Tag Archives: reviews

Old World Style at Sosie Wines

According to Google Translate, the French word Sosie is translated to English as Doppelganger. As you may know, a doppelganger is a look-alike; a body double; a twin.

Sosie Wines founders, Scott MacFiggen and Regina Bustamonte, have appreciated good wine and food for years. Regina recalls her grandmother mixing a bit of wine with some fizzy water for the kids during Sunday lunches. Scott’s grandfather owned a farm in Upstate New York. It was there that Scott learned how amazing farm-fresh produce tastes. These early experiences provided the inspiration for Sosie wines.

As adults, Scott and Regina traveled to France and became enamoured with the French countryside, the wines, and the Old World traditions that make the wines so great. So when they decided to launch their own wine brand, Scott and Regina wanted to bridge the gap between New World vineyards and Old World style wines.

Sosie Wines uses a minimal intervention winemaking style. They want the fruit to speak for itself, using native fermentation, and letting the natural aromas, flavors, and acidity shine through. Made in very small batches, with lower alcohol and higher acidity, in the Old World style, these wines are food friendly, with deep, complex character.

They were so committed to creating French-inspired, Old World-style wines, they chose their name, Sosie, as an indication that their wines are look-alikes to their French counterparts. They even designed their logo as a marriage of French and Californian influences: the California grizzly bear, featured on the state flag, with a proud French rooster standing upon the bear’s back.

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Credit: Sosie Wines

We recently received two bottles of Sosie wines as media samples for review; their 2015 Roussanne, Vivio Vineyards, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, and the 2015 Pinot Noir, Spring Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.

The following wines were provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Roussanne is a white grape from the Rhone Valley in France. It is traditionally blended with Marsanne, to make tasty Rhone white wines. A 100% Roussanne is relatively uncommon.

I’m not gonna lie, when I (Kent) saw the Roussanne, I was skeptical. I’ve only had a couple of 100% Roussanne wines before, and neither one impressed. Both had a distinct “funky” smell and taste, almost metallic or chemical in nature. The first bottle I tried, I returned and got a replacement. The replacement bottle tasted the same. I tried a different producer, and while it was slightly better, it still ranks as one of fewer than 10 wines I’ve ever poured down the drain. So, you can see why I was skeptical. I really thought that the day I found a Roussanne I liked, would be the day that pigs fly!

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Well, that skepticism was blown away with the Sosie Roussanne. Hold on to your hats because that might be a Berkshire flying overhead! On initial pour, it did have just a momentary, slight funkiness (making Kent nervous), but that faded within seconds, leaving a clean, bright, fruity, and delicious wine that most definitely impressed! Here are our tasting notes:

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The first 100% Roussanne we’ve actually enjoyed! Golden color in the glass. Initial aromas are ripe apricot and nectarine. As it open up, there is some floral and herbal notes. On the palate, flavors of pear, honeysuckle, apricot, and some black tea notes. Medium body with a soft mouthfeel and bright acidity. Paired with turkey-stuffed grilled bell peppers, an amazing combination.

Only four barrels produced. Now that’s small batch! SRP: $38.00

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We’re kinda particular about our Pinot Noir. Many these days are overripe, overly extracted, and just too heavy. Almost like they’re trying to make it taste like Cabernet Sauvignon. We think Pinot Noir is meant to be balanced and elegant. The Sosie Pinot Noir is exactly that! Reminiscent of a Burgundian wine, as would be expected from a wine crafted in the Old World style, this wine has fresh fruit, balanced with earthy notes, smooth tannins, and soft acidity.

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An exquisite, elegant Pinot Noir. Brick red color. On the palate, there are aromas of raspberry, clove, and tobacco smoke, with hints of earth. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, dark cherry, baking spice, smoke, and forest floor. Velvety smooth tannins with bright, perfect for food pairing. Long finish of red fruit, earth, and smoke. Paired with grilled marinated pork chop and Brussels sprouts with pancetta, it was a match made in heaven!

Five barrels produced. SRP: $43.00

Sosie also produces a Syrah, a Rosé of Syrah, and a Cabernet Franc. I have no doubt that all are outstanding, and we hope to try them all! Sosie wines are available for purchase on their website. They care enough about your satisfaction, that they only ship when weather conditions warrant.

Give Sosie wines a try. Let us know, in the comments, how you enjoyed them.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Ardente Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009

Do you believe in miracles? How about angels? Or mythical creatures? I do. I believe in all three. You see, not long ago, I met a Unicorn…

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Not my actual Unicorn

She told me about a wondrous land populated with angels, cherubs, and cheerful leprechauns. But no trolls. There are no trolls in this land, which, as my fellow bloggers and anyone who participates in social media will agree, is the second best part about this marvelous place. The best part is that spectacular, world class wines are available for miraculous prices. Pennies on the dollar in some instances! Intrigued?

No, this is not fantasy. I have not delved into the realm of fictional novels. This place is real. The name of this land should be “Winevana.” Perhaps it is, but only to “The Chosen.” To the rest of the world, this place is known as: Grocery Outlet.

Grocery Outlet

Okay, okay, I know. Until about six months ago I had never thought of Grocery Outlet as being a reliable source of quality wines. However, I wisely trusted my Unicorn, and ventured in. There, I was introduced to the local wine genie, Jerry. Jerry is the wine buyer for our local Grocery Outlet. Jerry is quite a character, and Jerry knows his wine! He has some amazing connections with distributors and producers, and has an uncanny ability to score some amazing deals on some amazing wines. I don’t know how he does it, but he knows his stuff. He’s tasted almost every wine in the store, so when you ask him for a recommendation, he can provide you solid choices.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerry sent out his weekly e-mail, touting his latest screaming finds. Angelic wines at fantastic prices! I scurried in to fill my cart. Jerry handed me a bottle, and told me I just had to try it. Who am I do argue with a mythical wine genie?

The wine? Ardente Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009. Not just Napa Valley, though. Atlas Peak Napa Valley! Online sources price this bottle at as much as $55.00. Jerry’s Winevana price? $11.99. Score!

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Ardente Estate Winery was established in 1996, on 20 acres in the hills of Atlas Peak. Their website proclaims: “ardente [ar’ dεnte]From the latin for pyre; a burning desire, passionate, flaming. This is the word that Carlo Di Ruocco felt best described his relationship to the land and the wine that is his “Ardente”.”

Information about the 2009 vintage is scarce; that was the last year the webpage was updated; but sometimes all you need to know about a wine is how it tastes. Euphoric. Heavenly. Otherworldly. Spectacular! If you enjoy a solid, rich, full-bodied Napa Cabernet, seek out this angelic being. Here are my notes:

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This is a spectacular Napa Cab. Deep purple color with slight ruby rim. On the nose, enticing aromas of creme de cassis, blackberry, and soft oak. After a quick 30 minute decant, the flavors exploded on the palate: ripe blackberry, black cherry, plum, cassis, and chocolate melding with vanilla, oak, and hints of ripe raspberry. The tannins are velvety smooth, and the acidity medium and balanced. The rich, full mouthfeel complemented our grilled NY strip steak to perfection. The long finish of blackberry, cassis, and black pepper. Outstanding!

If you have a Winevana…I mean Grocery Outlet…store in your town, I encourage you to stop in. Your wine genie may not be named Jerry, but I’ll bet he or she is just as miraculous!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Review: Intertwine Merlot Napa Valley 2015

As the Merlot revival continues, each vintage of Bridget Raymond’s annual contribution to the NakedWines.com portfolio grows in popularity. I reviewed the 2014 vintage of Intertwine, and it is one of my most-read blog posts. So it was with eager anticipation that I opened the newly released 2015 vintage.

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The Intertwine Merlot Napa Valley 2015 is made with fruit from the Oakville and Carneros AVAs. Both are among the finest, and best known regions in the Napa Valley. Whereas the 2014 showed its youth, and required ample aeration to be enjoyed young, the 2015 is smooth and delicious out of the bottle, although a bit of air allows it to open up, with more flavors emerging, and becoming even more enjoyable. As with most young wines, it will continue to improve with several months or years in the cellar.

This is the fourth vintage of Intertwine that I have had the pleasure of sampling. My tasting notes sum up my appreciation for this delightful juice:

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This could be the best vintage of Intertwine yet! The color is deep purple. On pouring through a Vinturi, this is a blackberry delight! Plenty of juicy fruit on the nose with a hint of oak. Through sheer willpower, I let it breathe for about 30 minutes before allowing the elixir to touch my lips. Patience, rewarded. As the wine opens up, the nose develops some tobacco, black cherry, and cedar notes. When finally tasted, wow! Bold blackberry, Marionberry pie, and black cherry fill the mouth. Full, round, rich mouthfeel coats the tongue. The tannins are firm, but will soften with bottle aging, and the acidity is fresh and lively. The finish is long, with cherry, berry, cedar, smoke, and spice. I even got a bit of dark chocolate at the very end.

Food worthy? Oh yes! Intertwine 2015 took my roasted pork loin with poached pears to an entirely new level! Stellar!

4.5+ out of 5 stars (92 – 95 points)

SRP: $27.99, Angel Price: $13.99

Intertwine Merlot Napa Valley 2015 is available exclusively from NakedWines.com. If this sounds like your kind of wine, you can follow this link to become an Angel, and receive a voucher worth $100 off your first-time order of $160 or more. If you try it, please let me know what you think!

Cheers!

Review: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This is the first review in my Judgment of Paris wines series. I came up with the ridiculous idea of sampling recent vintages of each of the 10 reds and 10 whites represented in the famed blind tasting of 1976. This will probably take a couple of years to complete, but they say it’s good to have goals, right?

Freemark Abbey was one of 11 wineries representing Californian wine at the 1976 blind tasting event. In addition, Freemark Abbey has the distinction of being the only producer to have wines represented in both the reds (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux) and whites (Chardonnay/White Burgundy) competitions. The wines entered were hand-selected by the organizer, Steven Spurrier. Each of the wines chosen were considered the best of the best, and was selected over hundreds of others. So even though the Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon placed 10th out of 10 entries, it’s still a very impressive showing.

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Photo Credit: FreemarkAbbey.com

 

Freemark Abbey has no connection to nuns or monks, or any religious institutions for that matter. Nevertheless, the winery has an intriguing past, with many notable mileposts. Freemark Abbey Winery’s history dates back to 1886, when Josephine Tychson, a Victorian widow, built a redwood cellar on the site, becoming the first female winemaker in the Napa Valley. 12 years later, in 1898, a friend of Ms. Tychson named Antonio Forni bought the winery. He renamed it Lombarda Cellars in honor of the Italian town of his birth. Forni constructed the winery building which still stands today. The current name came about in 1939, when three southern California businessmen bought the winery. Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster, and Albert “Abbey” Ahern combined their names to form Freemark Abbey. Of course the role Freemark Abbey had in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the impact that event had on the Napa Valley, remains one of the winery’s crowning moments.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet 2012

Here’s my review of this historic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:

I decanted the wine for a little over an hour. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, Marionberry, and cassis, with soft oak. As the wine opened up, the luscious aromas filled the room, and some light violet scent emerges. On to the tasting! This is a rich, full-bodied wine. There are flavors of blackberry, cassis, black plum, mild oak, and pepper. The tannins are soft and smooth. The berry and oak flavors continue into the medium-long finish, with the addition of some baking spice and dark chocolate. There is also a little lingering alcohol on the finish. Paired well with grilled ribeye and roasted rosemary potatoes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Total Wine & More: $32.99

So, one down, 19 to go! Now it’s on to the next one. Wish me luck!

 

Review: Bruno Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon. The king of the grapes. The stuff of Grand Cru Bordeaux, and Napa legends. From poets to journalists, critics to bloggers, much has been written about this most famous varietal, and much more will be in the future. None of the words put to print can adequately capture the magic that happens when a skilled winemaker plies his art on this noble grape, and produces the fine elixir sought by kings and paupers alike.

Ah, but I wax poetic. Who am I kidding? That’s not my style! Let me just say that Cabernet Sauvignon is some darn fine wine! It is one of my favorite varietals, and if you believe the stats, it is my #1 favorite. And you can’t argue with stats! I had always considered Zinfandel my favorite, but looking back on my wine apps, I have consumed and rated more Cabernet Sauvignon than any other varietal! So much so, that Vivino considers me an Expert of California Cabernet Sauvignon! I don’t know that I’m an expert of much of anything, but if Vivino says it of me, I’ll take it!IMG_0917If you follow my blog, or have read my very first post, Appetite for Wine, (found under the About tab), you know that I tend to live in the Under-$35 world of retail wine prices. Most of my purchases are in the sub-$20 region. At this price point, you can find quality, but a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon in this range is rather one-dimensional and uninspiring. Not that it’s all bad…many have very good flavor, but are often blends that dilute the unique terroir, and/or spend very little time in oak, which I consider to be very important for Cabernet. As I discussed in a previous post, A Cabernet is a Cabernet. Or Is It?, not all wines are created equally, and things like climate, soil, and blending can change the character of wines made from the same varietal. Generally speaking, as with most things in life, the higher the quality, the bigger the price tag.

Another thing you probably know about me is that I am a NakedWines.com Angel. NakedWines.com is a crowd funded winery, whose winemakers produce high quality, boutique wines, which they sell directly to Angels. By avoiding the costly and archaic three-tier system, NakedWines.com is able to pass their savings to the Angels by selling at reduced prices. Therefore, Angels get better quality for the price. NakedWines.com seeks out the best and brightest winemakers. Many of them have worked in big name wineries, and have years or decades of experience.

The wine I am reviewing today is an excellent example of both Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and what makes NakedWines.com such a great deal. The winemaker, Richard Bruno, has more than 20 years of experience, making award-winning wines at such notable wineries as Francis Ford Coppola and Sebastiani. He is a recent addition to the NakedWines.com family, and this is the first of his wines that I have tried. It will not be my last!

Since Vivino considers me a California Cabernet expert, I am making an “Expert Recommendation” for this wine!

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Oh wow! I had to double check the Angel price on this beauty! $19.99? Must be a typo. This is at least a $40-45 bottle of Napa Cabernet!

This wine is a great example of why Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes. Deep garnet in the glass, the nose is a basket of freshly picked boysenberries, blackberries, and blueberries. On the palate these berries are joined by deep, dark black currant, spice, and hearty oak. The oak enhances, but does not overpower the wine. This is a dry wine with bold tannins. But even straight from the bottle without decanting or aerating, (yes, into a glass! I’m a oenophile, not a wino!) the tannins are not harsh, but are smooth and chewy, and balanced with bright acidity. After decanting for an hour, the tannins are even smoother, the flavors enhanced, and the acidity nicely balanced. The finish lingers long with berry, spice, leather, and smoke.

This wine will age gracefully for several years, but if you have a slab of beef or lamb laying around that needs grilling, open this one up and find out what everybody is talking about. 4.5 hearts (92-94 points) now. Definite 5.0 with a couple years of age.

NW LogoIf you’d like to try this, or any of the other outstanding wines available from NakedWines.com, click here for a voucher worth $100 off a first-time order of $160 or more. You’ll be glad you did.

Cheers!

 

Club W, Part II

Hooray! I received my second Club W order! I reviewed and discussed my first Club W experience a few weeks ago in Club W, Part I. As you may recall, I ran into a small glitch in my first order; a $26 introductory credit did not apply correctly, leaving me out of pocket for the full price of the order. Faster than a speeding bullet, the Club W customer service team credited my account for the $26, resolving the issue for me, and ensuring a repeat customer for them.

I had high hopes for my second order. Being somewhat underwhelmed by the standard $13 wines, I included in my order a $24 “Porter & Plot” 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, along with three of the $13 selections: 2013 “Likelihood of Confusion” Sierra Foothills Zinfandel, 2012 “La Forza” Super Tuscan, and 2014 Più Gioia Pinot Grigio (IGT delle Venezie, Italy.) Living in the shadow of the Sierra Foothills, I am especially partial to Zinfandel from that region, so I was really looking forward to experiencing a “Likelihood of Confusion.” Purchasing four bottles gets you free shipping, saving $6, so it’s like getting the fourth bottle for only $7.

Unless otherwise specified, Club W orders are processed on the day of the month in which one’s first order was placed. My processing date was March 2. Alas, on March 3, I received an e-mail from Natalie, a Club W Wine Concierge, with some bad news. There had been an accident in the warehouse, and the last few cases of “Likelihood of Confusion” had been damaged. Natalie apologized, and had already credited my account for the $13 cost of that bottle, once again assuring another repeat order from me. I understand that accidents happen, and to the best of my knowledge, nobody was hurt, which is the most important thing. So at worst, I missed out on trying a wine I was looking forward to tasting. Also, this provides fodder for “Club W, Part III” sometime down the road.

Eager with anticipation, my (now) three-bottle box arrived at my office. Like a kid a Christmas, I cut the seal and lifted the lid.  ExcitedThere’s my 2011 Napa Cabernet! There’s the Super Tuscan. But…where’s the golden-hued Pinot Grigio? In its place, there is a 2014 Meraki Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles. 11275856-Confused-emoticon-Stock-Vector-smiley-face-cartoon

Now, I love Cabernet. And I’m starting to explore Paso Robles wines more. Stock-outs happen, I get it. But if that’s the case, substituting a big, bold Cabernet for a light, refreshing Pinot Grigio? That just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps it was an order-fulfillment error. Those happen, too.

I e-mailed Natalie, explained what had happened, and asked that she look into it for me. 12 minutes later, Natalie replied. (There’s that speeding bullet again!) Natalie said she would look into it, but affirmed this appeared to be a warehouse error. In the meantime, she had already submitted an order to send me that missing 2014 Più Gioia Pinot Grigio, shipped expedited service. She also told me to keep and enjoy the Meraki Cabernet, and even recommended it as one of her favorites!

So while my ordering experiences have not been without hiccups, the Club W Customer Service team has been on top of it with prompt, courteous, and satisfactory service. Kudos to Natalie and the rest of the team for providing such good service in a day and age when good service is hard to find! 61_1_blue-ribbon-perfect-logoAnd now, on to the reviews!

 Meraki Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014

This is one of the best mistakes I’ve ever received!

“Medium purple color in the glass. Appealing, classic Cabernet Sauvignon aromas of blackberry and cassis. On the palate, flavors of ripe plum, cherry, blackberry, and oak. The tannins are remarkably soft and smooth for such a young wine, giving it a creamy mouthfeel. On the finish there are light berry notes with a hint of leather and tobacco.

Biodynamically produced if that’s your thing. This is the best wine I’ve had so far from Club W! Great value at just $13!”

4.5 Stars (92 to 94 points)

La Forza Super Tuscan 2012

“Ruby-purple color. Aromas of fresh blackberry, cherry, and spice. On the palate there are flavors of blackberry, red currant, black pepper, oak, and just a bit of earthy notes. Medium bodied with firm tannins and bright, fresh acidity, this wine is made for food. Yet is fruit-forward enough to stand up on its own. The long finish lingers with blackberry and spice, and that acidity keeps the mouth tingling for several minutes. A very nicely made Super Tuscan!”

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Più Gioia Pinot Grigio 2014

“Light golden/dark straw color. Initial aromas of stone fruit and mango give way to pineapple and grapefruit on the nose. Light bodied with bold, lively acidity. Tangy citrus flavors dominate; grapefruit and lemon-lime, with pineapple, and a hint of pear on the finish. As it warms and opens, I get a whiff of banana candy. Definitely more tangy than most Italian PGs I’ve had; almost more of a Cali Sauv Blanc style, but well made and interesting. Paired well with grilled shrimp.”

3.5 Stars (85-87 points)

Porter & Plot Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

And at last, the $24 bottle I’ve been waiting to try!

“Ruby/purple color in the glass. Aromas of Marionberry pie, black plum, and violet. On the tongue, there are a variety of flavors going on, including Marionberry/blackberry, ripe plum, black currant, and a hint of cedar and spice. The tannins are very soft and smooth, with mild acidity. The mouthfeel is rich and full, coating the mouth. This wine has aged well these five years, (although with the wax seal preventing any air getting in, necessary for long-term aging, I’m not sure how much longer it will continue to improve.) The finish is pleasant and lingers with dark berry, cola, smoke, and mild vanilla/oak notes.”

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Conclusion

After two orders, I still think Club W is a novel concept and a good source for people who are newer to wine exploration. As I mentioned in my earlier post, their target market appears to be millennials who are just starting to enjoy wine. In summary, here are the pros and cons, as I’ve experienced them so far.

Pros:

  • They have a wide selection, including some lesser known varietals, and are supporting small production winemakers.
  • 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 second-to-none.

Cons:

  • Limited ability to review (1-5 scale ratings, only, and no half-stars), or otherwise communicate with the winemakers. It seems ratings are only used to power the algorithm to determine recommendations.
  • The wines are good, but not what I consider great. Of seven bottles, my average rating is 3.7 stars (roughly 86-88 points.) Not bad, but frankly, I can get equal quality for less, or better for the same price. For example, the Porter & Plot 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was good; I rated it 4.0. However, for the same $24, I can get a Beaulieu Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet, a solid 4.5+ wine, from my local Total Wine & More store.
  • While their customer service team is very good, the fact that I have had contact with, or from, their customer service team three times in two orders is telling. Hopefully it’s just growing pains and they’ll get the kinks worked out.

As I’ve mentioned, I foresee continuing to order from Club W once in a while. If you are new to wine, and want to try out the Club W algorithm for recommendations, do us both a $13 favor, and follow this link to sign up!

I think for my next order, I’ll let Club W do all the heavy lifting, and go with their recommendations. I’ll let you know what I think in Club W, Part III. Stay tuned!

Cheers!

How to Rate Wine

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I’ve written about wine ratings before, in one of my early blog posts. My conclusion is that wine ratings are, by their nature, subjective. They represent how one taster felt about a wine at a given time in a given situation. Collectively, a large number of ratings for a wine can be averaged, giving what is arguably a more accurate picture of the wine’s quality, and certainly its mass appeal. Websites and Smartphone Apps like Cellar Tracker, Vivino, and Delectable provide this sort of ratings averaging.

There are different types of rating scales. Probably the most well known is the 100-point scale, popularized by wine critic Robert Parker, and adopted by the powerhouse publication, Wine Spectator. 100 Point ScaleThe 100-point scale is easily adaptable to a 1-10 scale, with increments of 0.1 (e.g. 9.1 points.)  However, many user-based reviews rely on a 1-5 scale, be it stars, hearts, or some other emoji. Most wine retailers embrace the 100-point scale for their shelf-tags, because it is so familiar and easy to understand. The higher the rating, the better the wine. In theory, a 91 point wine is far better than an 85 point wine, right? Using the 1-5 scale, how much better is a 4.0 than a 3.5?

So how does one decide what rating to give a wine? I’m sure there are different schools of thought. Here’s how I do it:

I rate wines primarily for myself; to remember which wines I loved, and which I would not buy again. On public sites and apps, there is a secondary purpose which is to contribute to the larger average, in the hopes that somewhere, someone will find my input useful in their wine buying decisions. My ratings are based on how much I liked the wine in general, and how it compares to other wines of the same varietal, region (Rioja, Bordeaux, Piedmont, etc.), or genre (California Bordeaux-style blends, etc.) Early in my wine drinking journey, I followed the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, so all my ratings were done in that format. As social media and Smartphone Apps became more popular, I’ve had to convert to the 1-5 scale, and adapt my ratings accordingly. vivino-ratings-explained-1_ratingsI know of some people who refuse to give a wine 5-points regardless of quality. Their line of thought is that 5-points represents perfection, which can’t exist. I take a different approach, using a range for each half-point in the 1-5 scale. Over the years, I’ve refined this conversion and have settled on this:

  • 95-100 = 5.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 92-94 = 4.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 88-91 = 4.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 85-87 = 3.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 82-84 = 3.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 80-81 = 2.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 77-79 = 2.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 74-76 = 1.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 71-73 = 1.0 Stars/Hearts
  • < 70 = 0.5 Stars/Hearts

For me, anything rated 84 or lower (3.0 stars/hearts) falls into my “would not buy again” category. Frankly, I don’t encounter these wines very often. I like to think that I have a discriminating palate, but maybe I’m just easy to please. On the other hand, since the vast majority of the wine I taste is paid for out of my own pocket, I tend to buy only what I’m pretty sure I’ll like. (I’m open to samples, if anyone would like to send me some!) Oh, sure, I have had a couple of wines that I’ve rated in the mid-70’s, but thankfully, those are very rare!

In today’s world, with modern production methods, I think truly bad wines are uncommon. Somebody in the distribution chain must like them in order for them to make it to store shelves. If a wine is faulty, don’t rate it. Return it and get a new bottle to rate. I scratch my head in wonder when I see, on Vivino or similar sites, people rating wines at 0.5 or 1.0 stars. soapiconAre those people only willing to drink “blow your socks off” wines? I think social media and the “reality” TV culture have made people too eager to criticize, slam, and malign. Trolls are everywhere, and seem to forget (or don’t care, which is even more disturbing) that there are real people behind the labels of these bottles. Even the big, conglomerate wine companies, churning out case after case of mass produced wine, employ people who are doing their best.

In conclusion, now that I’ve stepped off my soapbox, wine ratings are subjective. However, they are useful in helping consumers select wines they may like. As I’ve said before, find a few reviewers with whom you have similar tastes, follow them, and buy what they like. Then, contribute to the global collective, and with whatever scale you choose, rate those wines!

 

Club W, Part I

Club W Stock Photo

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.
    • Frappuccino’ed.
    • I don’t
  • 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.
    • Gross. No.

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.

Hand Written Note

A hand-written thank you note! How cool is that?

 

Most importantly, though, is how the wine tastes! Which brings me to…

Wine Reviews:

Riddle Bricks

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

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

Alcymist

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

So…

What I like:

  • Ability to easily skip a month, or several months
  • Supporting the little guy
  • The packaging
  • 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!

Cheers!

Are Wine Writers Bad Writers?

bordxHow often have you read a wine review and wondered what, exactly, quince tastes like? I’ve never had a quince. Will I enjoy a wine that tastes of quince? I have no idea. By the same token, I’d bet you’ve tasted a wine whose label proudly proclaims rich mocha on the finish, but all you can taste is grapes. What gives? Are the people who review and describe wines bad writers? Wine_Snob_300x285The wine world has often been criticized as being snobby and pretentious. While the industry has made great strides in recent years, making wine more affordable and approachable, there are wine writers out there who aren’t doing wine any favors with their tongue-twisting, nose-in-the-air reviews. wine-snob-logo1NPR’s Sacramento affiliate, Capital Public Radio, recently shared an interview with Rick Kushman on this topic. Kushman is the wine commentator for Capital Public Radio, and also co-hosts, with Paul Wagner, a radio show called Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul. Kushman and Wagner have been collecting examples of bad wine writing from listeners. Listen to the 11 minute Capital Public Radio broadcast here, for some dizzying examples. If you’ve got more time, check out the full 49 minute Bottle Talk episode here.

For a little added fun, check out this Random Wine Review Generator. Here’s one I got: “The 2005 Zinfandel from Chateau Cousteau fuses nihilistic rosemary undertones with a melancholy parsnip aftertaste.” Mmm, delicious. enhanced-buzz-11670-1304238593-20

Yes, reviews and descriptions are helpful. But no matter how flowery and poetic the review, or how descriptively detailed the label…Drink what you like!

How to Avoid Subjectivity in Wine Reviews

How do you avoid subjectivity in wine reviews?

You can’t.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ve all read wine reviews in magazines and wine-industry websites. These are written by trained, often certified, wine professionals. In addition, social media has enabled us all to become wine reviewers. Sites like Cellar Tracker, Vivino, and Delectable allow consumers to rate and review wines on the go, using Smart Phone apps.

Cellar Tracker

Cellar Tracker

Vivino

Vivino

Delectable

Delectable

This can be a great help in the wine aisle, overwhelmed by the vast selection and not knowing what’s good. Simply pull out your phone and check the reviews!

There are also a number of online retailers that encourage consumers to rate and review the wines they buy.

With all those reviews out there, professional and amateur, how can you know which wines you’ll like?

Subjectivity is about individual experiences and perceptions. Its how you feel, what you enjoy; your personal preferences. Whereas you may really like a particular wine, the next person may disdain it.

Objectivity, on the other hand, refers to fact-based findings. When you go to the doctor, you describe your symptoms: pain and swelling in your ankle, for example. Perhaps you assume you sprained your ankle, but your symptoms are your subjective perception of what is wrong. Doctor Reading X RayThe doctor orders x-rays. The objective fact established by the x-ray shows that you actually broke your ankle. With objectivity, your doctor can properly treat your injury.

Wine is a subjective experience. Everybody has different preferences, tastes, likes, and dislikes. Some people only like white wine. Some people only like sweet wine. There are “ABC’ers” – Anything But Chardonnay. Paul Giamatt Drinking Spit BucketOthers, influenced by popular culture, and won’t drink Merlot. Price and value play a part, too. I know people who simply won’t spend more than $7 or $8 on a bottle of wine.

So are wine reviews of any value? Yes, but…

Wine reviews express the subjective opinion of another person. Professional reviewers, with years of training and tasting experience, can guide you to a wine you may enjoy. But…only if you share a similar taste profile and preferences. I have found that the best way to use reviews is to find reviewer with similar subjective preferences to mine. This requires a lot of reading, but pretty quickly you can identify who likes what you like.

Another thing to remember about professional reviews is that most (if not all) of the wines they review are samples submitted by the producer. That is, the reviewer is not paying for these wines. Professional reviewers rarely consider price in their ratings. It is easy to rave about a $200 wine when you’re not paying for it. One refreshing exception is Jon Thorsen, “The Reverse Wine Snob“, whose tagline is “Thumbing Your Nose at Bottles Over $20”. He has devised a rating scale that considers price as well as taste and quality.[1]

But what about amateurs?

In today’s social media culture, anybody can post a wine review. While this can make it more challenging to sift through the chaff to find a good match with your profile, it can be done. But…you have to be careful. The quality of the reviews runs the gamut, from one-or-two words (e.g. “loved it”), to troll-like wine bashing, to well-written and thoughtful. Again, finding and following a few users with whom you find unity will go a long way to helping you find that new favorite wine.

When I rate wines, my ratings (five-star scale) are based on how much I liked or enjoyed a wine at a given time in a given setting. I’ve found that the same wine can taste different in different situations. In my reviews, I try to be as descriptive as possible, so readers can decide if a given wine might taste like what they like.

Notable among online retailers encouraging ratings is Naked Wines, where members communicate directly with the winemakers through reviews and comments. Naked Wines actually uses member feedback to determine which wines to produce in future years. (Get your $100 voucher here!)

NW Logo

Isn’t the 100 point scale objective?

The 100 point wine rating scale, popularized by Robert Parker in the 1970’s [2], is helpful, but has come under increased scrutiny recently [3]. Critics argue that it is one-dimentional – it does not consider situational nuances; it favors higher-end, more expensive wines; and…wait for it…it is largely subjective, based on the preferences and biases of the reviewer. Robert Parker’s 92 might be an 85 for me, and vice-versa.

Nevertheless, over the years, a number of wines have earned a perfect 100 points from professional reviewers. These wines are the gold-standard for a particular varietal or region. Let’s assume for a moment that all the experts agree that these are all 100 point wines. That would be pretty objective! However, for the average consumer, pure objectivity would require tasting every 100 point wine of every varietal and region to get a baseline for quality. As much as I’d love to do this, it simply isn’t possible. Furthermore, since wine is subjective, not everyone will love every 100 point wine.

100 Pt Wines

So what to do?

Embrace the subjectivity in wine. Part of the marvel and enjoyment is the fact that we are all different. There is enough variety that everyone can find something they like. Read reviews, both of professionals, published in magazines and on wine websites, and amateurs on social media, apps, and blogs. Follow those who share your preference, but don’t be afraid to venture out and try something new, too.

Finally, try not to get distracted by reviews. They are just opinions. The most important thing to remember is…

Drink what you like!

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[1] http://www.reversewinesnob.com/p/rating-system.html

[2] https://www.erobertparker.com/info/legend.asp

[3] http://wineeconomist.com/2008/05/27/tyranny-of-the-100-point-wine-scale/

https://grapecollective.com/articles/death-of-the-100-point-system

http://firstwefeast.com/drink/the-future-of-the-100-point-wine-system/