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Tag Archives: Chardonnay

Kent & Robyn’s First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party

It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.

Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.

To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!

Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!

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We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!

Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?

We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:

Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:

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Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.

Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!

Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:

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River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.

Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.

Wine No. 3 – The Value Pinot:

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Angeline Pinot Noir Reserve 2017, Mendocino County. TMW Retail: $17.49.

Though some called out how young it is, everyone enjoyed it.

Wine No. 4 – The Controversial One:

Inconspicuous (by Truett-Hurst) Zinfandel, Lodi, 2016. TWM Retail: $19.99.

One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?

Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:

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Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.

Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!

The Major Award:

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Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.

This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.

The Lovely Parting Gifts:

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MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.

There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?

The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!  

The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.

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Hey, wine tasting is serious business! 

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Remember, there’s a bottle of Champagne on the line!

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But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:

  1. It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
  2. There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
  3. Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.

Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.

We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits: Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
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Come Barrel Tasting With Us…In Livermore Valley!

When you think of California Cabernet Sauvignon, where does your mind go? If you’re like most people you probably think of Napa, maybe Sonoma. How about that nice, big, California Chardonnay you’re enjoying with dinner tonight? Carneros? Monterey? Napa? Would you be surprised to learn that both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have their California roots in Livermore Valley? I know I was surprised!

Livermore Valley Wine Country

Wait. You mean you’ve never heard of Livermore Valley? Don’t feel bad. Many people haven’t. Being from Northern California, I was aware of the area, but never really associated it with wine. Yet, as I started to learn more about this region, I learned that wine grapes have been grown in the Livermore Valley since the 1840’s, and the first Livermore Valley wineries were established in 1883!

Livermore Valley is located east of San Francisco Bay, roughly midway between San Francisco and Stockton, and an easy drive from Silicon Valley. The valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezed to roll in, tempering the interior valley’s heat. This results in ideal wine growing conditions, producing exceptional fruit. In fact, Livermore Valley is one of the first regions to receive American Viticulture Association (AVA) status, back in 1982.

Livermore Vineyards

With a long history of winemaking, and innovative pioneers leading the way, it is logical that the greatest wine grape varieties should be linked to the Livermore Valley. Perhaps you are aware that most Chardonnay grapes grown in California come from Wente clones. Well, Wente is a long-standing producer, located in the Livermore Valley. In fact, they were the first winery to produce a varietally-labeled Chardonnay, back in 1936. So you have the Wente family, now in their fourth generation of vineyard management and winemaking in Livermore Valley, to thank for that delicious Chardonnay.

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Similarly, Livermore Valley’s Concannon Vineyards produced the first ever Petite Sirah varietally-labeled wine in 1961. Concannon remains a large Petite Sirah producer; in fact, my first taste of Petite Sirah was a Concannon. What I didn’t know until recently, is that Concannon is more than Petite Sirah. The winery is credited with developing Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which represent approximately 80% of Cabernet grown in California today. In 1965, third-generation winemaker Jim Concannon collaborated with renowned U.C. Davis professor and viticulturist, Dr. Harold Olmo, to develop hearty Cabernet Sauvignon clones. Their work took California Cabernet from fewer than 1,000 acres, to more than 90,000 acres today. The clones they developed can be traced back to the “Concannon Mother Vine” which was imported from Château Margaux, by founder James Concannon in 1893.

Concannon Vineyards

Are you getting excited about Livermore Valley wines? I sure am!

In just a couple of weeks, on the weekend of March 10-11, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association will host their 10th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Robyn and I will be there, guests of the Association, and we would love to see you there! The event runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. With more than 35 wineries participating, it will be an exciting weekend of samples, thieving, tasting, and eating. Barrel tasting is an exciting way to explore wine as it evolves over time, from vineyard to bottle. If you find something you like, many wineries will be offering futures sales, so you can reserve some exceptional wine at a pre-release discount. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah, you can taste varietals you may never have had the opportunity to sample before, such as Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet.

If wine isn’t your thing, there will also be Livermore-area breweries sampling beer, and distilleries offering tastes of their spirits. It’s all included with your wristband, so go out on a limb and try something different!

Want to start your day with something hearty to eat before you get to winetasting? Consider attending one of the Barrel Tasting Brunches at 11 a.m. Each day, two wineries will partner with local restaurants to host fabulous brunches on the winery grounds. On Saturday, you can choose from Garré Winery & Garré Café Brunch, or Las Positas Vineyards & Zephyr Grill & Bar Brunch. Sunday’s offerings are hosted by Retzlaff Vineyards & Salt Craft Brunch, and Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker & Liberation Foods Brunch. The choice is yours you cannot make a wrong decision wherever you go!

For the more artistic in your crew, enjoy the 15 hand-painted wine barrels that will be on display at participating wineries. If you see one you particularly like, you can buy raffle tickets for the chance to take it home.

Painted Barrel

Just one of 15! Photo Credit: lvwine.org

Whether you come for the wine, the beer, the spirits, the food, or just the scenery, the 10th Annual Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend will be an event to remember. You can get tickets at lvwine.org. We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Dinner in a Cave! #WBC17

Dinner in a wine cave. Check! One more thing off the bucket list!

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We had a lot of amazing experiences at this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, California. However, the unparalleled highlight was the Friday evening dinner at Thomas George Estates. When the list of dinner excursions was published several weeks earlier, we scanned the host wineries’ websites, and noticed that Thomas George Estates has a wine cave. A telephone call to the winery confirmed the WBC Dinner would be held in the cave. We made our reservation immediately!

With eager anticipation, we boarded the luxury wine-tour bus and settled into the plush leather seats. Under the soft mood lighting, we enjoyed the short ride to the winery. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus and into the cavernous entryway of the cave.

There, we were warmly greeted by Thomas George Estates staff, who handed us each a glass of their 2014 Brut Blanc de Blancs. We sipped this delightful sparkler while visiting with our fellow diners, and nibbling on Hors D’Oeuvres including house-made cured meats, and roasted and marinated vegetables.

Soon enough, we were summoned to the dining table, located in a long corridor in the cave. The service was excellent, the wine free-flowing, and the food exquisitely prepared. We both agree this was among the top five meals we have ever experienced; and toward the top of that list, to boot! The first course was a roasted Brussels Sprouts salad with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona almonds, aged sherry vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery Capriago. This amazing salad was paired with the Thomas George Estates 2015 Chardonnay, Sons & Daughters Vineyard. It was during this course that we learned that all the pork served during the evening was hand-raised by our chef, Duskie Estes, of Zazu Kitchen & Farm in Sebastapol, California. Now that’s farm-to-fork, local food!

The main course was Cracklin’ Pork Belly (from our friendly neighborhood porker) with Star Anise Liberty Duck; a full leg quarter; served over black rice, with pomegranate and watercress. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the pork belly, but I was not disappointed! As much as I love duck, this crispy chunk of heaven was out of this world! Paired with the Thomas George Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, this was an entrée and pairing worth writing home about!

Amid friendly conversation, ample refills, and boundless frivolity, I wondered if it could get any better. Leave it to the good folks at Thomas George Estate and Zazu Kitchen & Farm to up the ante with dessert. Backyard Quince & Apple Tartin with Bourbon Gelato. Why, yes, I believe I will. Paired with the most amazing 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from Baker Ridge Vineyard, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Just look at the color of that Viognier! Divine!

Even after dinner, the hospitable staff kept our glasses filled, until it was time to, sadly, re-board the bus for the ride back to the hotel. But first, swag bags! We each received a gift of a bottle of Thomas George Estates 2016 Rosé of Grenache, a numbered bottle of their Baker Ridge Vineyard Olive Oil (delicious), and for a longer-lasting keepsake, a Thomas George Estates t-shirt.

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Back on the bus, we basked in the afterglow of a magical, memorable evening. One we will not soon forget.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael

The Daily Meal Article: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Meal Requires Oregon Wine

Here is a fantastic article by Michelle Williams, of the Rockin’ Red Blog. Like her, my Thanksgiving table will feature a variety of wines, though not all from Oregon. We will enjoy Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Nouveau, Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, and of course, Bubbles!

Let me know what you’ll be serving with your dinner.

May you have a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving day! Cheers!

ROCKIN RED BLOG

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. It is a day that centers around possibly the most important meal of the year. It is also a complicated meal featuring a wide variety of textures, spices, and flavors. A daunting meal to prepare, much less pair with wine. Some try to go the dangerous one wine route. I like to have multiple wines on the table to make the most of each component of the meal. In my latest article for The Daily Meal I share how four high quality wines from Willamette Valley will meet all your Thanksgiving meal needs.

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Fantastic Thanksgiving Wines, Perfect for Chirstmas Dinner

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The wine was flowing at Thanksgiving this year! My son and I were invited to spend the day with the family of his friend, Edward. With about 20 people in attendance, we blended in and had a great time. In addition to the four wines I brought, which I review below, several other people brought several bottles to share. Those included Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Talbott Pinot Noir, and William Hill Chardonnay.  There were others, too, but I didn’t get a chance to make a note of which they were. In addition, a bottle of Dalmore 12-year Highland Scotch appeared on the bar. It would have been rude of me to not have a dram or two, right? It was absolutely delicious!

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Photo Credit: totalwine.com

Dinner was a feast! There were two turkeys; one smoked, and one traditional; a honey-glazed ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, two green salads, and rolls. Dessert was equally varied and delicious!

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Let the feast begin!

Of the wines I brought, three were from NakedWines.com. The fourth was the just-released 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau from Georges DeBouef. With varying levels of wine-tasting experience represented, from “I’m here for the Scotch, but I enjoy a glass of wine once in a while, too” to a wine industry professional, all the wines were big hits. The hands-down favorite, with it’s soft, easy-drinking, fruit-forward profile, was the Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, that bottle was empty long before dinner was served!

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These wines were all excellent companions to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. With Christmas just around the corner, if you are having similar cuisine, I can wholeheartedly recommend each of these for that meal as well!

georges-deboeuf-beaujolais-nouveauGeorges DeBouef Beaujolais Nouveau 2016

The hands-down favorite around the Thanksgiving table. A party in a glass! Bright purple color, bursting with juicy fruit flavors; boysenberry, cherry, plum, blueberry, and raspberry. Soft tannins and bright acidity made this a light, fun quaff before and during the meal.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$8.97 at Total Wine & More

scott-kelley-oregon-pinot-noirScott Kelley Oregon Pinot Noir 2015

Classic Oregon Pinot. Ruby color. On the nose there is raspberry, fresh plum, and soft smoke. Flavors of ripe raspberry, cherry, and strawberry mingle with soft oak. Tannins are soft and super smooth, with balanced acid, leading to long finish. Pinot Noir just the way I like it!

4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points)

$24.99 SRP, $14.99 NakedWines.com Angel Price

franc-dusak-chardonnayFranc Dusak Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2015

A well balanced Sonoma Chardonnay. Straw color in the glass. Aromas of apple and butter. On the palate, flavors of fresh apple and pear, with some caramel at the end. Medium body, very soft smooth with light acidity and perfect balance of oak and fruit.

4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points)

$23.99 SRP, $13.99 NakedWines.com Angel Price

benjamin-darnault-pique-nique-roseBenjamin Darnault Pique-Nique Rosé 2015

Wonderful dry Rosé of Grenache. Peach color, aromas of fresh raspberry and soft rose petal. Flavors of raspberry and strawberry with floral notes. Light body with bright acidity and a pleasing finish.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$16.99 SRP, $9.99 NakedWines.com Angel Price

 

I hope all of you had a fabulous Thanksgiving. What was your favorite wine of the day? Let me know in the comments.

Cheers!

Warehouse Wine: Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru 2014

Warehouse Wine? Sure, why not? Premier Cru Chablis for $15? Heck, yea!

Costco Wholesale warehouses are known for offering good wines at great prices. Members can find well-known labels from around the world (depending on your state’s regulations), and enjoy substantial savings over traditional wine shops, and often at prices better than even large wine and liquor stores like Total Wine & More and BevMo. These are great deals, but for the biggest bang for your buck, look for the Costco Kirkland Signature label. No, Costco doesn’t make wine. They use their immense buying power to source and purchase wine from well-known producers, and label them with the Costco brand. Pulling the cork often reveals the secret identity of the estate or chateau that produced the wine, when they use their own corks. A 2015 article in Wine Spectator pulls back the curtain on some of those producers, and some impressive names they are. And Jon Thorsen, the Reverse Wine Snob, has written extensively on the Costco wine scene, and regularly reviews their wines.

So now we know about wine buying at Costco and the bargains to be found there. But what’s so special about Chablis? And what is this “Premier Cru” thing? Good questions. The short answers are: Chablis is Chardonnay wine made in Chablis, which is located in Burgundy, France. “Premier Cru” is a designation that identifies a Chablis wine that was made from grapes from better-than-average vineyards. The Best of the Best receives the Grand Cru designation. You can read a more in depth analysis at Wine Searcher.

When I was a kid, I remember my parents drinking “Chablis” from a jug. (Back in those days, the rules about naming wines were less strict.) carlo-rossi-chablisSo when I started my own wine journey, I had that image in my mind, and avoided Chablis, thinking it was nothing more than cheap plonk. Furthermore, when I started exploring wine, I stuck mainly to New World wines; those from the U.S., Australia, and South America. In those days, Chardonnay meant those overly oaked toast bombs, of which I’m not a fan. Thus began my ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) days. Only in the past two or three years did I learn that Chablis – the real stuff from Burgundy – is completely unoaked. There are no toasty, lick-the-inside-of-the-barrel flavors. Venturing out of my comfort zone, I tried a bottle several months ago, and I was very happy with what I tasted! (Fortunately, the trend with Chardonnay, even in the U.S., is toward lightly oaked or unoaked styles.) Thinking about all the delicious Chablis I missed over the years, because of my incorrect assumptions, is disturbing! Having since turned in my ABC Membership Card, I am now always on the lookout for good Chablis bargains.

So how does the Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru 2014 stack up? Pretty darn good.

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Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of pear, yellow apple, and elderflower. On the palate, there is pear and apple, with zesty lemon and grapefruit mid-palate. Bright acidity, and a lighter mouthfeel when cold, but as it warms it softens and becomes softer with a bit of creaminess. The finish goes on and on with tart citrus notes. Not the best Chablis I’ve had, but surely the best QPR for a Premier Cru.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

Retail: $14.99

This is definitely a wine I would serve to guests. The label may not impress, but in my opinion, it’s more important what is IN the bottle, than what is ON the bottle.

Cheers!

Review: Chateau St. Jean Bijou Chardonnay 2014

Once upon a time, I was an ABC’er – Anything But Chardonnay. This stemmed from my general dislike for the California Oak Bombs popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. As much as I appreciate the influence of oak in wine, I prefer that oak is an enhancer, rather than the dominant flavor. If a wine tastes like I’m licking the inside of a barrel, I’m going to take a pass.

A couple of years ago, I took a leap of faith and started exploring Chardonnay again, but only the Unoaked style. Crisp and fruit-driven, I gained a new appreciation for this, the most popular white varietal in the world. Once I understood the grape, sans oak, I have slowly ventured into oaked styles in the hopes my palate would expand to the point where I could include all styles of Chardonnay in my wine repertoire.

While strolling the wine section of my local Trader Joe’s the other day, I had to do a double-take. A lightly oaked Chardonnay, from notable producer Chateau St. Jean, for just $6.99? Without a second thought, into the cart it went!

The Bijou Chardonnay is part of Chateau St. Jean’s California collection. This is their entry level line, carrying the general “California” designation. This means that the grapes may have come from anywhere in the vast Golden State, rather than from a specific, smaller American Viticulture Area (AVA). Thus, there is not going to be a concentrated expression of terroir, but rather, a more general blend of what Chardonnay has to offer. Nevertheless, I found this to be a remarkably well balanced Chardonnay; fruit dominant, with subtle oak influences and crisp acidity.

Here’s my review, posted on Vivino:

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For an entry level wine, this is a remarkably well balanced Chardonnay. Golden straw color in the glass. Aromas of pear, white peach, and browned butter. On the palate, flavors of pineapple, pear, peach, and tropical fruit mingle with toasty oak and just the right amount of zippy acidity. Medium body with a long, zesty finish. If you don’t like Chardonnay, try this lightly oaked version! It could open doors for you, and at just $7, you can’t go wrong!

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$6.99 at Trader Joe’s

At the risk of repeating myself…which I’m going to do anyway…if you are an ABC’er, give this wine a try. It’s only $7, so you really have nothing to lose, and an appreciation for this iconic grape to gain. What are you waiting for? Trader Joe’s closes at 9 p.m. Go!