Tasting Report: Usseglio mon Aieul Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One of the great joys of writing this blog is how it gives me justification, however bogus, for opening nicer bottles of wine. With 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape offers arriving in our inboxes on a daily basis (pronounced Chateau-noof-dew-pop) I thought it would be a good time to crack a highly regarded 2009: The Pierre Usselgio Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de mon Aïeul. With an eye toward deciding whether to buy more of of this bottling in 2010 of course.

Resolving ones view on CdP pricing is tricky. On one hand it's a bargain compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy. On the other hand it's undeniably pricey. It's tough to find a bottle of Châteauneuf south of $30 to get excited about.

But no matter how you look at it, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a fantastic category to check out if you prefer fruit forward domestic wines and you're interested in getting a little more exotic with a French import. Whereas affordable Bordeaux can be harsh and graphite-laden, and entry-level Burgundy can be thin and uninspiring, CdP tends to be boldly fruity and enjoyable even at more modest price points.

But it's also age-worthy. CdP has this unique thing where in its youth it's focused, fruity, and luscious. Then enters a dormant period. Then emerges after a period of 10 years or so as a complete wine. Unfortunately I rarely have the patience to wait nearly that long.

Against this backdrop the 2009 Usseglio mon Aïeul is about what I expected.

Priced in the low hundreds retail you can catch it for less if you look around. It seems to have a hard time supporting its $100 release price stateside - the CellarTracker Community Average of the '09 is just over $60. I'd place the mon Aïeul bottling just ahead of the La Craus, Pegaus, higher end St. Preferts, and Beaucastels of the world in terms of prestige.

But the 2007 mon Aïeul scored a perfect 100 points from Rober Parker. And early CellarTracker reviews of the 2010 are trending even higher than the 2007. Parker's barrel tasting score for the 2010 was "just" 94-96. But like Olympic gymnastics this stuff is all subjective so who cares about the scores, right?

2009 Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de mon Aïeul
1,000 Cases Produced
15% Alcohol
$111 Release Price

About 60% opaque and lighter in color and on the palate than I'd expect from a 15% abv bruiser. On the nose this was immediately ready to go and it only transformed slightly over the course of two hours in a decanter. On the nose I get nicely ripened blackberries, strawberries, and underlying signature meaty metallic CdP aromas. On the palate the wine is seamless. And a little plump. Or plush depending on how favorably you view round wines. There's a nice sweet spice note on the backend and undeniable heat. But it keeps it all together like a powerful quick linebacker.

93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Conclusion and Recommendations

I have to say I'm torn on whether to buy the 2010 Usseglio mon Aïeul after tasting this 2009. And even after tasting the 2010 at the Boston Wine Expo (more on that here including comparisons on CdP07 v. 09 v. 10). Both the '09 and '10 Usseglio mon Aieuls are outstanding wines no doubt. But how many pricey CdPs do I need clanging around here? At the same time how can the California Pinot Noirs vying for my attention, that weren't even around 10 years ago, rightly claim to be better wines?

I say buy a bottle or two, drink one in the near term and lay one down. Still a better buy than most every sub-$100 2009 or 2010 Bordeaux. Still, I'd rather have a 2010 Donjon CdP if I could find it at similar discount levels.

Question of the Day: Are you buying 2010 CdPs? Are you a buyer of the 2010 Usseglio mon Aïeul?


Last Chance for Massachusetts Direct Wine Shipment Bill

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boston State House
Photo by James Trosh

A bill that would enable wineries to ship directly to Massachusetts residents appears to be down to its last out with nobody on in the bottom of the 9th inning. And 2 strikes against it with nobody interested in coming to the plate. With the end of the 2012 legislative season coming soon and lawmakers are focused on other action.

Sound bleak? It is.

From Free the Grapes:

HB 1029, a positive direct shipping bill, was put on a second “extension order” in May for consideration later in the year. But industry representatives warn that the bill will be shelved unless it moves by the end of this month. There appears to be support for the bill if it can get a vote in the Assembly and Senate. But a squabble over unrelated bills stymies progress.
This situation should sound familiar to Massachusetts wine enthusiasts. It's the same thing that happened to HB 4497 in 2010 which would have similarly enabled direct shipments.

It's getting a little comical (in a tragic way) that the state still isn't in compliance with a 2010 Federal Court ruling that the state's current laws, which restrict shipments from any winery producing more than 30,000 gallons, were unconstitutional.

HB 1029 would bring the state into compliance with that court order, but more importantly it would bring common sense to a situation that's currently non-sensical.

The bill would address onerous restrictions currently in place that make it cost-prohibitive for carriers like FedEx and UPS to ship wine into the state. It would also outline how wineries obtain a license to ship directly and how they remit taxes to the state.

But most importantly, to me, it would prioritize the interests of the citizens of the state over wholesalers.

The tension in this situation lies between Massachusetts wholesalers, out of state wineries, and Massachusetts wine enthusiasts. But every citizen of the Commonwealth would benefit from direct shipments. Here's why...

When a wine enthusiast in Massachusetts wants to buy a specific wine directly from an out of state winery it's because that wine isn't available at retail in Massachusetts. Every bottle of wine sold in Massachusetts, whether it be at retailer or in restaurants, needs to pass through a Massachusetts distributor.

When a wine isn't available, the consumer doesn't substitute that wine with a similar bottle which is available from in-state retailers. The consumer usually decides to go to great lengths to have the wine shipped to a neighboring state with more sensible direct shipment laws.

Like New Hampshire. Which famously doesn't have sales tax, but shrewdly (and aggressively) collects 8% tax on direct wine shipments on top of charging wineries hefty annual fees for the right to ship to the state.

Did you catch what happened there? Our laws generated a nice bump of revenue for a neighboring state and inconvenienced Massachusetts residents. And every Massachusetts citizen lost revenue.

Making matters worse, Massachusetts retailers aren't allowed to ship wine out of state. Thanks to this restriction, state wholesalers are missing what could be a healthy boost in business. And every citizen is missing out on collecting excise tax as wine passes through the distributor.

All of this fighting is just about winery direct shipments. It doesn't cover retailer direct shipments which would be even more advantageous to Massachusetts wine enthusiasts, and an even larger source of revenue for the state.

Look at Virgina for an example of how this should be done. Since changing their laws to allow direct shipments they now enjoy a revenue stream of over $3 million dollars a year. Next time someone mentions a state budget deficit I suggest they consider this opportunity.

On his Fermentation wine blog, Tom Wark points out this retailer restriction:
The bill is in fact not a very good one. Under its provisions, consumers in the state would be prohibited from having imported wines shipped to them from out of state. That means no French, Italian, German, Austrian, Spanish or any other imported wines could be ordered by consumers since the bill does not allow out of state retailers to ship into the state. Rather, only out-of-state wineries would have the privilege.
I agree the bill doesn't go far enough. But it's a step in the right direction and one that Governor Patrick said he would sign if it came to his desk.

So let's do the right thing and get this bill passed.

Right now it's stuck in the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. When the committee heard arguments on it two years ago I was in attendance. This bill was just one item of many related to alcohol the committee was considering, and the speakers were primarily lobbyists from both sides.

I stopped by and talked to Representative Theodore Speliotis after the hearing. I think he was surprised to see a consumer at the meeting. I was disappointed there was no decisions or even meaningful discussion for the most part at the meeting. I explained to him my interest in receiving direct shipments of wine and asked him what I could do. He recommended I send him and others a message of support for this bill.

Our representatives needs to hear directly from us. So here's your call to action:

Visit the Free the Grapes website to send an email to Representative Speliotis and others explaining why you favor the direct shipment of wine.

Do it now. Thank you.


$10 off $50 at Wine.com

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wine.com is offering $10 OFF $50+ orders with code TENOFF50 through 7/28

This is probably not of interest for most, give that their shipping costs are high and many of their wines are priced with plenty of margin.

But for Steward Ship members this might be a nice time to order. For example in Massachusetts you could get a bottle of 2008 Cakebread Cabernet for a nationwide low price of $54.99. Or a couple bottles of 2008 Passopisciaro for $28.99/btl - again nationwide lows when comparing on Wine-Searcher.com.

So what do you think: See any good wines at good prices at Wine.com right now?


New York Wine Retailers Dealing Aces Lately

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I've noticed some enticing deals from wine retailers lately - especially from New York. Here's a few that caught my eye the past couple weeks:


Is it just me or do flash sale sites typically come out of the gates strong then fizzle? That may be the case, but it's all the more reason to jump on Last Call by Sokolin. Their first offer was impressive: 2006 Oreno for $39. Compare at around $110 in Massachusetts!

Empire Wine

I visited this place last year on our way to Michigan. I've never seen on operation quite like it. At noon on a Friday and they had 5 registers ringing people up as fast as they could and the line was still 20 people deep. Their latest Ship 4 Free deal is a nice one: The 2008 Betts & Scholl The O.G. Grenache for $17.95/btl with free shipping on 4.


I'd heard of Zachys for years but never associated them with deep discounts. Until now. Have a look at this list of California Pinot Noirs before they're all gone. Littorai, Cobb, Black Kite, Radio-Coteau, Pisoni, Loring, etc. Quite the list. Free shipping on $100 or more. (thanks to my friend who sleuthed this from this deals thead on the CellarTracker forums and the original poster)

Grapes the Wine Co.

If you're not on Daniel Posner's email list you're missing out. He's always offering great deals but you've got to be on the list to hear about them. Sign up for his newsletter if you like wine deals.

And subscribe to The Wellesley Wine Press if you like hearing about wine deals.

Question of the Day: Where are you finding wine deals lately?


On Beer's Inherent Summer Vacation Advantage

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Although beer consumption is way down annually at WWP headquarters, it tends to make a big comeback when summer vacation rolls around. As we were doing our grocery shopping to stock our vacation rental yesterday I couldn't help think: Beer has a tremendous set of inherent advantages over wine as the summer vacation beverage of choice.

First, beer is so much more affordable. I think I've been spoiled by buying really good wines at deep discount from online retailers with private email lists. Buying wine this way signifcantly increases the selection compared to what's in a typical grocery store. And it decreases the per-bottle cost. Lacking this angle when shopping at a supermarket in a vacation town amplifies the price advantage beer has over wine. You can get some really interesting local brews - even in your vacation town grocery store - for less than $10. In the wine aisles this price range keeps you squarely in a class of wines which are serviceable at best but all seem taste about the same.

Second, wine can be a hassle on vacation. Being on vacation means being away from your home turf. And it often means being at the beach, being on a boat, or being near a pool. All of these environments present challenge for wine service. Beer is packaged in a variety of user-friendly packages and retailers have an ample supply of them in coolers ready to drink. Compare this to wine where concerns about serving temperature, cork screws, stemware, and glass near water all conspire to make wine a pain to work with.

Third, beer producers have done a great job with summer brews. Although new vintages of favorite wines are exciting, beer producers have done a tremendous job developing seasonable brews to create compelling new reasons to buy their product each year. For example, the release of Samuel Adams Summer Ale signals the unofficial beginning of summer. And certain beers just seem to go hand in hand with summer beach vacation. Take Red Stripe and Corona: On their own they're not particularly great beers. But man - they hit the spot on a hot summer afternoon near the water. Certain varieties of wine like Muscadet, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are great in the summer, but they don't make me immediately think of summer vacation the way certain beers do.

One solution which helps a bit is to bring your own wine on vacation. I've done that before and it was nice to have good wines from my stash with me. But there's something about that experience that subtly diminishes an important aspect of summer vacation. My idea of a great summer vacation is easy going nastolgiac familiarity. Going back to the same place you've been going for years. Sharing the same foods with family and eating at the same old restaurants. Introducing your kids to family traditions you enjoyed when you were young... Bringing your own wine from home doesn't necessarily fit into that scheme. Buying beer at the stores and bars you only visit when on vacation seems to fit better.

Don't get me wrong - I love a nice glass of Pinot Noir at the end of the day after putting the kids to bed. But summer vacations are a tough occasion for wine.

Question of the Day: What do you think? Are there better ways to enjoy wine on summer vacation? Or is it better to go with the flow and drink beer?



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