Archive for the ‘Good Wine Under $10’ Category

Two pairings for 02-10-2011.On Sale at France 44 right now, 2010 Shepherd’s Cottage [$7.99] and your favorite Roasted Chicken.  This bottle defines value under $10.  It’s dry and full with tropical fruit and minerals.2008 Ercavio Tempranillo Roble [$10.99 at Wine Thief] and Jean Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child on Netflix Instant Streaming.  Simple, fruity, budget Tempranillo – good stuff for the price. [“Cabeza” (1982) print from guyhepner.com

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This is the lastest in my series of TJ Tasting – the follow up to my enormously popular search for the everyday red.  After those tastings, I can definitely recommend the Archeo Nero d’Avola for $5 and your feedback so far has been great! [I noticed an empty bottle of it at my friend Dr. Feelgood’s house just the other day].  I thought I’d do the same with white wines today, but this time with a twist.  I realize that I need to start reviewing wines that I probably wouldn’t otherwise buy for myself.  Each of us carries our respective knowledge, preconceptions and prejudices into a wine store.  I’m especially critical at Trader Joe’s where my wine knowledge conditions me to believe that 80% of the wines will be awful, based on low price and mass-production.  But this clearly isn’t true – there are a number of TJ’s wines I very much enjoy.  So, to keep my purchasing and tasting bias out of the equation, I’ve called in the reinforcements.

For this post I have enlisted the services of my good friends Sir Benjamin of Bloomington, Michael “The Quencher” Ducca and Audrey Gibbs.  I gave Sir Ben $20 and simple instructions – go to Trader Joe’s and buy three different bottles of white [The tab came to $20.27].  All the bottles were kept in paper bags and marked A, B and C.  After an hour of fridge time, the tasting was on.  I had all of us consider each of the three wines based on color, smell and taste, and to give an overall rating of 1-20 based on whatever criteria we chose.  Only Ben knew the identity of the wines – though I’m not sure that he knew which was which during the tasting.

Here they are, in order of consensus overall points rated, from worst to best of tasting:

The Clear Loser: 2009 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio – 46 total points, $7.99.  Wow, was this a bad wine.  When you think of good Pinot Grigio, yout think citrus, herbs, grass, stone – fresh clean bright flavors.  All four of us got hung up on the nose of this wine.  It smelled like bad movie theatre popcorn butter from a cinema like the Hopkins Mann 6 that already smells like elk urine.  Consensus tasting notes – cheap, bland, flabby.  Before the reveal, I guessed this one to be a cheap Chardonnay – which does not speak volumes.  To make it worse, it was the most expensive bottle of the lot.  This is a wine to be avoided at all costs.

The Runner Up: 2008 Camelot Chardonnay, California. 54 total points, $5.49.  This one wasn’t horrible.  To me, it had the nicest color.  It had a decent fruit component to it, apples and bananas were common notes during the tasting (as was ‘baby food’).  Everyone said they would buy this again for the price, but I suppose I can’t recommend it just because there is much better Chardonnay to be had at just a few dollars more (I believe that’ll be an upcoming topic here).

Best Of Tasting: 2009 Tres Pinos Three Pines Cuvee, San Louis Obispo County, CA – 59 total points, $4.99.  What!?! Redemption for Tres Pinos!  In my previous post about Trader Joe’s reds, I was none too kind about Tres Pinos, the TJ exclusive from the San Antonio Winery.  This tasting proves my need for a surrogate shopper because based on the red, I never would have bought the white.  It’s not a stunning wine by any means. This blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Viognier has a light straw color and a very light floral nose.  The sip shows off the Gewurztraminer part of its constituency, with that lychee-heavy middle of the sip, not much of a finish, but the flavors are clean and tasty. Consensus notes – apricot, floral, melon, better as it warms up. After the reveal, all four of us agreed we would buy this again for $5.

So, for those keeping score, the Tres Pinos White goes on the list of G Sheaves approved wines at Trader Joes – though in third place behind the Epicuro Salice Salentino and Archeo Nero d’Avola.  Oh, and tasting note of the evening goes to Michael on the taste of the Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio “bland, but liked it better with each taste – is that a sign of alcoholism?”  Not unless you actually finished the glass of that plonk.

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Whenever I come across stories about people growing up in Southern Italy in the 60’s and 70’s, I marvel at how they all invariably contain versions of the same story; going to the local co-op winery with a ton of empty bottles, filling up on the non-descript blend, and attributing to its consumption almost mystical properties.  I think it’s true – there’s definitely an extra level of enjoyment about good cheap wine.  It feels to me like a victory against the system – a big I-told-you-so to an industry that all too often sneers at the bottom shelf.  Sure I’d love to drink Barolo every day of my life, but as the Italians say, e Cosi – basically, it is how it is.  And it’s in that spirit I continue my penurious treasure hunt.

Is it possible to get decent wine for $5?  That certainly depends on your definition of decent. I believe it is possible and that every wine drinker should have a go-to $5 bottle – a house wine, a Tuesday wine, a “this recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups of red and I want to throw back the rest” wine.  Cheap white wine usually tastes neutral, but not offendingly awful [I’ll post about cheap whites later this month].  Cheap reds, because of the extra winemaking steps involved, make cutting corners a little harder and cheap examples notably worse when they do.  So the only reasonable thing to do is for me to taste a bunch of them to find the needle in the discount haystack.  For a super-wide selection of bottles almost entirely under $10, where else to look but my local Trader Joe’s? [Excelsior & Monterey in St. Louis Park]  They carry the Epicuro Salice Salentino that I’ve written about before which is a very good choice at $5.99.  Today, I present three more contenders for the title of G Sheaves’ new house red:

2008 D’Aquino Gaetano Sangiovese di Toscana [$4.79]  This one doesn’t do it for me.  It had a stuffy nose with not much fruit, or really much of anything.  It comes across as way too thin, not much structure, rather pallid flavor and kind of bitter at the end.  I’m not trying to exact heavy-handed wine criticism on a $5 bottle, I just know of 10 times better Sangioveses to be had at around $8 or $9. Pass.

2009 Tres Pinos Three Pines Cuvee [$4.99] is a Trader Joe’s exclusive made by LA’s San Antonio Winery who doesn’t even list the wine on their website.  The grapes are Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from San Luis Obispo county – basically the leftovers from their better labels.  This is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not what I’m looking for.  There’s some nice dark berry fruit on the nose, but it smells faintly like the trunk of my car after I let a pair of socks I’d played golf in sit there for three weeks.  The attack is tart and fruity, with some pepper and blackberry jam, but as soon as the tannin kicks in on the mid-late sip it turns woody, astringent, unbalanced.  The grape flavors aren’t too compelling, the finish is mostly alcohol and doesn’t leave you wanting more.  Strike Two. [Again, I see the pretension in these kind of tasting notes for a wine that is clearly not intended as a serious effort, just take that as a detailed ‘pass’].

2008 Archeo Nero d’Avola Ruggero di Tasso [$4.99] Yes!!  I was hoping this would turn out a winner and it delivered.  Sicily has a long and storied history of turning out indifferent plonk by the barrel-full, but that reputation has turned the corner and it’s even noticable on the low-end.  This wine has an opaque maroon color, with a dusty, leathery, black cherry nose.  The sip is everything a good cheap wine should be – slightly fruity, smooth and simple.  Starts with cherries and nice astringent woody tannin that envelops the whole sip of jammy dark fruit and earth.  The body is on the heavier side of medium, acidity is pretty low.  The finish is short and dry with lingering mild spice.  Drink this with any red-sauced pasta, steak, or ideally a Maximus from Pizza Luce.

Trader Joe’s tastings will become a regular feature here.  I promise to find you the best bottle under $10 in that store.  Right now, the Epicuro Salice Salentino holds a slight edge over today’s winner.  For further TJ study, read this blog for a guy who has been on a Trader Joe’s wine search for quite a while – I like his style.

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For many wine drinkers, myself included, a taste of a certain wine transports you through space and time to the very instance you first experienced it.  Epicuro Salice Salentino [$5.99 at Trader Joe’s] does somewhat in that I remember tasting it first after a G&T fueled video poker binge at the Sahara in Vegas, followed by a double-double at In n Out //[it tasted good].

In my never-ending search for good, cheap wine, it’s easy to rely on my local Trader Joe’s [Excelsior & Monterey].  TJ is a seductive option to fill a case of wine from France 44 that has dwindled to six and Epicuro is one of their brands I can say I consistently enjoy for the price.  They make a Vermentino from Lazio that has a fresh-rocky-citrus tang [my TJ also carries this], and I’ve heard their Nero d’Avola and Aglianico are good as well, though I have not had them.  I would not doubt both of those have great QPR as well.

Salice Salentino is a D.O.C. blend from Puglia [heel of the boot], made from a majority of Negroamaro grapes with some Malvasia Nera [Epicuro’s is 80-20].  Negroamaro is almost exclusively grown in southern Italy where it produces rustic, earthy tasting wines.  In concert with the more aromatic Malvasia Nera, it makes a delicious, easy-drinking lighter bodied blend.  Epicuro’s 2006 riserva [in this case meaning a 24 month aging, i think] sports an inky dark color with a dusty nose and a cherry-sweet attack with some body on the back-side.  For $6, it sports straightforward, honest fruitiness – I can’t complain.  For a bit more serious effort, i recommend Taurino’s Salice Salentino [Surdyk’s, usually for around $10-11], maybe a bit lighter bodied but much more perfumed [smoky].  I would also recommend this wine to you white-whinos as a good, fruity cross-over wine for the tannin-shy [same goes for Parducci Sustainable Red].

Waiting for the sun to come out.  I heard possibility of 80s this weekend//#dontfailmebelinda// that’ll mean some Wine@MSP shots, hopefully.

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