Best Wine Sites On Cyber Monday

As the dust settles on Cyber Monday, only 4 wine websites showed any real effort to compete for our attention. The others seem to sleepwalk through the 4-day weekend, offering a super deal or unusual wine among a long list of the usual suspects sold online year-round.

There was one clear-cut winner offering 10 exciting values:, while the three other active sites hung in there with solid efforts.

See my picks and more details at

Top Ten Values from

2014 Three Wine Company, Zinfandel, Contra Costa $23

2013 Bouchaine Pinot Noir Carneros $20

2015 M. Sarrazin Bourgogne Rouge, Vieilles Vignes $24

2015 Akarua Rua Pinot Noir, Central Otago $21.99

2015 Domaine de la Colline, Vacqueyras, $24.99

2015 Albert Bichot Vire Clesse $19.00-30

2016 Lioco Chardonnay, Sonoma County $22

2015 Domaine Roger Sancerre, $20

2015 Richmond Plains Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, NZ $17

2015 Silkman Semillon Hunter Valley $22

Discounts were as high as 60% on several wines with free shipping. There were other added incentives for bigger orders.

This site is now well-balanced and includes many of the big names for the big spenders such as: Caymus, Amuse Bouche, Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne, Laurent Perrier Rose, Lagier Meredith Syrah, Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot, Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet was active all weekend and wrapped it up with 1 cent shipping on orders of $29 or more on Monday. continues to impress as it picks up new wines from around the wine world. I liked the rarely seen Meyer Family Anderson Valley Chardonnay at $19.99, and all Foppiano wines, especially the 2014 Estate Zinfandel at $15.99. kept coming up with intriguing deals over the weekend.The most amazing was the 2015 Chateau Saint Roch Chimeres, Cotes du Roussillon, $13.99 and free shipping on 6 bottles. In the Roussillon, Minervois regions, 2015 is an excellent vintage and this is one major league deal!

The other sites I monitor kept a low profile and seemed to have decided to lay low and let Amazon enjoy the spotlight.

Power to the (Wine) People!


Or, what Happens when 26 Million People Vote for Best Wines

Vivino just published its 2018 Wine Style Awards which it describes as  “the only awards within the industry wholly decided by the public.”

Here is how it works: “Over 26 million wine lovers from around the world have chosen the 1,490 winning wines, that span 149 wine style categories, by rating them on Vivino over the past 12 months.”

The full winners can be viewed at

Vivino founder and CEO, Heini Zachariassen, commented:

“The Vivino Wine Style Awards showcase the democratization of the wine world, by putting the power into the people’s hands.”

“Through our 26-million strong community, we’re not only able to deduce which are the best wines in the world, but also a host of other interesting wine trends…”

If you don’t know  much about vivino, see my review at   which is generally favorable.

Vivino is certainly one of the most dynamic online wine sites. 

A few business articles have suggested it is trying to become the Amazon of the wine world. No harm in trying.

But let’s try to figure out what this list is and whether it has any real value to consumers or the wine trade. Is this a list of “the best wines in the world” or simply the “most popular” to vivino’s subscribers? Or are they one and the same?

Having read through all 1,490 wines listed, I came away thinking it is primarily a re-listing of the most famous, most expensive wines in the world.

With few exceptions. This is especially true of all French and most Italian and Spanish categories. But also of California. And Argentina led by high-end wineries such as Via Cobos and Catena.

I was hoping for some exciting trends to emerge, breakaway producers, dozens of new wineries pushing the old guard aside. But this was not the case. Instead you get all the oldies from Antinori to Petrus to Chateau d’ YQuem with only minor shuffling within categories.

I’m not opposed to ratings from the wine community, consisting of people with widely different levels of expertise. I’m supportive of anything that might be more useful than the 100 point system.

Posting notes and comments empowers some people and makes wine tasting fun. It also forces them to focus on the wine and to develop a vocabulary to support their opinions.

Best of all, it frees wine lovers from relying on ratings from any and all professional critics.

So why didn’t this concept of “putting the power into the people’s hands” yield some amazing newsworthy or at least some totally new stuff?

Too many categories? Too many reviewers? Something clearly did not click when the top White Rioja is one from 1986 priced at $899.99 and when the best Amarone will cost you $546 a pop.  

And for one more example: the best northern Italian white is the 2011 Gaja Chardonnay at $241 a bottle!

Maybe the answer lies buried in the French Burgundy categories. One has to wonder did 194 Vivino members taste and review the 2006 DRC “La Tache?

And did 127 taste the 2012 La Romanee which retails for $14,962?
So how does any of this high priced stuff, to quote from the press release “help producers better understand consumer behavior and demand”? 

The news release mentions the inclusion of Tannat from Uruguay and the growing interest in Cremant as a sparkling choice. Both wines consumers should know better.

The ten best New Zealand Pinot Noir list is excellent with several newcomers to join oldtimerFelton Road. Also found some excitement in the Chilean Malbec list and in the Spanish Syrah list.

In the various California categories, it was newsworthy to see such solid names as Frank Family, Rombauer, and Cakebread continue to be recognized.

And, yes there were a few new names such as Garguilo for its Cabernets, Robert Lloyd for Chardonnay and Arkenstone for Sauvignon Blanc. They google very well.

So what is the takeaway after studying this list of “The Year’s Best wines chosen by 26 million people?

One idea that keeps coming back is that since one assumes these amateurs actually bought the wines with their own money, 

It is normal to want to love the most expensive wine. Especially if you bought it.

Who wants to  shell to out $795 for the Harlan Estate or $1,4962 for the DRC only to admit to friends and family that the wine really wasn’t that great?  And then rate them both 3 out of 5.

Not gonna happen!

Nor am I going to slip in a comment about the occasional failure of the democratic process to come up with the best.

It is an imperfect system.

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


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

Phone: +1 800-537-9463


Garagiste Wines in California

“Garagiste” was a popular term not long ago to describe a crazy, passionate winemaker making small amounts of hand-made wines working within her or his garage-sized location.

Several appeared in and around St. Emilion in the 1990s to challenge the old guard, to oppose uniformity of style, and to add a highly personal signature to their wine.

My first encounter with such a wine was labeled “Le Dome” and only 200 cases were made a year. It was atypical and spectacular.

Winemaking for a St. Emilion garagiste was literally hands on and was minimalist because the winemaker had minimal equipment available.

With about 90% of California wine controlled by a dozen or so wine companies, and much of the wine on the market tasting the same, we need a few garagistes to shake things up.

But since they don’t have big bucks to build showcase wineries, they aren’t likely to be discovered by the big reviewers.

The regions where some garagistes may be working are in places like the Sierra Foothills, Lodi, and Paso Robles.

In fact, you could experience the 7th Annual Paso Robles Garagiste Festival from Nov 10-12 and meet 20 or so self-proclaimed garagistes.

But, by luck I recently found one that fits the description perfectly. Found him in a hole in the wall tasting room in Clarksburg. Open from Noon to 4:00 3 days a week, the tasting room is back in a far corner of the Old Sugar Mill facility.

Matt Powell is his name, and he makes wines from Lodi fruit under his

Draconis label. As he explained, he works out of rented space in another winery, and his goal is to make wines with subtlety and finesse from Lodi grown Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Syrah.

Only 100-150 cases of each wine is made annually which qualifies him as a garagiste. By studying winemaking in France’s Burgundy and applying that knowledge to Lodi grapes makes him a crazy, passionate, singular winemaker.

As for the wines, to someone who is not a big fan of Zinfandel, finding most to be one-dimensional and heavy-handed, Powell’s two versions are out of the ordinary.

His 2014 “French Style” Zinfandel, so named for being aged in French oak, was rich, unctuous, with subtle layers of oak spice and lively fruit. Harmonious!

The companion, named “Dark Style” Zinfandel, was rich and full flavored, but also a complete wine from beginning to end.

And to this big fan of Petite Sirah, Powell’s 2014  Draconis hits the bullseye. It is dark, mouth filling, round, with a long finish. Not a streak of hotness, not a rough edge anyway.

We also tasted a Draconis Viognier from Lodi that was close to stunning. Powell said it was about 16% alcohol, but somehow did not come across as that powerful. It was fragrant and full bodied.

The Zin and Petite sell for about $50 a bottle, not cheap by any means. You can purchase them at The Old Sugar Mill, 35265 Willow Avenue, Clarksburg, CA 95612.

You can buy them on the website which is, not surprisingly, poorly done and barely functional. Wines are available is 3,6 or 12 bottle allotments.

Discounts? Dont even ask.



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     

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.


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


Awesome Wines Under $15

The Wine Enthusiast magazine just released its Top 100 Wines under $15, and I found the list absolutely fascinating.

To its credit, the web page identifies those wines listed that are also sponsors, as in paid advertisers. So all is above board.

But can you trust the people behind the reviews?  

Well, I happen to know several of them quite well. Two in particular are excellent tasters who cannot be compromised: Roger Voss and Jim Gordon.

The wines from Oregon and Washington State mentioned in this list are also chosen by another highly regarded critic.

Voss is the magazine’s expert reviewer of French wines from Bordeaux, Loire Valley, the Southwest as well as the best reviewer of wines from Portugal.

Gordon is the West Coast reviewer who can be trusted for his ratings of wines from Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa.

Back to the Top 100

The #1 wine was made by Columbia Crest.  No big surprise there.

Its Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay make most top values lists.

But the top ranked wine turned out to be the winery’s 2015 Grand Estate Syrah at $12 which is also one of my discoveries.

Sad. Now, everyone will know and it will disappear quickly.

Bargain hunters can check out the entire list at

To me, the following wines are the Other Awesome Deals under $15:

2014 Bogle “Essential Red,” Old Vine, Clarksburg (often sold under $10)

2016 Gnarly Head  Zinfandel, Lodi

2016 San Pedro Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Chile

2015 Mas des Bressades  Cuvée Tradition Syrah-Grenache (Costières de Nîmes)

2016 Cline Cellars Viognier, North Coast

2015 Château le Payral, Bergerac Rouge

2016 Foris Dry Gewürztraminer Rogue Valley

2014 Hogue Red Columbia Valley

2015 Wines & Winemakers Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas Red Douro

2016 Dry Creek Vineyards, Dry Chenin Blanc (Clarksburg)

2016 Domaine des Carteresses, Tavel (a Rose)

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!”

Merlot & Me


October has been declared Merlot month by some unknown entity.

I read this recently so it must be true:

“Beginning October 1, 2017 more than 100 Merlot-producing wineries from California, Oregon, Washington, and around the world, join together for #MerlotMe, a month-long, global movement celebrating the noble variety.”

Well, never one to bypass a celebration, I’ve been thinking about the greatest, the finest Merlot in my experience.

It is the 2002 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot tasted in 2015.

“Gorgeous, seamless, harmonious, rich with a fantastic finish, it was amazing and was obviously at its peak, but showed no signs of its age.”

It wasn’t just remarkable for its age, it was great.

Of course, normal people don’t cellar Merlot for a dozen years. But over the years I have set aside various wines to see how they age beyond the norm.  Just recently, I uncorked the 2000 Phelps “Insignia” which was another beauty: seamless and lovely, but without the drama of the 02  Duckhorn Merlot.

To be honest, very few of my long-aged wines turn out to be exciting. I’ve found most 1998 Cabernets, for example, to be disappointing after a decade or more.

But back to Merlot and Me and My Musings

Other than Duckhorn, my favorite Merlots in recent vintages have been Pride Mountain, Pine Ridge, Whitehall Lane, Shafer and Pahlmeyer.

Historically, I wrote a feature article about California Merlot when fewer than ten wineries produced a varietal. And most people pronounced it “mere lot.”

I’ll never forget tasting Merlot from barrels with pioneering winemaker Ric Forman at Sterling Vineyards and spitting into the drains below.

Besides Forman, Warren Winiarski was a major advocate of Merlot and I have fond memories of his 1974 Merlot. Phil Baxter of Rutherford Hill also helped put Merlot on the wine map.

In the late 80s, Beringer made several super Merlots from the Bancroft Vineyard on Howell Mountain. The ‘86 and ‘89 were outstanding.

Sorry millennials for my meandering down memory lane and for the following reference to the movie “Sideways”:

“Screw you, Miles and your childish hissy fit. Merlot is here to stay. At least this month.”


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:


Your Cheat Sheet for the Sept 19th Cheapskate Marathon


Call me crazy! But this strikes me as betting on certain horses without knowing who is running that day. Or maybe crazier.

What the heck. Here goes with my top picks based upon a review of past offerings at

If red wine is your thing….you are in luck.

Most Marathon sales lean heavily toward red wine in general. Cheapskate Marathons are no exception.

So look for Pinot Noirs, Rhone blends, Chianti,  Zins and the occasional Cab.

Or else, look to Bordeaux and Rioja for reds from either 2014 or 2015.

Given a choice, go with 2015.

Since I’m just guessing what might be offered, I sincerely hope the following red, a great conversational item shows up:

15 Funckenhausen La Espera Premium San Rafael Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina, $11.99.

It is a solid wine and who can resist serving a Funchen wine to your BFFs. Best Funchen Friends Forever!

Back to the list of suggestions…

‘15 Eola Hills Pinot Noir Reserve, Willamette Valley, $19.99

13 Scheid Vineyard Pinot Noir, Monterey, $14.99

13 Ladera Pinot Noir, Russian River, Pillow Road, $19.99

13 Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon Icon Reserve Columbia Valley, $14.99

14 Haynes Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $19.99

‘14 Scott Harvey Winemaker’s Reserve Amador County Zinfandel, $14.99

‘15 Funckenhausen La Espera Premium San Rafael Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina, $11.99

‘13 Ribera del Duero La Hormiga de Antidoto, $19.99

‘11 Castellani Chianti Classico Riserva Estate Vigneti di Campomaggio $16.99

‘14 Château Hyot Reserve, Côtes de Bordeaux, $13.99

‘14 Château Haut Bertinerie, Elegance, Côtes de Bordeaux, $13.99

‘15 Farjon Ventoux Rouge, Ventoux $11.99

‘15 Saumur Champigny, Domaine de la Paleine, $16.99

‘14 Chateau Haut Rocher, St Emilion, $19.99

15 Morgon, Cru Beaujolais, Lardy, $17.99

And now, for some white wine suggestions:

‘14 Boedeker Cellars Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, $14.99

‘15 Robert Young Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, $19.99

‘14 Bernardus Chardonnay, Santa Lucia, $18.99

‘14 Neyers Chardonnay, Carneros, $18.99

‘13 Iron Horse Chardonnay, Estate, $16.99

‘15 Bernard Reverdy Sancerre, $17.99

‘15 Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc Domaine Raimbault Les Belles Cotes $18.99

For more, see