Wellesley Considers Allowing Retail Wine Sales

Monday, January 28, 2013

According to this article in The Boston Globe, our fair Wellesley may consider allowing retail alcohol sales for the first time.

A petition put forth by the folks who own Fells Market suggests they'd like to see beer and wine sales allowed at grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Roche Bros. I absolutely love Fells Market and think it would be great if they were allowed to sell beer and wine.

I visited Fells Market this past weekend to grab a few sandwiches and chatted with Peter Katsikaris briefly - his family owns the store. If you haven't been to Fells and live in the area it's definitely worth a stop. It's classic old school Wellesley. When we were looking for houses in the neighborhood realtors would mention it as one of the reasons to buy a house nearby. At the time it seemed a little ridiculous to base a house purchase on a nearby grocery store but there's something special about the place I enjoy every time I visit.

So I'm fully supportive of beer and wine sales at Fells. And at Whole Foods and Roche Bros too. The timing of this proposal coincides nicely with new policies at the state level which allow retailers to hold more licenses in total than they were previously allowed. The article doesn't get into whether standalone liquor stores are included in the petition but I'd be in favor of those too - if they're done right.

Like I mentioned in this opinion piece on The Swellesley Report back in early 2012 a high quality boutique wine shop could totally be an asset to the town.

As an example of what I have in mind when I say that, have a look at renderings I recently received from Edward Spivak. He's one of the retailers going for a license in neighboring Needham. Here's what he has in mind for his proposed Craft Liquors. Gorgeous, right?

Rendering of proposed new store in Needham: Craft Liquors
(click to enlarge)

I'd love to see a couple retailers like this in Wellesley.

What do you think?


Deal Alert! $50 off and Free Shipping from Sojourn Cellars

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sojourn Cellars is offering $50 off and free shipping on 4 or more bottles. Order 12 bottles and you'll get 10% off through this link on Wine Berserkers:

Friends, this is a fantastic deal. I'd recommend a couple bottles of the Sonoma Coast Pinot and the Sangiacomo and Gap's Crown bottlings. Sojourn is a fabulous California Pinot Noir producer and they make some very nice Cabernet too. Here are my tasting notes on recent Sojourn releases.

Some people are having trouble getting the offer to work for them if they're already on Sojourn's mailing list. I don't think the intent is to shut out existing members so if needed register a new account with a different email address.

Evidently today is Berserkers Day IV where wineries and retailers offer all kinds of great deals. Check it out!



Gary Farrell Wine Dinner at Blue Ginger

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gary Farrell Winery partnered with Chef Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger in Wellesley for a paired wine dinner this week. Wellesley's own Wasik's Cheese Shop was on hand to present cheeses for a total of six courses. Chef Tsai conceived, prepared and introduced each course to a group of forty food and wine enthusiasts and was joined by Gary Farrell General Manager Nancy Bailey and Winemaker Theresa Heredia.

Gary Farrell Winery is a Sonoma producer best known for their well balanced Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Gary Farrell began producing wine in the area in the late 1970s. Along with folks like Joe Rochioli, Tom Dehlinger, Davis Bynum, Robert Stemmler and others, Farrell established what Russian River Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would become today. In 1982 he produced his first wine under the Gary Farrell label and gradually built its prominence.

Gary Farrell Winery sources their grapes from well regarded vineyards like Rochioli, Keefer Ranch, Westside Farms, Bien Nacido, and Ramal. They source many of these grapes through long standing "handshake" arrangements with the growers and though they don't have their own vineyards as of yet they do have a winery and tasting room in the Russian River Valley that are open to the public. Appointments recommended.

Gary Farrell himself sold the winery in 2004. After a string of ownership changes from 2004 to 2011 the winery is now owned by The Vincraft Group - a name you might recognize for its ownership of Kosta Browne (visit/trip report here).

Winemaker Theresa Heredia joined Gary Farrell in 2012. You may have tasted her wines before since she was the winemaker at Freestone (Joseph Phelps' Pinot Noir project) from its first vintage through 2011.

So the wines we'd be tasting this evening were made by Gary Farrell winemaker Susan Reed who was Farrell's assistant prior to selling the winery in 2004 through 2011. Gary Farrell himself went off and started Alysian Wines.

So a bit of a changing of the guard has occurred at Gary Farrell Winery. But after tasting through these wines, along with being familiar with the Freestone style, along with talking with Theresa about her vision for Gary Farrell Winery - I think the winery is in very good hands and headed in an even better direction. If I could sum it up in one word I think it would be: Balance

Here are my thoughts on the evening...
(click/tap images to enlarge)

Maine Crab Balls with Grapefruit Pearls
'Waldorf' Salad
2011 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

This was Gary Farrell Winery's first Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. I thought it was lively and rich yet clean and delicious. I'm always a sucker for a California Sauvignon Blanc as a starter. Maybe it has something to do with memories of visiting California wineries and having it be the first wine you taste before you get to the stuff you came for.

It paired wonderfully with the crunch of the crab balls and the 'Waldorf' salad was delicious, especially after hearing Chef Tsai's story about being visiting the Waldorf Astoria in New York the week before and "doing the tourist thing" and visiting their restaurant to enjoy the original.

Lobster Bisque Flan
Toasted Sesame Quinoa Salad
2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Chef Tsai started off this course with a story about how you make Lobster Bisque using a Burr mixer, mentioning this article in the New York Times about how dangerous they can be. I was confused what a Burr mixer was initially. He'd later clarify on Twitter that a Burr mixer is a larger/industrial form of an immersion blender...which I'd gotten for my wife this year for Christmas at her request! Better be careful there Honey!

The Chardonnay was outstanding. Moderate oak influence, green apples, some slight tropical influence but not at all buttery or oaky. Very unique. It deftly avoided a lot of the pitfalls often found in California Chardonnay. Great value too if you can find it south of $30 at retail (it carries a $35 release price).

Five Spice Duck Breast with Sweet Potato 'Souffle'
Pomegranate and Brussels Sprout Salad
2010 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir

This was a spectacular course and the Hallberg Pinot Noir was my wine of the night.

Chef Tsai, as he often does, described how easy Brussels sprouts are to make and how much his kids enjoy eating them. The dish came together wonderfully.

The Hallberg Pinot Noir was so good I had to stop and post a tasting note on CellarTracker using the Cor.kz iPhone app. Really gorgeous stuff. Black cherries. Inviting fruit. Rich yet graceful. Seek this one out, and more from the Hallberg vineyard as well. Very nice. 93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Beet Gratin
White Peppercorn-Dijon Mustard Beurre Noisette
2010 Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir

Another winning course. A play off a traditional steak frites dish Tsai recalled from his time in Paris, the sous-vide beef was melt in your mouth delicious. Remember that Top Chef season a while back where practically everything they made was prepared sous-vide? I think I now know why so many used that technique. Wow.

The Gary Farrell Rochioli Pinot Noir was positioned as the star wine of the night. Given Rochioli's California Pinot Noir royalty status, this wine jumped off the page of the event invitation (I attended as a media guest of the winery). But the Rochioli was leaner than the Hallberg. More orange oil/peel whereas the Hallberg was black cherries. Nice structure and acidity to stand up to the beef but given that I like Pinot Noir on the riper side the Hallberg was more purely enjoyable.

Wasik's Cheese Selections
2010 Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel

Mr. Wasik was on hand himself to present the cheeses. Fantastic stuff. Folks in Wellesley line up out the door especially around the holidays to buy cheese from Wasik's and there's a Whole Foods with a substantial assortment of cheese down the street. Their stuff is that good.

Warm Ginger Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce
2010 Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel

Salted Caramel! Love that stuff. The Zinfandel was incorporated into the ice cream and was tasty on its own as well. A delicious end to a magnificent wine dinner.

Conclusions & Recommendations

It was a pleasure to taste through Gary Farrell Winery's latest offerings. From what I tasted they strike a very nice balance that's sure to intrigue and please. Their appellation wines can be found at retail (try a Wine-Searcher search in your area) but the single vineyard bottlings require a little more effort to find. Best bet would be to join their wine club.

Blue Ginger does a great job with their wine dinners and Chef Tsai's engaging presence was unforgettable. The intimate forty person private room combined with outstanding service make these events ones to seek out. Look for upcoming events at Blue Ginger and keep an eye out for his new restaurant (and one his second): Blue Dragon in Boston.

I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press for future updates.


Poll: Which of these wine shops would you like to see in Needham?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Last year Needham, MA voted to allow retail wine sales for the first time. According to this article in the Boston Globe, on February 2nd, 2013 public hearings will be held to determine which of 10 applications will be granted licenses. Up to 6 will be approved.

Looking through the list we see a number of familiar names with stores in other locations in the Boston area. Here is the list of locations and applicants:

1257 Highland Avenue, Needham Wine & Spirits, Michael O'Connell
679 Highland Avenue, Blanchards Wines & Spirits, Christine Elder
855 Highland Avenue, Gordon's Fine Wines & Liquors, David Gordon
  • These 3 are long standing Massachusetts retailers with multiple locations 
922 Highland Avenue, Vinodivino, Raphael Keller-Go
65 Crawford Street, Bin Ends, John Hafferty
  • These 2 are newer retailers with 1 or 2 existing locations
292 Forest Street, Volante Farms, Inc., Dave Volante
  • Part of a recently expanded farmers market/grocery store 
33 Highland Avenue, Highland Ave Wine & Spirits, Marc Idelson
922-932 Great Plain Avenue, Craft Liquors, Edward Spivak
1013 Great Plain Avenue, Needham Center Wine & Spirits, Christopher Lianos

50 Central Avenue, Panella's Market & Deli, Jeffrey Panella
  • I'm not familiar with these - anybody else?
I'd be interested in hearing which of these you think would be the best choices for residents in Needham and surrounding towns. Vote for multiple retailers you'd like.

And leave a comment if you're familiar with these and can shed some light on what kind of store they're likely to operate.

If the poll fails to embed go here to vote and/or see results

Thanks for your thoughts!


2013 New York Wine Expo Promotional Code

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 6th annual New York Wine Expo is coming to the Javits Convention Center March 1st-March 3rd 2013.

In addition to a variety of seminars there are 2 Grand Tastings open to the public. Friday from 6:00-10:00 pm ($85 + a $5 fee) and Saturday 1:00-5:00 pm ($95 + a $5 fee).

To save $15 per ticket:
  1. Visit the http://newyorkwineexpotickets.eventbrite.com
  2. Click "Enter Promotional Code"
  3. Enter "WellesWine" (careful with the spelling) and click "Apply"
  4. You should see ticket prices for the Friday and Saturday tastings reduce by $15

For more information about the event visit http://www.wine-expos.com/wine/ny/

I've never been to the event but it sounds like it follows a very similar format to the Boston Wine Expo. Some of you have asked about discount codes for the Boston event - I'm checking!

If you're in the wine trade there's a Sunday tasting that might be of interest.

Question of the Day: Have you ever been to the New York Wine Expo? If so, what did you think? Any tips you'd share for enjoying the event?


Hot Deal: Wine Aerator and Electric Bottle Opener for $18.95 (compare at $79)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

UPDATE: Deal is dead. Follow me on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) or become a fan of the WWP on Facebook for faster notification.

This one isn't going to last long, but in exchange for clicking through a quick slideshow about the Ford Fusion you can get a $30 credit to LivingSocial. You can then use that credit to buy anything at LivingSocial including an offer they have for a wine aerator and

Step 1 - Follow these instructions:

Step 2 - Redeem for anything on LivingSocial including this wine aerator/electric bottle opener combo for $39:

The aerator itself sells for $39 on Amazon and assuming the bottle opener has some value this is like $79.99 worth of wine accessories for $9 + $9.95 shipping. I received one of these aerators as a sample not too long ago. It's solid. It's unique feature is that you can dial in how aggressively you want to aerate.

Note that if you don't use the entire amount of the voucher that it's lost so optimal is something right around $30.

I'll update this post if I hear the deal is dead. Good luck!


Deal Alert: $65 Five Course Meal w/Wine at the Mandarin Oriental Boston

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gilt City is offering a five course meal paired with one glass of wine at the Mandarin Oriental Boston's Asana restaurant for $65. The going rate for their 5 course tasting menu is $85 and this offer includes a glass of wine (that I'd estimate at being worth around $10 minimum) so this is a value of around $30 per person. A good way to try out a swanky restaurant at a swanky hotel if you're interested.

But the deal comes with an interesting kicker that can make this deal quite compelling if you're into spa visits. It includes a $50 gift certificate good towards a treatment at the Mandarin Oriental Spa. Beware that most treatments run north of $200. But if you're interested in getting to know this hotel and its amenities, and can navigate the restrictions that accompany this deal it can be a good one.

But wait, there's more! You can whittle the price of the Gilt City voucher down a little more with a couple tricks.

First, buy the deal through a cashback portal like FatWallet which is currently offering 4% cashback on Gilt City purchases.

Second, if you're not a Gilt City subscriber you can get $15 off your first purchase by being referred by a friend. Like me! I'll also go $15 off my next Gilt City purchase if you sign up so thanks in advance for using my referral link if you so choose. ;)

Alright, got it? $65 - $15 = $50 plus 4% cashback from FatWallet. That's $48 for the meal with a glass of wine and the spa gift certificate as an added bonus.

Just make sure you check out the restrictions on the offer page to make sure you can take full advantage of this offer.

Here is a link to the offer on Gilt City
Offer expires 1/21/2013.

Related Reading:


Maryland Running Circles Around Massachusetts with Thoughtful Wine Legislation

Monday, January 14, 2013

This post is sponsored by Metro West Wines, serving Wellesley, Weston, and Natick MA delivering wine to your doorstop in under an hour.
If there's one thing Massachusetts fancies itself, it's as an enlightened population. So this report from Ship Compliant, which links to the Maryland Comptroller's thoughtful analysis of the impact of consumer-direct wine shipments in the state, should serve as a wake up call for Massachusetts residents and lawmakers.
The report found that since Maryland allowed consumer-direct shipments, the tired arguments against the direct shipment of wine haven't come to fruition. State revenue increased, adminstration costs were covered, consumer access improved, and local wine retailers saw increased sales.
The report even goes so far as to compare consumer access to Wine Spectator Top 100 wines before and after direct shipments were allowed. Sounds like the comptroller knows a bit about wine!
What strikes me about the report is its thoughtfulness. It really seems to analyze the situation rationally as opposed to the situation we have here in Massachusetts which amounts to non-action without explaination. Free the Grapes shared an update on the situation for 2013. I'll summarize it for you: Not much going on but expect a new bill soon.
Your call to action remains the same as it has for the past 3 years. Write your state representatives. Tell them the direct shipment of wine is important to you.
Don't know who your representative is? A list can be found here.
I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesey Wine Press to keep up to date on this situation.


Tasting Report: SF Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Arnot-Roberts

Thursday, January 10, 2013

There was a great article in The San Francisco Chronicle this week naming Arnot-Roberts (two guys) their winemakers of the year. Here's a link to the piece. Read it now if you haven't already.

I've wanted to try their wines for the longest time since they produce wines from one of my favorite vineyards in California: Clary Ranch. Paul Clary's wines were the wines that got me into wine blogging. After a visit to Sonoma in 2004 I wrote this piece about his wines - four year before this blog would make its debut.

No amount of reading and research compare to walking a vineyard with a winemaker. I still remember getting a feel for the tiny scale of Clary Ranch, seeing the challenges of growing grapes up close, and tasting the wine steps away from where it was produced. I remain a fan of Paul's wines to this day.

After reading the article in The Chronicle I sought out a bottle of the 2010 Arnot-Roberts Clary Ranch Syrah. Jon Bonne (the wine writer for the paper) described this bottling as their calling card because of how prior vintages re-defined expectations of where California Syrah could be produced. Clary Ranch is situated in a relatively cool climate where Syrah sometimes has ripening challenges. In 2010 it produced a wine with just 12.2% alcohol.

After reading the article I found myself a bit concerned I may not be able to see the virtures of these wines. But perhaps like Littorai they do seem to strike a chord with a new world enthusiast like myself. Here are my notes on the 2010:

2010 Arnot-Roberts Clary Ranch Syrah
12.2% Alcohol

Really excited to to taste this after SF Chronicle winemaker of the year. Just 12.2% alcohol. Aromatically present immediately upon opening. Olives, black pepper, corriander and just a hint of red fruit hiding in the background. Absolutely would have pegged it for a Chateauneuf-du-Pape on the nose, but where the low alcohol levels shows is on the palate.

To be honest it's a little hollow, but it's such an interesting wine it's easily forgiven. Light acidity. Slightly chalky tannins with a touch of menthol in a high toned finish. Really pretty package (bottle/label/easily penetrated wax enclosure). A lot to like here. I have a second bottle of this I'll look forward to trying in a year or two but I doubt I'll be able to wait that long.

92/100 WWP: Oustanding

Bottom Line:

Definitely add these guys to your list of cutting edge California wineries to check out. I love luscious, fruit forward new world wines and these guys have found pitch perfect way of expressing new world terroir with old world sensibilities. Hop on their mailing list at http://arnotroberts.com

Related Reading:


Charles Shaw Blind Tasting Revisited

Friday, January 4, 2013

One of the more popular posts on this site historically has been a three-way blind tasting involving Charles Shaw and two $10-$15 Cabernets. The goal was to assess whether we might be wasting $10 a night when drinking wines we thought were better than Charles Shaw but in reality weren't because we'd built up a bias against Charles Shaw because it's so affordable.

This piece originally appeared on the now-retired RJ's Wine Blog. I wanted to republish it here so that folks wouldn't get a dead link as they tried to navigate to his site after reading his post on my site. RJ is still around thankfully but tonight we'll tip a 1.5L of CdP in memory of RJ's Wine Blog.

Non-related I've heard Charles Shaw is now over $3 in Massachusetts? I haven't been to Trader Joe's lately - can anyone confirm? I'll have to get over there soon and perhaps do a rematch blind tasting to commemorate the upcoming 4 year anniversary of this tasting.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy this blast from the past. Fresh content coming up soon I promise...Can you tell the difference between $2 Charles Shaw and a $10-$15 Cab? If not, you may be wasting $10 every time you crack open a bottle of wine. Can *I* tell the difference? After RJ posted his thoughts on the Charles Shaw lineup, we got to talking about how it would be an interesting exercise to do a blind tasting that included Charles Shaw alongside a couple of $10-$15 Cabernets. Could we tell the difference when tasting blind? Or would the Two Buck Chuck trick us?

How We Tasted

I had my wife pour 3 glasses and randomly order them. The wines were open about 20 minutes before I gave them a try. I smelled and tasted each of them, took notes along the way, and assigned a numerical rating on a 100-point scale.

Wine #1: On the nose: Young. Floral perfume. Dusty. A light colored in the glass. Slight veggies. In the mouth: A little bright. Not my favorite wine. Overall: Fruity, drinkable and so-so. Rating: 84

Wine#2: Nose: Rich. Caramel. Smells like a California Cab. Big, dark fruit. Mouth: By far my favorite. Full, soft, dense, ripe. Excellent. Non-harsh tannins. Luscious. Overall: This wine was by far my favorite of the three. Rating: 91

Wine #3: Nose: Bad, perhaps off. A little magic marker/plastic. Flat. Pretty bad. Awful. Mouth: Better on the palate than on the nose. A slight pucker on the finish. Overall: Downright awful on the nose, but I wouldn't pick it as being the Charles Shaw. It was bad in a different way than Charles Shaw is typically bad. The Shaw's fault tends to be that it's thin. This wine was *not* thin. The tannins are too noticable to be the Shaw. Rating: 78

OK, are you ready for the reveal?
  • Wine #1: 2006 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (84)
  • Wine #2: 2006 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon (91)
  • Wine #3: 2006 Louis M. Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon (78)


I was really surprised how much the Columbia Crest from Washington tasted like a warmer climate/California wine. As I was tasting the wines, I was biased to think that the wine from Sonoma would show richer, warmer characteristics. Not so. The Charles Shaw showed quite admirably for a $2/$3 wine. As always, drinkable and enjoyable. I am a fan of the Charles Shaw and I think they deliver "good" value.

In terms of professional ratings of these wines, and relative value:
  • Columbia Crest: 89 Wine Spectator/$11 equals a wwpQPR of 1.44 (Above avg)
  • Louis Martini: 87 Wine Spectator/$15 equals a wwpQPR of 0.67 (Below avg)
  • Charles Shaw (2003 vintage rated): 82 Wine Spectator/$2.99 equals a wwpQPR of 1.05 (Above avg) -or- at $2 a wwpQPR of 1.57 (Good)
What is this wwpQPR I'm talking about? I'm glad you asked. It's a formula I've devised (along with a calculator) that assesses relative value of wines depending on rating, price, and peer group. If value wines are something that interests you, I hope you'll check it out here.

To read RJ's take on these same 3 wines tasted on the other side of the country check out this post. The results might surprise you!


2012 Wine Industry Innovation of the Year: WineNabber

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"The best deals for wine are in email offers from online wine stores…"

A few months ago I discovered WineNabber - a service which helps wine enthusiasts efficiently discover high quality wine deals customized to their interests. After spending time getting to know the service and the guys who created it I think it's the wine industry innovation of the year.

I've also noticed two things:
  1. The best ideas are often easily explained
  2. Things created by people immersed in a field tend to align well with user expectations
Over the past few years I've spent a lot of time exploring ways to find the best deals on wine. Although wine has relatively low gross margins -- a bottle a retailer sells for $15 before case discounts costs them roughly $10 -- the price disparity for a specific bottle of wine varies wildly across the country.

I've seen wines sell for $120/bottle in Massachusetts (at full retail) that can be had for $39.99 on a flash sale in another state. With 3x price variability like this it pays to pay attention to wine deals, especially if you're an enthusiast who spends a substantial amount of money on wine each year.

But with 33% margins, how is it that prices can vary this much? It happens because different distributors in different states sell wines for different prices. They sell at different prices because they buy at different prices -or- because they want to close out a vintage to make way for a new one. For example, if a distributor in New York or New Jersey can strike a deal with the winery or importer to move a lot of wine at a lower price the wine will appear for much lower prices in these states than in others.

As you can imagine, distributors and retailers in other states are often annoyed by this because it makes their prices appear high. And wineries and importers don't like to see their brand tarnished by being sold at a low price. These comparisons have become glaringly apparent with the rise of Wine-Searcher.com - a service that compares the prices of specific bottles of wine across retailers across the world.

Retailers have taken to using email offers to fly under the radar screen. These offers never appear on search engines and, if the retailer has a large enough customer base, are only available for a few hours or days.

So savvy consumers, understanding the situation, subscribe to more and more wine retailer email lists. After a while they find themselves manually sifting through dozens or more emails a day hoping to find the very best wine deals. Some retailers have a better batting average than others but the fear of missing out causes us to tolerate the low performing retailer who occasionally offers an amazing offer. So the inbox gets pounded, consumers get overwhelmed, and after a while we stop paying close attention.

Enter WineNabber

WineNabber founders Peter Rothschild and Sev Onyshkevych found themselves in exactly this predicament a few years ago. But unlike many of us, who just slog through it and unsubscribe from the retailers with the least compelling offers, they came up with an innovative solution. They subscribed to every wine retailer email they could find, wrote a computer program to parse the data, and applied filters which enabled them to separate the wheat from the chaff.

To understand what WineNabber is like, it helps to understand how Peter and Sev operate. When Sev was a freshman at Princeton back in the late '70s he was writing custom software to help businesses keep track of data. He found he could reuse his efforts more effectively if he created a spreadsheet of sorts so he wrote one of the first spreadsheet applications for an Apple computer. He sold it as a custom software package, bundled with an Apple II for $100,000 a piece. After selling 400 of these packages he had enough to buy a Ferrari - before he had a driver's license. It sat out in front of his dorm and he'd have his older friends drive him around in it.

But Sev's innovative ways didn't stop there. He wrote a program that converted stenography from court reporters to a digital format. Then he met Peter and they developed a solution for more accurately estimating clothing sizes to reduce high return rates for online clothing retailers which was eventually acquired by Lands End. The recurring theme of cross-discipline problem solving and, even more interestingly for me, having an eye for solutions that have a business model behind them convey across each problem he's tackled.

Peter is the business brains behind the operation and a true wine enthusiast with an eye for deals. He lives in a part of Vermont underserved by fine wine merchants so online offers were particularly interesting to him.

Anatomy of a WineNabber Offer

A WineNabber offer includes the following:
  • An overall "rating" of the offer on a 5 star scale
  • The wine being offered
  • The region/subregion the wine is from
  • The price
  • Shipping costs
  • Comparable prices
  • Ratings from major publications
  • The vendor
  • A description of the wine 
The idea is to present consumers with everything they need to make an informed decision about whether to purchase the wine.

Consumers can adjust their preferences according to:
  • Which state(s) they can receive shipments to (since retailers have varying policies about which states they can ship to)
  • Price
  • Ratings
  • Region
  • Type/Varietal
The idea is to provide consumers with just the offers they'd actually consider buying.

In total, a WineNabber offer provides a consolidated view of an actionable buying opportunity with independently validated ratings and comparable pricing. Pretty cool, right?

How Well Does It Work?

How well WineNabber works for you depends on a number of factors. First, you have to live in or have a convenient shipping situation to a state with favorable shipping laws. Second, I think you have to be willing to spend $15/bottle or more on wine. South of this, it's tough to bury shipping costs in the transaction. Occasionally you'll find deals on $10 bottles that include free shipping but it's not where the best action is. That said, I'd rather drink $30 wine I paid $15 for than a $15 wine at full markup.

Once you're comfortable buying wine online you've probably naturally built up a list of preferred retailers. When you subscribe to WineNabber you'll probably find that you get an email blast from the retailer and then that same offer from WineNabber. At first this can be annoying but either the retailer's offers are so good you'll forgive the duplicate notification -or- you'll unsubscribe from the retailer's list and just catch them from WineNabber.

One scenario I've noticed multiple times is when a retailer offers more than one wine in an email blast and I didn't scan the offer carefully enough. I notice later, thanks to WineNabber, that I missed a wine which meets my criteria.


When I first heard of WineNabber, I wondered whether retailers were happy with their email offers being rebroadcast like this. You'd be surprised how some retailers actually don't want their offers to get publicity for the reasons outlined above. But the offers WineNabber work with are from retailers who have agreed to work with WineNabber. In fact, they pay WineNabber for sending traffic/purchases their way in a variety of per-click/per-transaction affiliate arrangements.

WineNabber has done an impressive job signing up retailers (here's a list of some they work with). If you peruse the list I think you'll agree many of the heavy hitters/usual suspects are represented.

The only thing that's missing is the "list behind the list". The preferred client list that retailers populate with email addresses of their best customers where the really good deals are. This practice is illegal in Massachusetts (retailers ought not offer wine to one person and not to another and cannot offer wine to different people at different prices) but this practice seems to be quite popular in other states. It's sort of the wine deal equivalent to hyper miling - not for the amateur or casually interested.

For Consumers

For friends just getting interested in online wine deals, I think WineNabber is a great place to start. Tired of paying $12.99 for Estancia, Clos du Bois, Rodney Strong and similar at the grocery store/warehouse club? I think WineNabber could efficiently open up awareness to great wine deals online.

For the hardcore wine deal enthusiast WineNabber is definitely something to check out. You'll likely discover some new retailers that weren't on your radar screen and you'll likely be able to relieve some inbox fatigue by unsubscribing to retailers with a low batting average for your preferences.

For Retailers

I think WineNabber is a particularly good fit for wine retailers looking to amplify their email offers. It's hard to build up a list of wine enthusiasts ready to buy online, and for retailers with ready access to good wine they can offer on thin margins or compelling price points WineNabber provides immediate access.

One of the interesting things about email-based wine retail is how lightweight it can be. I've seen retailers do millions of dollars (literally) in annual wine sales without an e-commerce site. They do, however, take the time to curate and present compelling offers and create a more personal connection with their clients. Email offers aren't for every retailer's specialty, but I think most all retailers would benefit from some amount of regular email communication with their customers and what better way to say hello than with a deal?

Conclusion and Recommendations

Folks in the wine industry often lament how online wine commerce is behind the times. In some instances that's true, but there are some very useful innovations going on - and WineNabber is one of them.

Since discovering WineNabber I've been wondering: Am I leaving money on the table when purchasing other things online? Things like musical instruments, shoes, mattresses, vacations... Some of the best deals aren't online as I wrote in this blog post a while back.

If I purchased things in other categories more frequently would I be more savvy in navigating the space and finding the best deals? Although wine is unique in many ways, each industry has unique pricing pressures and dynamics that make them targets for disruptive innovation. Yipit does this in the daily deals space. WineNabber brings a unique spin on this for wine email offers.

Simply put, it's the most notable wine industry innovation I discovered in 2012.

To check it out and create an account visit:

Disclosure: This post was written in 2012. In 2014 WineNabber signed on as a WWP sponsor.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried WineNabber? If so, what do you think? What notable wine industry innovations have you discovered lately?



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