Free Shipping Offer from The Spirit Shoppe: Our Value Picks

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Spirit Shoppe in South Egremont, MA is offering free shipping on 6 or more bottles through April 16, 2010 with the coupon code "springship".

I've been on their E-mail list for a while now, and I'm always amazed by the quality wines they carry especially given their out-of-the-way location in Western Massachusetts near the New York border (map).  The good news for Boston-area wine lovers is that they can legally ship wine to our doorsteps.  With this free shipping offer, it will be the first time I've ordered from them.

I love free shipping deals.  Rationally because shipping can be rather expensive.  Irrationally because money spent on shipping feels like wasted money.

To help get you started filling up your shopping cart, I got together with one of my value-hunting wine buddies and put together a list of some of the best values we found:
And a few more on The Bubble:
Check 'em Out:
The Spirit Shoppe
On Facebook

On Twitter: @corked 

Since publishing this piece The Spirit Shoppe has become an advertiser on this site.

Question of the Day: What values did we miss?  Leave a comment and let us know.  Looking to combine purchasing power to save 15% on a mixed case of non-sale items?  Drop me an E-mail at and I'll see if it's convenient to combine orders.


Taste of the Nation Boston: April 8th 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Buy your ticket to the hottest food and wine event of 2010 and help fight childhood hunger.

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation® is the nation's premier culinary benefit, featuring top chefs and mixologists -- all of whom are coming together to donate their time, talent and passion to end childhood hunger in America.

Join Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, Jason Santos of Gargoyles on the Square, Jody Adams of Rialto, Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro and more to celebrate Taste of the Nation Boston in 2010.

Boston’s premier food and wine event, Taste of the Nation Boston features more than 70 of the area's finest restaurants, over 40 great wineries, an extensive silent auction, and live entertainment.  100% of ticket sales help ensure no kid in America grows up hungry.

Here's a list of the wineries and wine companies who will be pouring at the event:
  • Winebow, Inc.
  • VinUS, Inc.
  • Boutique Wine Co.
  • Café Europa
  • Yellow + Blue Wines
  • DFV Wines
  • Don Sebastiani & Sons
  • European Cellars
  • J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
  • Mionetto Prosecco Wines
  • Negociants USA
  • New England Wine Brokerage
  • OZ Wine Company
  • Palm Bay International
  • Rathbone Wine Group
  • Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
  • Underdog Wine Merchants
  • Vin Divino, Ltd.
  • Vineyard Brands
Click here to learn more and buy tickets.

Use promotional code "tweettaste15" by March 31st for 15% off tickets.

Taste of the Nation Boston
April 8, 2010
5:30p VIP/6:30p General Admission - 9:00p
Hynes Convention Center
900 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02115

Can't make it?  Check out their online benefit auction.


How To: Make Grape Stories More Like Facebook

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's beta. I get it.  But when CellarTracker's redesign was released for public use a month ago a lot of us moved over and immediately started using the new site full-time.  A big question I had about the redesign was how much focus would be devoted to enhancing and expanding the social features of the site.  After playing around with Grape Stories the past few weeks, I've been pleasantly surprised by how immersive the site has become.  It's not too hard to see a path towards Grape Stories becoming the Facebook of the wine world.

That said, one thing that's not implemented yet is Notifications.  People leave comments on your tasting notes and you don't discover it until weeks later when you're poking around the site.  You don't realize that one of your friends has a bottle of what you thought was a quirky selection until you're looking around at tasting notes for the wine.  To help bridge the gap until Notifications are implemented, I've found a couple of searches I think are really useful in keeping up with activity on the site.

Create a Saved Search for "What My Friends Are Drinking":
  1. On the main Grape Stories page, click on "Advanced Search".
  2. On the "wines" page, select "Tasting Notes" in the Output View field.
  3. Select "Favorite Authors" in "User's Cellars" field (Favorite Authors are people you've elected to become a fan of.  Somewhat strangely, you can't currently select to see tasting notes from those you're Friends with).
  4. Click "Show Search Results" at the bottom of the page. You should now see a page of the most recent tasting notes from people you're a fan of. (Also somewhat strangely, you can't capture a list of recent bottles consumed or purchases for those you're fans/friends of. This is only available for Tasting Notes.  I suspect this has something to do with the nature of privacy settings and viewing cellars of people you're not friends with, although some people including myself have their cellars open for everyone to see and most people you're friends with would presumably be OK with you seeing their cellar contents.)
  5. To save the search for future re-use click "My Saved Searches" -> "Save This Page".  Call it "What My Friends Are Drinking".
See "Recent Comments on Your Tasting Notes":
  1. On the main page, click on "My Tasting Notes".
  2. Click on the "My Comments" tab.
  3. Click on "All Comments on My Tasting Notes".
  4. Click "Save This Search" and call it "All Comments on My Tasting Notes".
I think by now we can see the tremendous potential of the new site.  Merge the purchases, bottles consumed, and tasting notes of friends into a News Feed.  Create Notifications for comments on tasting notes and user profiles along with Private Messages.  Voila, the site immediately becomes a place you visit a lot more frequently.  Other wine tasting note sharing sites already offer this, but they don't have the volume of data that to date has been CellarTracker's strength.

Question of the Day: What tips and tricks have you found for making the GrapeStories beta more useful and enjoyable?


    Tasting Report: TasteLive Washington Syrahs

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Tonight, a group of us particpated in an online TasteLive event focused on 4 Syrahs from Washington.  As a group, the wines were wonderfully full of flavor and balanced.  Some I would have sworn were from California or Australia blind.  Others offered unique flavor profiles I've not experienced in other Syrahs.  Here are my thoughts on each of these wines...

    2007 Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Columbia Valley Syrah
    13.9% Alcohol

    My Notes:
    Medium-full body in color.  Back label says it's a food wine, which turned me off a little to be honest.  I drink most of my wine before dinner- should I not like this wine in that case?  Fortunately for me, I found the wine to stand up quite nicely both with food and without.  A little fake-grapey on the nose, but not in a bad way.  Dried fruit, light tannins and medium acid on the palate.  Menthol on the finish.  Nice craft-brew looking label makes me think it's cool-person wine.

    WWP 89: Very Good

    CellarTracker ($38 Release Price)

    2007 DeLille Cellars Syrah Doyenne
    14.9% Alcohol

    My Notes:
    Massive bottle with a punt you could hide a small village within.  Dark in color.  Aromatically fruity, but packs a serious flavor punch on the palate.  Wow.  Big, sweet-ish chalky tannins.  The anti-flavor elite would not appreciate this wine.  Low-medium acidity.  Long finish.  Fantastic grilling/cocktail wine.  Serious, but not a sit-down with fancy dinner kind of wine.

    WWP: 91/100 Outstanding

    CellarTracker ($49 Release Price)

    2007 K Syrah Phil Lane Walla Walla Valley
    14.5% Alcohol

    My Notes:
    Full bodied.  Blueberries in the nose.  Probably the warmest and roundest of the bunch.  Spice and nicely balanced medium acidity.  A big, delicous wine. To me the label says funky small winery with small production.  Nice but quite expensive.

    CellarTracker ($70 Release Price)

    WWP  92/100: Outstanding

    Tip: If you're in the Boston area and interested in K Syrah- check out Bin Ends Wine.  I hear they have a few bottles of the 92WS/$45 release price 2005 K Cougar Hills for $30.

    2006 Columbia Winery Syrah
    14.16% Alcohol

    My Notes:
    After tasting these other wines, this wine seemed quite easy going, fruity and vibrant.  Significant funk initially that blew off after a couple of hours.  I found the wine quite refreshing actually.  Bright red fruit on the nose and palate.  Luscious.  Great value.

    WWP 88/100: Very Good

    CellarTracker ($16 Release Price) 

    My thanks to the folks (@HdR2010) who brought these wines together for us to taste and for their support of wine bloggers.  I appreciate it.


    Blanchards Kicks Off $10 Wine Classes

    Looking for an affordable way to taste and learn more about wine?  Blanchards Wine & Spirits is offering a series of wine classes at their West Roxbury, MA location starting tonight.  Led by Steve Grant (who has a high batting average when it comes to giving me wine recommendations I really like) I think these classes will be a great value at $10 including wine and cheese:
    • Learn how to taste, evaluate and appreciate wine.
    • Gain greater insight into how wineries and vineyards are managed.
    • Discover the unique qualities of terrain, climate and culture that combine to create the great variety of wines in the world.
    Of course we will taste and enjoy some of the best wines from each area and sample cheeses from Boston Cheese Cellar's selection to see how the wines interact with food.

    Here's the schedule:

    Class 1: California (North: Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa)
    Wednesday March 24th 2010 7:00p - 8:30p

    Class 2: California (Central &South)
    Wednesday April 7th, 2010 7:00p - 8:30p

    Class 3: Oregon and Washington
    Wednesday, April 21st 2010 7:00p - 8:30p

    Check 'em out:
    Blanchards Wine & Spirits
    418 Lagrange St.
    West Roxbury, MA 02132

    Further  Reading: I spent more at Blanchards last year than any other wine shop.  See the complete list of shops here.


    Value Alert: 2007 Coho Headwaters Napa Valley Red

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Update (April 19, 2010): The print issue of Wine Spectator containing a 95-point rating for this wine is arriving now and checks on reveal very little if any of this wine remaining on retailer shelves.  I'd love it if you subscribed to this site so we can discuss future value plays before they're sold out. 

    Coho Headwaters Napa Valley Red Wine is a quiet little bottling in terms of production levels and mainstream awareness, but for those who follow Wine Spectator's ratings, it might just be the best recently released Quality-to-Price Ratio wine from Napa Valley.

    Created by wine industry veterans Brooks Painter (Mondavi, Stag's Leap, V. Sattui) and Gary Lipp (Heitz, Mondavi, Chappellet), the wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Production levels have gradually increased from 776 cases in 2005, followed by 1,336 in 2006, and 1,714 in 2007.

    In terms of ratings pedigree, Wine Spectator rated the past three vintages 92, 95, and 95 points.  That in itself is impressive but at a consistent release price of $40 this wine is attaining ratings normally reserved for wines well over $100 a bottle.  The average Spectator rating for a 2006/2007 Napa Cab with a rating of 95 or better (excluding this Coho) is $156.  Those wines range in price between $62 and $325 a bottle.  I'm not saying $40 is a cheap bottle of wine- I'm just saying that relative to the quality of this wine, it's a stunning value.

    To get an idea of what the 2007 is going to taste like with some bottle age, I recently cracked open a bottle of the hard-to-find 2006.  It was a gem.  Here are my notes: 

    I think Spectator got their positive impression of this wine absolutely right: It's a beauty. It's not ridiculously big and dark, but it's wonderfully aromatic and flavorful. Ripe blackberry/raspberry aromas accompanied by milk chocolate. A little vanilla too. On the palate I really enjoyed the firm backbone and vibrant fruit. Incredible finish.

    Truly, one of the best values going in Napa Cab right now. Very highly recommended if you can find this (or the more highly acclaimed '07 vintage) south of $35. Act quickly.

    WWP 95/100: A Classic

    The 2007 presents itself in much the same way (which is to say quite beautifully) and clocks in at 14.5% alcohol.  Here are my notes on the 2007:

    I thought the wine was amply aromatic from the moment I opened it.  Classic Cabernet characteristics like blackberries and black currant on the nose.  Complemented by a very enjoyable mocha streak on the palate with fine-but-sweet tannins.  Some caramel reveals itself after some time.  Such a delight to drink.  The kind of wine you'll be sorry you didn't buy more of.

    The 2007 vintage could be every bit as good or better than the 2006.  But only time will tell.  Either way, it's a great wine for the money.

    WWP 94/100: Outstanding

    The 2006 sold out quickly, but the 2007 can still be found.  Have a look on

    Shop for this wine on

    The importer in Massachusetts is the Wine Pro: (781) 595-4796.  I called a few weeks back and availability in the state was unclear.  I hope to see some in stores soon.

    Question of the Day: Have you tried this wine?  If so, what did you think?  Either way, have you seen it on shelves in a store near you?


    Top 10 Wine Service No-No's for Restaurant Waitstaff

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    This is a guest post from the creator of the Capitol Case Club, a consumer group that combines purchasing power to negotiate case discounts on premium wines.  A recent piece in The Chicago Tribune's "The Stew" blog about Restaurant Wine Ordering No-No's prompted this piece on the flip-side of the equation: No-No's for Waitstaff:

    10.  Don't assume everyone under 40 is clueless about wine or that people over that age are automatically wine drinkers.   In fact, don’t look at age at all.  Ask a question like “which varieties do you normally enjoy most?” and most people will reveal their level of wine knowledge or passion in seconds.

    9.   Don’t overfill each glass – in fact, generally, fill it no more than 1/3 of the way.  Let the wine breathe and give your customers room to swirl it a bit.   A generous 1/2 glass pour on a wine-by-the-glass is okay, but don’t go so far that the wine seems to be suffocating.  And when people buy a bottle, don’t drop by to “top off” glasses.  It isn’t coffee - let your guests pace their own alcohol consumption.

    8.  If you offer premium ($75+) bottles, treat them as such.  Don't pop and pour bottles unless you're certain the wine is ready to drink.  Most restaurant wines are young and most expensive young wines just aren’t enjoyable early without decanting.

    7.  Tell your customer what your corkage fee is upfront, and get your manager to waive it if they've spent more than it at your bar already.  You’ll often see that money anyway, but as an addition to your tip.

    6.  Never pop and pour a bottle that a customer has brought without first offering to decant.  Ask those who bring bottles if they’d like to speak with the sommelier or wine manager – chances are, the guest will enjoy the interaction.

    5.  Don't pretend to know about the wine list if you are only casually familiar - go get someone who does as soon as you're out of your depth.  And then learn what you didn’t know.

    4.  Know a bit about the potential pairings based on your menu each evening.  It's not enough to suggest red with meat and white with fish.

    3.  Know which wines from the list are out of stock before taking the wine order and certainly do not substitute without first presenting the customer with options.  This isn’t a case of 7-Up vs. Sprite.   Some diners may want to rethink their whole food order if a special wine is no longer available.

    2.  Do not serve white wine ice cold!  It has no flavor or aroma when it’s yanked out of a 35 degree refrigerator.   Customers shouldn’t have to wait the 15 minutes after it’s served for it to reach the proper temperature. Regardless of whether the bar is in charge of storage, you are in charge of presentation.

    1. Likewise, red wine is NOT to be served at room temperature!  55-60 degrees please, which can be accomplished with 10-15 minutes on ice if you're not already storing the wine at serving temperature.  Room temperature hasn't been 58 degrees since the invention of the radiator.  And the 80+ degree pours that sometimes result from wine kept too close to the kitchen is just totally unacceptable.

    You can follow @CapitalCaseClub on Twitter. My thanks for sharing this piece.

    Question of the Day: Any restaurant wine service pet peeves you'd like to add?


    Tasting Report: Sottimano Barbaresco Tasting at Vintages West Concord

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Just back from a tasting of some really nice Barbaresco, and if there's one thing I've learned about blogging about wine events it's this:  I better to do it quickly and off the cuff, otherwise I'll never get around to it.

    With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the Nebbiolo-based wines at today's Sottimano tasting at Vintages in West Concord, MA.  I met a friend there to taste through the wines with the owner of the shop prior to the winemaker arriving.  That being the case we got to hear a lot about Piedmont wines in general and a lot about Barbaresco specifically.  The store's focus on Barbaresco is incredible, and given that I'm hot on this category lately I've enjoyed getting to know their inventory.

    (Note: Prices below are one-day special event pricing. The regular price for the Barbarescos is $70.)

    2007 SOTTIMANO Langhe Nebbiolo  $22

    I'm always hopeful that I'll find a Nebbiolo that delivers the intensity of fruit and elegance of Barbaresco at a fraction of the price.  I thought the nose on this wine was excellent.  Delicious red fruit.  On the palate, I found it a little harsh unfortunately.

    Wine Advocate was really impressed with this one, rating it 91 points and calling it "a Barbaresco in everything but name" and "a very serious bottle of wine for $25".  I'd rate it 88 points for my palate at this time with hopes that some bottle age will soften the finish a bit and allow the fruit to show through to match the nose.

    2006 SOTTIMANO Barbaresco Fausino (Neive) $51
    2006 SOTTIMANO Barbaresco Pajore (Treiso) $51

    I thought these first two Barbarescos were quite similar- and that's a good thing because they were both really nice wines.  Elegant and complex with pretty red fruits and floral aromatics.  Some tar.  Full of flavor on the palate and enjoyable chalky tannins.  I'd rate both of these wines 91 points.

    2006 SOTTIMANO Barbaresco Curra (Neive) $51

    This was my favorite wine of the bunch because it offered more ripe, round cherry aromas than the others, along with a flavor profile to match.  I'd rate this wine 93 points.

    2006 SOTTIMANO Barbaresco Cotta (Neive) $51

    Similar to the first two but more tobacco and earth.  Perhaps a more serious/austere wine compared to the more feminine/elegant first two.  For me, 92 points.

    My Favorite (label borrowed from 2005 vintage):

    After tasting through the Barbarescos I came back and tried the Langhe Nebbilo again in hopes that perhaps my palate would be conditioned by the other wines and the Nebbiolo would have softened a bit.  I thought it was still a little rough, but given the price I was willing to try a bottle and give it some time in the wine refrigerator.

    I thought it was really enjoyable tasting through a bunch of different wines at the same price point with the object being not to pick which one was "best" but rather to pick the one that I enjoyed the most.  Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate thought similarly highly of all of these Barbarescos.  I picked up a bottle of the Curra Barbaresco and I'm looking forward to cracking it open some day.

    Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite producers from Barbaresco?


    Barbaresco Tasting at Vintages in West Concord, MA

    Vintages - Adventures in Wine is having a Sottimano Barbaresco tasting Saturday March 6th from 1-5 PM at their West Concord, MA location.  This is a great chance to try some really nice wine in a category I've really enjoyed exploring recently.
    I had a chance to stop in their West Concord location recently and I was amazed at the depth and breadth of their selections from Piedmont.  Whereas your typical local wine shop will carry a half-dozen Barolos and Barbarescos, Vintages had dozens.  They're also very strong in Burgundy.  I love it when retail stores of any kind offer a focused selection and specialization, and if you do too Vintages is one you'll want to check out.
    I hope to attend the event today- I hope to see you there.

    Check 'em out:
    Vintages- Adventures in Wine
    Locations in West Concord and Belmont, MA
    On Twitter: @VINTAGESvino


    Value Alert: 2006 Londer Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    If there's one thing I enjoy most about writing here on the site, it's sharing a recommendation for a value wine.  We've covered a number of these over the past couple of years- on average one a month.  I like to think I'm selective with these alerts.  Kind of like a retailer who, when you get an E-mail from them you stop what you're doing and quickly analyze the offer.  I realize everyone's exploring different categories and we don't always agree on what constitutes value, but I really enjoy it when I hear "Heck yeah- that sounds like a great value, I'm in!" or "Thanks for the tip on that Annabella Pinot Noir!"

    A second thing I've enjoyed related to this site is connecting with like-minded value wine hunters- especially those in the Boston area.  Today's value came to me as a tip from one of our case club friends.  He was kind enough to pick up a bottle of this wine and it's a winner: the 2006 Londer Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.

    We've talked a lot about how hard it is to find an outstanding domestic Pinot Noir for $20.  In fact, if you do a search on Wine Spectator for 90 point American Pinot for $20 and under for the 2006-2008 vintages only 2 come up. (They're both from Siduri if you're curious). Ironically, the Siduri is hard to find in the Massachusetts market for $20 and under, whereas the Londer we're discussing today has a release price of $35 although it's available for significantly less than $20 if you look around.  More on that in a moment, let's talk a little more about the wine.

    90 Points Wine Spectator: $35 Release Price “Fresh and floral, restrained and elegant, even understated, with dark plum, black cherry, herb and savory berry flavors that linger. Drink now through 2011. 3,047 cases made. –JL”

    89 Point Cellar Tracker Median $27.63 Average Community Value My Notes: “Beautiful Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Vibrant strawberries with a silky finish. An amazing value if you can find it south of $20.”  Footnote: This is real Pinot made by real people in Anderson Valley.

    88 Wine Advocate, 91 Connoisseur's Guide to California Wine.

    All of this boils down to this being rock-solid Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  I'd consider $30 the price point at which it becomes relatively easy to find a bottle of outstanding California Pinot Noir.  Plugging this into the wwpQPR Calculator we get value index of 2.08: Very Good.

    So where do you get it for less than $20?  The Wine & Cheese Cask in Somerville, MA.  They've got this wine for $17.99 on the shelves somehow -and- through Monday March 8th, 2010 they're running a sale where if you buy 12 or more mixed bottles you get 20% off (or 10% off 6 or more mixed bottles).  This brings the price down to $14.40.  A stunning value in my book.  I think I've found my new house Pinot.

    Check 'em out:
    The Wine & Cheese Cask
    407 Washington St.
    Somerville, MA 02413
    617- 623-8656

    If you'd like to be part of our Boston-area wine Case Club where we combine purchasing power to save money on wines like these please drop me an E-mail at and I'll add you to the list.



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