I've come across two seriously discounted closeouts at Trader Joe's recently, the Domaine Alfred 2006 Chamisal Vineyard Pinot Noir and Howell Mountain Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinot was priced at $23, marked down significantly from its suggested price of $38, while the Cabernet was even more jaw dropping at $15 with a typical price point of $60.
According to what I've read, the Domain Alfred Pinot Noir as well as the other Domain Alfred wines are a casualty of the winery being purchased. The new owners changed the brand to Chamisal Vineyards and had to ditch anything with the Domaine Alfred label. Trader Joe's was happy to oblige them. As for the wine, it's not one I'd pay close to $40 for, so it may have ended up priced under $30 regardless. Although the forest floor aroma of the bouquet is definitely that of a Pinot Noir, it drinks more like a Grenache. There's a lot of ripe cherry juice, and a little caramel and oak flavor as well. It's slightly flabby, hot and disjointed. Very California, though I should give more credit for the likability factor. Wines with this level of ripeness at least are fairly approachable even when they lack the elegance Pinot Noir should should possess.
The Howell Mountain Vineyards Cab is supposedly the byproduct of a distributor getting rid of stock that wasn't moving in the slow economy. Again, I think this is a wine that doesn't justify the full retail price, but is a nice value at the Trader Joe's price. Blackberry, dust, leather and only the slightest hint of herbs show on the nose. There is also a bit of heat, though this isn't too distracting. The attack is a thing of beauty, all concentrated cassis and well-balanced acidity. This carries through to the mid-palate where creamy oak and dark chocolate take hold. However, the finish does not sustain what preceded it, showing some heat and an odd medicinal flavor. The tannins were also strangely lacking, which is not what I'd expect from a mountain wine. I'm left wondering if the wine was manipulated by micro-oxygenation, which would soften the tannins, eliminate herbaceous qualities, and round out the texture. Indeed, this wine is all about upfront characteristics and texture without the intoxicating bell pepper notes or big tannins I love in Cabernet. The initial salvo of flavors is worthy of the suggested price, but the finish has a cheapness to it that compromises the wine as a whole. Despite this objection, this is a great value at $15 for what you do get.
Domaine Alfred 2006 Chamisal Vineyard Pinot Noir
Price: $23 at Trader Joe's
Howell Mountain Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Price: $15 at Trader Joe's