Archive for the ‘Purchasing Wine’ Category

Fotinos Brothers Presents the 2007 Pinot Noir, and a Sale!

April 28th, 2011 No comments

The 2007 Pinot Noir from Fotinos Brothers proudly hails from Napa Valley. (The 2007 is the second offering from the inaugural release in 2006.) For a second vintage, this wine is impressive, and Jake Austad from Vintage Cellars had the opportunity to taste and review it. “The upfront is pure cherry,” he recalls, “and a smooth mouth feel is followed by a taste of more ripe cherry and sugarplums.” The wine also possesses an enveloping, soft finish that “gives way to a secondary taste of raspberry.”

The Fotinos Brothers Vinyard

Fotinos Brothers is tucked away in the Los Carneros region of Napa.  All the fruit is entirely estate grown, hand picked, and double sorted. The family’s wine-making tradition extends back to Greece, but came to the U.S. in the early 20th Century via immigration. Thus, the family legacy continues in America!

The Fotinos Brothers Los Carneros 2007 Pinot Noir opened to great reviews, and was awarded a Gold Medal at the 9th Annual Pinot Noir Shootout. This wine will also be showcased during the annual Pinot Noir Summit in a blind tasting courtesy of Affairs of the Vine and CRN Talk Radio.

An invitation is extended to our blog readers (this means you!) to join Lot 18 for fantastic deals on premium wines, private flash sale discounts, and more. (Lot 18 is a membership-by-invitation website that features coveted wines at appealing discounts.) For a very limited time, Lot 18 members can even purchase the 2007 Pinot Noir at a discount nearing 50%. So, go ahead and try the Fotinos Brothers Los Carneros 2007 Pinot Noir. With this wine, you are in for an ambrosial treat!

Fotinos Brothers Winery - Pinot Noir

Pass Over the Manischewitz

April 20th, 2011 No comments

Manischewitz kosher wineDuring this year’s Passover, some of you will probably have a glass of Manischewitz, a peculiarly sweet kosher wine often associated with Passover.  There are, however, kosher alternatives to Manischewitz many people are unaware of (Unless you’ve read our previous post on kosher wine!).  The idea that all kosher wines are eminently sweet is simply untrue.  When kosher wines (like Manischewitz) were first made in America, the incoming Jewish population had little time–and few resources–to produce wine quickly for religious holidays, as well as the regular Kiddush ritual.  Since Jewish immigrants also tended to settle in areas that were not conducive to growing grapes, early kosher winemakers in America had but a handful of varietals at their disposal.  Because of limited time, tools, and grapes, the resulting wine was often less-than ideal, so it was sweetened until palatable (It often came to this, or drinking a raisin wine!).  From there, all it took was one generation in America to associate kosher wines with sweetness.  During passover, Manischewitz is still sweetened with cane sugar.

The majority of European kosher wines, on the other hand, are not sweetened.  They also tend to incorporate more grape varietals.  It’s possible to pick up a decent bottle of kosher Cabernet, Bordeaux, Merlot, and even Pino Grigio!   Though kosher wine has tended to be slightly lighter in body and color than non-kosher wine, with today’s advances in winemaking technology this “lightness” is quickly disappearing.  Examine a glass of Fernandez de Arcaya Galdiano Alate Navarra 2006, for example, to see a delightful Tempranillo with excellent color!  Though tradition may dictate a glass or two of sweetened Manischewitz this Passover, the larger world of kosher wine is certainly worth exploring.  May you and your family  be delightfully surprised by today’s abundance of quality, kosher wines!

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Fooled by Numbers: Wine Ratings and You

March 15th, 2011 No comments
wine rating

Wine Rating (image from Wikipedia)

Have you ever been browsing through a wine selection, and notice that some of the wines have a number rating displayed near them? Many of these ratings are given by fancy, highly paid staff from organizations like Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.  Sometimes, however, staff from the actual wine establishment where you find yourself may have given these wine ratings as well.  Here’s a quick summary of how many wine experts and wine aficionados rate wine: Wine is typically rated on a 100 point scale, although most rating systems regard wines under a score of 50 to be of poor quality. Rating systems usually award some points for appearance, taste, mouthfeel and finish. However, publications and individual reviewers have set their own rating scales and methods, so ratings are not necessarily consistent from one publication to the next.
Many factors contribute to a wine’s rating, and some wines receive higher scores because they score exceptionally well in select qualities; however, they could have missed the mark in others!  A wine may have a fantastic nose, for instance, but a very short finish.  Or, a wine may taste quite good but lack much depth and complexity.  Such catches inherent in this rating system are brought up in Leonard Mlodinow’s interesting-yet-pessimistic book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Although a single number cannot convey all the nuances of a wine, it can help us narrow our selection at a glance.  Higher rated wines “tend” to make better gambles.  This can be good if you’re in a hurry to stock up for an impromptu dinner party. If you’re trying to decide between two bottles that differ by only a couple points, you’ll probably be pleased with either selection. Some publications rate wines partially based on how well they believe the wine will age, so you may wish to take that into account if you are considering a case purchase for your wine cellar.

Ever since the adoption of a number system to rate wine, many people–especially those new to the world of wine–mistakenly dismiss wines with less than 90 point ratings.  (This is where a blind tasting works well to overcome a preconceived numerical value.)  Having conducted some of my own research into these numerical ratings by not only trying wines with a wide range of ratings, but looking into how the professionals rate their wines, I have arrived at the following three conclusions:  First, a wine with at least a rank of 80 will be worth your while (as long as it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and if it does, you’ll want to lean toward the highest of ratings).  Second, if there is a rating next to a wine, it means someone actually took the time to pay special attention to that particular wine, so it’s likely to be worth your time to take a closer look as well. Finally, I have found it important to remember the context in which the wine will be consumed. Is this a wine to celebrate your 50 year wedding anniversary, or a wine to have with take-out dinner on a Tuesday night? Numbers by themselves are all relative, so use your common sense when you make your final selection.

How do you use wine ratings? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Great Wines for Valentine’s Day

February 14th, 2011 No comments

postcardValentine’s Day is today! Still in need of a perfect gift?  This year, think about forgoing the teddy bear and heart-shaped jewelry.  Instead, get her a romantic gift you can enjoy together: wine.  Here are some great choices for romance on the 14th.

Great with chocolate-covered strawberries: This valentine’s day classic is perfection with another classic: Champagne.  Pop a bottle of bubbly, line up those gorgeous strawberries on a pretty platter, and get ready to enjoy them together.  If you don’t want to spend the cash on authentic French champagne, you don’t have to!  Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, and Cava, a Spanish bubbly, are great options without the label-induced price spike.  Cheers!

Great with steak: Nothing says “I love you” like a meal prepared with your own two hands.  Never mind that it’s February, get out there and grill!  Steak is rich and indulgent, a great choice for Valentine’s Day.  Try this Steak with Rosemary Red Wine Sauce for something a little extra special.  Use your favorite rich, dry red for the sauce and to drink with the meal.  Need a suggestion?  Try this 2007 Ravenswood Zin–perfection with a juicy grilled steak.

Great with chocolate: Chocolate is a classic gift for a reason.  But this year, try something a little different: a chocolate and wine pairing made specially for the one you love.  Whether her favorite is white, milk, or decadent dark, there’s a perfect wine to bring out all the flavors she loves so much.  Our guide on chocolate pairing makes it easy.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Investing in Wine Can Offer Great Returns

November 19th, 2010 No comments

…and as this infographic points our, you can always drink your failed investments, a pleasure that certainly doesn’t apply to failed real estate or stocks.

The best investment wines are almost always the higher-priced wines from longstanding winemakers. Those bottles are more likely to remain in high demand than are lower-priced wines. Wine is a market of tradition–pedigree and provenance are key.

When buying wine as an investment, it’s important to buy from a trustworthy source–just a few days in bad conditions can significantly damage a wine, and you won’t be able to tell by looking at the bottle. The web has become a massive marketplace for wine (and everything else!), but buy with care. The same applies for when you sell your investments, though–if you haven’t taken perfect care of your bottles, they won’t be worth top dollar. All the more reason to build a good wine cellar!

The infographic below covers some more details on the performance of investment wines (look how it compares to the stock market over the last few years), as well as a few other “alternative” investment options…none of which are drinkable, unfortunately!


Infographic by

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Great Wines for Thanksgiving

November 5th, 2010 No comments

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louise Gerome

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, there’s no time like the present to start planning your dinner menu–and the wines that will go with it.  Choosing wines for Thanksgiving can be a challenge, because you have to please a variety of palates and complement a variety of dishes.  But have no fear!  Our suggestions will help get you through the holiday meal planning stress-free.

Champagne: If your concern is finding a wine that will continue to please from appetizers to pumpkin pie, look no further than champagne or sparkling wine.  As well as being a festive choice, champagne complements all kinds of flavors (even that sweet potato casserole that Aunt Edna insists on bringing every year).  Champagne also acts as a palate cleanser, refreshing the mouth after each rich Thanksgiving-meal bite.

Riesling: Riesling is excellent with dishes that are salty or sweet, like many Thanksgiving dishes.  It can be dry or sweet (we recommend dry as most likely to please a variety of palates.)  Its flavors of apple and honey make it a great complement to fall flavors.

Sauvignon Blanc: The acidic, mineral characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc make it thirst-quenching, a great quality when you’re eating a heavy meal.  Its refreshing quality will keep your guests’ tasebuds interested from mashed potatoes to stuffing.

Pinot Noir: A longtime Thanksgiving favorite, Pinot Noir’s hearty, earthy flavors make it a great match for the homey, earthy tastes of turkey and stuffing.

Beaujolais Nouveau: This is an easy-drinking, light and fruity wine that your guests will enjoy sipping all night.  Its easygoing character makes it pair well with the full spectrum of Thanksgiving dishes.  And each year, Beaujolais Noveau is released on “Beaujolais Day”–the third Thursday of November.  Perfect timing!

New San Diego Wine Law Swirls up Controversy

October 7th, 2010 No comments

Video courtesy CBS 8 News

In a move that has stirred up some controversy, a new law has passed that will allow boutique wineries producing 12,000 gallons or less to operate tasting rooms. They’ll also be able to sell directly to buyers and hold events such as weddings. Winemakers and wine lovers in San Diego see this as a good thing: it will help boost the local economy by supporting small businesses. And rolling hills covered with grape vines aren’t too bad to look at, either.

Some people aren’t welcoming the new rules with open arms (and empty glasses), though. A group of property owners, mostly in the Ramona area, has filed a lawsuit demanding that the ordinance be annulled and re-examined. They claim that proper environmental studies haven’t been done, citing a specific worry about the amount of water that will be needed to water the crops.

Supporters of the law like Supervisor Dianne Jacob see the objections as unnecessarily standing in the way of a good thing.

“Vintners worked very hard with the county to develop an ordinance that worked for all parties,” Jacob said. “In the end, we found a way to spur the economy by taking measures to enhance an agricultural use, in agricultural zoned areas, while doing our best to preserve the community character of these rural areas.”

She added, “This is an unfortunate attempt to create an obstacle that would hurt many others and sputter an emerging industry seeking to further promote the county as a successful wine-producing region.”

Please share your thoughts on this new law in the comments!

What’s in a Name? Weird Wine Names

August 28th, 2010 No comments

At a wine tasting event last night, I struck up a conversation with some wine lovers about the increasingly popular trend of wacky wine names.  Winemakers of yesterday tended to try and convey tradition and elegance with their wine names, often by using the name of the winemaker or the area of production.  Think of the classic Dom Perignon, which was named after the Benedictine monk who pioneered the production of champagne.  But today, more and more of these classic-style names are being replaced by something new, fresh…and a little odd.

Here are a few of the strangest-named wines out there right now:

  • Educated Guess, a cabernet sauvignon
  • Fat Bastard, a chardonnay
  • Bitch, a grenache
  • Arrogant Frog Ribet Red, a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend
  • Frog’s Piss, a French red table wine
  • Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, a sauvignon blanc
  • Mad Housewife, a cabernet sauvignon

The wacky-name trend is something we’re seeing more and more of these days, especially amongst the lower-priced bottles.  One reason is that there are just so many different kinds of wine out there now.  When faced with a wall of bottles, the wine shopper is only going to notice something that stands out.  Creative, eye-catching names can help get the wine off the shelves and to the check-out.

Winemakers are also attempting to bring a little whimsy into their field with this trend.  Wine, long the territory of the wealthy, has over the last few decades extended its territory to the middle class.  This new naming trend is self-deprecating, lightening up the field and making it more accessible.  Jerry Prial, who makes a wine called Debauchery, says, “I’m a big believer in the theater of the mind.  People – when they see the wine, they really start to laugh and they smile, and that’s what we wanted.”

What do you think?  Do names like Frog’s Piss and Fat Bastard make you wince, or do you think funny wine names are just good marketing?

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Stock Up Now: Interstate Wine Sales May Soon be Illegal

August 23rd, 2010 No comments

For years, wine aficionados have counted on the ability to order wines that aren’t available at their local stores.  Say you’re on a wine tour of Italy, or you’re spending a long weekend wine-tasting in a neighboring state.  Maybe you’re even browsing the wines of other places late one night on your laptop.   You fall in love with a certain bottle.  You go to down to your neighborhood wine shop or grocery store to search for it, only to find out they don’t carry it.  No problem–you call up the winery or go to its website, order what you want, and a few days later, it arrives at your door.  But you might not be able to do this for much longer.

A new bill, called HR 5034, or the CARE Act, aims to exempt alcohol from the Commerce Clause, which says that the federal government, rather than the states (they were originally given this power when Prohibition was repealed) should have control over alcohol regulation.

Proponents say that the bill is needed to clarify states’ rights and keep alcohol out of the hands of underage drinkers.  But those opposed say that these reasons are merely a smokescreen that cover up the true motivation for the bill: so that the large alcohol wholesalers can protect their business by removing federal regulations and keeping consumers from challenging alcohol laws that give their business away to small wineries.

Under the current system, states decide individually what their alcohol regulations should be.  For years, many state laws prevented alcohol from being imported and exported out of the state.  This may have been logical in the Prohibition days of moonshiners and rum runners, but in today’s mobilized world, these rules prevent consumers from obtaining wine, beer, and liquor that wasn’t available in their states.  As a result, consumers challenged these rules and today, 37 states and Washington D.C. allow alcohol to be shipped to consumers across state lines.

The new bill would make it next to impossible for producers, retailers and consumers to challenge these laws and others like them.  It would also undermine federal authority over alcohol pricing, taxation, product formulation, advertising, labeling, and product safety, which the bill’s opponents argue are essential to help protect the public.  It would make it much easier for wholesalers to monopolize the industry by making it very difficult for small producers to gain a competing foothold.

HR 5034 would likely mean that wineries wishing to get their product out there would have to go through large distributors.  For small “boutique” wineries like those that have been emerging in San Diego in recent years, this might mean that they can’t stay in business.  Shipped wine currently represents less than 1% of the industry.  But for a small winery just getting started, an extra 10 or 15 cases shipped directly out to consumers can mean the different between being able to produce another vintage next year or having to close up shop.  No direct shipping means that all wine sales business goes to the retailers–who are mostly large wholesalers.  Is it any surprise that HR 5034 was written by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) with support form the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Associations (WSWA)?

One thing to consider is that there are a lot more varietals and vintages produced than any wine store–even a great one–can be expected to carry.  What you see on the shelves is only a small percentage of what’s out there–it has to be.  And for wine lovers in smaller cities, there’s even less of a selection.  True consumer freedom means being able to choose the products you want without restriction from where you happen to live or what retailers choose to offer you.

Beyond business control or consumer rights, there’s something to be said about the sort of cosmopolitan ideals that wine fosters.  Since certain grapes can only grow in certain environments, wine is something we have to share between states and nations if we want to experience all of its wonderful variety.  Through wine, we learn to appreciate the little nuances that makes every wine region unique.  Isn’t that something we should be able to raise a (direct-shipped) glass of wine to?

How to Build a Great Wine Collection

June 29th, 2010 2 comments

Do you have aspirations to build a great wine collection but don’t know where to start?  Have you collected a few bottles but are unsure about how to build what you have into a cohesive collection?  Here are some tips and hints to help  you out.

The best way to start is to educate yourself.  Before you’re ready to spend your money on a bottle worth aging in a wine cellar, you need to figure out how to pick out a good one.  Read books, articles, and blogs on wine.  But don’t forget that the best way to learn is through practice.  Be proactive in your learning.  Visit wine stores and talk to the knowledgeable employees.  Go to wine tastings and talk to the employees there–they are often a wealth of information that most people ignore, and they love to tell you about the differences between vintages and varietals.

You also need to lean what wines you like.  There’s no sense investing time and money into a bottle of oaked Chardonnay, only to find out that you really don’t like oaky wines.  Now, it’s easy to decide whether you like or dislike a particular bottle.  It’s harder to remember what bottles you like and what bottles you don’t when you’re in the wine shop ready to purchase.  The best way to quickly build up an inventory of your tastes in wine is to keep a wine notebook.  Whenever you taste a wine, take a few notes on it.  Use a simple rating system (1-10, for example), so that you can easily tell how you felt about a particular wine.  When you’re at the store facing hundreds of bottles, a wine notebook will help you have purpose and direction.  If you can’t try a particular wine before purchase, check out online reviews.

If you have a wine cellar or a wine cabinet or refrigerator, it’s imperative that you learn about wine aging.  Some wines age better than others.  Some should age for only 2 years, while others can benefit from 20 years of aging or more.  Besides reading and talking to experts, a good way to learn about aging is to tag your bottles.  Buy several bottles of the same varietal and vintage.  Tag them with the date that you stored them.  As you open each bottle, take notes!  (Remember that wine notebook? This is another thing it’s good for.)   Another benefit of buying in bulk is price.  Buying a case of wine (12 bottles) is usually more cost effective than buying those bottles individually.  But 12 bottles is a lot, so make sure you like the wine before you buy a whole case.

Don’t forget that wine is supposed to be fun.  Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new varietals.  If you love Merlot, branch out a bit and try other reds–you might find yourself falling in love with Spanish Rioja or even California Cabernet Sauvignon.  But if you find that there’s nothing you like better than a buttery Chardonnay, feel no shame in stocking your wine cellar with dozens of bottles of the stuff you love.  It’s your wine collection, after all, and it should be a reflection of you.

Building a wine collection can be a pleasurable and interesting pastime that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.  Having knowledge of wine, and a collection that reflects that knowledge, is something wine collectors get a great deal of satisfaction from.  But there’s no sense in putting time and money into wine collection unless you have a proper place to store it.  Wine stored incorrectly won’t age well, and you’ll find bottle after bottle of your hard-won collection opening up rancid.  Check back for our next post on the right way to store wine.