10 Ways to Get into Wine Without Spending Top Dollar

Friday, July 30, 2010

This is a guest post from Louise Baker from Zen College Life.

Wine is one of the most celebrated beverages in the world, and for good reason. Not only is it delicious and perfect to pair with food, it is rich in antioxidants and is actually very good for the body in moderation. Unfortunately, it can also be rather expensive. However, you don't need to break the bank to learn how to enjoy good wine. Here are 10 ways to get into wine without spending top dollar.

1. Take a Class

Taking a class at a college or private institution is a great way to learn how to enjoy wine. More often than not, you'll be tasting some of the best wines available, all under the veil of "homework."

2. Attend Wine Tastings

Wine tastings are usually free, and are a great way to get acquainted with good wine. Usually, the wines featured at tastings are also relatively affordable.

3. Order Wine By the Glass

Ordering wine by the glass at restaurants is a great and economical way to learn about different types of wine quickly. Also, ordering by the glass is far less expensive than ordering a bottle.

4. Read Wine Literature

There are plenty of high-quality books and magazines on the market that focus on wine. The more often you read, the more up to date you'll be on current trends.

5. Shop at Closeouts

Wines are always going on sale because of overstock. Shopping at closeouts is a great way to try a number of different wines for less expense.

6. Go To Dinner Parties

Drinking with friends at dinner parties is an excellent way to learn more about wine, especially if they are wine enthusiasts. Bring a bottle of something you know is good, and chances are they'll have wines that you've never tried before.

7. Never Buy the Same Bottle Twice

Unless you've found a wine you really enjoy, try to vary your wine buying habits. Always pick up a bottle of something you've never tried before when going on a shopping run.

8. Tour a Winery

There are wineries all over the world that welcome guests in to view their operations and try their wine. Not only can you often purchase high-quality wines for discount prices at wineries, but they will usually offer you tastings of all of their different varietals.

9. Drink Locally

Local wines often cost less to purchase because they haven't traveled nearly as far as other wines. Try to drink local wines whenever possible.

10. Be Open Minded

One of the most important things about trying new wines is to be as open minded as possible. Just because you don't like a particular glass of wine doesn't mean that the style does not appeal to you. Be sure to try as many different wines from a particular style as possible before formulating any opinions.

When she's not trying to learn more about wine, Louise Baker is a freelance writer. She currently blogs about online schools at Zen College Life, where her most recent post was on the top online colleges.

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Latching on to a Certain Wine "Like You've Found the Cure"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Forgive me if I don't credit a specific episode of Wine Library TV but I remember hearing way back from @garyvee about how people tend to latch on to a specific wine they've enjoyed and want to drink it forever as if it contains the cure.

I remember hearing that and thinking "That's not me!  I rarely want to buy more than 2 bottles of a single wine and it annoys me when I can only get good pricing on a wine when I buy 12 bottles."

But if I extend the statement a little further and try to think of the last wine I wish I would have bought more of in the last few years the first that comes to mind is the 2007 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel.  Good luck trying to find this wine around favorably priced- the 2008 vintage is more expensive and just doesn't offer the same level of excitement somehow.

What was it about this wine that made it disappear so quickly from my stash?  I think it's a few things coming together:  Price point around $20.  Delicious flavor profile.  Fruit-forward yet offers layers of complexity.  Luscious.  Consistently popular with guests. That about sums it up.

Why was I thinking about this?  Because I think I've found the first wine since 2008 that's got me thinking about backing up the truck.  I've been talking about it on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) but I'll be writing it up here in the coming days.  I'm looking forward to talking more about this wine because I feel like it will serve as a good litmus test of whether you should listen to my wine recommendations.  Check back soon or subscribe so we can continue the conversation.

Update: I wrote about the wine I backed up the truck to buy a case of here.

Question of the Day: What's a wine you've bought in the last few years that you wish you would've bought more of?  And/or what's a wine that's still available in the market now that you'd recommend others stock up on and why?

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A Brief History of Wine Shipment into Massachusetts (as H4497 withers on the vine)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A summary of developments related to direct shipment of wine into Massachusetts over the past couple of years:

  • For the longest time, wineries outside of Massachusetts couldn't ship here at all.  But then a law went into effect that allowed wineries which produce less than 30,000 gallons a year to ship here.  The logic was that in order for the small wineries in MA to be able to ship out, the state should let similarly small wineries out of state ship in.
  • Good old Mitt Romney vetoed the bill because he thought it was discriminatory towards large out of state wineries, but the legislature overrode his veto and the 30,000 gallon cap went into effect.
  • You'd think this would have freed up a lot of wine shipment to Massachusetts but it didn't.  Why?  Because the cost and complexity of obtaining a permit that needs to be renewed each year is an excessive burden for small wineries.  It costs them a hundred dollars in annual permitting to ship the first bottle (plus administration costs) and they'd rather not take the risk of not selling enough wine to the state in a given year to justify the expense and hassle.  Massachusetts is just one state out of 50 after all.
  • Small wineries were further limited by the fact that UPS and FedEx (so called "common carriers") don't ship wine to Massachusetts because the state has inordinately stringent licensing requirements for vehicles that transport alcohol.  Each individual vehicle needs a permit.
  • Further, there is wording in Massachusetts law stating that each individual consumer can only receive a certain amount of wine per year and any individual winery that put said consumer over their annual volume cap could be held responsible for an illegal shipment.
  • In 2008, the Family Winemakers v. Jenkins case determined the 30,000 gallon cap was unconstitutional.  Family Winemakers represented California wineries, Eddie Jenkins was then the chairman of the Massachusetts ABCC.
  • The discussion around Jenkins focused on protecting small Massachusetts wineries, but if you're a small Massachusetts winery you must have been indignant while this debate was going on.  Why?  Because it never had anything to do with protecting small Massachusetts wineries in the first place.  It had to do with protecting the 3-tier system that channels wine from producer to distributor to retailers and restaurants.
  • Somewhat concurrently with her unsuccessful run for the US Senate against Scott Brown, Martha Coakley appealed this decision in her role as Massachusetts Attorney General.  When the appeal was denied earlier this year, there was dancing in the streets and it seemed direct shipment from out of state wineries to consumers would finally be a reality.  The local TV station even came over to interview me.
  • Though it seemed direct shipments would now be possible, the same laws that stifled small wineries are now effectively stifling all direct shipments of wine to the state.  Since it's unreasonable that each individual truck should need a permit, and impossible for a given winery to know a given consumer's annual wine shipment capacity, new legislation is needed to make the direction from Jenkins effective.
  • Massachusetts House Bill 4497 is that piece of legislation, but it's currently "stuck" in the House Ways & Means Committee.
The bill is the "model legislation" for direct shipment of wine.  They call it model because it strikes a balance between the rights of out of state wineries to ship directly with consumers interested in purchasing their wines -and- the rights of each state to collect tax revenue for the shipment and regulate the shipments.  Massachusetts isn't the first state to grapple with these issues and it won't be the last. 

Even if you don't drink wine or ever intend to get wine shipped to you as a Massachusetts resident you might be in favor of allowing legal direct shipment of wine.  Why?  Because it will increase tax revenue to the state by providing a channel for shipment and tax collection of wine which otherwise couldn't legally be shipped into the state.  The typical wines we're talking about here are ones that aren't available from retailers either because they're too small to warrant interest from distributors -or- are in such high demand that they only sell directly to consumers.  Believe me- as a wine enthusiast I'd love to buy all my wine directly from local retailers to save on shipping costs.  But many wines simply aren't available in the state.

Your call to action?  Contact your state representative and ask them whether they support the direct shipment of wine.  Ask them what's going on with MA HB 4497.  If this bill isn't sent to the floor for a vote by the end of the week it will likely languish until next year effective keeping the status quo for at least another year.  Let's enact this bill to allow the intent of Family Winemakers v. Jenkins to become a reality.

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Cheap French Wine

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let's face it- there's something more sophisticated and adventurous about drinking imported wines, especially from France.  However, the charm evaporates when you encounter bitter, austere, or otherwise "challenging" wines when you're just looking for something delicious to serve your guests.  Especially when they're expensive.

I realized while looking around at my empty bottles in the recycling bin (I'm currently the mayor of the town dump on Four Square so let me know if you need any favors) that I've recently strung together a run of cheap inexpensive French wines that would be fun to write-up.  All 2009s: A white, a rosé, and even a red.  Some fared better than others but I thought they were all discussion-worthy:


2009 Earl Charpenties Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne Haut Marin Cuvée Marine (white)
Price: $8 
11.5% Alcohol

Maybe it was the occurrence of the word "Marine" on the label but I thought this wine was "of the ocean" on a number of levels.  It had this really enjoyable slightly-salt-watery characteristic that made me think it would pair well with oysters.

It also offered tropical aromas- bananas even.  Combined with just the slightest hint of effervescence, this makes for an excellent summer white wine with well-balanced fruit flavor.


87/100 WWP: Very Good
Purchased at Bin Ends Wine


2009 Château de Fontenille Clairet (rosé)
Price: Around $10
12.5% Alcohol

It seems to happen to me every year.  The weather starts to warm up and we have dinner out on the deck and crack open a delicious rosé.  I swear I'm going to drink nothing but white and pink wine all summer long!  Then reality sets in and I scurry back to my comfort zone which is still juicy new world reds.  But when you catch an affordable, delicious, guzzleble rosé it's hard to imagine one that's not utterly enjoyable.

Unfortunately, this Fontenille didn't quite deliver for me and the guests I served it to on a hot summer afternoon.  Smells of delicious strawberries, but a little thin and bitter flavor-wise. Though it's only 12.5% alc guests noted that "you can definitely taste the alcohol".

PS The wine I had at the beginning of summer and liked more was this one from Zepaltas.

78/100 WWP:Mediocre


2009 Chateau Roc de Segur (red)
Price: $10
13.5% Alcohol

The hype surrounding 2009 Bordeaux is a little different then 2005.  Whereas everyone seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the quality of the 2005s everyone seems uniformly stunned by the high prices of the 2009s.  Some of the retailers I trust most are suggesting there's limited upside in buying these wines as futures for a variety of reasons.

Sold almost entirely always as futures at this point (as in: pay now as part of a straight case or six-pack if you're a pauper, pick up in a year or two when they arrive) I've noticed a few retailers nationally offering this Roc de Segur as a first-look 2009 red Bordeaux.

When I opened this wine, my first impression was unfavorable.  It smelled like run of the mill red wine with Home Depot-esque wood notes wafting above the glass.  After some attempts to save it with various wine aerators things improved a bit but I decided to save it for the next day to see how it fared.

Fortunately, things were looking up the next day!  I'm not familiar with the composition of this wine, but it tasted like a Cab Franc to me the second day.  Green peppers and spice on top of a more solid foundation.  It even held on and showed well a 3rd day, which is something I see consistently in red Bordeaux at all price points: It fares well on the counter overnight with a stopper.

Now, the fact that a wine lasted three days around here says something: It wasn't too hard to resist.  This one definitely needs time to settle down, but the question I'd ask is how much space do you want to devote to laying down cheap Bordeaux?

Check out the notes from Garagiste posted on CellarTracker.

84/100 WWP: Good
Purchased at: Hingham Wine Merchant

Question of the Day: Have you had any of these? If so, what did you think of them?  If not, any tips for good affordable French wines?

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Robert Foley Wine Dinner at Stonehedge Inn

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Robert Foley is coming to Stonehedge Inn in Tyngsboro, MA for a paired wine dinner Monday July 26th, 2010.  The cost is $135.
I attended a wine dinner at BOKX109 in Newton last year and enjoyed it very much.  Mr. Foley got around to each table multiple times to answer questions and interact with guests.  At that event, we tasted through his 2006s.  I thought they were fantastic and his 2007s are even more highly anticipated.  I tried the 2007 Robert Foley Merlot recently and thought it was outstanding.

If you're interested, give Stonehedge Inn a call to check availability and make reservations at the number below:

Check 'em out:
Stonehedge Inn & Spa
Tyngsboro, MA 01879
978-649-4400
On Facebook
Twitter: @StonehedgeInn

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15% Off at Bin Ends Wine Friends and Family Sale

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wednesday, July 21 from 5-8PM is Friends and Family Night at Bin Ends Wine in Braintree, MA. To celebrate their 2nd anniversary they're offering an additional 15% off all purchases even if you're a new friend.  This is a pretty good opportunity to save even more off their already-low prices.

Pro Tip: Always check the bargain bins in the back of the store as your first course of action.  From there fan out and search their unique selections in regions you're interested in.

I last visited the store as part of my unencumbered Father's Day wine jaunt.  While at Bin Ends, I enjoyed talking with Dan Kline and taking his recommendations on wines they had in stock.  Here are a few selections that stood out:
  • 2007 Villa San-Juliette Petite Sirah
    As soon as I opened this one I knew I was getting into something serious.  The wine is so intensely dark you could use the cork to write your name on a piece of paper and have color left over.  "Blueberry motor oil" the producers call it (who themselves are the producers of American Idol). Definitely check out this Paso Robles wine at just over $10 after discount if you're into into big California reds.
  • 2006 Lachini "S" Pinot Noir
    Solid Oregon Pinot Noir from a voluptuous vintage.  I don't think they have much of this one left but it was a really nice wine at $30.  Even nicer 15% off.
  • 2009 Red Newt Circle Riesling
    Click here for a review I wrote of this wine previously.  This is a fantastic warm-weather, food-friend Finger Lakes Riesling for just over $10 after discount.
If you can't make it Wednesday night, they're having their monthly Fine Wine Flea Market Sunday, July 25, from 1-5PM where you can try dozens of wines before you buy them at 20-50% off retail.

Check 'em out:
Bin Ends Wine
236 Wood Road, Braintree, MA
(781)817-1212
Facebook: Bin Ends Wine
Twitter: @binendswine

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Made in Massachusetts: How Marco Montez Put Travessia Urban Winery on the Map

Monday, July 19, 2010

When I first started using Twitter a few years ago, primarily as a means for connecting with people interested in wine and from there hopefully this blog, one of the first people I followed was @TRAVESSIA.  They're a small urban winery in New Bedford, Massachusetts producing wines from grapes grown in Massachusetts.  Sure- why not follow them?

Over the past few years I've gotten to know Travessia's owner and winemaker Marco Montez better, and it's been great to watch his winery grow and gain notoriety.  We had a chance to visit Travessia's unique winery this past weekend and it was great to round out my familiarity with the brand.

Like Any Other Small Business

I find small businesses fascinating.  It seems like almost everyone I know has a side-interest or hobby they'd like to derive income from at some point, but it's often hard to take the leap of faith required to get that small business off the ground especially in uncertain economic times.

Regardless of the topic you're interested in, a common set of core marketing strategies need to be tended to.  A website, a blog, establishing a social media presence- all of it takes time.  But those who do it effectively are able to establish a connection with their customers that transcends a commoditized transaction and positions the business for success.

One of the first small companies I worked for had about 100 employees.  I remember a new Marketing Communications person being hired on and their job description was "to make the company look bigger than it was".  If this was Travessia's aim when they launched their first wines a couple years ago- I'd say they were successful.  If you look at their website you'll see a professional looking, easy to navigate site with just the information you're looking for.  To my eye, the site looks better than some businesses many times larger.

Travessia has taken advantage of being small and nimble by establishing an authentic presence on free important social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  They maintain a blog and I was particularly impressed with the FourSquare special we were greeted with upon arriving:
Summing it all up, the key thing I think Travessia has done well is to establish an honest human connection with would-be customers and partners that aligns with their brand.  Well done- definitely one to watch and learn if you're interested in promoting your small business effectively.

In Real Life

I've met Marco and tried his wines before but this was the first chance I had to see him at the winery in New Bedford.  He had the day off but was kind enough to meet us there after I pinged him on Twitter.  Just as we were trying to figure out whether we needed to feed the street meters he pulled up and gave us the Insider's Tip: No need to feed the meters on Saturday even though the meters indicate they're in operation on Saturdays.

The winery is situated on nice medium-density street with parallel parking.  It's about 1,000 square feet in all including the wine-making operation and the tasting room.  The back has the winemaking equipment: Fermentation tanks, barrels, a corker, etc.  We had our kids along so we weren't able to get into as much detail as I would have liked but there was something very cool to seeing a winery of this scale in action.  Here's why...

There's clarity in small scale.  In my day job, I look at integrated circuit designs with millions of devices.  When something goes wrong and I want to test a theory I have about what's causing the problem, I create a tiny design that has only 2 devices in it.  90% of the time I can replicate the problem concisely and then know exactly where to focus.  With wine, production numbers and the winemaking process can be a blur until you see it hands-on and can visualize the steps involved.  I'd love to follow along with a winery from grape to glass to reinforce what I've only read about and seen bits and pieces of.

It was great to see the tasting counter occupied by at least one group the whole time we were visiting.  Edson was pouring the wines the day we visited.  Bottles are available for purchase and they offer a wine club that I finally signed up for after meaning to for months.

We tasted through their Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Chardonnay, Oaked Chardonnay, and Vidal Blanc.  All are made with 100% Massachusetts-grown grapes.

The Pinot Grigio is a relatively new addition to the line-up.  It's bone dry and I'd like it more if it had a little more weight.  The Chardonnays are well-made but I'm not a fan of the variety in general and if there's a grape out there that can be polarizing in terms of taste preferences it's Chardonnay.  A lot of people say they like unoaked Chardonnay lately (and some people indeed do) but I recall a wine dinner at Legal Sea Foods a while back where the well-regarded California Chardonnay producer Sonoma-Cutrer was pouring their wines.  Half of the people loved their oaky Chardonnay and the other half preferred a lighter, crisper style.  Fortunately, Travessia offers both- take your pick.  I prefer the oaked.

Their Vidal Blanc continues to be my favorite of the bunch.  If you like Riesling with just a kiss of sweetness or Gewürztraminer you might enjoy their Vidal Blanc.  Their 2008 was a little drier (less sweet) than the 2007 we enjoyed so much.  Both vintages are great but we took the opportunity to pick up a couple more bottles of the 2007.  Vidal Blanc is a hybrid (a cross between grapes of different species) commonly used in Canadian ice wines.  I think it does well in Massachusetts and I've enjoyed other examples from wineries on the Southeastern New England Coastal Wine Trail.

As we were leaving a dozen bachelorettes arrived in a limo- what a great way to start the night and good business for the winery.

We asked Marco where we could get some clams in a waterfront setting and his suggestion of the Waterfront Grille was spot-on.  You're looking out over fishing boats (as opposed to yachts) and the ambiance is coastal enough that you appreciate being on the water but not clam-shacky as to be grubby.  Funny side note: A group of guys came in while we were there and asked the waitress if they could take off their shirts outside.  I got the distinct impression she gave them the once-over before saying "um- no".

My impression of New Bedford after the visit is that it's a lively coastal city with an eclectic mix of charming cobblestone streets, a waterfront with active fisheries, a launching point for Vineyard ferries, and a cool collection of urban businesses.

When we go back next I'd like to visit the Whaling Musueum and/or the Ocean Explorium.  We had a chance to drive by both and they looked inviting.  Click here for a list of other activities in the area.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

About an hour south of Boston, a visit to Travessia is highly recommended.  Paired with a visit to a nearby restaurant and/or museum it makes for an enjoyable day-trip.  They're producing some delicious wines in a cool urban environment and I look forward to watching them grow.

Know how I'm always complaining about Massachusetts wine shipping laws?  Fear not- you can buy Travessia online and have it shipped to your home or office in Massachusetts.  What a novel idea!

Check 'em out:
Travessia Urban Winery
760 Purchase Street
New Bedford, MA 02740
774-929-6534

As a mater of disclosure I'd like to mention Travessia has run an ad on this site in the past.  It was more than a year ago, but just so you know.  Click here to read my advertising policies.

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New To The WWP? 7 Things You May Have Missed

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I try to be cautious about repeating myself.  I never want to be "that guy" who says the same thing over and over again as if we're in a conversation and I've forgotten something I've told you before.  But in the context of blogging it would be unreasonable to expect you've read every word I've written here or on Twitter. (If someone has been with me from the beginning or even over the past year drop me an E-mail and let me know- I'd truly appreciate it.)

I think I've mentioned before that I've found Darren Rowse's Pro Blogger to be helpful in getting my arms around blogging and motivating me to get this site off the ground, but it's been a while since I took one of his suggestions and immediately implemented it.  Until today, which is a style of post that you're reading right now.

Here's a list of 7 things you may have missed on The Wellesley Wine Press:

  1. What I consider my first post wasn't even published here on the WWP- it was published on our family blog Casa Dwyer.
    Lesson Learned: Before starting a blog on a specific topic, try writing about it on a general-purpose blog like a family blog or a personal Tumblr blog.
  2. The post I enjoyed writing the most was probably this piece about Bobby Parkerchuk on Twitter.  Sometimes I've got a half dozen things I feel I need to write about.  The night I sat down and wrote that summary of tweets I had a great time and laughed out loud.
    Lesson Learned: Sometimes it's best to write about what you want to write about- not what you feel you need to write about.
  3. A post I thought had a great discussion was this one describing the WWP QPR Calculator.  It's gratifying when someone finds their way to the site after seeking out wine QPR calculators on Google and actually finds one and we get a chance to talk about the subject of quality-price-ratio in wine.
    Lesson Learned: One of the best things about blogging is connecting with folks with the same ridiculously specific interest.
  4. A post on someone else’s blog that you wish you’d written was probably this piece from Dr. Vino about Robert Parker and ethics because it shined a light on an inconsistency between the Wine Advocate's stated tasting policy and what was evidently going on.
    Lesson Learned: Sometimes the most important posts ruffle feathers.  It might make you unpopular with certain people.  Always be thinking about where you want to go with your writing long-term.
  5. One of my most helpful posts was probably this list of Grocery Stores in MA that sell wine.  Every time someone lands on the site after trying like heck to figure out which Trader Joe's in the state sell wine (and why) I feel like I've silently helped out.
    Lesson Learned: Assembling information and presenting it in a single easy-to-find place is a useful service.
  6. A post with a title I am proud of? What You're Doing Might Be Illegal. It's a story about how Massachusetts wine consumers might be unknowingly breaking the law by performing everyday acts with wine.  When I've reviewed past blog entries the headline caught my attention and I clicked it myself.  Aside:  Yes we need to fix our laws in this state.
    Lesson Learned: Sometimes you write headlines for search engine optimization, sometimes you write them to entice a click...  This one was for for a click, but one thing that bothers me to no end is the over-hyped headline that doesn't deliver.  This story, I hope, delivers.
  7. A post I wish more people had read was this one about a wine shop in another state being squeezed by a larger competitor.  It really opened my eyes to aspects of the wine trade I hadn't considered previously.
    Lesson Learned: Contrary to popular belief, wine shops do go out of business.  Sadly, I received an E-mail from this retailer just recently saying he was closing his shop.
As always- thank you for reading.  If you enjoy reading this site the nicest thing you could do for me is encourage someone else to check it out and subscribe.

Photo Credit: pshegubj

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Massachusetts Voters to Decide Whether to Repeal Alcohol Tax

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Photo by philip

I read today on the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Licensing Blog that those in favor of repealing the Massachusetts sales tax on alcohol were successful in getting their initiative on this November's ballot.  This is potentially good news for those who buy wine in the state, but get ready for the political maneuvering to begin.

It was just over a year ago that Governor Patrick signed into law the increase from 0% at the point of sale to 6.25%. Already subject to excise taxes, alcohol is now double-taxed much to the delight of state revenue collectors and much to the chagrin of wine enthusiasts and wine retailers (especially those near New Hampshire where there is no tax on wine at the point of sale).

I'm in favor of repealing the tax on alcohol at the point of sale.  Here's why:

Once in place, sin taxes have a way of escalating irrationally any time more tax revenue is needed.  The right thing to do is determine what an appropriate tax level is for alcohol and stick to it.  Has the appropriate taxation level for alcohol changed suddenly?  Or has the state's need for tax revenue changed suddenly due to the economy?  I would argue it's the latter.

If the logic is that funds are needed for state-sponsored rehab programs then increase the excise tax.  Why?  Because if you want to discourage excessive alcohol consumption you do it by taxing alcohol based on the volume (as the excise tax does) not by dollar value (as the sales tax does).  Anything else is just an arbitrary unbalanced way to squeeze more tax revenue out of Massachusetts residents who purchase alcohol.

Question of the Day: What do you think of the alcohol tax?

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Recommended Viewing: Jon Rimmerman from Garagiste at Small and Special

Friday, July 9, 2010

Garagiste is a Seattle-based retailer with a unique business model.  Proprietor Jon Rimmerman travels the world finding unique wines and then offers them for purchase through beautifully worded stories in daily E-mails.  I've been receiving his E-mails since February of this year and one in particular this past week really impressed me.  The guy is a fantastic writer.

The video embedded below is from last year's Small and Special conference, but I just made time to watch it today.  Here are some points that jumped out at me:

  • He started the business with just $500 after building up relationships in the organic food trade.
  • They do somewhere south of $30 million in annual sales and they don't have an e-commerce system.  You just reply to their E-mail offers and tell them how many bottles you want.  The famous Niki responds and, assuming they have your credit card on file, your order is processed.
  • They've got almost 100,000 people on their E-mail list, many of whom subscribe just for the writing.
  • He recognized that consumers like connecting directly with people and immediacy long before Twitter existed.  They're on Twitter now (@Garagiste_Wine) but their business still hinges primarily around connecting personally from proprietor to consumer through Jon's E-mails.
Unfortunately, they can't ship to Massachusetts.

At minimum, your call to action today is to sign up for their E-mail list.  And when you can set aside some time, watch the video.  I think you'll enjoy getting to know Jon a little better and you'll benefit from the ideas he shares whether you're a wine lover, a small business owner, a blogger, or all three.

Thanks to @joshiemac for the referral in the comments section of this piece from last year on the top wine deals of 2010.  Like he says- the action is in the E-mails not on their website.

If you like the Garagiste model where you respond to email offers and build towards a case over time check out this New York retailer. Totally different style, but similarly outstanding deals.


Jon Rimmerman - Garagiste - Small and Special 2009 from Small and Special on Vimeo.

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Monday, July 12th: Ridge Wine Dinner at L'Espalier

Thursday, July 8, 2010

This one caught my attention as an amazing food and wine combination.  It brings together the highly regarded L'Espalier restaurant with the long-standing reputation of quality from Ridge Vineyards.

From the L'Espalier website:

Ridge Wine Dinner

Join L'Espalier's Wine Director Erik Johnson and winemaker Eric Baugher as we showcase the winery's incredible selections. Paired with a multi-course dinner perfectly tailored to complement each wine, the Ridge Wine Dinner will be a spectacular evening and a rare experience for the restaurant and all attendees.
Seating is very limited and we expect a quick sell out. Reservations are required and can be obtained by calling 617-262-3023.

Monday, July 12 at 7pm
$185/person
Click here to view the menu.
Learn more about Ridge wines on the web at www.ridgewine.com.

Check 'em out:
L'Espalier
774 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02199
617-262-3023
On Twitter
On Facebook

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Tasting Report: 2009 Red Newt Riesling Circle Label

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Red Newt Cellars is a small Finger Lakes producer of mostly Rieslings.  Like many smaller production regions, the wines from the Finger Lakes often have a hard time delivering value on par with higher production regions of the same grape varieties.  In the case of Riesling, German wines are the standard and domestically Washington state (and Chateau Ste Michelle specifically as the largest single producer) are the giant wine-producing gorillas to compete with.

You can find a number of Finger Lakes Rieslings around the $15-$20 price point, but there's a big difference between $10 and $20 on a retailer shelf.  And you can get a fine bottle of German Riesling in this range.  With the introduction of the Circle Label in 2008, Red Newt changed the game by ramping production levels and delivering a Finger Lakes Riesling for $11.99.   But how was the wine?

Determining how sweet or dry a Riesling will taste based on the label can be tricky.  One wine labeled "Off Dry" might not be as sweet as we'd like or vice versa.  And even if we become familiar with what levels of residual sugar we like, the interplay of acidity and alcohol with the sugar can influence our overall impression of a wine.  What's needed is a "sweetness index" so to speak.

I first heard of a Riesling index when Dr. Ernest Loosen and Bob Bertheau from Chateau Ste Michelle were in town presenting their wines at Blanchards West Roxbury a couple of years ago.  On the back of the Red Newt label is this standardized Riesling Taste Profile from the International Riesling Foundation.  I think it's a handy quick-reference to help determine whether a given wine aligns with each of our ideas about how sweet a Riesling should be and this one promises to be "Medium Sweet"- and to my palate it was.

Here are my thoughts on the wine:

2009 Red Newt Cellars Riesling Circle Label
2,100 cases produced (for the 2008 vintage)
11.7% Alcohol
$11.99

Aromatically impressive with peach and citrus on the nose.  Lemony on the palate.  Neutral finish- nicely devoid of any off-putting flavors.  Nice weight: Not too syrupy heavy and not too thin.  Towards the sweeter side as advertised, but finishes clean.  I liked it. 

88/100 WWP: Very Good

Further Reading:
Purchased at Bin Ends Wine.

Check 'em out:
Red Newt Cellars Winery & Bistro
Hector, NY 14841
607-546-4100
On Twitter: @CircleRiesling
On Facebook

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Tasting Report: Stepping Stone by Cornerstone

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Cornerstone Cellars is small producer based in Napa Valley best known for the high quality Cabernet Sauvignon they've been producing for 18 vintages.  Over the years they've branched out to other grape varieties (Sauvignon Blanc), regions (Oregon), and with Stepping Stone price points ($16-$35/btl).

The idea with Stepping Stone is "to produce beautiful wines of outstanding quality that are both reasonably priced and capable of expressing their full charm and complexity in their youth."  Not a second label to their pricier ($59+) Napa Cabs but rather a label of wine that delivers high quality that's ready to drink on release.

As part of an tasting that was part live at the 2010 North American Wine Bloggers Conference and part virtual via Taste Live, I had a chance to taste through 5 wines from Stepping Stone.  1 white, 1 rosé, and 3 reds.  Here are my thoughts on these wines:

2009 Stepping Stone Sauvignon Blanc
13.7% alc
325 cases produced
$16/btl 

From the winery: "The Sauvignon Blanc Musqué clone is responsible for some of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in California. Used by many wineries as a blending component, a few wineries are now using the Musqué clone as if it were a unique grape variety – Sauvignon Musqué." 

My Tasting Notes:  Detected very little residual sugar- this wine tastes very dry.  Would have expected rounder flavors from California.  More Loire in style than New Zealand, but without the minerality you'd expect in Loire.   For my palate, it was almost searingly acidic without food.  Is this typical of the Sauvignon Musqué clone? 

82 WWP/Good 

2009 Stepping Stone Red Hills Lake County Corallina Rosé
50% Grenache/50% Syrah
13.9% Alcohol
196 cases produced
$16/btl

From the winery: "named for its brilliant coral (corallina in Italian) color...Our 2009 Rosé Corallina is a stylish medium-bodied Provençal-style blend with the juicy flavors of fresh strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate. A touch of citrus and red current dance on a palate that exhibits a slight creamy
texture."

My Tasting Notes: The color of watermelon juice.  Gets more apparent aromatically as it comes to room temperature which may or may not be a good thing.  Some strawberries on the nose.  Its quirky, somewhat bitter flavor profile might disappoint those looking for a summer guzzler- or even a porch sipper.

74 WWP/Not recommended

2008 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc
14.5% alc
602 cases produced
$30/btl

From the Winery:"From the Carneros vineyards of Southern Napa, the 2008 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc highlights the special nature of this region. Due to the moderating influences of the Bay (San
Pablo and San Francisco) the growing season starts earlier, but extends longer than most inland
areas. Cooling begins earlier in the afternoon and the resulting wines are deeper, more stable in
color with mouth-filling, textural tannins. All of this with slightly more acidity and refreshing
fruitiness than normal."
Vineyards:  Carneros 96% (Truchard Vineyard); Howell Mountain 4% (Ink Grade
Composition:   96% Cabernet Franc; 4% Cabernet Sauvignon

My Tasting Notes: I remember drinking a Chimney Rock Cabernet Franc years ago and I thought it was great.  It single-handedly sent me on a Cab Franc buying spree that lasted for over a year.  Affordable CA Cab Franc was hard to come by and I don't think that's changed a whole lot since.  This one at $30 is an intriguing play.

I thought the wine was reminiscent of Cab Franc from cooler climates but this one had darker color and more oomph on the palate (we see Cab Franc produced here in New England as well, some of which is grown in New York).  A hint of bell pepper at first but then comes big ripe red fruit.  Sizable tannins for a wine aimed at approachability.  Not for the faint of heart.

86 WWP/Very Good

2008 Stepping Stone Syrah
14.9% alc
153 cases
$20/btl 

From the Winery: "From the Carneros vineyards of Southern Napa, the 2008 Stepping Stone Syrahhighlights the special nature of this region. The various combinations of terrain, geology and marine moderated temperatures provide unique winegrowing conditions. The results are wines with deeper, more stable color and mouth-filling, textural tannins, all with slightly more acidity and refreshing fruitiness. A dollop of generous Red Hills Grenache adds a warm roundness to the blend."
Composition: 95% Carneros Syrah (Truchard Vineyard) 5% Grenache Lake County,
Red Hills (Fore Family Vineyards) 

My Tasting Notes: California Syrah is hard for me to get excited about sometimes.  I don't know what to expect of it and too often it just tasted like run of the mill red wine.  This one included unfortunately.

Dark in color with mild red raspberry aromas, some leather and white pepper.  Sharp acidity with somewhat harsh edges.  Apparent heat from the alcohol.  Succeeds in bringing flavor and presence but lacks control.  Shows potential? Would have liked it more with warmer characteristics.  A little unfriendly. 

82 WWP/Good

2008 Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon
14.9% alc
964 cases produced

$35/btl 

Winery Notes:  "Our 2008 Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon is a concentrated, multi-layered wine where the dark, rich fruit dominates as the palate expands, but the acid remains lively, juicy and focused. The tannins are long, youthful and satisfying and bring richness and length to the palate. While enticing, generous and elegant upon release, this wine will become even more delicious in the cellars of the patient among us."
Vineyards: Oakville (UC-Davis Block, Cassanova Vineyard), Wooden Valley (Rancho
Chimiles), Coombsville (Hardman Road), Carneros (Truchard Vineyard) 

My Tasting Notes: Ah- here is the warmth I was looking for in that Syrah along with some other nice characteristics to boot.  Fruit-forward and nicely accompanied by chocalate/vanilla notes in the background.  Still a little edgy at this point, else I'd have been more impressed with it.  The tannins are still quite apparent and somewhat abrastive.  I'd bet this improves with just a year of bottle age. 

87 WWP/Very Good 

Conclusions:

One of the more interesting discussions from the tasting, I thought, was whether $35 is a pricey bottle of wine.  Whether something is expensive or not depends largely on personal perspective so I can only answer for myself here of course but I do consider $35 a pricey bottle of wine.  It's a price that's near the top of the target budget for a lot of wine consumers and a price at which I think it's relatively easy (thankfully) to get an outstanding bottle of wine.

In terms of Napa Cab in particular there are some great wines available somewhere around the $35 price point.  Honig, Chappellet Signature, and Snowden come to mind.  Then there's labels like Chappellet Mountain Cuvee, and Buehler that come in closer to $20.  And if you're willing to explore Sonoma or Washington you can drive the price down even further and still enjoy a wine with similar flavor profiles as Napa at a fraction of the cost.  I mention all of those to explain where I'm coming from when I say "$35 is a pricey bottle of wine- they better be good!"

Taking that into consideration I thought the Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc was one of the more interesting plays in the bunch because I've found it more difficult to find a good examples of California Cabernet Franc in the $30 range.  I found the flavor profile intriguing and enjoyed the density of the wine.

Samples for Review.

Check 'em out:
Cornerstone Cellars
On Facebook: CornerstoneNapa
On Twitter: @CornerstoneNapa

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Today: Tent Sale at Blanchards West Roxbury

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Blanchards is having an inventory reduction sale at their locations in West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Revere Thursday July 1st, 2010 from 4-7pm.  Grilled burgers in the parking lot and deals in-store.

At their West Roxbury location, they'll be offering bin ends from their Internet wine sales department.  Favorable pricing on beer and spirits for the 4th of July weekend as well:

  • Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio $15.97
  • Fris Vodka $15.97
  • Bud 36 Packs $22.97
Other wines on sale at "cost plus a dollar".  Who knows what to expect.  90-point Australian GSM for $102 a case.  I'll try to get over there and check it out.  Follow me on Twitter for play-by-play: @RobertDwyer

Check 'em out:
Blanchards Wine & Spirits
418 Lagrange
West Roxbury, MA, 02132
(617) 327-1400

If you stopped by, leave a note to let us know how the deals look!

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