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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Club W: Part III

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At long last, I bring you my third and final installment of my Club W series. Between summer travel and other matters, it’s been awhile since I checked in on this online wine distributor. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here, and here. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

A few things have changed since my last Club W post.

  • First, a company name change and rebranding. Club W is a part of Winc (Wine, Inc.), and the decision was made to drop the Club W name, and identify solely as Winc. This transition is still in process, and the clubw.com website is still fully functional.

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  • Secondly, the minimum purchase requirement has increased from three bottles to four. To qualify for free shipping, you always had to order four bottles, so now all orders are shipped for free. On the bright side, if you enjoy reds and whites equally, this allows you to select two reds and two whites as your default setting. (You can also select any combination of four – all reds, all whites, or three of one and one of the other.) Nevertheless, this also means that instead of $39 per month, plus $6 shipping for a total of $45, the cost for continuing, regular membership is $52 per month.
  • Third, the company has implemented an incentive to encourage customers to rate their wines. When you rate 10 wines, you get a $10 credit. Unfortunately, this is not retroactive, so the seven bottles I’ve already rated don’t qualify. In addition, as I’ve mentioned before, the rating system at Club W/Winc is simply a 1-5 star system; there is no option to enter tasting notes or other feedback.

If you’ve read my first two posts, you know that with both of my first two orders, I ran into some hiccups. (If you haven’t read them, why not? The links are right up there in the first paragraph!) You also know that customer service quickly and efficiently resolved the problems; said solutions including credits and free wine. Always a good thing! For my third order, I decided to let the Club W/Winc algorithm do its thing and select the wine for me, based on the preferences I entered when signing up, and enhanced by my previous orders and ratings. This time, my order was processed and delivered without a hitch! Third time’s a charm, right?

I received my order confirmation e-mail, and within a couple of days, the box of delicious goodness arrived at my office. The box included exactly the four bottles identified in my confirmation notice; two reds and two whites. Also included, as always, were glossy pages with information about the wines, tasting notes, and suggesting recipes for pairing.

Below are my reviews of the four wines from my third Club W order. All wines are $13.00:

Wondeful Wine Co. San Luis Obispo County White Blend 2014

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Enjoyable white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognior, and Muscat. Straw color with aromas of elderflower and pineapple. On the palate, flavors of white peach, with elderflower, pineapple, and apricot. Pleasantly dry with light acidity and fruit-forward profile, giving it a sweet sensation. Nice on its own, but also pairs well with foods, like baked chicken.

3.5 out of 5 stars (85 – 87 points)

Chommie Pinotage 2015

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My first Pinotage. Purple color with a ruby rim. Aromas of raspberry and earthy musk. On the palate, bright red cherries and fresh raspberries excite the tongue with fresh acidity. The wine is medium bodied, with dry tannins and a medium finish. The finish is sour cherry and spice, and a return of the earthy/musky notes. It paired nicely with smothered beef & lamb patties.

3.0 out of 5 stars (82 – 84 points)

Più Gioia Pinot Grigio 2015

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Straw color. Aromas and flavors of white peach and golden delicious apple. Light to medium body with a supple mouthfeel and balanced acidity. The finish is floral, white peach, and a bit of mineral. A nice Italian PG, better than the 2014 vintage (reviewed in Club W – Part II). Served well chilled.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

Nouvelle Ère Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2014

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Ruby color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry bramble, black cherry, and cedar. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, raspberry, cherry, and spice. There is also a mineral/earth terroir note common in Right Bank Bordeaux. Medium body with bright acidity. Tannins show late, and are firm and tight, but soften with air. The finish lingers with dark berry, cedar, and spice. As with most Old World wines, it’s good on its own but is best with food – in this case a seared sirloin.

3.5 out of 5 stars (85 – 87 points)

So while the overall experience has improved, and was seamless with my third order, my opinion of the wines is pretty much the same. Good but not exceptional. There are a few gems worth repeating, but overall, there are comparable wines available for less money at retail wine shops. Let’s review the pros and cons, as I see them:

Pros:

  • Supporting the little guy
  • Info cards with recipes
  • Exploring unusual varietals
  • Availability of International wines
  • Personalized, hand-written thank you note!
  • They have some unique features that other online retailers and clubs do not. For example, it appears that once you’ve placed a bottle in your basket, it’s yours – even if you don’t complete and ship the order for a couple of months, and it otherwise sells out in the meantime.
  • Their customer service team is prompt, courteous, and efficient.
  • You can easily skip a month, or several, without cost or penalty.
  • Their packaging is exceptional.

Cons:

  • Inability to review wines; only assign them a 1-5 scale rating. It has been my experience that, for me, writing a review and describing the flavors and elements in the wine enhances my enjoyment of the wine. Rather than simply knocking back a glass, I become more attentive and contemplative, and enjoy the wine more.
  • I’d also like the ability to communicate with the independent winemakers. Placing a face, personality, and story with the name on the bottle makes enjoying wine a much more personal experience.
  • While their customer service team is very good, the fact that I had contact with, or from, their customer service team three times in my first two orders is telling. Hopefully it’s just growing pains and they’ll get the kinks worked out.

In conclusion, I do think Club W/Winc is a good place to experiment for those just getting into wine. Based on their marketing materials, their target audience is clearly Millennials who fit that category. They allow you to receive different wines from around the world (depending on individual state shipping restrictions) on a regular basis without having to put any thought into buying decisions. Nevertheless, those who have a broader, deeper level of wine experience may find these wines wanting for complexity and depth. If you’re new to wine, and like the simplicity and ease of this business model, I heartily recommend Club W/Winc!

Have you purchased wine from Club W/Winc? Let me know about your experience in the comments.

Cheers!

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Old World v. New World Cabernet: A Total Wine & More Event

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Total Wine & More bills itself as “America’s Wine Superstore.” I would have to agree. The first two times I walked into a Total Wine store, I walked out empty handed. It was simply overwhelming. Those of you fortunate enough to live near one of their 135 stores in 18 states know what I mean. They stock more wine, beer, and spirits on their shelves than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Simply walking through the store can be disorienting to the uninitiated. I recommend hiring a guide. If you’re ever in the Sacramento area, drop me a line and for a small fee (a bottle of sumpin’ sumpin’) I will gladly help you navigate the labyrinth.

Like so many retailers these days, Total Wine has a loyalty rewards program; they call the Total Discovery Program. Basically, you earn points for each dollar spent in the store. You start at the “Select” level, which basically gets you coupons. Rack up enough points and you level up to the “Reserve”, then “Grand Reserve” levels. At these levels, you receive discounts on products and classes, and invitations to complimentary Members-Only events.

But this post is not intended to be free advertising for this magical place. Rather, it is about an event I attended there yesterday evening. reserveApparently, even though most of my wine comes to me via online retailers, I buy enough product from Total Wine to have recently achieved “Reserve” level status. Thus, I received an invitation to their Sip & Mingle event, The Great Cab Debate: Old World vs. New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Not one to turn down an opportunity to taste world-class wine for free, I naturally submitted my RSVP accepting the invitation.

As one might imagine, this event pitted four Left Bank (Cabernet based) Bordeaux against four California Cabernet wines, in the spirit of this year’s 40th anniversary of the famous Judgment of Paris tasting. This was not a blind tasting, and as the name of the event, Sip & Mingle, implies, it was as much a social evening as a wine tasting. At these events, participants are encouraged to chat, socialize, and nibble on the snack foods provided. Sure, there were a couple of serious wine tasters present, who stood quietly in a corner sipping, spitting, and jotting notes without interacting much. But for the most part, the 20 or so people there relaxed at the tables and enjoyed the wine and conversation. It was certainly a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday evening.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “What about the wine?” Ah, yes, the wine. Most of my Bordeaux experience has been Right Bank, Merlot based, so I was anxious to try some of the prestigious Left Bank Chateau creations. These hailed from the Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, and Pauillac appellations. The California wines included one from Paso Robles, and three from the general Napa Valley AVA. In order of recommended tasting, here’s what I thought of them:

Sextant Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014

01-sextant-paso-robles-2014Brick red, ruby rim. Nose of blackberry and red currant. Flavors of blackberry, red currant, black pepper and spice. A little hot but smooth tannins. Long, spicy finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Château Pierre de Montignac Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2011

02-chateau-pierre-de-montignac-medoc-2011Brick red, ruby rim. Plum and earth on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, sour cherry, soft oak, and spice. Bone dry with firm tannins and a medium finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Courtney Benham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2011

03-courtney-benham-napa-2011Purple color with brick rim. On the nose, green bell pepper, light blackberry, and dusty earth. Blackberry, black plum flavors with soft, smooth tannins and light acidity. Medium finish with berry and white pepper.

Retail $24.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-87 points)

Château Landat Vieilles Vignes Haut-Médoc 2012

04-chateau-landat-vieille-vignes-haut-medoc-2012Ruby color. Nose of raspberry and blackberry. Flavors of ripe raspberry, plum, red currant, earth, and spice. Supple tannins, medium acidity, and a medium, spicy finish.

Retail $29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Christophe Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

05-christophe-limited-edition-napa-valley-2012Purple color with ruby rim. Aromas of ripe blackberry and soft oak. On the palate juicy blackberry, cassis, and white pepper. Super soft tannins and light acidity. Medium finish of dark berry.

Retail $35.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2009

06-chateau-larrivet-haut-brion-pessac-leognan-2009Deep purple color with ruby rim. Nose is fig, mushroom, and cedar. Flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and black plum. Soft, velvety tannins and balanced acidity with a long, fruity, spicy finish.

Retail $39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Baldacci IV Four Sons Fraternity Napa Valley Red 2012

07-baldacci-four-sons-fraternity-napa-valley-2012Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, cassis, and a hint of licorice. On the palate, blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and spice. Rich and fruity, with soft tannins and balanced acidity. Long finish with berry, cocoa, and spice. My favorite of the evening.

Retail $46.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château d’Armailhac Grand Cru Classé Pauillac 2012

08-chateau-darmailhac-pauillac-2012Ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, herbal notes with green bell pepper and blackberry. Flavors of blackberry, bell pepper, earth, spice, and cedar. Still young, the tannins are edgy and its a little acidic. This one needs a few more years in the cellar.

Retail $44.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-57 points)

This was a fun evening. Although not a blind tasting, it was interesting to compare Old World v. New World Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Overall, as in ’76, Napa won the evening. At least for me! I look forward to my next invitation to a Total Wine & More Sip & Mingle event!

Review: Franc Dusak Viognier Sonoma Valley 2015

Awhile back I reviewed Franc Dusak’s Sonoma Zinfandel 2013, and as I usually try to do, included a brief introduction to Franc himself. I’ve had a number of Franc’s wines, and have been over-the-moon for all of them. I recently tried his Sonoma Valley Viognier 2015, and this white wine is no exception. It is spectacular!

Without belaboring the point, and considering my crazy-busy schedule right now which has severely cut into my blogging time, here is the review I posted on the NakedWines.com site for this amazing Viognier:

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I am now convinced that my original aversion to Viognier resulted from low quality, rather than the varietal itself. Every NakedWines.com Viognier I have tried has been simply amazing! Franc’s 2015 is no exception, and Viognier is now one of my favorite white wines!

Light straw color, with aromas of honeysuckle, white peach, and elderflower. On the palate, Golden delicious apple, white peach, elderflower, and a hint of fresh pineapple, mingling with fresh, light acidity; it’s like drops of gold on the tongue. Light to medium bodied and pleasantly dry, this is a stellar Viognier.

Served with Chicken Breast with Basil-Wine Sauce (the Viognier is in the sauce!) it is an amazing, heavenly experience.

4.5 out of 5 hearts (92 – 94 points)

Angel Price: $11.99 (still currently in stock – hurry to get yours before it’s gone!)

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NakedWines.com frees talented winemakers from the burden of marketing and sales, and allows them to focus on what they do best: make unbelievably delicious wines. These are all small batch, boutique wines, that Angels (members) can purchase for amazing, discounted prices. If this Viognier, or any of the dozens of other phenomenal available wines, sound like your cup of tea, follow this link for a voucher worth $100 off your initial order of $160 or more. Free wine? It doesn’t get better than that!

 

Life in a Bubble – #MWWC27

bubble-724x499It’s that time again! The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge!

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

The theme for #MWWC27 is “Bubbles.” Like probably every other person out there in the blogosphere, my mind immediately went to Champagne, or any other sparkling wine. There are many to choose from; Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, California Sparkling, and so on. Then, like probably every other wine writer out there, I thought: “too obvious; everybody will be writing about that.” Ah, but then again, like Vizzini, from The Princess Bride (only the best movie ever made), perhaps I can outwit my opponents by doing exactly what they expect me to do!

But lest I get involved in a land war in Asia (watch the clip, it’ll make sense), I decided to write from what I know and let the words flow as they may. This is a decision made largely due to the fact that I have not a lot of experience with wines that tickle the nose. You see, many members of my family get headaches after drinking sparkling wine, so I don’t often buy it. We can debate whether the bubbles cause the headaches, or that they result from some other cause. The fact remains that sparkling wine rarely makes an appearance in my home. I do try to keep a bottle of Prosecco or Cava on hand for those unexpected special occasions, or a spontaneous brunch in need of a Mimosa, but that’s about it.

So what is there to say about bubbles, then? Life.

We humans are a predictable lot. We like routine, and take comfort in the familiar. We take the same route to work every day. We shop at the same stores, and eat at the same restaurants, because we know what to expect. I even know people who will order the same thing off a menu every time they go to a particular restaurant. They don’t like change, or trying new things. We like to live our lives in big, comfortable, predictable bubbles. Boring! Yet many people approach wine in the same way.

While there are at least 10,000 grape varieties in the world, realistically about 1,300 are used in commercial wine production. So why, then, do so many people “only drink Chardonnay”? Or Cabernet Sauvignon? Or Pinot Noir? Because that is the comfort bubble in which they live. They know what to expect. They are predictable. These people are really missing out! There is so much variety out there; so many flavors to experience and enjoy, why limit yourself?

I love variety. When I go to a favorite restaurant, I like to try different things each time. It’s the same with wine. Sure, I have my favorite, go-to varietals, but why limit oneself? century_club_sealI love variety! Sure, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon will pair with my steak, but what about a Chilean Carménère? Shall I open a familiar Sauvignon Blanc this warm summer evening, or a different and exciting Grüner Veltliner? I recently submitted my application to the Wine Century Club. Yes, it’s a real thing! All you have to do for membership is try at least 100 different varietals. And you know what? Blends count! It’s really not that daunting a challenge, if you are willing to get out of your bubble and try new things.

Life bubbles are limiting; restricting. They only allow you to experience what is within reach and safe. I encourage you to step out of your bubble and try something new. The next time you are in your local wine shop, or better yet, the unfamiliar wine shop in the next town over, instead of reaching for that familiar bottle of Chateau Drink Often, try something adventurous and new. This is my challenge: Explore. Experience. Enjoy life outside your bubble.