Massachusetts Governor Supports Direct Wine Shipments

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Deval PatrickDan from Franklin gave Massachusetts wine enthusiasts a nice little Christmas gift by giving Governor Deval Patrick an opportunity to publicly proclaim his support for direct wine shipments on a radio call-in show Thursday.

During an interview on 96.9 Boston Talks, Patrick said "I would sign that bill if it came" in response to a question about why direct wine shipments haven't become a reality even after appeals were exhausted in early 2010.

The bill he was referring to is House Bill 1029 which was introduced in 2011 but never made it out of committee. The state legislature operates on a 2-year session however so perhaps this publicity is just the nudge needed to force some action on this important-but-non-urgent issue.

At around 35:00 minutes remaining in the audio archive (it's pretty entertaining - I'd recommend giving it a listen when you have a chance) Patrick said "Dan, you're killing me here" when asked why shipments still couldn't happen - as if to say he too has been annoyed that he couldn't ship home wine when visiting California and New York.

Patrick then went on to describe his familiarity with the issue saying he understands the concerns of state retailers and wholesalers as well as concerns about underage access. For Patrick to sign the bill, it needs to be voted out of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional License, and passed by the legislature - which will hopefully happen in 2012.

There's an excellent text summary of the situation by Kyle Cheney of the State House News Service posted on The Boston Herald's website. Thanks to Gary Curtis (@wineblogman on Twitter) for the heads up.

And thanks to Dan from Franklin for raising the awareness of this issue in such an effective way.

If you haven't already, now would be a good time to ping your state representative asking them where they stand on this issue and encourage them to support the bill. Don't know who your legislators are? Use this website to find out.

Want to keep up to date on progress in Massachusetts wine shipping laws?  I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press.

Hope you all have a safe, healthy, and very happy holiday season!


Amazon local: $25 for $50 at

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another social voucher - this time from Amazon:

There's been quite a run of these vouchers lately. What more can I say about them?

The value of the voucher can't be applied to shipping, and unless you're part of their Steward Ship program the cost of shipping first bottle can be quite costly (around $12.95). And don't get any funny ideas about stacking the voucher with deals like site-wide $0.01 shipping - the voucher can't be combined with other promotions. Some of their prices can be quite high. But if you're disciplined, catch Steward Ship when they offer it for $25, and have patience - you may be able to find some pretty good deals. Sometimes.

Happy hunting!


And the Winner is...

28 people entered our drawing for a pair of tickets to the 2012 Boston Wine Expo - 25 via comments on this blog post and 3 more via email. I assigned the comments numbers 1 through 25 with the number 1 going to the first comment. Entries 25 through 28 were assigned to the email entries.

The random number drawn was "6": the winner is Glen! I'll reach out via email and connect him with the folks from the Expo to get him his tickets. Congratulations! Enjoy.

Thanks for the participation everyone. For more information and to purchase tickets to the Expo visit their website.


Deal Alert: $50 JJ Buckley Gift Cards for $25 (plus $1 shipping)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As is being discussed in the Smoking Deals at Wine Retailers thread on the CellarTracker Forums, JJ Buckley Fine Wines is offering $50 gift cards for $25 - limit 3 per person.

You can give these as gifts (via email or USPS), use them to buy gifts, or use them to buy wine for yourself.

Stack it with $1 Ground Shipping on new orders through the end of December 2011 and this might be the best wine deal of 2011.

They've got good pricing on their website but the best deals come through Preferred Customer Pricing offers delivered via email. Place an order with them to be included on these offers -or- drop me an email if you'd like a referral.

Once you're on their list you're assigned a salesperson you can email with parameters of what you're looking for. They'll scour their inventory and come up with a list of wines that meet your parameters. Regardless of how you choose to order, you can build up to a straight case over time (to minimize per-bottle shipping costs) and then ship your order when weather conditions are optimal.

Visit the JJ Buckley website through this link and look for the yellow banner at the top of the page:

Like all out of state retailers, they unfortunately can't ship to Massachusetts.
Disclosure: JJ Buckley ran an ad on the WWP the past few months which this post isn't related to.

Thanks to friend and reader SB for the heads up!

Question of the Day: What do you see in-stock at JJB right now that you'd recommend?


Boston Wine Expo 2012 Ticket Giveaway!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thanks to everyone who entered! This contest is now closed.

The nice folks at the Boston Wine Expo have given me 2 tickets for the 2012 Boston Wine Expo to give away. The tickets are for the Grand Tasting Sunday January 22nd 2012 from 1pm - 5pm at the Seaport World Trade Center - a $150 value.

Click here to visit the Boston Wine Expo website and learn more about the event
Check out these options if you're in the trade, a potential exhibitor, or the media.

To enter the contest all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post ( if you're reading this via email or a feed reader).

If you'd rather not comment publicly you can drop me an email instead:

Winner will be randomly chosen.
Deadline to enter is 11:59 pm Thursday December 15th.

Good luck!


2012 Boston Wine Expo: More Affordable if You Buy Early

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tickets are on sale now for the 2012 Boston Wine Expo. This year's Grand Tastings are held at The Seaport World Trade Center January 21-22, 2012.

I've gotten a few emails from people asking about discount codes so I asked the folks who run the Expo if I could have some to share. They said they've lowered prices for the Expo this year - especially for early purchases. Here's the pricing for the 2012 Expo:
These prices appear to be 15-20% lower than last year. For example, the early bird Sunday ticket price was $85 last year.

This year's Expo has been expanded to include other activities:
  • Nightly Vintner Dinners
  • Three Days of Seminars (as opposed to just Saturday and Sunday)
  • NECN TV Diner Platinum Plate Gala Friday Evening
  • Chefs' Grand Benefit Dinner Saturday Evening
  • Barrel Sampling Room for the Trade Saturday and Sunday
Click here to check out ticket options including seminars and hotel rooms

Check out these options if you're in the trade, a potential exhibitor, or the media.

Further Reading:


Eversave: $35 for $70 at

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wakefield, MA based daily deal site Eversave is offering $35 for $70 at See - I told you was making the rounds with these deals.

Like other social coupons, the voucher value can't be applied towards shipping or tax, can't be combined with other offers, and is said to be invalid for shipping alcohol to MA.

I've bought from Eversave in the past without incident. They're not as famous as Groupon and LivingSocial - but they're legit.

Deal expires Thursday, December 15th. Promotional value of voucher needs to be used by March 5th, 2012. 

Click here to have a look at this deal


Flash Sale Retailer Lot 18: Now Shipping to Massachusetts

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good news for Massachusetts wine deal hounds - national flash sale retailer Lot 18 is saying they can now ship to Massachusetts. Those of you familiar with Massachusetts wine shipping laws will rightly wonder - how can this be?

Have a look at an example of some of the offers they're currently running that qualify for shipment to Massachusetts and tell me if you see a pattern. Two of the wines are marked "Not available in your state" (Massachusetts):
It looks like most (but not all) of the imported wines are available for shipment to Massachusetts and hardly any of the domestic wines are available. What's going on?

It appears they've established a relationship with a Massachusetts retailer which will fulfill orders in Massachusetts for wines that are distributed here. A few weeks back I took advantage of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape offer which was fulfilled by Corporate Wines in Woburn. Corporate Wines has a reputation for fulfilling straight case orders at aggressively low prices - but with a spotty fulfillment track record. Since they often sell from virtual inventory they can't always get the wine.

Separately from this, we sometimes see a domestic winery claiming to be able to ship to Massachusetts. A few wineries do indeed have the ability to ship to Massachusetts - but they typically need to ship via carriers other than FedEx or UPS if they're doing it on the up and up due to remaining legislation that needs resolution in order to establish reasonable guidelines for domestic winery to consumer deliveries in Massachusetts. Here's a brief history of Massachusetts wine shipping laws if you're interested.

Roll this all together and I can't see how this is bad for Massachusetts wine enthusiasts. Another channel to purchase through. If you can get past the occasionally far-reaching email offers, Lot 18 can be a decent place to purchase wine from. 

Check 'em out if they're not already on your radar screen

Or refer a friend if you're already on to them. 

Question of the Day: What do you think of Lot 18?

PS They're running an offer on the WWP blind tasting favorite Soiree wine aerator with premium travel-friendly packaging for $10 less than Amazon.


Groupon: 50% Off at

Update: This deal has expired.

Groupon is offering 50% off at online retailer They say the offer runs through Friday but quantities are limited and we've seen these sell out in the past.

After a wave of similar offers earlier in the year, seems to be making the rounds again with these offers. Living Social ran a $40 for $80 a couple weeks ago.

This time it's $25 for $50 -or- $40 for $80 through Groupon. I'd recommend going for the $40 for $80 because the voucher can't be used towards shipping and as a percentage of the total order less value is eroded with the $40 for $80. If you've previously purchased their Steward Ship package (similar to Amazon Prime - free shipping on all orders for a year) it can be used in conjunction with vouchers like this one. They sometimes offer that for $25 and include a 6 month subscription to Wine Spectator so there is a certain amount of stacking that can be done here. But you have to be crafty.

One other catch - they say it doesn't work for alcohol orders shipped to MA. If you can get past that, you'll notice the prices at aren't exactly the greatest. But their markup doesn't seem to be uniform. Take for example the 2009 Caymus Special Selection. They've got it for $99. With a $40 voucher it would be $60 plus shipping for that bottle which is a about $40 less than I see it for anywhere else in the country. 

Click here to check out the offer 

Question of the Day: Any angles you've found to get the maximum value out of these social coupons?


Tasting Report: 2009 Cameron Hughes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Lot 271

Monday, November 28, 2011

Costco in Waltham, MA had a road show featuring wines from the Cameron Hughes portfolio this past weekend. Strangely, the wines weren't open for tasting but I did take note of the inclusion of a Russian River Valley wine in the portfolio - their Lot 271 Pinot Noir.
Cameron Hughes is the original American re-labeler who pioneered the art of bringing outstanding wines to consumers at a fraction of their original cost by working with wineries looking to shed excess finished wine inventory without tarnishing their brand. Over the past ten years they've expanded their endeavors into other labels and have become more involved with the winemaking progress. But the flagship "Lot Series" is where the majority of the action is and it's the wine we see around stores most frequently.

California's Russian River Valley in Sonoma County is one of the most prestigious appellations for Pinot Noir in America, so it's worth taking note of this bottling from Cameron Hughes. It is not necessarily the most consistent however, so as you're considering bottlings across appellations from a given producer be sure to sample wines from other areas. There's fantastic Pinot Noir being made in the Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the Santa Rita Hills in southern California to name a few.

Here are my notes on this wine:

2009 Cameron Hughes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Lot 271
14.4% Alcohol
7,205 Cases Produced
$15 Release Price ($11.99 at Costco)

Medium bodied visually, the wine seemed impaired aromatically when I first opened it. However, after about 4 hours of breathing in the bottle it came around nicely. Varietally correct aromas and flavors for the appellation (the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County in California) - strawberries, black cherry, florals and a touch of cola. I'd like it more if it had more depth and intensity. It kind of hints in the right direction but fails to make a confident statement. That said - I like it a lot at the price point.

86/100 WWP: Very Good

Buy it directly from the Cameron Hughes website
Get other opinions on CellarTracker
Find it for sale on Wine-Searcher

Lots of reviews coming up in the next couple weeks here - I'd love it if you subscribed to the site to get regular updates!

Question of the Day: Have you tried this wine? If so - what did you think?


Value Alert: 2009 Ninety+ Cellars Pinot Noir Lot 47 Reserve

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The day after I tasted this wine I ordered a case. To give you an idea of how rare that is, I haven't ordered a straight case of any wine since 2005.

I've tasted over 100 different Pinot Noirs this year and the 2009 vintage from California has been a winner - more on that in this tasting report. I was leafing through Spectator's Wine of the Year issue last night and their crowning of a Cali Pinot Noir felt like a statement that California Pinot Noir deserves attention in serious wine enthusiasts' rotation.

90+ Cellars is a Boston-based company whose business model is to take finished, bottled wines from producers with a pedigree of 90 point ratings and deliver them to consumers at a fraction of the cost of the original label.

Their selections have come from all over the world. Their "Reserve" designation tends to be assigned to wines with a higher price point and esteem than their regular label - but their wines rarely exceed the $20 retail mark. This wine is available at retail for around $15 and I think it would fool a lot of people in a blind tasting of $40-$60 wines. Ample production should make this relatively easy to attain.

My Notes:

2009 Ninety+ Cellars Pinot Noir Lot 47 Reserve
14.5% alcohol
$17.99 (compare to $27.99)
2,400 Cases Produced

I think our friends at 90+ have caught lightning in a bottle with this one. Confusingly similar to Sanford on the low-end and Sea Smoke on the high-end. Utterly delicious.

Perfect floral/fruit-driven SoCal Pinot aromatics are the first things I noticed followed up by a satisfying experience on the palate. This one will sell out in a flash. I'm curious who the producer is. Fantastic stuff. Wow.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

For more information or to purchase this wine directly from 90+ Cellars visit their website. I'll look forward to comparing notes.

Sample for review.

Question of the Day: Have you tried this wine? If so - what did you think?


Notable Boston-area Weekend Wine Tastings

Saturday, November 12, 2011

a glass of wine On Saturday from noon to 5 pm, Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is hosting a 90 Points and Above tasting. Whether you love the points or not, it might be worth heading out to try the 2008 Anderson's Conn Valley Estate Reserve Cabernet they're pouring. The wine was rated 98 points by Robert Parker and is currently carrying an impressive 95 point CellarTracker rating. Best price in the country on Wine-Searcher is $85.99 - they've got it for $62.99 (plus no tax in MA). Nice price. Start calculating how much the gas will cost you to get there!

You might not have heard about The Boston Globe's 2011 Plonkapalooza (since it's all paywalled up these days) but on Saturday, from 3 pm - 5 pm West Concord Liquors is having a tasting of a lot of the winners from Plonkapalooza.

On Sunday from 1 pm - 5 pm, Fifth Ave Liquors in Framingham is having a Tasting Extravaganza. Check the link for a list of over 100 wines they'll be pouring - a nice range of styles and price points. All non-sale wines on sale 20% off for the day.

Also on Sunday, from 1 pm - 4 pm is a Turkey & Wine Tasting at Bin Ends in Braintree. They're serving up the classic New England Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey, trimmings, and pie along with a selection of fine wines, sparklers, and dessert wines.

Photo Credit: Jenny Downing

Question of the Day: Any other cool tastings going on this weekend?


Tasting Report and Free Shipping: Current Releases at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reminder: Our Scoop the Spectator and Win a Kindle Fire Contest Ends this Friday

The other day, I mentioned The Wine Cellar of Stoneham to a colleague visiting from New Jersey as a good store to check out for wine deals. I've tried quite a few of the wines they carry so I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts and point out what I thought were some of the better value plays currently available.

Right now, they're offering free shipping to Massachusetts on orders over $100 with Promotional Code "wwp". Have a look at the list below and take a look at their other selections on their website. And remember - there's no tax on wine in Massaschusetts. Free shipping, no tax, online shopping, and great prices. I like it.

2006 Cade Cabernet $39.99 ($68 release)
94/100 WWP: Oustanding

A beautiful Napa Cab that takes my definition of what I'm looking for in this category and pushes forward with a little extra. Drinking beautifully at this stage if you like your wine as it's just exiting its youthful stage - but hasn't yet settled into mid-life. I've had this wine at tastings before and have been impressed - but this was my first chance to sit down and get to know it.
Visually it's opaque dark red/purple. As I swirl it in the glass some mild sediment is revealed on the edge of the glass.
The aromatics were evident immediately upon opening, but reveals more with time. So much going on. Blackberry, black currant - deep dark fruit. Eucalyptus too, but in a mild supporting role. Savory notes. This wine is classic Napa/Howell Mountain fruit.
Very satisfying on the palate with ample acidity, chalky cocoa powder tannins, and a million-mile finish.
Don't see how I can rate this any lower. It's so well done. Wow - a beautiful wine.

2009 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $29.99 ($42 release)
93/100 WWP: Oustanding

Medium-full bodied magenta. Aromatically beautiful with rich strawberry, red raspberry, and fresh clean earth which translates brilliantly to the palate. Silky texture balanced nearly perfectly with acidity and just a touch of tannic grip.
A benchmark California Pinot Noir from and iconic pruducer. Highly recommended.

2007 Robert Foley Petite Sirah $39.99 (95+ RP/$60 release)
93/100 WWP: Outstanding

A tremendous wine at a fantastic price here. I prefer the Petite Sirah and Merlot for near term consumption over the  much more expensive Claret. They also have magnums of the 2007 Merlot for $79.99 - also outstanding. Super-high alcohol (16.2%! - but well concealed) powerful fruit-forward California wines.

2009 Miner Rosella's Vineyard Pinot Noir $39.99 (90WS/$60 release)
90/100 WWP: Outstanding

Light, elegant and layers of complexity. But somehow I was hoping for a little more at this price point. A plummy note feels out of place in a CA Pinot. Would love it at $25 but since it's more I doubt I'll be buying more. The wine is outstanding in my view but in this price range you can have some of the best CA Pinot Noir.

2006 Nicholas Potel Volnay Vieilles Vignes $24.99 (88WS/$46 release)
90/100 WWP: Oustanding

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

2010 Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir $16.99
90/100 WWP: Outstanding

Very dark for a Pinot Noir. Darker than prior vintages of this wine I believe.
Almost brooding. Still tastes very primary but I have a feeling this will evolve quite well.
90+ for now. We'll see where this one goes. I'll be buying more. It's a great value, especially when you see it in the $16 range.

2008 Saint-Cosme Cote-Rotie $29.99 (90WS/$95 release)
89/100 WWP: Very Good

60% opaque but light on its feet. The aromas on this are so distinctive - white pepper, earth, red fruit, and minerality. Quite elegant. The mouthfeel is light and it could give a little bit more of a punch without betraying its origin. That said, I do believe this provides a viable window into the pricey category Cote Rotie is.
An off vintage for Syrah-driven Northern Rhone so you can catch this one on a deal

2009 The Dreaming Tree Cabernet $11.99 (Dave Matthews collaboration wine)
87/100 WWP: Very Good

Medium to full bodied dark ruby red. Opens with substantial fresh plum and black currant aromas with supporting toasty oak notes. Enjoyable mouthfeel with a touch of acidity and blackberry flavors. A touch of sweet spice. A nice enjoyable wine.

2009 Conundrum Red $16.99 (First release of a red Conundrum - produced by Wagner Family/Caymus)
86/100 WWP: Very Good

Aromas aren't pronounced but are vaguely pleasant generic "red wine" markers. Significant black currant. Some Rhone-like/Syrah aromas in the background. On the palate it feels brambly. A reasonably enjoyable slightly sweet/early aspect. But it taste a lot like grape juice. I don't think there's any Pinot Noir nor Cabernet in this wine. If I had to guess the composition I'd say Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, and possible Zinfandel.
Interesting. Not sure I'm ready to back up the truck on this one just yet.

If you poke around in person or on their website I think you'll see good values at every price point. Drop me an email or ping them on Twitter (@WineCellarsMA) for more buying suggestions.

Unfortunately, like all Massachusetts retailers they can't ship out of state. We'll need MA House Bill 1030 to repair that. Until then this deal is Massachusetts only.

Click here to visit their site and use the code "wwp" for free shipping to MA on $100 orders

Question of the Day: What are some of the best deals you see at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham right now?


Scoop the Spectator and Win a Kindle Fire

Friday, November 4, 2011

We're a little over a week away from Wine Spectator unveiling their 2011 Wine of the Year. As we have the past couple years, we're running a contest to see who can guess the top wine ahead of time.

This year we're playing for a Kindle Fire ($199 value!) sponsored by New York wine retailer Grapes the Wine Company.

Here are the Rules:
  1. Submit your guess as a comment on this blog post.
  2. One guess per person.
  3. The first person to guess a specific wine "owns" that wine as their entry.  Subsequent guesses of the same wine aren't useful so look at the previous comments before submitting your entry.
  4. If nobody guesses the 2011 Wine Spectator Wine of Year, the guess with the highest position on the list will win the prize.
  5. Not that they'd try, but Wine Spectator editors aren't allowed to enter. And if you have inside information please don't spoil the fun for others by entering. But if you do know please E-mail me and let me know. ;)
  6. Since the Kindle Fire is US-only at this point, a winning entry from outside the U.S. will receive a $199 gift card.
Wine Spectator describes their criteria as follows:
  • Quality (represented by score)
  • Value (reflected by release price)
  • Availability (measured by cases made or imported)
  • An X-factor we call excitement.
    But no equation determines the final selections: These choices reflect our editors’ judgment and passion about the wines we tasted.
Last year's winner was the 98WS/$67 2007 Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles. With only 950 cases produced this wine was never in play for folks not on Saxum's mailing list which made the wine a surprising pick to me.

The year before, the 95WS/$27 2005 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve was more in line with what I think makes Spectator's Wine of the Year interesting. The wine was widely available at warehouse clubs in the high $20s prior to the announcement and now sells for over $100 at auction.

To be successful, I think you need to have a sense for what category the publication would like to make a statement about. After the Saxum announcement heavy coverage came out about Paso Robles, and Saxum seemed to capture the essence of what's going on in the region. With the Columbia Crest Reserve the sentiment seemed to be value.

What will they choose this year? 2009 California Pinot Noir? (best vintage evar!) 2006 Brunello? Bordeaux (2005) and Chateauneuf (2007) seem to be in a lull until 2009/2010. Napa Cab hit a peak in 2007 and didn't make the cut last year. Is there a new region they might like to highlight?

The thing is - and sometimes this is forgotten when crunching the numbers - the wine needs to stand up to the scrutiny of all the Spectator editors. Not just the person covering the region. That's where I think there's some merit in tracking down wines in the Spectator Top 10. They tend to be pretty darn good wines if you can get your hands on them.

Interesting side note: Last year's winner went on to do some freelance writing for Wine Spectator. Demonstrate your savvy here and you could work your way into a wine writing job in the big leagues!

Ready, set, GO! Leave your entry below as a comment.

Drop me an email ( or hit me up on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) if you have any questions.

And let's let Grapes the Wine Company's Daniel Posner know we appreciate his making this contest more interesting by signing up for his mailing list (he offers some amazing deals) and/or giving him a shout-out on Twitter (@grapestwc). 

Contest closes Friday, November 11th at 11:59 pm Eastern.


Coming Soon: Scoop the Spectator 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This time we're playing with Fire. Or should I say for Fire. A Kindle Fire - one of this year's hottest gifts valued at $199 - sponsored by New York wine retailer Grapes the Wine Company (mystery shopper store review).

The Spectator unveiling begins Monday November 14th so we'll run our contest starting Friday, November 4th 2011 at 9:00 am Eastern.

To help in your research before Friday morning, and to understand why it's important to get your guess in early, here are the rules we'll be playing by:
  1. Guesses are submitted as comments on a follow-on blog post that will be published Friday morning. Don't leave your guesses here - wait until Friday morning and leave it as a comment on this blog post.
  2. One guess per person.
  3. The first person to guess a specific wine "owns" that wine as their entry.  Subsequent guesses of the same wine aren't useful so look at the previous comments before submitting your entry.
  4. If nobody guesses the Wine of Year, the guess with the highest position on the list will win the prize.
  5. Not that they'd try, but Wine Spectator editors aren't allowed to enter.  And if you have inside information please don't spoil the fun for others by entering.  But if you do know please E-mail me and let me know. ;)
  6. Since the Kindle Fire is US-only at this point, a winning entry from outside the U.S. will receive a $199 gift card.
As you'll recall last year we played for a $75 gift certificate. This year we're playing for a Kindle Fire so I expect the competition to be more fierce.

Until then, hop on over to Grapes the Wine Company's website and sign up for their newsletter. If you like wine deals like I do you won't be disappointed. My thanks to Daniel Posner for this sponsorship.

See you back here Friday morning!
(click here to subscribe if you'd like an email notification after the contest is live)


Why Allowing More Massachusetts Grocery Stores to Sell Wine is More Impactful Than You'd Think

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Map of Massachusetts

Some interesting news on the Massachusetts wine legislation front: It looks like a bill and threatened ballot initiative to bump the number of retail alcohol licenses a corporation can hold from 3 to 20 has been withdrawn in favor of a compromise that would gradually increase the limit over the next decade.

People are often confused why some grocery stores in Massachusetts sell wine while others do not. It's complicated. Some towns don't allow alcohol sales at all so that explains some of it. But beyond that, current laws permit a maximum of 3 liquor licenses per corporation in the state. This explains why big retailers like Costco, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's only sell wine at 3 of their locations.

Here's a list of the grocery stores in Massachusetts that currently sell wine

The gradual schedule slated to be ratified should the compromise go through looks like this:
  • 2011 (now) 3 licenses per corporation
  • 2012: 5 licenses
  • 2016: 7 licenses
  • 2020: 9 licenses
My first thought upon hearing the news was: Which grocery stores are most interested in expanding liquor sales?  Ironically perhaps, natural and organic grocer Whole Foods was one of the first that came to mind. When they chose to sell alcohol at their recently opened flagship store in Dedham they had to relinquish their license in Wayland. It wouldn't be surprising at all if they brought alcohol back to the Wayland location. Or perhaps their Fresh Pond (Cambridge) and Derby Street (Hingham) locations are even more desirable for the first wave?

The challenge any grocer (or retailer) will face is that this change won't increase the number of licenses available at the state or local level. In Massachusetts, licensing decisions are largely delegated to the city/town level and is determined by population. As a result many towns have doled out all of their licenses and in order for a new grocer to pick up a license they'd need to demonstrate the need for an additional license -or- buy one from an existing licensee.

One of the things you'll notice if you visit a place like Massachusetts is the current laws have created a situation where liquor stores are placed conspicuously alongside grocery stores. What changes would this change bring about over the next ten years?

It's hard to say. On one hand, you've got to believe stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Costco and conventional grocery stores would love to sell alcohol at all their locations. But at the same time many of these have liquor stores right next to them and they'd have to convince each town there's a need for an additional license and that the nearby retailer isn't meeting the demand. That's going to be a hard sell in the most desirable towns where licenses are already sold out.

And what about those retailers? Doesn't this give them an opportunity to expand and meet the demand as well?

When I think of big retailers in the state that aren't grocery stores, I think of local operations like Kappy's, Blanchard's, and Gordon's, many of which are already near, at, or above the 3 license limit (thanks to existing stores being grandfather in before the 3-store limit was in place). They're a formidable presence in the area but it's hard to imagine this change benefiting their model substantially. They're already able to purchase in adequate quantities to achieve maximum discounts from wholesalers - what leverage would opening additional stores give them? Not much as far as I can see.

The retailers this change would most benefit? The big guys with a track record of success in other markets: retailers like Costco, Total Wine (not here yet but Wine Nation is), and Wegman's (just arriving and eyeing to expand). The only question I'd have is whether they can stomach the other restrictions in place in Massachusetts which limit their ability to drive prices low and control a sufficient portion of importing business for private label wines.

This is an interesting change. On the plus side this creates more competition at the retail level which could be good for consumers. On the minus side, good independent retailers who currently make some of their money selling commodity wines may suffer.

I'm thinking I like the California model: Make wine available everywhere and let specialty retailers differentiate on selection, service, and business model. With fine retailers like K&L, The Jug Shop, JJ Buckley (WWP Advertiser), BP Wine, and The San Diego Wine Company (to name a random few off the top of my head) doing well alongside stiff competition from Costco, BevMo, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and virtually every grocery store and drugstore in the state, it's hard to imagine this change being a bad thing for wine enthusiasts.

I think boutique stores like The Wine Bottega, The Urban Grape, and VinoDivino will do fine with these changes because they differentiate on service and selection. Discounters like The Wine ConneXtion, Bin Ends Wine and The Wine Cellar of Stoneham will continue to differentiate with their unique assortment of wines at rock bottom prices. Fine wine guys like The Hingham Wine Merchant, The Spirit Shoppe (WWP Advertiser) and Vintages will do fine too because people trust their editorial selection. All of these retailers have business models people like.

The retailers that might suffer from a change like this? The run down Massachusetts package store. You know the type: The few windows letting light in are covered with tacky signs. You're greeted by the stench of stale beer coming from the bottle deposit machines located near the entrance (why do we still do that?). Half the fluorescent lights are burnt out while the other half are buzzing. The wine assortment looks like it was done completely by one or two distributors. They only interact with you when asking you to move out of the way so they can restock the dusty shelves. As you make your way towards the register WEEI crackles on the radio and you're met with a dazzling display of impulse buys: Nips, smokes and scratch lottery tickets.

Would you rather go to a place like this to buy your wine and beer or pick it up while you're grocery shopping? I think the answer is obvious and that's why run down liquor stores could be threatened by this change. But it's also the type of store most likely to benefit from selling their license to a large chain at a premium. Every liquor license in the state suddenly becomes more valuable.

I'd like to see other changes along with this. Let's open up the state for direct shipment from out of state wineries and retailers. Everyone in the Commonwealth would benefit from improved access and increased excise tax revenue from incoming shipments. Massachusetts House Bill 1029 would finally permit out of state wineries to ship to Massachusetts. I haven't heard a peep about it since attending hearings on it and other alcohol-related bills last May. Let's push that through so we can work next year on out of state retailer shipment.

Let's allow Massachusetts retailers to ship out of state. This would provide innovative retailers leverage to tell their stories and sell their wines to a broader audience without increasing overhead. Massachusetts is the only state I know of that disallows their retailers from shipping out of state. Massachusetts House Bill 1030 would change this - its passage is long overdue.

And let's open up competition at the wholesaler level. Massachusetts wholesalers sell some wines to Massachusetts retailers for more than consumers in other states can buy them from retailers. That's got to change to give retailers here a fighting chance to compete at the national level.

Let's Free the Grapes.

Drinking moderately and responsibly makes certain that you will not need alcohol abuse rehab in the near future.

Further Reading:
Question of the Day: What do you think about these changes? More competition is better for the consumer? Or are specialty wine retailers going to be hurt by these changes and that's a bad thing for consumers?


Poll: How much do you tip for wine service?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A friend and I were talking about this - I thought I'd put it up here for discussion and a poll.

You and a friend are out at a restaurant. Let's say it's just a regular restuarant - not a wine bar. You order $100 worth of food and a $100 bottle of wine. The service is good. Solid. How much do you tip? Specifically - do you tip differently for wine service than food service in a restuarant?

Does it depend on the quality of the wine service? If they pour your $100 prize into cheap little water glasses on the table vs. presenting large clean high quality stemware does it make a difference?

How about if it's BYOB? You bring the wine and to justify the (say) $25 corkage fee you bring a really nice one. $100 retail. It would be $250+ if it were on the wine list at the restaurant. Do you pay more for someone to pour your own expensive wine than if it was a $10 bottle?

Tell us what you think. Answer the poll below and if you'd like to describe why leave a comment below.

Thanks for your thoughts!  
(if you're viewing this blog post via email or in a feed reader and the poll doesn't appear try viewing this page directly in a web browser)


Value Alert: 2007 Betts & Scholl Grenache "The O.G"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Editor's Note: I blog less frequently when I'm not in the best of moods, hence the quiet period here the last couple weeks. Steve Jobs' passing last week was, I think, the closest thing to Walt Disney dying this generation is going to experience. I teared up a little when I told my 6 year old.

What impressed me most about Jobs was his ability to innovate in so many domains and across so many unique products. His ability to give people a sense of childlike wonder made people feel like with technology - anything is possible. 

Rest in peace, Steve. You are and will be missed.

Ever since I tasted this wine at the 2011 Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Boston (review) I've had an eye out for it. After tasting through some amazing but drying wines at the event from Bordeaux and Barolo, Mike O'Connell Jr from Upper Falls Liquors suggested I check out the 2006 Betts & Scholl "The O.G." Grenache. His recommendation was on the money.

I know what you're thinking...a $29 "value" from Australia? Why spend more than $10 in the region for a 90 point wine? Right?

There are so many ultra-ripe fruit bombs and otherwise high priced stewy disasters coming out of the region - it makes me hesitant to plop down more than $15/btl. However, this wine breaks the mold for what I've come to know of Australian wine, which has been mostly Shiraz.

Betts & Scholl is a unique producer. I wasn't aware until doing some research that they're not necessarily Australian producers. They're a partnership between US-based Master Sommelier Richard Betts and collector Dennis Scholl. Betts described their 2001 bottling as a "warm climate analogy of Pinot Noir" on Wine Library TV in 2007. I totally get that.

In addition to Australia, they produce other red and white wines from California and France ranging from $29-$79.   The O.G. stands for "Original Grenche" (I was thinking Original Gangster) but they also make a $49 Australian Grenche called "The Cronique". If you get the sense these guys listened to a lot of rap music in the early 90s you might be right. Word has it they named it The Cronique because it was hard to stop drinking and Andre Young (Dr. Dre) was one of the first customers to pick up a case. Interesting stuff.

Here are my notes on the 2007 Barossa Grenache:

2007 Betts & Scholl The O.G. Grenache Barossa Valley
$29 Release Price
14.5% Alcohol
1,300 Cases Produced

As light as a domestic Pinot Noir visually, but it packs a flavorful punch. Raspberries and strawberries atop vegetal notes aromatically. Surprisingly dense on the palate given its visual transparency. Flavors of sweet spice (cinnamon?), black cherries, and just a touch of heat (14.5% alcohol). Quite luscious. I like it. I really like it.

92/100 WWP: Oustanding

Winery website

Highly recommended viewing:
Richard Betts on Wine Library TV (vintage! Back from 2007)

Purchased at The Urban Grape in Chestnut Hill, MA.


2011 Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience October 20-22

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wine Spectator's New York Wine Experience is coming to the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City Thursday October 20th through Saturday October 22nd.

The event includes grand tastings similar to those I wrote about back in May as part of the Boston Grand Tour event. The New York Wine Experience also includes moderated sit down seminars and a grand award banquet. Total cost for the full experience: $1,875.

But don't let sticker shock scare you away - there are more affordable options. The award banquet costs $400 a la carte. The value play, I think, is the $250 grand tastings which run Thursday and Friday from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm.

$250 for a wine tasting might sound like a lot. And it is. But if you're looking to try some of the best wines produced in the world today in an efficient and indulgent manner, tastings like this are a great way to go.

Here's a list of producers pouring that caught my eye:
  • Beaucastel
  • Carter
  • Cassanova di Neri
  • Cheval Blanc
  • Clerc Milon
  • Cos d'Estournel
  • Dominus
  • Donum
  • DuMOL
  • Felsina
  • Gaja
  • Harlan
  • Haut-Brion
  • Kistler
  • Kosta Browne
  • Lafite Rothschild
  • Lynch-Bages
  • Chateau Margaux
  • Peter Michael
  • Mouton Rothschild
  • Opus One
  • Ornellaia
  • Papapietro Perry
  • Joseph Phelps
  • Pichon-Longueville-Baron
  • Pontet-Canet
  • Revana
  • Ridge
  • Domaine Saint Prefert
  • Sassicaia
  • Saxum
  • Schrader
  • Tenuta Sette Ponti
  • Shafer
  • Staglin
  • Vieux Telegraphe
  • Chateau d'Yquem
Perhaps even more amazing is the wineries pouring I didn't include. Folks like Beaux Freres, Caymus, Siduri, and Loring. If it's like the Boston tasting each producer is only pouring a single wine - and it's their best. Better yet in many cases it's the winemakers themselves pouring the wines.

Have a look at my write-up from the Boston Grand Tour event to get a feel for what's in store.

For more information visit the 2011 New York Wine Experience website.


On the 5 Star System and the 100 Point Scale

Monday, September 26, 2011

Netflix's streaming selection has always been pathetic but since we recently cancelled it we've been checking out more of the content we'd previously ignored - like HBO On Demand. Last night we watched "Hereafter" with Matt Damon and I really enjoyed it. It hit the spot on a quiet Sunday evening after the kids had gone to bed. I tend to like Matt Damon movies and I liked the way three stories came together. The melancholy music and cinematography was enjoyable too.

If I were describing to you in person whether I liked it and how much I liked it I'd probably say "It was pretty good!" with enthusiastically raised eyebrows and an earnest head nod. I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't want to be held liable if you didn't like it. That being the case, and since it's a movie rather than wine, I'd rate it 3.75 out of 5 stars. But what does that mean?

When it comes to ratings systems for wine, I really like the 100-point scale because it's immediately intuitive and because it's the dominant system used for rating wine.

But the 5 star scale seems to be dominant in movies. And music. And apps. And for rating businesses on Yelp. Yet I'm more confused on how to use the 5 star scale than the 100-point scale. Why?

I think it may have to do with having more experience reading and relating to wine ratings using the 100-point scale. There's nuance built into the 100-point scale that's not immediately apparent. While I can look at a Yelp review for a Pho restaurant in Chinatown and tell that more people liked a 4 star place than a 3.5 star place, how do I decide whether to give a place 3 or 4 stars? I don't know.

Netflix describes the 5 star rating system as follows:
5 starsLoved it
4 starsReally liked it
3 starsLiked it
2 starsDid not like it
1 starHated it

Using that scale as a reference, a 3.75 star rating for "Hereafter" feels right. I liked it. But did I "really like it"? Probably not. Two weeks from now I may not remember it.

If it were a wine I'd probably rate it 88 points. But how could that be? 3.75 divided by 5 equals 75. How can 3.75 mean "88"?

For starters the 100 point scale doesn't go below 50. You get 50 points just for turning in a bottle of wine. It's possible to get a 1-star review for a product on Amazon that really disappointed you. Or a restaurant you'd never go back to. But there's more to it than that.

The Meaning Behind the Numbers

One thing that's not immediately obvious when you see a numerical rating for a wine is how it fared compared to other wines. Anyone can tell that a critic likes a 91 point wine more than an 86 point wine. But what about an 82?

Wine Spectator describes their 100 point scale as follows:
  • 95-100 Classic: a great wine
  • 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
  • 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
  • 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
  • 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
  • 50-74 Not recommended
Okay, so anything rated 80 or better is good. 80 or better somewhat correlates to "recommended" whereas 74 or below is "not recommended". However, only truly horrendous wines seem to be not recommended.

If we look at Spectator's recent ratings for 2009 California Pinot Noir only 1 wine out of 356 was rated less than 80. Only one! All of the wines were good. All of the children were above average.
What Really Matters

That's not to say their ratings are useless. Far from it. You just have to look a little harder for the meaning in the ratings. Side note: Other publications have the same or even more optimistic curves so the phenomenon isn't specific to Spectator by any means.

What I'm looking for when I look at the chart above is to find the wines in the top 20% that are attainable for a reasonable price. Or the wines rated 90 or better than can be had for $30 or less.

I like the 100 point scale because it establishes a rank order and a bell curve. On its own a numerical rating doesn't mean much. But if I can find a wine a critic describes as being the best of the best I can find what they think are the best values and make buying decisions based on that. If it works out well I'll rely on the critic again. If not I won't.

But it's more complicated than that.

Should Cost Influence Ratings?

Movies pretty much all cost the same but with wine and restaurants costs vary. Should the cost of a wine or a restaurant play a part in how it's rated?

Wine ratings from the major publications do not include a component for value. They attempt to rate wine according to its quality. Yet I read wine reviews all the time that say something to the effect of "I'd rate this wine 86 points but since it's only 10 bucks I'll give it 90 points".

That seems strange because I'm expecting everyone to follow along with the same convention - that price shouldn't play into the rating. Yet I can understand why there would be ambiguity on the matter. 

Rating According to Peer Group 

Can a BBQ joint get a 5 star rating? Is there such thing as a 100 point White Zinfadel?

In wine there seems to be an unwritten rule that prestigious categories like Bordeaux, Napa Cab, Brunello and others should get the highest ratings. Things aren't normalized. The best Sauvignon Blanc never scores as highly as the best white Burgundy.

With hotels there is a measure of how excellent and full-service the establishment is baked into its 5-star rating. But when rating pizza places should I compare those side by side with my favorite fine dining establishments? Or should my favorite burrito joint get 5 stars like my favorite steakhouse?

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down? 

Film critic Roger Ebert touches on this subject in this piece. He points out that his former colleague Gene Siskel liked the definitive "thumbs up/thumbs down" approach. Did you like it or not? No sitting on the fence. I have to say, as a casual consumer of their recommendations I never had difficulty interpreting what "two thumbs up" meant.

Maybe others are confused by the 5 star system as well. Here comes Stamped - which reduces the equation down to one question: "Does it deserve your friend’s stamp of approval?" Fast and simple. Quick and dirty. 

Maybe I'm overreacting to be concerned a friend might think less of me if I "Stamp" a movie or give a restaurant "thumbs up" when it's just "pretty good". There's nuance in this stuff. But at the same time maybe you just want to give a quick review and move on.

140 Character Reviews 

And that's why I've been seeking out a venue to post 140 character reviews of things. Yelp seems to want me to spend so much time writing a review that I feel like if I've spent that much time it's worthy of a blog post. And based on interactions I've had with Foursquare's founder on Twitter, they don't seem to be interested in the market either.

So I just tweet my thoughts and move on. If you know of a good site for sharing micro reviews of businesses let me know. Because I'd like to contribute. And I'd like to read the reviews. Because I'd like to know what 100 regular people think as much as what 3 heavy content creators think.

Rating Inflation and Compression 

Bringing this back to wine, I think it's undeniable there's excessive enthusiasm for wines rated on the 100 point scale. If I had a nickel for every time I read a review describing an "excessively tannic wine" with "a bitter streak at the end" that was "hard to get through" and ended up getting dumped out yet received an 80 point (or better!) rating I'd probably have about $10 by now.

Yet I can understand why people give 82 point ratings to bad wines. Because they want their ratings to be normalized to the dominant wine critics in the field who they themselves are probably being excessively friendly to the wineries and importers who supplied them with samples.

It's a real dilemma. Do we as amateur wine critics normalize our ratings such that the meaning of our numerical ratings align with the pros? Or do we forge our own more conservative approach that aligns with the intent of the guidelines behind the ratings ranges that pretty much everyone agrees on? It's a tough question and I honestly don't know the right answer.

If nothing else, next time you write a CellarTracker review for a wine, try checking whether the numerical rating aligns with the tenor of your tasting note. Did you give an 80+ rating to a wine you didn't like? If so, why? 

Quality vs. Personal Preference 

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out something really interesting here and that's this: Movie rating scales invite critics (amateur and professional) to share how much they like something. Wine ratings invite everyone to assess a wine's "inherent quality".

In short - what a bunch of a bunk that is.

If critics are assessing wine according to its quality and they themselves can't find something to like or get excited about it's unlikely the ratings will serve what should be their primary purpose which is to give consumers actionable buy indicators? Not likely. 


If I'm honest, flavor profile plays way too large a factor in the numerical ratings I assign to wines. People have different tastes so not everyone will agree on what tastes good. But such is life. All we can do is the best we can do describing to others how much we liked something and why.

What do you think? How should we be using the 5 star scale to rate things? What's the best way to concisely convey to someone else how much you like something? Does the answer depend on what's being rated? If so why?


Tasting Report: 25 2009 California Pinot Noirs

Friday, September 23, 2011

I didn't set out to taste through so many 2009 California Pinot Noirs. Rather, it happened naturally as I enjoyed so many of the early bottles I tried and continued as I explored bottlings from new and familiar producers. At some points it felt like I couldn't miss with this vintage. In the $40-$60 range there are some amazing wines available.

But there are also some tremendous values in the $20-$30 range, and even south of $20 if you look hard enough.

I probably exerted equal effort tracking down and trying 2008 Oregon Pinot Noirs, but you haven't seen a post from me on that vintage. If I did write about it, the headline would probably be "Whatever happened to 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir?" For me, it's been an eye-opening experience that solidifies California as a more reliable place to buy Pinot Noir.

But that's just my palate talking. There are some great Pinots produced in both regions and I'll look forward to continuing the search.

Have a look at the ratings below and click through to read community tasting notes on CellarTracker. To find them at a retailer near you, click the Wine-Searcher link on CellarTracker.

And feel free to drop me an email at if you think I might be of assistance tracking these down.
  • 2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard - $44 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands (8/1/2011)
    Hard to think of a more delicious wine than this. It brings the same rich, plush satisfaction of the 2008 but (at this point) balances it out a bit with a layer of brighter flavors on initial attack. Behind this are the same slightly-sweet spice notes, cherry pipe tobacco, and enjoyable fruit flavors found in the prior vintage. Dangerously difficult to stop drinking. Highly recommended - back up the truck. Read more... (95 points WWP)
  • 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $52 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (7/1/2011)
    CA Pinot Perfection. (95 points WWP)
  • 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/20/2011)
    Drank this bottle with great friends after an afternoon of golf. A really beautiful wine but I didn't geek out and analyze it so no formal tasting notes.
    Also tasted at Wine Spectator's Grand Tour stop in Boston. I think this wine is every bit as good as the Sonoma Coast. (95 points WWP)
  • 2009 Failla (Failla Jordan) Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch - $45 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/6/2011)
    Another one of these California Pinot Noirs that charms with it's fruit-forward aromatics and ultimately satisfies for how clean and free of "off" notes it is. Pure. Something for everyone I think, with aromas of tart cherries, orange oil, and soft leather. Well balanced. Silky smooth on the palate with a beautiful finish without any strange aftertastes. Fantastic stuff. Read more... (93 points WWP)
  • 2009 Black Kite Pinot Noir Kite's Rest - $42 - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (8/28/2011)
    Another beautiful 09 California Pinot Noir. Rich black cherries and slightly sweet spice backed by earth and minerality. Love it. (93 points WWP)
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Pinot Noir Rebecca’s Vineyard - $37 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (4/17/2011)
    Fresh and lively with a real sense of place. You can taste the Russian River Valley in this wine. On the nose I get fresh cut strawberries and hints of a moderate oak regiment that reveals itself as a friendly Vanilla Coke sort of thing. Really nice. On the palate, it charms with generous fruit and signature Pinot Noir herbaceousness. Long finish.
    Beautiful wine. I really like it. (92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands - $29 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands (7/10/2011)
    A powerful and focused wine with classic California Pinot Noir markings. It's generously fruit-forward with primarily black cherry notes but refrains from straying into over-ripe territory - at least for my palate. It finishes clean with just the slightest bit of heat on the backend. Overall an outstanding wine. Read more... (92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Chasseur Pinot Noir Sonoma County - $30 - USA, California, Sonoma County (6/1/2011)
    Dark in color, almost Cab-like. Cherry candy fruit on the nose along with tobacco leaf that emerges with some air. Rich mouth feel. May dominate food but on its own it's a beauty.
    Fresh fruit. Reminded me Crane Orchard's cold storage of fresh produce in Fennville, Michigan. For that alone this wine curries favor with me but that aside I think it's still an outstanding wine. (91-92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Zepaltas Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $29 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (7/9/2011)
    Perfectly ripe sweet cherries and pipe tobacco on the nose. Ultra-soft mouthfeel. A little CA Pinot twang with rich fruit flavors on the palate. I sense low acidity levels and hardly any tannins. I enjoyed it. (92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois - $29 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/18/2011)
    Classic CA Pinot Noir. Really nice. A little cloudy and it actually threw a little silty sediment. I don't think I'll be in a hurry to drink these. Mentally budgeting myself to one per 6 months but I bet I'll be lucky to avoid the temptation of opening one a month. Really like the style here. A producer to get to know better. (91 points WWP)
  • 2009 Banshee Pinot Noir - $20- USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands (3/26/2011)
    I read a lot of tasting notes saying how a wine really opened up after an hour our two. You're about to read another one of those.
    I bought quite a bit of this wine so when I first opened it I was a little disappointed. It was a little tight, tart, and awkward. But after sipping on it over the course of an evening it really developed beautifully. The aromas and flavors get darker and and richer over time. Some slightly silty tannins in the background.
    All in all I think it's great now and all indications are it would improve from just a little bottle age. Nothing crazy - just a year or two. If you want to drink it now, I'd recommend trying a sip, decanting or aerating, or saving a good portion of the bottle for the next night.
    What was remaining in the bottle the 2nd day was very good which is unusual for a domestic Pinot Noir and a good indication this needs a little time. (90-91 points WWP)
  • 2009 Balletto Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled - $24 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/20/2011)
    Rich but not overripe. Black cherry and cola notes. A little rough around the edges but there's so much right here it's hard not to love. Really nice wine. Read more... (90 points WWP)
  • 2009 Michael Pozzan Winery Pinot Noir Annabella Special Selection - $14 - USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (12/1/2010)
    After an ever-so-slight step backwards in 2008, I think this 2009 Annabella is back on track as a solid 90 point Pinot Noir. Combine that with its wide availability in the $12 range and I think this deserves a slot in the rotation of anyone who likes fruit-forward domestic Pinot Noir.
    Medium-dark in color and ready to go immediately upon opening. Aromas of pomegranates, cranberries, dark cherries, and dusty fresh blackberries in a briar patch. The initial attack is straight fruit. Silky tannins and it finishes clean with a hint of earth and slight tartness which balances out its otherwise fruity nature.
    This wine is money and if you don't like it your opinion is false. Just kidding, but kind of not kidding. I drink Pinot Noir more than any other variety and I'm convinced this wine would fool a lot of people blind, hanging with $30-$50 Pinot Noir. Noticeably better than the 08. On par with the 07.
    Highly recommended. One of the best Pinot Noirs I've found in this price range the past year. (90 points WWP)
  • 2009 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $39 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (5/20/2011)
    So much good stuff going on here but a slightly herbal "off" note bit me on almost every sip. An otherwise pretty wine - would like to try other bottlings from this producer. (90 points WWP)
  • 2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Meiomi - $22 - USA, California (2/2/2011)
    I was very interested to try the 09 vintage of this wine after thoroughly enjoying the 08 (92 pts across a half-dozen bottles). The signature sweet spice is still there but I also get ample chimney smoke at Christmas. It's a little unusual - we'll see whether I sense it in future bottles. But I still think this is a solid wine. Will buy more for sure. (89 points WWP)
  • 2009 Rickshaw Pinot Noir Sonoma County - $16 - USA, California, Sonoma County (2/12/2011)
    The wine is nicely transparent visually but clings to the glass due to its 14.6% alcohol and high viscosity. The nose lacks some markers that would otherwise tip its hand as being Pinot Noir when tasted blind, but in its place it there is ample round fruit and a hint of spice. Really pleases with root beer flavors on the palate on top of supporting round fruit. Some acidity. Hard not to like this. 90 points if you're in the mood for a relaxing vacation in southern California, significantly lower if you'd rather be reading a book about Burgundy on a cold winter night. (89 points WWP)
  • 2009 Sean Minor Pinot Noir Four Bears - $18 - USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (2/2/2011)
    A luscious, fruit-forward CA Pinot Noir. A great value at around $15. (86-88 points WWP)
  • 2009 Capiaux Cellars Pinot Noir Chimera - $28 - USA, California, Sonoma County (6/28/2011)
    Disappointingly dour personality. Lacks richness you'd think would come with the color and replaces it with a peculiar bitter finish. (87 points WWP)
  • 2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - $29 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (2/28/2011)
    I'm a little disappointed with this wine. A little over-ripe and hot at points. Something in the flavor profile feels a little off to me, but still - an enjoyable bottle overall. (87 points WWP)
  • 2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir - $9.99 - USA, California, Sonoma County (5/12/2011)
    My bottle lists the ABV at 13.8%.
    It's only 20-30% opaque which bodes well for it behaving like a Pinot Noir. On the nose I get ample fruit, herbal tea, and a tangy (signature?) California Pinot Noir note.
    On the palate it's classic domestic Pinot Noir with strawberry flavors, silky smooth texture, and hardly any tannic bite. Doesn't get overly fruity but it's satisfyingly flavorful.
    Bottom line: This is legit Pinot Noir for $9.99. The only thing lacking is acidity and perhaps some minerality. But it scores points for what it *doesn't* have: I didn't detect any off-putting aromas or flavors.
    Well done and a value at $9.99. (87 points WWP)
  • 2009 Byron Pinot Noir - $16 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (12/22/2010)
    A 90 point nose but for me it was downhill from there. Still, a nice wine in an attractive package. Might buy again in the $13 range. (86 points WWP)
  • 2009 Our Cellars Pinot Noir Hamilton-Steven's - $8.99 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (3/30/2011)
    Hard to argue with an $8.99 RRV Pinot Noir, and this one fights above its weight class. Unfortunately it's got rough edges the first night and runs a little hot at points. The second night it's softer but the fruit has faded as well. That said you can do a lot worse for $8.99 in this category. (84 points WWP)
  • 2009 Beringer Vineyards Pinot Noir Founders' Estate - $9 - USA, California (12/9/2010)
    A little bashful upon opening, but after just a little time it delivers round candied fruit backed by vanilla. Scores points for revealing a variety of aromas as it evolves. However, it lacks acidity, depth, and length of finish so it's hard to be taken seriously. But as a daily drinker it may deserve consideration in your line-up. At least once. (84 points WWP)
  • 2009 Caretaker Wines Pinot Noir - $9.99 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley (4/6/2011)
    A pretty nice nose, but too many bitter off notes on the palate to make it worth buying again. (83 points WWP)
  • 2009 Banshee Pinot Noir - $20 - USA, California, Sonoma County (11/27/2010)
    So young it practically tastes unfinished to me. Won't open another bottle for a year. (NR)
Posted from CellarTracker

Okay, I hope you enjoyed 2009 California Pinot Noir week here on the WWP. 
Next up: 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Are they as good as the 2007s?

Subscribe to the WWP so we can continue the conversation.


Best 2009 California Pinot Noirs Under $30

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In my prior post about Wine Spectator's 2009 California Pinot Noir ratings I mentioned I'd be talking more about the best values under $30. I'll get into that in today's post, but before going further I'd like to encourage you to subscribe to Wine Spectator.

I truly enjoyed reading through this Pinot Noir issue in particular. There's something unmatchable about taking a break from staring at the computer monitor and thumbing through glossy pages while enjoying a glass of wine. The issues arrive with higher frequency this time of year, covering the most interesting categories for the upcoming holiday buying season, so it's a great time to subscribe.

You can even use airline miles (here's how) and once you have a print subscription you can get an online subscription for 50% off. I constantly refer to their ratings database. Not just for the scores but for production levels, prices, and historical rating trends for a given winery.

But the thing I like best about the magazine is how it turns me on to new producers.

If we look at the top rated 2009 California Pinot Noirs they've rated so far, cap the price at $30, and sort based on the WWP QPR (what's that?) we find a select group of wines:

Price Rating WWP QPR
 Loring Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $29 93 2.07
 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $29 93 2.07
 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $29 92 1.64
 Chasseur Pinot Noir Sonoma County $30 92 1.59
 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley $28 91 1.35
 Siduri Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $29 91 1.30
 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $29 91 1.30
 Laguna Ridge Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $20 89 1.19
 Sarapo Pinot Noir Carneros-Sonoma County Donato $20 89 1.19

I touched on Loring and Siduri in my prior post. I consider them to be cornerstones of value in California Pinot Noir and once we get past them we see a few names that might not be as familiar.

First - Chasseur. Their $30, 92 point 2009 Sonoma County Pinot Noir is one to seek out. I've tried two bottles of the wine and each time I've been impressed (91-92 points). The CellarTracker median for this wine is currently 90.5. They produced 562 cases of the 2009 Sonoma County and distribute to the east coast so there is still an opportunity to buy this wine at retail. I bought mine at Grapes the Wine Co in White Plains, NY (review of the store here - I think he still has some). Consult Wine-Searcher for retailers with availability near you.
The next producer is new to me - Alta Maria. They've got a tasting room in Los Olivos and although they've submitted wines to Spectator for review previously none have been rated 90 or better. Spectator rated their 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 91 points and The Wine Advocate's Antonio Galloni rated it 92 points so there's multiple critics praising this vintage for them. The CellarTracker median is currently 89.5 and with 1,660 cases produced we see some availability across the country at retail with prices as low as $22.94. Might be a good mailing list to get on as well.

Strangely, it's hard to get excited about 89 point rated wines (c'mon, admit it - it is). But given the $20 price point of the last two wines on the list they're worth discussing:

Laguna Ridge is a second label from Lynmar who produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from (mostly) the Russian River Valley in Sonoma. Lynmar's Pinots range in price between $40 and $120 and Spectator rated their 2009s between 88 and 94 points. 492 cases of the 2009 Laguna Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir were produced. No CellarTracker ratings yet. Scarce availability at retail so far.

Sarapo resells small lots of wine from artisan wineries. It's run by Eric Kent's winemakers and deals mostly in the grape varieties Eric Kent is known for: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The 89 point 2009 Sarapo Pinot Noir Carneros-Sonoma County Donato can be found at retail for $19.99 and eligible for mixed case discounts which would bring it down to $16.99 or so. One to consider on the more affordable end of the spectrum. There's even some availability in Massachusetts.


While there are a few new names to discover here, we haven't seen any mindbending QPRs revealed - at least not yet. It's been mostly a "get what you pay for" vintage as notable for the highly regarded producers who were snubbed (more on that another time perhaps) as it was for the reliable producers who delivered great wines in a great vintage.

That doesn't mean it's a bad vintage to buy from - far from it. It just means that for the most part we'll have to pay $25 and up to get an outstanding bottle of California Pinot Noir.

But that doesn't mean there's not a few gems out there Spectator didn't rate. Or that we just don't agree on. Check back later this week and I'll share my tasting notes for the 25+ 2009 California Pinot Noirs I've tried so far. I think there'll be some gems in there worth discovering.

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Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite affordable California Pinot Noir producers?



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