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 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 has it for $21.99 (at least here in MA), Wine Spectator lists its release price as $43. claims the retail price is $52 so this wine comes right up when I do an Advanced Search on 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 (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 (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 AmEx Offer.


Maximizing the AmEx $10 off $50 Offer

Friday, January 20, 2017

$10 off $50 at, expires 3/31/2017
AmEx is back with yet another 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 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. 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 with code NEW10!

$20 off $150+ with code SAVE20JAN at! 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 gift cards to arrive?
A: Within a few minutes by email plus they mail a physical card out redundantly.

Q: Are'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: 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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