CellarTracker Redesign Set to Launch at Noon Eastern Saturday February 27th

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tomorrow (February 27th, 2010) is a historic day in wine social media.  CellarTracker, the one-man wrecking crew of wine tasting note sharing sites and online wine cellar management services, is scheduled to launch what promises to be an impressive overhaul of it's already amazing service at noon Eastern time.

Visit GrapeStories.com to check it out and follow @CellarTracker on Twitter to keep up on the latest.  Check back here starting at 11:45 AM Eastern to follow along with first impressions of the site from myself (@RobertDwyer) and @QPRKings.  CellarTracker creator Eric LeVine's tweets as well will be echoed into the CoverItLive event embedded below, and any tweets including the #GrapeStories hashtag.

We'll look forward to chatting about the redesign here tomorrow.


Store Review: The Grape Vine Boxborough, MA


Continuing towards our goal of covering every square inch of the Massachusetts wine market, I recently visited The Grape Vine in Boxborough, MA.  As I drove past the store in recent weeks, something stood out about it that made me think there just might be some good wines inside.  I'm glad I stopped in because I found an amazingly varied and thoughtful selection of wines at reasonable prices.

Innocently situated along a rural stretch of Route 111, the store somehow carries more than 1,000 different bottles of wine.  I thought the breadth of selection was amazingly strong especially for such a small store. The focus is on wines under $20 that, according to owner Robert Hirsch, deliver quality above their price.
When Mr. Hirsch purchased the store 6 years ago, it was a typical townie package store.  They still sell cigarettes and nips but the emphasis is now clearly on wine which accounts for around 50% of their business.  He says he recommends people take note of wines they enjoy when dining out, bring him the name of the wine and he'll happily track it down for them.

He stocks many value labels we've been discussed here on this site (August Cellars, Mockingbird Hill, Brancaia Toscana Tre) so I was interested to try similar selections he recommended.  I picked up a bottle of 2008 Lucky Star Pinot Noir ($9.99) and a 2005 La Mas des Collines Cotes du Rhones ($14.99).  I thought both were very good.

Mr. Hirsch is planning to open another store in Harvard, MA. Case discount policy is favorable relative to pricing: 20% off a mixed case.  


Overall, I think it's a nice little shop that has more to offer wine enthusiasts than you might think if you've only driven past.  It's the kind of store for people who want help finding good values in the $10-$20 price range without having to do a bunch of research and driving all over the state.

Check 'em Out:
104 Massachusetts Avenue
Boxborough, MA

Question of the Day: Have you been to the The Grape Vine?  If so, what did you think? If not, what are some of your favorite wine shops in the Acton/Boxborough area?


DC Wine Enthusiasts Combine Purchasing Power with the Capitol Case Club

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A very cool site was announced this week that wine consumers and retailers, especially those near our nation's capitol, will want to take note of.  The Capitol Case Club "is a private collector's club that helps DC-area consumers access and negotiate case discounts for premium wine without a minimum purchase requirement."  More information on how it works is available on the site.

I love the idea, and the focused way it has been implemented is inspiring.  We've done a couple of public case clubs here on this site (2005 Cakebread Cab and 2007 Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape) and they've gotten a great response.  From this, we've developed a small network of similarly-value-minded enthusiasts interested in combining purchasing power to get the maximum possible discount without having to buy multiple straight cases. 

How Do Case Clubs Work?

Someone in the group proposes a wine they'd like to combine purchasing power on and an approximate target price. Within a day or two, the group assesses the level of interest and if we get to a case or two, we send the offer out to area retailers for bid.  Ideally, retailers would be local (all need to be in-state in Massachusetts because of shipping laws) and open to pick-up from individual consumers while still passing along the maximum discount to each consumer in the club.

How Well Do They Work?

In practice, there's a lot of nuance in the way this operates.  One might ask- why don't retailers just advertise specials on their website and sell wine that way?  The problem with this is that some retailers are cagey about revealing anything about the wines they sell.  They evidently see their product selection and pricing as private information competitors will leverage to their advantage.  I think case clubs are well-suited to retailers like this because they offer a way to sell a relatively large volume of a single wine without revealing publicly they trade in that wine.

There's a limit to how low retailers can go on price.  It's illegal in most states for a retailer to sell wine than less than they pay for it.  That said, there are different pricing models in effect.  Some retailers offer a 25% discount if you buy 2 or more mixed cases.  Others offer the first bottle at maximum discount.  Either way, there is a limit to how tight a margin retailers are willing to go even when selling multiple cases of a single wine.  The goal with a case club is to execute one tidy transaction for a respectable quantity of wine that makes it worthwhile for the retailer and the club members.

Not all retailers are able to obtain the same wines. Especially when a wine is "hot" as a result of high rating from a prominent wine publication, retailers jockey for position with the distributor to obtain the wine. What works best, I've found, is finding a retailer who already sells the style of wine you're looking to buy.  They're more likely to have connections with the distributor and able to fulfill the order at the best price.

I think the deals that work best are for hard to find wines north of $30.  Hard to find wines from popular brands like Cakebread, Sea Smoke, and Kosta Browne generate a lot of interest from consumers.  Higher priced wines are good for retailers because even if the margins are tight they make some amount of money on the transaction.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I'm looking forward to following the Capitol Case Club and monitoring their success. I'll also look forward to learning from them and sharing ideas to make case clubs work better for everyone.

Consumers: What can we do to improve the way these informal consumer case clubs work for you?

Retailers: What do you think of case clubs?  Do you like the way it brings straight case purchases of a wine you might not have otherwise sold to a single buyer?  Or does it reduce margins for everybody?  How would you like to see this work for it to make sense for you as a retailer?

If you're a Massachusetts wine retailer who would like to receive an E-mail from me when we have interest in a specific wine please E-mail me at wellesleywinepress@gmail.com and I'll place you on a private list I keep for sending wine out for bid. 

Consumer friends- if you'd rather not comment publicly but you have thoughts on the subject please drop me an E-mail.  I'd love to hear from you.


Mailbag: Best Wine Stores Near Boston for German Wines?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I received an E-mail seeking a recommendation for a wine shop near Boston that has a good selection and knowledge in the German category.  Any recommendations?

One thing that's tough about shopping for German wine in my experience is matching up a recommendation with the actual product that's on the shelf at retailers.  Even within Rieslings from a specific producer there are so many different bottles to be had.  If you say "Prum Riesling" or "Loosen Riesling" that could  mean one of a dozen different wines because German wines are labeled with such specificity.  Classification (Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, etc), location, vineyard and producer information is available on most labels which makes for a tough time aligning a recommendation with the precise bottle available.

That said, I think German Rieslings are some of the most delicious wines I've tried.  They're also relatively affordable, and I've found it relatively easy to find a great bottle for $10-$20.  I've had the best luck with recommendations from Steve Grant at Blanchards in West Roxbury.  Their site currently lists 30 German wines ranging from $5 to over $200.  One to seek out in particular is the 2007 Stephan Ehlen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese.  I thought it was an outstanding wine and at $17.99 a great value.

Further Reading:
Question of the Day: What wine store in Boston does the best job with German wines?

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Staudt


"Blood Into Wine" Screenings Coming to Boston and Salem

Monday, February 22, 2010

Here comes another one of those things where so many seemingly disparate interests come together in such a unique way- I feel as if this is targeted directly at people like me.  Tool's Maynard James Keenan is featured in the new documentary Blood into Wine for his wine-making efforts at Caduceus Cellars in Northern Arizona.

Now, I'm not going to claim I'm OGT but I do consider myself a pretty big fan of Tool's music.  Their Aenima album is probably one of my all-time favorites for its dynamics and flow as a cohesive piece of work in addition to offering great singles.

I grew up in Tempe, Arizona and got my bachelor's in Electrical Engineering at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.  I'll always consider Arizona home, so it's been interesting watching the rise of winemaking in the state.  It seems every few months we hear that a new state is poised to become the next big thing (after California, Washington, Oregon and New York).  Good wines can seemingly be made all over the United States.  I've never tried wine from Arizona, but if this movie has anywhere near the effect Sideways had on Pinot Noir it could be a very good thing for Arizona wineries.

Check out the trailer here:

Screenings are happening at select cities across the country, but for my friends in New England these dates are one's to mark down on your calendar:

MA - Boston - Feb. 26 - 28 - Somerville Theatre

MA - Salem - Mar. 12 - 18 - Cinema Salem 

For more information:
Visit the Blood into Wine website

Thanks to Boston University wine educator and friend Stacy Woods for the heads up on this event, which reminds me to mention her thoughtfully written piece on "The Difference Between Wine Blogs and Websites About Wine".  Check it out.

Question of the Day:  Are you going to the screening this weekend in Somerville?  If not, have you seen the movie or had wines from Cadecus?  What did you think?


Wine Spectator Subscriptions Via Airline Miles Available Again

Friday, February 19, 2010

Picking up on something I wrote about quite a while ago, it appears that subscribing to Wine Spectator with airline miles is again a viable option.  Shortly after I published the initial piece, Wine Spectator disappeared as one of the magazine selections from both US Airways and Delta.

What was strange about this is that the programs are, I believe, run by separate 3rd parties.  Any way, the magazine is once again available for 900 miles which, for me, are worth about $9.  Compare this to their regular subscription rate of $49.95.

Here's what I see on US Airways:

And here's what I see on Delta:

Here's hoping this doesn't go away again.  This is a very affordable way to subscribe to Wine Spectator.


A Tale of Two Pinots

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Always on the hunt for a nice bottle of Pinot for under $20, I recently picked up two that were not only under $20- they were each $12.99.  What I'm looking for at this price point is a simple, luscious, enjoyable bottle of red wine.  If the Pinot Noir is from California, I look for strawberries and spice on the nose, silky tannins and a smooth finish.  That's it.  Simple.

The enjoyment provided by these two wines, obtained for exactly the same price couldn't have been more different.  Want the good news first or the bad news?  Let's start with the good news.

First up is the 2007 Annabella Pinot Noir.  This wine comes from Michael Pozzan, whose name I've seen more prominently displayed on other labels like their Pozzan Zinfandel which was prominently featured in our Holiday wine write-up.  It's not entirely clear to me whether this Pinot Noir is made from Carneros grapes -or- purchased from a winery in Carneros as finished wine -or- something in between.

Either way- it's freaking delicious.  It totally delivers on what I look for in California Pinot Noir with aromas of strawberries, spice and as an added bonus vanilla.  On the palate it satisfies with rich flavors and a silky smooth finish.  Fantastic.  Mind-bogglingly good at $12.99.  I've had $30+ wines that couldn't hold a candle to this one.

My mother-in-law turned me onto this wine.  This isn't the first time she's wowed me with her wine acumen.  A while back we did a blind tasting of 3 California Cabernets from Turnbull, Mondavi, and Charles Shaw.  Her rating agreed exactly with Wine Spectator on the Turnbull and the Shaw and she was only 3 points different on the Mondavi.  Incredible.

My rating: 90/100: Outstanding

Find this wine on Wine-Searcher.com
See this wine on Cellar Tracker

The Annabella (not to be confused with the similarly scripty but red-labeled "Angeline") was purchased at Wine ConneXtion in North Andover, MA for $12.99.  Also available at the Wine Cellar of Stoneham  (and Danvers) for $11.99.  An incredible value.

A wine I purchased the same day was the 2007 MacMurray Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir.  Excited to open this wine I frequently see by the glass for around $10 at restuarants, I was disappointed to find the first bottle was corked.  Following my own advice that you should always return corked wines I trotted over to Costco the next day.  I told them it was corked and I wanted to exchange it for another bottle.  They examined the cork and not knowing what to look for, exchanged the bottle and sent me on my way.

The replacement bottle wasn't corked, but it wasn't much better.  It was so utterly disappointing with it's limited aromatics and fake-fruit flavors.  It was somehow sweet and bitter on the palate at the same time with off notes I couldn't get past.  It was amazing trying these two wines, obtained for the same exact price, side by side.  The difference in enjoyability of these wines, for me, was incredible. 

My rating: 70/100: Below Average

Find this wine on Wine-Searcher.com
See this wine on Cellar Tracker

Purchased at Costco Waltham, MA for $12.99.

Conclusion: Tasting wines like this side-by-side remind me that it's worth it to take the time to look around and find wines with a high quality-to-price ratio.  If wine is just one of many things that you're interested in and you don't want to take the time to hunt around too much have a look at the value wines I've mentioned in the past couple of years.

I'd love it if you subscribed to the site to keep in touch with future updates.  There are many values on the horizon for sure.

Further Reading:
Question of the Day: Have you tried either of these wines? If so, what did you think? If not, what are some of your favorite $10-$15 Pinot Noirs?


Consider Donating to Benefit the Franciscan Hospital for Children

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Franciscan Hospital For Children in Brighton, Massachusetts is hosting its 9th annual fundraising gala, Friends Ball on Friday, March 5th, 2010 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston. I attended this event last year and I can tell you that not only do the proceeds benefit the great work that goes on at the hospital, but the businesses showcased at the event are highlighted nicely.

The theme this year is Paris: City of Lights. France is home to so many great wines so it seems only fitting to encourage readers to consider making a donation to the evening's auction. Consider a donation of:
  • A case of French wine or champagne.
  • Private wine lesson with a Sommelier or wine educator.
  • Tickets to an in-store or in-home French wine tasting event.
  • Tour of a winery with private tour of cellar/vineyard.
  • A chef's table dinner featuring French cuisine.
Not only is your donation tax deductible, it will allow you to familiarize the more than 350 attendees with your product or service.

For our part, The Wellesley Wine Press is donating a trio of 90+ point red wines from three of the most important regions in France: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape:

  1. 2005 Chateau Pipeau (Bordeaux)
    Wine Spectator: 92/100
    "Beautiful blackberry, cherry and light vanilla aromas follow through to a full body, with coffee, smoke and berry character. Long and stylish. Velvety and balanced. Best after 2013."
    (purchased at Blanchards West Roxbury, MA)
    My notes: 90/100
    Parker calls this a fruit-bomb, but I doubt Napa Cab drinkers would consider it fruit forward at this point. It's big for sure, but quite tannic with classic Bordeaux graphite aromas and flavors. Patience will be rewarded with this wine- a great introduction to the category.
  2. 2005 Nicolas Potel Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens (Burgundy)
    From Steven Tanzer's International Wine Cellar: 91/100
    "A supple, sweet midweight with an insidious floral quality to its intense red berry and bitter cherry flavors. Finishes with big, broad, dusty tannins and tangy, lingering fruit. Very aromatic and sexy Rugiens."
    My notes: 92/100
    I thought this was a little closed on those nose. However, it came through big time on the palate with dark black cherry flavors, minerality, and medium-high acidity. A very elegant wine to enjoy with a sit-down dinner.
    (purchased at Bin Ends Wine Braintree, MA)
  3. 2007 Domaine Paul Autard Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Wine Spectator: 93/100
    "This delivers a very large core of crushed currant, plum and blackberry fruit, all held in check by hints of maduro tobacco, bittersweet ganache, black tea and graphite. The long finish has ample grip, lending further length and definition to the impressive range of fruit. Best from 2010 through 2025."
    My Notes: 93/100
    This wines brings layers of flavors but has an elegant air to it. Red berries on the nose, along with some graphite and tar I more readily associate with Bordeaux. Spice on the palate and fine tannins. Firm at this young age, but very enjoyable. Fantastic stuff. Would like to buy more for enjoyment over the next few years.

    (purchased at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham)
Retail value of the package: $150

Happy bidding attendees!

For more information about sponsorship opportunities or making a donation, visit their website or contact:

Marisa Podolski, Director of Events
Tel: 1(617) 779-1414
Email: mpodolski@fhfc.org

Thanks on behalf of me and my wife who works at the hospital.


Steakhouse Cab Blind Tasting Panel: Cakebread, Caymus, Silver Oak and Demuth Kemos

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prominently featured behind the glass of major steakhouse cellars, you're sure to find many of the same brands.  Inevitably Cakebread, Caymus and Silver Oak appear along with some others.  I thought it would be interesting to take taste wines from these brands blind to see which could live up to the hype of their famous labels.  Which would stand out and which would fade into the background?

I got together with a group of friends of this site.  All are regular wine enthusiasts like myself and 2 happen to be wine retailers.  A total of 8 of us got together at West on Centre in West Roxbury, MA to taste these wines.  They're BYOB-friendly on Tuesday night, and their service style in support of this blind tasting format was impeccable.  I'd highly recommend you check them out if you're looking for a dining venue that's supportive of you bringing your own wine: @WestOnCentre

As I was trying to think of the quintessenial "Steakhouse Cab" I asked my friends on Twitter what they thought were some wines that went along with Cakebread, Caymus and Silver Oak.  I was thinking of the $60-80 retail/$100-$150 restaurant category.  I got a lot of good suggestions including Shafer One Point Five, Plumpjack, Far Niente and others.  But the folks at Demuth Kemos had the courage to step up and say: I think our wines are in that category- mind if we submit a sample for your tasting?  Bring it on I said!

We tasted the wines in this order:
  1. 2004 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 89WS/$70
  2. 2005 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 88WS/$64
  3. 2006 Demuth Kemos Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon $75 3 Barrels Produced (75 Cases)
  4. 2004 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 92WS/$70
How We Tasted

Before leaving for the restaurant, I removed the foil from each bottle of wine and placed it in a bag. I had the server at the restaurant remove the corks and number each of the wines so even I wouldn't know which wine was which.

We then tasted through the wines in the order listed above, before our food arrived, and we each took notes on what we thought of the wines. My brief notes and ratings of each of the wines are included below, and after tasting all of the wines we surveyed the group to see which wine was their favorite.

What I'm Looking for in Napa Cab

My favorite Napa Cabs deliver a high amount of density and flavor. Some of my favorite offer a unique combination of black currant fruit and savory components. I tend to prefer sweeter tannins and big wines in this category.  Highly aromatic wines too. Balance is important and restraint is key. Higher alcohol doesn't bother me but it has to be well integrated. Non-astringent tannins are also appreciated.

My Notes

2004 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
A little hot. Herbs.  Menthol.  Chalky tannins.  Hmm- not my favorite.
88/100: Very Good

2005 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon
I like it! Big black berries.  Chalky tannins with semi-sweet chocolate.
92/100: Outstanding

2006 Demuth Kemos Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon
Pretty big. Just a little sharp at this point, but big potential. A little closed aromatically. Fine tannins.
(Note: I recognized the larger-than-average neck of the Demuth Kemos bottle so I had a hunch this wine was the Demuth Kemos.  I'd rate this wine 90 points but thought to mention it was non-blind given that I recognized the neck.)

2004 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
Most fruit forward with the sweetest tannins of the bunch.  Smooth stuff.  Great wine.
92/100 Outstanding

Overall Results

When we polled the group, the overwhelming favorite was the Demuth Kemos:

4 Votes: Demuth Kemos
2 Votes: Caymus
1 Vote: Cakebread
1 Vote: Silver Oak

Well done by this small producer!

A Little More About Demuth Kemos

After the tasting, I visited the Demuth Kemos Facebook fan page to learn more about the 2006 Mountain Terraces Cab. The grapes come from Mt. Veeder- an area I associated with Napa. I asked Peter Kemos whether this was a Napa Cab or a Sonoma Cab: "Nope, the fruit comes from the Mountain Terraces vineyard, which is on the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder. The county line essentially splits Mt. Veeder in half, running north/south. Mountain Terraces is 3/4 of a mile from the county line."

He continued, "You've raised an issue which is at the core of our winemaking philosophy: We are trying to showcase Sonoma County as an outstanding Cab producing region, our three Cabs come from all corners of the county, and are all distinct from each other - and everything else out there."

You can follow them on Twitter: @DemuthKemos


The Demuth Kemos wasn't exactly a "ringer" or a value play in this line-up but their brand isn't nearly as established as the competition it went up against. In this respect, I definitely consider this an upset. Their wines aim to be a unique expression of Sonoma Cabernet sites. I'd be interested in trying more of their wines and learning more about their brand.

I was surprised how well the Caymus did (I sometimes think when drinking it non-blind that it's not so special for some reason). I was also surprised how the Silver Oak seemed to veer from it's blackberry fruit-forward flavor profile that I actually like. The mentholy herbaciousness threw me for a loop. Finally, it wasn't surprising at all that I enjoyed the Cakebread. Their wines seem to have a spell on me, even when tasted blind (I was also enamored with their 2007 Syrah in a blind tasting of new world Syrah/Shiraz).

If some of the people who were there wanted to share their thoughts on the wines in the comments section that would be great.

Question of the Day: What do you think of these results? Any other steakhouse favorites you think should have been in this line-up?


Upper Falls Liquor 25% Off Sale and Grand Tasting

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mark your calendars: Upper Falls Liquors in Newton, MA and their sister stores are having a 25% sale later this month:

FEBRUARY 26 and 27th

25% off all wines

(when you purchase 6 bottles or more. 750ml size only. red tagged net items not included)


Grand Tasting

Saturday 27th 1:00 - 4:00pm

Come taste over 100 different wines from around the world and enjoy a huge buffet from Tastings Catering


More info here:

If you're into wine and food, I highly recommend Mike O'Connell's blog: Rooftop Gourmet

Follow them on Twitter: @upperfallswine
Or follow all of the Boston Area Wine Shops:@RobertDwyer/boston-area-wine-shops

Question of the Day: Any good value plays at Upper Falls/Post Road you'd recommend?


Store Review: Julio's Liquors Westborough, MA

Friday, February 12, 2010

Last week I ran a story about a cool promotion Julio's Liquors in Westborough, MA was running to benefit The Franciscan Hospital for Children.  They're donating $1 for each bottle of wine sold this week (through Sunday February 14th, 2010) and some bottles qualify for matching donations from the wineries.  Read the full story HERE.

I had a chance to stop in and check out the store so I wanted to circle back and do a write-up of my impressions.  We previously lived in Westborough for a couple of 3 month stints, and I remember shopping at Julio's quite a bit.  The store has been renovated and improved in the past few years so if you haven't visited recently it would be worth stopping in.

When I visited, I had a chance to chat with owner Ryan Maloney and Joe Fisher about their wine program.  It was fascinating talking with them about the store and about wine in particular.  They're passionate about what they do and they've sold wine to all kinds of consumers over the years.  This is their only store- they're not a chain.  They carry about 3,500 different bottles of wine and 40% of their business comes from wine sales.  They also carry beer and liquor in addtion to an assortment of specialty food items, cigars and accessories.

Their case discount policy is 10% on mixed cases, and 15% on straight cases.  I've learned not to get too cranked up about case discount pricing policies- stores that offer 25% discounts tend to discount from a higher price and those that offer no case discounts tend to offer the first bottle purchased at a good price.  Having a look around at their wines, I'd say their pricing was good and in some instances very good on specific wines they specialize in as exclusives or in large quantities.

One unique aspect of their store is the Angel's Share Tasting Room.  They use the Enomatic wine tasting system you may have seen in operation at some other area liquor stores, but they take especially good care rotating interesting selections through the machine and making it easy to sample some wine while you're there for free before you buy it:

Some wines I spotted that I offer up for your consideration as you seek to build up the perfect case:
  • They carry the full line of wines from Firestone Vineyards including their Riesling which I raved about last year.  They even have custom blends of the Firestone Malbec that Julio's Wine Director Tim Korby selects:
  • Switchback Ridge Merlot at $59.99.
  • The 2006 Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah continues to amaze me.  At $12.99, I recommend you stock up on this wine because I don't think the distributor has depleted their supply and what's remaining on shelves is all there is.  Read more about this wine HERE.
  • If you're looking for a great Sonoma Pinot Noir under $20, it's hard to beat the 2006 J. Mauceri Pinot Noir.
  • A wine I haven't seen in stores previously, the 2006 Kathryn Hall Napa Cab, was the highest rating I gave any wine I tried last year.  96 points- read more HERE.
  • They have a display in front where they feature 2009 Wine Spectator Top 100 wines.  Number 7 on the list, the 96-point 2005 Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco caught my eye at $49.99 before discounts. 
Check 'em out:
Julio's Liquors
Route 9 East
140 Turnpike Road
Westborough, MA 01581

Question of the Day:  Have you been to Julio's?  What do you think of the store?  Any wines in particular you'd recommend?
    Here's a video overview of the store from The Phantom Gourmet:


    Taste Live: Wente Vineyards

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    I just finished an online virtual tasting through 3 wines from Wente Vineyards as part of a Taste Live.  What a great way to spend a snowy New England winter evening.

    Wente is a long-standing California producer with vineyards in California's Livermore Valley and Monterey.  I've seen their wines around, and thought they had attractive packaging, but this was the first time I had a chance to try them.  Here are my notes... 

    2008 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay
    13.5% Alcohol, $19.99 release price
    My Notes:
    Vibrant pear aromas dominate the nose- makes me look forward to tasting it.  Creamy on the palate, with a clean finish.  It doesn't get too sticky sweet but it's a really tasty, easy drinking wine.  I like it!
    88/100: Very Good

    2007 Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon
    13.5% Alcohol, $14.99 release price
    This is a nice looking bottle of Cab for $14.99 (and presumably less in shops if you're crafty).  Straightforward medium bodied California Cab.  Soft from the word "go". Medium bodied for a CA Cab. Easy drinking style. Tasty.  Would have liked it more if it were a little more dense.
    84/100: Good

    2007 Wente The Nth Degree Syrah
    14.4% Alcohol, $45 release price
    This is a big wine.  A laser beam of acidic twang on the first sip, but it softens in the glass.  Chalky ripe red raspberry/semi-sweet chocolate on the palate.  A nice, hearty wine that would pair nicely with a New York Strip Steak.
    89/100: Very Good

    Not surprisingly, the quality of these wines as assessed by the folks tasting them online seemed to align with price.  It's always interesting to wonder if this would have been exactly the case if the tasting had been conducted blind without awareness of price.

    Check 'em out:
    Wente Vineyards 

    Thanks to Wente for sending these wines as samples.  I appreciate it.


    Burgers and Burgundy

    Two options for your consideration if Burgers and Burgundy sound good to you...

    The first runs every Wednesday evening at the Four Seasons Boston:  "Burgers and Burgundy Wednesdays – During dinner, choose one of our famous burgers paired with two Burgundian-style wines."  I had a chance to try this option this past fall and enjoyed it.

    It's not really an "event" necessarily, it's more of a menu option.  The Bristol Lounge (the hotel's only restaurant now that Aujourd'hui has been converted to event space) is a really comfortable dining experience.  You get their delicious truffle fries along with a Bristol Burger prepared in one of the following ways:
    • The Original: House-made pickles and aged Vermont cheddar
    • Montrachet: Goat cheese, roasted garlic and oven-dried tomatoes
    • Croque Madame: Mornay sauce, Gruyère cheese and fried organic egg
    • Grand Cru: Foie gras, sautéed onions and mushrooms (USD 9.00 supplement)
    I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a fried egg -and- a burger so I chose the Croque Madame. I thought it was excellent.

    The wine selections included a moderate red Burgundy and a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Patz & Hall if I recall correctly).  I thought the Burgundy was so-so but I enjoyed the Sonoma Coast Pinot.  Overall, an excellent value at $30.  The wine selections are rotating so give them a call if you're interested to hear what they're serving up this week: 617-338-4400.  Or follow the hotel on Twitter @FSBoston(photo credit: FourSeasons.com)


    A separate second event with the same name is at The Boston Wine School: "Get to know the world of Pinot Noir paired with a tasty selection of beef, lamb & turkey sliders. Pinot to the people!"  This event is on March 3rd but has already sold out.  But fear not- they'll probably do it again in the future.  You might also be interested in their April 21st event: Burgers and Bordeaux. "French Cab & Merlot with a tasty pairing of beef, lamb & turkey sliders. Not your father's Bordeaux! $50".

    Question of the Day: Have you been to events at The Four Seasons Boston or The Boston Wine School?  If so, what did you think of them?


    Chance of a Tax Rollback on Massachusetts Alcohol Sales?

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Photo by philip

    Update (July, 2010): The question of an alcohol tax repeal made it on the November, 2010 ballot.  Read more here.

    This article on PatriotLedger.com caught my eye recently.  It talks about two potential ways in which the 6.25% sales tax on alcohol that went into effect last year might be eliminated.  The first way is that the state legislature might decide on their own to remove the tax, and the second is through a ballot initiative.

    An interesting twist is the idea that the tax at the point of sale might be removed but replaced with a similar increase into the excise rate (that was the sole source of taxation prior to the tax being increased from 0% to 6.25%):

    "Sen. Michael Morrissey of Quincy, for one, would like to see the alcohol tax completely repealed. But Morrissey, co-chairman of the Legislature’s consumer protection committee, says lawmakers may propose a compromise that drops the sales tax but raises the excise tax to collect a similar amount."

    I'd be in favor of this for a number of reasons.

    First, the excise tax on alcohol has been long standing.  If it's decided that alcohol should continue to be taxed at a higher rate, the excise rate should simply be raised.

    Things like alcohol and gasoline have so many taxes built into the price seen in front of you when making a purchase.  If taxes aren't applied until after the transaction, it's difficult to determine the overall cost.  Imagine pumping $15 worth of gas and having to calculate that it's going to be $27.34 in your head.  That would illuminate the super-high tax rates on these products, but it's not practical so the tax is bundled in to the per gallon gas as you pump.

    Which makes the 6.25% tax at the point of sale on alcohol seem all the more ridiculous.  Taxes already make up roughly one-third of a $10 bottle of wine before you get hit with another 6.25% at the register.

    Once the tax showed up last year, I think a lot of us had a feeling it would be 10x as hard to get removed as it was to get introduced because sin taxes are so easy to apply.  I'm referring to the thinking described in this comment on the Patriot Ledger piece:

    "Given the huge damage to our society caused by alcohol, beer, wine, and spirits these products should be taxed at an even higher rate."

    What's faulty with this logic is that it doesn't determine what the appropriate rate of taxation is.  It should just be indefinitely higher than whatever it currently is, and probably applied to soda and candy.  And anything else we can think of.

    Like I've said before, I realize we all have responsibilities as citizens to pay for taxes and I appreciate things like quality publication education and that has a cost.  What I'm not in favor of is certain categories being taxed at an inordinately high rate, least of all ones that I care enough to write a blog about.

    Check back later this week as I'll discuss another aspect on this issue- the idea of whether tax increases like this that target alcohol sales by dollar (rather than by volume) are suppressing alcohol sales and therefore causing the tax increase to fall short of its intended revenue goals.

    I'd love it if you subscribed to updates via E-mail.


    Value Alert: 2007 Brancaia Toscana Tre

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    I usually try to pass along value alerts for affordable highly rated wines that I've tried.  Unfortunately, by the time these wines get to market and I have a chance to try them they're sold out, especially when they've received the accolades the $20 2007 Brancaia Toscana Tre has.

    Wine Spectator rated this wine 93 points (subscription required) and named it #10 in their Top 100 Wines of 2009 list:

    "There's wonderful intensity of fruit in this wine, with crushed raspberry and blackberry and hints of coffee and fresh flowers. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, soft-textured finish that shows loads of fruit. Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Best after 2010. 25,000 cases made. –JS"

    I've seen this wine pop up on a couple of E-mail offers from Massachusetts retailers in limited quantities.  If you see an offer from your favorite retailer it sounds like one to take advantage of because this wine will likely not sit on the shelves long if at all.

    Which retailers and E-mail lists do I like best?  I'm glad you asked!
    Find this wine via wine-searcher.com in MA

    Thanks to new friend JF for the tip on this one.  I appreciate it. 

    Update (2/10/2010): This wine is available at Blanchards in West Roxbury, MA.  Use the coupon code" TOP10" to receive 20% off 6 or more bottles.  More info HERE.

    Update (2/15/2010): I saw this wine at The Grape Vine in Boxborough, MA for $19.99 (less 20% if purchased as part of a mixed case).  They have the '06 on the shelf but ask them to check for some of the '07- I bet they have it in the basement. :)

    Question of the Day: Have you seen this wine on retailer shelves yet?  If so, where and how much?


    The Angel Share Wine for a Cause at Julio's Westborough, MA

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    Here's a great opportunity to support a local children's hospital.  For each bottle of wine purchased from Julio's Liquors in Westborough, MA February 7th - 14th, 2010 (Super Bowl Sunday through Valentine's Day) they'll donate $1.00 to the Franciscan Hospital for Children.

    Additionally, the following wineries have signed on to match the $1 donation:

    • Barefoot Wines ($1 on still, $2 on bubbly)
    • Moet & Chandon
    • Montes Cherub Rose
    • Hahn Estates
    In total, this provides a unique way to support a worthy cause by simply buying wine.

    Click HERE or on the image below for more information:


    What You're Doing Might Be Illegal

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    This story in last Sunday's Boston Globe caught my eye.  It reminds us not only that buying alcohol in tax-free New Hampshire and bringing it back to Massachusetts is illegal, but it also raises awareness of a couple of everyday acts that are also, evidently, against the law in Massachusetts:

    Scenario One
    You pick up 2 cases of Charles Shaw at Trader Joe's and drive it home.  You've just broken the law because you're not allowed to transport more than 3 gallons of wine (roughly 15 bottles).  Read the law here.

    Scenario Two
    Your relatives are traveling from New York to Massachusetts and they bring a bottle of wine for dinner.  They broke the law when they crossed state lines without carrying a special permit for the bottle of wine.

    The laws defining what you can and can't do with alcohol are described in Chapter 138, Section 2 of the Massachusetts General Laws:

    "No person shall manufacture, with intent to sell, sell or expose or keep for sale, store, transport, import or export alcoholic beverages or alcohol, except as authorized by this chapter"

    What you're supposed to do is apply for a "special permit" using this form from the ABCC's website.  According to the Globe Article,  although thousands of Massachusetts residents purchased alcohol from New Hampshire alone last year, only 168 special permits were issued (most of which were likely for purposes like foreign import and samples for the wine trade).

    As I've lamented before, what's ridiculous/maddening about these laws is the way they say only what you can do rather than what you can't do. It doesn't say anywhere that we can consume alcohol from a wine glass- is that illegal?  Of course it isn't.

    I don't agree with the interpretation that driving one bottle of wine across state lines constitutes importation.  I mean- who says that?  What reasonable person considers that importing?  Who calls their relatives on the cell phone and says "I have just crossed into Massachusetts and successfully imported the bottle of wine we're bringing for dinner."  It's not importing.  It's not changing hands.  It's just driving around with wine.

    Just another example of outdated legislation that needs to be updated.  Free the Grapes!

    Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik

    Note: I'm not a lawyer.  Just a wine consumer who thinks these wacky laws should be changed.


    Grand Tasting at Wine ConneXtion North Andover, MA

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    From noon-5PM this coming Saturday, February 6th Wine ConneXtion is hosting their 2nd Grand Tasting since opening this past fall:

    "The Grand Tasting". For all that missed our Grand Opening Tasting we will be hosting another great event on 2/6/10. Over 60 wines will be poured and Chef Tom Grella from the Food Network's The Next Food Network star is back with his great food dishes. This is one not to miss.

    Additionally, I hear they'll have special one-day pricing on select wines.

    Visit their Events page for more information.

    Further Reading: My review of their Grand Opening

    Check 'em out:
    Wine ConneXtion
    117 Main Street
    North Andover, MA 01845
    Follow @WineConneXtion on Twitter


    Top 10 Wine Deals of 2009

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    One of my primary intentions when I started this blog was to notify readers about great wine deals.  In this respect, 2009 was a great year for bargain hunters.  More and more retailers are selling or broadcasting their deals online, and limited time offers were increasingly compelling.  It was enough to make me hesitant to buy all but the hardest to find wines at full retail pricing.

    What  I'm Looking For in a Wine Deal

    • The wine has to be from a category I'm currently interested in.  For me that includes staples like domestic Cabernet and Pinot Noir, but I'm always exploring new categories.
    • Percentage savings vs. next-best viable option.
    • Confidence level in merchant.  I'd rather pay a little more from someone I've done business with successfully in the past.
    • All else being equal, I like buying a wine from a well-regarded producer in an attractive bottle.
    • Quick clarity in terms and conditions.  It's annoying to investigate a deal for 10 minutes only to find you can't take advantage of the offer.
    • Only one offer per E-mail please.  E-mails mentioning multiple wines not bundled together in a meaningful way tend to make my eyes glaze over.
    • Free shipping, in-store pick-up -or- reasonably priced shipped on an unbeatable deal.
    How I Research a Wine Deal
    • The first place I look is CellarTracker.  Although the name "cellar tracker" implies cellar management, I find CellarTracker to be a one-stop shop for wine purchase decision making with its community tasting notes and targeted links to the resources I'll mention below.
    • Oftentimes, a retailer will quote a percentage discount that's artificially inflated by puffing up the retail price.  To verify the release price, and to get an idea of what the pros think of a wine, I usually look at Wine Spectator.com (subscription required).  Even if you don't believe in professional ratings, I think it's good to know what publications like Spectator and Wine Advocate are saying as it tends to influence wine scarcity and therefore pricing.  They also reliably list production levels for wines they rate.
    • An alternative to subscribing to Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate is to use a site like Wine.com that has a pretty large ratings repository.  Just be aware they tend to cherry pick and publish only the best ratings which may paint an unrealistically positive picture about a wine.
    • The next place I look is Wine-Searcher.com.  There are a lot of sites that compare prices of specific wines, but Wine-Searcher is the gold standard.  Bare bones visually for sure, but it gets the job done.  Their free version lists only the retailers that pay for their listings to appear on Wine-Searcher.  Wine-Searcher Pro lists all retailers they track.  I've been tempted to upgrade to Pro but there are a lot of retailers whose wines show up without Wine-Searcher Pro so for me the free version seems good enough.
    • If it's an older wine, I'll pay closer attention to current CellarTracker ratings as well as auction prices from Vinfolio.com.  Vinfolio has recently gone through some financial restructuring but they provided good service and value in the one transaction I conducted with them as a buyer.
    Here's my list of some of the top deals from last year.  I don't include exact specifics on the pricing, because my intent is to raise awareness of these retailers for your consideration so that you might subscribe to their E-mail list and snag a future deal.  Some retailers are hesitant to reveal their deals for fear of competitors "scooping" their deals.  I chose not to include any deals that were E-mail list only- all of these deals were published on retailer websites or promoted publicly on Twitter.
    1. Cinderella Wine 2004 Cigliuti Vigne Erte Barbaresco
      The Deal: Free shipping on 3 or more bottles.
      Why I liked it: Deep discount on small production (500 cases) wine in a category I've been exploring.
      What to expect from their E-mail list: Home of the once-nightly short-burn deal.  Transparency abounds with an active comments section, inclusion of ratings from relevant publications, mention of the latest Wine-Searcher and even a direct link to the CellarTracker page for the wine being offered.  Do what they do if you're looking to set up an informative E-mail offer or short-burn deal site.
      Twitter: @CinderellaWine 
    2. JJ Buckley 2007 Two Hands Shiraz Bella's Garden
      The Deal: Ultra-low price on 6 or more bottles. Shipping not included as I recall.
      Why I liked it: I was really surprised to see a wine with this ratings pedigree at such a great price.  Perennial Wine Spectator Top 100 (if not Top 10) and a wine I've wanted to try.  Didn't see other retailers going nearly as low on this one- even Costco.
      What to expect from their E-mail list:  2 or 3 E-mails a week, with the deals more compelling if you're able to pick-up locally (Northern CA) and save on shipping.
      Twitter: @JJBuckleyWines
    3. Wine Cellar of Stoneham 2007 Paul Autard Châteauneuf-du-Pape
      The Deal:  Razor-thin margins in response to our call for retailers to offer us a great deal on this wine.
      Why I liked it:  This was the most pure of our case club deals.  Highly rated by Spectator, Advocate and Vaynerchuk.  Highly appreciated by me, and we had a lot of people go in on this one.  Read more HERE.
      What to expect from their E-mail list: They have an E-mail list, but no website yet. Visit their stores in Danvers or Stoneham, MA or ping them on Twitter to sign up.
      Twitter: @WineCellarsMA
    4. Cinderella Wine 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs
      The Deal: More than half off what I see this on retailer shelves in Massachusetts.  Free shipping on 3 or more bottles.
      Why I liked it: Not only was this a great deal, but it triggered what looked to me to be an online price war as a competing retailer temporarily lowered their price to compete with Cinderella.  Read more HERE.
      Twitter: @CinderellaWine
    5. JJ Buckley 2005 Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
      The Deal: Unbelievably low price on a straight case of this solid Napa Cab.
      Why I liked it: This is Mondavi's mid-level offering and usually sells for just under $40 when it's priced well.  Even with shipping costs included, this provided a great way to stock up on a nice wine from famous brand.
    6. Table & Vine 2005 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon
      The Deal: Competitive pricing on a straight case of this hard-to-find-in-Massachusetts steakhouse standard.
      Why I liked it: Found this custom deal via Twitter. Read the full story HERE.
      What to expect from their E-mail list: Haven't been on it too long, but mostly alerts of savings on categories of wines rather than deep discounts on individual wines.
      Twitter: @TableAndVine
    7. Blanchards 2004 Carmel Road Pinot Noir/2005 Dutton Estate Pinot Noir
      The Deal: Buy 6 or more of either of these two wines offered at 60% savings off retail.
      Why I liked it: Significant discount in a category that interests me with easy in-store pick-up.  Appreciated only having to buy 6 bottles with 2 to choose from.  I thought the Carmel Road was freaking delicious.
      What to expect from their E-mail list:  One of my favorites.  When I get a E-mail from Eden Stone at Blanchard's I pay close attention because they're usually deals worth considering.
      Twitter: @BlanchardsWine
    8. Bin Ends Wine 2004 Tiz Red
      The Deal: Normally priced around $10, they were able to threaten Charles Shaw pricing levels when buying a straight case.
      Why I liked it: This is a great example of how you can do better than Trader Joe's if you have the patience and interest in following deals from retailers like Bin Ends.  This wine is the perfect extra bottle to open up when most people in the group are done drinking for the night but one or two glasses are empty.
      What to expect from their E-mail list: They have a couple of options- once daily or less frequently.  Highly recommended especially for folks in Massachusetts.
      Twitter: @BinEndsWine
    Why only 8 deals in a top 10 list?  That's where you come in!  Leave a comment below and let us know which online retailers/wineries we should be following.



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