Fresh Off the Truck: 2020 Martin Ray Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Thursday, May 26, 2022

I still think it's harder to find a good $20 bottle of Pinot Noir than a satisfying $12 full-bodied Cabernet (Columbia Crest H3) or Monastrell (Juan Gil).

At around $20 I tend to see Meiomi and similar wines in the domestic Pinot Noir category, and a lot of those are a bit over the top for what some might consider varietally correct.

So I was interested in trying a wine that's gotten some attention recently that's less than $20. Let's get right into it...

2020 Martin Ray Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.8% Alcohol

30% opaque with a ruby/magenta hue. It appears light-bodied but like any good California Pinot Noir, it delivers satisfying aromas and flavor.

On the nose, I get fresh ripening fruit, strawberries, and a hint of white pepper.

On entry, it lands with satisfying weight. Low acidity with just a hint of fine silky tannins on the backend. This is a very drinkable wine, devoid of off-notes with broad appeal. Impressive at this price point.

89/100 WWP: Very Good

So here's an interesting puzzler on how to buy this wine...

Wine Access has it for $18. You could buy 7 bottles to get to $126 for free shipping, and that would trigger the $100 Amex Offer. You could also buy $100 eGCs to avoid overshoot. Or if it's your first order you could to $150 for $50 back on your first $150 order through referral. has it for $18.99 in Massachusetts. If you have Stewardship you could get 3 bottles of it for $56.97 and get $20 off $50 with code JOURNEY50 (HT Diego Santos on Wine Berserkers). That seems like a pretty great way to try just a few bottles, or mix it in with some other wines you like to get to $50.

Bottom Line

It's still surprisingly hard to find a solid bottle of Pinot Noir for $20, but this one delivers for less than $20 before discounts. Give it a whirl and see whether this might make it into your rotation?


[Targeted Amex Offer] $60 back on $200 at First Bottle

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

There's a new Amex Offer for $60 back on $200 from First Bottle.
Expires 7/5/2022.

First Bottle doesn't have an affiliate program, so they don't participate in shopping portals.
Free shipping on 6+ bottles.

See also:


Targeted Citi/AA Simply Miles Offers: 30+% Off

Monday, May 9, 2022

Tim at Frequent Miler spotted a couple of new stackable offers...

There seem to be at least a couple versions of these offers swirling around, from two separate but semi-related entities.

Citi Offers

I see one of these offers on each of my Citi cards:
  • $30 back on $100+
  • $10 back on $100+
The ones that have the better $30 offer seem to be cards that I didn't use the prior offer on. On cards I did use the prior offer, I was only targeted for $10 off $100.

Citi's IT is notoriously flaky. Although they recently expanded their Offers program to include all (most?) Citi cards I've had difficulty bringing them up on desktop. The Citi mobile app seems to be a more reliable way to activate these offers.

Gift card purchases have triggered the $30 back in the past.

When multiple cards are targeted each seems to be able to take advantage of the offer, which is superior to how Amex mostly limits us to one offer per SSN now.

This offer expires 6/30/2022.

AA Simply Miles

While not nearly as lucrative as a prior iteration of this offer in conjunction with a 5x multiplier, there are at least two active offers on stackable Mastercard-linked AA Simply Miles.
  • 1,400 miles for $100+
  • 450 miles for $100+
These should stack with the Citi Offers, and thankfully many of the cards Citi issues are Mastercards - which is the only card type that AA Simply Miles currently supports.


I have never found a shopping portal that pays out on the purchase of gift cards. Portals do pay out when paying with gift cards, but never when buying them. It doesn't mean it's not worth trying, but I've given up.

That said, card linked offers do seem to reliably pay out on the purchase of gift cards. This is true of Amex Offers and the more recently introduced Citi Offers.

Bottom Line

Solid deals. Stack 'em up, buy some gift cards to avoid overshoot, shop through a portal, take a referral, sign up for Stewardship, and pick wines that aren't too price-inflated and this should result in some tremendous savings.


[Targeted Amex Offer] $30 off $100 at Last Bottle

There's a new Amex Offer for $30 off $100 from wine retailer Last Bottle. 
Expires 7/5/2022.

New customers can get $10 off $30 through referral.

As far as I know, Last Bottle doesn't have an affiliate program so they don't participate in shopping portals. So I think the best you can do is load the offer, take a referral, and wait for an appealing offer to present itself. The hurdle is usually low for free shipping.


[Targeted] Amex Offer: $30 Back on $100 (x3) at Wine Access

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Wine Access is back with a new iteration of a popular offer:
$30 back on $100+ which can be repeated three times.
Expires 10/29/2022.

I saw this on one of my wife's Personal Platinum cards, but not on my cards.
She hasn't gotten this offer before and I had, which makes me think this is perhaps targeted to accounts that haven't had the offer before. But who knows.

How to Maximize

1. Buy eGiftCards

To lock in the savings and avoid overshoot, buy $100 eGCs (affiliate link):

The eGCs arrive instantly and can be combined for future orders.

2. Use a referral for new accounts

This is my referral link. Thanks in advance of using it.

3. Try stacking with a coupon

Wine Access does promo codes a little differently than other retailers. Rather than having promo codes that float around, they tend to send targeted emails out on your birthday and such. When you click on the link in the email, the offer is attached to your account. So sign up for an account and hope for the best.

What to Buy

I haven't bought from Wine Access lately, but I've got an order in for some new arrivals. I'll look to get back to some "Fresh Off the Truck" reviews when those arrive. 

One notable recent winner is the 2017 Keller Estate La Cruz Pinot Noir. Familiarity with this one goes way back for me. Long-time readers (really long time) will recall my fondness for Zepaltas Pinot Noir. Ryan Zepaltas burst onto the winemaking scene with a 95 point Wine Spectator rating for his 2005 Zepaltas La Cruz Pinot Noir.

Besides tracking down Zepaltas Pinot Noirs, meeting Ryan, and interviewing here on the site I also visited and tasted at Keller. Their Pinot Noirs are fantastic, and the 2017 Keller La Cruz Pinot Noir shows very well. At $30/btl with these stackable discounts, it's one to try. Compare at $52 at the winery.


May 2022 Stackable Savings at Total Wine

Sunday, May 1, 2022

A new month brings new deals, and it looks like Total Wine is making a push with three deals that are potentially stackable depending on where you live and what's enforced:

  • Online shopping portals (online, certain states only)
  • Citi Offers (targeted, activation required)
  • AA Simply Miles (targeted, card-linked program for Mastercards)
Online Shopping Portals

There are two listings for Total Wine on Cashback Monitor:
It never much occurred to me to check shopping portals for Total Wine since I think of it mostly as a brick & mortar store. 

But looking at their offerings with fresh eyes it looks like they also offer:
  • Delivery (to some addresses, presumably near stores, from $5.99)
  • Shipping (presumably to states where they operates stores but when you're far from a location)
  • In-store pickup (not all products are available to order for in-store pickup)
All of these should qualify for portal cashback, though I haven't tried personally.
Check the fine print on the shopping portal of choice.

Looks like Top Cashback is 10% at the moment.

Citi Offers

Some Citi credit cards are targeted for $20 back on $100 or more. This offer should work online or in-store. If you don't see it on desktop, check in the Citi mobile app.

Activation required.

It's said to be available only in these states (unclear whether it's enforced):
AZ, CA, FL, MD, MN, MO, NV, NM, NC, SC, and VA

Offer ends 5/22/2022.

AA Simply Miles

American Airlines Simply Miles is a card-linked program that's separate from the AA shopping portal. It works by linking any Mastercard credit card to your AA Simply Miles account, which in turn is linked to your AAdvantage account. Purchases should then automatically earn AA miles.

This should work online or in-store.

Since it's card-linked it should be stackable with the offers above.
The current offer I see is 930 miles for a purchase of $100 or more.

It's said to be available only in these states (same states as the Citi Offer):
AZ, CA, FL, MD, MN, MO, NV, NM, NC, SC, and VA

Offer ends 5/22/2022.


Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2022: $100 Off VIP Tickets

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Dates are set for Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2022:
  • Las Vegas Saturday, June 4
  • Washington, DC Friday, June 10
  • Florida Saturday, June 18
Direct Link

Reviews of past Wine Spectator Grand Tours:
It's great to see these events coming back. They're pricey but the best way I've found to develop a relatable frame of reference for many of the world's benchmark wines from important categories.

Get $100 off VIP Admission with code: CELEBRATEMOM

General Admission tickets are $275.
VIP Admission costs $375.

VIP gets you in an hour earlier than General Admission which provides a chance to try wines from the more popular tables with shorter lines.


Review: Tasting Menu w/Paired Wines at I Carracci in Bologna, Italy

Sunday, April 24, 2022

We're just back from a week in Italy, where we split time between Sorrento/the Amalfi Coast and Bologna. The Amalfi Coast was beautiful as you'd imagine but Bologna really stole the show.

Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region probably aren't in the Top 10 tourist destinations in Italy, but perhaps that's why it's such a pleasant place to visit. It's devoid of tacky souvenir stands and shops, thriving with young professionals and students, and has a vibrant enough economy to support outstanding restaurants and international retail. 

Especially if food & wine is a focus, I think Bologna is one of the best cities in Italy to visit.

I Carracci Restaurant

There are dozens of fabulous casual al fresco dining options in Bologna serving up local specialties like Tortellini, Mortadella, and Ragu Bolognese.

For an elevated take on these classics and more, we enjoyed our meal at the I Carracci Restaurant is within the Grand Hotel Majestic gia Baglioni

It's a fine dining experirence; a bit old-school, with higher-end wines decanted by candlelight for example, but it's been a very long time since we've enjoyed a meal as much so I thought I'd write up here. Especially to remind myself which wines we tasted so I can try to find them here in the US.

Starter: Mortadella, squacquerone cheese and tigelle bread
Pairing: Cantina Paltrinieri Grosso (white Lambrusco) (wine-searcher)

We enjoyed a bunch of white Lambrusco prior to this, so it was nice to try a local sparkling white wine to get things started. Looks like their "Radice" bottling might be easeir to find than "Grosso" in the US.

[click photos to enlarge]

The dish was a fun little starter that introduced the Mortadella flavor and the delicious creamy Squacquerone cheese as well.

First Course: Tortellini in Capon Broth
Second Course: Tagliatelle with Bolognese ragù
Pairing: Vallenia Terre Rosse Emilia-Romagna Cabernet Sauvignon (wine-searcher)

I was impressed with their dedication to staying local with this delightful, well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon from Emilia. Looks like it's not imported to the US which is a shame because I bet it's relatively affordable and outstanding with an appealing combination of pure fruit kissed with just a touch of oak influence.
This pure rendition of Tortellini en Brodo with its perfectly cooked pasta, flavorful meat filling, and complex broth was amazing and satisfying. The perfect accompaniment to a rainy evening.
The Tagliatelle with Bolognese ragù was outstanding, and probably the most carefully scrutinized dish of our trip. Sweet Basil in Needham has an amazing take on Bolognese, but the classic here in Bologna is simpler. Very meat driven. Very little sauce. Very delicous. The supporting pasta was off-the-charts perfection.

A dish we enjoyed elsewhere in Bologna and replicated upon returning home was Tortellini with Bolognese Ragu. It's hard to go wrong with any of these combinations.

Third Course: Veal cutlet Bolognese style with rosemary potatoes and friggione
Pairing: Fattoria Paradiso Vigne Delle Lepri Sangiovese Superiore Riserva (wine-searcher)

I'm sufficiently stuffed and "under the ether" of an amazing dining experience at this point, but I thought this was another winner. Eataly Boston scores points for carrying this one when very few other retailers in the US do.
Perhaps not the most Instagram-worthy entree, and I probably didn't need any more food at this point, but this was a terrific dish as well.

Dessert Course: Multiple
Pairing: Umberto Cesari Romagna Albana Passito "Colle Del Re" (wine-searcher)

Here's a fun label to decode.
Producer: Umberto Cesari
Location: Romagna Albana DOCG
Name of the Wine: Colle Del Re
Passito is a type of Italian wine made from dried grapes. This is a dessert wine, but Amarone is another example of a wine made from dried grapes that's not a dessert wine.

This wine was stunningly delicious but unfortunately hard to find in the US. Apricots and honey are backed with vibrant acidity to keep it clean. Gorgeous. Here's a link to it on the winery website. Here's a Romagna Albana Passito they have at Eataly Boston.

The tasting menu costs 95 euros per person.
Plus 60 euros per person for generous pours of four wines.
Full menu here.

Bottom Line

Bologna is an amazing destination for food & wine. I heartily recommend spending some time there, especially if you've already visited the more famous destinations in Italy.

It was so nice to sit down and enjoy an evening of fine dining, especially internationally after a long period of not traveling. The food in Italy is so regionally distinct, delicious, and approachable. I Carracci is an outstanding high-end fine dining experience.

Eataly's wine selections here in the US is impressive (they also have a location in central Bologna in addition to FICO Eataly World just outside of Bologna). Take something as simple as Lambrusco: How many do they carry at and Total Wine? Like zero decent ones combined.

For more thoughts on Bologna food & wine see this post on Instagram.
And for Bologna-area highlights including a visit to Pagani Automobili see this post.


Targeted March 2022 Amex Offers: How to Maximize

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Amex is back with what's got to be the most reliably recurred deal in wine at this point. I'm seeing two variants of the offer:

  • $30 off $100 (thankfully can be used 2x)
  • $10 off $50
I'm seeing the $30 off $100 offer on business cards (I saw it on Business Platinum cards) and $10 off $50 on personal cards (I saw it on Personal Platinum cards).

This iteration of the offer expires 6/30/2022.
1. Add the Amex Offers to your card(s)

Amex Offers are limited to one per SSN.

If you have authorized users and they have their own Amex profile and are targeted they too can add and redeem offers.

2. Buy gift cards

Direct Link [affiliate]

The T&Cs don't exclude gift card purchases, and historically they have triggered Amex Offers. The reason I like buying gift cards rather than wine head-on is because it minimizes overshoot, and locks in the value of the Amex Offer.'s gift cards are delivered via email shortly after ordering, and redundant plastic versions of the same codes are subsequently delivered in the mail.'s interface for the redemption of gift cards has changed a bit over the years. Once loaded to a account they stay associated with that account as a payment method. Their system allows use of 2 gift cards per transaction.

3. Get StewardShip

StewardShip covers shipping for $49/yr. If you shop with frequntly it's a good deal, but the key thing it enables is applying a promo code to an order while not having to pay for shipping.

You can only apply one promo code to an order, so without StewardShip you have to decide whether you want to use a promo code that discounts shipping -or- discounts the price.

4. Shop through a portal

I like to compare portal rates through Cashback Monitor.

Another site to consider is RetailMeNot (which isn't listed in Cashback Monitor) where rates tend to fluctuate between 10-20%.

Another is ShopSmarter where all merchants get 10% back everyday, but there's a $9.97 monthly fee. Paying for a membership for a shopping portal sounds crazy, but can make sense for people who do a lot of online shopping.

5. Use a promo code

Keep eye on this thread on WineBerserkers for new codes. There are a bunch of $20 off $50 and $50 off $150 codes that work well with this promo.

It's useful to have multiple variants of the same discount because a given promo code can only be used once per account.

Bottom Line

Despite's somewhat inflated prices this recurring deal along with other stackable savings enables this to be one of the best ways to get deep discounts on wine.

The challenge is finding wines you're excited about that aren't marked up too much vs the best available price elsewhere. Inventory seems to have improved over pandemic depths so hopefully you can find some good ones in your market.


[Sold Out] Amazing Deal on a Legendary California Pinot Noir Producer

Saturday, March 5, 2022

NY retailer Zachys has what looks to be a great deal on the 2013 Joseph Swan Greak Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Direct Link

Deals to Stack
  • Regular price is $49.99/btl
  • If you buy 12+ bottles the price should reduce to $19.99/btl
  • Get 20% off with code WeekendSave20
  • Shop through a portal for up to 5% back
Unfortunately, there's not an active Amex Offer for Zachys at the moment, and I'm not aware of any free shipping promo codes at the moment. If you're in the Westchester County area or pass through you could save with in-store pickup.

Even with shipping costs on the order of $55 for a case, this is a fabulous deal. I swear Zachys used to charge even more than that for shipping - maybe they made shipping costs a little more realistic lately?

I was saying to a friend the other day that any time I can get a really good bottle of Pinot Noir for around $20 I'm all over it. I've enjoyed Joseph Swan's more affordable "Cuvee de Trois" bottling in the past but the one offered here is a single

It's a little nerve-wracking cracking open the first bottle of a case like this - especially with a little age on it. But I've got enough faith in the producer here to recommend it.

Deal ends March 7, 2022 but I bet they sell out sooner than that.



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