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?

Hidden Marketing Messages Appealing to Your Inner Wine Snob

 

Wine marketing language and real estate descriptions have one thing in common: code words. Home hunters know how to interpret  a “charming, quaint and well-maintained” home as out of date, tiny, with original appliances in real estate language.

But when it comes to wine, subtle code words and phrases are less well-known and ever-changing. Our study at www.bestonlinewineshopping.com of recent press releases and announcements from major wineries working on brand building or re-branding turned up 6 key points. And these 6 appeal to the hidden snob in all of us.

  1. A “luxury brand” with a suggested retail price over $300.
  2. Limited production of only 2,400 cases makes it “out of reach for most consumers.”
  3. The parent company has been growing its “high-end segment.”
  4. Customers are “trading up.”
  5. The “tiny production is at the discretion of the winemaker,” and add the winemaker’s name.
  6. Sales of “fine wines” are increasing.

So if you fall for high-priced, limited production wines from high-end, luxury brands that others cannot find or afford, and you know the winemaker’s name, then enjoy your “fine wine” because you are a…five-star wine snob.

Make that 6-star.

p.s.Dont forget to say “fine wines” with your best British accent.

Amazon’s Alexa Opens Up

Cyber Monday is finally here.

And Amazon which may have invented it began working us into a frenzy on Saturday morning.

Well it is your baby, Amazon and you gave it the big initial push, so no problem with the early start.

So like every compulsive online shopper who has waited 365 days for this magic moment, I decided to take advantage of this early kick-off.

Moving quickly through household goods, electronics, and gadgets, I found my happy place located at the very bottom of a long list…”wine.”

Located immediately to the right was another familiar name, “Alexa.” It was an open invitation from Amazon to “Ask Alexa.” and it made me stop and think.

The choice staring at me was to devote hours and hours going over every wine, wine pack, wine combinations, and gifts, sorting them all by price and by reviews and then constantly referring back to my old notes or to…”Ask Alexa.”

With Alexa as a vast source of information, it was a no brainer. And my Cyber Monday report for www.bestonlinewineshopping.com could be wrapped up on Sunday. So here goes.

Me: Alexa, what are Amazon’s wine deals for Cyber Monday?

Alexa: ”There are individual bottles at 25% off if you buy 3,and 35% off for 6. There are many mixed packs at 25% off, as well as a list of wines that quality for one cent shipping.”

Me: Alexa, are there specific wines, packs and case samplers that you can recommended for my readers as great deals?

Alexa, After a longer than usual silence, “Nothing comes to mind…that is if I had a real mind.”

Me: Wow, that is a surprise. I’ve written earlier and noted that Amazon sells wines from Zaca Mesa, Dry Creek Vineyards, Moniker,Hedges and even that excellent sparkling wine from New Mexico, Gruet. Why so lukewarm in general?

Alexa: “If you were not so lazy and scrolled through the various lists of wines, you would detect a trend: Amazon is top-heavy in wines from big corporations, mega-companies, and large distributors. Zombie Chardonnay is not exactly a collector’s item. A few small wineries such as those mentioned are sprinkled in here and there.”

Me: Alexa, Really? If you can avoid the snarky tone, could you offer specific examples?

Alexa,  “Yes, easily.”

Me: Great, now she’s trying to be cute and I’m getting a little annoyed starting every question with her name.

Alexa: What is the deal with big wine companies, anyway?

Alexa: “First, most analysts estimate that about 50% of the total wine market is controlled by the ten largest wine companies. Several of them own or control over 100 wine brands. With such large portfolios, they have the power to distribute wines at every retail outlet and restaurant.”

Me: Alexa, and that is a problem, how?

Alexa: Today, there are 3, 975 wine producers in California and close to 9,000 wineries in North America. With ten companies dominating the marketplace, it is difficult for small, family owned wineries to compete for shelf space and survive. Online would be a perfect fit for small wineries.”

Me: Alexa, and why does Amazon prefer to work with large companies?

Alexa, “Smooth and timely delivery is possible mainly through a large company with a great distribution system.”

Me: Please go on.

Alexa: “Well, I probably shouldn’t let the cat out of the bag, even if I understood that expression, but the wines featured for Cyber Monday include a high percentage of brands owned or controlled by Gallo. You can go to www.gallo.com and click on “porfolio” for a full list. But here are some that are featured Cyber Monday on Amazon:

Barefoot, Louis Martini, “J”, Souverain, Columbia Winery, Alamo, Carnivor, Dark Horse, Edna Valley, Frei Brothers, Talbott, Red Rock, Ghost Pines, Whitehaven, William Hill, Orin Swift.”

Me: Erika, Gotcha! Orin Swift is a hot cult wine with a tremendous following.

Alexa: “Calm down! If you paid attention and read the news in The Wine Spectator and Wines & Vines, Gallo bought the Orin Swift brand and tiny tasting room for mega-millions last June.”

Me: Alexa: Sorry, I only read headlines and don’t have time for well-researched articles. It is super to have you do my homework, thanks. What about the wines from small  wineries, though?

Alexa: “The clever ones like your buddies at Dry Creek, Paul Dolan, and Zaca Mesa have agreed to handle shipping from their wineries.

And, Btw, any wines listed that are shipped from Modesto, are associated with Gallo. Modesto, as you should know, is Gallo’s home base.

From here on, please do your own homework. I’m now busy uploading information for the new echo dot.”

Light jazz music starts spontaneously in the background.

Me: She is so full of information and has such a cool voice.

But at times she can be such a nasty bot!

Black Friday in the Online Wine Shopping World

 An Up-to-date Report:

Amazon is disappointingly focused elsewhere; same old wine deals.

www.getwineonline.com is better with 10-40% discounts and coupons.

Laithwaite offered a special case of red wines, mostly heavy-duty reds.

And www.lastbottlewines.com will likely offer a surprise or two in its flash sales before this day is over.

But the major Black Friday breaking news is that the big boy, http://www.wine.com, came through in a big way.

The today-only offer at wine.com is an extra 10% off and free shipping for a case.

My tip for exploring the lists of white and red wines, is sort by SAVINGS.

Dont be bamboozled or distracted by that “Popular Sellers” category which always seem to start out with high-priced wines.

And if you truly want a deal, dont sort by the 90 points or more ratings.

My search was for excellent wines priced at least 25% below average retail before that extra 10% was applied.

Looking very carefully at wines below $20 a bottle, we zoomed in on these ten money-saving deals:

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Los Vascos, Colchagua Valley, $9.99

2012 Chardonnay Mercer, Columbia Valley, $10.69

2013 Chardonnay Benziger Family, Sonoma County $10.99

2014 Garnacha Torres 5G, $11.99

2013 Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red, Lake County, $12.99

2012 Casa Santos Lima Confidencial Reserve Red, Portugal  $12.99

2015 Pinot Gris, “J” Russian River, $14.99

2015 Chardonnay Reserve, Frei, Russian River, $15.99

2014  Cabernet Sauvignon Catena, Argentina $17.99

2014 Gewurztraminer Trimbach, Alsace, $19.99

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

Reds

If you prefer red wines for your Thanksgiving weekend, there is great news.

Forget Black Friday hype, I’ve checked out the major wine sellers and saw reds all over.

The best online sale today , by far, is from http://www.wineexpress.com which is offering dozens of reds at discounts ranging from 20%-60%.

Free shipping is offered on orders of $99 or more.

When trying to select the best wine for turkey, I bypass Cabernet and Zinfandel and look to Pinot Noir and other reds, especially Rioja.

So, for what it may be worth, here are my top picks from wineexpress.com

2010  Reserva 2010 Bodegas Montecillo, $10.97, deeply discounted and captures the best of Rioja.

2014 Director’s Cut Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $21.97. This is a star from Coppola’s new line of wines. Smooth and sleek.

For more about wineexpress.com and its reliability see my detailed review and rating at

www.bestonlinewineshopping.com