Wine Spectator vs. Gary Vaynerchuk: The 2005 Paso Creek Merlot

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm a big fan of the daily video wine blog Wine Library TV so when Gary Vaynerchuk came out with his first book, 101 WinesI read it with interest. The book is basically like Wine Spectator's Annual Top 100 list but Gary paid special attention to recommending wines that would expand our horizons -and- wines that are readily available.

One of the wines that jumped out at me was the 2005 Paso Creek Merlot. I remembered it because Gary described it as being delicious and approachable -and- it is affordable. Wine Specatator, on the other hand, gave the wine a very poor review. In an effort to see whose ratings are more aligned with my tastes I tasted the wine and captured the following video:

Here is what the label for the wine featured in today's review, the 2005 Paso Creek Merlot, looks like:

Paso Creek Merlot 2005 from Labels at Wine Library

Here is my review of the 2005 Paso Creek Merlot:

2005 Paso Creek Merlot 87 WWP/$18

Here are my reviews of the 2003 and 2005 Columbia Crest Merlot (92 and 90 points WWP respectively):

2003 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 92 WWP/$11
2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 89/90WWP/$11

Here is a link to the latest episode of Wine Library TV. Highly recommended- best source of wine information on the Internet!

The latest wine library TV

And here is a link to Gary's book:

Question of the Day: What is *your* current most trusted source of wine reviews?


Wine Spectator Releases Annual Cabernet Report

Thursday, October 23, 2008

First off, I'd like to say "Thank you!" and let you know how pleasantly surprised I am with the overwhelming response this site has gotten in its first week. We've gotten links from local web sites, visitors from social networks, friends passing the site along to their wine loving friends, and tons of great comments. Thanks especially to those of you who have left a comment already- I'm enjoying the discussions immensely. I'm looking forward to great things on this site- I've got ideas running around in my head like crazy.

The latest Spectator arrived this week. For me, this is the 2nd most anticipated issue of the year (right behind the 2005 Bordeaux issue.) James Laube does the tastings for most of the California wines for the magazine, and from reading his reviews the past few years, I've found his ratings to be both good and "appropriately stingy" with the points. Because of this, it's "In Laube We Trust" around here and I trust his ratings more than any other critic at this point in time.

I love this time of year for a lot of reasons. An autumnal chill is in the air, school buses are running outside, the leaves are falling ... and new issues of Wine Spectator seem to arrive every couple of weeks! They really do seem to "back load" their publishing to the latter half of the year to coincide with holiday wine purchasing. (Speaking of which I'm very excited for the upcoming annual Holiday Wine Show the Hingham Wine Merchant puts on. I attended last year for the first time and it is a great event. Food, music, and tasting hundreds of wines that you can actually buy- it doesn't get much better than that!)

Top ratings went to wines from Colgin, Paul Hobbs, Peter Michael, and Schrader. Schrader is one that has intrigued me for a while (see the "Ones That Got Away" box at the right of this page.) Last year they were coming in at $75 a bottle for some of their best rated wines; this year they're up to $95. But still, compared to the other top wines which range from $165 to $275, $95 seems "not so bad". I'm not planning on buying any anytime soon- even if I could get my hands on some. Their shipping costs alone are debilitating. Consider this: The average price of the California Cabs they rated between 90 and 94 points was $119!

Warren Buffet said: "The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don't have to swing at everything--you can wait for your pitch. The problem when you're a money manager is that your fans keep yelling, 'Swing, you bum!' " I view my wine purchases similarly, especially with the economy in the state its in.

I think of this every time I'm in a wine store and I'm right on the edge trying to decide whether to buy a bottle. The wine game is even more of a no-called-strike game than investing.

The value play of the vintage? The Buehler 2005 Napa Cab at $27 (and frequently available at Cost Plus World Market and other stores across the country) is a stunning value. Buehler continues to be one of my favorite producers and they've done it again. Great people, great wines, great winery tour- great wine company.

Other wines I'm newly intrigued by are after reading the magazine are Hewitt ($85), Ghost Block ($55), Stephanie ($45), and Cliff Lede ($50). Honig, Buehler and Chappellet continue to be high on my list.

Insultingly low ratings went to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Jordan.

Most expensive award goes to Screaming Eagle (as usual, $750) followed by Harlan Estates ($450) and Levy & McClellan ($350).

Question of the Day: Which California Cabs (if any) are you buying? Any recommendations you'd like to pass along?


Product Review: The Vinturi Wine Aerator

Friday, October 17, 2008

When Wine Enthusiast delivered the EuroCave wine refrigerator I ordered last year, I thought their "White Glove" service was less than stellar. I called them to complain and they issued me a gift certificate for $100. This was a nice gesture, but as I looked through the Wine Enthusiast catalog I was amazed at how expensive the products were.

So, I treated the $100 like the funny money it was and bought, among other things, a $40 Vinturi Wine Aerator. If you look at the reviews on Amazon and Wine Enthusiast, you'll see that this product gets *great* reviews. Here is a quick video review that captures my thoughts:

Overall, I'd rate this as a gimmicky wine product that actually works, and makes for a fine gift for less than $50. Every time I've done a blind tasting where I pour two glasses of the same wine and one has been aerated with a Vinturi and the other has not, the blind taster has preferred the aerated wine. Every time! It is as if the Vinturi adds 2-3 points to almost every wine you put through it. It is especially helpful with wines that benefit from aeration like young Bordeaux and bold Napa Cabs- but I've found it helps wines at all quality levels.

I think the ultimate measure of usefulness of any product is how frequently it gets used. Against that measure the Vinturi has been a very good product indeed. I can count the number of times I've broken out the old decanter since I've gotten the Vinturi on one hand- basically I use the old decanter only when I've got a wine with significant sediment or I've accidentally broken the cork into bits and I want to filter the debris out.

This product is the only one I'm aware of from the Vinturi company. I have to say- I find that to be a positive thing. The guys who invented this haven't cranked on a bunch of silly wine toys- they just created one really great product and that's their business. I like that!

In conclusion, a big thumbs up for the Vinturi.

If you find this review helpful and would like to buy one from Amazon, I'd appreciate it if you use the following Amazon Associates link:

If you'd like to learn more about the Vinturi Wine Aerator, click here to read an interview I did with Rio Sabadicci after compiling this review. Rio invented the Vinturi Wine Aerator.

If you're interested in hearing how this product compares to other options in wine aeration and decanting, you may find the results of a 4-way blind tasting we performed useful.

Question of The Day: Do you aerate your wine? Do you decant it? Neither?


2007 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel: 93 Points/$16.99

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

In recent years, the Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel has enjoyed a steady rise north of 90 points in Wine Spectator's ratings. Since 2004, their mass produced (68,000 cases in 2007!) Sonoma County Red Zin has climbed from 88 to 90 to 91 to 93 BIG points in 2007.

It's worth noting that Spectator's James Laube, who has historically covered all California wines, has given up the Zinfandel beat. Laube is focusing on the more prestigious varietals of Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and has transferred the task of rating California Zinfandels to Tim Fish. Nonetheless, Fish's 93 points is worth taking note of. It is a huge number at this price point, and in my experience every point north of 90 is harder and harder to come by.

I haven't tasted this latest vintage, but I've been a *huge* fan of Seghesio in the past. It's just one of those consistent go-to wines that I love, is readily available at local wine stores (including Costco) and is enjoyed by wine fanatics and novices alike- I've never met anyone who didn't like this wine. Though the alcohol content is high (15.5% woo hoo!) I've never felt this wine was too hot. On the contrary- it sneaks up on you after a couple of glasses and you're like "man- where did that come from?"

Though the release price was $24, I've seen it south of $17 (and no tax in Massachusetts) at Costco and I just got an E-mail from The San Diego Wine Co. announcing it as their wine of the week at a similar price. You may be asking yourself- why does a Wellesley wine blog pay attention to wine shops in San Diego? More on that another time- but for now I'd just like to note that the San Diego Wine Co. is a *great* wine shop.

The first exposure I got to this brand was at a winemaker's tasting at the nearby Lower Falls Wine Co. One of the Seghesio family members came in from California to put on a tasting that was very similar to what you'd experience at a winery tasting. I enjoyed trying their smaller production Zinfandel offerings as well as some really nice Italian varietals. Next week, I'm looking forward to a similar Seghesio tasting at the Hingham Wine Merchant. I wish more shops would do these kinds of focused tasting which closely replicate the winery tasting room experience.

I put this wine in similar company as the Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon and the Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. They're great, consistent wines at reasonable prices that should find their way onto your shoppping list. I'll update this post when I get a chance to try some of this vintage.

Update! (10/19/2008): I had a chance to try a bottle of this wine. Still nice, but I do not sense an uptick from previous vintages. In fact, I think I like the 2006 better- it seemed more dense and distinctive than the 2007. I went 91 points on the 2006 and on the 2007 I say 90 points. Read my review here.

Update: This wine was named #10 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 2008.  Read more about this here.

Question of the Day: Have you tried Seghesio wines in the past? What did you think of them?


Post Road Liquors: 20% Off Wines from the US and Italy

Monday, October 6, 2008

Although it isn't posted on their website yet, when I drove by Upper Falls Liquors this weekend I *think* I saw a sign posted in the window that said for the months of October and November, 6 or more bottles of wine from the United States or Italy are 20% off.

I really like the way this group (Auburndale Wine & Spirits is their 3rd store) does their sales for a couple of reasons:

  • The regions on sale change every month or two which gives me a reason to focus my search on different areas, try new things, and stay out of a rut.
  • You only have to buy 6 bottles to get the discount (as opposed to a full case at most shops).
The only thing I don't like about their discount policy is that you can't use wines that aren't on special that month to build up to the 6 bottle threshold. Say for example, I could only find 5 wines from the US that I wanted to buy, but a bottle of Bordeaux caught my eye- I wouldn't get the 20% discount on the 5 US wines even though I bought 6 bottles in all. This is not that big a deal because 6 bottles isn't that much, but I have run into situations where I've had to buy more of the region on special that month than I wanted to.

Overall, I do like this chain of stores. When I first drove by their location on Route 20 in Wayland, I drove right past it because it looked like a run of the mill liquor store from the outside. Inside, their shelving is pretty barebones, and the stores certainly don't look fancy. They offer some really nice wines, but also carry everyday drinkers that you can use to build your way to discounts on bigger ticket items. Their Post Road location in Wayland seems to have the largest selection, and is nicely located close to the dry towns of Wellesley and Weston.

Further reading: You might be interested in this more recent tasting at the Post Road group scheduled for February 28th, 2009.


The Hunt for $20 Pinot Noir

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Twenty dollars. What a tough price point for Pinot. I don't know if it is directly related to the movie "Sideways" but Pinot Noir seems to be the most expensive varietal these days. As in- what is the minimum price you need to pay to get a varietally correct bottle?

Pinot Noir, for me, is characterized by strawberries, spice, and barnyard (ahem- "earthiness") on the nose, a medium body, and a silky smooth finish. What I see in the sub-$20 price points (and especially sub-$10 where I prefer to troll) is that the Pinot Noir just doesn't smell or taste like Pinot. It seems like more of a bland Cotes du Rhone/Syrah knockoff that doesn't bring any of the things I'm looking for in a Pinot Noir.

I just received an E-mailer today from the Hingham Wine Merchant (my most trusted local wine shop) on this exact subject. Their pick was #2 on my list, offered at a very compelling price. Pay them a visit if you're in the Boston area for sure.

Here are 3 affordable examples I've tasted in the last year that I can recommend (with my ratings beside them):

3. 2006 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir 88 Points WWP

This one really surprised me. I can't say that I'd necessarily seek it out again, but man- with its non-descript bottle it really snuck up on me. If this were bottled in a big 4 pount bottle with a big 'ol punt and a heavy bond label, I bet it could fool a *lot* of people. Give it a whirl.

2. 2005 Buena Vista Pinot Noir Carneros 89 Points WWP

This wine looks like supermarket wine, and I bet you can find it in your supermarket quite easily. High production and average looking in the bottle, but *really* really good. I've had 2 or 3 bottles of this and every time I've been impressed. Can definitely be had for less than $20. Highly recommended.

1. 2006 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 90 Points WWP

Okay, I'm stretching a bit to call this one $20, but I did find it for like $21 at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store when it was on sale and they list it for $23.99. What differentiates this one over the other two is its density. A mouthful of wine while still being elegant and varietally correct. Absolutely awesome, which leads me to believe that Oregon (by a nose) is the place to be for Pinot (value a consideration of course- that's how we roll here at WWP!).

Question of the Day: What is your favorite $20 Pinot Noir?



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