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Boston Tea Party Re-Enacted to Celebrate MA Tax Repeal: But Will Retailers See a Difference in 2011?

Friday, December 31, 2010


Thanks to a tip from Jon Chesto I learned that a group of wine retailers and enthusiasts gathered yesterday on the Boston side of the Fort Point Channel yesterday to re-enact the Boston Tea Party.  But instead of tossing tea into the harbor they poured water from empty wine bottles to commemorate the alcohol tax repeal Massachusetts voters passed as part of Question 1 back in November.  Starting January 1st, 2011, alcohol will be exempt from sales tax as it was from prohibition to 2008.

There was also a group present showing their support for maintaining the tax as it was said to fund a variety of behavioral health services.  I won't rehash that argument here.  I'd rather focus today on how what impact this change will have on wine consumers in 2011.

In talking to wine retailers over the past few months I've noticed a few trends:
  • They're surprised the tax was repealed.
  • They're glad the tax was repealed.
  • They saw a huge boost in sales during the 2010 Massachusetts tax free weekend.
  • They're cautiously optimistic about whether the tax repeal will have a sustained positive effect on their business in 2011.
People sometimes find it hard to believe that others were making purchase decisions based on the tax.  And in most low-dollar transactions I'd agree that was the case.  But I think there's two scenarios where the sales tax does have an impact on purchase decisions, and they're both situations where the dollar volume is large and therefore worth paying attention to.

The first is where you're buying a large quantity of wine for an event like a wedding.  Say you're buying 8 cases of $15/bottle wine for a wedding.  The 6.25% tax previous in effect amounted to $90.  That's significant, and would be enough to make it worth your while to take a trip up to tax-free New Hampshire.  Never mind for a moment that it's illegal to import alcohol into Massachusetts -and- illegal to carry more than 15 bottles of wine in your car without a special permit - more on that here.

The second is more relevant to your typical Massachusetts wine enthusiast and that's in terms of a series of high dollar purchases.  When you spend several thousands of dollars on a wine a year, it pays to think about the fully loaded cost of wine.  When I say full loaded I mean thinking about quantity discounts, shipping, and tax.

When the sales tax first went into place in 2008, it diminished the positive effect of case discounts.  If you only got 10% off a straight case, most of that discount came right back as the 6.25% sales tax was applied.  With the sales tax gone the effect of a case discount will be more compelling psychologically because I know when I see a $29.99 sticker on a bottle I'm eyeing I'd be able to knock that down to $23.99 out the door with a 20% discount.  I like that.

Massachusetts will become the only state in the union that taxes goods in general but excludes wine from sales tax.  Prior to the tax going into effect, I don't think as many people realized how unique the situation was.  I know I didn't.  When I was out in California it always seemed like prices were really low.  And they were, but the roughly 9% sure ate into the savings.

I think retailers can really work this to their advantage now, especially when it comes to more expensive wines.  At the higher end, consumers tend to do more price shopping - especially online - because shipping costs can be absorbed if the savings are high enough.  Wine retailers can't legally ship wine to Masschusetts but that doesn't mean they can't ship wine to neighboring states.  Consumers know this, and they also know that most retailers don't charge sales tax when shipping to most neighboring states.  Just like with Amazon.com shopping online can be a beautiful thing in that respect.  It's a gray legal area but when you're buying wine that costs $50 plus dollars a bottle it can make a big difference especially combined with being able to search nationwide for the best prices.

But we've got some excellent wine retailers in the Boston area.  Combine that with a legal tax-free advantage  and free in-store pickup.  Add to that the ability to try wines before you buy, establish relationships with knowledge retailers (especially at higher price points), and the ability to easily return corked bottles and the incentive to patronize local retailers is as strong as it's ever been.

Shipping restrictions continue to limit consumer access to limited production wines (more on that in this brief history of MA wine shipping laws) but for wines that do make it into the state the question becomes whether retailers will be able to put wine on the shelves at compelling prices?  Their prices are dictated by distributors - will they enable MA retailers to compete favorable when compared nationally?

We shall see, but I'm more optimistic than I've been in a long time about buying wine in Massachusetts.

Pro Tip for New Year's Eve consumption:  Drink 1 full glass of water for every 5 ounce glass of wine you consume to avoid a hangover.

Hope you have a safe night and here's to a great 2011 for you and yours.  Cheers!

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Groupon: $30 for $60 at Wine.com

Monday, December 27, 2010

About a month ago Wine.com did a $30 for $60 deal with Living Social.  They're now doing what appears to be the same deal with Groupon.  I have to say, I wasn't thrilled with the way the Living Social deal was structured and I let Wine.com know about it on Twitter.

There were three aspects of the deal I didn't like:

First is that the $60 Groupon can't be applied towards shipping costs.  To Massachusetts, it costs $12.95 to ship the first bottle so at minimum you end up spending $42.95 for $60 worth of wine.  That effectively makes the deal $30 for a $17.95 discount which is a lot less compelling than $30 for $60.

Second, the voucher isn't a gift card.  It's a discount code.  This is significant because Wine.com only allows you to enter one promotional code per order.  So say for example Wine.com is running a 1 cent shipping on $99 promotion - you can't stack that promotional code with the Groupon offer so you end up having to choose one or the other and the fully loaded cost of the wine shipped to your house isn't a very good deal.

Third, with the Living Social deal anyway, the promotional code didn't trigger until the total value of the products in your cart was $59 or more.  This seems incorrect to me.  Any product total of $60 or less should be free and any total over that should be reduced by $60.  The way it was structured seemed to encourage overshoot.

In total, the deal created a situation where it was impossible to achieve a 50% discount -and- you ended up being forced to spend more than the cost of the voucher.  When I buy a Groupon for a restaurant I can always choose to spend slightly less than the value of the voucher so I don't end up spending more on the deal than the voucher cost me.  But with this deal that isn't possible and that doesn't feel right to me.

All of that said, I'm going to take advantage of this offer too.  Why?  Well, they had a good deal last week on their Steward-Ship program where you could get holiday gift baskets shipped for free if you bought into the Steward-Ship program for $25 (regularly $49).  This program is similar to Amazon Prime (which I'm a huge fan of and almost anyone can try for free with Amazon Mom - check it out) in that it gives you free shipping on any order for a year.  But, a unique aspect of Steward-Ship is that it can be combined with other discount offers.  So say for example Wine.com offers 15% off 12 bottles.  You could then buy a bottle of 2008 Caymus for $50.99 shipped free.  And coming January 1st, 2011 to Massachusetts there's no tax on wine.  A bottle of Caymus shipped to your doorstep in Massachusetts for $50.99 fully loaded?  That's a pretty good deal.

Still, I'm not thrilled about having to read the fine print and fight so hard to get a good deal on wine. 

Click here to check out the deal on Groupon - ends Wednesday December 29th at 11:59 pm Pacific time. 

Bonus Reading: I wrote up some thoughts on a couple of interesting cashback/deal sites I recently discovered called Envaulted and Offermatic.  Good stuff - check it out.

Question of the Day: What do you think of group buying deals like this as they relate to wine?  How would you like to see retailers structuring these deals?

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The Urban Grape Quintessa Wine Dinner at The Capital Grille


The Urban Grape in Chestnut Hill, MA is hosting a series of wine maker dinners in 2011.  The first is Thursday, January 27th at The Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill featuring Augustus Huneeus from Quintessa.

The evening includes a cocktail hour followed by a 4-course menu specially created the event and paired wines from Quintessa, Faust, Illumintation and Ritual.

Cost is $125 per person.  Click here for more information and to make a reservation.

Further Reading:
Hope to see you there!

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Tasting Report: 2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme Pinot Noir

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A brief programming note: The Wellesley Wine Press hit 500 subscribers today!  After typing away here for the past couple of years it was a great Christmas present to receive.  Subscribers are, more than anything, what I've been focusing on in the past year.  The idea that so many of you are interested in hearing what I have to say means a lot to me.  Happy Holidays.

Oh, and check out this deal from Petit Robert Bistro from Buy With Me.  $25 for $50 and I hear they're BYOB-friendly at their Needham, MA location every night with a $15 corkage fee.

I usually like to write about current release wines here because they're actionable suggestions.  However, the 2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme I enjoyed last week was such a memorable wine I thought I'd share my impressions.

I purchased two bottles of this wine from Lower Falls Wine Co. about a year ago.  The first I considered outstanding (93 points) and the second I had with friends over dinner last week.  An interesting thing about this wine - although James Laube from Spectator thought it was out of this world (97 points), Robert Parker thought it was so-so.  He rated it 88 points.  I think Laube got this one right, and the market seems to have responded accordingly.  Although the wine initially sold for $60 it's now going for around $135.

Here are my notes:

2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme Pinot Noir
14.5% Alcohol
292 Cases Produced
97 Points Wine Spectator
88 Points Wine Advocate
92.6 Average on CellarTracker
Release Price: $60
Current Value: $135

I thought this wine was tremendous and it's showing beautifully at this point in time. Vibrant and intense with red raspberry aromas and flavors on top of other typical CA Pinot Noir markers (strawberries, cherries, a little earth, silky smooth tannins). Incredible depth of flavor and length of finish. Up a couple points from the last bottle I tried over a year ago. Drink now but hold if you'd like more secondary characteristics to further develop. 

95/100 WWP: Classic

The call to action is to keep an eye out for their 2009s at retail, and if live in a state they can ship to, consider joining their mailing list: http://redcarwine.com. I hear their 2009s are supposed to be spectacular.

Further Reading: An interview with Paul Sequeria from Red Car from last year when Spectator rated the Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir 97 points. 

Question of the Day: Have you had Red Car Pinot Noirs before?  If so what did you think?  If not, what have you hear about 2009 California Pinot Noir?

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Coming Soon: Nuance Wine Finer Review

Of the wine aerators I haven't reviewed on this site yet, the one I'm most frequently asked about is the Nuance Wine Finer.  It's a device that's inserted in the bottle, filters out cork and large sediment that might be in the bottle, aerates wine while it's being poured, and serves as a pourer.  Sounds like an impressive collection of features.

You may remember Boston-based CSN Stores who sponsored our Spectating on the Spectator contest - they sell everything from modern furniture to Wusthof knives.  They sell the Nuance Wine Finer for $29.95 with free shipping.  They've agreed to provide me with a sample unit so I'll be looking forward to checking it out and sharing my thoughts soon.

Subscribe to the Wellesley Wine Press and you'll automatically be notified about new posts - I've got some year-end posts coming up I'm looking forward to sharing.  Cheers!

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How To: Host a Pinot Noir Around the World Tasting for Around $50

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pinot Noir plays well in so many seasons and occasions.  I think of it as a harvest wine.  It's a lighter red and doesn't have drying tannins so it plays well in the summer months.  It's food-friendly -or- depending on the style works well as a cocktail wine.  That pretty much covers 90% of the situations I drink wine in so it's not surprising it passed Cabernet Sauvignon as my most frequently consumed grape variety in 2010.

One of the most interesting things I like to get out of comparative tastings of wines is a general understanding of the styles within that category.  Sure, it's fun to sit down and compare a bunch of wines from the same category to see which you prefer.  But one of the more fun and educational tastings you can do is a comparative tasting of the major wine regions American wine consumers consider when purchasing Pinot Noir: Oregon, California and Burgundy.

The challenge is finding varietally correct examples of each at approachable price points.  Over the past week I cracked open a trio of affordable Pinot Noirs that represent what I look for from each of these regions.  I feel they're each delicious and enjoyable in their own right but if you sit down and compre these side-by-side I think they're even more interesting.

2006 Nicolas Potel Volnay Vieilles Vignes
France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay
$46 Release Price/180 Cases Imported
88 Points Wine Spectator
13% Alcohol
Purchased for $24.99 at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

What a pretty wine. Light ruby in color and mostly transparent. Austere by new world standards but with food it shines. Sufficient round fruit on the nose that turns more tart on the palate. Wonderful mineral flavors with considerable acidity and a touch of tannic bite. Would like to check in on this wine in a couple years but even now - very elegant.

WWP 90/100: Outstanding

2008 A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir
USA, Oregon
$20 Release Price/62,954 Cases Produced
90 Points Wine Spectator
13% Alchol
Purchased for $15.99 at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

Starts off with a lot of promise as the nose delivers beautiful cherry and earthy aromas you'd expect from an Oregon Pinot Noir. A nice dose of acidity and a long enjoyable finish. The only thing that's got me down is a green, stemmy aftertaste that lasts just a moment but is particularly distracting and off-putting. Oh, and it was a little thin too. But so close to being great! The green aftertaste seems to dissipate on the second day.

WWP 88/100: Very Good

2009 Michael Pozzan Winery Pinot Noir Annabella Special Selection
USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros
14.5% Alcohol
Purchased for $12.50 at The Hingham Wine Merchant

After an ever-so-slight step backwards in 2008, I think this 2009 Annabella is back on track as a solid 90 point Pinot Noir. Combine that with its wide availability in the $12 range and I think this deserves a slot in the rotation of anyone who likes fruit-forward domestic Pinot Noir.

Medium-dark in color and ready to go immediately upon opening. Aromas of pomegranates, cranberries, dark cherries, and dusty fresh blackberries in a briar patch. The initial attack is straight fruit. Silky tannins and it finishes clean with a hint of earth and slight tartness which balances out its otherwise fruity nature.

Highly recommended. One of the best Pinot Noirs I've found in this price range the past year.

WWP 90/100: Outstanding

Posted from CellarTracker

So there you have it.  A nice trio of Pinot Noirs that can be had for $52.97.  Enjoy!

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Value Alert: 2007 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why on earth didn't this wine make the 2010 Wine Spectator Top 100 list?  I mean, people were projecting it to be the Wine of the Year.  It didn't make the Top 10.  It didn't even make the list!  The only reason I can think of is that it was rated too late in the year to be considered in 2010 because the metrics are all there.

The wine carries a high score from Wine Spectator (93 points), has wide availability (18,901 cases produced), comes from a hyped-up vintage in a popular category, and for those skeptics out there is produced by a prominent advertiser in the publication.  How did it miss?

The 2007 Ramey Claret and the 2007 BV Tapestry were both rated 93 points in the October 15, 2010 issue and neither made the Top 100 list.  The 2007 Ramey Annum was rated in the August 31st issue and did make the Top 100 list so perhaps that explains it.  Who knows?  Maybe these are early candidates or speculation on the 2011 Top 100 list!

Diving into the number and looking a little more closely at the other 93WS 2007 Napa Cabs we see 30 wines ranging from $38 (07 Ramey Claret) to $300 (07 Hundred Acre Arc Vineyard) with an average release price of $126.  Not only is this wine's release price very low price compared to its quality - it's readily available for around $30 if you shop around.  I purchased mine at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham for $32.99.

The wine is pretty rough and chewy at this point but I can see it being beautiful in just a couple of years.  You know that coarse, synthetic yellow rope that's like a quarter of an inch thick?  Imagine soaking that in delicious, dense red wine then rolling it in a mix of savory spices and then chewing on it.  That's what this wine is to me now.  But I'd bet money it'll soften up beautifully in coming years to reveal an intense, powerful, and refined Napa Cab.  Here are my notes:

2007 Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot
14.9% Alcohol
18,901 Cases Produced
$50 Release Price

A little rough and tumble at this stage but I like it. Deftly ping pongs between sweet and savory. The nose goes more in the savory direction whereas the palate delivers the fruit. Ample acidity, then a long vanilla-laced finish. Multi-faceted. Well done and quite a value if you can find it just north of $30.

93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Recommendation:  Buy 3 bottles.  Try one now and wait a year before opening the next.

Find it on Wine-Searcher
CellarTracker reviews 

Update: I pinged Wine Spectator Executive Editor Tom Matthews on Twitter.  He said that their December 31, 2010 issue was the cut-off for the 2010 Wine of the Year which makes sense but also confirms that both the Tapestry and the Ramey Claret were considered for the list but didn't make the cut.  I think this creates a buying opportunity for these wines.  If they landed on the Top 10 they surely would have been much harder to find.

Have you had this wine?  If so, what did you think?  If not, what are some other 2007 Napa Cab value plays you've found in the $30 range?

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Winner Announced in Menu Wine Breather Giveaway

Friday, December 10, 2010

It looked a little bleak there early in the week after announcing a giveaway for a Menu Wine Breather.  We didn't get a single entry until yesterday and then we wound up with 10.  Maybe there was a little gamesmanship going on with people trying to keep it quiet and sneak in at the last minute with an entry.

As promised at 7:00 am Eastern I counted up the entries we had.  I numbered the comments we received sequentially: 1 for the first comment, 10 for the last one.  Then I used random.org to generate a number between 1 and 10.  The winning number was 8:

That means that Tara is the winner!  Congratulations!!  I'll follow up via E-mail to arrange for the manufacturer to direct ship you your Menu Wine Breather - a $69.95 value.

An interesting observation in the comments was that the device could have a promising future in winery tasting rooms where they're looking to quickly double decant wine so they can pour it from their own bottles for label/brand recognition.  I think that's a pretty smart idea.  I wonder if we'll be seeing more Menu Wine Breather's in action at winery tasting rooms in the coming year?

Check back early next week - I've got another wine accessory to giveaway.  I'd love it if you subscribed to the site so you'll hear about new updates. 

Hope you have a great weekend.

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Hyper-Value: A $7.99 Pinot Noir and a $13.99 Napa Cab

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Perhaps more than anything, I want this blog to reflect the natural conversations I have with friends about wine in real life.  A subject that's come up frequently lately is how simple value wines can be as enjoyable to drink and discover as more sought after wines.  My wine collection increasingly has bottles that need to be aged, are better when consumed with food, or are otherwise too stuffy for weeknight consumption.  These wines sit and wait while 20% of the wines I have on hand are purchased and consumed within a month.

It reminds me of the clothes in my closet.  I only wear about 20% of the things I own and the rest just sit and wait for an occasion that may never come.  This being the case, determining which daily drinkers find a slot in our rotations can be as meaningful as the wines we splurge on.

For me, 2010 was a year where Pinot Noir zipped past Cabernet Sauvignon as the most frequently consumed varietal with Nebbiolo in 3rd place.  Since these continue to be popular categories in my house I thought I'd share my thoughts on two wines I picked up at the store yesterday, popped open immediately and enjoyed:

2009 Beringer Founder's Estate Pinot Noir
13.9% Alcohol
$7.99 Purchased at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

A little bashful upon opening, but after just a little time it delivers round candied fruit backed by vanilla.  Scores points for revealing a variety of aromas as it evolves. However, it lacks acidity, depth, and length of finish so it's hard to be taken seriously.  But as a daily drinker it may deserve consideration in your line-up.  At least once.

Picked this one up on an adjacent recommendation in the comments section of Jason's Wine Blog's piece on the 07 Picket Fence Pinot Noir.  The tip was for an 08 Beringer California Collection Pinot Noir - I found the 09 Beringer Founder's Estate Pinot Noir and went with it.

Interesting side note: On their website this wine is listed as a Pinot Noir/Syrah blend, although Syrah isn't mentioned anywhere on the label.  Very interesting to see this especially considering Syrah is the steroids of Pinot Noir.

Bonus: Beringer donates $1 for each bottle of Founder's Estate sold to charity.

WWP 84/100: Good



2007 RouteStock Cabernet Sauvignon "Route 29"
2,600 Cases Produced
14.1% Alcohol
Cabernet Sauvignon 76%
Merlot 19%
Cabernet Franc 4%
Petit Verdot 1%
$13.99 at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

Based on the information on their website RouteStock "crafts wines from the signature varietals grown along the wine routes one travels when visiting the world’s most celebrated wine regions" ... "sourced from family-owned vineyards."

The thing I like about this wine is how its aromas and flavor profile align with what I associate with more expensive Napa Cabernet.  As I smell an empty glass I get black currant, rich generous fruit and savory aspects that are extremely appealing. Cinnamon too. Makes me want to refill the glass.

The things separating this wine from one that's more expensive are occasional off notes, a lack of density, and a need to be aged in order for the tannins to soften.  But for immediate consumption I think it would fare better than a lot more expensive wines.  It's delicious and approachable.

Overall, the combination of the flavor profile with its convivial daily drinker nature make it a slam dunk at $13.99.  Well done. 

WWP 89/100: Very Good

Question of the Day: What are some hyper-value wines you've discovered lately?

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Boston Wine Expo 2011 Discount Codes

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Looking for discount codes to the 2012 Boston Wine Expo? Groupon is offering Sunday tickets for $50 (regular price $85).

You're probably busy thinking about everything you need to get done before Christmas, but I thought to mention the 20th Annual Boston Wine Expo coming to the Seaport World Trade Center January 22nd and 23rd, 2011.  Perhaps you might want to give tickets as a gift?

Boston Globe subscribers can get $20 off Sunday -or- Two-Day tickets:

Ticket prices until January 14, 2011  
Sunday ONLY:  Regular Price...... $85  Globe Extras Price..... $65
TWO-DAY Ticket:  Regular Price..... $145  Globe Extras Price.... $125  

Ticket prices after January 14, 2011
Sunday ONLY:  Regular Price...... $110  Globe Extras Price..... $90
TWO-DAY Ticket:  Regular Price..... $145  Globe Extras Price.... $125

Click here to get the Boston Globe Extras discount code

If you're a freelance wine writer -or- wine blogger with more than 10,000 unique page views a month you might qualify for media admission.  Click here to check out the details - thanks to The Passionate Foodie for the pointer. 

Another option: Braintree retailer Bin Ends Wine has some tickets they're offering for $77 valid for either Saturday -or- Sunday (but not both).  More here.

Here's some coupon codes that expire Wednesday January 19th, 2011:

Save $50 on the Sunday Grand Cru Wine Lounge

Interested in sampling wine that retails for $75 and up? Then this offer is for you. The Sunday Grand Cru Wine Lounge is the perfect way to spend an afternoon sampling fine wine and tasting delectable treats from the top restaurants in the city. Ticket includes admission to the Grand Tasting on the same day.
Use Promo Code: CRU50

Save $25 on the Sunday Grand Tasting

 
The most popular event of the weekend, the Grand Tasting features hundreds of wines from around the world, chef demonstrations, restaurant sampling, wine clinics and much more.
Use Promo Code: SUNGT

Save $15 on the Saturday Grand Tasting

The Saturday Grand Tasting features everything happening on Sunday except on our most popular day!
Use Promo Code: SATGT

Save $10 on Sunday's Keynote Seminar

Everything Else You Need to Know About Wine! with Ray Isle
In this one-hour, information-packed seminar, Food & Wine Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle takes on the next level of wine knowledge in a lively but always informative style. You'll taste eight different wines, gaining insight into subjects like why soil and climate differences matter so much, how wines change as they age, and what difference 'old' vines make (or don't). Plus, Isle will give his tips about navigating restaurant wine lists and wine store shelves. Special Prcie: $20
Use Promo Code: KEYNOTE

To buy tickets for the event, click on the "Buy Tickets" link on the Boston Wine Expo site.

Heard of any other coupon codes?  If so leave a comment or E-mail me at wellesleywinepress@gmail.com

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Menu Wine Breather Review

Monday, December 6, 2010

A few weeks ago I received a sample of a new type of wine decanting product - the Menu Wine Breather.  It's a hybrid sort of device that combines characteristics of single-serving active wine aerators (like the Vinturi and the Soiree) with characteristics of an old school passive wine decanter.  The net result is a device that promises to aerate an entire bottle of wine in a couple of minutes.  I used it for all the wines I served on Thanksgiving so while that experience is fresh in my head I thought to share my thoughts on it for you holiday shopping consideration.

Before we get too far have a look at this video to see how the product operates:



Design

The first thing I noticed when unboxing the product is its contemporary Danish design aesthetic.  It's got a Breaking Bad chemistry lab kind of feel to it, and the fit and finish is thoughtful and high quality.  I was a little confused how the three pieces on the top of the device go together but after some experimenting and an E-mail to the manufacturer I was able to figure it out.  The part that confused me is a rubber gasket that remains on the vessel after you remove the pourer:

Usability

Once I rinsed the product off and put the top on I was ready to decant my first bottle of wine.  From watching the video I understood how the device was intended to be used.  The fact that it aerates an entire bottle all at once makes it a good match for holiday gatherings.  On a weeknight when you're having just a glass or two you probably don't want to decant an entire bottle.  But when you're serving a few bottles in succession to a group, the Wine Breather's ability to aerate an entire bottle in just a couple of minutes is very useful.  A traditional decanter would be sitting there full of the first bottle of wine for an hour or more and subsequent bottles likely wouldn't have time for more than a splash decant (where you purposely pour the wine into the decanter such that it splashes on the bottom of the vessel and aerates the wine a bit in the process) and some aggressive swirling around in the vessel and each glass.

It's a little nerve wracking at first when the bottle is mostly full and it's completely inverted on top of the Wine Breather.  I kept a hand on it to make sure it didn't topple over.  Guests and kids were quite fascinated by yet another wine contraption I've busted out over the years.  Never discount theatrics as a means for getting people interested in a wine accessory.

I like that I can pour the wine into the vessel and let it sit for a few hours if I have the time.  Or, if I'm in a hurry I can quickly pour it back into the bottle (for a so-called "double decant").  I prefer pouring wine from the bottle it came in rather than from a decanter because people can see the label of the wine -and- decanters can be tricky to pour from (the last glass in a bottle especially).

One minor issue I had with my test unit is that the silver part of the pourer separated from its black housing.  This makes it a little difficult to remove the pourer from the neck of the vessel for cleaning the device:

How it Works

The Wine Breather reminds me a bit of the Soiree (review) because of the way wine cascades along the sides of the glass and exposes the wine to air in the process.

I used the device on three bottles for Thanksgiving.  For each, I tasted the wine directly from the bottle to get a feel for how much decanting it seemed to require and then based on that I'd more or less aggressively use the device.

The first bottle was a 2005 Cakebread Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon.  At 5 years old, it was quite open aromatically with soft tannins.  It didn't need a great deal of decanting so I poured it into the Wine Breather, let it sit for an hour or so and then poured the wine back into the bottle and served it from there.  Nice wine - good result.

The next bottle was a young 2008 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir.  The wine was very limited aromatically and although it showed promise on the palate needed some serious encouragement to come out of its shell.  I decided to double decant it with the Wine Breather and then taste it.  It seemed to help a little but I thought it could still use more decanting so I did another pass through the device and then back into the bottle.  A quadruple decant!  The wine was still pretty bashful and tight aromatically but its flavors were more apparent on the palate and its finish was impressive.

The third and final bottle was a 2006 Leonetti Merlot from Washington state.  This wine presented a unique challenge in that it had silty sediment in the bottle.  However, it was quite Bordeaux-like in style (graphite and tar on top of powerful fruit) so I thought it would be a good idea to run it through the Wine Breather.  It ended up jostling the fine sediment quite a bit and each glass was quite murky.  This particular style of wine would be better served by traditional decanting for the purpose of letting the sediment fall to the bottom of the device and gently pouring off wine from the top.  Lesson learned, but this an objection many will raise about wine accessories that involved inverting the bottle for optimal effectiveness.

Blind Tasting

I'm a firm believer in using blind tasting to assess the effectiveness of products like these.  What I'm looking for when tasting is more pronounced aromatics (as opposed to being closed), rounder flavors (as opposed to being sharp), and a smoother finish.

The first test I did was a head to head blind tasting of a glass of wine that was poured right out of the bottle vs. one that went through the Menu Wine Breather.  For this test I used a 2007 Brancaia Toscana Tre - a well regarded quality-price-ratio favorite that seems to catch a lot of comments on CellarTracker that it needs air.  I couldn't tell the difference between the glass passed through the Menu and the one that was not.  Tie.

I thought - hmm.  I need to create a situation where there is a control sample (pop 'n pour) and a should-be-good sample (decanted a couple of hours in a traditional decanter) and then see how the Menu does compared to these other two.  For this test I cracked open a bottle of 2006 Produttori Barbaresco - young for a Barabresco - and invited a friend over.  I then poured the wine 3 ways for him and vice versa.

We both preferred the decanted wine over the pop 'n pour wine however we disagreed on whether the Menu was better or worse than the other two wines.  My result:

1st: Menu
2nd: Decanter
3rd: Pop 'n Pour

My friend's result:

1st: Decanter
2nd: Pop 'n Pour
3rd: Menu

Hmm - where to go from here?  I did another 3-way test myself with a 2008 75 Wine Company "The Sum" - fairly big, bold and young Napa Cabernet.  The result:

1st: Decanter
2nd: Menu
3rd: Pop 'n Pour

Conclusion: For me, the Menu performed well in blind tasting overall.  It performed as good or better than pop 'n pour in each test -and- it produced similar results to a 2-hour decant in 2 out of 3 tests.  I like the way it can quickly aerate an entire bottle of wine, and if I feel like a wine could benefit from more air it's easy to run it through the device multiple times back and forth between the bottle and the Menu Wine Breather. 

Strengths:
  • Provides an easy way to double-decant a bottle of wine
  • Can achieve aeration results similar to a decanter in a fraction of the time
  • Easy to decant multiple times quickly for accelerated aeration
  • Relatively compact for a full-size decanter
  • Modern "chemistry lab" styling
Weaknesses:
  • Works best when decanting an entire bottle - not so well for single pours
  • Operates based on inversion which potentially stirs up sediment in some wines
Overall Result:
    WWP: 4/5 Stars (recommended with some reservations)

    Here's some more discussion about the Menu Wine Breather from wine(accessorized) 

    Here is a link to the product on Amazon:
     
    Giveaway!  Leave a comment below by Friday, December 8th at 7:00 am EST to be entered in a drawing to win your own Menu Wine Breather shipped directly to you from the manufacturer.  (United States and Canada only please.)  If you'd rather keep it on the down low drop me an E-mail at wellesleywinepress@gmail.com

    To increase your chances of winning, tweet a link to this blog post and you'll get a 2nd entry.  Click here to pre-populate a Twitter status update (you'll have a chance to edit before sending the tweet).

    Winner will be announced Friday morning.  Good luck!

    Update: Tara is our winner! Congratulations - here are the details.

    Read more...
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