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

Reverse Snobbery

If Champagne is the ultimate snob wine, then here is my candidate for the ultimate reverse snobbery.

Maybe you should sit down first.

The best under $20 bottle of bubbly is a real Champagne. And it is the Kirkland Brut sold at every Costco. It is authentic is every detail…grape varieties, bottled within the region, and, yes, taste.

Sorry snobs, but it truly smells and tastes like Champagne with persistent, tiny bubbles, yeasty overtones and good balance, The most remarkable thing is that it displays Champagne’s typical yeast aged complexity.

There is no Cava and especially no Prosecco that comes close. You will likely find more fruit in California bubbly priced below $20, but not the typical and lovely Champagne character.

Try it over the holidays.

November Wine Sales Kick Off

The November online wine blitz began on a high level as 2020wines.com announced its special web only deals.  And if you love Syrah, you will go crazy wild over the offerings from 2020 Wine Merchants.

2020’s new list includes just about all of the cult Syrahs and most other high scorers. Topping the list is Saxum, even the normally impossible to find 2007 Saxum, Booker Vineyard which will set you back $245. And, BTW, that’s 35% below the full retail price.

Happily, most of the November specials are discounted an average of 25%.

That includes the Epoque Syrah which along with Alban is a personal favorite. Epoque’s 09 Syrah Blend “Ingenuity” is one wine that is truly close to perfection.

The 2020 list continues as a who’s who in the world of Syrah with vintages from  Roar, Paul Lato, Lagier-Meredith’s Mount Veeder, Novy, Carlisle “Cardiac,” and the JC Cellars Rockpile Vineyard.

From the exciting region of Walla Walla, you can check out the 07 Tyrus-Evan Syrah, a Wine Spectator favorite.

If you want to explore a rising star, then consider the 09 Olson-Ogden Syrah, recently discovered by Connoisseurs’ Guide. Only 172 cases were made, and the bottle price at 2020 is $39.00.

2020wines.com was rated one of the best sites for wine collectors by www.bestonlinewineshopping.com  For a detailed review, click on“Best sites for collectors”

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.”