Total Wine opens in Natick, MA: 10 Things to know

Friday, November 20, 2015

1. Their Natick store is the first in MA (it opened Thursday, November 19th 2015)

It's located in the Cloverleaf Mall (across the street from the Natick Mall) at 321 Speen St.
They're open from 9am-10pm Mon-Sat and Sun 10am-8pm.
They took over space previously occupied by Cloverleaf Wine & Spirits

2. They carry 8,000 unique wines (plus 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers)

I've been to Total Wine locations in FL, GA, and AZ. And while I've been generally pleased with the assortment I haven't been overly impressed with the prices on wines I'm interested. That said - the Natick location *at opening* was truly the best assortment and prices I have ever seen in a wine store in my life.

3. They offer 10% off on 6 bottles (for prices ending in "9")

I think this is pretty reasonable - especially considering the non-discounted price of some of their wines ending in "9" or not are already amazingly low.

4. They're notorious for having great coupons (but they can't offer or honor them in MA)

Total Wine is known for mailing out coupons, but coupons for alcohol are illegal in MA. For now, the low prices more than make up for it, but we'll see how that plays out over the next few months.

5. They've got a rewards program (it's not great, but doesn't hurt to sign up)

Sign up for their rewards program and give them your email address when you check out. It doesn't give you a percentage back on purchases or anything like this (I wish!). But it gives you some other benefits that might be useful.

6. Inventory and prices vary by location (and you can't check prices in MA yet)

You can check inventory and prices for each location online, and their site is pretty good, but Natick, MA isn't showing online yet. Expect that to change, but for now you'll have to go there to check inventory.

7. Purchases code as "groceries" on AmEx and Visa (5x+!)

I split tender on my purchase on two credit cards I have that heavily bonus grocery spend and both of them showed that this location codes as a grocery store. That means you can save even more via credit card rewards if you have cards that bonus this category. And you should! Let me know if you need any suggestions in this area.

8. There is no sales tax on wine in Massachusetts

I wouldn't be surprised if this changes at some point, but for now alcohol is exempt from sales tax. Keep that in mind next time you're comparing prices hear vs some deal in a state that does collect sales tax. Buy local! ;)

9. Their opening selection of wines in Natick is incredible (especially for domestic wines)

I was truly blown away by their assortment of domestic wines. Especially Pinot Noir from California and Oregon from truly great producers. Littorai, Elk Cove single vineyards, Radio-Coteau, Roar, Merry Edwards, Revana Alexana, Capiaux single vineyards. I couldn't believe my eyes. I'd highly recommend getting over there soon before the lower production wines are sold out.

10. Their prices on "national brands" are also incredible (but not across the board)

The prices on the wines mentioned in "9" were absolutely the lowest I've seen anywhere. By far. If you know your wine prices you will be rewarded by shopping here because there are some great deals to be had. But there were also amazing prices on higher production wines like Meiomi, Columbia Crest H3, Michael David Petite Petit. Especially for domestic wine enthusiasts - there's something available at every price point.


Total Wine's entrance into the Massachusetts market is a game changer. I don't use that term lightly. It's all anybody in the industry is talking about and it will be interesting to see the impact (intended and unintended) of their presence here.

I'll be following up with many more posts about Total Wine, including specific recommendations at all price points and styles. I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press for future updates.

Question of the Day: Have you been to Total Wine in Natick yet? If so, what did you think? If you're not in the area, have you found that Total Wine raises prices a couple months after a grand opening?


Sextuple Dip Opportunity at

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A number of deals currently available can be stacked to get some seriously deep discounts at Here's how to do it.

Dip 1: Buy eGCs from NewEgg through a Portal
(be sure to see item #3 below if you have an AmEx card)

You can only buy 1 of each denomination ($25, $50 or $100) every 48 hours.
To optimize the deal in conjunction with the AmEx Sync deal (below) I'd recommend buying a $25 eGC, a $50 eGC, and gift cards to other retailers to get to $200.

Dip 2: Earn Airline Portal Holiday Bonus

Many airline portals are currently running promos like 5,000 bonus ponits for spending $1,200 and similar. Use this spend towards hitting those thresholds.

Dip 3: Use AmEx Sync NewEgg $25 on $200

In order to get this one you need to have an AmEx card sync'd with the deal. Log into your AmEx account to see if you have this offer available.

Dip 4: Shop through a Portal

In some cases, you can earn portal points when using gift cards to purchases things.
It doesn't always work, but it's worth trying.

Dip 5: Earn Airline Portal Holiday Bonus (again)

If purchases made with gift cards count for portal rewards, you can earn a bonus towards holiday bonuses as well.

Dip 6: Use code AMEX15 for $30 off $100

Load up your cart with $100 or more in merchandise while going over as little as possible. Sign up with a new email address and start a StewardShip free shipping trial (but be sure to cancel it before 30 days elapse). Apply the eGCs purchased from NewEgg to pay for the order

What to Buy?

The 2012 Aalto was just named Wine Spectator's #6 Wine of the Year. I was pleasantly surprised to see it in stock and available for immediately delivery in MA (inventory varies by state).

This 2010 Brunello has great metrics, especially for the price.

Round out your order with affordable wines like Bodegas Borsao or Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet.

Question of the Day: Any other deals that might be stackable with these? Let me know in the comments!


22% Cashback at Whole Foods [including wine] with Discover and ApplePay

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Discover credit card is running a promo whereby if you pay in-store with ApplePay you get 10% cashback up to $10,000 in purchases through 12/31/2016. Gift cards are excluded, and they mean it. Full terms here:

10% off is pretty great, but it gets even better since Discover is running an overlapping promo whereby all the cashback new cardholders earn in your first year of  membership is doubled at the end of the year.

Discover double cashback terms (click to enlarge)

Since the card earns 1% back on all purchases that's a total of 11% back that will be doubled to an impressive 22%.

The way they're excluding gift cards kind of stinks. But 22% off on groceries including wine is pretty sweet.

If you're an existing Discover cardholder, it's worth calling to see if they will sign you up for the double cashback offer. I did when the offer came and they enrolled me in the double cashback offer.

Putting the Plan to Work

So with 22% in mind, I made my way to a nearby Whole Foods that sells wine. Not all do.

See: Which grocery stores in MA sell wine?

The last time I was at this store they had Alto Moncayo Veraton (read more...) for a fair price. With their typical 10% off 6 bottles (or whatever it is) plus 22% off, I thought I could get a pretty good deal. Unfortunately, they were out of the Veraton. So I poked around looking for some 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir because it's such a great vintage and I love Oregon Pinot Noir in the fall.

Shady Shelf Talkers?

I happened upon some Soter North Valley Pinot with a shelf-talker touting a 92 point Wine Spectator rating. They seemed to have quite a few of these signs in place mentioning Wine Spectator scores. I don't remember seeing them before. It was a little strange through because there were bottles of both the 2012 and the 2013 Soter North Valley Pinot Noir on the shelf. Which one got the 92 point rating from Spectator?

I busted out my phone and looked. Turns out neither vintage got a 92 point rating from Spectator. The 2012 Soter North Valley got a 90 point rating. And none of the Soter 2013s have been rated yet.

Wine Spectator has never rated any Soter North Valley
Pinot Noir higher than 91 points
I thought that maybe there was confusion over which specific bottling got 92 points. Turns out - none of Soter's 2012 Pinot Noirs got 92 points from Spectator. The highest score from any of them was 91 points:

Wine Spectator ratings of 2012 Soter North Valley Pinots (no 92 pointers)
And it wasn't a matter of the rating being from the 2011 vintage. That wine was rated 84 points by Spectator. Seems like they just made the rating up. Or mistook one publication for another? I honestly don't know.

2 Points? What's the big deal?

Now, you might say "what's the big deal about a couple points?". Well, in my estimation for every 3 points the difficulty of attaining a score doubles (read more about the WWP QPR theory). So 2 points in the tight band where most wine ratings fall actually is a big deal in terms of quality.

Drunk and Disorderly

I decided to spot-check another nearby wine of interest: The 2012 Benton-Lane Pinot Noir. That shelf talker said Spectator rated it 86 points. Turns out Spectator rated it 88 points! Seems like they're just making up numbers or, I don't know - mistaking Wine Spectator for Wine Enthusiast? I honestly have no idea.

This wine was actually rated 88 points by Spectator,
2 points higher than the shelf talker indicated

Bottom Line

I wrote a piece for Palate Press way back when the publication debuted about Shady Shelf Talkers and how it seemed to me that retailers were using them to deceive customers. I honestly don't think that's the case with Whole Foods. It seem they're just sloppily reporting the numbers.

It's not the end of the world, but I do have an issue with it. I think if they're going to try to provide customers with ratings from they should at least be accurate.

But since, in the 2 cases I spot checked, one rating was higher and one was lower it seems that they're not being shady. They're just being sloppy.

Ultimately, I left without buying anything at all and went to a local wine shop and picked up what I thought was a more interesting assortment of wine.

About that 22% Discover ApplePay Promo...

All that said, I think Whole Foods is a great place to shop for groceries. And the 22% off is an excellent deal. Just be sure to keep your receipts if you do take advantage of the promo. I hear they're policing the gift cards a little aggressively.

If you're not a Discover cardholder, and would like to sign up for the card here's my refer-a-friend link if you're interested. $50 for you after your first purchase within 3 months, $50 for me:

Further reading:

4 Unusual Ways to Save Money at Whole Foods


Tasting Report: New Releases from Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gary Farrell's Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir
Gary Farrell Winery is a Sonoma producer best known for their well balanced Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Gary Farrell began producing wine in the area in the late 1970s. Along with folks like Joe Rochioli, Tom Dehlinger, Davis Bynum, Robert Stemmler and others, Farrell established what Russian River Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would become today. In 1982 he produced his first wine under the Gary Farrell label and gradually built its prominence.

I first got to know Gary Farrell in depth at a winemaker dinner they had at Blue Ginger a couple years ago. Gary Farrell himself sold the winery in 2004. Current winemaker Theresa Heredia joined Gary Farrell in 2012. You may have tasted her wines before since she was the winemaker at Freestone (Joseph Phelps' Pinot Noir project) from its first vintage through 2011.

I had a chance to taste through some of their 2013 releases recently. My notes are below.

Their Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir has consistently been one of my absolute favorites, and this vintage lived up to my high hopes. Hallberg is also the fruit source for Radio-Coteau La Neblina Pinot Noir (read more) and Emeritus (Wine Spectator Top 100 - read more). I hear Scherrer also does a great Pinot Noir from Hallberg. Definitely one of my all-time favorite vineyards in the world. Here's a link to a YouTube video about what makes Hallberg Vineyard special.

2013 Gary Farrell Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir
14.1% Alcohol
1,290 Cases Produced

Textbook California Pinot Noir. Bright, ripe black cherry aromatics with supporting smoky notes. Silky texture and uttery delicious. A finish that goes on for minutes in amazing fashion. Very special. Outstanding.

93/100 WWP: Oustanding

2013 Gary Farrell Olivet Lane Chardonnay
13.8% Alcohol
987 Cases Produced

Medium-bodied and more enjoyably powerful and weighty than its 13.8% alcohol would indicate. Golden with hints of green around the edge. Glass-coating and satisfying with attractivate aromatics and flavors of ripe pears, golden delicous apples, and a hint of toasted marshmalllows on the finish. Outstanding.

91/100 WWP: Outstanding

2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir
14.1% Alcohol
11,267 Cases Produced

Medium bodied with lively, potent aromatics and flavors. Classic California Pinot Noir notes. This is young and needs time, as there are some sharp edges at points. But after a night or two on the counter (simply recorked) those traits disipated and the wine held up brilliantly. Outsanding wine.

90/100 WWP: Oustanding

2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay
14.2% Alcohol
5,861 Cases Produced

Golden-hued with shades of green around the edges. Baked pears on the nose. Satisfying mouthfeel with commonplace Chardonnay herbaceous notes that stop me short of being wholly enthusastic about this medium-bodied white. Still, well-mannered and enjoyable.

88/100 WWP: Very Good

Samples for review.

For more information about Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery visit their website:

Tasting room? Yes, by appointment
Available at retail? Yes
Wine Club/List? Wine club
Ship to Massachusetts? Yes

Question of the Day: Have you tasted Gary Farrell wines? If so, what did you think?

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