Wine Column

Adventures in Wine Shopping

It’s said that we humans are creatures of habit. I won’t speak for everyone, but there’s little that I can say that would rebut the old adage. When it comes to wine shopping, I’ve found that it’s helpful to develop habits and strategies. I buy a little bit of wine directly from wineries (about 18 bottles a year), and a little bit more than that from online retailers (can’t say enough good things about Full Pull Wines, when I have gift cards, and occasionally Wine Commune), but most of the wine that I buy is from a rotation of five brick-and-mortar wine/liquor shops in the Denver-area–Heritage Wine and Liquor, Davidson’s Liquor, Bubbles Liquor World, Castle Pines North Wine and Spirits, and Highland Wine Seller. I recall with mild horror the days of staring at the rows and rows of wine bottles and wondering “where the hell do I start.” Based on several conversations that I’ve had with “non” and “quasi” wine drinkers, it seems that the overwhelming number of bottles and regions to choose from is one of the biggest impediments to people getting in to wine. I would like to share a few habits and strategies and encourage anybody reading to share some habits/strategies/tips that they have found to be effective in successful wine buying, which I would define as buying good wine without overpaying.

  • Tip 1: Do not ignore the close-out section – I walk in to a wine shop and the close-out section is my first stop. The assumption may be that if a wine is on clearance, it sucks. That’s not always the case. Here’s a short list of some wines that I’ve found on clearance: 1) Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($50, released at $125); 2) Betz La Cote Rousse Syrah ($41, released at $55); and 3) 2008 Bowlus Hills Walla Walla Syrah ($14, released at $21).
  • Tip 2: Feel out the staff and if they’re knowledgeable, ask for recommendations – But, you say, how will I know if they’re knowledgeable? It’s not as hard as you think. Case Study 1: A staff member asks if she can be of assistance, and I ask her if she has any recommendations for Washington wines. She walks over to the Washington section, looks at several bottles, and then points one out, replying “this one says it’s an Estate wine, so I’d go with that one.”  No thanks. Case Study 2: After noting on a certain shop’s website that they sometimes carry Sine Qua Non, I take a shot in the dark and ask a staff member if they have any in. “Nope”, he said, “but you should really check out Stolpman’s Hilltops Syrah. They sell some of their grapes to Sine Qua Non, so you’re at least getting comparable fruit.” Now we’re talking.
  • Tip 3: Develop a rotation – By limiting your shopping to one or two wine shops, you may never know if you’re overpaying. I regularly visit five retail locations. After wandering the aisles, you start to notice price patterns. Sometimes the prices are nearly identical, but it’s also not uncommon to see non-sale prices for the same wine vary anywhere from 10-40% between shops. This price analysis may also help you realize how badly you’re getting screwed when ordering wine at restaurants.
  • Tip 4: Be flexible – When on the hunt for a certain list of wines, don’t be afraid to go astray. The Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc and Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon that you’re looking for may not be on sale, but Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is 33% off. Duckhorn and Franciscan make a lot of wine, so you’re not going to miss out if you wait for a sale. One caveat to this example concerns limited production/wildly popular wines. When they are on the shelf and not grossly overpriced, this may be the only opportunity that you’ll have to buy them at a retail shop. If you miss out, you can always battle it out with other bidders on Wine Commune!


I hope that these tips prove helpful. Also, I would love to hear about any close-out steals or horror or success stories that you’ve had with retail wine shop staff.

Posted on by Nick in Wine Column 2 Comments

Trione Vineyards & Winery

The Trione family has been farming and selling grapes in Sonoma County for over forty years. They now own and farm over 650 vineyard acres in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Coast. In 2005, the family built Trione Vineyards & Winery near Geyserville, California. Winemaker Scot Covington uses three percent of Trione’s Estate grapes to produce their wines. Production is currently around 6,000 cases.

After tasting six of Trione’s current releases, the overarching themes that I continuously noted were consistently good quality and balance. I did not detect a trace of heat in any of these wines.


Trione Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $23.00

From The Winery: 14% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: This lively and zestful wine presents with a very pale straw color. The nose is chock-full of wild grasses and sliced jalapeños, but the flavors lean more towards fresh citrus fruits, specifically lemon and tangerine. Refreshing, balanced, and overall a nice expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

Rating: Recommended (88), 3/5 Value 

Trione Chardonnay 2008

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $30.00

From The Winery: 14.3% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: Light gold in color, this Chardonnay features expressive aromas of honey melon, oak, spice, and lemon candy. A shade low on acidity, with a clinging aftertaste of toasted oak.

Rating: Recommended (87), 2.5/5 Value 

Trione Pinot Noir 2008

Date Tasted: 2/7/13

Price: $35.00

From The Winery: 14.2% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: This garnet colored Pinot Noir is aromatic and has an airy, elegant presence. Fragrant red cherry, mulch, and dark chocolate aromas and flavors really pop, while the light and silky mouthfeel and impeccable balance take this wine to the next level. My favorite wine of the group and priced well at $35.00.

Rating: Highly Recommended (90), 3.5/5 Value 

Trione Syrah 2008

Date Tasted: 2/7/13

Price: $32.00

From The Winery: 14.8% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: A very clean, balanced Syrah that provides an excellent expression of herbs and spices–particularly oregano, bay leaf, and mint. Black raspberry and menthol are also readily apparent on the nose and mouth. The fruit is a bit on the tart side (I’m ok with that), and there is a slight bitterness on the palate, followed by very fine tannins.

Rating: Recommended (88), 3/5 Value 

Trione Cabernet Sauvignon Block Twenty One 2007

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $64.00

From The Winery: 14.5% Alcohol. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2.5% Petit Verdot, 2.5% Malbec. Cloverdale Ranch Vineyard, Alexander Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: Dark in color, this Zinfandel like-Cab presents with one of the loudest noses that I’ve come across. It’s absolutely loaded with raisiny fruit, cassis, and chocolate. There’s some sweetness on the palate, huge fruit, and sweet spices. Given the “huge fruit” and sweetness, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s enough acid to balance it out.

Rating: Recommended (88), 2/5 Value 

Trione Red Wine 2007

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $48.00

From The Winery: 14.5% Alcohol. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (blend breakdown unknown). Alexander Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: The “Red Wine” blend may be more subdued that the Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s still a big wine. I found the aroma/flavor profile to be a bit more complex, with blackberry, molasses, pencil shavings, red bell pepper, and damp earth. Black fruits, spice, and supple tannins fill the palate.

Rating: Recommended (89), 2.5/5 Value 

Disclaimer–These wines were provided as samples by the winery.

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Wine Column Leave a comment

When Brett Meets Wine

I’ve had brett on the brain lately (not literally). I’m referring of course to brettanomyces, a yeast that can impart the dreaded barnyard or band-aid aromas into wine. This fascination started when tasting Rafanelli’s 2009 Zinfandel. As discussed in last week’s post, Wine Spectator’s Tim Fish noted the presence of brett in recent vintages of Rafanelli’s Zinfandels. I was definitely picking up a small degree of brett in the ’09 Zin. What I found most interesting was the contrast of reviews for this particular wine in CellarTracker. While some were gushing serious praise, others were basically calling the wine a brett-bomb. These conflicting accounts speak to the variety of palates out there and the sensitivities that some wine drinkers have to brett.

In the past year, I can think of two brett-bombs that I’ve tasted, blowing way past the level of “flawed” and into the category of “faulty”. One bottle was a Mendocino County Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend that wreaked of the unmistakable smell of horse manure. The other was a Dry Creek Valley Syrah that displayed enough band-aid to handle a serious case of road rash. I struggled through roughly a glass of each and poured the rest down the drain. For the record, I hate pouring wine down the drain. My palate seems to be sensitive to brett, but I can tolerate it in small amounts. These two bottles happened to be over my threshold.

While there are some that actually like the barnyard and/or band-aid component in a wine, I think that it’s safe to say that most of us do not. Robert Parker and Steven Tanzer have been noted for giving high scores to wines considered my many to be bretty. Are Parker and Tanzer not picking up on the brett, or are they just ignoring it? If it’s the latter, I have a problem with that. Whether a wine writer (big-time or peon blogger) feels that the level of brett is minimal or even agreeable to the wine, in my opinion it should still be disclosed. There are a large number of wine consumers sensitive to brett that would benefit from this info, and it just might save them from buying wine that they don’t enjoy, or even worse, end up pouring down the drain.

I’d like to share a few links that provide some excellent information, discussion, and perspective on the heated topic of brett.


Posted on by Nick in Wine Column 4 Comments

Castello di Amorosa

For those unfamiliar with Castello di Amorosa, I’m guessing that your first guess as to the location of the castle on the right would not be Calistoga, California. In fact, Castello di Amorosa’s immaculate 121,000 sq. ft. castle/winery is located 2 miles south of Calistoga, just off of Highway 29. The winery was a pet project for Dario Sattui (owner of V. Sattui Winery, off Hwy 29 in St. Helena), who has an immense passion for Italian medieval architecture. Castello di Amorosa opened on April 19, 2007, after fourteen years of construction.

When your winery looks like this, people would likely come and buy wine whether the wine is good or not. I recently sampled a few of Castello di Amorosa’s wines and can personally attest that winemakers Brooks Painter, Peter Velleno, and consulting winemaker Sebastiano Rosa are making some excellent juice. The winery’s portfolio spans several varietals, from Gewürztraminer and Riesling, to Italian varietals Sangiovese and Barbera, to Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, to Napa Valley staples Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Consumers should note that Castello di Amorosa’s wines are only available at the winery.


Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese 2009

Date Tasted: 1/31/13

Price: $30.00

From The Winery: 14.5% Alcohol. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot. Napa Valley AVA. 3531 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: This aromatic and flavorful Napa Valley Sangiovese presents with a dark ruby color. A defining feature of the wine is spice–Dr. Pepper spice, allspice, and sweet baking spices are prevalent on the nose and in the mouth. Tangy red cherry, minerals, and cocoa power round out the aroma/flavor profile. A strong oak presence add some of the above-described spice and tannins to the wine, but does not overshadow the fruit.

Rating: Recommended (89), 3/5 Value 

Castello di Amorosa Gioia Rosato D’Sangiovese 2011

Date Tasted: 2/2/13

Price: $24.00

From The Winery: 13.1% Alcohol. 100% Sangiovese. California AVA. 1642 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: A couple of my wine blogging friends have recently published confessionals/disclosures on their respective blogs. In keeping with that spirit, I now add my own confessional–Roses have been some of the least favorite wines that I’ve tried in the past few years. I’m a guy that likes his acid (the legal kind, never tried the other kind), but several of the American Roses that I’ve tasted are over-acidified, sour, and well…boring. Not this Rose. The Gioia was extremely impressive. It’s balanced, refreshing, smooth, and teeming with ripe fruit. Light ruby in color (though seemingly darker than most Roses that I’ve tasted), this Sangiovese-based Rose displays raspberry, strawberry, a hint of bubble gum, honeysuckle, and violet. At this level of quality and at the price of $24.00, the Gioia is a screaming deal.

Rating: Highly Recommended (91), 4.5/5 Value 

Castello di Amorosa La Castellana 2008

Date Tasted: 2/7/13

Price: $68.00

From The Winery: 14.6% Alcohol. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 14% Sangiovese. Napa Valley AVA. 1634 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: The La Castellana is an inviting and elegant Super Tuscan blend that really started to shine about an hour after opening. Ripe and succulent black fruits (particularly plum and blackberry) mingle nicely with eucalyptus, cedar, cigar box, and sweet spices. Approaching full-bodied, with lightly gripping tannins and a slight bit of heat on the back palate. The finish is long and loaded with vanilla and sweet spice.

Rating: Highly Recommended (92), 3/5 Value 

Disclaimer–These wines were provided as samples by the winery.

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Red Blends, Rose, Sangiovese, Wine Column 2 Comments

Introducing By The Bottle and Tranquility Vineyards & Winery

On occasion, I write about publications, products, or businesses that I’ve been introduced to. I don’t receive any compensation for the mentions. Readers might be interested to hear about them and I know that I sure appreciated it (and still do) when people spread the word about WineSpeak USA.

By The Bottle

I was introduced to By The Bottle via email, the iPAD-based magazine being described to me as “Think GQ meets Decanter”. That description is dead on. Edited by wine enthusiast and journalist Geordie Clarke, the magazine’s focus is presenting informative and fun articles on wine without stuffiness. The January 2013 features, among other topics, an interview with Maximilian Riedel (love those Burgundy glasses by the way) and the 7 word movement for reviewing wines. It’s not all about wine though, as there were also articles on topics such as poker, cigars, and the interactive feature that really affirmed my affinity for the magazine–Top 10 Gangster Movies That You May Have Missed. I highly recommend that iPAD users subscribe–it’s an attractive, fun, informative, and flat out cool publication that should appeal to a wide range of readers. And it’s free!

Tranquility Vineyards & Winery

Want to enjoy the perks of owning a winery without getting your hands dirty? Jason Corley contacted me recently to introduce such an opportunity–the member’s only Tranquility Vineyards & Winery, located in Hemet, California. Depending on the level of membership chosen, members will receive amenities such as access to the winery’s carriage house, cigar lounge, and wine cave (scheduled for completion this year), invitations to tastings and other events, an allotment of wines produced on the property, and opportunities to name vineyard rows or acres. Founder Bill Shinkle is a renowned horticulturist and he carefully selected the grape varietals that are suitable to the site–Anglianico, Barbera, Fiano, Muscat Blanc, Teroldego, and Viognier. The members grand opening will take place May 1, 2013. Visit Tranquility’s website for further information on membership and the winery.

Posted on by Nick in California, Wine Column Leave a comment
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