The Cheap Bastard’s Personal Wine Shopper

 

Amidst endless hype and blather that dominates the world of online wine sellers, one offer this week stood far above the crowd. Nothing wrong with tasty wines at rock bottom prices, is there?

Ten money-saving wine deals are offered until March 31 by the California Wine club…www.cawineclub.com.

These wines are deeply discounted and this current offer includes $1 shipping on half, full or mixed cases. 

Each wine I’ve selected from about 100 listed on the site is a great value for its type, including a $40 Napa Cabernet better than most $100 Cabs.

Insider Info: This is one of the oldest and most reliable clubs that in my experience delivers on time with no hassles.

Most wines are made from small, family owned wineries.

My  Ten Picks (free of course):

2013 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough,NZ  $9.25

2015 Pedroncelli Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, $11.99

2012 Zaca Mesa Z-Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley $11.99

2012 Highway 20 Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills $11.99

2014 Rabbit Ridge, Tuscan Style Red, Paso Robles $12.99

2014 Clos LaChance Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast $12.99

2014 Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Franc, Estate Santa Barbara $13.99

2012 Groom Shiraz, Barossa Valley, $20.00

2012 Stolpman Syrah, Ballard Canyon $29.00

2012 Bacio Divino Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $40

 

Five Fab February First Wine Deals

Serious Merlot

Looking for delicious, serious Merlot at an amazing price, then www.invino.com is selling the 2013 Esterlina Merlot Cole Ranch for $14.95.

This website recently bought the entire bottled inventory of Esterlina. This 2013 Merlot is from the cool, high elevation Cole Ranch site in Mendocino and consequently is a well-knit age-worthy version, not an over-ripe fruit-bomb. Original price was $45.

Classic Chardonnay

Chardonnay lovers should head directly to http://www.wiredforwine.com

which has the fantastic 2014 Nyers Chardonnay, Carneros District.You

rarely see this wines online, and the price is $19.97. That’s a real deal.

Oregon Pinot Noir Bargain

Best suggestion for exploring the much talked about 2014 Pinot Noirs from Oregon without spending way too much is to look at www.northwest-wine.com.

One of the best deals going these day is the 2014 Arterberry Maresh Pinot, Dundee Hills. Price is $24.95 a bottle.

All Purpose Malbec

Looking for a great value red wine to enjoy as your personal house wine, then shop Argentinian Malbecs at www.wine.com. My favorite is the 2015 Amalaya Malbec ($13.99). It is richer and more exciting than most, thanks to a dollop of Tannat and Syrah.

The 2015 Trivento Reserva Malbec ($10.00) offers more typical character, if you prefer to play it safe.

Curious about Cult Wines

Two remarkable cult wines are offered by http://www.vivino.com. The first is the 2013 Hanzell Chardonnay, the true Chardonnay pioneer in California. For a little history, Hanzell was the first boutique, cult winery and served as the model. Limited quantities are offered at $54.99 a bottle.

A newer cult winery, Napa Valley’s Alpha Omega, is also featured at vivino. The 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet is yours to try at $69.99. Yes, that’s a discounted price…get over it!

 

The Other Cabernet

 

As a big fan of Cabernet Franc, this unusual selection caught my eye. If you are unfamiliar with this grape variety and like to explore new wine possibilities, Kermit Lynch, the highly respected West Coast importer and wine merchant, is offering this tempting, somewhat obscure Anjou Rouge. And to further entice us, he is including shipping on 3 bottles or more until January 31st.

2015 Chateau D’Epire, “CLOS DE LA CERISAIE,” Anjou, $17.95, from kermitlynch.com

Reasonably well-informed people associate Anjou with lovely pears, Chenin Blanc or Rose wines. Cabernet Franc, however, is linked with Chinon and Bourgueil. But there are a few reds from Anjou, and this one was bottled unfined and unfiltered. And the vintage is excellent.  Given its impressive background, this is a Cab Franc to try, and by my definition,  the price is close enough to be deemed a bargain.

 

News alert! 90+ is the new 85

 

 

Happy days are here again, but wait…we aren’t talking about people. And really, people before you pop the Champagne, 90 being the new 85 isn’t such a hot prospect.

However, for wine producers/importers, and sales reps, this is positive news.

For those on the other end, the wine consumer with the app and the credit card, well put the bubbly back in the fridge because the news is not so good.

A definite trend in the wine world is that the majority of wine critics, reviewers,somms, bloggers, or anyone else rating wines by a 100 point system are over-rating wines, relaxing their standards, or just being plain old whores.

(My apologies in advance to anyone offended by my use of the word “plain.”)

It may be a coincidence but when 17 out of 25 Sauvignon Blancs reviewed scored 90, I was mystified. Before me was the November 30th, 2016 issue of The Wine Spectator and it also reviewed 12 Syrahs and a remarkable 11 rated 90 points.

In the category of “Other California Reds,” 19 wines were reviewed and 13 were rated 90 points. Not one was an 89.

A few days later, I tasted under $15 red wines and three of them, when unveiled, came with scores of 90 points on the market materials.Wow! And I had all three at 85-86.

The Tilia Malbec has a neck label with 90 points in bold letters from Robert Parker, and the 2010 Vina Cumbrero Rioja wore a Wine Spectator neck label with 90 points in red. Finally, the 2014 Garnacha de Fuego had a gold sticker saying Josh Raynolds scored it 90 points in Vinous.

Examining the label details, I saw that Raynolds actually rated the 2015, not the 2014, and the Tilia label explained that the 90 points were somehow associated with the “last 4 vintages.”

If nothing else these discrepancies confirmed that the 90+ point score is important enough for reinterpreting the truth.

Here’s my main point: as a cop-out, compromise, many reviewers are awarding average to very good quality wine a 90 point score because that is a safe score that will appease the wine trade.The 90+ is something that can be used for promotions. And obviously, will get the reviewer’s names in print.

A score of 89 or lower is unacceptable and unpromotable. Why this is true is anyone’s guess. This is the age of hype, over-achievers, and personal bests. You are either an A student or not. Winners or losers.

And the online retailers I track daily are the most blatant examples of this fixation on 90+ points. Many have a sort by 90+ points as a category.

For example, Wine.com lists 1,575 “90+ wines under $50.”

But, why is any of this important to wine consumers/shoppers?

Let’s begin with the 100 point system. When the Wine Spectator’s editors break down their ratings, a wine rated 85 to 89 is considered to be a “Very Good Wine with special qualities.” To this former English teacher, that should identify highly attractive wines. Wines that buyers should be checking out.

The 100 point system, which was never perfect, is now falling apart and failing. It is failing as a consumer guideline.

Wines in the 90-94 point range, explains the Spectator, are “Outstanding, of superior character and style.” The 3 reds from my tasting did not fit that description at all. The 2010 Vina Cumbrero was a great value which to its credit,The Wine Spectator noted.

Consumers are getting misleading and unreliable information. Some 90 or 91 point wines are way over-rated, pushed into that bracket. Conversely, some very good low-priced, great value wines are being ignored because they are rated below 90.

Either way, critics/reviewers are not doing their job.

The online wine merchants are totally obsessed with point scores. If there’s no 90 or higher score for a particular wine from the dozen or more reviewers, they will often talk about the vintage if it has a 90 rating.

So every CA Cab from 2013 and 2014 or Oregon Pinot from 2014 will be hyped, if possible. Already, the hype is on for every 2015 Bordeaux!

As things now stand, I dont think Robert Parker who elevated the 100 point rating system and promoted himself through it would argue that the system is failing. Failing from abuse, overuse, or simply because it was flawed from the beginning and survived on the basis of his sheer bravado.

Would he personally agree these two wines rated by his new team are “outstanding, and superior?

90 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

The grapes of the 2014 (Tilia) Malbec were harvested very early and 70% of them fermented using carbonic maceration. The freshness is so impressive that I had to look at the alcohol level, which is half a degree lower than in the fresher 2013 vintage! There are some herbal aromas (think raspberry leaf), bright cherries and flowers, even lilies. The palate is very tasty, with some subtle bitter flavors, fine tannins and very good acidity. This is a triumph over the vintage. Bravo! This should be readily available, as they produced 500,000 bottles of it. And it’s one of the best values in Argentina too! (LG) (8/2015)

90 Points Wine Advocate:

“The forward, fruity and straight-up delicious 2015 Crozes Hermitage Equinoxe offers a forward, medium+ bodied style, as well as sweet, light tannin, lots of plum and strawberry fruits, solid mid-palate depth and no hard edges.”

Really, raspberry leaf and lilies in one; forward and fruity in the other.

Neither sounds outstanding to me.

At best, an 85.

 

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.

 

Wine & the Holiday Spirit

Over the last week, the online wine retailers turned into a pack of shameless shills pushing overpriced, overblown, and underperforming wines. I can only guess they were trying to package and gift wrap vastly ordinary vino to those who want to get their holiday shopping done quickly.

In my ongoing tracking of online sellers, one stood out once again for being different and being in the holiday spirit. Read their comment below to understand why I like www.lastbottlewines.com and then check out tomorrow’s marathon madness.

“Here at the end of 2016, we’re also aware that not everyone has the resources that we enjoy — so in that spirit, as we get ready to BLOW OUT 100s of cool wines, we’re also donating $10,000 to our friends at The Napa Valley Food Bank. This wonderful organization provides a variety of nutritious food to low-income individuals, families, seniors and non-profit organizations throughout Napa County through four programs: Emergency Food Pantries; Senior Brown Bag; the USDA Commodity Program; and Non-Profit Access. They feed thousands of local households every month and we are proud to support their work!!”

The Best of the Best Of

The Top Wines of 2016 Lists

As The Wine Spectator was unveiling the top 100 Best Wines in its drawn-out dramatic countdown, others were coming out with their versions. Just because the Spectator has been compiling a top 100 list for 30 years did not prevent others for having a say.

A few days  before Randy Lewis of Lewis Cellars was revving his engine for a victory lap celebrating his 2013 Cabernet as the Spectator’s #1 wine, two competing internet sites got into the Best Of 2016 competition.

First, wine.com announced its list of top-selling 100 wines of 2016 and soon thereafter vivino.com came out with its list of” best wines on the planet.”   For detailed and brilliant reviews of both sites, visit www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

This was the 10th year in which wine.com listed top wines of the year. It compiled a top 100 list based entirely on the top wines sold nationally on Wine.com during the first 11 months of 2016.

In a not too subtle way, it added: “While many publications rank wines based on the opinions of wine critics, we wanted our customers to be the judge, voting with their wallets to determine the Wine.com 100.”

Yes, critics offer opinions, pure and simple. Well, not always pure. But price, availability, and production are not considered when critics pass judgment.

However, quite a few online wine sellers rely on the Top 100 lists from The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast or James Suckling. As an aside, it seems the influence of Robert Parker is definitely fading and the Vinous/Galloni duo has yet to rise to the occasion.

But vivino also does not rely too heavily on critics. With its wine Apps and crowd-sourcing approach, it bases its top wines of 2016 list on its community of 21 million users and the millions of wine ratings they’ve submitted over the past year.

In other words, reviews and scores from your average Joe and Jo, Betsy and Bob, Shawn and John. Some seem to have lots of time and many opinions; one guy named Jack has submitted close to 2,000 reviews.

For each wine style category, the folks at vivino explain, we  “studied the reviews and selected the top ten best-rated wines with at least 50 ratings from the past year. Check out your favorite wine styles, and explore those you are curious about.”

As noted in my review, vivino loves to create categories of wines and wine styles and then compile lists.

For the 2016 results, the site came up with 147 separate categories. For red Bordeaux, there are 11 separate categories which seems excessive.

In the Best Rated category, the 2000 Chateau Margaux is #1 followed by the 1982 Latour. No surprises here! And the Best Wines to Buy Now is another very odd list of fabled names, including most of the Classified Growths including y’Quem.

Furthermore, vivino does not sell wines directly, so there’s no correlation between these community ratings and actual purchases which wine.com uses.

Apples and oranges you might  say.  Regardless, I tried to compare them.

First, the indisputable winner is Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott’s 2015 was wine.com’s #1 and the 2015 Casa del Bosque headed vivino’s list of Top Values.

Almost as fascinating, Rombauer Winery makes wine.com’s top 10 with its 2014 Chardonnay, and the Rombauer Zinfandel is high on vivino’s Best Value list.

When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2013 Clos du Val and 2014 Caymus were among the best sellers on wine.com.

And the Hundred Acres Napa Valley Cabernet was #1 overall on vivino.com and rated high in its other categories.

Malbec fans might be excited to see that the 2012 Vina Cobos was tops with vivino and wine.com’s top ranked malbec was the Trivento 2015 reserve.

And this Champagne fan was intrigued to see Clicquot Brut as top rated at wine.com. Vivino’s high ranked non-vintage Champagne was the Jacques Selosse. Some 168 people reviewed it.Most people will never even see a bottle anywhere.

But to return to The Wine Spectator’s top 100 which had a few surprises. Great to see an Oregon Pinot Noir ranked #2 and the biggest surprise was the #3 wine, an Oregon Chardonnay. That was a gutsy call.

However,The Wine Spectator will invariably include a mandatory wine from Antinori in its top 100, as well as some wine from Jackson Family, and whenever remotely possible, a wine from itsother major supporters and advertisers.

Of the three top wines of 2016 lists, the one that stands out as speaking to me and the typical wine buyer is…wine.com.

And you?