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Monthly Archives: August 2016

“Box of Wine”, A Review of Trader Joe’s Block Shiraz Wine in a Box

A co-worker of mine has an interesting, daily tradition. Much like the way some people might the start the day with a greeting such as “Top of the morning”, Eric ends each day with a unique parting phrase. He expresses, to each of us in the office, a good evening, with his wish for a bounty of our preferred adult beverage. Ever generous with his blessings, he does not suggest a mere glass of this or that. No, my beer-drinking co-worker Eric shares his good will to Linda with “bottle of vodka”, and to Jennifer with “bottle of rum.” Knowing my penchant for the nectar of the grape, he would always wish me a “bottle of wine.” Until recently, when it came to his attention that wine can also come in a box. Now his evening salutation to me is “box of wine!” to which I respond, “and a case of beer for you, sir.”

Now, truth be told, the only “box of wine” I’ve ever had much interest in is the 6 or 12-bottle cases I have delivered to my office. When ordering from an online merchant, it is much more reliable to receive shipments there, where there is always an adult to sign. I am aware there are some companies which prohibit such practices, having worked for one not too long ago. However, the small company where I now work is much more laid-back. In fact, the owner of the company has his wine club shipments delivered there, too! Goose; gander.

But I digress. Throughout my life, I’ve observed that when it comes to hobbies and interests, I have either time, or money, but rarely both concurrently. Recently, I’ve found myself in a situation in which I have neither in great supply. Yet my passion for wine remains unabated, so I consolidated my search for affordable wine into my weekly sortie to Trader Joe’s. I’ve known TJ’s to be a reliable source of quality wine at reasonable prices. I’ve also known that TJ’s carries a line of boxed wines, suspiciously inexpensive. I’ve even seen some favorable reviews of said boxes of wine. So with some trepidation, I hoisted a 3-liter box of Australian Shiraz into my cart and headed for the checkout. After arriving home and storing the weekly provisions, I dug out the tap and drew my first glass from a box of wine. Here’s my review, posted on Vivino:

After reading a few favorable reviews, I decided to give boxed wine a go. I was pleasantly surprised. This Aussie Shiraz, a Trader Joe’s exclusive, is pretty good. Not overly complex, but what do you expect for $3/bottle? The 3-liter box (equal to 4 bottles) costs just $12.

Ruby/purple color. Aromas of blackberry and black cherry. Flavors of ripe blackberry, red currant, blueberry, fig, and spice, with a little oak on the finish. Soft and smooth, but as I said, not a lot of depth or complexity. Since it keeps up to six weeks (if you’re an amateur) it’s good for a mid-week after-work glass, and maybe for the in-laws. 🙂 The only real challenge is self-regulation. “Was that 5 glasses or 6? Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?”

3.5 Stars (85-87 points)

Of course that crack about serving this to the in-laws is just a joke. Hehe. OK, Nancy? We good? And for those of you too young to get the reference, the quote at the end is homage to “Dirty Harry.”

In any event, I was fairly impressed with the Block Shiraz, especially given the price point. My local TJ’s also carries a California Cabernet Sauvignon and a California Sauvignon Blanc. I’m given to understand the Block label also produces an Australian Chardonnay, but it wasn’t in stock when I was there. For a reasonably good weeknight wine, at an amazing price, head to your neighborhood Trader Joe’s and give this a try!

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Lesser Known AVAs: Trinity County

Merlo Family Vineyards

Image Credit: merlovineyards.com

Trinity County has the distinction of being the third leg of the infamous “Emerald Triangle,” the prolific and prosperous Northern California marijuana growing region. Landlocked, it is somewhat less famous than its coastal neighbors, Mendocino and Humboldt counties.emeraldtriangle_narrow It is also much more remote and difficult to access, which contributes to its mystery and intrigue. The primary legal industry (at the time of this writing, cultivation of marijuana is still illegal) is timber, although that has been in decline for some years. Fortunately, Trinity County boasts some very rugged terrain with a variety of rich soils, the result of centuries of geologic upheaval, which are excellent for growing vitis vinifera.

The official American Viticultural Area (AVA) located within Trinity County is the Trinity Lakes AVA. There are only two wineries located within the Trinity Lakes AVA, (Alpen Cellars and One Maple Estate Vineyards & Winery), but there are others in the greater Trinity County region. The entirety of Trinity County is not yet recognized as an AVA yet, but it is just a matter of time. The rugged beauty of this part of the state is breathtaking, but takes real dedication to make the journey. There simply is no easy way to get there! Trinity County may never achieve anywhere near the wine-tourism traffic as Napa or Sonoma, but one wonders if that’s a bad thing. The trip from Napa or Sonoma to greater Trinity County is anywhere from four to six hours by car. If you are up it, you will be rewarded by the stunning scenery and fantastic wines!

Fortunately for the less adventurous among us, we don’t have to travel hours of backroads and switchbacks. One Trinity County winery has its tasting room solidly rooted on the floor of the Sacramento Valley: Merlo Family Estate Vineyards. Located inside The Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, just minutes from Lodi, Merlo produces some outstanding wines. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Merlo Wine Club.) I recently stopped in to pick up my club order, and tasted through their current releases. These are some amazing wines: a lightly oaked, refined Chardonnay; a light and crisp Syrah Rosé; and some blockbuster, big, bold reds. Their signature red blend, Blackbird (the family name Merlo means Blackbird in Italian) is an addictive 50/50 blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. So addictive, I’ve heard that it’s sometimes lovingly referred to as “Crackbird.”

I spent the better part of an hour chatting with proprietor, Ray Merlo, in between other customers. Ray is an engaging, personable man, who is passionate about his wine, and dedicated to educating people to help enhance their enjoyment. Ray is committed to quality; so much so that he pulled his 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the market for several years because he felt it just wasn’t ready. For only a few vintages, Ray was able to procure some high quality Napa fruit, which he hand-harvested in the wee hours of the morning, and then rushed to his winery in Trinity County for crush and vinification. Of such high quality were these grapes that they required years of bottle aging before the wine matured enough to really enjoy. He only recently reintroduced it, and from the generous tasted I had, I can say it was well worth the wait. Rich and full bodied, with classic Napa Cabernet aromas and flavors, this 2006 is amazingly smooth. You’d expect to pay $75 to $100 for a Napa Cab of this quality, but retail price is only $59, and club members pay only $48.

Below are my reviews of the current release portfolio. Some are pretty brief; I was enjoying the conversation and didn’t take copious notes…

Merlo ChardonnayMerlo Family Estate Chardonnay 2012

Lightly oaked allowing the fruit to take center stage. Apple and pear with some grapefruit notes. Soft mouthfeel and just a hint of toasted oak on the finish.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points) $20 Retail/$16 Club

Merlo Family Estate Syrah Rosé 2014Merlo Syrah Rose

Light, crisp rose. Medium pink color, with Flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and watermelon. A nice, dry rose for those hot summer days!

4.0 Stars (88-91 points) $18 Retail/$15 Club

Merlo Pinot NoirMerlo Family Estate Pinot Noir 2012

Rich, earthy Pinot Noir, in the classic NorCal style. Purple color with ruby rim. Aromas of ripe plums and spice. Flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, cherry, and earth with a lingering finish of dark fruit and soft earth tones.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points) $27 Retail/$22 Club

Merlo Family Estate Blackbird (NV)Merlo Blackbird

Delicious blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. Smooth tannins reveal flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and spice. Nice, long, spicy finish.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points) $18 Retail/$15 Club

Merlo SyrahMerlo Family Estate Syrah 2012

Deep and brooding, this is a rich, full bodied Syrah. Inky purple, with aromas of blackberry and spice. Flavors of dark berry, ripe blueberry, black pepper, and oak. The wine coats the mouth and lingers with an earthy, spicy finish.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points) $25 Retail/$20 Club

Merlo Family Estate Zinfandel 2011Merlo Zinfandel

Big, bold, juicy, and spicy. This is an “in your face” wine that doesn’t hold back. Ripe, juicy blackberry and black cherry mingle with spicy black pepper. The tannins are big and chewy, balanced with light acidity. The finish hangs around awhile to remind you of just how amazing that last sip was, inviting you to take another sip.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points) $25 Retail/$20 Club

I hope you get the opportunity to try some of these exceptional Trinity County wines, and that you’re inspired to get out and explore some Lesser Known AVAs.