Did this Boston company finally figure out how to run a good wine club?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Upper Glass works with local sommeliers to carefully select
compelling wines, delivered to your doorstop each month
In my experience, some of the best wine recommendations I've received have come from independent local restaurants with a focus on discovery.

Energetic hipster sommeliers try all kinds of stuff so they can present funky off the beaten trail lower production wines from lesser known regions that run circles around higher production commodity wines.

As long-time readers know, I'm no stranger to Total Wine, Costco and Wine .com. But there comes a point when you're tired of the usual suspects and you want to explore. And you want to do so without making mistakes.

If you're not making it out to local restaurants as much as you'd like and you're thirsty for evolving new wine selections from respected local sommeliers, Boston-based Upper Glass might be just the model you're looking for.

How it works

The best way to get a feel for Upper Glass, to give them a try, is with their Monthly Curated Selections. For $80 (with free shipping in the Boston area within route 495) they'll deliver an assortment of four wines to you each month.

If your preference is reds only, they've got an option for that.

If you want to explore specific varietals like Pinot Noir or Cabernet, or "holiday wines" or "sparklers" they offer one-time four bottle collections you can order.

More on how it works from their site

Four wines, nicely packed with useful
interesting information about each is included

My experience

They reached out and asked if it would be okay to send me a complimentary shipment. A nicely packaged box with four wines with information about each was included. The shipment I got happened to be targeted for Thanksgiving.

The wines were selected by Jen Fields, the Wine Director at Chef Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square restaurants Alden & Harlow and Waypoint. She was previously General Manager at Toro (one of Chef Ken Oringer's many restaurants that I adore).

Alden & Harlow and Toro were a couple of my favorite meals in the past couple years so it felt like this offer, and the entire Upper Glass wine discovery model is eerily targeted at me.

Bench Pinot Noir

Silky smooth and gorgeously free of off notes. A hard thing to accomplish with such flavor intensity and low alcohol. Outstanding and impressive in the ~$20 price point.

93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Elio Perrone Bigaro

A sweet sparkling rosé from Piedmont, Italy. 5% alcohol. Creamy sweetness kept in check by some amount of acidity. A great wine to enjoy with dessert, especially but not exclusively for guests who don't typically like wine. Absolutely delicious.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

Clos de l'Elu Indigene

A French (Loire) red blend of 50% Gamay, 30% Grolleau, 20% Cab Franc. Drinks like a cru Beaujolais with more stuffing. Anchored by unmistakable Gamay notes with stuffing provided by the other grapes which have shades of Rhone influence. Fantastic.

91/100 WWP: Outstanding

Mica Vinho Verde

Starbright with racy acidity. Strong linear presence with satisfying weight. I get a hint of a soapy aftertaste on the finish that diminishes what is an otherwise outstanding wine.

88/100: Very good

Bottom line

I think Upper Glass is on to something terrific here.

The key is going to be whether they can stay true to their model and avoid the temptation to push out wines that are driven by forces other than the carefully selected options from local sommeliers.

I think Wine Folly does a good job describing why so many wine clubs are so very bad.

Definitely check them out if you're in the Boston area. I hope they expand to other areas and/or open up more shipping options. I think a lot of people would really go for this.

I realize this is cutting it close to Christmas so I wanted to get this out now on the off chance you might be able to take advantage of a couple deals they're running.

15% off gift cards with code CHRISTMASCARD
15% off a 3 Month Subscription with code 15OFF3 with the first shipment arriving before New Years.

These codes are good through Dec 25, 2017 and could make for a great last minute gift, even for...yourself!

My thanks to Upper Glass for the sample shipment. I wish them well. Really like the model here.


[MA Only] Quick deal: 2012 Cherry Pie Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir for $33/btl

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bin Ends Wine is offering the 2012 Cherry Pie Stanly Ranch at 3 bottles for $99 (link).

As a comparison point, Total Wine sells this bottling for $44.99 when purchasing 6 or more mixed bottles.

I've had various vintages of this wine before and I'm a fan. It's big and bold, weighing in at 15.5% alcohol. It's a little back-vintage at this point but I bet it's not over the hill yet.

If you're unfamiliar with the Cherry Pie lineup it's strikingly similar to Belle Glos/Meiomi:

Winemaker: Jason Woodbridge of Hundred Acre
Top end bottling: Single vineyard Cherry Pie (the wine being offered, street price around $50)
Entry level: Cherry Tart Pinot Noir ($15-$20)

Winemaker: Joe Wagner of Caymus
Top end bottling: Single vineyard Belle Glos (around $50)
Entry level: Meiomi ($15-$20)

Worth a try if you like a big bold California Pinot Noir. I know I do.

I'll update this post when I hear it's sold out.

Update: Wine is not sold out as of yet, but I picked this up yesterday and popped it just now. They gave me the '13 (offer was for the '12) but I'm not complaining. The wine is exactly what I'd hope for. Full throttle flavor yet light in color as CA Pinot should be. Ample acidity and surprising tannic grip. Just the slightest bit of heat as you'd expect from something that's 15.5% abv. I can see my way to 92+ points on this.


[Expired] Another $50 back on $150 Wine.com code

Sunday, October 15, 2017

I'm not sure what the expiration date on this one is. I just saw it pop up in my account:


Should get you $50 off $150, works for existing accounts one time.

Check the best shopping portal cashback rates here. The best rate I'm seeing at the moment is for a portal that isn't listed on Cashback Monitor:

Here's my refer-a-friend link if you haven't signed up with Lemoney yet:



Juicy: $50 back on $150 at Wine.com

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It's October 1st, so it's a new month and the first day of Q4. Time for some new deals!

Last month we were talking about maximizing the AmEx Offer for Wine.com. Since then I've been on the look-out for good promo codes to stack with the deal.

I got an email from Wine.com touting a $20 back on $50 offer which turned out to be a typo. It's $150 back on $150 with code FALLSAVE20. 13.3% isn't too shabby, and the code can be used multiple times.

$20 off $150 with code FALLSAVE20 at Wine.com! Valid 10/1 - 10/2

But then I saw this reply on Twitter:


$50 off $150! Wowza. If we're getting 20% off with the AmEx Offer, plus 33% off, plus whatever cashback we can get through a portal - that's some serious savings.

The $50 off $150 WINE50 code appears to be limited to one use per account, which is problematic for repeat orders on the account you have StewardShip on.

But the savings are so significant it might make sense to create a new account(s) and just stomach the high shipping costs. I show that it's $13.65 to ship the first bottle so if you're buying expensive wines that's still around a 25% discount with the $50 off $150.

And if you're completely new to Wine.com and want to get going with an account with StewardShip you could use code $30 off $100: OCTNEW30. Lots of permutations and combinations here that might make sense depending on the number of AmEx Offers you have at your disposal.

New Customers Only! $30 off $100 with code OCTNEW30 at Wine.com! Valid 10/1 - 10/15

On the portal front, I've been tinkering with a newish shopping portal called Lemoney. Whereas the best rate for Wine.com across the merchants listed on Cashback Monitor is around 5%, Lemoney is offering "16% Turbo Cashback" for Wine.com.

The way Lemoney's Turbo Cashback [supposedly] works is you get 16% on purchases, once a month, up to a certain dollar amount. And you need $25 in cashback in order to cash out. I've done a couple of trial purchases with other merchants and they've tracked but not yet posted. We'll see how it goes. If you'd like to sign up for Lemoney you can use my referral code below. I think they use some kind of pyramid scheme whereby people in your referral "community"earn you additional cashback.

Who doesn't like a little good old fashioned multi-level marketing?


Here's 10 of my favorite wines they've got available.


10 Widely Available Reliably Outstanding Wine.com Wines

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Last week I posted about how to maximize the 2017 Wine.com AmEx Offer and promised to follow-up with some recommendations. Before I get into that, a couple updates on the deal...

It looks like a couple of the better promo codes that offered $20 off $100 are either expired (EBATES20) or not working for existing customers anymore (SEPTNEW). That's a bummer, but new codes come out all the time so have patience. You've got until the end of the year to buy gift cards and even longer to make use of them with a one year StewardShip subscription.

I got some requests for state-specific recommendations, since Wine.com's inventory varies by state. Before I get into that I wanted to offer up a list of picks that are broadly available and reliably outstanding, at least in my experience for my tastes.

These are affiliate links, thanks in advance if you use them

I cracked a bottle of open last night and it hit the spot. It's everything I like about California Pinot Noir: Lighter in color and body (than say Cabernet) but bursting with delicious flavor. If I can ever find this for less than $30 I'm a buyer. And at $39.99 before discounts that's totally achievable.


We tasted through their full line-up while in Italy and Crognolo jumped out as my favorite irrespective of price. That's saying something since Oreno retails for well over $100. Luckily for us Wine.com has Crognolo for $24.99 before discounts. I like this because it's a little more generous fruit-wise than a lot of Italian wines, but still true to its location. Always a great value.

Vintage after vintage this is one of the best value Napa Cabs around. Every time I taste it I love the flavor profile: Ample fruit matched with gorgeous savory notes. If I can get it for close to $30 I'm thrilled. At $39.99 before discounts the price here can't be beat.

The 1:2 punch of Honig's Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc is hard to beat. I love this white wine for its generous tropical notes balanced with racy acidity. Pair it a spicy Asian dish like the poorly named but utterly delicious Boiled Fish Fillet In Hot Spicy Sichuan Sauce from Sichuan Gourmet House in Newton.

Cakebread is the wine that got me into wine and every time I taste their Cabernet I'm reminded why I still adore their wines. There's just something special about the way their wines present themselves. A friends once told me, more than 15 years ago, that if I could ever find Cakebread Cab for less than $50 I should buy some. I thought I'd surely be able to rarely find it for that little, but it has proven difficult - especially these days after a little inflation. Depending on the coupon code you can find you might be able to get it for less than $50. Great place to visit too.

Upstream I mentioned how I liked Crognolo since it was a little more generous fruit-wise than other wines from the region while still being true to the style you'd expect. The same is true here of Elk Cove's appellation Pinot Noir: A little fruitier than most Oregon Pinot Noirs and I appreciate it. The 2014 vintage is a winner in Oregon. Be careful with vintage on this one.

Borsao delivers insane value throughout their lineup and this bottling hits a great price point at $14.99 before discount. Just a ton of well balanced flavor here. If you drink mostly domestic wine and haven't explored Spain this is a great place to start.

I remember once getting a deal on Belle Glos for something ridiculously good, less than $30/bottle. I've not come close since, until now. This is a full-throttle very ripe Pinot Noir. It's not for everybody but I really enjoy the flavor profile this delivers. It may not drink like a classic Pinot Noir, not even a classic California Pinot Noir. More like a Zinfandel perhaps. But I do enjoy it every time I try it.

Meiomi seems to be sailing along even though Wagner family sold the brand off. I'll have to check in on recent vintages before buying in bulk, but at $19.99 before discounts this could be the cheapest I've ever seen Meiomi, depending on the coupon code. These bottles seem to disappear rapidly from my stash so I'm always up for padding an order with a bottle or two.

A gorgeous bold Spanish red. The pricing of this Veraton bottling sometimes gets compressed so close to Alto Moncayo proper that you're better off just going with the big brother. But in this case we've got Veraton at $28.99 before discounts and Alto Moncayo proper at $43.99. Both are good buys with discounts but I prefer Veraton given the spread.

Bottom Line

Follow the tips in this post to maximize the deal. The links above are non-affiliate links so if you want to shop through a portal and earn cashback use those. But if portals aren't worth the hassle to you, here's my affiliate link:

Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite widely available realiably outstanding wines from Wine.com?


Maximizing the 2017 Wine.com AmEx Offer

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Spend $50 or more, get $10 back. Expires 1/1/2018.
(click to enlarge)
American Express is back with a $10 back on $50 offer at Wine.com. This offer is a true AmEx Offer (as opposed to similar promo-code based offers in 2016) so it enables some creative stacking which can take discounts beyond 40% off.

The deal is good through 1/1/2018 so it'll be around for a while. This gives us the opportunity to lock in the 20% savings this deal offers then stack it with promo codes and portal cashback for maximum savings.

How to best utilize this offer depends on how many AmEx cards you have access to. If you've got just a few you're probably best off just taking the 20% off and trying to stack it with a free shipping promo code.

For a primer on AmEx Offers see this post from Frequent Miler

But if you've got access to a lot of AmEx cards (I've got around 20) there's a potential to get some seriously good discounts on wine. Here's how I'm playing it...

Step 1: Bite the bullet and sign up for StewardShip

StewardShip is Wine.com's equivalent of Amazon Prime whereby all of your orders are shipped for a flat $49 annual fee. The nice thing about this is that you can ship one bottle or many and it's included in the annual fee.

You can also ship bottles to friends as gifts or to yourself while on vacation so it can be quite nice.

For purposes of maximizing this deal it's vital though because you only get one promo code per order and you want to use that towards a discount rather than 1 cent shipping.

Tip: You can pay for StewardShip with Gift Certificates, so you might want to skip to Step 2...

Step 2: Buy $50 Wine.com Gift Certificates

The essence of the Wine.com deal is that you get $10 back on a $50 purchase for a 20% discount. We want to lock that in without overshoot, so for each AmEx card you have, buy a $50 Wine.com Gift Certificate.

You may want/need to create a secondary Wine.com account where you buy these from. In my case my primary Wine.com account has an existing balance so if I try to buy a new Gift Certificate the system tries to use that balance. To work around this I create a new Wine.com account (this just requires a new email address) where I buy the Gift Certificates from.

When you order a Gift Certificate the eCode should arrive in a couple hours during business hours. Then redundantly they ship out physical codes.

Step 3: Apply the Gift Certificates to Your Primary Wine.com Account

The way Wine.com handles the application of Gift Certificates is quite unique. Their system says you can only apply 2 Gift Certificates per order. But in practice that's not the case.

Here's what I do...

Add $100+ worth of wine to your cart. Then proceed to checking out.

On the right side of the page you should see an option to enter Gift Card Code (two codes maximum). This isn't strictly true as we'll see below...

In their system, once you enter a Gift Card Code it's inextricably linked to the account you associate it with. We'll use this to our advantage when placing orders.

If you run into a message saying "You've entered the maximum number of gift cards allowed (two) per order." a workaround is to clear your cookies or open an incognito browser window to add additional Gift Certificates to your account. Repeat as necessary to bump up the balance on the Wine.com account you have StewardShip on.

Step 4: Shop through a portal

Shopping portals offer a way to get cashback/travel rewards when shopping online. Cashback for Wine.com typically hovers in the 5-10% range.

To find the best current cashback available, consult Cashback Monitor:


Step 5: Use a promo code

The nice thing about having free shipping through StewardShip is that you can apply your one precious promo code towards a juicy discount.

Right now there are a couple of tasty promo codes I see out there:

EBATES20 for $20 off $100+ orders (probably best to shop through the eBates portal for this one)
SEPTNEW for $20 of $100+ orders

Update (9/10/2017): Looks like EBATES20 is only working once per account and SEPTNEW isn't working for existing accounts.

20% on top of 20% gives us a true 40+% discount when stacked with a portal.

Both of these purport to be for new customers only (which is problematic when combined with our approach of placing multiple orders with a single account). But they seem to be working for existing customers.

Google for promo codes and find the option that works best for you.

Step 6: Place your orders

Depending on the promo code you're working with you'll need to place multiple orders. But that's okay since you've got StewardShip.

The nice thing about stacking $20 off $100 (for example) with 20% off Gift Certificates is that it's a true 40% off (plus whatever you can get through a portal). This creates some substantial savings.

From here you just need to decide what to order. For me I'm likely to buy wines from reliably outstanding producers that make good wine every vintage.

Even with Wine.com's relatively jacked up pricing, with discounts like these you can buy some terrific wines at unbeatable prices.

Wine.com offers different wines in each state. Ping me if you're interested in some recommendations for your state.

Questions or comments?

Let me know on Twitter: @RobertDwyer
Or via email: wellesleywinepress@gmail.com


Visiting Ridge Monte Bello

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ridge Monte Bello tasting room
I've enjoyed wines from Ridge Vineyards for years. As the saying goes, "Nobody ever got fired for ordering Ridge" at a work dinner - especially their reasonably priced Zinfandel-driven wines from Sonoma.

But their crown jewel is Ridge Monte Bello - a red blend crafted in their vineyards and winery perched atop the Santa Cruz mountains overlooking Silicon Valley. Monte Bello aims to be the most age worthy North American wine, made in a Bordeaux style aged in American oak barrels.

Since their Monte Bello winery (not to be confused with their other location in Lytton Springs 120 miles north) is so close to work trips to San Jose it makes for a tempting quick weekday tasting.  But until recently I was never able to finagle a visit. I'm glad I did though because the visit was amazing and I've got a much better understand of why Ridge is one of the greatest American wineries.

Getting there

The 4 mile drive up to Monte Bello was even more interesting
than usual due to heavy spring rains this year
It seem all of the best winery visits start with cautionary instructions on how to get there, and getting to Monte Bello is no exception. Although it's minutes from the heart of Silicon Valley (Apple's Headquarters are just 10 miles away) the five mile drive up Montebello Road is as beautiful as it is treacherous.

Thanks to unprecedented spring rainfall in the region shortly before my March visit, portions of the road were washed out. Makeshift waterfalls cascading down the hillside combined with hairpin turns made the approach reminiscent of Maui's Road to Hana. 

The approach helps establish what a special place Ridge Monte Bello is. With many wineries there are neighbors with nearly identical terroir: Always inferior if you're the more prestigious winery, always just as good if you're the up and comer. But with Ridge there are hardly any neighboring wineries of note with access to the same soil and microclimate.

Brief history

View west from Monte Bello towards Rhys Vineyards
Monte Bello's history as a vineyard, and therefore Ridge's history as a winery, goes back to before prohibition. Here is a useful timeline. In 1962, four Stanford University's Research Institute scientists bonded the winery and produced the first bottle of Monte Bello.

In 1966 the first vintage of Geyserville was produced, establishing what we know today as the two most noteworthy offering from Ridge: Their flagship Monte Bello Bordeaux blend that sells for $175, and their single-vineyard Sonoma Zinfandel driven blends that sell for around $40.

In 1969, Paul Draper joined Ridge as winemaker. Draper is a true pioneer of California wine and one of the most admired winemakers in the world with influence that extends beyond North America.

In 1994, current Monte Bello winemaker Eric Baugher joined Ridge.

During my visit, I had the privilege of meeting and barrel tasting with both Baugher and Draper.


Ridge Monte Bello welcomes visitors on the weekend without appointment. On weekdays, appointments are needed and most likely would occur between 11a and 4p so keep that in mind if you're considering an after-work caper.
Tasting room
The architecture of the tasting room and winery reflect Ridge's proud history. Structures have been maintained, remodeled, added-on, and modernized in harmony with the terrain. Tastings occur in what was the original winery long ago. The wine is now made at a separate facility another mile up the hill (at 2,700 ft) where I met winemaker Eric Baugher for a tour and some barrel tasting.

As much as I thought I was familiar with Ridge, you never really get a feeling for a winery's true personality until you visit, and as importantly meet the people behind the winery.

Prior to visiting, I reviewed their website and noted that Paul Draper retired in 2016. But as luck would have it, he was there the day I visited. It was somewhat surprising to see him, but given that Ridge has been his life's work it's understandable he'd still be involved at the winery.

Draper was giving a couple of upcoming young winemakers a tour, comparing notes with them on winemaking techniques that flew over my head without further description (submerged-cap fermentation, anyone?).
Paul Draper and Eric Baugher
He's as passionate about experimentation as he is with sharing techniques and datapoints with others. For example, I remember visiting Bodegas Carchelo in Spain where Director of Enology Joaquín Gálvez cited his time learning at Ridge Vineyards as highly influential.

Eric Baugher is the winemaker responsible for Monte Bello these days, and clearly has the keys to the kingdom. He joined Ridge in the '90s after graduating from UC Santa Cruz with degrees in chemistry and biology. That said, he's not one to make calls rigidly based on measurements made in the lab. Far from it. He's successfully paired his scientific background with old school winemaking techniques to advance Monte Bello's legacy.

A recurring theme with both Baugher and Draper is experimentation and basing decisions on blind tasting. This encompasses everything they do. Determining the varietal composition of Monte Bello. Deciding which vineyard blocks should be considered. Informing which winemaking technique is best suited to the grapes their vineyards grow. They set up an experiment, test it blind, and decide what to do based on what they taste.

See also: Visiting Kosta Browne

The scale and attention paid to the famous Monte Bello bottling is worth discussing. The Monte Bello winery produces about 9,000 cases total (plus or minus depending on vintage). Of that, about 4,500 cases are Monte Bello proper. Of that, about half is sold to their mailing list and club members. That leaves only a couple thousand cases of the stuff to go around. Keep that in mind next time you're trying to decide whether to splurge on a bottle of Monte Bello: There's not much of it in cirulation through normal distribution channels.

The process of making Monte Bello starts with hand sorting of grapes. No optical sorting is used (it removes character and depth says their blind tasting). And at these volumes they can afford to hand sort. As a point of comparison Opus One with roughly 5x the production of Monte Bello does leverage optical sorting.

All Bordeaux varieties are de-stemmed. Monte Bello is aged for 16-22 months in ~91% new American oak. The result is a wine that averages 13% alcohol (+ or - depending on the vintage) built for longevity.

According to Baugher, Monte Bello is at its best 20 years after bottling. In my experience, great wines like this also show well in their youth, albeit without the integrated secondary characteristics that reward patience.

I mentioned that I've enjoyed Monte Bello more young (3-5 years after bottling) than after mid-term cellaring (say 8-10 years after bottling). Baugher wasn't surprised by this. Perhaps like the "dumb phase" that Chateauneuf goes through before emerging, it's probably best to let this age for the long haul if you're going to age it. If you're going to drink it at around 10 years (or younger) you'll want to decant it liberally.

I enjoyed a taste of '15 Monte Bello from barrel (absolutely leaped from the glass aromatically) and the more reserved (at this point) '16. What a treat.
The Monte Bello winery also produces some of Ridge's Zinfandel based wines, including the always outstanding Geyserville. This is somewhat surprising given its distance from Monte Bello and the fact that their Lytton Springs winery is in Sonoma near Geyserville. Evidently, they prefer to bottle certain wines at Monte Bello.

Overall, getting a chance to tour the winery with Eric Baugher was tremendous. He's got this quiet confidence about him that's in line with the Ridge brand. For example, regarding critics he said they don't need to alter their winemaking style to please critics since "Ridge has been around longer than any of them".


After the tour I sat down for a tasting. Here are some very quick notes...

2015 Estate Chardonnay $55
Stony minerality with lemon and light feral notes. Pretty.

2014 Lytton Springs $40
A field blend with pretty red fruit and nice grip. Outstanding.

2014 Pagani Ranch $40
Approachable. A great "starter" wine, in a good way.

2014 Estate Merlot $55
No green here at all. Toasty oak on the finish. Grippy.

2014 Estate Cabernet $60
Really satisfying, complete wine with formidable tannins.

Then we got to the Monte Bello. One just about to be released and one with some age...

2014 Ridge Monte Bello $175
Aged 22 months in 95% American, 3% Hungarian, and 2% French oak. This is one of the most stunning wines I've ever tasted. Despite it's youth it's an absolute delight to drink. The balance of texture and gorgeous red fruit make this a compelling wine. Although it's constituent components are individually identifyable they're so appealing that once integrated this should be a tremendous Monte Bello.

1992 Ridge Monte Bello
13.5% alcohol. 80% Cabernet, 20% Merlot. Very pretty on the nose with candied cherries, leather, and cedar. Fully integrated and very clean. A delight to taste this at 25 years of age.

Bottom line

A visit to Ridge Vineyards is something I've always wanted to do. Getting to know what makes their brand special exceeded my high expectations.

After tasting the incredible 2014 I immediately did a Wine-searcher search for Monte Bello. Being a deal hound I thought for sure I could buy it for significantly less than retail but it turns out it actually is really scarce and hard to find discounts on.

One option is to join their Collector's Club where you buy Monte Bello as a future at a discount. For example, if you join and pay right now you'd get the 2016 Monte Bello for $105 rather than $175. You wouldn't receive it until 2019 but it is a way to get a significant discount on the wine. And I have a feeling they're not going anywhere and their prices are only going to increase.

They've got other wine club options as well. Their Z list is for Zin fans. And their ATP (Advanced Tasting Program) is for people interested in more esoteric bottlings. Joining all 3 gets you additional benefits.

I stopped by a local MA retailer. These are the bottlings we tend to see in our region:
Geyserville and Lytton Springs are two to check out for sure, but some of the other options are even more affordable and worth checking out.

As I was driving down the mountain after my visit I couldn't help but compare Ridge to Apple - whose new "spaceship" campus is visible from the vineyards. They're both admired brands that make unique products that are often imitated but rarely duplicated. True California pioneers.

View from Monte Bello towards Silicon Valley
Question of the Day: Have you ever visited Ridge at either of their properties? What did you think? What are some of your favorite Ridge bottlings?


Giveaway: 2 Tickets to Boston Travel Show & Craft Beer Tasting

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Boston Globe Travel Show is coming to the Boston Seaport this weekend February 10-12, 2017.

I've been given 2 tickets to the Northeast Craft Beer Pavilion Session A on Friday February 10 from 6-8:30PM (a $70 value) to give away. These tickets include admission to the Boston Globe Travel Show. Because the Beer Pavilion is 21+ entrants and their guest must be 21 years or older. A form of ID will be required to pick up the tickets at will call along with entering the Beer Pavilion the day of the show.

I'll choose a winner at random from the entries.

Two ways to enter: 

  1. Leave a comment on this blog post saying you'd like to be entered in the drawing
  2. Tweet a link to this post
If you leave a comment and tweet a link you'll get 2 entries, increasing your chances of winning.

Contest closes Tuesday February 7th at 11:59pm eastern time.
Winner will be announced Wednesday morning by 9:00a.

Some highlights throughout the weekend include:

  • 3 sampling sessions and a Sunday Lord Hobo’s Brunch Bites & Brews at the Northeast Craft Beer Pavilion with tastings of nearly 100 beers and ciders from over 40 breweries
  • 1,000 Places to See Before You Die author Patricia Schultz will be hosting a two seminars: “Emerging Destinations: Iran, Cuba, Myanmar and Antarctica,” and "U.S. & Canada."
  • Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of Frommer Travel Guides and award-winning travel journalist, will be speaking about "Insider Tips for Creating Great Vacations in All Price Ranges”
  • Boston Globe travel writer Chris Muther will give his tips for "The Digital Traveler: Best Apps, Photos & Travel Products"
  • Cultural dancer performances from the Philippines and Dominican Republic, including showing you some basic steps of Merengue and Bachata
Here's info on the breweries:

And here's my in depth guide to the show:

Questions or comments? Drop me an email or ping me on Twitter @RobertDwyer

I'll look forward to selecting a winner from the comments and tweets.


Dates set for Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2017 dates and locations have been announced. They are:
  • Las Vegas May 6, 2017 (a Saturday)
  • Chicago May 9, 2017 (a Tuesday)
  • Miami May 12, 2017 (a Friday)
These events are high end walk-around tastings of 200+ wines rated 90+ by Wine Spectator along with a light buffet. Early bird tickets cost $225.

Las Vegas and Chicago are common locations for these events. I like the inclusion of Miami as [I believe] a new venue for us east coasters. Along with the New York Wine Experience each fall this presents a well balanced set of options for these tastings.

Is it worth it?

$225 is indeed a big chunk of change for a wine tasting. But like I've said before these events provide an efficient and enjoyable way to develop a relatable frame of reference for many of the world's great wines.

Here are reviews of past Wine Spectator Grand Tours:
I didn't make it to a 2016  Grand Tour event (they were in New York, DC, and Vegas but somehow didn't rise to the top of my priority stack). I couldn't help but check flights for the event in Miami. Lots of options for an out and back from Boston on AA. We'll see!

Are you planning to go to one of these events? Ping me on Twitter @RobertDwyer or drop me an email if so or if you've got questions about past events I might be able to help with.


Blind Tasting: Two 92 WS 2014 California Pinot Noir Values

Saturday, January 28, 2017

2014 Hahn SLH vs MacMurray RRV head to head
Last week I wrote about the $10 off $50 AmEx Offer at Wine.com. I've got quite a few AmEx cards with this offer on them (16 in all at last count) so I decided to go for their StewardShip program that covers shipping on all orders for a year for a flat rate of $49.

Since I have StewardShip I can now stack the AmEx Offer with coupon codes and shop through a portal and get 25+% off. The key then is finding wines I actually want at good prices.

While I was poking around on their site I found a couple of compelling wines with good QPR (quality to price ratio). At least on paper: The 2014 Hahn SLH Pinot an the 2014 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir.

The Hahn SLH is a known commodity: Back to back vintages of 92 point ratings from Wine Spectator, high production and a readily available for less than its $30 release price. I've had prior vintages and have enjoyed this bottling.

The 92 point rating on the MacMurray was news to me because although Wine.com has it for $21.99 (at least here in MA), Wine Spectator lists its release price as $43. Wine.com claims the retail price is $52 so this wine comes right up when I do an Advanced Search on Wine.com and sort on Savings.

The wines arrived earlier this week. I popped them open and had my son pour them into separate glasses and remember which was which. Both wines were showing well, but the results were surprising...

Blind Tasting Notes

These wines look very similar visually. They cling to the glass similarly.

On the nose, I immediately think one is the Hahn and the other is the MacMurray, based on characteristics I associate with their respective appellations.  The one I think is the Hahn (from Santa Lucia Highlands) is more plush, with straightforward generous ripe strawberry notes. The one I think is the MacMurray is classic Russian River Valley brambleberry and cola notes.

The one I think is the Hahn is surprisingly dense on the palate. A lot of weight for a Pinot Noir, especially one that's shy of 50% opaque. Good depth of flavor. Hard to discern whether it offers a long finish -or- the heat is most evident on the finish. Very nice.

The one I think is the MacMurray presents itself the same way on the palate as on the nose. Cola for days. Nice fruit. Confident presence but not overstated. I really like this wine.

I'd be shocked if I got the appelations flipped on this one...


I was absolutely stunned when my son told me the wine I thought was the MacMurray was actually the Hahn. I drink a lot of California Pinot Noir and have developed stereotypes on what wines from each region typically taste like.

I thought perhaps he might have been mistaken but when I poured additional tastes of each wine there was no mistaking which was which: These wines are dramatically different.

I kept both bottles open the rest of the night and the Hahn was undeniably more appealing to me. And given its higher production levels and wider availability I'd say that's a good thing for future easy purchasing.

2014 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir
14.5% Alcohol
26,500 Cases Produced
$30 Release Price

About 40% opaque in the glass, and medium bodied visually. Typical for a California Pinot Noir. Briar patch and cola on the nose and on the palate. Cola for days. Nice fruit. Confident presence but not overstated. I really like this wine.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding
2014 Hahn SLH on Wine.com (affiliate link)

2014 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir
14.3% Alcohol
2,400 Cases Produced
$43 Release Price

About 40% opaque in the glass, and medium bodied visually. Typical for a California Pinot Noir. Straightforward with generous ripe strawberry on the nose. Surprisingly dense on the palate. A lot of weight for a Pinot Noir. Good depth of flavor. Hard to discern whether it offers a long finish -or- the heat is most evident on the finish.

89/100 WWP: Very Good
2014 MacMurray Russian River Valley on Wine.com (affiliate link)

Bottom Line

I'd buy both of these wines again. I think they're tremendously enjoyable, and at just over $20 a very good buy in a category where it's hard to find a reliably outstanding bottle for $20, let alone one rated 92 by Spectator.

Ping me on Twitter @RobertDwyer or drop me an email especially if you've got questions on maximizing the Wine.com AmEx Offer.


Maximizing the AmEx $10 off $50 Wine.com Offer

Friday, January 20, 2017

$10 off $50 at Wine.com, expires 3/31/2017
AmEx is back with yet another Wine.com offer: $10 off $50. Unlike prior $30 off $100 offers, this one is a proper AmEx Offer. By that I mean you activate the offer on each of your AmEx cards then when you spend $50+ at Wine.com you get a statement credit of $10 a couple days later.

While 20% ($10 off $50) is less appealing than 30% ($30 off $100) the fact that this is a true AmEx offer opens up some interesting stacking opportunities.

How Normal People Might Use The Offer

Normal sane people probably don't waste their time with AmEx Offers. But if they did they'd probably use this offer by buying somewhere just north of $50 worth of wine. Wine.com charges $13.65 to ship a single bottle of wine so this would amount to less than a free shipping offer. Womp womp.

A Better Way

The nice thing about this being an AmEx offer is that it allows stacking promo codes with the AmEx offer. For example, you could use promo codes like the ones below to get free shipping and get $10 off $50+:

New Customers – $10 off $75 at Wine.com with code NEW10!

$20 off $150+ with code SAVE20JAN at Wine.com! Valid through 1/31. ONE TIME USE PER CUSTOMER

Extreme Stacking

First, shop through a portal. This will give you 5+% back on your order.

Second, if you have multiple AmEx cards consider buying Wine.com gift cards to make efficient use of the $10 off $50. For example, if you have 2 AmEx cards you could buy yourself 2 $50 Wine.com gift cards. Then use those two gift cards to place an order of as close to $100 as possible in conjunction with a 1-Cent Shipping on $99+ promo code. That way you'll get 20% off and free shipping.

Third, if you've got a lot of  AmEx cards you might consider signing up for their StewardShip program. For $49 you get complimentary shipping on all orders for a year. That way you can buy a bunch of gift cards now while the AmEx Offer is valid then spend down those gift cards over time as inventory and Wine.com codes come together to provide good value.

When I've had StewardShip in the past I've found it useful because you can send wine gifts with the subscription. And you can also send yourself wine to your hotel while on vacation.


Q: Can you use multiple gift cards on a single order?
A: Yes. With Wine.com gift cards are loaded onto an account and stored as a credit so you can use multiple gift cards to pay for a single order.

Q: Do shopping portals pay out on the purchase of Wine.com gift cards?
A: No, I haven't found one yet that pays out on gift card purchases. They do seem to pay out on orders which use gift cards however.

Q: Is there a resale market for Wine.com gift cards?
A: Surprisingly, none that I'm aware of. I bet a lot of points & miles types would love to sell them for anywhere 80+% of face value though (to break even on the purchase while earning credit card rewards) so you might be able to strike a deal if you're entrepreneurial.

Q: How long does it take for Wine.com gift cards to arrive?
A: Within a few minutes by email plus they mail a physical card out redundantly.

Q: Are Wine.com's prices good?
A: Not really. But sometimes they're not that bad. Compare their prices to what you see on Wine-searcher to get a feel.

Q: Can I trust the ratings they cite from professional critics?
A: I've never seen them post a false rating but they do cherry pick.

Q: What happened to the StewardShip free trials they used to run?
A: I don't know. They don't seem to offer them anymore. If you can find a way, let me know!

Q: Which wines are good to buy?
A: I'd start by doing an Advanced Search and sorting on Savings. That usually surfaces up some fairly good deals.

Here are a couple suggestions to get you going:
91 WS 2014 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cab for $10.99
92 WS 2014 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir for $23.99
92 WS 2014 MacMurray RRV Pinot Noir for $21.99

Q: I don't see those prices/wines in my state - what gives?
A: Wine.com inventory varies by state.

Bottom Line

If you have multiple AmEx cards this can be a pretty good deal. Wine margins are thin and if you can get 25%+ off with free shipping on wines you actually want this can be a pretty good deal.

Question of the Day: Any angles I missed?


Insane Value Alert: 2014 Castle Rock Kristy Vineyard Pinot Noir

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2014 Castle Rock Kristy Vineyard Pinot Noir: Outstanding
Wine Spectator quietly released [web only] a very interesting rating for the 2014 Castle Rock Kristy Vineyard Pinot Noir recently: 90 points. That in itself isn't that extraordinary. Lots of wines are rated 90 points or better.
Wine Spectator tasting note
But at a release price of just $18 it's a rather fantastic value. Thinking back to the theory behind the WWP QPR Calculator I ask myself: What do I need to spend to find a reliably outstanding bottle of California Pinot Noir? Probably around $35. Maybe $40.

But it gets better. While this wine carries a release price of $18 it's not that hard to find it for $10 or less.

Plugging this into the WWP QPR Calculator (using a $40 baseline price and a $10 purchase price) we get a value rating of 4: Outstanding.

I was poking around Wine Spectator's ratings database just now and a rating like this is quite the outlier. In looking at 2014 Pinot Noirs rated 90 points or better with a release price of $30 or less only one other wine came up: The 2014 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir at $30 with a 92 point rating. The Hahn is noteworthy in itself especially since the 2013 vintage of the same bottling was also rated 92 points. And you can find it for around $20. I've had prior vintages and was indeed impressed.

But the street price of this Castle Rock is half of the Hahn.

I was looking back at prior vintages for similar QPR ratings I notice this isn't the first time Castle Rock has done this. They had another $18 bottling also rated 90 points a couple years ago. I never got around to tasting that one unfortunately, but this time I was bound and determined to trying this one.

I tracked down a bottle of this wine and tasted it. Here are my thoughts:

2014 Castle Rock Kristy Vineyard Pinot Noir
$18 Release Price
13.5% Alcohol
4,890 Cases Produced

A tremendous achievement at this price point.
Light in color and full of characteristics I expect in California Pinot Noir.
Fresh, perfectly ripened fruit on the nose.
Satisfying depth of flavor with silky mouth feel. Well balanced.
Most impressively, the wine is free of any "off" notes.

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

Bottom Line

Most times when I hear about a wine that's 90 points and costs so little I'm disappointed. But this is the kind of wine I love to have on hand. It drinks like a $30+ California Pinot Noir and is quite an achievement. Especially if you can find it for less than $10. Highly recommended.


[Sold out] Deal Alert: 90 Point WS CA Pinot Noir for less than $10/btl shipped

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Update: This item has sold out.

New York wine retailer Empire Wine is offering the 2014 Castle Rock Monterey County Kristy Vineyard Pinot Noir for $9.85/btl with free shipping on 12 bottles.

Here's the tasting note from Wine Spectator's James Laube:

With a retail price of $18/btl, $9.85/btl is very good pricing especially with free shipping. I've had Castle Rock Pinot Noirs in the past, but never one of their single vineyard offerings. If we keep our expectations in check I think this should be a servicable daily drinker.



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