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Return of the Flash Sale Sites (part 3)

July 28, 2015 2 comments

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.Cinderella Wine 7-2015

At this point the growth of flash sale sites has been replaced by email lists which build slower but yield a more consistent audience.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

WineAccess Three offer 12-14

Long Live(d) Chapoutier!

May 19, 2011 2 comments

Checking in with some old friends.

I have a lot of vices, but wine is my very favorite. I know we aren’t supposed to look at the fact that wine, for all of its other fine qualities, contains alcohol, which is poison, but it does. So, it’s a vice; a beautiful, enriching, encompassing, fulfilling vice. And when one drinks from an older bottle whose contents have made it successfully here to the future, I believe one gains from the wisdom of its years.

There’s a game I like to play with my favorite vice I call: Is This Bottle Still Good? As one might gather from the name, it simply involves opening bottles of wine that are old enough that the odds of true enjoyable drinkability is right around 50%. Usually at home, or occasionally at a BYO or no corkage fee situation, I’ll pull out a handful of such bottles and keep opening them until there is enough living wine to satiate the palates at hand. Last night was the most successful round in recent memory and while it hasn’t yet occurred that I’ve written a post here based on the performance of a single wine, that’s what’s happening right now. The remarkable wine in question was a Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape La Bernardine 1983 (not to be confused with Le Bernardin), but we’ll get to the tasting notes soon enough.

Older bottles that I have with which to play Is This Bottle Still Good? are generally ones that were inexpensive enough as to suggest that they are likely past their prime, if drinkable at all. This night’s game began with an old Burgundy that I had acquired for almost nothing which has since been sitting out on the kitchen counter awaiting it’s day. The 1985 Maniere-Noirot Nuits St Georges Les Damodes initially gave the impression that it had little left to offer and would disintegrate within minutes. While unquestionably light, it seemed to develop subtle secondary flavors and a pleasurable back-palate dryness lasting the duration of it’s consumption. Only the last sip that lingered in the glass a bit too long began to show decline. The experience was nice, not thrilling, but nice.

Gracefully aged.

The second bottle, Dominique Laurent Nuits St Georges #1 1995, was the only true casualty of the evening. The neck level was lower than it should have been and the cork was soft. Upon pouring, the color looked good, but that telltale waft of powdered cork spoke the truth that the wine in this bottle was doomed the moment it was sealed. We left it out, as on occasion, the cork can blow off and leave a drinkable palate behind, but this one was adversely affected and there was no bringing it back. Corked.

And then there was the inspiration for this post. The bottle of ’83 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape La Bernardine is beautiful on it’s own as a physical artifact. The label, though well intact, shows it’s age with slight yellowing, and this long since altered label design has a look that is much older than it is, though my 25 year old brother Alex pointed out that the wine was older than he is. The Bassin’s price tag, shows the $8.99 that was paid for this bottle in 1984 or ’85 (not by me) and has become one with the green glass more so even than the labels. While amused by this on many levels, I would be remiss in my duties as the most honest wine writer on the CyberWeb if I didn’t take a moment to discuss Bassin’s (aka MacArthur Beverages) which has been a major player in wine retail in DC since 1957, as the website proudly proclaims.

Bassin’s is the original home of the bait and switch. I have had so many problems with them over the years that a full list would require a separate post. But should you be enticed by their selection and prices, which are both significant, know that you may very well have to personally keep after them to not only complete your order, but to deliver exactly what you’ve paid for. The most egregious infraction came a few years back when two dear friends of mine were married and they had registered with Bassin’s. Rather than select from their registry list I scoured the web site, made my selections and ordered a mixed case of some of our favorite things. Many months later, when visiting that couple at their home in DC, they thanked me for the gift case and suggested we start the evening with one of the remaining bottles. To my horror, less than half of that case were wines that I had chosen and of the ones that were, most were the wrong vintage (but not more recent). There is a huge difference in Napa Cab between 2000 and 2001, the later being significantly better across the board, but the ’01 Miner Family Cab I had ordered showed up ’00. The same couple upon hearing this, said that they too had similar problems with Bassin’s in the past. I do occasionally still order from Bassin’s when they have the best price on the wine I am seeking (most recently some ’95 La Tour Haut Brion), but I always double check price and availability and follow-up. I suggest you do the same, if you must buy from them at all.

Unhesitating Beauty.

But back to Maison Chapoutier and their important work. It should be noted here that the current proprietor and winemaker Michel Chapoutier took over in 1990 and immediately began making some of the region’s finest wine, putting them high in the running for finest worldwide. Before that time, Chapoutier wines showed flashes of brilliance, but were more rustic and much less consistent vintage to vintage. The last time this Old Bottles game had been so successful was upon opening a pair of Chapoutier from ’79 (Hermitage La Sizerannae and Cote Rotie). Those wines were quite beautiful though at the time of consumption were wearing the weight and color of medium bodied Burgundies, ten years younger. This ’83 La Bernardine upon opening showed a dark red, nearly opaque, color that had no intention of relenting and a deep nose of bloody raw steak. From the first waft, it was 10 times the wine that was a still pretty, but lithe and fleeting ’83 Hermitage La Sizeranne from the same parcel, opened last week. The ’83 La Bernardine was simply huge for it’s age and showed significantly weightier than two recently opened vintages of the same wine from the 90s. As it continued to breath, more and more flavors and scents became apparent and at no point did the wine show any signs of drying out. As the slaughterhouse smells integrated, sweetness began to emerge in the form of vanilla and light red fruit, and eventually something floral that evolved too rapidly to pin down. Punctuated by fine spice, lead by white pepper, the subtleties could not even be weighed down by the massive evolving palate of tobacco, bramble, dry earth, and chocolate. Savoring as much as possible with a substance so brilliant, it was still gone before it met the back end of it’s plateau. And we were left to “drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.” With apologies to Fitzgerald for brutally misappropriating his words, a wine so stunningly impactful leaves one in a literary melancholy that conjures such notions, this one anyway.

Having just finished one of the finest substances to pass my lips in recent memory and while waxing lyrical about the greatness of the clan Chapoutier, I noticed the last glass inhabiting a bottle of ’95 Chapoutier Banyuls, which had been opened and vacuum sealed weeks before, resting on the counter amongst the liquor. A small number of winemakers quietly produce tiny amounts of fortified sweet wine called Banyuls in four communes of the Cote Vermeille. What remained in said bottle was well worthy of palate consideration and seemed to be showing better than when it was first opened. The nose was all smoky bacon and leather and the chocolatey palate was held together by a deep soft caramel sweetness that was an unqualified delight to sip while reminiscing and somewhat lamenting the last of ’83 La Bernardine.

Without VacuVin this finale would not have been possible.

Three Young Wines Over (Midweek) Sunday Night Italian Dinner

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Having gone to this midweek Sunday Night Italian dinner directly from the Sherbrooke portfolio tasting, with a brief stop at home to pick up some bottles and La Piazetta in my neighborhood for cannolis, there are a few new wines that need mention. I don’t review many new wines and never bother with a point scale and while my tasting notes are sparse from yesterday’s trade event, several things must be said. First, Henri Boillot is currently making some of the finest white Burgundy I’ve ever tasted. The Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere 2009 is as round as it is deep with intoxicating aromatics and can only improve for at least another 5 years and sustain for at east another 5. The Boillot Corton Charlemagne is attractive though currently much bigger and more pungent than the Puligny. Another year or two in bottle will likely find it rounder, more complete, but it is certainly not lacking in character today. While tale of the quality of 2009 in many of the most significant regions in France has spread farther and wider than the actual wines (to date), it speaks volumes that the Boillot Pommard ’08 and Volnay Les Fremiets ’07 are also drinking quite nicely today and these wines clearly have many years to evolve.

Oh iphone 3G, how dost thou camera suck?

As the price of the average Chateauneuf du Pape and much of the rest of the Rhone creeps skyward, some of the few deals left to be had in that region come from Gigondas and the Dauvergne Ranvier Gigondas Vin Rare 2007 was a standout amongst the hundreds of bottles represented, particularly at it’s price point. Also noteworthy were two (very) sweet whites at the dessert table, both new to my palate: Ca’ Rugate La Perlara recioto Di Soave 2008 and Chateau Perray Joannet Bonnezeaux Les Menus Clos 2009. Try either of these with a tarte tatin, or cheese plate with artisanal honey.

At dinner, an impressive array of meat products and red sauces were prepared (thanks Bill!) and as such, I brought some meaty syrah. But first, there was a selection of meats and cheeses with which with which I opened a nicely chilled bottle of Donelan Family Venus 2009 (90% Rousanne 10% Viognier). For all the sins that American wines are often accused as related to the nose, this one escapes, having almost no apparent alcohol with which to obscure the abundant fruit. The Venus had rigid acidity, lending to the notion that it intends to drink well for a good few years, and a lightly creamy mid-palate that stood up to a moderately diverse cheese plate in the creamier and saltier directions. The palate is briefly buttery, showing light minerality at the end, but it’s the crsip acidity that carries the apple-pair and hint of citrus through the finish. As with just about every new wine of any varietal, another 6 months in bottle should smooth over that tiny bite that lingers. After a long breath, the last of the Venus made a palate-smacking intermezzo en route to various meat and pasta dishes.

In the background: Starmaiden of Brooklyn rockers, Sloppy Heads.

Very recently I found some 2006 Milbrandt Syrah The Estates Wahluke Slope on one of the better discount sites that have been springing up and this selection became the first big red of the evening. I have tasted and thoroughly enjoyed several vintages of Syrah produced from these same grapes under Charles Smith‘s K Vintners label and was anxious to taste the wine made by the Milbrandt family themselves. Upon opening, the nose was almost non-existent* with small amounts of black and red fruit intermingling beneath glycerine and a little alcohol, but aromatic expansion would occur. Rather than a single block of a single vineyard as the label may seem to indicate, the ’06 Milbrandt Estates Wahluke Slope is 100% Syrah from three estate Wahluke Slope vineyards (67% Northridge, 22% Talcott, 11% Pheasant). The concentration is considerable as is the complexity, though slightly shy of what Charles Smith achieved is his ’06 Milbrandt bottling. While the nose opened up somewhat over time, the palate became thick (in a good way) and the distinct presence of boysenberry and soft earth rose to the top over bramble, with hints of spice and a trace amount of something almost menthol; followed by a deceptive, lingering finish. While less inherently forward than the K Syrah, the overall weight is quite similar and will make an interesting side by side tasting in the coming years (both new vintages and past). *This wine was tasted two days after shipping, which can affect it’s showing.

Boring picture of an unusual foster child wine.

The final wine that accompanied our savory feast was Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine 2007. But before the tasting notes, full disclosure. The wine was made and barreled by Pax Mahle, but due to a split between Mahle and the Donelans, it was blended by then new Donelan Family winemaker, Tyler Thomas. Further disclosure, I was on the mailing list when the label was Pax and and remain on the Donelan mailing list. I actively follow the winemaking of Pax Mahle and have a number of bottles of his various  wines going back to his 2000 Lauterbach Syrah and I am on the mailing list of both of his current projects: Wind Gap and the remarkable Agharta. What can I say, I like a nice syrah.

Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine 2007 is a lighter wine (Rhone) styled to be more approachable early in it’s life than previous vintages and as such, it doesn’t have the palate encompassing weight of the ’05 or ’06. Still it’s a full bodied wine by any standards and exhibits cassis amongst it’s distinct berry characteristics. It’s earthy and broad on the palate and finishes with a flourish of spice. It’s the kind of wine that begs to be consumed with the powerfully savory, not unlike the Italian feast with which this one was enjoyed, but it would have been just as contented to hang with barbecue, or a really good pepperoni pizza.