The Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir 2017 Lot 23 is a $12.99 Trader Joe’s exclusive sourced from the Carneros AVA which is located about half in Sonoma and half in Napa. There are 3 top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growing areas in coastal Sonoma, the Sonoma Coast AVA which is situated between 2 coastal mountain ranges, the Russian River AVA which is a valley near the Pacific with heavy Ocean climate influence and Carneros. Carneros is farther away from the Pacific Ocean, but it shares a southern border with the San Pablo Bay, which is the bay just north of the San Francisco Bay. This Bay gives Carneros the right climate for Pinot Noir while the surrounding regions of Sonoma and Napa are too warm for Pinot and better suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When I first saw the 2017 vintage I thought this wine might be released a too early for Pinot Noir typical of the region, but no, while 2016 may be the more common currant vintage, plenty of big name producers offer the 2017 vintage. By the way, those other producers I just mentioned priced their 2017 Carneros Pinot Noir in the $25 to $40 range. Wineries in Carneros produce fairly expensive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are no budget priced wineries here and in the past Trader Joe’s has offered Carneros wines that I know came from well establish respected producers, so TJ’s has a good track record with Carneros Pinot. We don’t know the who, what, and where of these wines, but I am not aware of any vineyards that are anything less than excellent or wineries that are in any way sub-standard, so the odds of this Pinot being an excellent bang-for-the-buck are pretty good. The alcohol content is 14%, I thought that was maybe too high for a Carneros Pinot, but a quick check of some other big name producers saw alcohol levels of 14.5%, so maybe it was a warm vintage.
The color is a dark, but see-thru garnet red. The nose is enticing, smoke, bacon fat, herbs, cherry, vanilla, mushroom, this Pinot has aromas found in the expensive stuff. This is a nicely balanced Pinot Noir, ripe, balanced fruit upfront, along with plenty of texture and flavors of interest. It tastes of ripe cherry, followed by a slap of herbs and black pepper, soft spice, and toasty vanilla. The mid-palate shows tart cranberry, toffee, salty pecan, orange zest, and sour cherry with cream. The tannins stay out-of-the-way and the acidity gives the flavors plenty of room to unfold. The finish is subtle, but persistent.
While I was sipping the Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir 2017 Lot 23, I was thinking that I prefer my Pinot Noir to be a little more etherial, to have delicate waves of flavor that roll across your palate, and then I remembered I’m drinking a $12.99 Trader Joe’s Pinot. Any $12.99 Pinot that puts me in a head space where I’m thinking about some of the finest Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted is a very solid, real-deal, don’t worry about the low price Pinot Noir. So what if it isn’t exactly on par with Pinots going for 4 or 5 times the price, the Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir 2017 Lot 23 just kills at $12.99.