Trader Joe's Alert!

August 24, 2010

La Ferme Julien Rose 2009


Do you remember what it was like to open up the fridge on a hot summer day and see it there... that bright red, wiggly, jiggly dish of fun? I just loved when mom made jello and that is the memory reserve I tap into when it is 110 degrees outside and I open my fridge and see La Ferme Julien Rose. It just makes me grin. Same vibrant color, same promise of fruity fun. This is totally my go-to wine in the summer. Bright, strawberry red juice that is so crystal clear it seems almost shiny in the glass and vibrant red berry and cherry flavors that zing your tongue. I love that it is a little fuller bodied with a clean layer of acidity that keeps it balanced and super refreshing. And at 13% alcohol, there is not even a hint of sweetness. You can easily polish off this bottle if you're not careful.

Serve it with just about anything. Seriously, it is ridiculously food friendly... shawarma and hummus, burgers and dogs on the grill, BBQ chicken chopped salad, potlatch seasoned and planked salmon... the options are endless. Just be sure you don't serve it too cold. If you open it and it seems sort of bitter and flavorless, let it warm up just a teensy bit and enjoy. At $5.99 a bottle at Trader Joe's it can easily become addictive.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

March 9, 2009

Epicuro Vermentino 2007

epiVermentino.jpgVARIETAL: Vermentino
REGION: Lazio, Italy

Well it isn't the most interesting of the Italian Vs (Vernaccia, Verdichio, etc) but the Epicuro Vermentino is pretty pleasant for $4.99. Hailing from Lazio, which is the region containing Rome that geographically makes up the shin of the boot, all of the depth of this wine is in the aromatics-- bright melon and floral notes are abundant, layered with ripe stone fruit and just a hint of citrus. But the flavor profile is a bit more shallow. On the palate this Vermentino hints at the flavors that you associate with the aromas, but it never quite makes it to the party. Still, it is light and bright and pleasant. There is certainly nothing bad about this one and I think, for the money, it would make a lovely summer party wine. Stock up at your local Trader Joe's or wherever you can find Epicuro wines.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

February 8, 2008

Two from the boot - Epicuro Salice Salentino and Aglianico

Often, the easiest means of finding cheap and fun wines is to go for what the locals drink. If you decided to see Italy on a Vespa you would find tiny little enclaves in regions that produce hard-to-pronounce grapes you've never heard of. These simple wines stir the senses and leave you imagining you're sipping liquid happiness from a bistro glass while watching the sunset over the Adriatic Sea, even when you're peering out your kitchen window at a pile of snow. These are two great contenders that will transport you:

Epicuro Salice Salentino Riserva 2003
Normally I would steer clear of $4.99 wines if they have a vintage from 5 years ago (scary!) but I couldn't resist giving this one a shot. Epicuro wines are generally great value wines and this one is no exception. Crafted from 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera, this rich, ripe, lush wine gets its intensity from the hot and dry climate of Apuglia, the region that runs from the spur to the heel of the boot. Salice Salentino is always a great go-to wine if you are a red lover and just looking for a glass to unwind, but it will be a great match for rustic meat dishes like osso bucco, roast venison or any kind of stewed beef.
Epicuro Aglianico 2004
Aglianico is a fascinating and historical grape varietal found mostly in Basilicata, that area of the boot between the heel and the toe that, for lack of a better term, makes up the arch. Much like Apuglia, it is hot and dry and the resulting wine is intense and spicy with distinct notes of blackberry and a cracked black pepper finish. It also has a punch of acidity that makes it a natural complement to any Italian dish smothered in red sauce (including pizza) and most red meat dishes. It is a great buy for $5.99, but stay away from the 2004 vintage. It is past its prime . . . look for 2005 or later and you won't be disappointed.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

June 10, 2006

2004 J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Chardonnay

For $10, the J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Chardonnay (Monterey County) is a bargain. We liked it so much we drank a bottle two nights in a row - first with a salmon with a citrus sauce and last night with lemon/olive oil pork chops. My father-in-law, not usually a chardonnay fan, really liked this wine (Mmmmm. Very good, he said). So did the partner in tasting (PIT). So I picked up another bottle at Trader Joe's. I served this wine quite cold and liked it because it was smooth and light-- citrusy/pear in the mouth with a lot of vanilla (Big, big on the oak.) Nothing cloying or overblown about this chardonnay. Why it's called Riverstone? This from the winemaker:

The vines are grown primarily on Elder loam soils underlain by "riverstones" deposited over thousands of years from the Arroyo Seco River, allowing a four-foot rooting zone that keeps the vines¡¯ vegetative growth and fruit in balance. Additionally, the cool climate and winds of the Salinas Valley extend the growing season and retain the natural grape acids and intense varietal character of the Chardonnay.

Here are a few other reviews of this wine at

Grade: 2 1/2 stars.....A notch above a solid table wine. I'm not big on a lot of chardonnay, but I'd buy six bottles of this wine to have on hand if we had room.

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May 26, 2006

2004 Fontana Candida Pinot Grigio

The PIT (Partner in Tasting) popped the cork on a bottle of 2004 Fontana Candida Pinot Grigio ($8.99 Trader Joe's) last night and filled a glass for himself, conveniently forgetting about me, the wine blogger. I demanded a glass, with high hopes, as I like many cheap Italian Pinot Grigio wines.

Pinos grigio is white wine made with the pinot gris grape. Pinot gris is the best-known "white" variant-clone of Pinot Noir, according to the Professional Friends of Wine website. Some pinot gris is grown in Burgundy. In Germany, it is known as ruländer.

I usually drink Pinot Grigio with my sister because it's the only wine that doesn't give her migraines. (Poor girl!) She wasn't missing much with this bottle. The problem wasn't how this wine tasted. No, this wine was pretty easy on the tongue -- crisp and light with nice citrus. My issues were with the before and after: it smelled like cat pee and had a rough finish. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to identify the bitter after-taste. I wound up thinking it might have been rubber mixed with dandeloin greens or something like that.

Score: 1 1/2 stars. I wouldn't dump the bottle, but wouldn't finish half of it either. I drank half a glass, wincing a tad after a few sips.

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May 11, 2006

2003 Chateau Mayne Guyon Cotes De Blaye

The Partner in Tasting tried this 2003 Chateau Mayne Guyon Cotes De Blaye the other night and unfortunately left most of it in the bottle. This was a Trader Joe's wine that cost $6.99. This wine is from the right bank of the Girond, an area that is known for red and white bordeaux. I had seen this wine at TJs before and decided to stray from my usual picks this time and go with the French again.

I took a sniff of this bottle and decided not to taste it. I wasn't really in the mood. Sometimes you just aren't in a drinking frame of mind. I think this happens to me after I have a cold (a whopping two-weeker this time around, thanks to the toddler germ factory), but the PIT agreed to stand in for me. Warning: he is a man of few words. He either likes it or he doesn't. He is partial to bigger reds, so I was nervous about his opinion of a more restrained, lighter french wine.

But when we tasted a bunch of French wines awhile back he surprised me by highly rating a number of bottles. He definitely didn't like this one. Yes, it's cheap, he said, and it tastes it. It doesn't really taste like anything, he told me. Kinda blah. Not a lot of fruit. Not a wine I would buy again. I'd like to offer a bit more description for you all, but there's not a whole lot out there in Googleland about this wine.

The PIT gives this wine one star, a bottle you wouldn't finish with a friend or PIT. (Here's a review of the 2002 Chateau Mayne Guyon from, a wine blog) Quaffability says this wine, a 2002 not the 2003, is quaffable but nothing to get excited about.

By the way, I am accepting all thoughtsfor what to do with old corks. We've got a garbage bag full of them under our sink, testament to our booziness over the past four or five years. We thought about making a wreath but I think we have enough corks to cover the National Cathedral with wreaths. Perhaps we could build a backyard irrigation system? Help!

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April 24, 2006

Whining About Wallaby Wine

An article that ran in yesterday's business section of the NY Times trumpets the success of cheap Australian Yellow Tail brand wine (You know, those wines with the label that features a leaping wallaby, which many mistake for a kangaroo). Yellow Tail gets yet more ink in a separate Times magazine article, too, which discusses the trend toward using cute animals (so-called "critter labels") to pimp more wine. While the wallaby label might be eye-grabbing and the use of its likeness savvy marketing on the maker's part, the Yellow Tail shiraz, in my humble opinion, has more in common with Dr. Pepper than it does with a good, solid bottle of red wine. Yeah, it's $6 a bottle and for that price you can buy it by the case at Costco and load up the ole Suburban. Its fans (This wine has many; Its shiraz is the best-selling red in the country and the company made $77 million off its largely U.S.-based sales last fiscal year) say it tastes better than most $8 or even $10 bottles of American wines. Um, I beg to differ. If we are talking bigger producers, give me a bottle of J. Lohr or Ravenswood (I whine about this wine, too, but it IS better) any day and dump the Wallaby off the Golden Gate!
Americans are drinking more wine than ever, which we are annoyingly reminded of in every article about wine these days. I question whether this has anything to do with the enjoyment of wine. Maybe it's all the talk about the wine/heart health connection and the whole French paradox. (Drink red wine. Eat steak with butter. Sit on your ass. Get skinny) My inkling is that it might have everything to do with the sugar fix increasingly required by our increasingly diabetic nation. Beer, of course, gets you hammered. But it isn't sweet. And it gives you gas. In the Times article, Jon Fredrikson, a California wine industry consultant, is on to something when he calls Yellow Tail "the perfect wine for a public grown up on soft drinks." In other words: sugar junkies.
But Dr. Pepper, at under $1 for a 12-ounce can, doesn't come with quite the kick of a glass of Yellow Tail. But the kick shouldn't be the only thing that matters, as New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik eloquently argues here. Wine is about more than the buzz. It's about the ritual, the wine's story, its label, the lore.
That said, I found this article, which describes how so-called wine experts couldn't taste the difference between white wine dabbled with food coloring and red wine both hysterical (and humbling even though I'd never consider myself an expert). Maybe at our next blind wine tasting party I will hide a bottle of Yellow Tail among a bunch of other wines and see if I can tell the difference. Not sure I could.

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April 3, 2006

The French are Coming!

Yes, Sunday is the great day of the next tasting. We'll try to cover some new white and red French wines and rate them using the NEW Cheapfunwines star rating system. Instead of doing points, a la Wine Spectator, we are copping the New York Times system of using stars. I figured this would be easier since I was always so challenged by numbers as a child. Anyhow, the PIT (partner in tasting) and I got off to a good start last night with the French during dinner at our friends' house. We tried two excellent affordable white wines. First was a 2003 Sebastien Roux Meursault and the second was a 2003 Domaine Andre Vatan Sancerre Les Charmes. (We got it backward, starting with the chardonnay and moving on the sauvignon blanc) One of the main reasons why I find French wine so confusing is that there are references to about 10 things on the label, all of it, of course, in French. I am consulting Wine for Dummies now for navigation tips. The book, rather simply, says France has five wine regions and each are known for certain types of wines. Most French wines are named after multiple places, which I knew. The problem, for me, is that there are always so many places listed on the label and since it's in French, it's more confusing.

Getting back to the wines we tried last night...The first, the 2003 Sebastien Roux Meursault, is a Chardonnay from Meursault, which is located in the Burgundy region South of Paris, which is known for great whites and reds. I really enjoyed this wine, which at $10 is a steal and worthy of 2 1/2 stars -- a notch above a solid table wine.
From At this price ($9.99 at Trader Joe's) and with this pedigree it is hard to find anything seriously wrong with this bottle. Great fruit, soft nose, distinctive mineraliness of this region of France. I'm getting more of these today and plan on laying them down and drinking one every six months for the next five years to see if there is any development of that classic Meursault flavor. For this price it's going to be a better bet than almost all of the allegedly age worthy chardonnays available. Cellartracker is a pretty cool resource I just discovered today.

Our second wine, the Les Charmes Sancerre, (about $14) is reviewed at Cellartracker, too: pale golden blonde appearance. Lots of pear, hint of fennel seed, with a (not entirely unpleasant) reminder of windex on the nose. nice. Kind of muddled taste. Flabby. Tried serving colder, but still flat. Needs more citrus or acidic balance.

I tasted heavy pear in this wine, too, and found it light and refreshing. I'm not quite there yet when it comes to identifying a wine as "flabby." So far, this description is strictly reserved for thighs. A tasting course I am planning to take this month should help me unveil the flabbyness in a wine, too. I give this wine two stars.

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March 20, 2006

Some Super Tuscan Picks

Our friend Glenn is becoming quite the wine snob, or so we hear. Of late, he is very into Super Tuscan blends and has found two bottles to recommend from Trader Joe's that are super cheap, like his budget.

1) A 2001 Nuvola Vecchia, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and %10 Merlot. "I had a party with about 20 people and had everyone bring a "decent" bottle from $10-20," he says. By far the best of the bunch was this wine, he says, and when confronted, the buyer confessed it came from TJ's for six bucks. Well don't I feel like a dope. I posted this a few minutes ago forgetting that this is also my favorite TJ's cheap purchase lately. I just wasn't identifying with the whole Super Tuscan thing. Now I know. I've had a lesson in Tuscan and Tempranillo these past few days. My neighbor brought this wine to a dinner party recently and she said even her most wine snobbiest friends raved about it.

2) A 2004 Santa Christina. 100% Sangiovese by Antinori, the inventor of the Super Tuscan and maker of the famous Tignanello. Also really good and only $8 at TJ's. I haven't had this one yet. Time to try it.

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March 16, 2006

A Big Yellow Cab

As I drank this wine, a 2003 Big Yellow Cab from Mendocino, I was thinking about its clever, screaming yellow taxi cab label. It is pure marketing magic and I am surprised no other winery thought of marketing a Cab with a yellow cab first. Thankfully, it's an OK wine, though a little pricy for what you get. (I paid $8.99 on sale at Trader Joe's for this bottle, which usually costs about $10). This wine smells like a plum and does take a bit of time to open up to really taste the dark cherry. I drank it with some pork and brussel sprouts. Yes, we should all eat our creepy little brussel sprouts, particularly when they are sauteed in some olive oil with a shot of chicken broth and lots of ground pepper.
Me Likeeee, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, and I might buy the Yellow Cab again if it was $6.99. I think I am getting pickier and cheaper as I blog along.
Here's another opinion of this wine, which calls it nothing remarkable for the money. Mitchell Pressman, who writes this blog, (Gosh, why do people who write about wine always have names like Mitchell and Hoyt?!) recommends, for about the same price, that we drink a Bishop's Peak "Rock Solid Red" '03, Paso Robles, instead. It's a blend of Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Franc. Sounds good to me.

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January 31, 2006

New Favorite Wines From TJs

There are some fine wines at Trader Joe’s if you stay clear of that two buck Chuck crap. Even better, their wines are largely cheap! As a journalist, I've always wanted to interview the Trader Joe's wine buyers. They have such a cool job, traipsing around the world sipping new vintages. Lucky dogs! Here's a blog that tracks many Trader Joe's wines. The blogger, JohnG, is a web designer who lives in Sonoma. Like Robert Parker, he scores the wines he reviews on this irreverent site.

My neighbor Velma swears by this Trader Joe's wine from Italy she discovered last year. She turned me on to a 2001Sabbie Di Nuvola Vecchia Toscana and it costs just $6.99 a bottle. It's a Sangiovese variety (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and 12.5% alcohol) from Tuscany and it's pretty darn good. Smooth and fruity and more expensive tasting than its price tag. Occassionally I've had a spoiled bottle (so has my neighbor) but overall its a very drinkable wine. It's nice with pasta and anything you'd normally pair with a good red.

Another red wine I recently tried is the 2003 La Loggia Barbera D’Alba. It's $5.99, too, and I liked it even more than the Toscana. Unfortunately, when I bought a second bottle I couldn't tell if it was spoiled or just inconsistently made. We tossed the bottle. It was AWFUL.

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