Fall 2016: New Pinot Noirs from Sojourn Cellars

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sojourn Cellars is a small (5,000 case) Sonoma producer of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Founded in 2001 by Craig and Helen Haserot along with winemaker Erich Bradley, they've cemented themselves as one of my most reliably outstanding California Pinot Noir producers.

My affinity for their wines stems from 2 things:
  1. Their style is pitch perfect for my preferences. Fruit forward yet balanced. Delicious on its own yet great with food.
  2. They run one heck of a consumer friendly mailing list (free shipping on 6 or more bottles, free shipping plus 10% off on 12 or more)
Given they've only been around for 15 years, it's surprising how consistently their wines deliver. And since they're not so expensive that you have to save them for rare special occasions, I find myself happily cranking through my mailing list shipments with regularity.

Their appellation Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays sell for around $40, while their single vineyard wines go for around $60. Their Cabernets go for more, and while I've had and enjoyed their Cabs the Pinot Noir is where my experience lies.

I had a chance to taste through many of their 2014s slated to be released later this month. They're available now in their Sonoma tasting room so I thought I'd share my tasting notes in hopes that it might inform some of your purchase decisions if we tend to have similar tastes in California Pinot Noir.

Their Ridgetop Pinot Noir was the star of the lineup, as it has been in past vintages. A new vineyard debuts in this release and impresses: Riddle. Sangiacomo is outstanding as usual (and I think was available in the spring). The most expensive bottling in the release, Rueling is a bit of a divergence from the house style and for me wasn't a QPR success. But their 2014 Russian River Valley is a great entry point into their wines. 92 points for me (and Wine Spectator agrees) for $42 - a solid play.

Here are my notes...

2014 Sojourn Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir 

94/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.4% Alcohol
250 Cases Produced
$59 Release Price

Ridgetop is always a favored Sojourn release and this one delivers, but in a different way than previous vintages. Medium-full bodied visually, with stunningly gorgeous aromatics that leap from the glass across the room. Unprecedented really. Textbook California Pinot Noir markers: strawberries, orange oil, bramble berries. Beautiful. The curve ball here is mouthfeel. Whereas you’d expect to be punched in the face with weight, the experience is ethereal. Cloud-like and silky. But with a long finish where the aromatics resonate. Quite intriguing and definitely special. Compelling. Wow.

2014 Sojourn Riddle Vineyard Pinot Noir

93/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.4% Alcohol
350 Cases Produced
$59 Release Price

Translucent magenta/ruby in color, about 30% opaque. Ready to go immediately upon opening. Clings to the glass. Gorgeous nose of pure, perfectly ripened fruit. Strawberries. A bit of red raspberry. Supporting briar patch notes give it varietally correct appeal. Very clean and attractive. The flavors on the palate get weightier with a hint of creamy vanilla notes in the background joining the otherwise elegant and precise fruit up front. Full mouthfeel with a long finish. Outstanding.

2014 Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir

93/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.5% Alcohol
1,350 Cases Produced
$59 Release Price

Medium-full bodied visually and in terms of mouth feel. Fruit sourced from the Petaluma Gap.

Just a gorgeous array of aromas and flavors here. Rich red fruit and cinnamon on the nose. I get a bit of earth and a hint of vanilla on the palate. Just everything I'm looking for a fruit forward California Pinot Noir. Keeps inviting another sip, never gets heavy.

Of the 20014 single vineyards I've tasted this one is the most balanced between the feel and flavor profiles found in various Sojourn Pinots. For this it is a very successful offering and a delight to drink. Outstanding.

2014 Sojourn Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

92/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.2% Alcohol
650 Cases Produced
$42 Release Price

Classic Sojourn Pinot noir. Amazing depth of flavor given its relatively light color. Gorgeous brambly/fruity nose with distinct supporting Russian River Valley cola notes. Satisfying grippy on the palate. Absolutely delicious. If there is one knock on this wine it’s the short finish. But it only serves to invite another sip. A benchmark appellation California Pinot Noir.

2014 Sojourn Rueling Vineyard Pinot Noir

89/100 WWP: Very Good
14.4% Alcohol
275 Cases Produced
$69 Release Price

Light in color but full of flavor, true to the Sojourn style.
However this is leaner than most of their Pinots.

30% opaque visually, in classic California Pinot ruby hues.

Pretty floral notes with supporting chalky/stone notes in the background.

Pleasing on the palate but some acid and grip, but where this falls short of greatness is on the finish which is very long but unfortunately includes some distracting flavors. That lack of purity stops this from inviting another perfect sip.

A very good wine overall and quite enjoyable. But not my favorite Sojourn Pinot. Perhaps better suited for those looking for a more restrained effort.

Samples for review.

Bottom Line


This is another strong release from Sojourn. Ridgetop and Sangiacomo are always worthy of their price tags and Riddle is an intriguing new entry. The 92 point Russian River Valley bottling is a terrific wine to seek out if you're unsure whether you'll like the style.

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Monte Oton: The Amazing $7 Value Red Wine

Friday, June 24, 2016

The other day I mentioned that while shopping at Total Wine I picked up a bottle of what I thought might be the best $7 value red on the planet: Monte Oton.

See: 10 Wines to buy now at Total Wine

When we're talking about sub-$10 wines the list of reliably delicious wines is pretty short. I've made the case for Bodegas Castano Monastrell being in this ballpark (though some reports of vintage variation have me spooked).

Columbia Crest Grand Estates comes to mind.

There's wines like Juan Gil Monastrell at around $11-$12, but that's a significant price jump (percentage wise) from $7 to $11.

I just can't think of any other wines that are this affordable and so reliably satisfying.

I cracked open the bottle of Monte Oton last night and it was absolutely on point. Full of gorgeous fruit, backed by a touch of sweet spice on the backend, and surprisingly elegant throughout. 90 points for me? Sure. Why not.

From the winery:

The vineyards for Monte Oton are situated high on the windswept slopes of the extinct volcano, Moncayo.

If you're into modern Spanish wines the name Moncayo immediately jumps out at you as being associated with the great Alto Moncayo of 100 point/$35 fame. And this winery - Bodegas Borsao - is indeed the winery behind Alto Moncayo (in association with importer Jorge Ordonez and Australian winemaker Chris Ringland).

Alto Moncayo comes in 3 levels (with release pricing from the 2013 vintage):
  • Alto Moncayo Aquilon $168
  • Alto Moncayo $50
  • Alto Moncayo Veraton  $35
Bodegas Borsao's lineup in the US includes:
  • Tres Picos $18
  • Borsao Garnacha $9
  • Monte Oton $8
I like all 3 of these wines, but I think the Monte Oton is the most underrated value play of the bunch. For me, you're getting 90% of the quality of a Tres Picos for almost half the price.

With Monte Oton you're getting a taste of the greatness possible from this region from a producer that delivers values across the board.

Monte Oton is produced by Bodegas Borsao
in Campo de Bojra in northeast Spain
Find it on Wine-Searcher

Question of the Day: What's the best sub-$10 red wine you can think of?

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Total Wine now ships to MA [and why that might be useful even if you live near a Total Wine]

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The other day I mentioned how a lot of the limited production domestic Pinot Noirs I'd seen previously at Total Wine in Natick were vaporizing off the shelves or suffering from price increases.



One specific wine I noted being there previously, which was no longer, was the Roar Pinot Noir for $31.49. Looking at their inventory online now, I see that not only do they purportedly have Roar Pinot Noir for $31.49, but it's their most expensive Pisoni bottling that retails for $65!

But here's the catch: It's not available for in-store pickup and I didn't see it on the shelves. In fact, none of the Roar wines are available for in-store pickup.

Just because a wine isn't avialable for in-store pickup doesn't mean it's not available in-store. It just means you can't order it online and pick it up in store. Got it?
Just to be sure it wasn't a matter of a misunderstanding about which bottles are which, I consulted Wine Spectator's listings of 2013 Roar Pinot Noirs they rated.

It sure looks to me like the wine Total Wine is selling for $31.49 is the $65 Roar Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard - their most expensive bottling. Quite a steal. Perhaps a pricing mistake?
The 2013 Roar Pinot Noirs Wine Spectator Rated
The Pisoni bottling is their most expensive, and strange the cheapest at Total Wine
I seriously doubt the 88 point Spectator rating is causing them to price the 2013 Roar Pisoni Pinot Noir so low. And come to think of it, Total Wine isn't listing the vintage they're offering. So it could be anything.

But knowing Roar's pedigree and the track record of this specific bottling, I'd happily buy whatever recent vintage they were selling for $31.49.
Total Wine doesn't list vintage for Roar Pinot Noir
But the track record for this bottling is quite good
But what about shipping costs? Well, it's actually quite reasonable. Just $12.26 for 6 bottles. Or $13.81 for 12 bottles to my zip code.
$12.26 to ship 6 bottles - that's very affordable
Strangely, when shopping online not all wines are available for shipment. Some are only available for in-store pickup.
Not all wines are available for shipment
But that said, I think there are plenty of wines available shipment and I'd have no problem getting to 6 bottles for 10% off. Like this Washington State Cabernet that Wine Spectator just rated 92 points that sells for $20.69 (on a $22 release price).

It is getting a little warm for shipment here lately. But I'm more comfortable with ground shipping during warmer times in-state than cross-country, within reason. 


If you're concerned about speed of delivery and/or ordering more expensive wines it may make sense to splurge for overnight shipping. They offer that for just $27.66 which is insanely good compared to what most wineries charge. But I think I'll take my chances with Ground - it could very well be overnight as well if they're efficient about things.

I see a "Promo Code" box while checking out, but I haven't been able to find any working codes. They're probably illegal in Massachusetts anyway. But it would be great if we could find some codes that worked, for discounts OR free shipping. It would be cool if their Total Discovery rewards program kicked off some codes for those who shop their a lot, but again - that's probably illegal in Massachusetts.

I checked whehter they participate in online shopping portals and don't see any that they participate in. So it looks like the best you can do is use a credit card that offers 5% cashback on grocery since both Visa and AmEx code Total Wine as grocery. We'll see if that holds true for online orders.

I also don't see them participating in any affiliate marketing schemes. And in case you're wondering (like one local retailer emailed me to ask) I'm not affiliated with Total Wine.

Of course there's always a chance Total Wine might not fulfill an order, saying they're out of stock of a the wine or whatever. But we'll see. For particularly compelling deals I'd say it's worth a shot.

Update: A couple hours after ordering 2 bottles of the Roar along with 4 other "filler" wines, I got an email update saying they couldn't fulfill the 2 bottles of Roar. I called and was told that when the store went to package the order they couldn't find the Roar (similar to what I experienced in store the other day basically). The rep said online does see real time inventory but in this case there was a discrepency between the inventory the system showed for this wine vs reality. So I cancelled the entire order. :(

Bottom Line


Total Wine now ships to Massachusetts addresses. Thanks to their low prices and reasonable shipping costs this is a great option for thos who don't live near a Total Wine. And even if you do live near a Total Wine the convenience of being able to shop from home and potentially have access to some wines they don't sell in store could enable some big deals.

Read more...

10 Wines to Buy Now at Total Wine

Saturday, June 18, 2016

An amazing wine at an amazing price
(compare at $65 retail)
I stopped in at the Natick Total Wine yesterday to check in on how things have progressed since opening six months ago.

Their entry into the Massachusetts market was notable, to me, for the impressive assortment of domestic Pinot Noirs they had featuring wines normally reserved for mailing lists and restaurants. Fo example: Wines like Kutch, Roar, Radio Coteau, and Elk Cove La Boheme. They even had single vineyard bottlings, and they were offering them at tremendous prices.

I was wondering whether this could last.

The reason for my skepticism was that the assortment in Natick was unlike other Total Wine locations I've been to. Sure, they usually have good deals on high production national brands. But other locations hardly ever carry wines like the ones I was seeing in Natick the first few months they opened.

So how did things look yetserday?


To cut to the chase: The deals are drying up.

They still had Kutch but they've jacked the prices up to the point they're not a good deal anymore (probably due to pressure from the winery). That's a story in itself, and makes me hesitant to mention the best deals by name for fear of other wineries getting wind of it and putting pressure on the distributor to "encourage" Total Wine to increase prices on certain wines.

They still had Radio Coteau at a good price. They didn't have Elk Cove La Boheme any more. I didn't see the Roar bottling they had previously for $31.49. And I didn't see a lot of interesting new additions to the Pinot Noir section.

Their wheelhouse remains high production national brands


I find Total Wine to be terrific for picking up daily drinkers. They're strongest domestically, but when they have a higher production import that you like, they usually have it at competitive prices.

Here are 10 wines I've enjoyed in the past and  restocked on yesterday...


There's only so much Meiomi you can drink, so try this. Just $13.94 if you buy 6 or more mixed bottles.


I never seem to be able to keep enough Alto Moncayo on hand, and it's great to be able to pick up each of these bottles at very good prices any day of the week.


This has to be the best $7 bottle of wine on the planet. Haven't had it in a while, but I'll pop it soon.


I've been digging the Michael David wines lately (rich and juicy) and Total Wine has them at great prices across the board.


I see this served in a lot of lounges (Ritz Carlton Boston, Air France lounge for example) and it's pretty good. For $9.97 I'll either enjoy it on its own or as part of an Aperol Spritz.


They've got it for $12.14, so you could technically get it for a bit less with the Wine.com deal but I don't have any on hand at the moment and that just isn't acceptable.


Okay, this one I've never had but I liked the label, saw it was a Dave Phinney wine from France, and it had a 92 Wine Advocate rating. It could have been a shady shelf talker but for $17.99 I'll take my chances.

2013 EnRoute Pinot Noir

I cracked this open last night. AMAZING. 94 points for me. Textbook Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. If I had to guess which wine Total Wine has right now that is at risk of a price hike it's this one. With a $65 release price and a $35.99 shelf price I'm loving this buy.

Bottom Line


The small production deals are drying up at Total Wine Natick. But they've still got great pricing on a ton of terrific daily drinkers. If you like a wide assortment of higher production domestic national brands this is probably the best place to buy it.

Question of the Day: Does your local Total Wine have many small production/mailing list/restaurant only wines?

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