Finding the Right Wine Club

If Quality, Variety and A Proven Track Record are Your Thing…

Navarro Vineyard’s “Pre Release Tasting Program” is highly recommended.

Overall Rating 4.75 stars.

Rated 5 out of 5 in 4 of 5 main categories

Background

Navarro could well be the granddaddy of all wine clubs. Still family owned and operated by Deborah Cahn and Ted Bennett, Navarro has been selling direct through its mailing list since 1974.

Over such a long run, the winery fine tuned the wine club program and in many ways wrote the book on how to make it work.

And, most important, these guys how to keep members’ loyalty over the years.

Almost all wines are sold direct from the winery, and with rare exception, they are not sold in wine stores. So the exclusive angle is strong.

Quick View:

First, the staff, many of whom have been there for many years, is extremely knowledgeable and attentive. They have first hand information about the winemaking and get involved in the evaluation and marketing of all wines.

Members are offered all wines before non members can buy them. This is a big plus.

Normally wines are pre-released in the Spring and in the Fall. Members are notified about new wines by mail or email, and either way, the information is cleverly presented in a personal, no baloney prose style.

Memberships remain active by purchasing a case a year. The choice is yours, but the winery also offers special case samplers around a theme like “Springtime Whites” or “Hearty Reds.” Typically, six different case samplers are offered.

The Wines

Without question, the wines are of high quality as evidenced by the inordinate numbers of medals won each year. I’ve judged their wines on several occasions and they almost always steal the show.

The flagship wine is the high end Pinot Noir, “Methode a l’Ancienne.” closely followed by the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay.

But if you have never liked a Gewurztraminer or a dry Riesling, you owe it to yourself to try Navarro’s, each  the best of the breed. My favorite is the Sauvignon Blanc.

But there are wide choices for members as the winery normally bottles 20 or so wines per year. There are 3 different Chardonnays and 3 Pinot Noirs as a rule.

And there is always something new going on…a new varietal to the roster, a new vineyard source, or a new technique.

Some wines are offered in half bottles and a few magnums are available.

Prices: range from $16 to $50 a bottle. There normally are 3 or 4 wines priced below $20 a bottle.

Discounts range from 20% to 25% for members

Twice a year timed with the Pre-Release events, the winery offers 1 cent shipping on each full case.

Special Events and Member Perks

Located in the remote town of Philo, the winery makes its facility open to members. Two Pre-Release events are held each year.

The picnic area is tranquil and lovely.  Non alcoholic grape juice is available for kids to sample.

The family also owns the successful Pennyroyal cheese company, so often a selection of cheeses is available.

Insider Tips

Best deal:

Pinot Blanc, new to the roster and far better than any Chardonnay below $20. A super everyday white!

The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir at $22 a bottle is a fantastic red wine deal.

When to buy. Wait for the window of one cent shipping and stock up.

When not to visit. Late afternoon on any Friday when tourists heading to the Mendocino Coast clog the tasting room and slam down the samples.

The Basics:

The Happy Family Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn

Aaron and Sarah Cahn Bennett

Address: 5601 CA-128, Philo, CA 95466, USA

Hours: · 8AM–6PM

www.NavarroWine.com

Phone: +1 800-537-9463

 

Looking for A Special Wine Club?

How About A Hidden Gem in the Silicon Valley?

Here it is: Sarah’s Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountain 

http://www.sarahsVineyard.com     

Located at 4005 Hecker Pass Highway, West of Gilroy

Quick View:

Sarah’s Vineyard is strong on small-batch Pinot Noir, Estate Chardonnay, and several Estate Rhone wines. A true artisan winery.

Pinot Noirs from 5-6 appellations….will please any Pinot fanatic

Cozy and friendly, very modest facility with tons of country charm.

Members receive 3 wines 4 times a year and can select the type: red, white or mixed.

Prices are relatively modest, ranging from $20 for a few white wines to $48 for the top of the line Pinots.

Members receive a 25% discount on shipped wines; 20% off all other wines.

Wine tastings for members and your guests are comped.

Wonderful offering of tasting room exclusives….small batch wines.

Wine country feel as visitors pass through the small 28-acre estate vineyard as they meander up to the tasting center.

Background:

Marilyn Otterman purchased 10 acres in south Santa Clara County’s Hecker Pass area in 1977. She began the vineyard with an initial planting of seven acres of Chardonnay which she named “Sarah.” The winery itself was founded 1978.

She had a magic touch and quickly made the winery known for ultra-rich Chardonnays. They defined the term “blockbuster.”

The label design was beautiful, way ahead of its time. She priced her wines on a par with the Napa folks.

A few years later, the winery expanded into Pinot Noir from its estate vineyard.

It now makes a Pinot from the famous Chalone appellation and Santa Lucia Highlands.

It now offers five very distinct Pinot Noirs, all exemplary of the place.

In 2001, current proprietor Tim Slater, a Silicon Valley veteran, added

Rhone varieties and blended wines to the mix. Both the Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are  beautifully balanced and delicious

And over the next several years he began fine-tuning the Pinot Noirs.

Overall quality is very high.  The Pinots also represent superb value.

Slater is a music fan, so several musical events are held per year.

Tasting Room Exclusives:

Highly enjoyable Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Syrah top the exclusive items along with an Old Vine Zinfandel and powerful Cabernet from the historic Santa Clara Valley.

Relaxed tasting room atmosphere. Friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Good-sized pour with the daily flight of 5 wines.

Our Scorecard: 4.5 stars

  • High marks for wine quality and exclusive offerings
  • Excellent score on tasting room, special events
  • Basic Prices are reasonable but discounts are average.
  • One downside may be the tasting room which is, well, plain and lacks sizzle and off the beaten path.
  • But the views offset the tasting room building

 

Class Acts in the Wine World

I just discovered this super online offer:

October is Adopt a Dog Month, and we are celebrating with MIXED BREED, a delicious red blend handcrafted specifically to help shelter dogs and cats.  With every sip of this rich Sierra Foothills red from C.G. Di Arie Winery, you can take pride knowing that $6 of your MIXED BREED purchase price will be donated to help fund a shelter for homeless, lost or abused pets, low-cost spay/neuter services, humane investigations and increased public awareness.

But it is not just a wine for a great cause, it is great wine!  The C.G. Di Arie 2014 “Mixed Breed” is a blend of 45% Zinfandel, 31.5% Syrah, 13.5% Petite Sirah and 10% Cabernet Franc. Every component has been individually crafted and aged in French oak barrels for 2 years. The wine has a ruby color with strong blackberry aromas which carry to the palate adding hints of chocolate and spice. The finish is long with a firm but delightful grip of tannins. We are offering it for $19. See the wine. 

C.G. Di Arie Winery works to support regional animal welfare organizations in the area this wine is sold. The winery will be donating $3 for every bottle of Mixed Breed sold through The California Wine Club to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC). Sparc’s mission, in addition to helping critters, is to develop a template for “No Kill” animal shelters that can be used in any municipality.

The California Wine Club will be matching their donation with our own $3 per bottle sold donation, for a total of $6 per bottle going to this worthy rescue center.

“Enjoying a world class wine while helping animals in need,” says Proprietor/Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh “is a win-win!”

Hangin’ in Monterey Bay

 

Monterey Bay in late September!

Majestic yet small enough to walk around.

Touristy, but still relaxing because the feel is old California.

The restaurant scene is lively ranging from typical seafood menus to innovative bistros and friendly brew pubs.

You can start your day with excellent espresso or whatever at Cafe Trieste and the Paris Bakery.

Now for the real good news: wine lovers looking to enjoy fine wines and discover hidden gems will not go away disappointed.

We certainly were not.

You know you are in for a good wine experience when the top-ranked restaurant you booked, “Montrio,” is featuring a half-off bottle price that night. Excellent wine list.

Discovered a classy wine bar, “Sovino” near the wharf but away from the tee-shirt and chowder shops.

Great selection of wine by the glass, all at-half-price during Happy Hour. Also offers small plates ideal for tasting wines.

Enjoyed a glass, actually a seriously generous pour, of  ‘14 Flora Springs Napa Cabernet and also a big Napa Cab from newcomer Rama.  Both at $8 a glass.  

Sovino earns our highest rating:

Excellent selection from Monterey and other regions

Relaxed, cozy atmosphere

Knowledgeable owners who have fun, We were there on Trivia Night.

Sovino also offers sip and paint classes taught by local artists.

Next day on to another wine bar and bistro, “A Taste of Monterey.”

Close to the Aquarium, but a little hard to find.

But once you get there, what great views!

It features wines from 80 wineries, all from Monterey County. Most are small and many are new to the scene.  

So good place to discover new names as you taste flights of 5 wines by the glass.

But the great names of Monterey like Morgan, Bernardus, and Scheid are well-represented.

Marin’s Vineyard topped our list of discoveries with a delightful ‘14 Malbec and a serious, big-league Petit Verdot.

Travieso could become a name to watch for serious Syrah and

Boete for Cabernet from the Carmel Valley also impressive at $40 a bottle. Offered at $30 to wine club members.

Both Sovino and A Taste of Monterey, happy to note, are wine clubs as well as wine bars.

Check them out:

www.TasteMonterey.com

www.sovinowinebar,com

Wine Dancing Coyotes

Forget “Dances with Wolves” and “Dancing with the Stars,” wine lovers will be more impressed by a small winery I’ve recently discovered named Dancing Coyote.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. It is a real family winery focusing on great value, not on getting big scores for over-ripe, over-worked, and over-priced wines.
  2.  This winery is exploring non-mainstream wines such as Albarino, Gruner Veltliner, Verdelho, and one I bet nobody has ever heard of, Loureiro, It also makes a fabulous Tempranillo and Rose of Pinot Noir.
  3. And the quality is high with all wines showcasing the variety in a balanced, polished style. Even the Petite Sirah shows great restraint.

Dancing Coyote makes my new go-to summer white, the Albarino, from vineyards in the Delta region and its winery is based in Lodi.

Yes, you heard right.  Lodi, best known for full-throttle old vine Zins and massive Cabs and Petite Sirahs.

Albarino, the pride of Spain that does not get nearly as much attention in California as it deserves. Does anyone else make a Gruner Veltliner, the main white of Austria?

Dancing Coyote, the winery that dares to be different, is actually located in Acampo with its tasting room in nearby Lodi. It produces most of its wines from the McCormack family farmed vineyards In the Clarksburg-Delta wine region.

It also reaches out to locate Tempranillo grapes from Lodi. And the Dancing Coyote Tempranillo will have you dancing in the streets it is so right on the mark for varietal character. With no sign of oak barrels or oak chips to blur its focus.

The winery facility is known as McCormack Williamson Cellars and they do have a wine club for online sales.

And, did I mention the family produces wines in cans?

As for prices, all of these wines retail for less than $15. I’ve found the whites for as low as $7.99. But I refuse to identify that source because the summer has several more weeks to go.

But here’s the good news for those with no plans to visit Lodi soon: the winery has a wine club: www.dancingcoyotewines.com

I suggest the 4-bottle sample package for $45 for starters.

The back label explains the dancing coyote name.

Also, the wines are available at the independent online site:

www.cawineclub.com  So you can include a bottle or two in your cart if you shop there.

 

Thank Your Mom for these Wines

Today’s outstanding online deal:

Two High-end Wines from a first-class winery, with free shipping from:
TESTAROSSA WINERY * 300A COLLEGE AVE, LOS GATOS, CA 95031

 408.354.6150 * www.testarossa.com

“This year, give the mothers in your life what they really want- a bottle of Testarossa’s award winning Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, like the
Wine Enthusiast Editor’s Choice 2015 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
or the 94 point 2014 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir!

We know it can be hard to live far from Mom on this special day, so we will include shipping with all orders placed before May 10th.

Just use code WELOVEMOM at checkout to save!”

 

Wines to get you through the next 4 Years

The Year End Clearance Wine Sales are Underway!

The morning after Christmas began with a long list of Year-End deals from wine.com.

By mid-afternoon, others joined the proverbial blockbuster party with the most interesting deals coming from http://www.cawineclub.com.

It is offering $1 for case shipping and 17% discounts on many already discounted items. Normally, the charge for shipping one case is $36-$40.

Catching my eye as exciting deals for wines to buy by the case:

2015 Pedroncelli Chardonnay

2013 Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Poet’s Leap Riesling from Columbia Valley

Peachy Canyon Zinfandel

Stolpman Syrah

Margerum Grenache

Shannon Ridge Wrangler

A case of any of these seven wines would certainly be welcomed in my household as we brace for the next 4 years.

Check out the great prices of these and all the other wines for yourself.

 

Too Good to Be True?

As we approach Black Friday and prepare for Cyber Monday, deals are coming at us from every direction.

And now, not to be ignored, the over two dozen online wine merchants I track daily are also trying to cash in on this crazy time.

One deal so far seems exceptional.

The Offer:

“From now through Black Friday only, firstleafclub.com is offering 3 rare, high-quality wines, each $30 a bottle at retail, in this special deal for only $5 a bottle!

2012 Kita Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley

2014 Moniker Pinot Noir, Mendocino

2015 Ultima Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva, Chile

For a limited time only, you can get these three award-winning wines for just $19.95 (including shipping) as your introduction to the Firstleaf wine club! “

My Take:

Putting aside the award-winning and “rare wine” fluff, this offer is almost too good to be true.

The Grenache and Pinot are very good wines from real wineries.

Kita is a family-owned winery that made less than 300 cases of the attractive Grenache. Moniker is a new line of wines from the well-known Parducci Winery in Mendocino County.

Hard to go wrong with a Chilean Cab for $5.00.

Free shipping makes this a super deal.

For insider information and a detailed review of first leaf wine merchant click here: www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

November News and Noise in the Online Wine World

1.e-Bay Wine added 38 new wines this week. Included were wines from several Jackson Family properties: Cambria, Freemark Abbey, La Crema, Kendall-Jackson and Champs du Reves. All except for Champ de Reves Anderson Valley Pinot Noir are widely available.

e-Bay also offered five new 6 or 12 bottle packages with a Thanksgiving theme. Grgich Hills  outstanding Chardonnay was in most packs. Free shipping on all with discounts averaging 30%.

The case billed as “The Ultimate Thanksgiving” package featuring 6 varietals is high quality and a good value.

The most notable new wine offered by e-Bay is the 2014 Siduri Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, for $162.00 a case. This is a super deal for a delicious Pinot.

2. National Geographic Magazine introduced its “Wines of the World” sale through Travelzoo. The offering–an assorted case of either red or white wines, with 3 “free” Malbec bottles thrown in. This 15 bottle offer was priced at $89 with 6 free gift bags and shipping included.

The deal is that “Every three months, you will be notified about a new National Geographic Wines of the World club selection and will automatically receive your next case unless you request otherwise. There are no obligations, and you’re free to skip as many cases as you like or cancel your membership anytime at no cost.”

Deal or no Deal? Well, honestly, there was nothing in the wines listed that elevated this Wine Club over others.  Still, $6 a bottle is a decent price for ordinary, everyday wines.

The Wall Street Journal wine club still offers the most exciting wine selection.

3. Biggest WOW!

went to www.napacabs.com

Despite the name this online store is based in southern CA where the owners also run a retail store, tasting room and restaurant.

It turned heads, not by its location but by offering two wines from Heidi Barrett’s own brand.

2013 La Sirena ‘Pirate TreasuRed’ $59.95

2013 La Sirena Grenache $39.95

The first is her super blend of 7 varieties, and like the limited production Grenache, plays to rave reviews. Both Napa wines from this exceptional winemaker are rarely available beyond the mailing list.  Free shipping for a case, and you can mix and match.

4. Good to Know

“Americans are buying more wine than ever without going to a wine store. Direct-to-consumer sales increased 66 percent from 2010 to 2015, with 4.3 million cases valued at nearly $2 billion shipped directly from wineries to consumers last year.”

With Massachusetts, the nation’s seventh largest market for wine, open for direct shipping, 90% of the American population located in 42 states can with some limitations receive direct shipments of wine from bonded wineries.

ShipCompliant estimates that outside wineries will ship $73 million in wine to The Bay State by 2018, rising to nearly $105 million by 2023.

5. Silliest Wine Description Spotted this Week

As seen on www.wineaccess.com

“The Puig-Parahy 2011 Cotes du Roussillon Georges – a bit more Syrah than usual blended into its Carignan and Grenache – is intriguingly and delightfully scented with Ceylon tea, ripe elderberry and blueberry, accompanied by striking intimations of shrimp shell reduction in its combination of sweet-saline savor and tincture of iodine. A nutty, piquant, and positively vegetal note of Swiss chard adds to the stimulation of a juicy, vivacious, mouthwatering, and remarkably mineral palate presence and finish. Look for this extraordinary value to perform superbly at table through at least 2016. (The 2010 “Georges,” incidentally, had taken on a slightly reductive and animal aura when I tasted it form bottle but still exhibited the dynamic on which I commented in issue 195 and all-in-all performed at the lower end of the projection I published there.)” – David Schildknecht, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

6. From an interview with Michael Mondavi:

“The United States is the number one wine consumer in the world,” Mondavi says. “We have about three-hundred and fifteen million cases of wine a year that are consumed in the United States, and it’s growing nicely. It’s interesting, the lower priced wines – below $5 a bottle – are shrinking by about two to three percent a year. The wines from $5 to $10 dollars are growing slightly. But then, from $10 to $20, are growing just under double digits, they’re growing beautifully. So, people are trading up to better quality wines. And you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a delicious bottle of wine today.”

Wine Clubs Without Commitments

Joining a Wine Club without any membership fee or contractual obligation is like dating without any commitment. In other words,  quite appealing. That is so long as you don’t waste your time and encounter bad experiences on your first date or wine purchase.

In addition to almost every online wine merchant that offers some kind of club, we also have wine clubs from major publications like the New York Times and big businesses like American Express offering special wine deals through a club.

As is true of all online wine purchases, the key points to consider are quality, discounts, and shipping costs. We have recently been reviewing the field and found two that offer special 15 bottle deals that you might want to check out. Each promise major discounts.

But the most attractive feature you want is to be able to enjoy the introductory offer, and then cancel your membership. 

First, and this blew me away is the wine club offer from Virgin America Airlines. The current offer is a 15 bottle collection of Dry Rose wines from around the world. The price is $79.99, plus any applicable taxes. So no shipping cost.

The deal is you have to fill out a lot of paperwork and become a member of The Club from Virgin Wines. If you continue, they will ship a case 4 times a year. But you can cancel at any time. There is a mention of a money back guarantee. You also can earn 3,000 Elevate Points for future flight purposes.

All Roses are from 2015, so nice and fresh. The selection is excellent. Their origin ranges from European regions to South Africa, New Zealand, California and Long Island. Yes, good wines are made there.The 3 extra Roses are from the cool Edna Valley and made by a top local winemaker.

The learning opportunities are intriguing because the Roses are made from a variety of grape varieties. So you can judge whether you prefer Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese or a few blends.

If you like Rose, this is a fantastic deal.

www.virginwines.com

Secondly, The WSJ Wine Discovery Club has “Special  Introductory offers” that merit your attention.

Here’s the deal: 15 bottles for $69.99 plus $19.99 shipping, and any taxes. You can choose red, white, or a mixed selection of 15 bottles.  So, we are talking $6 a bottle.

On the plus side, you can cancel anytime and there is even a reference to refunds and money back guarantees.  

Here’s the Inside Story:  The wines are billed as “World Class” which of course is far from the truth. And the producers are said to be “Small Estates” which is open to debate. Expert tasting notes are included which really doesn’t sweeten the deal much.

Of the three  choices,  the collection of red wines is a slightly better deal than the wines. The Cabernet and Zin from California are good, and the Chianti, Aglianico, and Tempranillo are also from reliable producers.

The whites are good enough, if you prefer whites. The White Bordeaux, Ch. Le Coin, the Spanish Albarino and California Chardonnay are very good.

The mixed case includes most of the better reds and whites. So this is an excellent way to go if you like reds and whites equally.