10 Widely Available Reliably Outstanding Wine.com Wines

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Last week I posted about how to maximize the 2017 Wine.com AmEx Offer and promised to follow-up with some recommendations. Before I get into that, a couple updates on the deal...

It looks like a couple of the better promo codes that offered $20 off $100 are either expired (EBATES20) or not working for existing customers anymore (SEPTNEW). That's a bummer, but new codes come out all the time so have patience. You've got until the end of the year to buy gift cards and even longer to make use of them with a one year StewardShip subscription.

I got some requests for state-specific recommendations, since Wine.com's inventory varies by state. Before I get into that I wanted to offer up a list of picks that are broadly available and reliably outstanding, at least in my experience for my tastes.

I cracked a bottle of open last night and it hit the spot. It's everything I like about California Pinot Noir: Lighter in color and body (than say Cabernet) but bursting with delicious flavor. If I can ever find this for less than $30 I'm a buyer. And at $39.99 before discounts that's totally achievable.


We tasted through their full line-up while in Italy and Crognolo jumped out as my favorite irrespective of price. That's saying something since Oreno retails for well over $100. Luckily for us Wine.com has Crognolo for $24.99 before discounts. I like this because it's a little more generous fruit-wise than a lot of Italian wines, but still true to its location. Always a great value.

Vintage after vintage this is one of the best value Napa Cabs around. Every time I taste it I love the flavor profile: Ample fruit matched with gorgeous savory notes. If I can get it for close to $30 I'm thrilled. At $39.99 before discounts the price here can't be beat.

The 1:2 punch of Honig's Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc is hard to beat. I love this white wine for its generous tropical notes balanced with racy acidity. Pair it a spicy Asian dish like the poorly named but utterly delicious Boiled Fish Fillet In Hot Spicy Sichuan Sauce from Sichuan Gourmet House in Newton.

Cakebread is the wine that got me into wine and every time I taste their Cabernet I'm reminded why I still adore their wines. There's just something special about the way their wines present themselves. A friends once told me, more than 15 years ago, that if I could ever find Cakebread Cab for less than $50 I should buy some. I thought I'd surely be able to rarely find it for that little, but it has proven difficult - especially these days after a little inflation. Depending on the coupon code you can find you might be able to get it for less than $50. Great place to visit too.

Upstream I mentioned how I liked Crognolo since it was a little more generous fruit-wise than other wines from the region while still being true to the style you'd expect. The same is true here of Elk Cove's appellation Pinot Noir: A little fruitier than most Oregon Pinot Noirs and I appreciate it. The 2014 vintage is a winner in Oregon. Be careful with vintage on this one.

Borsao delivers insane value throughout their lineup and this bottling hits a great price point at $14.99 before discount. Just a ton of well balanced flavor here. If you drink mostly domestic wine and haven't explored Spain this is a great place to start.

I remember once getting a deal on Belle Glos for something ridiculously good, less than $30/bottle. I've not come close since, until now. This is a full-throttle very ripe Pinot Noir. It's not for everybody but I really enjoy the flavor profile this delivers. It may not drink like a classic Pinot Noir, not even a classic California Pinot Noir. More like a Zinfandel perhaps. But I do enjoy it every time I try it.

Meiomi seems to be sailing along even though Wagner family sold the brand off. I'll have to check in on recent vintages before buying in bulk, but at $19.99 before discounts this could be the cheapest I've ever seen Meiomi, depending on the coupon code. These bottles seem to disappear rapidly from my stash so I'm always up for padding an order with a bottle or two.

A gorgeous bold Spanish red. The pricing of this Veraton bottling sometimes gets compressed so close to Alto Moncayo proper that you're better off just going with the big brother. But in this case we've got Veraton at $28.99 before discounts and Alto Moncayo proper at $43.99. Both are good buys with discounts but I prefer Veraton given the spread.

Bottom Line

Follow the tips in this post to maximize the deal. The links above are non-affiliate links so if you want to shop through a portal and earn cashback use those. But if portals aren't worth the hassle to you, here's my affiliate link:

Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite widely available realiably outstanding wines from Wine.com?


Maximizing the 2017 Wine.com AmEx Offer

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Spend $50 or more, get $10 back. Expires 1/1/2018.
(click to enlarge)
American Express is back with a $10 back on $50 offer at Wine.com. This offer is a true AmEx Offer (as opposed to similar promo-code based offers in 2016) so it enables some creative stacking which can take discounts beyond 40% off.

The deal is good through 1/1/2018 so it'll be around for a while. This gives us the opportunity to lock in the 20% savings this deal offers then stack it with promo codes and portal cashback for maximum savings.

How to best utilize this offer depends on how many AmEx cards you have access to. If you've got just a few you're probably best off just taking the 20% off and trying to stack it with a free shipping promo code.

For a primer on AmEx Offers see this post from Frequent Miler

But if you've got access to a lot of AmEx cards (I've got around 20) there's a potential to get some seriously good discounts on wine. Here's how I'm playing it...

Step 1: Bite the bullet and sign up for StewardShip

StewardShip is Wine.com's equivalent of Amazon Prime whereby all of your orders are shipped for a flat $49 annual fee. The nice thing about this is that you can ship one bottle or many and it's included in the annual fee.

You can also ship bottles to friends as gifts or to yourself while on vacation so it can be quite nice.

For purposes of maximizing this deal it's vital though because you only get one promo code per order and you want to use that towards a discount rather than 1 cent shipping.

Tip: You can pay for StewardShip with Gift Certificates, so you might want to skip to Step 2...

Step 2: Buy $50 Wine.com Gift Certificates

The essence of the Wine.com deal is that you get $10 back on a $50 purchase for a 20% discount. We want to lock that in without overshoot, so for each AmEx card you have, buy a $50 Wine.com Gift Certificate.

You may want/need to create a secondary Wine.com account where you buy these from. In my case my primary Wine.com account has an existing balance so if I try to buy a new Gift Certificate the system tries to use that balance. To work around this I create a new Wine.com account (this just requires a new email address) where I buy the Gift Certificates from.

When you order a Gift Certificate the eCode should arrive in a couple hours during business hours. Then redundantly they ship out physical codes.

Step 3: Apply the Gift Certificates to Your Primary Wine.com Account

The way Wine.com handles the application of Gift Certificates is quite unique. Their system says you can only apply 2 Gift Certificates per order. But in practice that's not the case.

Here's what I do...

Add $100+ worth of wine to your cart. Then proceed to checking out.

On the right side of the page you should see an option to enter Gift Card Code (two codes maximum). This isn't strictly true as we'll see below...

In their system, once you enter a Gift Card Code it's inextricably linked to the account you associate it with. We'll use this to our advantage when placing orders.

If you run into a message saying "You've entered the maximum number of gift cards allowed (two) per order." a workaround is to clear your cookies or open an incognito browser window to add additional Gift Certificates to your account. Repeat as necessary to bump up the balance on the Wine.com account you have StewardShip on.

Step 4: Shop through a portal

Shopping portals offer a way to get cashback/travel rewards when shopping online. Cashback for Wine.com typically hovers in the 5-10% range.

To find the best current cashback available, consult Cashback Monitor:


Step 5: Use a promo code

The nice thing about having free shipping through StewardShip is that you can apply your one precious promo code towards a juicy discount.

Right now there are a couple of tasty promo codes I see out there:

EBATES20 for $20 off $100+ orders (probably best to shop through the eBates portal for this one)
SEPTNEW for $20 of $100+ orders

Update (9/10/2017): Looks like EBATES20 is only working once per account and SEPTNEW isn't working for existing accounts.

20% on top of 20% gives us a true 40+% discount when stacked with a portal.

Both of these purport to be for new customers only (which is problematic when combined with our approach of placing multiple orders with a single account). But they seem to be working for existing customers.

Google for promo codes and find the option that works best for you.

Step 6: Place your orders

Depending on the promo code you're working with you'll need to place multiple orders. But that's okay since you've got StewardShip.

The nice thing about stacking $20 off $100 (for example) with 20% off Gift Certificates is that it's a true 40% off (plus whatever you can get through a portal). This creates some substantial savings.

From here you just need to decide what to order. For me I'm likely to buy wines from reliably outstanding producers that make good wine every vintage.

Even with Wine.com's relatively jacked up pricing, with discounts like these you can buy some terrific wines at unbeatable prices.

Wine.com offers different wines in each state. Ping me if you're interested in some recommendations for your state.

Questions or comments?

Let me know on Twitter: @RobertDwyer
Or via email: wellesleywinepress@gmail.com


Visiting Ridge Monte Bello

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ridge Monte Bello tasting room
I've enjoyed wines from Ridge Vineyards for years. As the saying goes, "Nobody ever got fired for ordering Ridge" at a work dinner - especially their reasonably priced Zinfandel-driven wines from Sonoma.

But their crown jewel is Ridge Monte Bello - a red blend crafted in their vineyards and winery perched atop the Santa Cruz mountains overlooking Silicon Valley. Monte Bello aims to be the most age worthy North American wine, made in a Bordeaux style aged in American oak barrels.

Since their Monte Bello winery (not to be confused with their other location in Lytton Springs 120 miles north) is so close to work trips to San Jose it makes for a tempting quick weekday tasting.  But until recently I was never able to finagle a visit. I'm glad I did though because the visit was amazing and I've got a much better understand of why Ridge is one of the greatest American wineries.

Getting there

The 4 mile drive up to Monte Bello was even more interesting
than usual due to heavy spring rains this year
It seem all of the best winery visits start with cautionary instructions on how to get there, and getting to Monte Bello is no exception. Although it's minutes from the heart of Silicon Valley (Apple's Headquarters are just 10 miles away) the five mile drive up Montebello Road is as beautiful as it is treacherous.

Thanks to unprecedented spring rainfall in the region shortly before my March visit, portions of the road were washed out. Makeshift waterfalls cascading down the hillside combined with hairpin turns made the approach reminiscent of Maui's Road to Hana. 

The approach helps establish what a special place Ridge Monte Bello is. With many wineries there are neighbors with nearly identical terroir: Always inferior if you're the more prestigious winery, always just as good if you're the up and comer. But with Ridge there are hardly any neighboring wineries of note with access to the same soil and microclimate.

Brief history

View west from Monte Bello towards Rhys Vineyards
Monte Bello's history as a vineyard, and therefore Ridge's history as a winery, goes back to before prohibition. Here is a useful timeline. In 1962, four Stanford University's Research Institute scientists bonded the winery and produced the first bottle of Monte Bello.

In 1966 the first vintage of Geyserville was produced, establishing what we know today as the two most noteworthy offering from Ridge: Their flagship Monte Bello Bordeaux blend that sells for $175, and their single-vineyard Sonoma Zinfandel driven blends that sell for around $40.

In 1969, Paul Draper joined Ridge as winemaker. Draper is a true pioneer of California wine and one of the most admired winemakers in the world with influence that extends beyond North America.

In 1994, current Monte Bello winemaker Eric Baugher joined Ridge.

During my visit, I had the privilege of meeting and barrel tasting with both Baugher and Draper.


Ridge Monte Bello welcomes visitors on the weekend without appointment. On weekdays, appointments are needed and most likely would occur between 11a and 4p so keep that in mind if you're considering an after-work caper.
Tasting room
The architecture of the tasting room and winery reflect Ridge's proud history. Structures have been maintained, remodeled, added-on, and modernized in harmony with the terrain. Tastings occur in what was the original winery long ago. The wine is now made at a separate facility another mile up the hill (at 2,700 ft) where I met winemaker Eric Baugher for a tour and some barrel tasting.

As much as I thought I was familiar with Ridge, you never really get a feeling for a winery's true personality until you visit, and as importantly meet the people behind the winery.

Prior to visiting, I reviewed their website and noted that Paul Draper retired in 2016. But as luck would have it, he was there the day I visited. It was somewhat surprising to see him, but given that Ridge has been his life's work it's understandable he'd still be involved at the winery.

Draper was giving a couple of upcoming young winemakers a tour, comparing notes with them on winemaking techniques that flew over my head without further description (submerged-cap fermentation, anyone?).
Paul Draper and Eric Baugher
He's as passionate about experimentation as he is with sharing techniques and datapoints with others. For example, I remember visiting Bodegas Carchelo in Spain where Director of Enology Joaquín Gálvez cited his time learning at Ridge Vineyards as highly influential.

Eric Baugher is the winemaker responsible for Monte Bello these days, and clearly has the keys to the kingdom. He joined Ridge in the '90s after graduating from UC Santa Cruz with degrees in chemistry and biology. That said, he's not one to make calls rigidly based on measurements made in the lab. Far from it. He's successfully paired his scientific background with old school winemaking techniques to advance Monte Bello's legacy.

A recurring theme with both Baugher and Draper is experimentation and basing decisions on blind tasting. This encompasses everything they do. Determining the varietal composition of Monte Bello. Deciding which vineyard blocks should be considered. Informing which winemaking technique is best suited to the grapes their vineyards grow. They set up an experiment, test it blind, and decide what to do based on what they taste.

See also: Visiting Kosta Browne

The scale and attention paid to the famous Monte Bello bottling is worth discussing. The Monte Bello winery produces about 9,000 cases total (plus or minus depending on vintage). Of that, about 4,500 cases are Monte Bello proper. Of that, about half is sold to their mailing list and club members. That leaves only a couple thousand cases of the stuff to go around. Keep that in mind next time you're trying to decide whether to splurge on a bottle of Monte Bello: There's not much of it in cirulation through normal distribution channels.

The process of making Monte Bello starts with hand sorting of grapes. No optical sorting is used (it removes character and depth says their blind tasting). And at these volumes they can afford to hand sort. As a point of comparison Opus One with roughly 5x the production of Monte Bello does leverage optical sorting.

All Bordeaux varieties are de-stemmed. Monte Bello is aged for 16-22 months in ~91% new American oak. The result is a wine that averages 13% alcohol (+ or - depending on the vintage) built for longevity.

According to Baugher, Monte Bello is at its best 20 years after bottling. In my experience, great wines like this also show well in their youth, albeit without the integrated secondary characteristics that reward patience.

I mentioned that I've enjoyed Monte Bello more young (3-5 years after bottling) than after mid-term cellaring (say 8-10 years after bottling). Baugher wasn't surprised by this. Perhaps like the "dumb phase" that Chateauneuf goes through before emerging, it's probably best to let this age for the long haul if you're going to age it. If you're going to drink it at around 10 years (or younger) you'll want to decant it liberally.

I enjoyed a taste of '15 Monte Bello from barrel (absolutely leaped from the glass aromatically) and the more reserved (at this point) '16. What a treat.
The Monte Bello winery also produces some of Ridge's Zinfandel based wines, including the always outstanding Geyserville. This is somewhat surprising given its distance from Monte Bello and the fact that their Lytton Springs winery is in Sonoma near Geyserville. Evidently, they prefer to bottle certain wines at Monte Bello.

Overall, getting a chance to tour the winery with Eric Baugher was tremendous. He's got this quiet confidence about him that's in line with the Ridge brand. For example, regarding critics he said they don't need to alter their winemaking style to please critics since "Ridge has been around longer than any of them".


After the tour I sat down for a tasting. Here are some very quick notes...

2015 Estate Chardonnay $55
Stony minerality with lemon and light feral notes. Pretty.

2014 Lytton Springs $40
A field blend with pretty red fruit and nice grip. Outstanding.

2014 Pagani Ranch $40
Approachable. A great "starter" wine, in a good way.

2014 Estate Merlot $55
No green here at all. Toasty oak on the finish. Grippy.

2014 Estate Cabernet $60
Really satisfying, complete wine with formidable tannins.

Then we got to the Monte Bello. One just about to be released and one with some age...

2014 Ridge Monte Bello $175
Aged 22 months in 95% American, 3% Hungarian, and 2% French oak. This is one of the most stunning wines I've ever tasted. Despite it's youth it's an absolute delight to drink. The balance of texture and gorgeous red fruit make this a compelling wine. Although it's constituent components are individually identifyable they're so appealing that once integrated this should be a tremendous Monte Bello.

1992 Ridge Monte Bello
13.5% alcohol. 80% Cabernet, 20% Merlot. Very pretty on the nose with candied cherries, leather, and cedar. Fully integrated and very clean. A delight to taste this at 25 years of age.

Bottom line

A visit to Ridge Vineyards is something I've always wanted to do. Getting to know what makes their brand special exceeded my high expectations.

After tasting the incredible 2014 I immediately did a Wine-searcher search for Monte Bello. Being a deal hound I thought for sure I could buy it for significantly less than retail but it turns out it actually is really scarce and hard to find discounts on.

One option is to join their Collector's Club where you buy Monte Bello as a future at a discount. For example, if you join and pay right now you'd get the 2016 Monte Bello for $105 rather than $175. You wouldn't receive it until 2019 but it is a way to get a significant discount on the wine. And I have a feeling they're not going anywhere and their prices are only going to increase.

They've got other wine club options as well. Their Z list is for Zin fans. And their ATP (Advanced Tasting Program) is for people interested in more esoteric bottlings. Joining all 3 gets you additional benefits.

I stopped by a local MA retailer. These are the bottlings we tend to see in our region:
Geyserville and Lytton Springs are two to check out for sure, but some of the other options are even more affordable and worth checking out.

As I was driving down the mountain after my visit I couldn't help but compare Ridge to Apple - whose new "spaceship" campus is visible from the vineyards. They're both admired brands that make unique products that are often imitated but rarely duplicated. True California pioneers.

View from Monte Bello towards Silicon Valley
Question of the Day: Have you ever visited Ridge at either of their properties? What did you think? What are some of your favorite Ridge bottlings?


Giveaway: 2 Tickets to Boston Travel Show & Craft Beer Tasting

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Boston Globe Travel Show is coming to the Boston Seaport this weekend February 10-12, 2017.

I've been given 2 tickets to the Northeast Craft Beer Pavilion Session A on Friday February 10 from 6-8:30PM (a $70 value) to give away. These tickets include admission to the Boston Globe Travel Show. Because the Beer Pavilion is 21+ entrants and their guest must be 21 years or older. A form of ID will be required to pick up the tickets at will call along with entering the Beer Pavilion the day of the show.

I'll choose a winner at random from the entries.

Two ways to enter: 

  1. Leave a comment on this blog post saying you'd like to be entered in the drawing
  2. Tweet a link to this post
If you leave a comment and tweet a link you'll get 2 entries, increasing your chances of winning.

Contest closes Tuesday February 7th at 11:59pm eastern time.
Winner will be announced Wednesday morning by 9:00a.

Some highlights throughout the weekend include:

  • 3 sampling sessions and a Sunday Lord Hobo’s Brunch Bites & Brews at the Northeast Craft Beer Pavilion with tastings of nearly 100 beers and ciders from over 40 breweries
  • 1,000 Places to See Before You Die author Patricia Schultz will be hosting a two seminars: “Emerging Destinations: Iran, Cuba, Myanmar and Antarctica,” and "U.S. & Canada."
  • Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of Frommer Travel Guides and award-winning travel journalist, will be speaking about "Insider Tips for Creating Great Vacations in All Price Ranges”
  • Boston Globe travel writer Chris Muther will give his tips for "The Digital Traveler: Best Apps, Photos & Travel Products"
  • Cultural dancer performances from the Philippines and Dominican Republic, including showing you some basic steps of Merengue and Bachata
Here's info on the breweries:

And here's my in depth guide to the show:

Questions or comments? Drop me an email or ping me on Twitter @RobertDwyer

I'll look forward to selecting a winner from the comments and tweets.

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