 liters of this stuff, seeing as how the flavor is so simple and so poorly represented. It must have been pretty bad to get this much oak. You could maybe make sangria with it, though, if you needed a cheap, quick fix for an outdoor party and only had a Target nearby.

The Conclusion:

Based on the fact that there’s an overwhelming vanilla presence, and the result of the winemaking is a too-sweet red wine, I’m tempted to give it a near-undrinkable rating. Since flavor is subjective, though, I’ll relent. After all, though the structure is weak, it’s not an overwhelmingly unpleasant wine. 3/10

Current Line-up:

Wine Cube California Vintner’s Red Blend 2008

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – weak structure, heavy oak nose, red-fruit profile, heavy vanilla oak flavor, light-bodied, very short finish.

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium-bodied, way too bitter finish.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – similar balance in acidity and alcohol, similar flavors and nose, similar bitter finish

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Still hot on the tongue, balanced acidity, flavors are all holding true. Nose hasn’t changed.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose and flavor are still the same, mediocre but not any worse.

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – slightly imbalanced acidity, balanced alcohol, earthy nose, red fruit flavor, short finish, slight metallic undertaste.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Still as fresh as when it was opened. Similar earthiness, red fruits, short finish, slightly imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Still tasting pretty fresh. Still balanced. Flavor tastes on par with previous tastings.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Flavor is beginning to diminish, causing the alcohol flavor and metallic taste to come through more.

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – imbalanced acidity and alcohol, smooth texture, no loss in flavor, hot nose, maybe a bit more bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Still imbalanced, same texture, flavor, and nose. Holding its meager flavor well.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – There’s something a little off on the flavor, but it’s not enough to drop the score. Still mostly the same.
  • Week 4 – 2/10 – Tastes very soft now, like the structure is beginning to deteriorate. Weak flavor, alcohol is strangely no longer prominent in the flavor

Retired Line-up:

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – lost nothing on the nose, lost some flavor, still very imbalanced acidity, similar mouth feel, texture, increased sourness
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Nose and flavor are starting to get musty, still overly acidic, beginning to taste flat, metallic, alcohol flavor still balanced
  • Week 3 – 1/10 – Nose and flavor lost distinguishing characteristics. Taste mostly of acid and alcohol. Flavor is officially wince-inducing. Consider this guy retired.
  • Average score: 2.5/10. Length of stay = 3 weeks. Final score is 2/10. Started off all right, but deteriorated too quickly to make it a contender for the best boxed wine.
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