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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Trader Joe's Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice

I've always been terrified of champagne bottles. It has something to do with the deafening pop and the lethal projectile that shoots out of the nozzle when you open it. 

On our honeymoon, Sonia and I had a couple of bottles thanks to some of our good friends. Each night, I'd try a new technique to open the bottle. I tried prying the cork off with a knife. I tried shaking the bottle like they do in the movies. That one's a great method if you don't mind wasting half the bottle and getting wine all over the room. So then I tried opening the bottle while holding it over the shower. 

Sonia offered to try, but like a good husband, my protective instinct (AKA foolish pride) kicked in, and I insisted on performing the risky task myself, night after night, adding one more thing to stress over on top of my already fraying nerves.

This bottle is no exception. Only this time, it's not champagne, it's chardonnay. But it's non-alcoholic chardonnay. It's apparently still "chardonnay," because it's made with actual Chardonnay grapes from Spain. Sorry, booze-hounds.You'll have to do all of the work associated with a regular champagne bottle, and alas, there's no buzz inside.

Nonetheless, this stuff makes a pretty good glass of bubbly for New Year's and such, especially if you're the designated driver, a non-drinker, or a law-abiding under-21-year-old. It's right in the middle of the dry/sweet spectrum, maybe favoring sweet just a bit, yet not feeling syrupy at all. It almost tastes a little appley to me. It tastes like a very high quality maybe a sparkling grape cider with a dash of apple juice...?

The carbonation level seemed just about perfect to me. Just the right amount of bubbles. Enough to tickle my mouth, but not so much that it burns. Sonia thinks it's very similar to dessert wines she's tried, but without the alcohol.

It was $2.99 at our local TJ's. That's a pretty good price for an item made with imported grapes. It's very high quality, and we'd definitely buy it again for another special occasion.

Sonia gives it 4 out of 5 stars. We're absolutely on the same page with this one. It's been a while since we've reviewed a beverage on here, and it's always nice to be able to say that Trader Joe's has produced another winner.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trader Joe's Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

The packaging declares these cupcakes "Minty, delicious, and festive too!" Well, they're certainly minty and festive. On that other point, however, I might not agree so enthusiastically. It seems peppermint desserts like Pretzel Slims and Chocolate Covered Joe-Joe's can be hit or miss at TJ's. And new things like Peppermint Macarons are apparently fairly tasty. But, personally, I would call these cupcakes another miss.

Don't get me wrong, they didn't taste bad. They were moist, they had plenty of frosting, and as far as I can tell, they were made with quality ingredients. The icing tasted sweet, minty, and cream cheesy. But unlike other sweet frostings, I felt that the flavor conflicted with and overshadowed the chocolate cake part of the product. Chocolate and mint can easily complement one another. Just look at York Peppermint Patties or Andes candies. I'm not sure what exactly is working in those products that failed in this one, but I definitely tasted more peppermint cream cheese than chocolate cake.

It didn't taste like toothpaste, which is a plus. But it also didn't taste like a dessert to me. Even the cream cheese, sugar, and peppermint elements of the icing seemed to cancel each other out a bit, even before the chocolate came into play. Again, I could be wrong. There's a lot of positive buzz out there about these cupcakes. But I have to offer this dissenting opinion. There's nothing gross about them, but there's not really anything I would describe as "delicious" either. Sonia enjoyed them significantly more than I did, but she also admitted that she didn't see herself buying these again in the future. There are just too many other products at TJ's that we do find "delicious," and I don't want to waste my precious RDA for calories and fat on something I would say "meh" to.

I'll give these a very neutral 2.5 stars. Sonia gives them 3 stars.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate. Hazelnut. Cookies. Let's repeat that again, and let it sink in. Chocolate. Hazelnut. Cookies. Let the wild drooling rumpus begin!

There's very few word trios that hold that kinda sway over me. Maybe "pizza/ wings/ beer" or "baseball/ boxseats/ beer" or maybe, from the looks of things, just "yada/ yada/beer." How can these be bad? And how could I have held strong, and walked past these shopping trip after shopping trip, and never give into temptation like I have been so tempted to before?

As it turns out...I could have waited and not missed much. I'm shocked at those words I just typed. But it's the truth. Let's analyze this. It's not the fault of the cookies, in this case meaning the twin hazelnut shortbread discs on either side of the chocolate filling. Oh no. Those are ab-sah-freakin'-lutely delish. Soft, crumbly, sugary, nutty, melty-in-your-mouthy...if it were a simply a box full of simply those, despite any restraint I am trying to cultivate within me, these would have been demolished within seconds, and Sandy and I probably would have inadvertently ruthlessly bloodied  each other as we fought each other off for every last little crumb. That would have been awkward to explain at the forthcoming family Christmas gatherings. But much like these similarly flawed shortbread-inspired snacks, there's a certain something that otherwise holds them back from being all they can be. This time, it's the middle.

Perhaps it's not really all that fair, but when I see the words "chocolate" and "hazelnut" together, my mind kind melds them into one word that stands above most others in this world: Nutella. Nutella's the standard, and despite several noble attempts to duplicate its success, well, you just can't. Coming close and falling short is okay, but to miss it completely, like the choco-nutty filling of these guys do, well, that's unacceptable. Them's the rules. It's not really the flavor itself, though it's not quite rich enough to really stand out from the rest of the cookie. It's the texture. I'm not sure if it's tough or kinda chewy or just plain hard, but to when your teeth sink right thru the wafer and strike upon the middle, it's a rude awakening, like digging through soft soil only to run into some hard clay. It's certainly not the "creamy" the package purports it to be, probably in an effort to fool you into thinking there's a reasonable Nutella knockoff dwelling inside. Not a fan.

Overall, the cookies would be better off either a) skipping the chocolate filling altogether 2) packaging a little jar of spread inside, separate from the cookies, in order to spread your own on or d) with you scraping off the spread then dipping them into Nutella. For me, this makes three not-so-glowing cookie reviews in a row...I'm beginning to question if I like cookies as much as I think I do...I might finally have to cave in and try the cookie butter to see what all you kids have been raving about for months on end. Sandy's not so huge on them either, for all the same reasons. We're waffling between a 3 and 3.5 each, when really, I wish we were talking another holiday pantheon candidate. Sigh.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons