Weekend Wine Deals: Sonoma

Heading To Sonoma Wine Country This Weekend?

Check out the exciting deals at www.invino.com this weekend.

Maintaining its #1 ranking in my top 7 web retailers, invino is holding a Warehouse sale both Friday and Saturday in Sonoma, just off the Plaza.

For more buying tips and a detailed review of invino.com, go to: www.bestonlinewineshopping.com


Weekend Update: Top 7 Online Wine Sellers

(Online only and does not include flash sales.)

1. www.invino.com

Excellent finds/discounts in CA wines and direct imports.

Recent selections demonstrate a serious effort to find hidden gems. Moved to the top with new Italian wines and super California wines like Cuvaison Pinot and the unusual Marsanne from Mendocino’s Campovida. Offering 2013 “Prime Solum” Napa Cabernet from Bill (William) Hill tipped it for me.

  1. www.garigistewine.com

Totally eccentric, often brilliant selection of imports.

Upgraded this week after securing excellent wines under $10 and super older wines like Qupe 09 Syrah. Provides excellent background on Bordeaux vintages.

  1. www.wine.com

Most complete and reliable site with decent discounts.

Showed well this week with 1 cent shipping option and much improved Bordeaux selection.


Solid, all-purpose site, part of the Wine Enthusiast.

Broke into the top 7 list this with several exciting offers.

Among them, Ferrari Carano’s Siena under $20 and lovely, all-purpose Primal Roots red for under $10.


Solid for discounted Italian and Spanish wines.

Enjoyed a strong week with exciting Barolo and Brunello deals,and specials on imported  Roses. A double magnum of lovely Rose? Worked for me.


Rapidly improving. Best for CA wines.

Added hard to find wines from Tor and Jones Family, and Vermillion from Keplinger. Not all wines are discounted, this is more like a specialty online wine shop.


A go-to site if you love exploring new, small wineriesfrom Sonoma County. Added a Sauvignon from Bodkin and a new red from Jigar this week.

This site recently showed remarkable versatility with good deals on McLaren Vale Grenache, RustRidge Napa Zin and Phelps Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.


Setting the Bar High for Sauvignon Blanc


2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley $20.00

Score: 94

Overview: Sets a new Standard for Sauvignon Blanc.

My Tasting Note:

This lively beauty is not your typical Sauvignon. Enhanced by the inclusion of the rare Sauvignon Gris clone and the Musque clone, it is mouth-watering delicious. Lively on the palate, smooth and long in the finish, it sets a new standard and will blow away the competition from New Zealand or anywhere else by combining rich texture with zesty fruit. Emphasizes melon, quince, and citrus flavors. No oak but still mouth-filling.

Note: not to be confused with the winery’s lovely Fume Blanc.

Why Else do I love this Wine:

  • Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite wine and I’ll never miss an opportunity to try one.
  • This easily passes all of my criteria for a great version, and I’m a tough critic.
  • Equally important: It is made by a family-owned winery, the same family that founded it in 1972.
  • Dry Creek Vineyards, along with Robert Mondavi Winery, was a Sauvignon Blanc, Fume Blanc pioneer.

Other info:

There are two other Sauvignon Blancs from Dry Creek. Wine club members have access to all versions at 25% off.

Available online:

www.wine.com   $17.99, reasonable shipping rates

www. k&lwine.com $14.99, limited and shipping extra



Last week, sitting on top of a delivery from Macy’s was a $160 voucher to purchase 15 bottles of wine for $89.99 and free shipping. Two days later, Alaskan Airlines sent a voucher for $130 for 15 bottles of wine. But it included 2,000 bonus miles, and the cost was $69.99 with a shipping fee of $19.99.

Clearly, somebody sensed my wine cellar was shrinking. But before I could decide what to do, my United Airlines card hit me with an offer of 5,000 bonus miles with a purchase of 6 bottles for $41.94, plus 1 cent shipping.  Possibly sensing my dilemma and weakness at basic math, it explained that these “hand-picked wines” would save me $117.

Flush with 3 potential savings opportunities, I did something unusual: I read the fine print and did  heavy-duty research based upon what I read. I then checked out 20 other wine clubs.

Happy to share what I learned.

First of all, these are introductory offers, teasers of sorts, and enticements to get us to join a wine club. Typically, wines are shipped to members’ door several times a year, depending upon your preference. And of course, the per bottle price is 2-3 times higher than that of the introductory offer. Shipping is another add-on.

Knowing that, it becomes important to be able to cancel your membership anytime. Of the two dozen wine clubs I researched, they all had a cancellation clause. However, some, as you discover from the Yelps, are easier to drop out of the others.

What I soon discovered is that the key point to all of these tempting, money-saving offers is the actual source of the wines. That turned out to be far less complicated than it sounds because there are three major suppliers used by most of the airlines, most corporations,  major newspapers, and most organizations from AARP to the NRA offering a wine club.

It is like companies presenting a wine club basically outsource to another company to supply and service their wine clubs.

The three are Laithwaiteswine.com, vinesse.com and tastingroom.com also known as Lot 18.

Over the past year, I’ve reviewed all three in great detail on my website and follow them on a daily basis. Check out www.bestonlinewineshopping.com for more details

Spoiler alert: the best offers are Alaskan if you want the bonus miles and Macy’s if you don’t and prefer free shipping.

Why the tie? Well, they both use Laithwaites and the wines offered are basically the same. Sure there are some minor differences if you select all reds, or whites, or a mix. But the deals are the same.

The more important answer: of the big three, Laithwaite simply has better quality wines and a much wider selection for those who remain members. It is strong in French, Spanish and Italian wines, and shows some depth in its California selections.


A tale About Hubris & the Exclusive 100 Point Wine Club


Part 1

Last Wednesday, during my habitual walk through Costco’s wine department in Santa Rosa, I was blown away to see at the end of an aisle bottles of 2014 Le Dome offered at a discounted price of $69.99.

Surprised, stunned and maybe a little sad, I didn’t buy the wine. But did return to make sure I read the label correctly.

Ten years ago, one of the most famous, most sought-after wines in the world was this very same “Le Dome” from St. Emilion. The 2005 was a great wine and its reputation soared even higher when the 2009 was rated 99 points by Robert Parker.

Then, it went off the charts when Parker rated the 2010 a perfect 100 points. With that, Le Dome joined an exclusive club.

A website, Cult Wines for investors, provides ratings and prices from 1996 onward, if you are interested in all vintages.

Mere mortals could not buy a bottle of Le Dome even if they were willing to pay the $300 asking price.

Almost every bottle of “Le Dome” went to the UK market where it was as much of a national treasure as Judi Dench.  The British wine press could not hold back its praise for “Le Dome.”

Jonathan Maltus, the man behind Le Dome is British, and he was frequently introduced in wine circles as” the first English winemaker to make a 100 point wine.”

When living in the Bordeaux region, I was served Le Dome on several occasions, always by proud British friends. All vintages were extra-ordinary, unusually opulent. Jonathan was at 3 of the dinners and he was quite pleasant, quiet & easy-going. I later visited and tasted many more of his wines at Chateau Teyssier, his primary Chateau on the outskirts of St. Emilion.

Le Dome, made from a small 4-acre parcel, near Chateau Angelus in St. Emilion, was a strong player in the Garagiste movement that shocked the old guard in St. Emilion and rattled the Bordeaux wine trade. Many trace the small production, hands on garagiste movement to Château Le Pin. Others who joined it and Le Dome were Chateau Valandraux, Rol Valentin, and La Mondotte.

Le Dome is made from Cabernet Franc with a small percentage of Merlot, similar to the well-established Cheval Blanc.

Decanter Magazine and other British publications still closely follow Le Dome and gave high scores to the 3 most recent vintages, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Several of the online  wine retailers I follow have recently listed vintages of the previously impossible to find Le Dome. And http://www.wine.com lists the 2014 for $125 a bottle. Other sites have offered the 2012 at discounted prices.

About a month ago, when reviewing www.nakedwines.com, I noticed 2 St. Emilion wines made by Malthus for less than $30 a bottle. Neither was Le Dome, but there clearly is something going on.

Is the garagiste movement over in Bordeaux?

Or is Le Dome the only star that has crashed down to earth?

Around 2005, I heard from other wine writers that Malthus was launching a similar wine in Australia, and had shipped over those special sorting machines used for Le Dome. Located in the Barossa Valley, that project is known as The Colonial Estate.

Later, around 2008, Malthus launched another project, this time in Napa Valley. The brand is World’s End and the wine, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah, is called “Wavelength.”

Invino, an excellent web retailer that secures great deals, recently offered the 2009 Wavelength for $59.99 and mentioned it had also picked up the 2010 from a broker handling the brand.

Wavelength wines were made from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa. A few months ago, Gallo purchased the entire vineyard. So, that’s probably the end of that project as we know it.

But going back to the excitement over joining Bordeaux’s exclusive 100-point club, one line from an article in the British press about Maltus struck me: “I remember seeing [Mr. Parker] after he gave the 100 point score,” recalls Mr. Maltus. “He just smiled and said: ‘Don’t worry, it’s all downhill from now.’ ”

Wow!  I bet Parker would like to take that comment back

That remark now seems somewhat prophetic, but the truth more likely is that the road has had a few major bumps in it.

I hope Jonathan bounces back.

It does seem as if he got caught up in his own hubris and way over-extended himself.

Any return to earth might be easier if he threw away all of the old press clippings about superstar status along with membership in the exclusive 100 point club.

The Greatest Pinot Noir Deal Ever?


Leave it to Jon Rimmerman, the unpredictable guy behind www.garagistewine.com to issue this challenge.

His pick: the 2015 Trinity Hill Pinot Noir, White label, Hawkes Bay for $9.98.

That’s right…under $10.

The average price is $15.00.

You can order up to 20 cases, so he has a sh…or make that boatload on hand.

And yes, this is delicious Pinot from one of New Zealand’s best producers.

It sure beats Cupcake’s Pinot Noir. Or Smoking Loon.

Is there a better deal now?






A Wine Club: Intimate & Educational

Can a wine club be exclusive, limited to a few hundred members, hosts private special events, make great wines and be non-snobby?  

I added that last point because the ATTITUDE you encounter in some wineries is a real turn-off, at least to me. (Are you listening, Napa Valley?)

Some people may think being made to feel uncomfortable and being talked down to by some twit on a script is part of the wine club deal. And attending over-subscribed winery events with boring speeches is the trade-off for buying expensive wines.

A good club, we can all agree, offers something more than high-priced, hard to find wines. The personal service should be attentive and the events should be more than tasting wines and listening to a sales pitch.

But membership should also be a positive experience, as in fun and a rewarding experience, as in learning.

The educational element is all too often non-existent in wine clubs today.

Drinking wine is easy; thinking about it as in expanding your knowledge, well, that’s a different thing.

So, if you share my interest in a wine club that has it all, except the attitude, look no further.

The answer is a new winery named Clarice, located in Sonoma County.


This is the new venture of a seasoned pro, Adam Lee, who founded Siduri Wines in the early 1990s and came to know every unusual Pinot Noir vineyard from Oregon to Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. And Santa Barbara. And San Luis Obispo. Well, you get the idea.

I was among his many fans who enjoyed Siduri Pinot Noirs because each was a lesson in its place of origin. Yes, they were great studies in “terroir.” Still are.

I also liked the Syrahs made under the Novy label. Make that: loved them.

Having sold Siduri in 2015 to Jackson Family, Adam has been working on a new brand and a unique wine club concept.

The concept has 3 key elements: fine wines for members only, educational discussions, and community.

It is limited to 625 members, and the wines are offered only to members.

Here’s the deal:

“As part of the Clarice Wine Community, members will enjoy two exclusive parties a year, one focusing on the Clarice Pinot Noirs and the other spotlighting a fellow winemaker and their wines, during which members will learn about their viticulture and winemaking, taste their wines, and receive special discounts. Finally, members will receive a case of Clarice Pinot Noir as part of their membership.”

Membership fee is $964.00 a year. But is it payable in six monthly installments.

The case will be available each October. The first vintage was 2017.

Granted, plunking down $160 a month is a big commitment, and once you begin, well, you are in.

The add-on to me is the personal touch in the educational programs. Members will learn about many facets of winemaking such as oak barrels, how they are made and what they add to wine.

Better to let Adam explain the educational aspect:

“From vineyard management and barrel making, to winery accounting and wine distribution — and so much more — you’ll learn from and interact with the true leaders of wine. In addition, you’ll gain access to a growing library of wine-related articles, written by a who’s who of industry experts.”

So, you will earn what the “MT” designation on an oak barel means.

Also, Clarice will offer private social media forums to handle members’ questions or concerns about wine and restaurants, or in Adam’s words:

“Wondering which restaurants have the best wine lists? Need help deciding what to add to your cellar? Join our private social media groups to share knowledge and recommendations.”

To me, that says they are willing to put a ton of effort into making members happy and a part of the family or community. The number of members is limited by the amount of wine produced each year.

March Madness: Crazy Wine Deals

The month begins with several unusually attractive wine deals coming our way.

 One website, invino.com, is offering two high quality Chardonnays for less than $20 a bottle. Both in fact are selling for $19.99, so you can check the full story and decide for yourself.

The Chardonnays are:

2013 Chateau St. Jean, Durell Vineyard, Sonoma County, $19.99

2015 Saddleback Cellars, Napa Valley Barrel Ferment, $19.99

Both wineries have developed a strong track record for Chardonnay and they do not disappoint in these vintages. Neither is your everyday sipping Chardonnay.

Check out the details at:


Another website is offering two excellent Rhone reds from 2015 for under $30.00 a bottle. This is one of the best vintages for Rhones in several years.

2015 Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine des Entrefaux, $26.00

2015 Le Clos du Caillou, Cotes du Rhone, Vielles Vignes, $27.00

The website is  www.wineaccess.com

And shipping is included with 6 bottles or more.

Zinfandel fans are also in luck with a pair of Zins to celebrate March madness.

2014 Pedroncelli, Mother Clone Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $13.99

2015 Rucksack Cellars Zinfandel Sierra Foothills, $19.99

Shipping is $1 a case. See the offer at



The Price of Top Bordeaux

2015 Chateau Margaux 750ml (Bordeaux) – $1,268.70

Rated 100 points: (WA98-100)  (JS100)


Offered by     wwwgaragistewine.com

“STRICT LIMIT 1/person until we run out (in the spirit of the community and to allow as many of you as possible to acquire it at this $, please do not be upset with the one bottle limit.

(to be clear, this is $1268+ per bottle)

$1268+ is a Top Deal?”

Could well be. Time will tell.


Best Deal on a 2015 St. Emilion

Based upon today’s prices, St. Emilion appears to be the hot region for 2015 Bordeaux. The so-called second tier wines being offered on a pre arrival basis are well over $50, averaging closer to $70.

So, here is today’s recommendation for a steal of a deal:

2015 Chateau Haut Brisson St. Emilion Grand Cru, $28.99 offered by


Brisson, a real chateau with a long but uneven history, is making a strong comeback under its present owner.

The reviewers are talking this one up and throwing high scores around, so better act fast.

Looking for a talking point, I enjoyed this odd comment from a report published by James Suckling:

“The sign of a great vintage in Bordeaux is when even bad producers make excellent wines,” quips Alain Vautier, the owner of St.-Emilion’s great Château Ausone.”

Suckling adds, “But it’s no joke. They are so many excellent wines in 2015, from the top classified growths to simple bottlings.”