Trader Joe's cheap wine is always hit or miss. I've found a lot of hits from wines produced overseas, and a lot of misses from U.S. bottles. Unfortunately, my latest purchase was a dud - the 2006 California Wine Party's Cab Franc/Merlot from Paso Robles.
Jason's Wine Blog listed it as his #2 favorite Trader Joe's wine in August 2008 (see ranking here, longer review here).
I'm a big fan of Cab Franc, and just experienced some wonderful wines of that varietal from the Loire Valley produced by Catherine & Pierre Breton. While those wines were much more expensive, around $20, I was still hoping to taste some of that fragrant rose petal the grape is known for.
Instead, I got burnt wood, oak and vanilla on the nose, some red berries in the mouth but overall, seemed over made.
This isn't an unpleasant wine or a bad wine. I'm certainly going to drink it, but it's not much different from other cheap American wines I find at places like Trader Joe's. They all seem to be in this style that emphasizes oak and vanilla. Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV rails against this style, which he derides as the "Oak Monster" (and recently said during one of his postings after sniffing a bottle that he felt like he had a 2x4 shoved up his nose). My complaint with this style is that it's all the same no matter what kinds of grapes used. Very little fruit shines through, very little individuality makes it into the bottle.
Maybe it seems like I'm overreacting for this $5 bottle of wine, which I say isn't bad. I guess part of it is the fact that I wanted to really enjoy this for election night, and that I've read good reviews on it. But overall, it just deepens my impression that U.S. wine makers, looking to bottle cheap wine, have a preset idea of what they want their wines to taste like. I'm sure it's good business. I'm sure lots of people like this wine, and others like it. But if you're really looking for something unique and cheap, it's really worth checking out wines from other countries.