So much about this post is divergent from our usual notions and stereotypes about wine. Red wine in the summer? Certainly. Do you not drink Rosé in the winter? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s a topic for another post. Our Wine of the Week being a budget-friendly, mid-week wine? Well, this just proves that good wine doesn’t have to break the bank. But the most surprising thing for us, is that our Wine of the Week this week is a…*gasp*…Red Blend from California. (Spoiler Alert: Wine Snobbery Geekery ahead.)
Don’t misunderstand. Many of the great wines of the world are red blends. Bordeaux? Red blend. Super Tuscan? Also a red blend. Côtes du Rhône? We’ve made our point. Nevertheless, stereotypes exist for a reason. California Red Blends have a reputation of being cheap, flat, and sweet; mass produced for the masses. And many of them are. And a lot of people like them. They just aren’t a style we typically prefer. To be fair, the Firestone Red Wine 2016 is from the designated Paso Robles AVA, so it isn’t technically a “California” Red Blend.
(Side note, designations matter. If you see “California” on the label, it means the grapes came from somewhere, anywhere in the vast state. The name of a county on a label means at least 75% of the grapes must come from that county, and if the wine carries a designated AVA name, it means 85% or more of the grapes came from that AVA. Why does this matter? Some regions have better growing conditions for certain grape varieties, a suggestion that the wine will showcase the characteristics of the terrier of the region, and be an overall better wine. Another topic for another blog post. We now return you to our regularly scheduled Wine of the Week blog.)
Firestone Vineyard was the first estate winery established in Santa Barbara County. In the 1970’s, before even Napa had established worldwide acclaim, Leonard Firestone saw potential in the Santa Ynez Valley. (In case you are wondering, yes, Leonard is the son of Harvey Firestone, of Firestone Tires fame.) With 325 acres under vine, and a commitment to sustainable farming, Firestone produces an enticing portfolio of wines. Their red varieties include Bordeaux and Rhone grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, while their whites vines are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.
The Firestone Red Wine 2016 is a classic Bordeaux-style wine, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We found it at wine.com (currently on sale for $14.99.) Here’s what we thought of it:
A smooth and easy drinking red blend. Garnet color. Nose of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and smoke. On the palate, ripe raspberries, cherry, fresh blackberry, cherry cola, tobacco, spice, and smoke. Medium body, with dry tannins and bright acidity. Medium finish.
As many people already know, Paso Robles is trending in the wine world. Many consider it the next up-and-coming wine region; an underrated hidden gem. Despite all this, we regrettably have not explored the wines of Paso Robles much, and have never been wine tasting there. There are many good wineries in Paso Robles, and our friends who have been have given us dozens of recommendations. As happens every so often…so often it can seem a little creepy…we had been discussing Paso Robles with some friends not long ago, and the very next day we received an email offering us a sample of Robert Hall Paso Red 2018, from Paso Robles. After tasting the wine, our resolve to get to Paso, and soon, was dramatically intensified.
The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
Robert Hall was a successful businessman in St. Paul, Minnesota. After developing a taste for wine, he made his way west and founded his namesake winery in the heart of Paso Robles wine country. From the beginning, winemaker Don Brady has been leading production of a portfolio that now includes more than a dozen wines.
The Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 is a multi-award winning blend of grapes from all 11 sub-AVAs in the Paso Robles region. It is a wine that truly captures the essence of Paso Robles. Petite Sirah (43%), Syrah (21%),and Zinfandel (19%) drive the blend, supported by Petit Verdot (10%), and splashes of Grenache and Mourvedre filling it out. Sounds pretty good to us!
A rich, big, bold red blend. Vibrant deep purple color. The nose is filled with ripe black fruit: blackberry, boysenberry, and Marionberry, with smoky notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, plum, tobacco, baking spice, and black pepper. Full bodied, with fine, smooth tannins and ample acidity. The finish is long with black fruit and spice. Excellent with baby back ribs.
Truth be told, we’ve found a lot of California Red Blends to be on the jammy side. When we tasted the Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 with our ribs, we thought it would be a bit jammy without food. Yet this wine is so well structured it holds up after dinner as a very nice sipper. Beware: this big wine sports an ABV of 15.5%! But why would you drink a big, bold red like this without food anyway? The food enhances the wine, and the wine enhances the food. Yin. Yang.
Did we mention the value quotient? Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 retails for just $20! You really need this wine in your life. It’s available at select retailers, or online at the Robert Hall Winery website. Try this, or any of the wines, and let us know what you think.
Paso Robles has come into its own as a wine region. It wasn’t too many years ago that hardly anybody had heard of this area. Now, the wines from “Paso” have gained notoriety and prestige. Recently, we were offered samples of some small batch, boutique red wines from De Angelis Wines. Naturally, we said YES!
The De Angelis Wines story began in 1999, when owners Jerry and Marsha De Angelis planted a small vineyard on their property. It started as a private venture, just to make wines to enjoy with family and friends. As their winemaking skill improved, a neighbor, who had a 30 acre vineyard, asked them to become his winemakers. So in 2004, Jerry and Marsha found themselves employed as full time winemakers.
In 2006, Jerry and Marsha participated in establishing, designing, and building a co-op winery. Once it opened, they were recruited as the chief winemakers, making wines for several growers. During that same year, they decided to launch their own brand, and De Angelis Wines, the label, was born. Even with all their success, Jerry and Marsha remain committed to hand-crafting very small lots each year. They have slowly increased production over the years, but will never make more than 1,200 cases per year.
The De Angelis Wines portfolio includes some whites; Chardonnay and Viognier, but is predominantly red. We received samples of their 2007 Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, 2009 Syrah, Santa Barbara County, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County, and the 2012 Elena Catherine, San Luis Obispo County, a red blend.
The Elena Catherine is homage to the family matriarch, to celebrate her 100th birthday! Here’s how Jerry and Marsha tell the story on the website:
“Who is Elena Catherine? Elena is our Mom, and this wine was developed for her 100th birthday. (She passed away at 102 Years old!) We wanted a wine that reflects the feisty, peppery, Italian Mom that she was! The 2012 Elena Catherine is a 13.6% alcohol wine blend containing 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. All of these wines are Estate fruit harvested from the Dry Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA.”
The following wines were provided as a media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
2007 Pinot Noir
Brick red color. The nose is bursting with bright cherry notes, with raspberry and smoke present, also. We decanted for several hours, as suggested by a colleague. Upon pouring, there are flavors of black cherry, and ripe raspberry, with clove, baking spice, and earth. Hints of mushroom and forest floor round out the complex profile of this wine. Soft tannins and bright, lively acidity. Rich flavors and medium body, with a bold finish of red fruit, smoke, and spice. Paired well with grilled pork sausage.
Inky nearly black color. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, and black plum, with hints of oak. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, with vanilla, tobacco, smoke, cedar, and oak, with baking spice and black pepper on the finish. Big, bold, and full bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice, with tertiary notes of worn leather, earth, and smoke. Drinking well now, and will continue to soften and improve for at least another 5 years. This wine would pair well with game and savory dishes.
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rich, inky purple color, with a brick rim. On the nose there is ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum, and clove. The aromas are rich, full, and inviting. Taking a sip, flavors of blackberry, black cherry, big cassis, and chocolate, with baking spice, tobacco smoke, and black pepper. The tannins are big, but soft, and soften even more with air. There is medium acidity. The finish is long with blackberry and mocha notes. Pick your meat; beef, lamb, pork…this one goes with all.
2012 Elena Catherine Red Blend
Deep, brick red color. Aromas of ripe raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. On the palate, bright blueberry, cherry, blackberry, cassis, cedar, and tobacco. Huge tannins! Even after an hour in the decanter, but balanced and approachable. This wine deserves a slab of Prime Rib now, and could lay down for 10 more years. Medium acidity and a long, long finish of black and red fruit, cedar, and white pepper.
De Angelis Wines has discontinued online sales, but if these beauties sound like your kind of wine, drop Jerry and Marsha an email. As long as you are in a state to which they can ship, they’ll hook you up!
When you live in suburbia, surrounded by big-box chain eateries, you get rather excited when a quality, independent restaurant opens up. And you do all you can to support them, hoping to ensure their success and longevity. So it was a couple of weeks ago, when bored with all the same old, same old places for a Friday evening happy hour, that I checked Yelp (love it or hate it, it still serves a purpose) and spotted a “Hot and New” listing for RANGE Kitchen & Tap.
We headed there directly, excited about the prospect of a new place that might suit our needs. We were not disappointed. Our first time in, we really only wanted a glass of wine and some small plates. When we scanned the menu, and saw the plethora of delicious-sounding salads and entrees, we decided to go all in. We were sitting at the bar, which overlooks the prep-kitchen, so we could see everything coming out of the back, and we were amazed at what we saw. We also got to talk with the prep cooks, and Chef Kevin for a few minutes when he emerged from the main kitchen. We learned that RANGE Kitchen & Tap specializes in farm fresh, local ingredients, prepared on site, to create comfort food with a twist. Everything is made there, from fresh ground beef all the way down to the homemade salad dressings and even mayonnaise. That night we split a Ceasar salad (homemade dressing, yum!) and Mom’s Meatloaf. Sliced, then seared on the flat-top for a crispy crust, it was amazing!
Determined to share the wealth, we invited friends Jason and Heather Thomson, to join us for the full meal deal. And although RANGE Kitchen & Tap has put together a very impressive wine list, we decided to bring our own, and open a bottle we’ve been holding onto for a while: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015, made by friends and fellow wine bloggers, Mike and Lori Budd.
If you haven’t tried bringing your own wine to a restaurant, give it a go. Just make sure it’s not something that’s already on their wine list. Most places charge a nominal corkage fee (the charge for the server/somm/owner to pull the cork) although some restaurants don’t charge for corkage at all. I’ve often wondered, and have yet to get a straight answer, but with the increasing popularity of screwcap wines, when you bring your own wine closed by screwcap, do they charge you a “screwage fee”? Anyway, not only does BYOW save money, but it’s a great way to share a special bottle with friends.
But I digress…we met Jason and Heather and set about perusing the menu. We decided to start with the Charcuterie Board. The meat selection changes frequently, and each day the offerings are listed on a chalkboard near the kitchen. Tonight’s board was delicious, though I can’t remember all of the meats that our server described.
Onto the mains, where were delighted with the selections. The catch of the day, which Robyn ordered, was fresh halibut over asparagus and peas. Heather got the fried chicken over garlic mashed potatoes, Jason The Range pizza, featuring daily market fresh ingredients, and I ordered The Shorty flatbread, made with short rib meat that had been cooked sous vide for 36 hours. As you can see, the food looked amazing, and I can assure you it tasted even better! But how would this wide variety of foods stand up to our big, bold red wine?
The Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 paired magnificently with each and every dish. A well-crafted and food friendly wine, Dracaena is definitely a crowd pleaser. Bold enough to stand up to short ribs or steak, yet restrained and elegant so it complements lighter dishes like grilled halibut just as well.
Mike and Lori Budd have a passion for Cabernet Franc. So much so, that they were the driving force behind the annual Cabernet Franc Day, celebrated on December 4th each year. As one would expect, when someone has a passion, their product is going to be sensational. Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 definitely is that. Here’s my review:
A truly spectacular gem! Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, there are big, both flavors of blackberry pie, black currant, and chocolate covered cherries, mingled with soft oak and vanilla notes. With a rich, full mouthfeel, velvety smooth tannins, balanced acidity, and a long, juicy finish of black fruit and spice, this is an exquisite wine that pairs well with a wide range of foods, from grilled halibut to a thick steak.
You really should give Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 a try. It’s available direct from the winery on their website. You won’t be disappointed.
Oh, I almost left out dessert. Silly me. We love crème brûlée. Do you know what’s better than crème brûlée? Espresso crème brûlée! Oh, yes! This stuff is rich, decadent, and delicious. We’d come back in just for dessert!
If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, I encourage you to make the trek out to the ‘burbs of Roseville and check out RANGE Kitchen & Tap. But before you do, make sure you order a bottle or three of Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, and bring it with you.
Content and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a wine review. In my zeal to share creative insights and tales of my wine travels, combined with life circumstances and busyness at work, I momentarily lost sight of one of the reasons I started this blog, and my tagline: “Reviews, musings, ponderings, and thoughts about wine.”
When I post reviews, I like to include a little about the winemakers. I find I enjoy a given wine more when I know some of the stories and passions of the people behind the label. Often I rely on information available on the Internet, but as a member of NakedWines.com, I have the opportunity to meet and interact with the winemakers directly.
Jeff Jarvis and Jessica Tomei are a husband and wife winemaking team based in Northern California. Although I have not had opportunity to meet them in person, I feel like I know them through our communication on the NakedWines.com social media platform. Theirs is a compelling, moving story. Jeff and Jessica have an impressive wine-making background, having worked at wineries in Italy and Chile before settling in Northern California. In addition to making wine for NakedWines.com members (known as Angels), Jessica stays busy as the director of international winemaking at Cupcake Vineyards.
Jeff and Jessica source most of their fruit from El Dorado County, in the Sierra Foothills. Their primary NakedWines.com label, Coloma, is a nod to this origin. The small foothills town of Coloma, in El Dorado County, is the location of Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848. If you’ve read much of my blog, you know I have a special passion for Sierra Foothills wine, partly because I live less than 45 minutes the main winemaking regions there, and just 5 minutes from the El Dorado County line! Jeff and Jessica’s Coloma wines are rich and intense, with soft tannins, and a fruity, spicy finish.
Yet, as good as their wines are, the best part of buying them is knowing that I am supporting this young family through their trials and tribulations. You see, in 2012, their then-two year old daughter Sofia became ill with a mystery ailment. After months of medical visits and extensive tests, doctors were unable to diagnose the illness. Their story was carried by both local and national news outlets. Cue NakedWines.com and the army of Naked Angels to the rescue! Through the support of this wine-loving extended family, Jeff and Jessica produced and sold a special Helping Hands Six-Pack of their wines for Angels. The money raised went directly to Jeff and Jessica to help defray medical expenses. So when I have an opportunity to purchase any of their wines, I know I am helping to support this family, and little Sofia.
Their latest Coloma label release is a spin on the classic Rhône GSM blend. The Mother Lode Red Blend is a GSZ – Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel blend. In speaking with other Sierra Foothills producers, I learned that the challenge with GSZ is taming the hot, high alcohol content of the “Z” – Zinfandel. Leave it to Jeff and Jessica to master this by blending just 10% Zinfandel with 55% Syrah and 35% Grenache. The wine carries the California designation, because the fruit is sourced from both the Sierra Foothills and Paso Robles.
In the glass, a medium ruby color. Pre-aeration (patience is overrated) there are aromas of blackberry bramble, vanilla, and blueberry. Run thru a Vinturi (or decanted 30-60 minutes if you have patience) brings forth aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry, blueberry, black cherries, and soft oak. Is this really a 2015? It’s amazingly soft and smooth, with light acidity and medium to full body. The finish is medium long, with dark berry, plum, and a touch of spice and mineral. This is an easy drinking wine; great for sipping or with food. I’m glad I bought more than one!
4.0 out of 5 Stars (88 – 91 points)
MSRP: $19.99, Angel price: $11.99
This wine is still available, exclusively from NakedWines.com. If you’d like to try it, and aren’t yet a Naked Angel, follow this link for a voucher worth $100 off your first purchase of $160 or more. You’ll be happy you did!
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. Apparently, 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
Brick 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.
4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)
Château Pierre de Montignac Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2011
Brick 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.
4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)
Courtney Benham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2011
Purple 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.
3.5 out of 5 stars (85-87 points)
Château Landat Vieilles Vignes Haut-Médoc 2012
Ruby 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.
4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)
Christophe Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Purple 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.
4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)
Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2009
Deep 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.
4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)
Baldacci IV Four Sons Fraternity Napa Valley Red 2012
Deep, 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.
4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)
Château d’Armailhac Grand Cru Classé Pauillac 2012
Ruby 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.
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!
I first learned of Club W more than a year ago, from a Facebook ad. Already happily participating in NakedWines.com, I didn’t really give Club W much thought. However, after some of my wine friends shared their favorable experiences with Club W, I decided to check them out.
The premise of Club W is similar to other monthly wine clubs, but it does have some distinctions that help to set it apart. When you first sign up, you answer six questions that are intended to help identify your flavor and taste profile. Questions like:
How do you like your coffee?
Strong & black.
Mild but nothing in it.
With cream and/or sugar.
Do you like earthy flavors like mushrooms and black-truffles?
Yes. I’ll more-or-less eat dirt.
Yeah, I like these flavors.
In moderation, as a secondary flavor.
No really my thing.
Club W uses your responses to recommend wines they think you’ll like. Later, when you purchase Club W wines, you rate them (1-5 scale) and those ratings help to refine the recommendations. I’m sure there are other wine clubs that use similar algorithms to match you to wines you’ll love, but Club W was the first one I encountered.
Club W partners with independent winemakers to direct-market their wines. Thus, the wines they sell are available exclusively from Club W. This cuts out the middle tier of the archaic U.S. distribution system, and keeps costs down. The majority of the wines offered through Club W are $13, with a few higher priced options. I have not seen any wines for more than $35. In my book, that’s affordability!
Club W is a monthly club, with a welcome twist. When you sign up, you are agreeing to monthly shipments of three, $13 bottles of wine. By default, they will ship the recommended wines they have selected based on your profile. However, you can substitute different wines if you prefer. Shipping on three bottles is a flat $6, but they offer free shipping on orders of four bottles or more, so it’s like getting a fourth bottle for just $7. Here’s the welcome twist: you can skip a month, or two, or more, with no charge or penalty. Just remember to log in and click the “Skip” button each month before your default order is processed.
My First Club W Experience
To explore the company, I had to create an account, which I did several months ago. New customers get a credit for a free bottle ($13). Perhaps because I delayed in placing an order, upon logging in a few weeks ago, I discovered I had a two bottle, $26 credit. I’m no rocket scientist, but getting three bottles of wine for $13, plus tax and shipping, is kind of a no-brainer.
As I browsed the available wines, I noticed that among the tried and true regulars; Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and the rest we all know, there were a large number of lesser known varietals. I selected a Lodi Alicante Bouschet, a Portuguese white blend of Arinto and Fernão Pires, and a Paso Robles red blend of Syrah, Barbera, and Valdiguié.
Then I ran into my only real problem. At checkout, when I clicked “Purchase”, my $26 credit did not apply to the order. I immediately e-mailed customer service and asked that they apply my credit to this order. Since this was Saturday morning of a holiday weekend I had to wait a couple days for a response, which came first thing Monday morning. Polite and professional, Jenna apologized for the mix-up. She posted a new $26 credit to my account, and assured me it will apply on my next order. However, the order had already been processed (and my account charged) so they could not apply the credit retroactively. Not exactly what I wanted, but with this resolution, I still get my credit, and Club W gets a repeat customer. Win-win.
Shipping and delivery were smooth and fast. I was very impressed with the packaging, including the nifty carrying handle. Inside, I found half-page, glossy information sheets. On one side, detailed information about the wine, and on the other, a recipe with which to pair it.
To top it all off, about two weeks after my wine arrived, I received a hand-written note from Aaron at Club W, thanking me for my business. Impressive.
Most importantly, though, is how the wine tastes! Which brings me to…
Riddle Bricks Alicante Bouchet California 2014
Deep purple in the glass. Plum and black pepper aromas. Flavors of plum, dark berry, and baking spice. Fruit forward with a full, rich mouthfeel, smooth tannins and soft acidity. Short finish. Not overly complex or deep. Aerating opens it up a bit, but it’s still fairly one dimensional. Still, it is an easy drinking wine, good on its own or with food.
3 out of 5 stars
Passarola Vinho Branco 2014, Portugal
Golden color in the glass. There are aromas of apricot, pear, and mango. In the palate there are flavors of lemon, lime, and pineapple, with hints of mineral/wet gravel on the back of the tongue. The body is light with bright, lively acidity. The acidity carries into the finish along with fresh citrus. This is a delightful white, that would be quite refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. At just 12% ABV, it’s definitely a gulpable quaff.
4 out of 5 stars
Alchymist Red Blend Paso Robles 2013
An interesting red blend: Syrah, Barbera, and Valdiguié (the grape formerly known as Napa Gamay.) Ruby/purple in the glass, with initial aromas of raspberry, bramble, and some spice. On the palate, there is raspberry, strawberry, and a little smokiness. As it opens up, cherry flavors emerge. The tannins are edgy, but not overpowering, and are met by bright acidity. I would say this is medium bodied, with a medium finish of red fruit and spice.
Based on the description that accompanied the wine: a “big red” with the recommended pairing of dark chocolate, I was expecting something bolder, almost port-esque. It does go nicely with chocolate, bringing out more cherry notes. However, it also is a nice general food wine. Overall, it is another pleasant, easy drinking wine from Club W.
3 out of 5 stars
What I like:
Ability to easily skip a month, or several months
Supporting the little guy
Info cards with recipes
Exploring unusual varietals
Availability of International wines
Personalized, hand-written thank you note!
What I’d like to see:
Club W does not offer the ability to review wines; only assign them a 1-5 scale rating. In my experience with NakedWines.com – where they encourage both ratings and reviews, I have found 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. True, there are nights that knocking back a glass or two is exactly what’s needed, but for me those nights are the exception.
I’d also like the ability to communicate with the winemakers. Through NakedWines.com I have gotten to know several winemakers, meeting many in person. Placing a face, personality, and story with the name on the bottle makes enjoying wine a much more personal experience.
At the risk of sounding like a snob, and in fairness I’ve only tried the $13 level wines, but I’d like to see wines with more depth and complexity. (My next order will include at least one of their higher priced Napa Cabernets. This way I can evaluate their upper tier line, and compare quality of a varietal with which I am very familiar.)
Many of the marketing materials I have seen for Club W, including television commercials, Facebook ads, and the photos on their website, suggest to me that their target audience is 20-somethings who are just getting into wine. (I haven’t been in that demographic for 30+ years!) This is certainly an important and potentially lucrative market. Based on my experience, I’d say they’ve hit their mark. The wines are good, and easy-drinking, but not overly complex. If this is the type of wine you enjoy, check out Club W.
All in all, I like the Club W business model. Club W is a convenient source for approachable, easy-drinking wines, and is very customer-friendly. Although not monthly, I will buy from Club W in the future. When I receive my next order, including that Napa Cabernet, I’ll review the wines in another post, Club W, Part II. Stay tuned!
If you are interested in giving Club W a try, do yourself and me a favor and use this link: https://www.clubw.com/kreynolds11. We each get a $13 credit when you order!