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Mailbag: How long should I hang on to this bottle of wine?

Monday, March 30, 2009


A question came into the WWP recently that I thought would be worth sharing and offering up for discussion:

A serious question - How long can I really hang on to that bottle of [2006 Mollydooker] Blue Eyed Boy [Shiraz]? For the longest time I thought that the longer you hang on to a bottle the better it gets, but apparently there is a point of diminishing returns. What say you?

The quick answer is to drink a wine like this within the next year, especially if it's difficult to store the wine at a moderate and constant temperature.

A more involved discussion follows...

I really like this question because it shows careful consideration for a rather nice bottle of wine, and an interest in learning more about a rather complicated but fascinating aspect of wine appreciation.

I think of wine aging in two different scenarios or two different "levels" if you will. The first level is where we're just looking to let a wine get just a little bit of age on it, say a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon for a couple of years. The next level of aging is more hardcore. This is where we're laying down a bottle for 10 or more years- a red Bordeaux for example. Either way, the goal is similar: Tannins get a chance to soften, the wine becomes "rounder" and more integrated, and the fruit is given a chance to shine.

The first thing I would note here is that based on reading I've done, successful aging of any wine requires that you're able to provide a relatively stable low-temperature storage environment. This doesn't necessarily imply that you must have a wine cellar or a refrigerated wine cabinet. However, if you can't keep the temperature below say 70F year-round -or- you're unable to keep the temperature fluctuations within +/- 10F it is probably not a good idea to keep wine on hand for more than a year. The aging process will occur too quickly and the outcome would be unpredictable.

That said, some wines don't improve with age at all. Here's a handy reference from our friends at Wine Enthusiast with ballpark recommendations for ageability of common wines.

If you want to dial it in a bit more for a particular bottle, the first place I look is Wine Spectator's recommended drinking window. For each wine they review they also supply a recommendation for when the wine will be at its best and for the 2006 Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz the recommendation is "Drink Now Through 2016" (subscription to Wine Spectator Online is required and highly recommended). I interpret that as saying "this wine is good to go now, but with proper storage it'll still be just as good through 2016". Applying this to the original question- would there be diminishing returns associated with saving this wine? I would say yes- the returns are diminishing and especially if you can't provide a temperature controlled environment I'd drink this wine within the next year.

Another resource I regularly consult (and contribute to) is CellarTracker. CellarTracker allows you to see other wine drinker's tasting notes over time and even lets you see what the average community opinion is of the drinking window for each wine (for this wine it is 2009 to 2018). Here is the CellarTracker page for the 2006 Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz.

Do you have question you'd like to ask? Feel free to drop me an E-mail any time.

Do you find wine information like this useful? If so, I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press and had future updates automatically delivered to you.

Question of the Day: What do you think of this advice? How do you determine when to crack open a bottle of wine?

Read more...

Value Alert: 2007 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec

Friday, March 27, 2009

Whenever a wine publication produces a list of wines that includes "top" wines -and- "value" wines, I always look for the value wine that sneaks into the list of top wines in spite of its lower price. This week's WWP Value Alert highlights one of those wines, the 2007 Altos Los Hormigas Malbec from Argentina.

I first heard of this wine from a piece in the Wall Street Journal. They tasted Malbecs ranging from $10 to $25 and this Altos Las Hormigas (at $10.99) was their favorite irrespective of price. Wine Spectator also thought highly of this one, rating it 87 points.

I had a bottle of this recently and was really pleased with it- absolutely delicious:

2007 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec - Argentina, Mendoza (2/28/2009)
Wow! Very nice. 91 the first night, 88 the second. Very impressive QPR here- will buy again. (90 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker


Where to find it:

If Malbec is not your thing, you might be interested in this 92-point, $12 Italian red. Willing to spend a little more? Perhaps this 93-point, sub-$20 California Zinfandel would be interesting to you. If you prefer white wines, then maybe this excellent $10 domestic Riesling would hit the spot.

Do you like hearing about incredible quality-to-price ratio wines like these? If so, please consider subscribing to the Wellesley Wine Press so you'll never miss an update.

Question of the Day: Have you tried this one? If so, what did you think? If not, what are some of your favorite Aregentinian Malbecs?

Read more...

Product Review: Ravi Instant Wine Chiller

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

As we come into the warmer time of year, serving temperature becomes even more of a consideration. Although it's still cold here in New England, warmer temperatures are just around the corner and some parts of the country are quite warm already.

As I've said earlier when discussing wine aerators, serving temperature is as important (if not more important) than letting wine get enough air before consumption. As a rule of thumb, red wines should be served in the mid-60s and whites should be served in the mid-40s (F). More specific serving temperature guidelines from Wine Enthusiast are available here.

As room temperature approaches 80F, red wines stored unrefrigerated will be too warm to enjoy to the fullest. What you'll notice is that the wine tastes "harsh" and the heat of alcohol tends to dominate.

The easiest way to remedy this is with your regular refrigerator and The Rule of 20: Take white wines *out* of the refrigerator 20 minutes prior to drinking and put red wines *into* the fridge for 20 minutes before drinking. Follow this rule and you'll be in the right ballpark.

If you want to dial it in a bit more, and bring wine to the perfect serving temperature instantaneously, you might be interested in this product- The Ravi Instant Wine Chiller:



Pros:

  • Easy to Use: Although there are quite a few pieces that make up the Ravi Solution, it is actually very easy to use.
  • Effective: Instantly drops the temperature of any wine by 10F-15F bringing it to a more enjoyable drinking temperature.
  • Versatile: Useful in the summer months when red wines at room temperature approach 80F (to bring them down to the mid-60s) -or- if you have a single temperature wine refrigerator set at 55F to drop the temperature down to around 45F.
Cons:
  • A little pricey: This is definitely a convenience item and similar results can be attained with a little time in the fridge. However, I've found it quite useful and I'm glad I own one.
I gave this product 5 starsbecause it works absolutely 100% as advertised. Value a consideration, I don't know if I'd pay $50 for it, but if you can catch it closer to $30/$35 I'd say it's a good value. I have really appreciated having mine on hand whenever I pull a white wine from my wine refrigerator.

If you found this review helpful, and you're interested in buying this product through Amazon, I'd appreciate it if you used my Amazon Associates link below. A small portion of your purchase will be credited to my account, and although it's not a ton of money I do find it motivating:




In case you're new to the WWP, here are links to the other wine accessories I've reviewed:
If you're a wine accessory producer and you'd like your product reviewed on the WWP, contact me here. I can't guarantee a positive review, but I will review your product thoroughly, respectfully, and authentically.

Disclosure: I received this product as a sample from the manufacturer at The Boston Wine Expo.

Question of the Day: Do you have tips and tricks on bringing wine to the optimal serving temperature? What do you think of the Ravi?

Read more...

Legal Sea Foods Does Wine

Monday, March 23, 2009

Legal Sea Foods is perhaps the one dining chain most associated with Boston. Although they position themselves as "a seafood company that happens to be in the restaurant business", I think they're sandbagging when they say this. They're extremely thoughtful about the marketing of their restaurants, and as a consumer I think this is a good thing.

A while back, I heard from Legal Sea Foods' PR firm that they were running a special "Monday Wine Madness" special. For less than $10 a glass, they'd be offering a rotating selection of premium red and white wines that would ordinarily be much more expensive.

Although this sounds like an interesting offer, I haven't had a chance to stop by on a Monday night. However, I did get a chance to stop in for lunch at their Chestnut Hill, MA location recently and found their wine offerings very much to my liking.

I took a seat at the bar with my good friend Michael Munsey (prominently featured in this piece about why you should always share the good stuff) and had a look at the wine menu. I really enjoy tasting flights because they enable you to try a lot of different wines without drinking full glasses of each wine. I'm not much of a seafood guy, so I was planning on getting a burger. (Sorry, I'm just not that into fish!) That being the case, the "Rhone Renaissance" flight sounded good to me:


  • Lights Out Shiraz, Barossa Valley (Australia)
  • Cave de Rasteau "Les Restallains", Rhône Valley (France)
  • Mockingbird Hill, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley (CA)
I thought it was a bit peculiar that a tasting flight of Rhône varietals included Australian Shiraz and Napa Petite Sirah (Syrah and Shiraz wines are made from the same grape, just different spelling for different places). I guess the idea was to experiment with various takes on the Syrah grape which is the traditional grape of the Northern Rhône region of France. But the presence of Petite Sirah threw me because I've heard that Petite Sirah is a distinct variety not-so-related to Syrah (read this Wikipedia entry if you want to be further confused).

Anyway, who cares- the wine was delicious! Check out this presentation complete with tasting notes for each wine:


Somewhat surprisingly, my least favorite of the three was the Australian Shiraz. I say this because I find Australian Shiraz to be an abundant source of affordable and flavorful wine, and at this price point I thought it would be easy to find a tasty one. However, for me the flight's strength was the Côtes du Rhône and the Petite Sirah.

In my experience, Côtes du Rhône is a wine I'd recommend for exploration as a source of French value. French wine may have a reputation for being expensive and fancy, but Côtes du Rhône bucks that trend. It's not too hard to find a $10 bottle of that's fantastic. I'd rate this 2007 Cave de Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Les Rastellains 86 points. Another I'd recommend for your consideration is the 2006 Domaine Paul Autard - also less than $10 and also one I'd rate 86 points.

The Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah was the star of the flight. What a fantastic wine! This was a big California red wine, and it's tough to find a nice bottle in this category south of $20. At $15 by the bottle, it is one I'd recommend you seek out for sure. I'd rate it 90 points.

How many times have you enjoyed a wine at a restaurant, noted the producer and thought to buy some if you ever saw it in a store? I've tried this many times, and I've hardly ever come across the wines in a retail setting. The best part about Legal Sea Foods' wine program (at their Chestnut Hill, MA location anyway) is that you can pick up a bottle or even a case of your favorite wine in their to-go market on your way out at *very* reasonable prices.

The Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah is only $14.99. Buy a straight case and the price drops down to $144 (a mere $12 per bottle). Compare that with a release price of $24.99. Wow- that's a great deal. More information on their retail wine program can be found here. I like the way they're running things:
  • They stick their neck out and select great wines
  • They buy these wines in bulk and pass the savings on to us
  • They allow us to taste these wines in flights and with food
  • They make it easy to purchase the wines retail on the spot
Further Reading:

You might be interesting in an upcoming series of wine cellar sessions at Legal Sea Food's Park Square Boston Location.


Question of the Day: What do you think of Legal Sea Foods? What do you think of their wine program?

Read more...

Value Alert: 2007 Firestone Riesling

Friday, March 20, 2009


Alright, so yesterday I promised a tip on a sub-$10 Riesling value. Here it is: The 2007 Firestone Riesling. I first heard of this wine via this review on Corkd: 96 Points. The author of the note has written 439 bottles on Corkd, and I've agreed with him on several of the wines we've both tasted. If you look at his notes, it's not like he tosses around the big numbers casually. I admire his courage going so high on this one.

Wine Spectator hasn't rated a Firestone Riesling since 1995 so it's difficult to assess their view of the wine. Wine Enthusiast last rated this wine in the 2002 vintage and they thought highly of it, rating it a Best Buy.

If you're wondering whether this is the same Firestone as the tire company: Yes
If you're wondering whether Firestone Vineyard is associated Andrew Firestone from "The Bachelor": Yes

Where to buy it:

Here are my tasting notes:

2007 Firestone Vineyard Riesling - USA, California, Central Coast (3/15/2009)
Bought this one on a recommendation from a Drinking Buddy on Corkd, and boy did he give me a good tip! This wine was fabulous. Bursting with incredible aromas of ultra-ripe pears and golden delicious apples. The thing that made this so great was that it was so balanced. Not too sweet, yet full of flavor. It was crisp, so it didn't leave residual saliva in my mouth (that some Rieslings do as if they're apple juice). Great stuff- highly recommended. Must buy again. (93 pts.)


Posted from CellarTracker


If you liked this one, you might also be interested in this 96-Point/$29 California Sauvignon Blanc.



Do you like hearing about high value wines like this one? If so, consider subscribing to the Wellesley Wine Press for future updates. I have 3 or 4 more of these up my sleeve that I'll be publishing in the next month.


Have you tried this wine? If so, what do you think of it?
Have you seen this wine in stores? If so, where?

Read more...

60% Off and a Riesling Roadshow

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I subscribe to just about every wine retailer newsletter I come across. I love hearing about deals. (are you in the wine trade and would like to add me to your list? My contact information is available here). Each week, I typically get 2-3 offers screaming about "Deep Discount Aussie Shiraz! 91 RP!!" alone, not to mention literally dozens of others. I "pass" on the vast majority of these, and I include blog entries only for the deals that I think are truly noteworthy. It's part of how I think I can be useful to you, my faithful readers.

This past week, a deal came along that I found quite compelling. Two areas of interest for me currently are Chile and Riesling, so I took advantage when this one came in. Here's the deal:

The Wine: J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Auslese 2003
List Price: $55.99
Retailer: Blanchards
Rating: 94 Points Wine Spectator: Confirmed (subscription required)
Release Price: $40 (per Wine Spectator)
Offer Price: $22.39 (with a purchase of 6 bottles)
Coupon Code: PRUM

In other words, what would be $335.94 for 6 is $134.38 with the coupon code. 60% off list, 44% off release price. A pretty smokin' deal if you're into German Riesling. No additional tax in MA- we get taxed enough as it is! You can save on shipping with in-store pick-up. I've done this with Blanchard's several times now- it's really simple. Just place your order online and they'll have it waiting for you when you arrive.

To sweeten the deal, if you buy a case (12) you can get tickets to a very cool upcoming Blanchards Riesling Roadshow event for only $1 (normally $20). Ernst Loosen from Dr. Loosen Estate, and Bob Berthau of Chateau Ste. Michelle will be on hand for a tasting and educational session in the Blanchards West Roxbury Vintage Room on Wednesday March 25th, 2009. More info here. I'm planning to attend- hope to see you there.

Looking for a great sub-$10 Riesling recommendation? You might want to check this one out.

Questions of the Day: What do you think of this deal? Think you might be able to make it to the Blanchards Riesling event?

Read more...

North vs. South: A Blind Tasting of Napa Cab vs. Chilean Cab

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


10-Second Summary


This month's Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is North vs. South. To go along with this, I chose to compare a Napa Cab to a Chilean Cab. North American vs. South America: The premier source of Cabernet in the United States vs. an up and coming challenger. While both wines were tasty, we preferred the Napa Cab in a blind tasting for its vanilla/blackberry aromas and round finish. We felt the Chilean Cab displayed some green pepper aromas that were interesting but ultimately not as enjoyable as the Napa Cab.

The Wines

According to Wine Spectator, the average price of an outstanding (ie, rated 90-94) 2005 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is over $100 per bottle. For the 2005 vintage, the most affordable of these is the $27 2005 Buehler Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It was rated 90 points by Wine Spectator.

With Napa Cab prices so high, it's only natural to seek alternative sources of value. Two areas that immediately come to mind are Argentina and Chile.

Wines of Chile sent me some highly rated wines for review, so I thought it would be interesting to compare a similar stature Chilean Cab to the Buehler. I chose the $19 2005 Vina Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvign Maipo Valley Medalla Real Special Reserve. It was rated 91 points by Wine Spectator.

The question at hand was simple: Was the Chilean wine similarly enjoyable at a lower price point?

How We Tasted

When I'm choosing which wines I like, I think from the perspective of a guest in my home. I want to be known as the guy who always serves up delicious and enjoyable wines. I don't want to be someone who shares wines that take a while to get used to, take a special person to appreciate, or are primarly targeted at the hardcore wine geek.

For this tasting, myself, my wife and my mother-in-law took part, which I think accurately represents a likely scenario where I'd be serving wine. As an aside, my mother-in-law is quite an amazing wine taster. A couple years back we did a blind tasting between a Charles Shaw Cab, a Mondavi Cab, and a Turnbull Cab. Her ratings aligned *exactly* with Wine Spectator's for two of these wines and for the third she was only three points off. That's pretty impressive! Read more here.

I think blind tasting is extremely important as a mechanism for removing bias, and I didn't want our preconceived notions about California wines (or the fact that one of the wines was received as a sample) to play into our opinions. We took turns pouring the wines while each of us was in the other room and we marked each glass "A" and "B" and didn't reveal which was which until after the we'd drawn our conclusions:

Tasting Notes

All three of us preferred the Napa Cab, and 2 out of 3 correctly identified it as being the wine from California. The Buehler had wonderful aromas of vanilla and caramel combined with big ol' ripe blackberries. The Chilean had faint aromas of green pepper, accompanied by an interesting smokiness that overwhelmed secondary aromas I more typically associate with Cabernet like dark berries.

On the palate, the Napa seemed rounder. 2 tasters used the word "sharp" to describe the mouthfeel of the Chilean. Both wines were very dense- and density is (for me) an attribute I associate with higher quality wines. The Chilean had a longer finish. The flavors mentioned above carried on for a good 30 seconds.

Conclusions

So many directions to go here, it's hard to say where to start. First and foremost, as I circle back on my original intent in crafting this head-to-head tasting: Is Chile is a good place to seek comparable Cabernet at a lower price than Napa? I think the answer to this question, based on this tiny sample, is: No. Each region has a unique wine style and Chilean Cabernet is not to a substitute for Napa Cabernet.

I wanted to explore a little further to see whether the characteristics we noticed in the Santa Rita Chilean were representative of Chilean red wines in general. A couple nights after this tasting, I opened a bottle of 2003 Haras Elegance Cabernet (90 WS/$40). Once again, I noticed similar attributes.

The Chilean Cabs had a distinct style that differentiated it from the Napa Cab. I'm left to think- isn't that what we want in wine? A unique expression of place? I think it is. I'm reminded of a couple of recent conversations I've had about wine with folks on Twitter...

The first was discussing whether Wine Spectator should mix appellations when performing their tastings. When they taste wines, they currently taste single blind. That is, they taste Napa Cabs against Napa Cabs- they don't taste Napa Cabs alongside Cabs from other parts of the world. One could argue that this serves to place artificial brackets on appellations of lesser prestige. Indeed, you'll see that wines from places like New York State tend not to break 90 points frequently, and you'd have to think if they were tasting these wines intermingled with wines from more prestigious places that there would be more surprises.

However, in the context of Napa vs. Chile I can see (evidently) that these wines tend to have a different style. And the characteristics that make a Napa Cab excellent may be different than those that make a Chilean excellent. That being the case it seems valid to taste wines by appellation rather than intermingling them.

It's one of the reasons why I rely on professional ratings from Wine Spectator. I trust that they have experience comparing wines against the typical characteristics expected of that wine. Whereas when I taste a wine, especially a type that I've not tasted before, I'm looking to answer a simple question- "Is it good? Is it delicious? Would I buy it again?"

A second conversation I'm reminded of is the general question of whether scores are a valid way to assess wines. Some feel that scores are a ridiculous way to compare wines. For me, scores are a useful and concise summary of a person's opinion of a wine. Especially when reading on the web, I find scores to be a handy way of quickly getting to the question of whether the writer liked the wine or not. That being the case, my ratings are as follows...

Ratings

  • 2005 Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley (3/9/2009)
    Just what I'm looking for in a Napa Cab. Blackberries, caramel and vanilla on the nose. Very round on the palate and a delight to drink. (90 pts.)
  • 2005 Viña Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Medalla Real Reserva Especial Single Estate - Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley (3/9/2009)
    Faint aromas of green peppers and smoke on top of more typical Cabernet characteristics like blackberries. A little sharp on the palate, but dense. Long finish. Not bad! Interesting. (87 pts.)
  • 2003 Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon Elegance - Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley (3/14/2009)
    Nice wine! Dense. More green peppers (slight). Also red pepper flakes (like the kind you put on pizza). A serious wine. Smoke. Espresso grounds. Chalky tannins. Non-luscious although there *is* fruit. Significant sediment. (88 pts.)
Posted from CellarTracker

Disclosures:
  • I'd like to thank Wines of Chile for giving me the opportunity to explore these highly rated wines.
  • I wrote a book report about Chile in the 5th grade. :)
If you work in the wine trade and would like me to review or discuss your wines, I'd be happy to! If there's an interesting story, I'll write about it. I can't guarantee a positive review, but I *can* promise you that I'll discuss your product in a thorough, thoughtful and authentic way. My contact information is available here.

Question of the Day: What do you think of these results? Have you had many Chilean wines? Are you a fan?

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Grape Madness: Submit Your Bracket Now!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Some really cool fellow wine bloggers have gotten together and have done a mash-up of March Madness and wine. The result? Grape Madness! Head on over to check out the bracketed head-to-head competition they've set up and submit your entry by the end of the day Wednesday March 18th, 2009.

I like this contest for these reasons:

  • The guys running it are some of my favorite wine bloggers on the Internet.
  • I love the angle of having the brackets based on stores. We can talk all we want about specific wines, but at the end of the day we have to buy wines somewhere. That additional piece of intrigue adds to the interest of the competition: Which store will produce the winning wine?
  • It's always fun to mix sports and wine. For me, hunting for wines has so many parallels to collecting baseball cards it's ridiculous.
My only questions is this: Where's the Costco bracket? Maybe next year.

I'm taking the Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cab to go all the way. What else would I pick? I'm a huge fan of Columbia Crest and especially their Grand Estates line. For me, it's an easy to remember, readily available, consistent label (across many varietals I might add) that always produces value.

Question of the Day: What's your pick to win? Which store and which wine?

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Hirsch Wine Dinner Upstairs on the Square Cambridge

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Every once in a while, I come across an offer that brings together a couple of things I'm interested in, and as a result seems like it was targeted right at me. I came across one such offer recently, and I'm looking forward to attending a Hirsch Vineyards wine dinner at Upstairs on the Square in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA on Thursday, March 26th at 6:30pm.

When I think of Hirsch, I think of a premium Sonoma Pinot producer. And I'm a big fan of Sonoma Pinot, especially after spending a day visiting Sonoma Coast wineries and tasting rooms last fall. I visited Keller Estate, Adobe Road, and Clary Ranch and brought back wines from Zepaltas and Ridgeway. All that I've tried have been fantastic so I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with Hirsch (which I've only tried at tastings so far).

When we first lived in MA from 2000 to 2004, we lived in Belmont about 2 miles west of Harvard Square. Upstairs on the Square was always a restaurant we wanted to try but never found the right occasion. I'm looking very forward to trying it for the first time, and this $65 5-course wine dinner is the perfect chance to try it out. This pricing compares quite favorably to the $110 event I mentioned last week in Walnut Creek, CA. Here's the plan:

M E N U

White Asparagus Soup
Liquid Lemon Dumplings
2007 Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay

First of the Season Mushroom Pierogi
2007 Hirsch Vineyards ‘Bohan-Dillon’ Pinot Noir

Duck Confit with Earl Grey-Scented Cherries
2007 Hirsch Vineyards ‘M’ Pinot Noir

Spring Rack of Lamb
Fava Beans, Escarole, Black Trumpet Mushrooms & Mint
2006 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir

Chocolate Charlotte

Check 'em out:
Upstairs on the Square
Call 617-864-1933 for reservations

Interested in Sonoma Pinot Noir? You might be interested in this interview I did with Paul Clary from Clary Ranch -or- this interview I did with Ryan Zepaltas from Zepaltas Wines.

And thanks to The Passionate Foodie for letting me know about this event!

Not that you need yet another reason to take advantage of this offer, but judging from reports on Twitter, U2 ate at Upstairs on the Square after their March 12th, 2009 "secret" show in at the Somerville Theater.

Question of the Day: What do you think of Hirsch? What do you think of Upstairs on the Square? Any chance you might be able to join us for this event?

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Italian Wine Dinner at The Capital Grille

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Through April 5th, 2009, The Capital Grille is serving up a special 5-course Italian menu to celebrate the arrival of the premier vintage of a new wine: BelnerO Sangiovese di Montalcino.

I'm a huge fan of The Capital Grille. Huge. Whenever my birthday comes around, it's the first place that comes to mind. Here are some of my favorite things off their menu:

  • The "Wedge" Salad
  • Kona Crusted Dry Aged Sirloin with Carmelized Shallot Butter
  • Double Cut Lamb Rib Chops
  • Creamed Spinach
  • Sam's Mashed Potatoes
  • Flourless Espresso Cake
Getting hungry?

I should note that I'm *not* the biggest fan of Italian wine. In my experience it is a *tough* place to find value -and- it's easy to spend $20 or $30 on an exceedingly average bottle. (Got a suggestion? I'm all ears.) One of the few good values I've found is also one of the most searched for wines on the WWP- the 2006 Villa Pillo Toscana Borgoforte.

That said, I'm interested in seeing how The Capital Grille does Italian because so much of what they do is awesome:
  • Their service (from the moment you drop you car with the valet) is consistently a cut above
  • Their entire menu is great, not just the steaks
  • They have an excellent selection of wines by the glass
Tip: Of the three Boston area locations, my favorite is Newbury Street. In Phoenix, my favorite is The Biltmore location.

The menu for this event can be found here. $49 for 5 courses and wine is not included, although special pricing is available on the featured wine. Check out this video describing the event:



Like hearing about offers like this? Consider subscribing to The Wellesley Wine Press. I read about wine all the time and pass along only the things that I think might be useful to you. 

Further Reading:
A review of an auctioned Chef's Table Wine Dinner at The Capital Grille Newbury Street 

Question of the Day: What do you think of The Capital Grille? What's your favorite chain steakhouse?

Read more...

Bellagio to Zermatt to Annecy to Travessia (or How to Win Free Wine by Reading Wikipedia)

Monday, March 9, 2009

I have a peculiar fascination for places in Europe that have inspired imitation in the United States. That fascination recently helped me win free wine from Travessia Urban Winery in New Bedford, MA as part of their "Where in the World is Travessia?" competition. Travessia recently started a very cool contest where they'll be posting pictures of their wine around the world and we get to guess where the picture was taken. The first picture was taken in Zermatt, Switzerland- a place I've never been but was able to identify because I've read about it in the past online.

Here's how I came to discover Zermatt...

A few years ago, we were planning a trip that started at the Zurich, Switzerland airport and ended up in Tuscany. We were looking for a good half-way point, and Bellagio, Italy looked to be a good spot. Bellagio, Italy is the inspiration for the Las Vegas Hotel Casino of the same name, and is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen:

A lot of the traveler reviews I came across referred to Bellagio as being a good destination to pair with Zermatt, Switzerland. Zermatt is located at the base of The Matternhorn- the same Matternhorn that serves as inspiration for The Matterhorn Bobsleds ride at Disneyland. We decided that Zermatt was too far out of the way for our trip, especially given that you can't drive a car into Zermatt and have to arrive via rail or taxi.

A couple of years ago, I got called over to France on a work trip. When surveying possible road trips to take on the weekend, I was again considering whether I could make it to Zermatt from Grenoble. Once again, it seemed just a little too far out of range but while I was doing my research I came across a fascinating series of articles by Michael Barrier that described his time visiting places in Europe that inspired Walt Disney's design of theme parks.

In addition to Zermatt, Barrier mentioned Annecy, France which was closer to Grenoble and where I ended up visiting (he also visited Tivoli Gardens in Denmark). Annecy was quite stunning as well:

So when Travessia posted the picture of their wine in front of what looked like a Swiss village very similar to what Barrier and Wikipedia described I threw in my guess. And what do you know- it was correct!

I love it when one thing leads to another as you're exploring the world, and the same thing happens frequently as I explore the world of wine. A real example:

A friend mentions that his neighbor is Paul Clary and that leads me to a Wine Spectator article that mentions other upcoming CA Pinot Noir producers and I spot Zepaltas and the next time I'm planning a trip out there I drop them an E-mail and they're cool and then I find out that he's the assistant winemaker at Siduri and the next time I'm at the wine shop I pick up a bottle of Siduri Pinot and love it.

So now we see the exploration of the world intersecting with the wine world, and the journey has led me to Travessia. I'm looking forward to seeing where it will lead me next...

Do you like rambling stories like this one? If so, you might like to subscribe to The Wellesley Wine Press to have future entries sent to you automatically.

Question of the Day: Have you discovered a wine, a winery, or even a place by a somewhat coincidental string of events like this? I'd love to hear about it.

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The Best Wine Blogs on the Internet

Friday, March 6, 2009

I read a lot of wine blogs, but with the 2009 American Wine Blog Award finalists and winners announced this past week, I thought to take stock of the information sources I follow that have the highest batting average (ie, the percentage of information they put out there that I read).

I'm not a big fan of blog rolls- the massive alphabetical lists of links that you sometimes see on the right hand side of blogs. I do appreciate it when people include me on their lists, but the reason I'm not a fan is that they often lack context as to why each of the blogs listed should be considered for further exploration. A little bit of editorial commentary- even a word or two can help me decide whether I should act upon a recommendation and without that my eyes just quickly scan the list and I move on.

I really hope the blog awards raise awareness
of folks who are doing a good job more than they to irk those who were overlooked. Awards can sometimes annoy as much as they motivate unfortunately. Identifying the "best" blogs is a bit of a ridiculous exercise anyway because we're all looking for something different when it comes to wine information. That said, it is interesting to compare notes to see which blogging styles are the most popular.

The Internet is a huge place and the thing I like about it is that anybody can give it a go. If you're good, people will notice and you'll build up a following. And just because a blog wasn't mentioned in these awards doesn't mean they're not good. Far from it- the thing I find amazing in wine blogging is the diversity of viewpoints and ways that people go about it. No two are alike!

I took note of two new ones that weren't on my radar screen:

  1. Wicker Parker
    A quick look at Wicker Parker makes me think that I'm going to be interested in future updates. One thing that I debate myself when I'm writing here on the WWP is "keeping it postitive" vs. "the importance of a negative review". Have a look at this entry on Wicker Parker to see an example of a very negative mention of a specific wine by name (see the last paragraph).

    While the tone of the statement may be a cutting, I do find that I gravitate to writers who include a balance of positive and negative reviews. Everything can't be great, and as much as it might hurt some feelings of ruffle some feathers I find it refreshing when people call it like it is in a responsible way.

  2. Bigger Than Your Head
    I love the images on the top of the front page of Bigger Than Your Head. It paints a unique picture of a thoughtful dude sitting around and thinking and writing about wine. I think (hope?) that captures the tone of the blog. Very well done- draws me right in. We'll see whether the content aligns with my perception over time.
Wine blogs that I'd highly recommend, but unfortunately weren't finalists:
  1. 1 Wine Dude
    There's *lots* of people playing the "keep wine simple" card out there, but 1 Wine Dude succeeds because he leverages his credentialed wine knowledge and relates wine to his adjacent interests like movies and music. I see a similarity in the way he approaches blogging and the way Gary Vaynerchuck does on Wine Library TV (which must have been excluded for voting, else it surely would have smothered the competition with its sheer name recognition, not to mention the quality of WLTV content).

    Wine education can be quite dry and boring, even to someone like myself who is very interested in learning more. Guys like 1WineDude and Gary do a great job of keeping it interesting by telling stories and presenting wine information in the context of other subjects people can more readily relate to. I think this post is a good example of 1WineDude's writing style.

  2. Steve Heimoff
    Wine Enthusiast Editor Steve Heimoff's wine blog. He's amazingly forthright and direct in his writing style, and I'm frequently awed by his wisdom. This entry about blind tasting is a good example of Steve's style.

  3. The Passionate Foodie
    The Passionate Foodie
    is a Boston area food and wine blog that I find very useful. And when it comes to online reading "useful" trumps "interesting" every time. It's been useful to me for the number of local wine events I've heard about, as well as information that's been helpful in my blogging efforts here on the WWP. An example of one such event is the upcoming Hirsch Wine Dinner at Upstairs on the Square.

  4. Wine Spectator Blogs
    The Wine Spectator Blogs
    are some of the best on the Internet. Unfortunately, you need to have a Wine Spectator Online subscription to read them. The Wine Spectator editors are the best I've seen at being educational without talking down to the reader. They have a way of including a quick blurb of information at the beginning of the story that helps everybody understand the following discussion better. I see that important technique leveraged on stories on NPR too, and it's something I try to include in my writing as well.

  5. Jason's Wine Blog
    Blogger burnout
    is a common pheonomenon. People just get tired of it after a while and new people step up to fill the void. Jason's Wine Blog has taken on the important task of sticking his neck out with reviews of (mostly affordble) wines currently available at Trader Joe's (and elsewhere). What could be more useful than concise lists of the best wines for sale at TJ's? Read more from Jason in his guest post here on the WWP: Is Trader Joe's a Good Place To Buy Wine?
Of the winners, I was happy to see the following two blogs recognized (in particular) because among other things they're headed up by guys who engage in interesting discussions on Twitter. Another thing they have in common is longevity. It's gotta be hard to write about wine for 5 years, especially when it's not your day job!
  1. Vinography
  2. Lenndevours
Random observations:
  • The finalists used a mixture of WordPress, TypePad and Blogger as their blogging platforms. A lot of people make a big deal out of self-hosted WordPress, but for me the fact that these blogs made the finals proves that platform doesn't matter anywhere near as much as content and aesthetics. You can read more on my thoughts on this subject here.
  • It's very interesting to me to see the lines being blurred between print and online content. More on that in a future entry.
Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite sources of wine writing online?

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Mystery Shopper: VinoDivino in Newton, MA

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The mystery shopper (me) paid a visit to VinoDivino in Newton, MA recently. This was my first time in the shop and I have to say- I was quite impressed with the shop and a number of innovations they bring to wine retailing I've not seen elsewhere.

VinoDivino is conveniently located near a Whole Foods Market and it would seem that much of their business comes from customers who come in seeking a recommendation for a wine to accompany their dinner that night. However, as a bit of a point-chasing, value-minded consumer I too found the store to be to my liking.

Strengths:

  1. A careful selection of highly rated wines

    They don't carry nearly as many wines as most shops, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I found 2 wines I've been looking for: a Siduri Pinot, and a Bodegas Borsao Crianza. Their smaller selection allows for a deeper knowledge of the wines they do carry. For example, Rodolfo was working the floor the afternoon I stopped in and he was extremely knowledgeable about all the wines in the store and was able to share his opinion that the 2006 Bodegas Barsao was a very similar wine to the highly rated 2005. He also nailed a description of the Siduri advising that it was light in color, yet very flavorful.

  2. Clarity in labeling of their wines

    Each item on the shelf comes along with an information card called a DivinoCard. Here is a link to the DivinoCard for the 2007 Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir. And here's one for the 2006 Bodegas Borsao Crianza Selección. As you can see if you click through the links, the cards are packed with useful information about each and every wine they carry. I'm sure it's no easy task compiling the information that goes onto these cards, but as a consumer I do find them to be a very useful touch. A DivinoCard is included for each wine you purchase for later refrence.

  3. Useful Internet presence

    There is an amazing disparity in how well local wine shops leverage the Internet to connect with their customers. Against this measure, I'd rate VinoDivino solidly above average. Their online store accurately represents their in-store product mix, they maintain an E-mail list with useful notifications of specials, and most importantly they have an e-commerce site.

    They also take your E-mail address and send you soft copy DivinoCards for the wines you purchase. They're green like that. I thought this was a really nice and useful touch.

  4. Attention to details

    I have a pet peeve with many local wine shops: They're careless with the wine they sell. Whether it's dusty bottles or torn labels, I don't like spending my hard earned money on something I need to spruce up once I buy it. Particularly when I purchase a wine that I plan on cellaring for a while, I don't like it when the label is torn because it's been mistreated in the shop, or packaged poorly for taking home.

    Against this measure, VinoDivino performed very well. Each of the two bottles I bought were wrapped in tissue paper, secured with a VinoDivino label and placed securely in a nice paper bag with DivinoCards. Well done. It's a small thing, but I appreciate it.

  5. Frequent shopper program

    The Connoisseurs Club is VinoDivino's loyalty program. For every $200 you spend, you get a $10 store credit (effectively an additional 5% discount). This is the only Boston area wine store that I'm aware of offering a frequent shopper discount.
Areas for Improvement:
  1. Ratings disclosures

    I'd prefer to see all of the available professional ratings on the DivinoCards, not just the highest score available. It's not too difficult to find *some* publication that will give a wine 90 points if you look hard enough, and providing all of the ratings would give me easy access to all the information I'd need to make an informed decisions. Overall, this is a minor gripe since VinoDivino is probably the most forthcoming and consistent of any store I've seen in terms of providing professional rating information.

  2. Pricing

    Okay, the margins aren't razor thin. The Siduri Pinot is listed in Wine Spectator's database as having a release price of $20 and it's $25 at VinoDivino. However, the Bodegas Borsao is $16 in Wine Spectator's database and is also $16 in-store. Typical quantity discounts apply, but the prices aren't the lowest I've seen.

    That said, in my opinion wine deals aren't so much determined by the price you pay relative to release price. Rather, it's the quality of the wine you get relative to what you paid for it. In other words, it's more important to choose quality wines (with the help of a reputable local wine store) than quibble about margins. And heck- I'm willing to pay for service. These guys will even deliver your wine to your car if you call ahead!
Verdict:

If VinoDivino were a wine, I'd rate it: 91 Points

It's a shop that I plan on spending more time exploring in the future. Thanks to their useful web site, I can check their inventory without visiting the shop. And thanks to their convenient location near Whole Foods I can stop in and poke around next time we're doing our weekly shopping.

Check 'em out:

VinoDivino
899 Walnut Street

Newton, MA 02461

877-8DIVINO


Check back later for a follow-on piece discussing the two wines I bought at VinoDivino.

Want another opinion? Check out this review of VinoDivino from The Passionate Foodie, an excellent Boston area food and wine blog.

Do you like reading authentic Mystery Shopper reviews like this? Then you might also enjoy the similar review I did of Brookline Liquor Mart's E-mail Offers. And if you really like what you see here, you might like to subscribe to The Wellesley Wine Press.

Question of the Day: What do you think of VinoDivino?

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Zepaltas Wine Dinner at Prima Vini Walnut Creek, CA

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Besides Boston, the second biggest concentration of WWP readers is probably Northern California. That being the case, I thought to pass along this heads up about a very cool event at Prima Vini in Walnut Creek, CA.

The event is this Thursday March 4th, 2009, and features wines from Zepaltas (who I named my 2008 Wine of the Year for their delicious 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir).

Two options to consider:

  1. A Wine Tasting
    $35 per person
    5:30-7:00P in the Wine Shop

  2. A Dinner with Paired Wines
    $110 per person
    Begins at 6:30P
In addition to Zepaltas, wines from 6 other producers will be available including Siduri, AP Vin, and Loring all of which are on my list of wines I like or would like to learn more about.

For more information, contact the restaurant:
Prima Vini

Further reading: An Interview with Ryan Zepaltas

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