5 Outstanding Italian Restaurants in Boston (that are nowhere near the North End)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ken Oringer's Coppa in the South End
Last night we took our 9 year old to visit a restaurant I've long wanted to experience: Coppa. I don't know why it took us so long to make it a priority to go there (as opposed to re-visiting an old favorite) but it was tremendously enjoyable and sparked an interest in checking out new places. It was just one of those nights where you park right in front of the restaurant without incident, get seated at a cool table right away, and enjoy experiencing something for the first time. We'll be back.

I got to thinking about how many great Italian restaurants there are in Boston. And how hard it is to find a truly outstanding dining experience in Boston's North End. If you're not familiar with Boston, the North End is an old residential neighborhood packed with Italian restaurants which unfortunately aren't very good in my humble opinion. The North End is a cool place to visit for sure, but I think there are better options elsewhere in and around Boston.

Here are five of my favorites...


Posto in Davis Square is a Wood-Fired Italian restaurant, and part of the amazing Alpine Restaurant Group (along with Rosebud and Painted Burro). Posto means "sit and relax." Chef/owner Joe Cassinelli's restaurants have impressed me across the board with overall excellence. Mouth watering menus, inviting and distinct atmospheres, delicious food, and outstanding service.

Although the main attraction at Posto is the Neopolitan pizza, I find myself wanting to try the entire menu. The Burrata (with roasted peaches, thyme, prosciutto di parma and honey.) The Caprese (heirloom cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, vincotto and cabernet vinaigrette.) The Gnocchi (with braised beef short ribs, red wine sauce and parmesan crema.) Amazing. All served in a lively environment that invites spirited conversation.


Osteria Posto

Osteria Posto features a gorgeous build out more formal than Posto proper, and is more accessible to the western suburbs thanks to its location along 128 in Waltham. Osteria means "a restaurant serving wine and simple food" and the menu focuses on Italian dishes other than pizza at dinner while still offering pizzas at lunch. We visited for brunch on Mother's Day which was outstanding.

The service here is a cut above, and the menu just as interesting and inviting as Posto. They say Osteria Posto is their take on today's Italian Steakhouse, and the menu does indeed feature full-sized entrees rather than small plates. But I'd be tempted to piece together a meal with Charcuterie or their Chilled Shellfish to start, a couple of appetizers, pasta, and sides to share.



Sorellina is a tranquil oasis in Back Bay featuring elevated Italian cuisine. It's part of the Columbus Hospitality Group which also features Mistral and the excellent but unfortunately named Mooo.... steakhouse.

I remember going here for date night when the kids were young and it really hit the spot in terms of providing a getaway. It's elegant and refined. Quiet enough to have a conversation for two, but also enjoyable for a larger group. Absolutely do not miss the Gnocchi (potato dumplings, Maine lobster, Vermont butter.) This is a great place to go for a special occasion or when you want to impress a client.



Update: Babbo is closing September 15, 2019

Babbo is Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's Pizzeria on Boston's Fan Pier. The restaurant is spacious and well-appointed in an upscale yet comfortable way that I sense accomodates larger work groups very nicely. And families with younger kids as well.

If you come here, you're almost certainly going to enjoy small plates along with their signature Neapolitan pies. But they do have some items from the grill and pasta dishes as well. I found the menu format a tad difficult to navigate but the food and atmosphere are no doubt outstanding and I'd gladly return for another visit. And I'll look forward to Eataly Boston opening later this year at the Prudential Center.


And, based on last night's experience, now added to the list...


Coppa is Ken Oringer's Italian small plates restaurant and wine bar in the South End. The guy has closed some of my favorite restaurants in Boston: the amazing upscale Clio and the outstanding Mexican restaurant La Verdad. So I've long wanted to try his new restaurants. Along with Coppa he's currently running Toro (Spanish tapas), Uni (Japanese, expanded at the former Clio space), and Little Donkey (global small plates).

This is a neighborhood restaurant that will make you want to move to the South End. Families with young kids visit early followed by more unencumbered diners later in the evening. The room is small [45 seats] with a cozy but comfortable atmosphere. Highlights included the simply perfect Polpette (Meatballs, tomato, parmigiano cheese- our waiter told us they also use the scraps from the proscuitto slicer in there), the stunningly good Margherita pizza (Tomato, basil, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil), and an amazing house made Gemelli (Extruded pasta, lobster, brown butter, chanterelles both being enjoyed in the photo below.)


Which ones did I miss? Leave a comment below or ping me on Twitter: @RobertDwyer


Fall 2016: New Pinot Noirs from Sojourn Cellars

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sojourn Cellars is a small (5,000 case) Sonoma producer of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Founded in 2001 by Craig and Helen Haserot along with winemaker Erich Bradley, they've cemented themselves as one of my most reliably outstanding California Pinot Noir producers.

My affinity for their wines stems from 2 things:
  1. Their style is pitch perfect for my preferences. Fruit forward yet balanced. Delicious on its own yet great with food.
  2. They run one heck of a consumer friendly mailing list (free shipping on 6 or more bottles, free shipping plus 10% off on 12 or more)
Given they've only been around for 15 years, it's surprising how consistently their wines deliver. And since they're not so expensive that you have to save them for rare special occasions, I find myself happily cranking through my mailing list shipments with regularity.

Their appellation Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays sell for around $40, while their single vineyard wines go for around $60. Their Cabernets go for more, and while I've had and enjoyed their Cabs the Pinot Noir is where my experience lies.

I had a chance to taste through many of their 2014s slated to be released later this month. They're available now in their Sonoma tasting room so I thought I'd share my tasting notes in hopes that it might inform some of your purchase decisions if we tend to have similar tastes in California Pinot Noir.

Their Ridgetop Pinot Noir was the star of the lineup, as it has been in past vintages. A new vineyard debuts in this release and impresses: Riddle. Sangiacomo is outstanding as usual (and I think was available in the spring). The most expensive bottling in the release, Rueling is a bit of a divergence from the house style and for me wasn't a QPR success. But their 2014 Russian River Valley is a great entry point into their wines. 92 points for me (and Wine Spectator agrees) for $42 - a solid play.

Here are my notes...

2014 Sojourn Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir 

94/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.4% Alcohol
250 Cases Produced
$59 Release Price

Ridgetop is always a favored Sojourn release and this one delivers, but in a different way than previous vintages. Medium-full bodied visually, with stunningly gorgeous aromatics that leap from the glass across the room. Unprecedented really. Textbook California Pinot Noir markers: strawberries, orange oil, bramble berries. Beautiful. The curve ball here is mouthfeel. Whereas you’d expect to be punched in the face with weight, the experience is ethereal. Cloud-like and silky. But with a long finish where the aromatics resonate. Quite intriguing and definitely special. Compelling. Wow.

2014 Sojourn Riddle Vineyard Pinot Noir

93/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.4% Alcohol
350 Cases Produced
$59 Release Price

Translucent magenta/ruby in color, about 30% opaque. Ready to go immediately upon opening. Clings to the glass. Gorgeous nose of pure, perfectly ripened fruit. Strawberries. A bit of red raspberry. Supporting briar patch notes give it varietally correct appeal. Very clean and attractive. The flavors on the palate get weightier with a hint of creamy vanilla notes in the background joining the otherwise elegant and precise fruit up front. Full mouthfeel with a long finish. Outstanding.

2014 Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir

93/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.5% Alcohol
1,350 Cases Produced
$59 Release Price

Medium-full bodied visually and in terms of mouth feel. Fruit sourced from the Petaluma Gap.

Just a gorgeous array of aromas and flavors here. Rich red fruit and cinnamon on the nose. I get a bit of earth and a hint of vanilla on the palate. Just everything I'm looking for a fruit forward California Pinot Noir. Keeps inviting another sip, never gets heavy.

Of the 20014 single vineyards I've tasted this one is the most balanced between the feel and flavor profiles found in various Sojourn Pinots. For this it is a very successful offering and a delight to drink. Outstanding.

2014 Sojourn Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

92/100 WWP: Outstanding
14.2% Alcohol
650 Cases Produced
$42 Release Price

Classic Sojourn Pinot noir. Amazing depth of flavor given its relatively light color. Gorgeous brambly/fruity nose with distinct supporting Russian River Valley cola notes. Satisfying grippy on the palate. Absolutely delicious. If there is one knock on this wine it’s the short finish. But it only serves to invite another sip. A benchmark appellation California Pinot Noir.

2014 Sojourn Rueling Vineyard Pinot Noir

89/100 WWP: Very Good
14.4% Alcohol
275 Cases Produced
$69 Release Price

Light in color but full of flavor, true to the Sojourn style.
However this is leaner than most of their Pinots.

30% opaque visually, in classic California Pinot ruby hues.

Pretty floral notes with supporting chalky/stone notes in the background.

Pleasing on the palate but some acid and grip, but where this falls short of greatness is on the finish which is very long but unfortunately includes some distracting flavors. That lack of purity stops this from inviting another perfect sip.

A very good wine overall and quite enjoyable. But not my favorite Sojourn Pinot. Perhaps better suited for those looking for a more restrained effort.

Samples for review.

Bottom Line

This is another strong release from Sojourn. Ridgetop and Sangiacomo are always worthy of their price tags and Riddle is an intriguing new entry. The 92 point Russian River Valley bottling is a terrific wine to seek out if you're unsure whether you'll like the style.


Monte Oton: The Amazing $7 Value Red Wine

Friday, June 24, 2016

The other day I mentioned that while shopping at Total Wine I picked up a bottle of what I thought might be the best $7 value red on the planet: Monte Oton.

See: 10 Wines to buy now at Total Wine

When we're talking about sub-$10 wines the list of reliably delicious wines is pretty short. I've made the case for Bodegas Castano Monastrell being in this ballpark (though some reports of vintage variation have me spooked).

Columbia Crest Grand Estates comes to mind.

There's wines like Juan Gil Monastrell at around $11-$12, but that's a significant price jump (percentage wise) from $7 to $11.

I just can't think of any other wines that are this affordable and so reliably satisfying.

I cracked open the bottle of Monte Oton last night and it was absolutely on point. Full of gorgeous fruit, backed by a touch of sweet spice on the backend, and surprisingly elegant throughout. 90 points for me? Sure. Why not.

From the winery:

The vineyards for Monte Oton are situated high on the windswept slopes of the extinct volcano, Moncayo.

If you're into modern Spanish wines the name Moncayo immediately jumps out at you as being associated with the great Alto Moncayo of 100 point/$35 fame. And this winery - Bodegas Borsao - is indeed the winery behind Alto Moncayo (in association with importer Jorge Ordonez and Australian winemaker Chris Ringland).

Alto Moncayo comes in 3 levels (with release pricing from the 2013 vintage):
  • Alto Moncayo Aquilon $168
  • Alto Moncayo $50
  • Alto Moncayo Veraton  $35
Bodegas Borsao's lineup in the US includes:
  • Tres Picos $18
  • Borsao Garnacha $9
  • Monte Oton $8
I like all 3 of these wines, but I think the Monte Oton is the most underrated value play of the bunch. For me, you're getting 90% of the quality of a Tres Picos for almost half the price.

With Monte Oton you're getting a taste of the greatness possible from this region from a producer that delivers values across the board.

Monte Oton is produced by Bodegas Borsao
in Campo de Bojra in northeast Spain
Find it on Wine-Searcher

Question of the Day: What's the best sub-$10 red wine you can think of?


Total Wine now ships to MA [and why that might be useful even if you live near a Total Wine]

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The other day I mentioned how a lot of the limited production domestic Pinot Noirs I'd seen previously at Total Wine in Natick were vaporizing off the shelves or suffering from price increases.

One specific wine I noted being there previously, which was no longer, was the Roar Pinot Noir for $31.49. Looking at their inventory online now, I see that not only do they purportedly have Roar Pinot Noir for $31.49, but it's their most expensive Pisoni bottling that retails for $65!

But here's the catch: It's not available for in-store pickup and I didn't see it on the shelves. In fact, none of the Roar wines are available for in-store pickup.

Just because a wine isn't avialable for in-store pickup doesn't mean it's not available in-store. It just means you can't order it online and pick it up in store. Got it?
Just to be sure it wasn't a matter of a misunderstanding about which bottles are which, I consulted Wine Spectator's listings of 2013 Roar Pinot Noirs they rated.

It sure looks to me like the wine Total Wine is selling for $31.49 is the $65 Roar Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard - their most expensive bottling. Quite a steal. Perhaps a pricing mistake?
The 2013 Roar Pinot Noirs Wine Spectator Rated
The Pisoni bottling is their most expensive, and strange the cheapest at Total Wine
I seriously doubt the 88 point Spectator rating is causing them to price the 2013 Roar Pisoni Pinot Noir so low. And come to think of it, Total Wine isn't listing the vintage they're offering. So it could be anything.

But knowing Roar's pedigree and the track record of this specific bottling, I'd happily buy whatever recent vintage they were selling for $31.49.
Total Wine doesn't list vintage for Roar Pinot Noir
But the track record for this bottling is quite good
But what about shipping costs? Well, it's actually quite reasonable. Just $12.26 for 6 bottles. Or $13.81 for 12 bottles to my zip code.
$12.26 to ship 6 bottles - that's very affordable
Strangely, when shopping online not all wines are available for shipment. Some are only available for in-store pickup.
Not all wines are available for shipment
But that said, I think there are plenty of wines available shipment and I'd have no problem getting to 6 bottles for 10% off. Like this Washington State Cabernet that Wine Spectator just rated 92 points that sells for $20.69 (on a $22 release price).

It is getting a little warm for shipment here lately. But I'm more comfortable with ground shipping during warmer times in-state than cross-country, within reason. 

If you're concerned about speed of delivery and/or ordering more expensive wines it may make sense to splurge for overnight shipping. They offer that for just $27.66 which is insanely good compared to what most wineries charge. But I think I'll take my chances with Ground - it could very well be overnight as well if they're efficient about things.

I see a "Promo Code" box while checking out, but I haven't been able to find any working codes. They're probably illegal in Massachusetts anyway. But it would be great if we could find some codes that worked, for discounts OR free shipping. It would be cool if their Total Discovery rewards program kicked off some codes for those who shop their a lot, but again - that's probably illegal in Massachusetts.

I checked whehter they participate in online shopping portals and don't see any that they participate in. So it looks like the best you can do is use a credit card that offers 5% cashback on grocery since both Visa and AmEx code Total Wine as grocery. We'll see if that holds true for online orders.

I also don't see them participating in any affiliate marketing schemes. And in case you're wondering (like one local retailer emailed me to ask) I'm not affiliated with Total Wine.

Of course there's always a chance Total Wine might not fulfill an order, saying they're out of stock of a the wine or whatever. But we'll see. For particularly compelling deals I'd say it's worth a shot.

Update: A couple hours after ordering 2 bottles of the Roar along with 4 other "filler" wines, I got an email update saying they couldn't fulfill the 2 bottles of Roar. I called and was told that when the store went to package the order they couldn't find the Roar (similar to what I experienced in store the other day basically). The rep said online does see real time inventory but in this case there was a discrepency between the inventory the system showed for this wine vs reality. So I cancelled the entire order. :(

Bottom Line

Total Wine now ships to Massachusetts addresses. Thanks to their low prices and reasonable shipping costs this is a great option for thos who don't live near a Total Wine. And even if you do live near a Total Wine the convenience of being able to shop from home and potentially have access to some wines they don't sell in store could enable some big deals.


10 Wines to Buy Now at Total Wine

Saturday, June 18, 2016

An amazing wine at an amazing price
(compare at $65 retail)
I stopped in at the Natick Total Wine yesterday to check in on how things have progressed since opening six months ago.

Their entry into the Massachusetts market was notable, to me, for the impressive assortment of domestic Pinot Noirs they had featuring wines normally reserved for mailing lists and restaurants. Fo example: Wines like Kutch, Roar, Radio Coteau, and Elk Cove La Boheme. They even had single vineyard bottlings, and they were offering them at tremendous prices.

I was wondering whether this could last.

The reason for my skepticism was that the assortment in Natick was unlike other Total Wine locations I've been to. Sure, they usually have good deals on high production national brands. But other locations hardly ever carry wines like the ones I was seeing in Natick the first few months they opened.

So how did things look yetserday?

To cut to the chase: The deals are drying up.

They still had Kutch but they've jacked the prices up to the point they're not a good deal anymore (probably due to pressure from the winery). That's a story in itself, and makes me hesitant to mention the best deals by name for fear of other wineries getting wind of it and putting pressure on the distributor to "encourage" Total Wine to increase prices on certain wines.

They still had Radio Coteau at a good price. They didn't have Elk Cove La Boheme any more. I didn't see the Roar bottling they had previously for $31.49. And I didn't see a lot of interesting new additions to the Pinot Noir section.

Their wheelhouse remains high production national brands

I find Total Wine to be terrific for picking up daily drinkers. They're strongest domestically, but when they have a higher production import that you like, they usually have it at competitive prices.

Here are 10 wines I've enjoyed in the past and  restocked on yesterday...

There's only so much Meiomi you can drink, so try this. Just $13.94 if you buy 6 or more mixed bottles.

I never seem to be able to keep enough Alto Moncayo on hand, and it's great to be able to pick up each of these bottles at very good prices any day of the week.

This has to be the best $7 bottle of wine on the planet. Haven't had it in a while, but I'll pop it soon.

I've been digging the Michael David wines lately (rich and juicy) and Total Wine has them at great prices across the board.

I see this served in a lot of lounges (Ritz Carlton Boston, Air France lounge for example) and it's pretty good. For $9.97 I'll either enjoy it on its own or as part of an Aperol Spritz.

They've got it for $12.14, so you could technically get it for a bit less with the Wine.com deal but I don't have any on hand at the moment and that just isn't acceptable.

Okay, this one I've never had but I liked the label, saw it was a Dave Phinney wine from France, and it had a 92 Wine Advocate rating. It could have been a shady shelf talker but for $17.99 I'll take my chances.

2013 EnRoute Pinot Noir

I cracked this open last night. AMAZING. 94 points for me. Textbook Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. If I had to guess which wine Total Wine has right now that is at risk of a price hike it's this one. With a $65 release price and a $35.99 shelf price I'm loving this buy.

Bottom Line

The small production deals are drying up at Total Wine Natick. But they've still got great pricing on a ton of terrific daily drinkers. If you like a wide assortment of higher production domestic national brands this is probably the best place to buy it.

Question of the Day: Does your local Total Wine have many small production/mailing list/restaurant only wines?


[MA Only] Free Shipping from Table & Vine

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Massachusetts wine retailer Table & Vine is offering free shipping through Monday June 13, 2016 with code DAD.

They can only ship to MA addresses. They usually charge $15 for a one bottle shipment and $24 for a 12 bottle case. The nice thing about this offer is that there is no minimum order size.

It would probably behoove you to buy at least 6 bottles though, since a mix of 6 bottles triggers a 10% discount so long as the prices of he wines end in "9" (non-sale items).

They're supposed to be having a 15% off 12 bottles of North American Cabernet Sauvignon sale but for some reason I don't see that pricing out correctly. I only see it triggering the 10% discount. I mention it because if you bought 12 bottles of Cakebread Cabernet at $69.99 retail it should come to $59.49/btl which is a tremendous deal considering free shipping and no sales tax on wine in Massachusetts.
And you wouldn't necessarily have to buy 12 bottles of Cakebread. You buy 10 "filler" bottles of North American Cab and a couple bottles of more expensive Cabs. I bet they can make an adjustment to an existing order, or call them first if you want to be certain.

Pro Tip: If you see a message saying "You do not currently qualify for the Free Shipping promotion:
Your cart contains no qualifying items" try adding your zip code and selecting shipment (rather than in-store pickup) as your Shipping and Pickup option.

I'd probably inventory and price check them versus your favorite discount retailers. Saving the time and gas of driving around to pick up wine is huge.

Question of the Day: What good deals do you see at Table & Vine right now?


Welcoming Yankee Spirits as a WWP Sponsor

Thursday, June 9, 2016

It's my pleasure to announce Massachusetts wine retailer Yankee Spirits as sponsor of the Wellesley Wine Press.

With locations in Attleboro, Sturbridge, and Swansea they're a little out of the way for those in the Boston area, but they can ship to Massachusetts addresses and they offer free delivery to Suffolk, Norfolk and Middlesex counties on $350+ orders.

A number of friends I've made through the blog here have emailed me over the years about seminars they've enjoyed at Yankee Spirits, and good deals they've had on wines.

An example of an uncoming seminar is this one featuring Spanish wines from Jorge Ordonez portfolio. Long time readers will recall I'm a fan of Triga, Alto Moncayo Veraton and Tres Picos - and they're all scheduled to be poured at the seminar along with other new discoveries I'm sure.

I was poking around their website checking out inventory and prices recently. I recently had the 2013 Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and loved it. 93 points for me and I think Galloni said 92. Terrific wine for around $35 (plus Yankee offers a 10% discount on mixed cases).

And here's a TOP SECRET tip on a wine I just recently heard about but haven't yet tried. Members of the Juan Gil Fan Club will want to take note of this special bottling: 2013 Juan Gil 100th Anniversary red. It goes for $19.99 and is a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, which makes it unlike Juan Gil proper, unlike Clio, and unlike El Nido proper. What it is similar to is Corteo which is a very similar blend that goes for ~$100. Needless to say I'm looking very forward to trying this wine.

I'd recommend hopping on their mailing list if you're not already, both for deals and seminar announcements.


Total Wine set to open second store in Massachusetts

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Total Wine is set to open in Everett, MA on Thursday May 12th, 2016Hat tip: Vino Travels

This is their second store in Massachusetts and it's worth visiting early because, if it's anything like their Natick store opening, the best deals and inventory are to be had in the first few days. Things haven't gone completely south in Natick after that, but a lot of the smaller production wines we saw when they first opened went very quickly. So definitely check it out if you're near the north shore.

Semi-related it appears the Natick store's inventory and pricing is now available online. This is really handy since it enables online research before committing to a trip over there. They don't ship (even to MA addresses) but you can order online ahead of time and pick-up in store.

They still show some tremendous deals at the moment. Kutch Pinot for $32.39 (when you buy 6 or more bottles of any of their wines). And EnRoute Pinot Noir (Nickel & Nickel's Pinot Noir label) at an insanely low price of $35.99 ($45 is the best I see it for on Wine-Searcher and some listings are as high as $59.99):

In my experience Total Wine's strength is low prices on national brands. And they've got a surprising number of wines usually sold mostly through mailing lists, and when they do carry them they're sometimes at unbelievably good prices.

Their weakness lies in the lack of depth of some import categories.

But overall it can be a great place to shop if you know your prices becuase their markups are not uniform.

Questions of the Day: If you go to the Everett opening, what did you think? And if you've been monitoring the Natick store how has it evolved since opening?


10 Wines to Buy from Wine.com in Texas with AMEXDEAL16

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

(click to expand)
Through 7/7/2016 you can use code AMEXDEAL16 for $30 off $100 at Wine.com (read more on how to maximize the deal).

The key to getting a great deal with this code is finding good wines at reasonable prices. Wine.com's assortment differs by state, and the markup varies by wine. It's a fun treasure hunt that can result in a terrific deal on wine shipped to your doorstep - if you can find the right wines.

Just to illustrate how this can be tricky, take for example Michael David 7 Deadly Zins. It's a terrific value at around $10 (and readily available at local discounters) but Wine.com lists it for $21.99 in Texas. That's a terrible price - even with $30 off $100.

So here are 10 wines I'd recommend for someone shopping in Texas. I'm thinking of these for someone that, like me, gravitates towards juicy fruit forward reds but is looking to branch out given the season.

1. Bisol Jeio Prosecco Brut Rose

It might seem strange to start off a list of mostly red wines with a sparkling wine, but this one is a great way to start the evening with any crowd. At $17.99 before discounts it delivers on its price and then some. Read more...

Had this one at a Capital Grille event back in the day and it's served me well since. Just $11.99 (before discount!) - very good on its own and perfect for mimosas.

I had this the other nice with a spicy Sichuan dish. What a pairing! Appealing fruit for days balanced with just the right amount of acidity that makes it a pleasure to drink on its own or with food. No matter the vintage it hits the mark at a very reasonable price point. I like it so much I gave it a lifetime QPR achievement award.

Meiomi has been an amazing phenomenon. A reliable friend to share with friends. No fuss - just fruit forward, delicous California Pinot Noir. Some say this drinks more like a Zinfandel, and yes it's full bodied for a Pinot Noir. But it makes it a Pinot Noir that people who usually prefer bigger reds. $19.99 isn't a great price (I saw it at my local Costco for $14.99 recently). But with 30% off and free shipping (plus portal cashback) I think this is about as low as you can find Meiomi.

Notice how I listed the vintage on this one? Because it's important on Oregon Pinot Noir. 2012 was a tremendous vintage, and this one is one of my favorites. This bottling is a perennial favorite of Wine Spectator's but surprisingly this vintage seems to have gotten lost in the positive accolades of that vintage. "Just" a 91 from them but I thought it was better than that.

Along with Meiomi this is one of two wines I recommend most frequently for its outstanding quality to price ratio. Discovered it at the Capital Grille - loved it. Visited them in Spain - loved it even more. It's what the locals there drink and you should too. It's BIG but balanced. Be sure to give it some air - it improves amazingly over a few days on the counter. Surprising given its modest price.

Honig makes the top 10 list twice! There's a reason they're the one wine club I'm a member of. No Napa Cab more reliably hits the mark for me. It's the flavor profile I find so appealing for it's perfect combination of fruit and savory notes. At $42.99 before discount you can get this down to around $30 if you land just north of $100 for your total order. And $30 for a bottle of Honig is a square deal in my mind.

The folks at Borsao deliver tremendous value across the board. And this one at $14.99 in Texas is a perfect example at a very good price. Along with their interest in Alto Moncayo (not available in Texas from Wine.com) I'd put them at the top of my list of wineries to visit in Spain some day.

I haven't written about Cherry Pie Pinot Noir here on the blog. But I should. Soon. I've had a couple bottles and I've been impressed. There are two levels: Single vineyard wines (labeled as Cherry Pie proper along with the vineyard name) and an appellation wine. I may have initially dismissed these wines for the overly fruit laden label but they're actually tremendous wines. Think of this Cherry Tart bottling as the Meiomi of Cherry Pie's lineup. In fact - the whole project is strikingly similar to Belle Glos/Meiomi. $18.99 before discount for a wine comprised mostly of fruit from Rodgers Creek Vineyard? Sign me up. Read more about them here.

This is the Pitt-Jolie wine, and it's actually quite good. A nice crisp and elegant wine for enjoying on a warm afternoon. Read more...

Question of the Day: What Wine.com values in your state are you finding that work well with $30 off $100?


My Rough Weekend with Italian Wine

Sunday, April 10, 2016

First bottle of 2012 Passopisciaro: Totally corked
Is it just me, or is Italian wine more prone to TCA taint than other regions?

Or, is there something fundamentally "funky" about a lot of Italian reds that make them veer dangerously close to the hallmark notes of a corked wine (musty wet cardboard) even when they're solid?

I opened a bunch of relatively expensive Italian red wines this weekend that I've had and enjoyed in the past, only to find them either undeniably flawed -or- in that grey area where you're not sure but you're sure it's not good. And it's got me spooked.

2012 Passopisciaro

I first tried this wine in the 2007 vintage and though it was fabulous. I rated it 93 points and made a mental note to stock up on it in the future. I bought 6 bottles of it recently and Friday night pizza night seemed like a great time to crack one open.

One sniff was all it took to inform me that this wine was absolutely, undeniably, 100% corked. This is especially disconcerting when it happens to the first bottle of a multi-bottle purchase. I'm inclined not to crack another open straight away when this happens. Why? I'm not sure but I usually scurry to safety instead. I went with a recently arrived 2012 Coho Headwaters that absolutely spot on/what I was looking for.

If I'm ever on the fence whether a wine is flawed, opened a sound wine and comparing it side by side usually seals the deal. But this 2012 Passopisciaro wasn't even close. I re-visited it again last night just to check and it was the same as it was the first night. So sad.

Crognolo: Thought it was corked but settled down

2013 Crognolo

Saturday night we had friends over and wanted to do a full-on Italian dinner. Although I would have been more inclined to mix in some California Pinot Noir for broad appeal, I decided to keep it all from Italy. The Prosecco we started off with went well thankfully (a play I learned at Il Preludio in Cortona). But after that we moved onto the Crognolo from Tenuta Sette Ponti, retracing our path from one terrific afternoon in Italy.

As soon as I opened the Crognolo - and I mean literally the second I pulled the cork - I suspected this one was off. The act of removing the cork released musty aromas.

Thankfully in this case, the wine settled down within a few minutes. Although it never soared near the heights of prior vintages (especially those tasted at the winery) it was at least drinkable. But by this point I had hair trigger reflexes for the slightest "off" note and was on high alert.

2008 Tenuta Nuova: Mildly/probably corked

2008 Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova

Since the Crognolo was trending towards "lackluster" I went to guns with a bottle of Tenuta Nuova. The 2006 vintage of this wine was one of the best bottles of wine I've ever had, and although I didn't have delusions the 2008 would rise to that level I did think it would be at least really good.

No such luck. This one fell into the unfortunate chasm of "probably/mildly corked". The worst kind of corked. Gah! I'm sniffing a remnant taste of this wine as I'm writing this and I'm still not sure whether it's flawed or just not to my liking.

I will say this though: I never would have called the 2006 one of my favorite bottles of wine ever if it had anything resembling a musty aroma. So, I think this 2008 will just go in the books as an expensive, disappointing bottle of wine.

Bottom Line

Depending on which study you consult, I've read that 5-10% of wines with natural cork enclosures suffer from TCA taint.

When it's obviously/undeniably corked (or flawed in some other way) I always return it if logistically possible. Here's more on that part of the equation.

When trends like these build up it really dampens my enthusiasm for a category - even if it's a total coincidence. That affects the buy side of the equation, but I'll curiously follow up with other bottles I have on hand to see if it's a trend isolated to batches of newly arrived wines.

I'm convinced that if one bottle in a case is corked, the chances of subequent bottles in that same lot being corked goes up dramatically. If the TCA is transmitted from the cork, then the likelihood of another cork in that batch being similarly "bad" seems higher. And if the TCA is transmitted through the cork (either condition is possible) then it would seem that problems in the winemaking process and/or cellar would definitely tend to occur in clusters.

Question of the Day

What do you think? If the first bottle in a case is corked, do you find it more likely that subsequent bottles from that same case are flawed?


It's back! $30 off $100 at Wine.com with code AMEXDEAL16

Monday, March 7, 2016

(Click to enlarge)
One of the best recurring deals in wine is back. Now through 7/7/2016 you can get $30 off $100 at Wine.com with code AMEXDEAL16.

Step 1: Go through a portal (optional)

Start your shopping by checking http://www.cashbackmonitor.com/Cashback-Store/Wine.com to get some extra cashback on your purchase. You can get around 5% off your order as cashback through a portal this way.

Step 2: Select your wines

The idea is to hit $100 without too much overshoot. For example, add 2 bottles of the 2013 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Antonio Galloni rated 95 points at $29.99. I've had the wine. It's pretty good. Then 2 bottles of 2013 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Wine Spectator rated 92 points at $22.99. Your total would then come to $105.96 thus qualifying for $30 off.  Inventory varies by state. Ping me if you'd like some help finding good deals in your state.

Step 3: Sign up for a Stewardship free trial

Stewardship is Wine.com's equivalent to Amazon Prime. You get free shipping for a year, but you can also get a free trial for a month. If you've ordered from Wine.com in the past, try signing up with a new email address to get a new free trial.

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Just When I Was About to Write Off Affordable Bordeaux

Sunday, March 6, 2016

If there's one category that's consistently failed to provide a good match for my taste in wine at affordable price points it's been Bordeaux.

Sure there have been a few bottles I've enjoyed here and there. But on average the wines I've tried rated 90+ by Spectator costing $30 or less have been bitter, savegely tannic disappointments that have clogged up the works of my wine stash.

2005 was the first vintage of the century I've been aware of in my time as a wine enthusiast. Now with 10 years of age, these wines have done little to endear themselves to me. Maybe in another decade their fruit will finally mercifully come forward, but my experience has been sufficiently negative as to make it unlikely I'll buy many more.

With 2009 and 2010 garnering praise on par with 2005 I started to grow weary of the hype. I bought a few well regarded wines with the hopes that Spectator's "round and friendly" descriptors of the 2009s from St Emilion might make these wines more relatable to my new world-leaning palate. To be honest I didn't have high hopes given that Bordeaux are often described with delicious sounding adjectives ("powerful!", "rich!", "mocha") that end up tasting stern and rough with drying tannins.

So it was with muted expectation that I opened a bottle of 2009 Chateau Pipeau last night. Here's how Wine Spectator's James Molesworth described it:

This rich red is nicely coated with espresso and dark fig over a core of plum and blackberry fruit. Stays velvety through the toasty but well-integrated finish. Best from 2013 through 2023. 91 points.

A rich red, coated with espresso? Sign me up!

I took a sniff and a sip just to make sure it wasn't corked before serving it to our guests and I was blown away.

This wine is something special.

My notes...

2009 Chateau Pipeau
13.5% Alcohol
11,665 Cases Produced
$30 Release Price

Nearly opaque visually, this wine opens with dark chocolate, bold fruit, and vanilla tinged oak influence. Ample mouthfeel and presence, more substantial than its 13.5% alcohol would otherwise indicate. Yet still elegant. Nice tannic grip, but luscious and invites another sip. Impressive.

93/100 WWP: Oustanding


3 Outstanding Oregon Pinot Noirs

Monday, January 25, 2016

2012 Oregon Pinot Noir is a vintage I've been enjoying tremendously lately. Retailers shelves are starting to show more 2013s and 2014s though, so it's time to stock up if you haven't already. The good news is 2013 is quite good as well. Here's three outstanding Oregon Pinot Noirs I've enjoyed recently...

2012 Shea Estate Pinot Noir
14.3% Alcohol

Shea Pinot Noir is an Oregon Pinot Noir I'll buy any vintage. It tends to be darker in color, richer in flavor, and higher in alcohol than most Oregon Pinot Noirs so it drinks more like a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir to me. But it's surely Oregon with a tremendously attractive array of aromas and flavors. On the nose I get perfumes and floral aromatics, inviting fruit and just a touch it vanilla in the distance. On the palate there's a slight "siltiness" that gives it presence and grip. Long finish and a versatile personality that enables pairing with just about anything. Another benchmark wine from a benchmark vintage. Where to buy...

94/100 WWP: Outstanding

2013 Stoller Pinot Noir
12.9% Alcohol

This wine is impeccably balanced, and surprisingly full of flavor given its 12.9% percent alcohol. Just a classic Oregon Pinot Noir, charmed with bright appealing strawberry fruit and devoid of any green notes. Signature silky texture makes it a delight to drink. Wine Spectator rated this wine 92 points, which is quite an accomplishment at $30 but even more appealing when it can be had for less than $20 retail. Where to buy...

91/100 WWP: Outstanding

2012 August Cellars Pinot Noir
12.5% Alcohol
$16.99 retail

It's amazing how good this wine is given its modest price. And how much flavor it has given its low alcohol level. But it's not a straightforward one-note affair by any means. The appeal here is the melancholy rainy autumn evening flavor profile. Mushrooms, forest floor, appealing light fruit - what a combination. Can't get enough of this one. I've enjoyed this in prior vintages and it's no fluke. Where to buy...

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite recently released Oregon Pinot Noirs?



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