Four times a year, we SoCal Trader Joe’s denizens all receive the venerable “Fearless Flyer” periodical, alerting us to exciting new merchandise that Joe has acquired during the course of his trading. While some of the stuff is a little esoteric (“Oatmeal in the Freezer? You Betcha!”), or downright excessive (“17 Bean & Barley Soup Mix”… honestly, once you hit 15 beans or so, do you really need the barley anymore?), the wine deals contained therein are often enticing. This week, Doug, Max and I sat down to taste a pair of featured bottles, one white and one red, each appealingly-priced at $4.99. Might we discover a cheapo winner?
The first bottle demanding our attention was the 2005 Belvedere Chardonnay. This came as a bit of a surprise, because during our Sonoma trip the Winos visited Belvedere, and it didn’t at all strike me as a label I’d soon be likely to see at Trader Joe’s. There definitely weren’t any $5 Chards on my tasting menu that day. Nevertheless, we’d enjoyed the winery (I picked up a bottle of their Alexander Valley Sangiovese that I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to drink), so I looked forward to this one.
2005 Belvedere Chardonnay, Sonoma County. Nice light butter on the nose. Doug picked out some grapefruit and honeyed apple. Max offered “I dunno, peach,” but when pressed admitted that he didn’t really smell any peach. The palette offered some good oak and butter, tempered by decent acidity. Max found it a bit sweeter than he’d like; I agree it wasn’t bone-dry, but I didn’t mind. The finish was a little curt for me, with some unpleasant lemon creeping up the back end, but nice butter notes lingered. Doug agreed with the lemon on the finish. Max compared the wine to the Germans in World War II: “good start, but a poor finish.” Charming.
Our photographer Kate swigged a glass and posited that the Belvedere might be called the “Camembert of cheap Chardonnays.” Not entirely inaccurate, I wouldn’t say — it’s mild and inoffensive, with creamy texture and enough bite that it doesn’t get lost in its own plush oakiness. Overall, a great bottle for $4.99, to be sure (I later found out this is a short-term price, and that the bottle usually retails for $12-$16, so get it fast). Pleased by our initial experience, we moved on to the red.
2006 Velvet Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, California. “Tire rubber,” I barked upon taking my first sniff, and everyone agreed. Gas station tire, motor oil, all that lovely stuff… there was actually some disagreement over whether that was unpleasant or not. Kate thought it smelled like “Cinnamonny potpourri bullshit,” while Doug got notes of a store where they have “potpourri in wicker baskets and stuff.” Max got some cedar notes before admitting that it “smells like Sears, when you have the tire section right next to the potpourri section.” The palette didn’t fare much better, with notes of cough syrup, black licorice, and Good n’ Plenty candies. Max found blackberries and slight tannins, while Doug borrowed Max’s “cedar.” I also turned up some notes of juniper berries, and I was pleased by the smooth, velvety texture. The finish was short and nondescript.
This bottle, unlike the Belvedere, drank like a five-dollar wine. The Fearless Flyer describes a “ripe, juicy red” that would compliment “a pepper-crusted strip steak,” a claim that might possibly have some truth to it. Max agreed that “I like myself a nice pepper-crusted strip steak, especially with a bad wine.” The consensus, however, was that this was not a Cab to be enjoyed without some serious food to make it bearable. Max said it would be a good wine to buy and then dump off at someone’s party. Nuff said.
We proceeded to finish the bottles (the Chard, naturally, was in higher demand) and watch Hot Shots! Part Deux, which fared slightly above the Cab in terms of palatability.
The Young Winos of LA… we taste the shitty wine so you don’t have to.