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Event Report: Urban Grape Quintessa Wine Dinner at The Capital Grille

Monday, January 31, 2011


Wine retailer The Urban Grape recently teamed up with The Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill, MA to kick off a series of winemaker dinners in 2011.  The first, this past Thursday January 27th, featured wines from Quintessa and winemaker Charles Thomas.

Quintessa is owned by Augustin Huneeus whose Huneeus Vintners controls a growing stable of wine brands.  Quintessa is a top-flight Bordeaux blend from Napa Valley that retails for around $135.  Faust is a more approachable Napa Cab that sells for around $50.  Illumination is a $45 Napa Sauvignon Blanc.

Beyond these Napa wines, Huneeus Vintners has added a number of prominent brands to their portfolio.  In California these include Flowers and Orin Swift (who makes the bold QPR-favorite The Prisoner).  In Chile there's Veramonte and Ritual.  Quite a list of wines.

My affinity for The Capital Grill is well-documented at this point.  Here's a review I wrote last year about their Master Wine Tasting Event in June.  I'm a huge fan of their style of service, the quality of food across the entire menu, and the way their wine selections focus on guiding us to delicious wines in categories that expand our wine knowledge.
The evening started out with a reception featuring the Chilean Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc.  I thought it was a fruit-forward and friendly way to start the evening.  I had a nice time chatting up Urban Grape owners TJ and Hadley Douglas.  TJ told me he loves wine dinners tracing back to his days with (wine distributor) Ruby Wines when he regularly did wine dinners.

If you're familiar with The Capital Grille's Chestnut Hill location, the dinner occurred in the private room in the back-left of the restaurant.  The event was absolutely sold out and the room was filled to capacity.  In talking to the people seated around me, there was a mix of big-time Capital Grille fans and Urban Grape clients as well.  Everyone was excited to try the wines.


As the first course was served (a Winter Salad of Mesclun Greens and Endive Tossed with a Grapefruit Vinaigrette, Clementine, Poached Pear and Postachio) winemaker Charles Thomas greeted us, told us about the history of the Quintessa, and introduced the first wine: The 2009 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc.

Charles has been winemaker at Quintessa since 2007.  His past experience includes Robert Mondavi Winery, Domaine Chandon, Cardinale and Rudd as well as being involved with the inception and creation of Opus One.

Augustin Huneeus's experience in the wine business started with Concha y Toro in Chile.  Then a small winery, he built it up before coming to the US in the 1970s.  He worked with a variety of brands then built up Franciscan in the 1980s.  His efforts are now focused on Quintessa and related brands in his portfolio.
Charles described his approach with Illumination as being "careful with the oak".  I noted light lime aromas in a soft wine that hinted at New Zealand but chose not to go for the pungency and zest.  Not too overly fruity, especially for Napa, and especially compared to the Veramonte that proceeded it.  Around $45 - I'd rate it 86 points.

The second course featured Alaskan Yukon Gold Salmon Caviar and American Sturgeon Caviar paired with the 2008 Ritual Pinot Noir.

Like other Chilean Pinot Noirs I've tried it was a bold wine featuring spicy notes.  I thought it was racy, if a little rough and tannic compared to what I see in Pinot Noirs produced in other regions.  A little rough and tumble.  Paul Hobbs was a consulting winemaker on this one.  Around $38 - I'd rate it 87 points.
Next up was the 2007 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Rosemary Lamb with Swiss Chard, Baby Carrots Glazed with Balsamic.  One of my favorite dishes at the Capital Grille is the Double Cut Lamb Rib Chops - this was a slightly different preparation with the balsamic treatment and less crunch on the outside.  It paired nicely with the Faust.

Charles described how the Faust came into being.  They felt they could produce a great wine from the grapes they were selling to other wineries that weren't making their way into the flagship Quintessa wine.  Faust provides an affordable taste of what they do, but stylistically it's a very different wine than Quintessa.

Faust is classic Napa Cab with big dark fruit up front and palate-flooding flavor.  I found the back end of the palate a little limited and the finish a touch short.  Still, it's a crowd pleaser.  I'd rate it 89 points - about $50.

Then, it was time for the big show.  The one we'd all been waiting for: The 2007 Quintessa.  Before trying the wine, I asked Charles which other wines Quintessa is stylistically similar to.  He paused a moment - perhaps thinking about how to position the wine compared to other elite wines, perhaps thinking about whether he wanted to pre-dispose our perception of the wine in a certain way before we tried it.  He said some compare it to Opus One, Robert Mondavi Reserve, and Phelps Insignia.

After trying the wine, I thought Opus One was the most relevant comparison.  It's definitely a new world spin on a Bordeaux blend - and a very good one.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere come together to form a wine that is slightly closed aromatically at this point (as you'd expect - the wine is very young) with tar, red fruit and just a hint of mocha.  The wine distinguished itself with it's laser-beam of intense flavors on the palate, through the back end, and with a very long finish.  I hear the thing you're looking for when assessing wines like this in their youth is length of finish so this bodes very well for this wine's future.  I'd rate it 92 points - around $135.
It was paired with a Sesame Encrusted Tuna Served over Seaweed Salad Garnished with Pickled Ginger, Honey Wasabi, and White Soy.  Perhaps an unconventional pairing (some opted to have steak snuck out from the kitchen) but I thought it worked very well.  The sinus-clearing nature of the wasabi was tempered with honey and the salt from the soy came together with the rich fruit of the bold red wine beautifully.  I'm not much of a fish guy and I devoured the dish.

Dessert was a Coconut Creme Brulee with a Sandeman 10 Year Old Tawny Port.  Loved the creme brulee - one of my favorite desserts at The Capital Grille, but I'm not much of a Port guy.

Noteable:
  • The group seated next to me was a fun bunch.  They said they come to the Capital Grille at least once a week and always sit with our lead server for the night David Bresner.  His approach typifies the Capital Grille experience - refined yet comfortable and down to earth.
  • The groups said when they went to The Capital Grille's Las Vegas location the restaurant was aware of their dining preferences from their past dining at Massachusetts Capital Grille locations - they didn't even have to tell them how like liked their steaks prepared.  I asked them how often they mis-cook their steaks: "Almost never."  I thought this was particularly impressive given that one of them likes their steaks well done and the other likes them rare.
  • They also recommended Carmaleno's Pushcart in Saugus - duly noted.
Conclusions and Next Steps:

I'm always impressed with how well The Capital Grille serves a meal, especially to a large group like this.  The Urban Grape's style pairs well here and they're not kidding when they say space is limited for these events.  If you want to attend future events be sure to get your reservation in early.

The next dinner in the series is Thursday, March 3, 2011 featuring wines from Vias Imports - red wines from Piedmont: Barbaresco and Barolo!  More info on The Urban Grape's Event's page.

I attended as a guest of The Urban Grape. 

Check 'em out:

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MA State Representative Proposes Legislation to Reinstate Tax on Alcohol

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Just when you thought the Massachusetts alcohol sales tax issue was resolved...

Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton) has introduced legislation which would not only reinstate the sales tax on alcoholic beverages sold at retail - it would also increase the excise tax.

Here's a story from Kyle Cheney, State House News Services

And commentary from Garrett Quinn on Boston.com

Kahn's saying a discussion about reinstating the tax is "what people want to hear" is ironic since a majority of voters said they didn't want sales tax on alcohol just two months ago.

What's new here is how the increases are positioned.  Previously the sales tax on alcohol was said to be earmarked for behavioral health services.  In this proposal it's a classic sin tax increase aimed at increasing state revenue.

I have a couple of ideas for things the state legislature could do in the interest of their constituents instead:

  1. Take up the issue of direct shipment of wine that was proposed in the last sessions as H4497.  It's pro-consumer legislation that enables shipments that a federal court decided should be legal in January 2010.  It's January 2011 now and shipments still aren't occurring - a total disconnect between the intent of the law and what is occurring in practice.
  2. Propose legislation to allow Massachusetts retailers to ship out of state.  Currently, Massachusetts is the only state in the union I'm aware of that prohibits export of wine.  If state retailers were allowed to ship wine out of state, it would increase the amount of wine flowing through the state's 3-tier system and more excise tax would be collected as wine trades hands between Massachusetts distributors and retailers.  It would also enable state retailers to drive a higher volume of wine which could lead to more jobs in wine e-commerce in the state.
I'm fine with an examination of whether the excise tax rates need to be increased.  I suggested an excise tax increase when the question of whether to repeal the sales tax was being debated.

But the notion of disregarding the results of the Question 1 in November of 2010 which specifically asked the question of whether alcohol should be exempt from sales tax sold at retail is insulting.  Let's keep that off the table in newly proposed legislation.

Read more...

Nine East Wine Emporium: 25% Off 12 Bottles of American Wine

Thursday, January 27, 2011

There are no wine shops in Wellesley.  As much as I think an upscale wine merchant would be a welcome addition to the shops on Linden Street -or- somewhere in Wellesley Square where a lot of retail businesses have been closing up lately I don't think a liquor store is in the cards for Wellesley any time soon.

The closest wine shop to the west as you head towards Natick is Nine East Wine Emporium.  I don't think I've mentioned them a lot since starting this blog a few years ago and that has primarily to do with one thing: Their pricing model.  They typically offer 25% off 24 mixed bottles of wine, which brings the prices down out of the stratosphere, but forces me to buy 2 cases.  That's more than I like to buy at a time - since I'm typically interested in just a few specific wines they carry.  I prefer a model where the first bottle is sold at a good discount so I can buy as many (or as few) wines as I really want and don't have to "pad" my purchase with extraneous bottles.

However, right now they're running a special where any 12 bottles of American wine qualify for the 25% discount so I thought to stop in and check out their selection.  As is typical, items on sale and non-American wines count towards your twelve but don't qualify for the discount.

Here's what I found:

2008 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
90WS/$30 Release Price
$27.99 Retail/$20.99 After Discount

This was the primary wine I was interested in trying.  I still don't feel like I've found the values in 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir I was hoping for and this is one that's been on my list.  Unfortunately, this wine was an utter disappointment and I wouldn't recommend it:

This wine is a poster child for why I think 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir is the most over-rated vintage in recent memory. Starts off with twangy/green/stemmy aromas. Reveals a bit of fruit on the palate but ultimately falls flat. Lacks acidity. It may have some aftertaste but lacks finish. I can find a nice red Burgundy for under $30. This wine retails in the upper $20s and presents a poor value to the consumer. If this is the best Oregon Pinot Noir has to offer I'm not buying.

84/100 WWP: Good


2008 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon
(2007 Vintage 88WS, 2008 not yet rated)/$20 Release Price
$22.99 Retail/$17.24 After Discount

I've tasted this wine so many times, but I've never had a bottle of it at home.

Wow. This wine is not for purists, Bordeaux fans or those opposed to a little sweetness in their Napa Cab. The effects of oak treatment are quite evident I think. Butterscotch, caramel, movie theater popcorn on top of some vague red fruit in the background. Minimal acidity. Some savory notes save it from being dismissed as a tutti-fruity candy wine. But in the right situation this wine works for me. It's not at all challenging but it is delicious. At least for my palate.

88/100 WWP: Very Good


2007 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon
92 WS/$40 Release Price
$37.99 Retail/$28.49 After Discount

I think this is the value play of the highly regarded 2007 Napa Cab vintage.  I've had this wine a number of times at home and at restaurants and it has absolutely delivered every time.  Highly recommended and at a great price here after discount.

This wine so completely aligns with the flavor profile I'm looking for in a Napa Cab- I love it. Ripe blackberries that fade into deliciously savory dusty tannins. The finish is a bit short but it tasted so good I didn't care. 

93/100 WWP: Oustanding


2009 Sean Minor 4 Bears Carneros Pinot Noir
$19.99 Retail/$14.99 After Discount

I tried the 2008 vintage of this wine recently and rated it 88 points.  A friend who was shopping there raved about this 09 so I picked it up.  I've got a good feeling about this one.


I rounded things out with 2008 Torii Mor Oregon Pinot Noir, a 2006 Hendry Cabernet HDR and a 2009 Block Nine California Pinot Noir.

Definitely chat up Harry Zarkades if you stop in.  He's got deep knowledge and a great palate.

Check 'em out:
Nine East Wine Emporium
Route Nine East, Wellesley/Natick Line
508-653-6221

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Value Alert: 2008 Trentatre Rosso $5.99 at Trader Joe's

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I like to think I'm pretty choosy about which wines I raise the "Value Alert" flag for.  Usually I reserve the designation for wines I'd consider "outstanding" (90+ points for those that like the numbers like I do).  However, it's rare to find a wine south of $10 that's worth writing about, and the wine I'm writing about today cost only $5.99 so fire up the Value Alert!

A lot of us are looking to reduce the cost of the average bottle we consume.  For some, that's bringing the cost of a "daily drinker" down from $30 to $20.  Or $25 to $15.  Or $15 to $10.  Or $10 to $6.  The problem is, it's hard to find a wine that delivers any kind of excitement under $10.  You're lucky to get something tasty.  But interesting and exciting?  Very challenging.  However, I think this wine delivers - both in terms of being delicious and in terms of being interesting.

A while back I was talking about how fun it is to shop for wine at Trader Joe's.  The last time I was there I picked up a few different wines at the suggestion of the wine helmsman.  One was the NV (non-vintaged) La Caumette Vin de Table Français l'Authentique.  I thought that wine was an undrinkable $5.99 train wreck.

Another wine I picked up was the 2008 Trentatre Rosso I cracked open tonight.  I thought it was an amazingly good wine - especially given its price.  The 2007 vintage of this wine was hailed by many as a great QPR (quality:price ratio) so it's not like I'm revealing a big secret.  But I am solidly behind this 2008 as a value play.

Just a note for clarity - when I say I consider this wine 88 points/very good the cost of the wine doesn't play into that.  Like Wine Spectator, my numerical ratings don't consider price.

My notes:

2008 Trentatre Rosso
$5.99 at Trader Joe's in Framingham, MA
14% Alcohol

A round, generous Italian red with amplified markings of things I'd more readily associate with Nebbiolo-based wines.  A beautiful achievement really.  Distinctive clove aromas on top of warm and opulent soft red wine characteristics.  A touch of acidity but a very smooth and approachable wine.  The kind of wine that makes people excited about shopping for wine at Trader Joe's.  Wow.

88/100 WWP: Very Good

Further Reading:
    Question of the Day: Have you had this wine?  What did you think of it?

    Read more...

    Inside the Grand Cru Lounge at the 2011 Boston Wine Expo

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Reminder: Tonight (Tuesday January 25th, 2011) is the hearing in Waltham, MA I mentioned for approval for a discount wine store within the BJ's Warehouse.  If you're a Waltham resident and like great wines at great prices your support is needed - their application was denied last time and this is an appeal.  More here.

    If you've ever been to the Boston Wine Expo you may have wondered "What's this Grand Cru Lounge thing and is it worth $175?"  The Grand Cru Lounge is held in the Boston Seaport Hotel's intimate Lighthouse Pavilion where wines costing $75 and up are poured.

    As the sun sets over the Fort Point Channel guests enjoy listening to a live jazz band while they sample dishes from top local restaurants and mingle with vendors pouring wines costing well over $100 a bottle.

    Admission to the Grand Cru Lounge includes access to the main tasting floor at the Expo, but after a couple hours in the lounge the prospect of taking a short walk across the street in the cold to join the masses may seem like a bad idea.

    A Cut Above
    Everything is nicer in the Grand Cru Lounge.  Things like Schott Zwiesel stemware, crab legs, salmon, and spring rolls set the stage for an enjoyable afternoon tasting wine.  When I first arrived the room seemed a little stuffy, but wouldn't you know after a couple hours everyone was in good spirits.  Funny how wine consumption has that affect.
    Sculler's Jazz Club sponsored live music for the room:



    The Wines

    Just like at the grand tasting, an eclectic mix of wines are poured in the Grand Cru Lounge.  Some big names were there like J Lohr, Ladera, and Justin.  Others I hadn't heard of before.
    One of my favorite discoveries of the entire Expo were the wines from William Cole VineyardsWilliam Ballentine was pouring his wines (the William in the winery's name, along with his son Cole) which initially included only the 2007 William Cole Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Claire.  After a while he cracked open some bottles of earlier vintages including his 2002 and 2005.

    The wines were amazing.

    The 2007 was drinking well in its youth but tasting the 2002 alongside you could really see what the wine will become with some bottle age.  There were a lot of good wines to be had in the room and at the Expo in general but what made these wines stand out for me was the depth and the complexity of the flavors in the wine.  Yes, there were classic Napa Cabernet markers like black currant, a firm backbone and a long finish.  But the 2002 layered a touch of earth and graphite within a polished package and smooth elegance.  Really outstanding stuff.  About $150 a bottle.

    Another standout were the wines from Trifecta.  I thought their 2007 Trifecta Nyarady Family Cabernet Sauvignon was one of those wines where all it takes is one sip and you say "Wow - this is nice."  Just a classic fruit-driven Napa Cab from an outstanding vintage that succeeds in finding that elusive intersection between quality and crowd-friendly deliciousness.  About $105.

    Trifecta is almost an entirely Cabernet Sauvignon producer but they did have a little bit of a 2007 Trifecta Russian River Pinot Noir to taste.  Maybe it was because I'd tired of tasting so many big red wines (Ladera, Clos Apalta, Trinchero, Brunellos, etc) but the Trifecta Pinot Noir was a luscious wine to fall into.  A big, round Russian River Pinot Noir that makes no apologies for being from California.  I would've been perfectly happy to grab a table with friends, share a bottle or two of that wine, and spend the night at the Seaport Hotel.  Only about 65 cases of the Pinot were made but I hope they ramp production of that in the future.  About $45 available to mailing list members only. 

    The People

    This is where the small-room format of the Grand Cru Lounge worked well for me.  After a while you got to bump into people you'd seen previously so you could compare notes and share tips on things to try.  I met a really nice young couple that was attending their first Expo (shout out to Matt and Elizabeth!).  And after a while the vendors started to interact with each other and connect with guests on a personal level.

    Here's Christine and Perry Clark.  They were pouring their family's wines - a 2006 Amizetta Cabernet Sauvignon that showed quite well with more earth than you find in most Napa Cabs:
    And here's Lynanne Nyarady of Trifecta.  She lives in Massachusetts and owns the winery in Napa:
    William Ballentine, owner and winemaker at William Cole Vineyards.  Definitely on my list of people to ring up next time I'm heading to Napa:
    A connector between all of these nice people were the ladies from Hazel B Baking whose wine tasting cookies were being sampled.  An attendee told William Ballentine that his wines were good - but after she had them after trying one of The Original and Authentic Wine Tasting Cookies the wines were outstanding.  Wellesley's own Tiffany Zides and Hazel Burdetta Juliani from Hazel B Baking:
    Conclusions

    An afternoon at the Grand Cru Lounge rounded out what was probably the most relaxing and enjoyable weekend I've experienced at the Boston Wine Expo.  It favored quality over quantity presented in an elegant atmosphere.

    Is it worth $175?  Perhaps not, but if you sleuthed around a bit you could get $50 off the Lounge on the less-crowded Sunday.  That's a modest uplift from the tariff on the main floor so it might be worth considering especially if you're looking to make a weekend out of the Expo.

    I'll look forward to attending again next year!

    Further Reading: Winemakers Impress at the 2011 Boston Wine Expo Grand Tasting

    Question of the Day: Did you attend the 2011 Boston Wine Expo?  What were some of your highlights from the show?

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    Winemakers Impress at the 2011 Boston Wine Expo

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    The 20th annual Boston Wine Expo kicked off yesterday and resumes today.  The format was a little different than years past, with trade and media attending a morning session followed by an afternoon session for the general public.

    I really enjoyed this format for the most part since it reduced crowds in the morning session and provides more opportunities to interact directly with winemakers.  And if there's one piece of advice that will guide us to enjoyment at these events I think that's it - spend as much time as you can talking with winemakers and listening to what they have to say.

    I found a wide range of folks pouring and representing wines at this year's Expo.  Some booths were manned by employees of trade organizations, others by importers, and yet others by regular Joes who just showed up to pour at the Expo.  But my favorite conversations were those with deep knowledge about what they were pouring - chatting with them is like a mini-visit to the winery.

    Sebastiano Ramello, Owner Piemonte Wine-Food
    My first stop was at the Piedmont table.  I've been on a big Barbaresco kick so I was drawn to the Nebbiolo-based Barbaresco and Barolo they were pouring.  They did a great job flanking and guiding me to some less-famous wines I enjoyed just as much.

    A 2007 Massucco Roero they poured had many of the characteristics I like in a Barbaresco - elegant fruit, floral aromas, earth, acidity and firm tannins.  This Roero was also Nebbiolo based but just from a different part of Piedmont.  I'll definitely be looking to these wines as a more affordable alternative in the future.

    2005/2006 Antonio Sasa Brunello
    Nearby, I thought the 2006 Antonio Sasa "Martina" Brunello di Montalcino was outstanding.  Very aromatically present for such a young Brunello.  The nice lady pouring the wine asked if I knew James Suckling.  Sure I know James Suckling!  Why not.  Heck, I follow him on Twitter.

    She asked because evidently he rated the wine 94 points - the first time I've heard a numerical rating of his leveraged in a sales context since he's left Wine Spectator.  The wine is a bargain at $29.99 from K&L.

    Richard Proctor from Vintage Point
    It was 10:30 am at this point and the drying tannins of the Italian wines wer starting to get to me so I headed over to the Vintage Point table because they were pouring the 2008 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon.

    I've enjoyed the 2007 vintage of this wine and the 2008 shows every bit as well.  But behind the table he had a just-bottled 2009 available and cracked it open to taste.  The aromas struck me as slightly disjoint at this point but structurally the wine is solid.  I think it'll be another winner with some time to settle down in the bottle.

    Definitely try the 2008 Educated Guess if you're heading to the Expo today.  88 points from Wine Spectator and quite a value in Napa Cab south of $20.  Richard Proctor enthusiastically represented the wine along with others in his portfolio.  Nice stuff.

    Avery Anderson, Second Glass
    The folks from Second Glass were in attendance setting up their mobile site (m.secondglass.com) where attendees could give one or two "thumbs up" for wines they like for later recollection and sharing with other attendees.

    In talking with Avery, Tyler, and Morgan from Second Glass it sounds like they've got some very cool things in the works in the wine and technology space.  Definitely keep an eye on them as they expand Wine Riot to other cities this year (Los Angeles and Chicago) and as it returns to Boston this April.

    Morten Hallgren, Ravines
    Next up, I spent some time tasting wines from the Finger Lakes region of New York.  The folks at the New York Cork Report have been my eyes and ears into the world of New York wines over the past few years, so it was great to get a chance to taste and connect with one of their favorite producers - Ravines.

    I've had a bottle of 2008 Ravines Dry Riesling in my refrigerator since Thanksgiving.  Somehow, we never seemed to have the right food to pair it with and I was afraid (needlessly) that the wine was going to be exceedingly dry and searingly acidic.  I had a great time talking with owner and winemaker Morten Hallgren - asking him things like "what exactly extracted means to a winemaker." After tasting through the wines I'm a huge fan of what they're doing.  I cracked open that bottle of Riesling last night and found it to be delicious and not-too-dry at all.  Highly recommended.

    Robert Dale Wojnar, Sr.,
    Dr. Konstantin Frank
    Nearby was another highly regarded Finger Lakes producer: Dr. Konstantin FrankBob Wojnar has been representing their wines a long time and really knew his stuff.

    I enjoyed their whole line-up, especially their Chateau Frank sparkling wine and their Gewurztraminer.  I thought their Rieslings, from dry to semi-dry, were very good as well.  Another enjoyable stop.

    Especially if you didn't have a chance to try the affordable crowd favorite at the last Wine Riot check out the Giorgio & Gianni Lambrusco.  It's being poured at the Expo and flying off retailer shelves for around $7.99 I understand:

    I was pleasantly surprised to see Joel Peterson from Ravenswood pouring his own wines.  Joel was recently inducted to the Vintner's Hall of Fame so it was awesome to absorb some of his knowledge of winemaking history.  His wines were showing wonderfully -- from the sub-$20 appellation-designated Zinfandels right on up to the $75 2007 Icon Bordeaux blend.

    A connection I hadn't made previously was that Joel's son Morgan Twain-Peterson is behind the hot Bedrock Wine Co.  Joel was sharing some great stories about their early winemaking explorations together (when Morgan was just 5 years old!) including a jaunt to Domaine Romanee Conti.  Fascinating stuff you just can't get when you hire out pouring responsibilities.  Here's Joel pouring for Ken Hoggins from KensWineGuide.com:

    The trade and media portion of the show ran from 10 am to 1 pm.  Towards the end I started to rifle around looking for some substantive food but it looked like most of that was gearing up for the afternoon general session.  Perhaps I didn't look hard enough.

    Overall, I enjoyed this session as much or more than any previous Expo.  I had memorable conversations with people deeply connected to the wines they were pouring, learned a lot, and had a great time.  I'm looking forward to checking out the Grand Cru Lounge for the first time this afternoon.  I'll report back with my thoughts. 

    Question of the Day: What wines did you find at the Expo yesterday that caught your attention?

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    Preview: 20th Annual Boston Wine Expo

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    This weekend brings us a highly anticipated annual event - the Boston Wine Expo.  I understand it's the largest event of its kind with thousands of wine enthusiasts descending upon the Seaport World Trade Center for a chance to taste through hundreds of wines.

    The first couple of times I went to the Expo I thought I'd map out a list of specific wines I wanted to taste.  Although I identified a few favorites and was able to taste them, that game plan went out the window about as fast as a strategy on Top Chef.  That is to say the strategy didn't last very long. I had a game plan and after hitting a couple of them I went into survival mode and sought out tables with short lines and headed out when the crowds got too dense.

    A few strategies that play well in any event like this:
    1. Plan your dinner reservations ahead of time (here's an option nearby the Expo)
    2. Arrive with a full stomach
    3. Spit as many wines as you can bear
    4. Spend time talking to winemakers
    5. Take time out for one of the free Celebrity Chef demos (schedule here)
    6. Nominate a designated driver, take mass transit, or hire a ride home
    Looking through the list of vendors pouring their wines, it's a combination of regional groups, parent companies and wineries.  It's kind of tough to identify a specific wine label you want to try and seek it out.  Instead, focus on 2 or 3 regions you'd like to explore.

    One thing I liked about The Wine Riot was their mobile application that lets you rate wines via your cell phone and see what wines are popular with other attendees.  Great news on this front: The Boston Wine Expo is leveraging the same exact technology from the company that puts on Wine Riot.  When you're at the event (or prior so you can register via your full-sized keyboard) point your browser to: m.secondglass.com


    One thing I didn't like about past Expos is the lack of substantial food.  After a while you were scavenging around trying to make a meal out of chocolate bar fragments and gourmet cheese samples.  Good news: Looks like they've improved that dramatically!  Here's a list of restaurants that will be dishing out free samples.

    If you've got tickets to the Grand Cru Lounge, be sure to check out The Original and Authentic Wine Tasting Cookie.  You've heard of wine tasting crackers but have you heard of wine tasting cookies?  The cookies provide a delicious way to cleanse the palate between wines you're tasting.  The Wellesley-based company is launching at the Expo and sampling their cookies in the Grand Cru lounge.  I'll be doing a full story on them next week but for now, especially if you're a retailer and would like to carry them in your store, check 'em out:

    Looking forward to seeing you there.  I'm planning to attend during media hours tomorrow morning and at the Grand Cru Lounge Sunday afternoon.

    Read more...

    Best Kept Secret in Boston Wine Value Eyes Expansion into Waltham

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Most people who shop at the BJ's Warehouse locations in Danvers and Stoneham, MA probably don't realize the liquor stores within these locations aren't run by BJ's.  At first glance they look like a typical liquor area within a warehouse club, but to wine value hunters like myself these stores represent one of the best kept secrets in the Boston area.

    The stores are owned and operated by Boston-based RWJ Beverage Management in a model similar to what KH&H Liquors has done at Costco locations.  Two unique laws cause warehouse clubs to operate this way:

    1. In Massachusetts any single entity can only own 3 liquor licenses.  That's why some Whole Foods and Trader Joe's locations don't sell wine in the state.
      Here's a list of the grocery stores in the state that do sell wine.
      This creates a situation where warehouse clubs have locations where they can't sell alcohol and instead allow a third party to operate within their locations so shoppers can buy alcoholic beverages.
    2. It's illegal for an alcoholic beverage retailer to require a membership.  Therefore, one need not have a membership to Costco or BJ's in order to purchase alcoholic beverages.  This applies whether the store is managed by the warehouse club or not - a membership is never required.
    Most stores that operate within this model carry a very similar assortment and pricing to what the warehouse clubs offer.  However, these RWJ Beverage stores do not and that's a good thing.  They carry a unique assortment of wines that comprise some absolutely unbelievable values.  To me, they do to wine what Costco does with everything they sell: They apply an editorial sort on what they carry and offer products that deliver a good value to the customer within each category.  They do an exceptional job serving a wide range of consumers, hitting a variety of price points.

    Sure they have Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at $9.99 but they also have the 2007 Cakebread Cabernet at $59.99.  They've got the Annabella Pinot Noir at $11.99 and they've also got the 2007 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cab Franc for $39.99.  And the 2005 Robert Foley Merlot for $24.99.  And the 2006 Nicolas Potel Volnay for $24.99.  These are, for my interests, unbelievable values.

    It's not just a matter of dishing out cheap wine.  They host in-store wine tastings, they fulfill special orders, they support local charities and they're friends of the local wine community.  They're anything but a seedy discount liquor store.

    So why am I writing to tell you about these stores today?  Well, to raise awareness of the value they offer in general but also to let you know they're seeking to open another location within the BJ's Wholesale in Waltham, MA. 

    Last year they acquired the license from the now-defunct Winecellar of Silene contingent on being permitted to transfer it by the City of Waltham.  Their first request was denied, perhaps as part of an overall anti-big box sentiment associated with BJ's.  The BJ's in Waltham is open now, without a liquor store, so I hope the city will permit this high-value retailer to set up shop.

    There's going to be a hearing Tuesday night January 25th, 2011 in Waltham.  Especially if you're a Waltham resident and like wine values close to home this is a hearing you may be interested in attending.  Although I don't live in Waltham I'm thinking about swinging by to show my support.  It really bugs me to see high quality retailers like this denied the opportunity to serve consumers.

    If you have any questions about the store or the hearing contact Mike Reardon at 617-412-2858 or on Twitter: @WineCellarsMA

    Your call to action:

    Read more...

    Aura Restaurant at the Seaport Hotel Boston Offers Pre/Post Dining Options for this Weekend's Boston Wine Expo

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011


    It's always good to have a plan for dining before and after a wine tasting and the Aura Restuarant at the Seaport Hotel Boston is offering some notable dining options adjacent to this weekend's Boston Wine Expo:

    Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Dinner featuring Author Harry Karis
    Thursday, January 20th; 6 - 7 pm, cocktails & book signing, 7 - 9 pm, dinner & wine discussion

    Aura’s Prix-Fixe Dinner menu
    Friday, January 21st – Sunday, January 23rd; 5 pm – 10 pm

    Aura’s Buffet Brunch

    Saturday & Sunday, January 22nd & 23rd; 10 am – 3 pm

    Click here for more information on these three offerings.

    Read more...

    20% Off at The Spirit Shoppe: Start Building a Perfect Case

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    In conjunction with the Massachusetts sales tax repeal that went into effect on January 1st, 2011 The Spirit Shoppe has bumped up their mixed case discount from 15% to 20% through the end of February.  As is typical, sale items don't qualify for the discount but do count towards building a mixed case of 12 bottles.  On top of that you can get free shipping within Massachusetts.  Use coupon code "freeground" if the free shipping doesn't automatically apply.  A puffed up discount in conjunction with free shipping and no tax?  I love stackable deals.

    As you can probably tell by the banner ad running on the top-right of the WWP, The Spirit Shoppe is an advertiser on my site.  I try not to make a habit of pushing stuff related to businesses that support the site with ads, but at the same time I like to pass along good wine deals when I hear about them.

    Here are 12 wines they have in stock right now to get you started:

    2008 Pali Durell Pinot Noir $39.99 with mixed case discount
    2008 Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo $17.59 with mixed case discount
    2008 Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir $19.99 on sale
    2006 Produttori Barbaresco $29.99 on sale
    2007 Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo $19.99 on sale
    2007 Passopisciaro Sicilia $32.99 on sale
    2008 Produttori Langhe Nebbiolo $18.99 on sale
    2008 Caymus Cabernet $58.99 on sale
    2007 Peter Michael Les Pavots $139.99 with mixed case discount
    2008 Evening Land Pinot Noir $23.99 with mixed case discount
    2006 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot $9.59 with mixed case discount

    Question of the Day: Any other values at The Spirit Shoppe jump out at you?  Perhaps in categories like white and sparkling that I don't pay as much attention to?

    Read more...

    Three Heart Warming Merlots: Waterbrook, Bolen, and Robert Foley

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    We got pounded with snow here in Massachusetts last week.  As much as it sucks battling through a cold winter there's a certain amount of pleasure to be drawn from being snowed in with no place to go and nothing to do other than crack open a bottle of heart warming red wine.
    A trio of Merlots found their way into the rotation during the week.  They say if a winery is still making Merlot at this point they're probably making good Merlot.  I don't know if that's necessarily true, but I find Merlot to be a value play compared to Cabernet Sauvignon from domestic producers frequently, and for immediate consumption Merlot can often run circles around Cabernet.  It's kind of like Barbaresco to Barolo - if you're buying it for tonight Merlot and Barbaresco show a lot better than their rough and tumble counterparts.

    Here are my thoughts on Merlots for your shopping consideration...


    2007 Waterbrook Reserve Merlot
    Release Price: $22
    14.5% Alcohol
    3,030 Cases Produced

    Aromatically vibrant immediately upon opening with welcoming aromas of caramel on top of warm black cherry preserves. But there's a hole in this wine's soul - at least in this bottle.  The initial attack on the palate is straight fruit, but things fall off right after that and never quite rise to the level the of the aromas.  It's a bit of a let down because the nose on this wine is amazing.

    88/100 WWP: Very Good
    Purchased at: VinoDivino



    2007 Bolen Family Estates Merlot
    Release Price: $60
    15.2% Alcohol
    250 Cases Produced

    Visually this wine is less opaque than you'd expect given its bold flavors. On the nose I get rich red and black fruit, mocha, and cinnamon. Floods the palate with a satisfying rich presence. Velvety mouth feel. Long finish. 15.2% alc and it shows at points. Overall - outstanding. Sample for review.

    92/100 WWP: Outstanding
    Sample for review.



    2005 Robert Foley Merlot
    Release Price: $50
    14.6% Alcohol
    1,000 Cases Produced

    Dark fruit on the nose.  Milk chocolate on the palate.  Superb velvety mouth feel.  Everything is well-integrated at this point.  Nicely balanced.

    91/100 WWP: Outstanding
    Purchased at: The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

    Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite domestic Merlots?

    Read more...

    Bonus Content: Three Guest Posts Published Elsewhere

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Just a heads-up on three pieces I wrote for other publications recently:

    1. How will the MA Alcohol Tax Repeal Affect Sales Long-term?
      This piece is a call to Massachusetts wholesalers and distributors to look at their assortment of wines and the fully loaded cost of the wines they sell to compete favorably nationally.  I shouldn't be able to find French and Italian wines in California for 25% less than in Massachusetts.
    2. 2008 Liberte Cabernet Sauvignon Review on Jason's Wine Blog
      If you like shopping for wine at Trader Joe's, Jason's Wine Blog is a must-read.  I shared my thoughts on the a $9.99 Paso Robles Cab I tried recently - check out the action in the comments.
    3. How Taste Tribes are Actually Formed
      A few months back there was some talk online about "badges" being a new/better way to rate wines than the 100 point scale.  Out of that, a discussion around "taste tribes" formed.  I shared my thoughts on this subject in a new multi-contributor online publication called Smart Tastes.
    Reminder: After today prices go up for tickets to the 2011 Boston Wine Expo.  Here's a link to a prior post with a couple angles for discount tickets.

    Have a great weekend!

    Read more...

    Baby It's Cold Outside: But Is It Too Cold to Ship Wine?

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Photo Credit: kaiban
    When I saw my friend's name pop up on the caller ID my first thought was "Wow - this must be a hot wine deal!  He'd normally just send an E-mail."  Turns out a half-case of wine we'd gone in on had arrived unexpectedly - hadn't we told them to hold shipment until spring?

    Turns out the winery decided it was a fine time to ship - even though the low temperature the night before the delivery was around 15F in the northeast.  It got me thinking about the actual surroundings a wine experiences when it's shipped.  Either from a retailer in Massachusetts or a winery in California.  Like the picture at right - which I found on Flickr and appears to me to be a delivery from a distributor to a retailer taking place in harsh conditions - I have to believe wine delivery isn't always a pretty picture.

    It depends on whether it's air or ground of course, but take for example the 3 bottles of 2008 Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir I had ground shipped last week from Wine.com.  Wine.com's MA warehouse is in Brockton.  The wine began it's ground shipment journey there on Wednesday and the first delivery attempt was made the next day.  I wasn't here to accept delivery so the wine spent the night in West Bridgewater.

    When the wine was delivered on Friday I asked the driver whether the box spent the night in the truck outside.  He said the truck stays inside a building in West Bridgewater.  I'd imagine the place they keep the packages overnight is chilly but not completely exposed to the elements.  And as the truck drives around making deliveries it's cold but not freezing.

    When the wine arrived it was 25F outside.  The bottle felt so cold I thought it could possibly be frozen.  I peered through the neck of the bottle and I didn't see any slush.

    I thought it would be a good opportunity to test a couple of theories.  First being the temperature of the wine at delivery, and second being whether wine needs a chance to recover from the "bottle shock" of delivery.  I opened the screw cap and inserted a thermometer: 41F.  I left the wine on the counter for the day and tasted it later that night.  It was spot-on perfect and exactly as I'd expect it to be after tasting the same wine a half dozen times by now.

    I've heard cold temperatures are safer than hot, but it's nice to have this personal experience to reassure that sentiment.  When we moved from Arizona to Massachusetts I experienced first hand what can happen when wine gets too hot: Wine seeps through the cork and the result is wine that becomes dull and lifeless.  After tasting a couple bottles of cooked 05 Sterling Vineyards SVR I thirsted for some clean wine - no matter the price point.

    I came across this post on the Wine Spectator forums on the subject of shipping wine in cold weather.  Gotta love how the 1st reply is a snarky comment suggesting the original poster "use the search function" (I find wine forum snark especially hard to wade through) but once you get past that there's some valuable discussion.

    One post in particular I found interesting is the assertion that fine Burgundy might be especially sensitive to being shipped in cold weather.  That it might "never be the same" after being exposed to near-freezing temperatures.  I can't say that I'm interested in paying to have some expensive wine shipped here under optimal conditions and compare that to wine obtained directly from the source under idea conditions but my gut tells me that this is more of a science thing that doesn't discriminate between premier cru and Charles Shaw.  I think all wine would be equally damaged by being frozen and then thawing.

    This post from Vinfolio has really useful data on what an overnight shipment in extremely hot temperatures implies for temperatures inside the bottle, but I haven't found something similar for cold temperatures.  Is it "so long as it's not frozen when it arrives at your house and the cork hasn't popped out you're good to go"?

    For me, this experience makes me somewhat more comfortable shipping in cold weather.  Come March it'll probably be too warm in some parts of California to ship out.  So if you want wine shipped directly from a winery in Paso Robles to the northeast you may have to make a choice.  Based on this experience I'd err on the side of it being too cold on the receiving end.

    What do you think?  How cold is too cold for shipping wine?

    Read more...

    Third Annual Cochon 555 Comes to Boston

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Cochon 555 -  a national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs - is coming to Boston January 30th, 2011.

    I learned of the event from Red Car Wine's Facebook page.  Red Car makes the incredible Heaven & Earth La Boheme Pinot Noir I raved about recently and landed at #4 on my Top 25 of 2010 list.  They'll be pouring at the event along with some other highly regarded Pinot Noir producers.

    From the press release:

    THIRD ANNUAL COCHON 555 COMES TO BOSTON

    Culinary Competition and Tasting Event Celebrates Heritage Breed Pigs
    January 30, 2011 at 5 pm

    WHAT:  Cochon 555: 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers, is a national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity. The Boston event challenges five local chefs to prepare a menu created from heritage breed pigs, nose to tail, for an audience of pork-loving epicureans and local judges.

    Guests will be able to sample pork dishes paired with wines from five different small wineries, including Domaine Serene, Elk Cove Vineyards,
Peay Vineyards, Red Car, Sokol Blosser, as well as sparkling wine from Massachusetts’ own Westport Rivers. In addition, attendees will vote for the “Prince or Princess of Porc.” The winning chefs will compete against other regional winners at the finale Grand Cochon at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 19, 2011.

    WHO:  2011 Boston competing chefs include Mary Dumont of Harvest, Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar, Matt Jennings of Farmstead, Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother, and Lydia Shire of Locke-Ober and Scampo.

    WHEN:
      Sunday, January 30, 2011
    3:30 pm VIP opening; 5 pm general admission

    WHERE:
      Fairmont Copley Plaza
    138 St. James Avenue, Boston

    TICKETS:
        General admission tickets start at $125 per person and are available at www.cochon555.com. VIP tickets for $175 include a private tasting of West Sonoma Coast Vintners (Failla, Peay, Red Car, Freestone, Evening Lands’ and Freeman). Plus start the celebration early with artisan cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen and a sustainable oyster station from Island Creek Oysters. 

    Visit the Cochon 555 website for more information - including stops in other cities

    Read more...

    Our Wine of the Year: An Interview with Claudia Cigliuti

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Owner and Winemaker Renato Cigliuti
    Yesterday, I announced the 2005 Cigliuti Barbaresco Serraboella as the 2010 Wellesley Wine Press wine of the year.  In prior years I'd named domestic Pinot Noirs as my wine of the year so it wasn't too difficult to track down winery representatives to answer a few questions.  However, this year's winner comes from the Piedmont region in Italy.  Luckily it wasn't difficult to reach Renato Cigliuti's daughter Claudia for a response to these questions:

    Q: I've heard there are "traditionalist" and "modernist" style producers in Barbaresco.  Does that terminology exist in Italy?  If so, which camp does Cigliuti fall within?  If not, could you describe your winemaking style?

    Cigliuti: The "modernist" and "traditionalist" style are not very popular any more in Italy, like in the past...in the 90's. In our opinion the most important thing to make a great wine is to have the best quality grapes and a good balance in oak.

    Q: I've enjoyed both your Vigne Erte and Serraboella Barbaresco wines.  They're both such powerful and pure expressions of Barbaresco.  Could you describe the differences in site and winemaking style between these two wines?

    Cigliuti: The main difference between Barbaresco Vigne Erte and Serraboella is due to the age of the vines.  In the Vigne Erte the vines are about 10 years old while in Serraboella the age of the vines is from 25 to 55 years old.  The old vines give more complexity, intensity, structure and length to the wine but both of them reflect very well the character of the terrain where they come from.

    In fact Vigne Erte is located on the cru of Bricco di Neive (350 meters above sea level) and faces Southwest with sandy and calcareous soil. Serraboella is located on the cru of Serraboella (350 meters above sea level) faces Southwest with chalky soil.

    The winemaking style between Vigne Erte and Serraboella is almost the same, very balanced in oak.  They are aged for about 25 months in 2000 Lt Slavonian oak casks, only a small percentage of Serraboella is also aged in French oak barriques and tonneaux.

    Q: What would you say is the best time of year for an American to visit Piedmont wineries?

    Cigliuti: In our opinion the best period to visit Piedmont wineries is beginning of September because at that time it is possible to understand and evaluate the quality of the wines from the grapes left in the vineyards. It is very important to see the way of managing the vineyards and the yields we leave to have a good quality wine. Also October is interesting because the vineyards are very colourfull and you can also smell the parfums of the fermentation in the cellar.

    Q: Do you offer winery visits and tastings with an appointment scheduled via E-mail?  If so, what should we expect on a visit to Cigliuti?

    Cigliuti: We accept visits by appointment (because only the family is involved in all kind of  works of the estate) and it's always a pleasure to receive visitors and show our philosophy of making wines. They should expect a simple visit to a very small estate (7 Hectares) where the family will receive them and show all the process of making wine starting from the vineyards to enjoying a glass of wine together. Cheers!

    My thanks to Claudia Cigliuti for her kind and thoughtful response to my questions, and congratulations to Cigliuti on their outstanding wines.

    I hope you enjoyed reading my top 25 list as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

    Click here to download the entire WWP Top 25 Wines of 2010 in pdf.

    Here's to discovering more great wines in 2011!

    Read more...

    My Most Exciting Wine of 2010: The 2005 Cigliuti Serraboella Barbaresco

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    I'm pleased to announce the Wellesley Wine Press 2010 Wine of the Year - the 2005 Cigliuti Barbaresco Serraboella.  This is the first time an old world wine has been my "wow" wine of the year, and reflects how much I've been impressed with wines made from Nebbiolo - especially Barbaresco.

    I first discovered the wines of Cigliuti at a tasting at The Wine Bottega (review) in late 2009.  Their wines sent me off on a Nebbiolo kick that continues to this day (more on that here).  There are a lot of fine producers of Barbaresco but I haven't found another for under $50 that deliver the intensity, flavor and all around excitement I've found in Cigliuti's Barbareschi.

    In some ways Barbaresco is a mainstream wine, but in others it's still a niche category.  Most retail stores don't carry more than a few bottlings (try Vintages in Concord and Belmont, MA for a truly amazing assortment of Piedmont reds) and that's a shame because I've found it to be an incredible passageway into the wine of Italy which I often find austere and thin.  Most Barbareschi are thin visually but the better ones are powerful aromatically and on the palate.

    Cigliuti produces Barbaresco from two different vineyards.  The Vigne Erte retails for $60 and the Serraboella for $75.  When the 2004 was beginning to evaporate from the market I was concerned the 2005 would be a let-down.  Thankfully the 2005 is just as good if not better than the 2004.  Only time will tell - we're admittedly drinking these wines in their youth.

    Here are my notes:

    2005 Cigliuti Barbaresco Serraboella
    $75 Release Price
    14.5% Alcohol
    830 Cases Made

    This is a gorgeous wine.

    On the nose I get rich ripe raspberries, menthol, rose petals, and flinty Certs retsin action. On the palate some earth comes forward. Mushrooms. Chalky tannins.

    Still shows some tannic bite even after a quadruple decant. Will benefit from time, but I didn't regret opening it now. Could be my wine of the year. The kind of wine you want to seek out and stock your cellar with. Can't recommend a wine any more enthusiastically than this one. Truly special.

    96/100 WWP: Classic

    Purchased from: Wine Library
    Find this wine available for sale on: Wine-Searcher
    CellarTracker: Currently a 95 Point Average

    Further Reading:
    Click here to download the Wellesley Wine Press Top 25 of 2010 in pdf.

    Read more...

    #3-#2: My 25 Most Exciting Wines of 2010

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    #3 2004 Cigliuti Barbaresco Vigne Erte

    I first tasted this wine in 2009 which gave way to this controversial post on Corkd about supporting local retailers versus buying online.  I shared this wine with guests on the first day of 2010 and it had me thinking I may have tasted the best wine I'd try all year.  It sure came close.

    My Notes: A stunningly good Italian red wine. Medium-dark ruby color. Candy-like fruit on the nose- reminded me of Luden's Wild Cherry Cough Drops in a good way. Gets serious on the palate. Rustic but complex and balanced. Medium-high acidity makes it food-friendly but absolutely delicious and enjoyable on its own. Appreciated by everyone who tasted it. Highly recommended.

    $60 release price, 91 WS, 95 points for me.  A very memorable wine.  Loved it. 

    #2 2008 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas

    I'd seen the name "Belle Glos" around for a few years but didn't know what it was about.  This wine did exactly what I hope a step up in price does from their entry-level bottling, delivering depth of flavor and site-specific nuances.  Their $25 Meiomi (MAY-oh-mee) bottling landed at #12 on my list and their vineyard-designated wines carry a release price of $44.  It may not be quite worth roughly 2x in my book -but- value hounds know you can always find a wine for less if you look around.

    The first one is always free as they say.  I got a sample of this wine for an online Pinot Noir tasting.  Then I purchased a mixed case of their three single-vineyard designated wines it at a ridiculously low price from JJ Buckley.  The case has dwindled quickly.  The wine strikes the perfect balance between deliciousness and quality.  This wine also wound up at #2 on Drink Nectar's Top 10 of 2010 list.  Further reading on why this wine fared so well against #16 on my 2010 list in this post.

    Wine.com: 2008 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Pinot Noir $34.99
    icon

    Other Posts in This Series:
    I'd love it if you subscribed to the site so we can continue the conversation.  Happy New Year!

    What do you think of these picks?  What were some of your favorite wines of 2010?

    Read more...

    #10-#4: My 25 Most Exciting Wines of 2010

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    #10 2005 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill

    I caught this 96 WS/$125 bottle for $80-some dollars on a Blanchards Black Friday deal back in 2009.  I cracked it open not long ago, and just like every time I've had it at a tasting alongside other outstanding Napa Cabs, it delivered.  94 points for me on this bottle.  Such a consistent wine for Chappellet.  Well done.

    #9 2007 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon

    For me, this has been the value play of the 2007 vintage and every time I try this I'm reminded why I like it.  It's because the flavor profile so completely aligns with what I'm looking for in a Napa Cab.  It strikes this perfect balance of savory and sweet that I just go nuts for.  Of course everyone's palate is different so your mileage may vary.  That said, I know a lot of people that like this wine.  Available for $30 and under if you're a real value hound.  93 points for me (92 Spectator).  Another wine I don't think I'd be sorry buying a ton of.

    #8 2007 Ridge Monte Bello

    Professional ratings for this $145 release price wine are interesting.  James Laube from Spectator hasn't rated a Ridge Monte Bello 90 points in a decade - yet this one received 92 points from him.  Robert Parker on the other hand regularly gives 90 points ratings for this wine - including a 97+ rating for the 2005.  Parker only thought the 2007 was a 92 point wine.  I popped a half-bottle purchased from the Bin Ends bargain bin for $40 (what a deal) on the last day of 2010 and I was impressed.  Of the Monte Bello I've tasted in the past, it usually strikes me as Bordeaux-like wine in a similar style as Opus One and Dominus that needs time to show well.  This 2007 definitely will benefit from age but I thought it was radiant and impressive now.

    #7 2007 Zero One Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon The Wild Sky

    When Spectator dropped a 93 point rating on this $30 946 case production Washington Cab I thought to keep an eye out for it.  A few weeks later Garagiste offered it up at an aggressive price.  I pinged a few friends to see if they wanted to go in on a case and discovered tremendous interest in this wine almost instantly.

    The first bottle I had was outstanding: I agreed - 93 points.  The second I'd only rate 86 points.  The CellarTracker median is 91 points.  If not for this second "off" experience this wine very well could have finished in my top 3.  More on this wine here.

    #6 2000 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron

    Certain wines need age to show their stuff, and Bordeaux is certainly one of those categories.  That's where having friends with deeper cellars and more experience can be hugely beneficial.  I went over to my pal Adam Japko's house to try a bunch of 2000 Bordeaux this past year.  What an enlightening experience.  The wines were all showing well but there were huge stylistic differences.  I thought this Pichon Baron showed new world tendencies while still being true to Bordeaux.  98 points for me.  One of the best wines I've ever tasted.  More on this tasting here on Corkd.

    #5 2006/2007 Coho Headwaters 

    95 points Wine Spectator for this $40 mostly Cab red Napa blend.  I agreed with WS - 95 points.  There's been some availability of this wine in Massachusetts but as is usually the case it can be had for less in California.  When I see this wine on a shelf for around $33 it's hard to imagine a better Napa red for that price.  A highly recommended QPR-bender.

    The only thing more incredible than a 95 point $40 Napa Cab is following it up next year with another 95. 2007 is a generally more well-regarded vintage so if I had to choose which to buy for long-term potential I'd probably go with the 07.  But for me they were both outstanding and very similar.  More here.  Will the 2008 be able to continue the run this wine has been on?

    #4 2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Bohéme Pinot Noir 

    I snagged a couple bottles of this at Lower Falls Wine Co. in 2009.  One of the highest rated wines from the California Pinot Noir vintage Wine Spectator called the best ever.  I tried one in late 2009 and rated it 93 points.  The second bottle I enjoyed in December and gave it 95 points.  2 points might not seem like a huge difference but as we discussed around the WPP QPR Calculator each point north of 90 is exponentially more difficult to attain.  I think this wine is very special and I'm on the hunt for some of the 2009s.  More here.

    Others in this series:
    Check back later in the weak when I reveal my most exciting wine of 2010.  I'd love it if you subscribed to the site so we can continue the conversation in 2011.  Happy New Year!

    Read more...

    #25-#11: My 25 Most Exciting Wines of 2010

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Alright everybody, back to work.  You know that feel you've got right now where you feel like you're burned out on opening too many really nice wines the past couple weeks?  Don't worry it'll pass and you'll be back in action in no time sleuthing out next year's tremendous wines.

    I set out to capture the 10 most exciting wines I tasted in 2010 and ended up with 25.  I selected these wines with a similar criteria that Wine Spectator uses for their Top 100 list.  It's not a rank ordered list of the best wines I discovered.  Rather, it's a combination of value, availability, and excitement.  Many of the wines were ones where I joined with friends to buy a straight case or more to reduce per-bottle costs. (Interested in a Boston-area wine case club?  Drop me an E-mail and I'll add you to my list and I'll include you in future offers.)  Some others were more one-off discoveries.

    More than anything it's a list of wines I'll remember when looking back at 2010.  On with the list...

    #25 2007 Waterbrook Reserve Merlot

    This wine was a tricky one for me.  From a numbers perspective, 92 WS with a $22 release price for a Washington Merlot was appealing.  CellarTracker median is at 89 right now, and the wine landed at #46 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list.  However, I had a really hard time garnering interest from my case club friends for 12 bottles of this.  I think some had a negative impression of the brand from past experience with their entry-level bottlings.  I thought this was a 90 point wine.

    #24 2007 Banshee Cabernet Sauvignon

    There's tremendous value to be had in relabeled wines.  This one pushes the envelope in terms of price point - and it delivers.  More on this wine here.  I wasn't nearly as impressed with their 2009 Sonoma County Pinot Noir.

    #23 2007 Beaulieu Vineyards Tapestry

    93 WS with a $50 release price is one thing, but the availability of this wine is so widespread it's not hard to find for just over $30.  It's a little rough around the edges at this point but I think it'll settle down nicely and reward short term cellaring.  I agreed with Spectator on this one: 93 points.  How on earth did it not make the Wine Spectator Top 100 list?  More here.

    #22 2006 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon The Ranch 

    Ugly label, beautiful wine.  Every time I've tried this wine I've thought it was spot-on Napa Cab but there's something about the package that leaves me disinterested in buying a bunch of it.  I rated the wine 94 points and that may have even been dragged down subconsciously by the label.  I've had a little trouble finding this ~$40 wine in Massachusetts lately.

    #21 2008 King Estate Signature Pinot Gris

    In 2010 red wine consumption here at the WWP outpaced whites by an 8:1 ratio.  I keep trying to get more into white wine but it only takes 1 lackluster bottle to send me scurrying back to my comfort zone of fruit-forward domestic reds.  This white wine delivers however - try it with chinese food.  91 points for me.  I paid between $11.49 and $15.50 for this wine in 2010.

    #20 2009 Annabella Pinot Noir 

    After a bit of an off year in 2008, this wine is back on track in 2009 and compares favorably to the excellent 2007.  90 points for me and readily available for less than $15 in MA.  I think this makes for a great choice in an affordable-but-varietally-correct Pinot Noirs around the world tasting.  More on that here.

    #19 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc

    I bought a couple bottles from Wine Nation in Millbury, MA this year (review).  The first was an oxidized Pinot Noir.  The second was this Sauvignon Blanc I opened as a backup.  Wow, did this white wine taste delicious after that flawed red.  I paid $12.94 and rated it 90 points.  For my palate, Honig delivers value at all price points - more on them later in this list.

    #18 2006 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

    Sometimes, I think I look too hard to find wines of great value.  Everyone knows the name Mondavi - and for good reason.  Mondavi still cranks out great wines at a variety of price points.  At the high end their Reserve Cabernets - particularly back vintages available at a discount - can be tremendous values.  This wine was a sample and I compared it to the 1994 and 1999 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernets.  The 2006 was the star of the lineup for me.  I rated it 97 points - one of the best Napa Cabs I've ever had.  $135 release price.

    #17 2007 Paul Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape

    Ah - who doesn't love #CdP07?  This was perhaps the most pure case club we've done to date.  Those who joined with me snagged the wine at $25.99 a bottle (off a $43 release price) and the wine has absolutely delivered.  93 WS and I agreed with them.  This wine is a winner.

    #16 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Mount Richmond

    This was another wine that a number of us bought from The Wine Cellar of Stoneham at a favorable price given its 94 WS rating.  The 2008 vintage of Oregon Pinot Noir is supposed to be fantastic.  My experience so far has been hit or miss.  I know one thing - tasting this alongside a California Pinot Noir of similar stature probably isn't a good idea.  Or maybe it needs some bottle age to shine.  That said - I actually like this wine a lot (91 points) and wish I had the restraint to keep some on hand for years to come.  Relatively speaking it's a great value if you can find it south of $40.  It makes the list here because it's a wine I think I'll remember from 2010.

    #15 2005 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Benchland Select

    This is more of a personal sentimental play given that I like Cakebread so much.  I picked it up at the Boston Wine Exchange when they were having a 15% off sale as a way to make amends for their Buy With Me offer that was thwarted by buzz killing Massachusetts laws.  They wanted $100 for it so I grabbed it for $85 and enjoyed it at noon on Thanksgiving.  94 points.  Further reading on what makes Cakebread a special brand.

    #14 2007 Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape

    Here's an example of why I don't publish my Top Wines of 2010 list until 2011.  Well, I didn't have it written up until 2011, but anyway - I tried this wine for a second time this year on December 23rd and it delivered a powerful combination of brambly fruit and barnyard.  If you have some of this and are thinking of laying it down for a long time I'd encourage you to check at least one bottle out in the near term - I think it's drinking beautifully right now.  93 points for me, 94 points Wine Spectator. #CdP07 baby!

    #13 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

    The Mount Richmond mentioned above has a release price of $48 whereas this one is $28.  I think this appellation-designated offering is the value play.  If you stack up some discounts you can find this wine for right around $20.  For my palate this is textbook 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir in an elegant package for a great price.  Bulk buy recommendation.

    Wine.com: 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir $24.99

    #12 2008 Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir

    It's easy to find this one for $19.99 and it is absolutely delicious.  I first tried it by the glass at The Capital Grille.  I've had probably 6 bottles of it since and every time I've shared it with someone new the response has been similar - "Wow - this is DELICOUS.  What is it?"  Hard to argue with those results.  A fantastic end of the week wine to open when you just want to enjoy a nice glass of wine without breaking the bank.  Love it.  Haven't tried the 2009 yet though I hear it's coming to market now.  The 2008 is a wine I can see regretting not buying more of no matter how much I might buy.  More here.

    #11 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco

    Speaking of wines that might be impossible to buy too much of...  Wine-wise 2010 was a breakthrough year for Nebbiolo consumption for me and Barbaresco led the way.  This 92 point Wine Advocate wine can still be had for $29.99 and what's unique about it is that in 2006 the Produttori didn't release single-vineyard wines.  The leap one might make from that is that the quality level of their entry level bottle might be better in 2006.  All of that aside it's a great wine at a fair price and I've been pleased with every bottle I've opened.  Here's a tasting report that includes this wine and other current release wines from Barbaresco.

    Coming later this week:
    I'd love it if you subscribed to the site so we can continue the conversation.  Happy New Year!

    What do you think of these picks?  What were some of your favorite wines of 2010?

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