12 Great Wine Values for Gifting Available Now at Empire Wine

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I've been doing some holiday gift basket shopping online the past couple weeks. While I like the idea of a [hopefully] polished presentation there's undeniable uplift in the cost of most gift baskets and wine is no exception.

For one family in particular I just wanted to get them a tasty case of red wine. And especially since they live in New York, Empire Wine came to mind. Their inventory was fresh in my mind after stopping in for a visit to their Albany store front on the way back from Cooperstown with our boys last month.

I was thinking if there was a Wine Deal Hall of Fame, Empire Wine would be a first ballot shoe in. They just consistently carry great wines at great prices, ship quickly, and get it done.

I perused their site and put together what I think is a nice mixed case of reds. Here's what I bought...

What to Buy



This more affordable Veraton botting from Alto Moncayo has been an absolute breakthrough for me this past year. Whereas Alto Moncayo proper is a spectacular blockbuster of a wine, it can come off a bit boozy and just a bit too much on a weeknight. The Veraton is more moderate in every way. Lower alcohol, more affordable (around $25 vs. $40), and more balanced. A terrific guilt-free indulgence the closer you can find it to $20. Read more...


I was really impressed with this while tasting it at the winery in Tuscany, and it wasn't just a matter of being "under the ether"while on vacation. I bought a few bottles of them at a great price once we got back and cranked through them quickly. And I enjoyed it with family at Il Mulino at Walt Disney World while on vacation. What I like about it is its new world fruit while being undeniably an old world wine. Love the price point too, especially compared to Sette Ponti's flagship Oreno bottling. Read more...

Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva 2010

Along with Rancia this was one of my two favoites while tasting at Fontalloro this summer. It's pure class but it needs time to show well. Lay this down for a while and enjoy it with a meal.  Read more...

Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

I don't think I've ever specifically highlighted this wine here on the blog but I do pick it up regularly when I find it under $20 and I'm looking for a rich yet affordable Napa Cab. I like the label and it's just a joy to drink. Empire tends to run the price pretty lean on this one in particular so I think it's a nice add.

Laetitia Pinot Noir 2012

They had this for $14.99 at Trader Joe's in Framingham last month. I mentioned it to a friend and he noticed they'd been cleared out of it. WWP effect? ;) They've still got the 2012 at Empire, with a slightly higher price, and they've reloaded at TJ's with the 2013. Haven't tried it yet. Read more...

Orin Swift Locations 'E-2' Spanish Red Blend 2012

A rich and juicy red that's a crowd-pleasing no brainer to pop open and enjoy. Read more...

Belle Glos 'Meiomi' Pinot Noir 2013

Winemaker Joe Wagner is reliably delivering vintage after vintage with this ubiquitous fruit-forward California Pinot Noir. The Wagner Family is behind Caymus and other well-regarded wine brands. Read more...

14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

I've never had this wine that I recall but a very good friend with a sharp palate has a theory about finding a certain kind of value wines: Attend high end functions at places like the Ritz and the Four Seasons and see what they're pouring. He says you'll see 14 Hands being poured a lot. They don't want to tarnish their brand by pouring junk and they want a nice looking label that pleases the well-heeled crowd. I like the approach. Give it a whirl!

Columbia Crest 'H3' Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

I've long been a fan of Columbia Crest, and their H3 lineup hits a real value sweet spot. With their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon raking in a 92 Spectator rating this seems to be a high point for the label. I've had it. I like it. I'm buying a lot of it. Makes a great gift for colleagues and friends. Super solid ~$10 Cab? We could use more of those. Read more...

Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Tres Picos 2012

I first tasted this at The Capital Grille and have since grown to love pretty much everything Borsao does. They're adjacently responsible for the Alto Moncayo wines and it's sometimes hard to immediately discern which wines they're responsible for. Besides Tres Picos another to check out is Monte Oton. Every one of these wines are reliable mind-bending values.

Ramsay Pinot Noir 2013

A reader asked earlier this year what I'd recommend for a sub-$10 Pinot Noir for a wedding pour. This wine doesn't quite hit that price point but it does delivery significantly more enjoyment than it costs. Read more...

Columbia Crest 'Grand Estates' Merlot 2012

This is an old favorite I've rarely gone wrong with. The 2003 bottling was one of the first wines I went out and bought a case of after reading a 90+ point review in Spectator and loving the first bottle I bought of it. If you're looking for a reliably delicous sub-$10 wine remember Columbia Crest Grand Estates.

Bonus Wine!

Juan Gil Silver Label 2012

Somehow I forgot to add this ever-reliable QPR king. I opened a bottle of this 4 nights ago, and enjoyed a pour from it over the course of several nights. I only sealed it with a simple $1.99 stopper and it got better and better each night. It's surprising that such an affordable wine behaves this way but it bodes well for its quality. Back up the truck at the prices Empire dishes this one out.


Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite wine shops for gifting? What are some of your favorite wines to give as gifts this holiday season?

I hope you have a terrific holiday season. Cheers!

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Deal Alert: 10% (or more?) Whole Foods Gift Card Promo

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Massachusetts-based Whole Foods Market has returned with a terrific promotion they ran last year:

Purchase $500 or more in Whole Foods Market Gift Cards and get 10% back in a gift card for yourself.

When I first saw this last year I thought for sure there was a catch. Like, for example, the additional 10% bonus gift card wasn't good until the next day. Or the 10% gift card expired in a few weeks (the way so many bonus restaurant gift cards this time of year do).

But there was no catch. I walked up to the customer service desk, bought a $500 gift card and I received $550 worth of gift cards.

In its simplest sense this is an opportunity to prepay your grocery bill for as long as you're comfortable floating it at roughly 10% off.

I say roughly because a true 10% off would be paying $450 for $500 worth of gift cards rather than paying $500 for $550 worth of gift cards.

But as soon as I bought the gift cards I looked around the store and noticed that most everyone had at least $200 worth of stuff in their shopping carts. I wondered why everyone wasn't taking advantage of this offer. Why wouldn't they just buy a $500 gift card use it right away to pay for their purchase that day and use the remainder on their next visit?

I still don't know. I think most people just don't think about gift cards that way.

Anyway, here are some thoughts on why you should considering taking Whole Foods up on this deal...

First, I'm mentioning this here on this wine blog because Whole Foods sells wine. And wine is sold at rather tight margins. What I like about this promotion is that it gives you a way to get 10% off the best deals you can get on wine at Whole Foods. By that I mean that it enables you to get 10% off on "net" items that otherwise aren't eligible for mixed case discounts. And it enables you to get 10% off on top of mixed case discounts. That's stacking and you know I love stacking.

Speaking of stacking, grocery stores are a commonly bonused credit card category. For example, AmEx has Blue Cash credit cards that pay 5% or 6% back on grocery purchases. So this is generally one advantage of buying wine at retailers that code as grocery stores.

But wait - it gets better! Through February 15th, 2015 if you register your AmEx Blue Cash card you get an additional 2% cashback. So a total of 7-8% cashback depending on the particular Blue Cash card you have.

So, buy $500 worth of Whole Foods gift cards, get a $50 bonus gift card then do your [wine] shopping right there and spend the remainder next time you shop. It's a great deal.

Now, you might say "well, Whole Foods prices are sky high so this really isn't that great of a deal". I wouldn't be so sure about that. When I've price shopped wine at their Dedham, MA location they seem to be price matching Costco and other discount retailers on high profile brands. So their prices are competitive in my experience.

Taking this a bit further, even if you can't make use of all the balance of the gift card you could probably resell the gift cards at around break-even prices. Which presents an opportunity to rack up points/miles/cashback on your favorite credit cards that heavily bonus grocery spend.

All in all this is a really good deal I'd encourage you to consider.
Deal runs the month of December 2014.
So far I've confirmed it is available in Massachusetts and in other Whole Foods in the region.

Update: The Deal Mommy shares this cool way to get even more off your Whole Foods purchases by buying gift cards online. Be aware that online GC purchases may not code as grocery stores on your credit card. I'd recommend doing some trial purchases on your card(s). But $5 back on $20 is 20% off ($20 for $25 worth of value) and that is huge.

Subscribe for future wine deal updates.

Question of the Day: Have you seen this offer in your area?

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2012 Sea Smoke Southing for $55.99

Monday, December 1, 2014

Illinois-based wine retailer Grand Cru Wine Merchants is offering the hard-to-find-at-retail Sea Smoke Southing for $55.99. The Wine-Searcher average for this wine is $87.

Long-time readers may recall that the 2004 Sea Smoke Southing was my wine of the year in 2009.
Only 30 bottles are available and the deal ends today (December 1st, 2014).

They've also got the 94-point (RP) 2012 Castano Solenara for just $10.99.
Definitely a great value and one of the best wineries to visit near Jumilla, Spain.

Another zinger: 2008 Robert Foley Claret for $69.99
Most listings on Wine-Searcher for this are $99+

Shipping for 6 bottles is around $28.

Good luck!

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Sette Ponti Oreno for $39.99 w/Free Shipping on 12+

New Jersey retailer Wine Library is offering the 2011 Sette Ponti Oreno for the amazingly low price of $39.99. They're also offering free shipping on 12 bottles.

Oreno is the Sette Ponti's flagship label. According to Wine Spectator, the 2011 carries a $107 release price. New York and New Jersey retailers in particular seem to regularly offer this wine in the $50-$60 range. But this is the lowest price I've ever seen it.

I first tasted Oreno at a Wine Spectator Grand Tour event in Boston.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Sette Ponti this summer.

Like all out of state retailers they can't ship to MA.
But with prices like these it's worth finagling shipping to a nearby state.

Hat tip to jtinto.

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