Monday, January 17, 2011

Trader Joes Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Picked this up on a recommendation from Matt's site, The main problem with Trader Joes is that they have a surfeit of shitty wines and very few good ones. If you're like me, you quickly get bored drinking the same bottle of wine. It is quite rare indeed when I drink more than three bottles of any one particular wine, even when the wine is awesome. More often than not, I drink one bottle of something unless I am absurdly enthused. In other words, if I ever talk about a wine more than one time--it means that I am really a fan. What this means is that I also quickly run out of things that look interesting to me at Trader Joes--I sort of know by now what might be good and what is going to be awful. The last couple of Trader Joes branded wines that I have had aren't that great. Think about why that might be too: if you have good shit, aren't you going to sell it somewhere besides into a private label? I know that I would. Shit, there are a lot of places where you can get a pretty good price for your surplus stuff. I'm thinking Castle Rock, Cameron Hughes, your own second label, second labels of your friends...Trader Joes has to be one of the last places that you would want your wine to go in a private label. 

Normally, I would throw this wine into the awful camp, but I took a chance on it at $9.99 due to the recommendation. I have to say that I am not a fan of this wine. Currants, black cherries, a little raisined, and full of vanilla notes. Juicy and chocolate-y with more vanilla and raisin character on the somewhat lackluster finish. Sarah thought that it smelled like bananas, and I think she's not that far off. (Commercial yeast anyone? Georges Dubouef?? Could Trader Joes really be churning out the California equivalent of Beaujolais Nuveau?) You could do way worse than this wine though; that's what's fucking scary about it. C- 


MattRyan said...

Bummer you didn't like it. I've had more than a few people say they liked this wine, myself included. Sure it's not a home-run wine, but I didn't think it was that much of a dog. At 13.9% alcohol I expected it to be a juicer wine than the overly hot wines of California today. When you compare this wine to a Alexander and Fitch Cab at $8, the TJ's Reserve blows that wine out of the water.

My guess is this wine was meant to be blended, but that never happened.

Trader Joe's pays cash upfront for product - which explains why so many vintners are willing to do business with TJ's if they are strapped for cash or just want to move their product. Creating a new label or re-branding a wine and finding the right channel to sell it through takes time.

Can you recommend what you think is an outstanding $10 Cab Sauv. that I can try so I can better understand your palate and what you seek in a wine at this price point? -Matt

Jeff said...

I am not a fruit bomb guy. I definitely prefer more acidic, more austere wines with more complexity. That's not to say that I don't like fruit, it's just to say that sometimes, it's too much for me. The thing I didn't like about this wine are the obvious barrel notes. I don't mind barrel notes per se, but this one was over the top. The banana and pungent vanilla were off-putting and I think too much. $10 Cab is what I refer to as a mine-field of picks--because so many of them suck. There are few $10 Cabernet Sauvignon's out there that are worth drinking when you can get much better red blends for less. (I'm thinking Cotes du Rhone, for example). I know they aren't the same thing, but for me, $10 wine is a category unto itself...meaning I am just looking for a decent wine, not something that is completely evocative of terroir and subtlety.

Anyways, enough pontification; I far and away prefer the Castle Rock Columbia Valley Cab to this wine. You could have almost two full bottles of that for the price of one of these, and it's a much better wine in many ways. There are many Cameron Hughes Cabs from California that are around the $10 point that smoke the shit out of this wine.

I also think that any of the blended Bordeaux that you are likely to find from the Medoc/Left Bank are likely to not only be better with food and less like candy, but better values with more acidity and snap. A lot of times Costco will have a couple that are around $10, although you'll probably have to do some research to figure out whether the wine is Merlot or Cabernet based.

Lastly, as Cabernet has a tendency to underperform from a QPR perspective for my palate, I would suggest the Haras Cab from Chile at $14, which was an awesome deal.

Cabfrancophile said...

Matt, I can totally understand where Jeff is coming from on this wine. No, it doesn't sound bad. But it does sound like formula winemaking--dark fruit, oak vanillin, chocolate, and some sweet and/or roasted fruit flavors. Pretty boring and cynical stuff in my book. Though it is pretty much ideal as a cooking wine.

MattRyan said...

Hey Jeff and CabFranc, cheers for the feed back!

I think my greatest challenge is my site is still very young (two weeks old), so I'm searching for the right voice, balance and style which resonates with experienced and new winos alike. I know you two are very well researched wine buyers - most people look at label, varietal, year (older is always better mentality) then buy. My site is geared towards people who want to take care and control of their wine buying selections within the context of a store they frequent very often - I'm still trying to learn and understand my current audience.

When you look at the average wine drinker, this is an agreeable wine. (It's CRAZY how much 2 buck chuck that is sold!) I'm trying to keep my focus on the wine section of TJ's. When I start comparing wine from TJs' Wine Section against non-TJ's wine (in a public format), that's the day I start reviewing non-TJs wine on my site. I think what distinguishes both of your sites (and why I like them so much) is that they are geared towards finding really interesting and terrior reflective wines, anywhere you can find them. I like that.

I bought the Saint Come Cote-du-Rhone you reviewed a few weeks back, I'm really looking forward to drinking it.

I'm curious if someone will comment to the suggestion I made in my review of the Alexander Valley Cab and include this bottle in a blind tasting of 'better' Cabs- I think these decent cookie cutter wines add a cool blind tasting component.

Cabfrancophile said...

Matt, totally see your point. I do think it is important to have an editorial perspective. Jeff and I are definitely both looking for wines, as you say, that are representative of a place. That doesn't mean there is no room for more anonymous, but pleasant wines. It's just not something I'd praise, unless the price is low enough.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Trader Joe's wine is that there is the illusion of uniqueness, when the most successful wines at those prices points tend to follow a sort of formula. The less successful ones often feel like they didn't have a home, hence are a bit rough around the edges. The lack of transparency, with producer and style often hidden, is also a sticky issue.

Jeff said...

Totally agree about the frustrating nature of TJ's...


Getting all academic and stuff. My style is "stream of consciousness" or something. But I think that's overthinking it. I really have no style, and also really not editing either. I'm shocked that people read through this site, mainly because this site serves the same purpose as a tasting journal for me. And the fact that it started as a drunken joke with my fiancee that didn't want to listen to my drunken blathering about something she only tangentally cares about. Sometimes I have some other bile that I want to spew forth, but honestly, I am not putting much time into it. If I'm not at work, and bored I don't.

By the way, the average wine drinker probably doesn't read a wine blog. The wine blog is the province of the weird and obsessed. The general public (think my mother, who thinks that a $15 bottle of wine is extravagant) cares about is an expert opinion that is easy to understand. People don't want to hear about cherries, violets, earth, and your fucking puppy. They want to hear "That got 93 points by Parker, and it's only $15." TJ's may be a bit weird, because there's an information gap, but the majority of people in TJ's aren't paying much attention to the wines like someone who is obsessed with wine. It's a vocal minority that do. I do notice that points are creeping into TJ's selling tools at POS, because they work. For instance, there's a Chianti that has a 90 point thing on it now.

What vintage of the Saint Cosme did you buy? They different vintages are very different in style. It would be illuminating for you to chase down both the 08 and the 09 and try them side by side. They're extraordinarily different wines. Saint Cosme also makes a non-vintage blend that you can buy called Little Basketpress. It's good too, and way cheaper than their Gigondas (the only wines made at the estate). If you get a chance to try one of the Gigondas, do it, especially an older vintage, because they're awesome. Unfortunately, the points monster has glommed onto Saint Cosme and their wines are more expensive than they used to be. That's okay though--especially with Cotes du Rhone, there are a shitload of producers that make reliable wines, year in, year out.

The best value out there though is the Loire. Period. You can have the best Chinon for a song compared to most regions. Same with Bourgueil. Muscadet is dirt cheap, delicious, and rad. Literally, less than 25$ for most of the wines. And then of course, there is also Chenin Blanc which is quite interesting as well. Sancerre is rad too, but it seems to be the one Loire wine that has risen in price. It's still cheap though. Great wines can be had for $20. Just for comparison, you can buy tons of shitty SB from Napa for North of that price. Anyways, off my soapbox dude.

I like the site by the way.

MattRyan said...

Jeff and Cab, I totally agree with you guys on your style and approach to enjoying wine - I'm trying to concern myself with greater nuances of terrior and wine making style in my personal wine pursuits. I work for TJ's as just a normal Crew Member, I'm able to sneak off to work in the wine section for 2-3 hours per week, if I'm lucky. I just take up any work around the section or sneak off other work so I can talk with customers about wine and help them out. So my site is really just my creative outlet for one of the only aspects of my job which really fascinates me and I really enjoy: Wine and Customer Service.

Point taken Jeff the average wine drinker probably isn't online looking for wine. But I'm willing to postulate more and more (younger winos) will turn to their devices if there is a reliable source of info. Sadly, I'm seeing more and more of those neck jackets on bottles with gigantic scores written on them. 100% marketing scheme. I like to be sold on a wine because of its story - not just the one on the back label. And in my opinion, TJs' wines lack genuine stories; so I've taken it upon myself to find them. History is my thing, big time. I need more understanding of point systems and critics before I start using them as (major) guiding forces. Who do you guys respect?

Side rant: Have you seen at BevMo ratings from their internal rating guy Wilfred Wong? He's paid by BevMo to rate (sell) their about conflict of interest. Ask any employee who that guy is and they'll say he's some famous critic, etc. BS. (I know I work for TJ's, but I've told customers not to buy wines and I write on my site to avoid some wines because they're crap.)

I got the 2009 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, same one you wrote about on January 6th. I'll see if I can track down an 08'. I will definitely look for some more French offerings - you guys aren't the only ones talking about the deals to be had from France these days.

Glad you guys like the site! Looking forward to your future reviews!