Category Archives: California

Lost Canyon 2013 Pinot Noir Whitton Vineyard

Produced and Bottled by Lost Canyon Winery, Cloverdale, CA; 14.4% ABV
Whitton Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA
$7.99 at the San Diego (Oceanside), CA, store on 31 December

What’s this? Low production (<300 cases), single vineyard, 100% legit, 100% true to Russian River Valley AVA and varietally correct Pinot at a phenomenal price point?

20171231_185044This wine, for me, is one of the first wines from GO in a very long time that epitomizes GO deals of old (or maybe that certain Bay Area stores still get in limited quantities but that San Diego gets very little to none of) – $40-50 MSRP bottles at 10-20% of the cost, that actually drink well at their original price point, and when you taste it, feel like you stole money from the local GO operators. Right…the wine…

The wine is reasonably structured throughout with a touch of cherry cola and smoke on the nose and is pretty full (really medium) bodied. It tastes predominantly of dark fruit – cherry? – with quite a bit of acid and light to low-moderate tannins to balance what is a nice, smooth (yes, the wine descriptor of the year) mouthfeel. It reminds me strongly of Iron Horse from what I have had. It is not overly complex but it is integrated beginning to end and if anything, it is a bit high acid for me (though mouthfeel is fairly soft) and a touch sour. The fruit could definitely come through more (there is no juiciness or fruitiness here) but this isn’t overly muted, nor is the wine compromised by my wishing for a bit more fruit in the mid palate. It makes me think and ponder the last time I had a RRV Pinot this good (I don’t buy $40+ wine, period). This is a very well made wine for what it brings and at $8 is a screaming bargain.

I wish I could report how this fared after 2 or 3 hours but it lasted 30 minutes and did not transform much in that time, aside from most of the heat blowing off the nose having been vinturid into glasses. I blew off houseguests to write this review quickly. If you’re looking for defects, they are there but they are almost not even worth discussing given the price point. I’ll be returning Tuesday to buy a case immediately, and I haven’t done that from GO in years. I’m excited to hear any and all opinions by our loyal contributors if any of you finds this and look forward to any and all discussion that follows.

 

 

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Handcraft Artisan Collection 2015 Dark Red

Vinted & Bottled by Handcraft Artisan Collection, Manteca, CA; 13.5% ABV
$4.99 at the San Diego-Downtown, CA, store on 4 November

Yet another wine that supports my assertion that Wine.com will give 87 points to practically any wine that has a cork in it. This wine’s nose and flavor absolutely scream Central California. It lacks tannin and acid to balance the super ripe, jammy fruit. The wine tastes slightly better than cheap Central California swill.

20171209_170119So, given its provenance and a high end looking label design, do we end up with some great bargain or find here? No – it’s pretty uninspiring stuff.  It has a medium body and a touch of tannin and acid (mostly just alcohol coming through providing the balance – did I just say that?), drinks like cheap Zin and is heavy on the vanilla with a touch of barrel spice thrown in. It’s a nice looking, dark wine and rims with some beautiful darker hues you would expect from Petite Sirah. Of course, it’s Delicato, so I’d assume there’s a nice dose of Mega Purple here, and it really doesn’t do anything to elevate my opinion of Reds I’ve tried from them. For reference to mass-produced labels, they produce Brazin, Gnarly Head, La Merika and many other recognizable (and some not so recognizable) brands. The entire branding exercise they went through for this label to me is pretty pointless, as Delicato is pretty widely known as a low-end producer. I won’t even bother to paste some of the marketing fluff they put out in their PR release when they started the label in 2012, but it’s searchable if you want a good laugh. This wine, at least, embodies exactly none of the [false] claims made nor is it “…rich and complex…” as stated on the back of the label.

I’ll go Neutral on this because some will like it, it is not overtly bad, and it’s certainly not over the hill like the Anka. Might be paired well with charred meat with a spicy rub on it, cajun pasta or just weeknight pasta wine. If you want a soft, sweet wine that’s fuller bodied and probably a crowd pleaser, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Tahto 2013 Syrah

Piffero Vineyards, Mendocino County, CA; 15.3% ABV
Produced and Bottled by Yielding Wine, Laytonville, CA
$11 at the Oakland, CA, store on 15 Sept

This looked interesting enough, especially since we hadn’t seen it at the Richmond store, for me to spring for the $11.  There was also a Tahto 2013 Petite Sirah for the same price, but I rarely like unblended PS.  Has anyone tried it?

On the first night, the first sniff and sip were very promising, with earthy and tangy flavors of red cherry, darker plum, tangy rust / Chinese salt plum, and others I can’t remember.  However, after airing more, the flavors seemed to simplify, gaining a good component of sour candy, of which I’m not very fond.  Even after about 3 or 4 hours, with the fruit darkening to a dark purple plum, this did not really change.

However, a couple days later, the saved 275ml screw-cap bottle (filled when the Tahto bottle was opened and capped with very little air), after two or three hours’ air, was delicious!  The fruit filled in and became nicely complex again, and the sour candy flavor was gone.

I got another bottle and, the day before I wanted to drink it, I opened it and poured the wine into another 750ml bottle, then stuffed the cork in the top.  The next day, I decanted it about 1.5 hours before bringing it to a friends’ house for dinner.  This process worked very well, as the wine was just starting to fully open when we sat down for dinner of beef stew.

Broken Earth Winery 2010 Quadrant BDX

Paso Robles 13.7% ABV
60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 7% Petit Sirah
Cellared and bottled by Broken Earth Winery in Paso Robles, CA
$5.99 at the San Diego, CA (Downtown), store on 3 June

20170723_202414After sampling this over the two hours it has been open since I aerated it into a large Riedel wine glass, I have three thoughts about this wine: (1) This is what I get for buying a $6 domestic red blend that is Merlot-dominant at Grocery Outlet or otherwise (and I do love a good Merlot, of which I’ve had many since I started drinking Grocery Outlet wine in 2009), (2) this wine is a great example of wine that gives Grocery Outlet wine inventory a bad name, and (3) this shows how bogus wine competitions and points scorings are (2012 Orange County Wine Competition gave this wine 93 points). While there isn’t anything truly bad about it, it just doesn’t deliver at the $5.99 price range like so many over the years to which we have become accustomed. Here’s what you’ll get:

Lots of black currant, dark berries, and even some figs on the nose, but it’s one that isn’t particularly complex and without being able to offer more specifics, honestly resembles a lot of cheap California-designated wines that I’ve tried at GO over the years. It does show a beautifully dark purple color, probably the result of Petit Sirah and Petite Verdot. The palate belies the nose a bit, and at least honors the blend, but the sweetness of the Merlot overwhelms any of the other interesting characteristics that the Cab, Petite Verdot, and Petit Sirah may have offered. If you blindfolded me, I would have guessed 80% Merlot. The wine is acid with mild-medium tannins and absolutely benefits from decanting or air time, but it also blends those flavors together that emerge as rather sweet and unsophisticated on the other side. It drinks fine for the $6-10 range but for the $6 range at GO, it just doesn’t deliver. It’s solely Drinkable for me. If you or a guest loves the simpler end of the Merlot spectrum, however, give it a shot.

Villa Stellaria 2014 Petit Verdot

Alexander Valley 14.1% ABV
100% Petit Verdot
Cellared and bottled by Fitch Mountain Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA
$7.99 at the San Diego, CA (Downtown), store on 3 June

JoelA and Zoel so nicely and accurately described the wine in their posts from a few days ago. The last Petit I can recall at Grocery Outlet was from 2014 or 2015 when they had a small lot of Stelzner on offer.  Petit Verdot is one of those blending grapes, like Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah, that I can’t pass on when I come across what appears to be (or is) a well made offering. I find their inky, darker colors in the glass seductive and it brings me back to an old EOS Petit Sirah offering for $7 from 4-5 years ago that first got me interested in the typically blended varietals and at bargain basement price points.

20170623_183718I’m in full agreement that this is a nice bottling using quality fruit at the hands of a winemaker who knows what he or she is doing. I get deep, dark fruits and spice on the nose with a medium bodied wine and pretty overt alcohol but there is enough tannin and acid here to balance things out. The palate, for me, is pretty monolithic but the fruit is juicy and delicious like a mixed grape-watermelon Jolly Rancher you don’t want to dissolve. Even though I think the Jolly Rancher wine comparison is a bit played out, questionable and/or laughable, I could not put my finger on what it is I like about the wine’s flavor specifically and this is the best comparison I can offer. It presents its fruit without apology. This wine lingers and kept begging me for more.

For an $8 Petit Verdot with this much to offer, and enjoyable from first nose through the entire tasting and finish, even given that it isn’t super complicated, it’s a big Thumbs Up from me.

 

Auburn James 2013 ‘Diablo Rosso’ Red Blend

Livermore Valley 15.2% ABV
Malbec – 66%, Tannat – 30%, Cabernet Franc – 4%
Produced and bottled by Auburn James in St. Helena, CA
$14.99 at the San Diego, CA (Downtown), store on 3 June

20170618_180242Due to the unusually high price point for Grocery Outlet, having lived in the Bay Area 10 minutes from their tasting room in Danville and having even played gigs there, but never having purchased anything (retail pricing is too rich for my blood), I had to pick this one up and taste it for the blog. I’m very glad I did. (In regards to Grocery Outlet allocation, I believe most stores have very limited allocations. I can’t say whether this wine is still available. And, from what I can find online, this wine may only be sold through Auburn James’ tasting rooms. I guess even folks who live in or tour through areas with >$1.3mill average home values do not want to pay the $60 retail for this wine.)

Were you to blindly ask me what varietal this wine were solely from the nose, I would swear it’s a big, bold quality Napa Cab from Rutherford or Stags Leap, and that’s a compliment. It is nice and inviting and draws you in and back with dark, toasty oak, tobacco, dark cherry, touch of dark chocolate, and there’s a floral component I’m having a hard time identifying that brings things together, trying to cut through that 15.2% Livermore-driven ABV.

The wine poured into the opposite side of the glass leaves nice, long legs almost immediately. This is a pretty heavily tannic wine that dries the mouth nicely but also offers a velvety mouthfeel despite the alcohol. I think there is some nice winemaking going on here. It tells a nice story beginning to end, with the riper portion of the fruit shining up front and through the mid palate with those tannins lingering lengthily on the finish.

Decanting for 2 hours, shockingly, had little effect on the wine. It rounded out a touch and the fruit showed through a bit more but again, that predominant alcohol and tannin do not decrease much. This is a very enjoyable, well made wine and definitely appears, smells and drinks as a sum of its parts in a pretty integrated way. Were I to be pressed, I’d admit that it fails most for me in body where I find it a touch hollow. However, this is hard to pick apart, both because those tannins are ever present and the mouthfeel is pretty silky even though it is high in ABV. Is the wine betrayed by its body? Nope. It’s just something I kept circling back to.

On Day 2, the body and that high ABV remained my two biggest distractions to enjoyment. I thought with the wine dulling on night 2 that the ABV may be even more present. I don’t see this wine getting better on Days 2 and 3.

If $15 is in your budget and you see it, I would recommend picking up a bottle if you’re a meat eater and have a nice rib eye or other richer piece of meat with which to pair it. It stands up to a lot of bottles in the $30-40 price range if not higher these days, but I’ve also had some stunners from Spain as well as better Argentine Malbecs that deliver 85% of this wine’s experience for the same cost as this bottle at GO.

Auburn James 2008 Meritage

59% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot; 15.4% ABV
Napa Valley, CA
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store on 7 June

A number of Auburn James wines arrived together, most $10 and one $15, somewhat expensive for the GO.  I thought this looked like one of the most promising.

Immediately after being decanted, the wine showed fairly simple, very ripe, red cherry fruit.  After about an hour, the wine started to open up, and after 90 minutes, nice darker complexities had developed: blackberry, blackcurrant, medium  purple cherry, dark chocolate / prune, finishing with some balancing flavor and tannin of sappy / stemmy / roasted wood.  However, this wine is way too soft, unstructured and sweet for my taste.  It’s not dessert wine-level sweet, but even when drinking this with fresh red cherries (delightfully in season now), this wine tastes sweet.  It’s a pity, because otherwise the wine tastes pretty good.

A couple days later, the saved 275ml screwcap bottle was worse.  The complexity was largely gone, and it was just sweet red fruit with a roughly woody finish.  As you probably gather, I didn’t like this wine very much.  If you’re looking for a sweet red wine with a lot more complexity than most such wines, this could be a good choice, but for me at this price, it was a Thumbs Down.

Riaza 2014 Tempranillo “The Outsider”

100% Tempranillo; 14.7% ABV; screw-cap
California, about 1/3 each from three vineyards:
“one from the valley, one from the delta, and the last from the foothills”
$5 (I think) at the Richmond, CA, store. Long gone.

I was intrigued by the vineyard blend in this wine, and there were only positive comments on it during the fall sale, so I got one back then.  I finally opened it recently and was disappointed by my bottle.

On the first night, I found the wine hot, ripe, with rough acid and a tinge of spoiled grape.  After being decanted a couple hours, the red cherry fruit flavors darkened to dark cherry and purple grape, but the wine never became especially more agreeable overall.

The next day, the wine smoothed out and became more complex, showing red / purple cherry, raspberry, orange, stem / wood, but more of the spoiled grape / raisin character.  I moved on to something else.

Bodkin 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve “The Albino”

Sandy Bend Vineyard, Lake County, CA; 13.5% ABV
“Fermented upon the skins.  Bottled without fining or filtration”
“Christopher Reid Christensen, Winesmith”
Produced and bottled by Wefew Vintners, Healdsburg, CA
$7 (or maybe $6) at the Oakland, CA, store about a month ago.  Almost certainly no longer there.

This label struck me as unusual and interesting and, indeed, the wine is one of the most unusual and interesting Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted.

The aromatic profile resembles that of a Riesling: perfume-like white / yellow flowers and light yellow fruit.  On the palate, I tasted lightly lemony yellow peach, yellow melon, cherimoya / light gardenia, green lime, some balancing minerally grape skin bitterness, and a hint of fresh herbs on the finish.  The wine had a pleasantly viscous mouthfeel.  Good on its own, it was spectacular with food.

The next day, the wine was a little softer and more forward, but overall it was very similar.

Gauthier 2014 Chardonnay

Rockin’ H Ranch Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, CA; 13.9% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store many weeks ago.  No longer there.

Some folks may have liked this wine, but to me this was a weird Chardonnay.  It tastes intensely of assertive, even abrasive, ripe or over-ripe tropical yellow fruit (starfruit (Carambola), maybe mango), caramelized yellow apple, with perhaps even a slightly spoiled character, and slight green apple.  I don’t like it, and my suspicion is that it will be worse the next day.

Indeed, the next day it’s just awful: sour and abrasive.  I would be glad to hear from anyone who had a better experience with this wine, since I have generally liked the Gauthier selection wines, but my bottle definitely gets a Thumbs Down.  I won’t even cook with this.