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The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 is a $9.99 Trader Joe’s wine made for them by Owl Creek Wine Services, a custom wine company operating in the Russian River AVA for the last 12 years. The Russian River AVA is located near the Pacific Ocean. The Sonoma Coast AVA is west and closer to the Pacific, but parts of the Russian River AVA are within 10 miles of the Ocean.
So, why is the Russian River AVA an important detail? Since this is Chardonnay, let’s start in Burgundy, France. White wine in Burgundy is Chardonnay, and it is the home of the greatest Chardonnay wines in the world. There are new release wines that sell for thousands of dollars.
The Champagne region is on the north end of Burgundy, and the reason they produce Bubbly and not still wine is the climate can be so cool that in some vintages, the grapes never ripen. Sparkling wines are picked before they are fully ripe, so that solves that problem. The main section of Burgundy is the farthest north and east; you can go in France and have the grapes fully mature.
Burgundy has a long growing season, and the grapes are at their peak in terms of development. Add to that unique soil and climate conditions and winemakers that have generations of experience with the grape. It is easy to see why they make some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
California has a different climate condition from France, but coastal areas allow the grapes to have a full long growing season. Santa Barbara, microclimates in the Central Coast, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Napa, and the Russian River all have locations that treat the Chardonnay grape well.
The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 is sourced from the Russian River AVA, but the north portion is warmer with different growing conditions than the southern half. What makes a Russian River AVA Chardonnay sell for $60 to $100 is the Burgundian-like growing season.
We do not know where in the Russian River AVA the Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 the grapes came from, the southern part, the northern, a mix of both? So, is this a $25 Russian River Chardonnay selling for $9.99? Probably not.
This is a Trader Joe’s Reserve, not a Platinum Reserve; the higher-end TJ’s Reserve wines may actually be expensive wines at a bargain price. Another clue is this is a 2020 vintage. The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 is a new release, but the grapes were picked last September or October, which is less than a year since harvest.
The vintage date the bottle of wine is released gives us clues about how the wine was made. A wine with a 2020 vintage date in August 2021 was made in a style that allowed the wine to come together quickly. A 2019 or 2018 vintage released in 2021 had more extensive production and went thru processes that took time to meld together.
While this is a Russian River Chardonnay and may well be sourced from the more Burgundian southern part of the AVA, it is probably produced in style more in keeping with value-priced Chardonnay. Not that that is a bad thing, the largest selling Chardonnay wines are made in that style. The more Burgundian Chardonnay is more expensive. The typical value-priced Chardonnay is more California in style and is very popular.
The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 may not be an inexpensive version of the high-end wines. An alcohol content of 14.2% may suggest the vineyards were located in the northern, warmer half of the AVA. But at $9.99, none of that is important if this is a pleasing wine.
Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 Tasting Notes
The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 is a well-balanced wine with excellent weight on the palate. The color is a pale wheat yellow. The nose is lemon, lime, peach, pear, apple, a little buttercream, soft spice, and lightly floral.
It tastes like a mix of peach and lemon chiffon, grapefruit, spice, creamy vanilla, and tart apple. The mid-palate adds that salty, nutty “on-lees” sensation, dried pear, and lightly fizzy grapefruit. The acidity is well controlled; it gives the flavors plenty of room to unfold and gets you reaching for another sip.
- The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Chardonnay 2020 is an excellent tasting ten buck Chardonnay.
- While I think some of these fancy AVA but cheap wines are a marketing gimmick more than an exploration of the wines from those high-end areas. If they taste this good at a super affordable price, then I am all in.