The Best Online Wine Shop?

So, I have to confess my picks for the Sweet 16 college teams did not fare well. Each one has, alas, gone home.

My game is online wine shopping, and here is my choice for one of the Final Four

http://www.garagistewine.com

garagistewine.com is the most peculiar online retailer I follow. One reason is that its founder Jon Rimmerman who has been offering wines for over 20 years often presents his daily offers late at night.  He is based in Washington State which may explain some things.

He sometimes seems a bit chatty and becomes so excited and enthusiastic that he might belabor a point about a particular wine or region.

He is also insistent about when he will ship your wines and specifies the required temperature and humidity for proper shipping.

But these minor quirks are greatly offset by the pluses.

  • He seeks out wines that are organic, biodynamic and farmed sustainably  
  • He favors small artisan producers and family owned wineries
  • He obtains many wines direct so truly cuts out the middleman
  • He doesn’t use inflated scores from Somms
  • His wines are attractively priced
  • And he is unpredictable, sometimes offering olive oil, nutella, or food items. All high quality.

I enjoy reading his detailed notes because he truly knows his stuff. His background insights about vintages and regions are extremely useful. He is particularly on top of the vintage variations in France’s Burgundy and the Rhone.

He provided a detailed report on 2016 and 2017 based on travels and tastings throughout France and it is spot on. His remarks about 2015 and 2016 Bordeaux are the most reliable in the wine trade.

His analysis of 2016 in Burgundy and of the 2017 Northern Rhone are some of the best I’ve read.

And to this fellow Loire Valley lover, he has the inside track on Loire Valley wines:

“2018 is one of those “pinch me, this can’t possibly be true?” red wine vintages in the Loire. I can’t really compare it to anything else – it has the ripeness of a vintage like 1989 but the freshness of 1996 (another classic year.”

He also looks closely for super wines from Washington, of course but also Oregon. A recent Washington Tempranillo was remarkable.

He often locates super wines under $15 a bottle.

Here are examples of recent offerings:

  • 2018 Bourgueil, Domaine Cotellergie, $16.76
  • 2016 Scott Paul Pinot Noir, Chehelam Mts, $19.71
  • 2014 Rioja Riserva, Burgo Viejo, $13.98
  • 2017 Sancerre, Dezat $19.99
  • 2016 Renvoise “Jasmieres,” dry Loire Valley Chenin Blanc $16.70
  • 2015 Domaine de Cambes, Bordeaux $33.71
  • 2016 Ribbonwood Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $7.99

He recently offered a lovely Provence Rose for sale at $9.99.

He found “the best Bordeaux you’ve never heard of” from 2011.

He comes across as frank, as in these recent notes:

“This is fastidiously produced Chardonnay without a smidge of pretense but the stuffing and expression to, well, pummel just about any other example from outside the Burgundian reach under $30. In addition, the impact is from fruit, stone and clarity, not from alcohol, wood or from winemaker strategic manipulation/enhancement.”

Or

“If you think “bargain” wine is devoid of potential pleasure or cannot be in the league of top-drawer entrants, guess again. This wine can easily compete with Sauvignon Blanc at 2-3 times the $ and many of its competitors are not as delicious to drink.”

Sometimes to keep prices low, he suggests buying 6 or 12 bottles or more which may seem like hype and hustle, but I think he is sincere and honest in his emphasis on offering value.

A maximum number of bottles a person may purchase is always listed, ranging from 6 to 60.

Pros:

Wildly eclectic selection not found elsewhere.

Excellent prices

Seeks out biodynamic and other green products.

Cons:

Complicated shipping procedures and delivery dates but only to assure wines arrive in fine condition.

Sommeliers: The Real Meaning of Curated

 

The word “curated” pops up so often in the online wine retail sphere that whenever I encounter an offer  or website that actually demonstrates creativity and skillful selection, I’m thrilled.

For you wordsmiths, the basic definition of the word “curator” goes back to a person who oversees a museum or a library. And before that, it frequently referred to those in charge of lunatics and asylums.

“Curated” nowadays should indicate that a real professional or expert, if you will, actually used the expertise to seek out and select a product such as a great painting or wine.

In plain speak, you curate wines by getting off your butt and finding real hidden gems. This week one website blew me away with two fantastic wines, not expensive or cult wannabes, just two remarkable wines consumers should know are available.

Discovering hidden gems. Now that’s how you become a wine curator.

sommselect.com is one of the best at it, but some of its wines can be totally off the radar and most are not discounted.

But see my positive review of http://www.sommselect at http://www.robywine.com

http://www.invino.com is the all purpose website that came up with pleasant surprises recently.  This wasn’t the first time it stood out for clever curation. And, yes it uses the phrase “expertly curated” frequently.

Here are two stunning examples:

2015 Feiler-Artinger Neuburger, Burgenland, Austria, $12.00

This exotic white confirms the excitement felt during my visit to Austria last fall.

Though ancient, the region is full of vinous surprises, such as this Neuburger, a white grape found primarily in the Burgenland region.  At $12 a bottle, it is definitely worth taking a chance. You too might be pleasantly surprised.

Better yet, you might be inspired to explore other Austrian wines like its flagship Gruner Veltliner and  red wines made from Cabernet/Merlot blends and the local favorite grape, Zweigelt.

2018 La Marea, Kristy Vineyard Albariño, Monterey County, $24.00

Right you are: this is kind of pricey for an Albarino. But to a longtime Albarino fan, this version reaches new quality levels. I’d take it over any similarly priced Chardonnay.  Besides, it is from an old single vineyard discovered by Ian Brand, the winemaker at La Marea. So you can become acquainted with an up and coming winemaker working to preserve old vineyards in the Central Coast.

And find out for yourself just how good Albarino can be when pushed.

Naked Wines: A Case for Going Naked, Again

Nakedwines.com wants this one-time angel back, and is putting some heavenly pressure on me. The tempting bait hanging out over my ex-angel head is this: 12 bottles, shipped free for $79.99.

I have a week to decide.

Roman, the Head Angel who wants me back, describes the deal as a case of “Naked Favorites.”  The non-angel price for the case would be $239.99.

If you read my detailed review of nakedwines.com, you know my feelings are, at best, mixed. Medal winning wines are so common these days that promoting “Award Winning” wines doesn’t impress me. And the retail price for non-angels is practically meaningless because these wines are only available through nakedwines.

But this particular “naked favorites” case has me thinking.

One reason is that it offers wines from so many different, out of the ordinary regions, that even if the wines are ordinary, the experience could still be salvaged as educational.

To explain, here are the wines in the case that intrigue me:

Zinfandel from Calaveras. Yes, this is one of the historic regions in the old Gold Mining District. Its reputation today, like that of neighboring Amador County, is solid for Zinfandel.

Petite Sirah from Clarksburg. This wine is the pride of the Delta Region. Lots of old vine Petite Sirah is grown here.The best and widely available is Bogle Vineyards, selling under $10.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles. Sure, we all want to explore alternatives to high priced Napa Cabernets. And it is hard to screw up a Paso Cab. So, maybe this could be the one. But is it better than J. Lohr’s Seven Oaks Cab which sells between $10-$14?

Pinot Noir, France. From the southern region, not burgundy. But nevertheless, could be a pleasant surprise. And the winemaker is well-respected. But warm climate Pinot?

Pinot Gris, Hawkes Bay. Another curveball thrown my way. I visited Hawkes Bay during a trip to New Zealand and was wowed by the Sauvignon Blancs and Syrahs. So, hey, this Pinot Gris might also rise above the crowd.

Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa. Another wine well worth exploring. We all know South African Chenin Blancs have lovely, complex flavors.  

Portugal Red Blend. This one is from outside Lisbon, not from the better known Douro Region. Again, a surprise selection, Piqued my vinous curiosity.

Malbec from Argentina. Not, however,  from the Mendoza region, this one is from the cooler Uco Valley which grows my two favorite, and high-end  Malbecs: Zuccardi Q and the Salentein Reserve.

To sum up: this case of favorites is actually more like grape expectations, full of “could be” and “might be fine” wine.

Many winemakers from around the world participate in nakedwines. But the only one familiar to me is Scott Peterson, the person behind the California Cabernet.

I’m conflicted.

And the clock is ticking…

Stay tuned for my answer next week.

Alerting all Pinot Noir Fans: A Truly Great Discovery


Now offered by a website that usually over-hypes, and over rates every wine. But it got this one right!

2017 Eden Rift Pinot Noir, Valiant is on sale for $22.99

The revamped Eden Rift winery is the old Pietra Santa Winery in the Gavilan Range of San Benito County. That’s not too far from Calera.

I credit SF Gate’s Esther Mobley for discovering this winery and writing about the new developments in San Benito several months ago. She is a brilliant wine writer worth following.

The website offering this wine is http://www.vivino.com which typically mentions Robert Parker and then describes the wine in stange language such as: “A World Premiere — Profound Wild Berries and Violets! Legitimately Spectacular!”

And adds, “This Pinot Noir will put you back in your seat. The tension and vibrance is memorable…”

Impressed by the “profound wild berries,” its sommelier on duty rates it 98 points. Lucky guy, he apparently never tastes a wine rated below 95 points.

My Rating: 94 points

My bad: As much as I enjoy berries, can’t remember any as profound.

Sensible facts:

The winery is owned by Christian Pillsbury.

Cory Walker is the winemaker who was assistant winemaker at Calera.

The Eden Rift name draws from Steinbeck’s East of Eden and the fact that the area sits on the San Andreas Fault.

$22.99 is an excellent price, 40% below retail.

See www.vivino.com

Setting the Bar High for Wine Clubs

  • Yes, there is one wine club that is near perfect and it is the Silicon Valley’s best kept secret.

  • It is family-owned, and has been a successful winery since 1992.

  • The winery setting is fantastic and, for added points, it is Certified Sustainable.

  • And, for me, the clincher is the wide range of excellent wines, all nicely priced

Clos LaChance is the winery and is located in the Historic Santa Clara Valley

In addition to several visits, I was recently there for the membership pick-up and special tasting day.

Even on an overcast Sunday, the place was bustling, people were happy, and the live music only added to the atmosphere.

Typically three levels of membership are offered. But you can enjoy most of the perks in the basic Platinum Club, with 4 wines shipped 4 times a year and 25% discounts.

The setting, once you drive passed the long, unexciting entry road, is beautiful. Frequently, a site for weddings, it has super vineyard views with a golf course and mountains off in the background.  

It is the setting for a summer music series which I’ve attended and, along with the sold-out crowd, enjoyed the lively, fun-filled event.

But I’m a wine guy and here’s where Clos LaChance scores bigtime.

(All prices quoted are before member discounts.)

The 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon($25) and the 2015 Reserve Cabernet ($40) are richly flavored and are on a par with Napa’s at only half the price.

The 2016 Viognier Reserve ($20) and 2014 Syrah Reserve ($30) are excellent Rhone-types.

The 2016 Malbec Reserve and 2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve, both at $36 are stunning examples of  each varietal.

For casual entertaining and fun sipping wines, the Grenache Rose and Sauvignon Blanc are hard to beat.

I could go on about other wines, but by now the point has been made: if you are thinking about signing up for a highly-rated wine club, you should visit and check out Clos LaChance.

Clos LaChance

1 Hummingbird Lane

San Martin, CA 95046

(408) 686 1050

www.clos.com