It has been forever and a day since we began (and abruptly discontinued) our coverage of the wave of flash sale wine sites that have come into the national marketplace. In that time, there have been some interesting new players to the game, and a bunch of half-assed pretenders as well. But this is America, and any business concept that gains any media traction at all- even if few players are actually profiting- finds a slew of posers and thieves peddling close facsimiles of the most visible early-to-market examples. But the realities of the intersection of wine buying (and collecting) and the flash sale model caught up quickly, and it is no longer a growing landscape. Besides those with massive personal cellars or substantial off-site professional storage, most early flash sale wine enthusiasts learned to curb their impulse buying out of spatial necessity, and the race to replace them with new users is a costly one.
At this point the growth of flash sale sites has been replaced by email lists which build slower but yield a more consistent audience. But in fairness, the email based offer was the original version of the medium, led by the much lauded Garagiste, with whom I have a long time bone to pick, but that’s a story for another time.
Of the flash sale sites I used to frequent before I had my own retail operation (and access to wholesale pricing) some have undergone unnecessary redesigns, largely for the worse, like the otherwise excellent WineAccess from which I still occasionally purchase west coast wines- for personal consumption- not available in the NY market. My only frustration there involves the ownership of WineAccess and one of our wholesale distributors- here in New York- being the same, but few else will suffer under this conflict of interests, so I’ll spare you my bitching. Before I go a bit more in depth on a couple of standouts in the market, here is a list flash sale sites with which I’ve had multiple positive experiences (and no significantly negative ones):
WineAccess.com – I don’t entirely understand the recent redesign, or why after many years of successful digital service, the site seems to be in beta, but I have been purchasing excellent west coast wine at lowest available prices for many years. So, I have to give them credit where it is due. While I’ve rarely, if ever, purchased European wine through them, WineAccess continues to source some of the finest, best priced, old vine wines CA has ever had to offer. Over the years, they’ve introduced me to a few of my favorites, and one can get a fairly good free education on the history of American viticulutre, and the nature of the industry, from vineyard to consumer. It’s worth getting on their e-mail list, just for the regular info on CA’s oldest vines. *The liquor laws are different in every state and change frequently. Check the site to see if they can ship to your state (today).
Vitis.com – Vitis is the flash sale extension arm of a brick and mortar shop in New York (not The City). They’ve got a couple of fancy MWs making their selections and offer reviews, technical specs, aging potential, cheese pairings, and a suggested recipe for each and every bottle; with a slightly weighted specialty in the Italian direction. It’s a visually attractive site with solid info and little clutter. Every deal I’ve bothered to corroborate has been the best available price in the country. *The liquor laws are different in every state and change frequently. Check the site to see if they can ship to your state (today).
WTSO.com – WinesTillSoldOut is the original version of the Vitis model and they move more units, but their content is far less compelling, and visually, it’s as boxy and unappealing as an ’86 Volvo. While they seem have to long since settled into a groove, where long time users have noticed that they seem to run many of the same labels vintage after vintage, their marathon sales can yield some decent scores, if you have all day to continuously refresh and pull the trigger at just the right moment, avoiding the Whammies. *The liquor laws are different in every state and change frequently. Check the site to see if they can ship to your state (today).
CinderellawWine.com – CinerellaWine is an extension of WineLibrary in NJ, and whatever you buy from Cinderella gets dumped directly into a shopping cart of said long time margin squeezing retailer. Both operations were grown by the infuriatingly ra-ra Jets fan that is Gary Vaynerchuk, but he’s since run off to be some kind of a motivational speaker and half-assed author that really gets the juices flowing of state school communications majors in fly-over regions across the county. *The liquor laws are different in every state and change frequently. Check the site to see if they can ship to your state (today).
Look for the next installment(s), when we’ll go to the mat for the two most interesting players in the flash sale wine market today. Until then, keep on keepin’ on…
While in New Mexico, I became aware of Taos Lightning Rye. Both the craft whiskey thing and the sourced whiskey thing (aka I’m not telling you where the juice is from or how long it was barreled) are getting out of hand. A lot of new whiskey is super-hot brown firewater and there will be a serious reckoning and culling of the population in the coming years.
Taos Lightning, it turns out, is a product of KGB Spirits in Santa Fe, NM. I purchased a number of different bottles from Total Wine and from Jubilation in Albuqurque, the latter of which was offering 2 different exclusive single barrel bottles, at very reasonable prices. If you’re in town, don’t let the odd location and prison-barred windows fool you, Jubilation is an excellent shop for spirits (I honestly didn’t check out their wine selection, but they did acquire a bunch of Merkin Vineyards wine for my neighbors’ wedding- of which I highly approve).
Now, the juice: Taos Lightning Rye 5yr is visually attractive, a medium reddish deep golden brown. A fairly sweet round nose gives way to a sweetly vanilla palate, a touch of bright cherry fruit to the mid-palate, and a nice spicy, medium-hot finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Willett’s excellent 4yr Rye– which is amongst the highest praise one can give a younger rye. According to co-founder, John Bernasconi, “All current whiskey was sourced from Lawrenceberg and the 15 year had the Jos. Seagram’s stamp on barrel. We are about to switch to house made with San Luis, CO grain. The aging in NM along the Rio Grande is what gives these products their uniqueness. We have a high elevation, low humidity climate and the river brings constant air flow exchange.” With so many shady stories in the current US whiskey market, we very much appreciate the candor, and anxiously await tasting what comes next from the fine folks at KGB Spirits.
And now, the case…
I was sufficiently smitten with the Taos Lightning 5yr that I was on the hunt for a styrofoam 12-pack shipper, common in the wine shipping world. However, the incoherent and arbitrary nature of state liquor law has left Albuquerque stryo-shipper-free. It’s illegal to ship wine or spirits within the state of New Mexico, let alone to the outside world. Albuquerque is a scorched barren wasteland, where the food sucks, people drive ridiculous cars, and a law abiding citizen can’t get a styro 12-pack. If the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce would like to sponsor this blog, they know where to find me.
Next, at the absurd yet demure, banal megaporium of intoxication that is Total Wine in Albuquerque- I love this town- I ask if they have anything suitable to safely transport at least a dozen bottles through the meathook paws of JFK baggage handlers. There is something they tell me, it’s a rolling travel suitcase fitted with styro insert, cut for .750ml wine bottles, 12 of them. The only one left in stock is the floor model, they’d be happy to take 10% off the sticker price for the pre-scuffed exterior shell and slightly stained interior fabric. Five minutes later, I was in a parking lot, cramming copious piles of fine New Mexican and Californian rarities into my new VinGarde Valise.
First, the idea is great: it’s a rolling suitcase containing 6 inserts, each cut to hold and protect 2 bottles each, such that one can remove as many or as few as necessary to adjust to any clothing and toiletries needed for the journey. But I was already out on the road and had my regular suitcase in hand, and used my new VinGarde Valise to full bottle capacity. Unfortunately, the follow-through is not nearly so inspired as the concept. The materials are fairly flimsy, the foam inserts made to separate the two halves aren’t even cut to the same size (one doesn’t fit at all such that the case will not close), and the bottle slots are cut to a fairly impractical stencil, unless they intend one only to carry obscure sherry. It’s one thing if the owner is going to be extremely careful with the cheap zippers, but on its maiden voyage, mine was tossed by the TSA, and returned to me in less than new condition (and containing the requisite slip letting me know my privacy had been violated). The guts of the bag are poorly constructed of insubstantial materials, and while not space efficient, I’d still recommend a much less expensive styro 12-pack shipper over this unit. Simply put, VinGarde Valise have a long way to go to make the quality of the case fit its $200+ price tag.
Bless me blogosphere for I have sinned.
It has been… a long, long time since my last confession.
I’m in the 3rd airport in six days, after not leaving Brooklyn for more than 24 hours in two years, and not taking a full day off since January 2nd. It has been glorious to get away, but best that Brooklyn is imminent.
Albuquerque is depressing. Luckily the speed limits are about as high as they get in this country, so one can get the hell out post haste. I’ve just returned from a couple of nights in Taos, where I enjoyed a wedding stocked with Merkin Vineyards Shinola Bianca and Chupacabra Red, some great chile relleno(s), and copious amounts of Taos Lightning Rye. The last for which I purchased a bottle-protective rolling bag, so I might transport some local spirits back to Brooklyn- more on that later. I fell hard for the long tall wedding photographer who shot 8000 digital images, while I shot a few rolls of good old fashioned analog- it felt great. Almost as much so, as the shockingly beautiful 23 year old brunette who guessed my age as 33. I asked her to marry me on the spot. It only occurs to me now that she said yes.
The first couple of days away from the shop the umbilical just wouldn’t snap, even though I was in idyllic Lake
Tahoe, drinking wonderful wine with people I love. 2 weddings without a single reading from Corinthians and thousands of air and road miles later, I don’t know that I’m recharged in any substantive way, but real distance from the insular world I’ve created on Atlantic Ave has given me fresh will to plow forth, hopefully with at least a soupcon of new insight.
With most of today to kill and only a couple hours of highway time to come down the mountain to the scorched strip mall hell of Albuquerque, I took a long detour through the tiny sublime Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where strangers smile at you and say hello on the street. I clearly worried at least one security guard for my facial proximity to some of the works, but I was really just looking for the evolution of brush strokes over time, the density of pigment, and the amount of naked canvas showing through. I’m sure I was grinning like a moron, as I tend to when engulfed in sincerely rendered art, as I did over Sean Thackrey’s 2000 Orion a few days prior.
Before I wander too deeply into the self-indulgent geist, forsaking most things wine, I’ll sign off for now, but we’ll talk again soon.
Wow, it’s amazing how opening up a wine shop in Brooklyn can disappear six months of ones life. So, for those of you who don’t already know, I am now the proprietor of Free Range Wine & Spirits at 355 Atlantic Ave, here in Brooklyn, NY. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in and say hello.
Also, for those of you who don’t already know, Maxwell’s– Hoboken’s greatest (only relevant) rock club- is closing its doors forever. Recently, the Pastels were slated to play there, with the Condo Fucks (Yo La Tengo’s alter-ego, playing mostly garage covers) opening. While it was sad that the Pastels couldn’t make it stateside for the show due to visa issues, it was glorious kismet that it ended up being an acoustic Yo La Tengo set opening for the Condo Fucks. The show was beautiful and profound and heartbreaking, and was far better assessed by Yo La Historian, Jesse Jarnow, in his review for Spin which you should read. I shot a fair amount of video footage of both sets, much of which is posted on my Vimeo page HERE. Apparently my footage of the very last song will appear tonight on Fuse News, Fuse TV’s 8pET music news show. Once that segment is posted online, I’ll link it.
Statistics show that nobody reads blogs on Friday, but wine has been tasted and notes have been scratched in purple ink. A couple of nights back, over steak and duck at Apiary, after some 1990 Cote de Beaune and before a couple of stickies, we cracked a trio of American classics; two from Ridge and a Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from 1981.
Upon first opening, the Dunn showed surprisingly thin, for a typically long lived wine, but it’s always a journey with these mountain beasts. One of the bottles that first did it for me, one of the first tastes to awaken a real interest, was Dunn’s ‘86 Napa Cab. At the time, my soft palate didn’t know what to make of the monstrous ’86 Howell Mountain Cab, but the harmony of the fruit and the earth I found in that ’86 Napa Cab seemed to me to be all that a big CA red should.
But back to the wine currently staining the linens on the tasting table behind my eyeballs: After about 35 minutes of air, the Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain 1981 proves to be a slumbering giant, full of burly brambly mountain fruit. The palate is expansive, deeply gripping, and the finish’s long path is peppered with a patchwork of wild woodland herbs. The alcohol pulls in at a clockwork 13%, thought the wine- long integrated as it may be- is many shades heavier.
The Ridge Zinfandel York Creek 1994 also begins a little closed and while the body does build with ample air, this wine is not as lush as previous tastings, though the fruit hasn’t receded entirely. Both color and clarity are still crisp and the wine shows only the slightest hint of its age. The red fruit is still slightly out front of its earth component, but it is no longer penetrating. Forest floor and ancient spice box persist through the subtle, but undulating finish.
The Ridge Geyserville 1992, at this point in its career, is a dead ringer for a fruit forward Napa Cab five or six years its senior. Slip one of these into a blind tasting of late ’80s CA Cabernet and blow some minds/palates. Geyserville is a classic of the Napa establishment, and in my experience, this wine always shows well, though the true aging potential varies from vintage to vintage. I’ve also found that recent vintages seem to drink better younger, making them all the more difficult to squirrel away for further maturity, full integration, and secondary flavor development. For a true classic and always a palate expanding, Ridge Geysereville (and most of Ridge wines besides the Monte Bello) can still be acquired for around (a wholly fair) thirty bucks.
I have so much backed up material and so many unpublished tasting notes, that I didn’t take down a single word last night at St. Anselm, though we opened and enjoyed: Foris Pinot Noir 2009, Antiqv2s (Antiqus) Syrah Garys’ Vineyard 2004, and Livingston Moffet Cabernet Rockpile Vineyard 1994; all interesting and noteworthy each in their own right.
Re: St. Anselm, I’m not sure there is a better compliment one can give a chef or his team, but I didn’t notice until after we ate that iron-willed head chef and grill-master Yvon was not in the building. Though the pacing seemed a little off (not much of a crime on a sold out Friday night), the various steaks and chops arrived in the glorious state to which St. Anselm patrons have grown accustomed.
Well, I kinda skipped out on that whole new years thing, so my March resolution is to get more material onto/into this blog, starting right now, from piles of backed up notes.
A note on bottle variation. At a certain level of quality, bottle variation can be a welcome surprise. Case in point, I’ve opened a number of bottles of Andrew Will Klipsun Merlot ’99 in recent months and the last two, had they been poured blind and side by side, I don’t think I would have pinned them as from the same continent or time, let alone the same bottling. The one I opened last night was a surprisingly Bordeaux-like beast showing mainly dark earthy and relatively fruitless characteristics- all damp leaves, pine tar, and forest floor. As a whole this ’99 Klipsun Merlot is drinking more like what I would expect from this label’s Sorella, which is Chris Camarda’s deliberately Bordeaux-style blend. It’s certainly possible that these last two bottles’ contents were identical and that this last couple of weeks aging was a definable turning point, but it’s neither a great chance (given the aging arc of Merlot) nor a verifiable one.
Those deep red and black fruits that were so lush and forward in previous examples of this wine are present here, but more in the capacity of great background harmonies, like Barbara & Joy (aka The Choir) on the Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Speaking of the Black Crowes, I was just listening to Amorica and not many records have a better closing track: a beautifully forlorn road ballad that would be far less without the color fills and purposefully meandering solos of keyboardist Eddie Harsch (Hawrysch). God bless old weird Ed, his rock & roll name, and his important work.
Two weeks into the new year and I’m already 12 days (and five years) behind on my resolution(s). Back to life… back to reality. Well, if reality were a pile of rare wine and 46oz axe handle ribeyes. I’m so scattered that I’m quoting Soul II Soul, but I digress… from my digression. Red meat & red wine is just one of those (combination of) things, right up there with the all-time greats. And while a number of interesting and beautiful reds (and one white- Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2011) were sipped over succulent charred animal flesh at St. Anselm, it is the St Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001 that most warrants documentation.
St. Innocent is one of those great American owner/winemaker situations, where proprietor Mark Vlossak makes some of Oregon’s most compelling (single vineyard) bottled produce. The hardiest examples from the stronger vintages defy the absurd common wisdom that American Pinot Noir doesn’t age well. And the finest expressions of Shea vineyard grapes age as well as any American Pinot Noir; far greater longevity than a francophile will ever admit. And this one is fairly interesting, over a decade after crush.
So, I finally watched Knuckleball, which reminded me acutely that baseball was my first love, well before wine, or even women. If you have ever loved anything about any sport that wasn’t based in some re-wired tribalism, Knuckleball will warm the cockles of your heart. Didn’t know that R.A. Dickey was a born again Christian, but one of many reasons I stopped following organized sports was that I didn’t want to support the livelihood of thugs and felons. So, like saddling up to an Irish bar, let’s leave the religion and politics at the door (for today). But if I find out that Charlie Hough, The Niekro brothers, and Tim Wakefield are all born again, and that only by taking the New Tastament version of Jesus Christ Superstar into one’s heart, can you truly take the spin off of that demoniacle changeup, I’ll be very upset. Regardless, if I do follow baseball this season, it’ll likely be the Blue Jays that interest me. May the force be with you, R.A.
Back to the wine: St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001 is showing slightly less fruit than previous tastings, but no less expansive baseline of furry dry raspberry, brambly, but thornless, and a lesser presence of red cherry. There’s a broad mid-palate of dusty crushed granite, dry earth, pine tar, ancient cedar chips, and just a touch of gaminess. With further breath the mid-palate opens to palate-suckingly dry, before a deceptively long, undulating finish. It’s beautiful stuff, but have a large glass of clear cool water handy. Always remember: Hydration is your friend. It makes tomorrow possible. From the weight and breadth of the St. Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2001, it’s difficult to discern how much life this wine has left in it, but it’s well worth pairing with a well-marbled world-class steak today.