Trader Joe’s is one of the best places to get everyday wines for a great price. Surprisingly, it’s also a great place to get the occasional high-end wine – in this case, 2010 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (ignore the fact that I said 2011 at one point) – which is a great, well-known label that has extraordinary Napa red, white, and rosé wines.
In this video I discuss learning your own palate and how to do it. It’s important not to become a slave of wine points and ratings. Don’t be afraid to experiment! If there’s one bit of advice I can give, it would be to start with as many single varietals as you can, i.e., Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. Try as many labels and price points as you can possibly fit into your budget, and you’ll find that over time, your palate will become more refined and discerning. I have a collection of Cabs ranging in price from about $10 to over $50. While it’s obviously easy enough to pop and pour the $10 wine for everyday drinking, it’s also important not to miss the teaching point here. You will learn how a cheap Cab tastes. While I plan to share my “good” Cabs with friends, I will be tasting and taking notes because I need to burn into my brain what a good Cab tastes like, too. And no, I don’t buy on price alone. I have a couple of good wine shops with educated staff members who have a wealth of knowledge to share which means that they know the QPR (Quality/Price Ratio) of their wines. Good luck finding that in the local megamart.
I’m one of those people who thinks that the 100-point wine rating system is a little on the silly side. Primarily because of the fact that every wine, no matter how great or how foul, gets 50 points just for being wine.
A bad wine may be lucky to receive an additional 20-ish points. And those are usually pretty bad. A good wine will range in the mid-80s to low-90s, while a truly wonderful (classic, made for the ages, extraordinary, blah blah blah) will be rated from the mid-90s to the coveted score of 100, indicating perfection. And while I’ve had all but a 100 point wine ($350 for a .375? Not in this girl’s budget!), I will reluctantly admit that the reviewers are usually pretty right on. What I love is to find that occasional gem that costs $15 and just received a 93 point score. Yes, I’ll run out and scoop up a couple of bottles or so. I would love to be able to enjoy the 98+ point wines, but no wine shops have layaway.
My adventure comes when I decide to purchase a wine that’s not on anybody’s review list. In case you didn’t know, wineries send their wines to the publications for review; it can be quite a risk for a small, relatively unknown winery. If their wines get scathing reviews, they could be out of business. On the other hand, if their wines get accolades and end up on a Top 100 list (think Saxum Winery of Paso Robles in 2010) their fortunes can be made as people begin to pay attention to their wines. I enjoy finding the occasional unknown and hope for a gem. That has happened recently as I found a Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon which was wonderful, loaded with South African terroir, deep, black, wildly perfumed, and at $16.00, quite the bargain. I also found a 1998 Rioja that was extraordinary, easy-to-drink, very food friendly, and on sale for $10.00. There are also lots of “homework” wines; for instance, those Bordeaux that are very affordable and quite good. Once again, they’re not on anyone’s magazine wine review list, but they can be extraordinary. What makes them “homework” wines? Well, have you tried learning all the regions of France without tasting the wines that are associated with them? Lots of regions, lots of, um, *tasting.* Homework.
For the next few months I’m going to be sticking to the classic grapes as I continue to hone my palate for the upcoming challenges of tasting my way through even more of the certifications I plan to earn. Hey! Somebody’s got to do it! And, yes, also because I’m crazed.
Wines reviewed: 2010 Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Napa Valley Merlot