Why wine clubs are the best thing since sliced bread…

In pondering the best way to buy wine, I asked myself the question, do I have a wine buying problem?

I think I do.  I think I have a wine buying problem when 1) I’m buying wine online at 4:35 a.m. in the morning, 2) have a ton of great wine downstairs in the basement, and 3) am living on a very tight budget.

So what do you do when you have a wine obsession like I do? You scour the Internet in search of the very, very best deals and that just happens to come in wine clubs. Yes, wine clubs, but I’m not referring to your standard wine club procedure: go to winery, love the wines, and sign up for a monthly or quarterly package from the same winery. While this method is great for those who absolutely love one particular winery and wine type, I like to try wines from everywhere and at all price points—but honestly, I don’t have the budget to do so!

I’ve decided that the only ways to handle my wine obsession is to 1) physically go to all the liquor stores in Denver (this is currently the only way to buy wine) in search of the best deals on wine, or 2) search online and see what is available at a great price.

Below, I’ll describe three different online wine clubs that I’ve had some experience with and which you might also be interested in.

$69 FOR 12 TOP RATED WINES: WSJ Wine

My first thought was to check out Amazon Wine. As an Amazon customer, I love getting the best price on things and getting my shipment within two days. I have to admit, I have an Amazon obsession. However, I was disappointed in the selection and lack of packages, and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to buy if some of my tried and true wines weren’t available there. I quickly abandoned this wine-buying option.

Then I remembered that when I first moved to Denver, I received mail with, well, a lot of junk, but in it, there was a flyer from WSJ Wine. I respect and used to read the WSJ (Wall Street Journal) when I had time, a long-long-long time ago.  I figured that, being WSJ, the company was likely to have a decent selection, and it appeared that I could get an all “Reds” Discovery package.

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This interested me more than anything. Red wines always cost more, and while I can appreciate a white wine, I generally tend to lean red. About a week later, I received my package of twelve red wines ranging from Malbecs to Cabernet Sauvignon to Pinot Noir. I haven’t finished all the wines, but so far, every single one of the wines I’ve tried has been really good. I even got to try a Coppola wine as well, and it was quite good. However, in order to continue getting these great rates, I paid $69.99 for the intro Discovery package plus $19.99 for S&H and then additional tax, making a grand total of around $95 for twelve bottles of wine plus two Riedel glasses.  The average cost of wine came out to about $8 a bottle for this package.

Once you join, then you have access to more wines and are sent a package of twelve wines at $149.99 plus $19.99 for S&H, bringing the average cost per bottle to around $14. This is still a great deal, and you can adjust the schedule if needed. If there is a wine you don’t like, you simply let them know, and they’ll refund you the cost of the wine. The good thing, too, is that it is easy to cancel should you choose to. Overall, I was very impressed and surprised at the quality of these wines.

 

ONLY $20 TO JOIN: Firstleaf

Another option is to try three wines at once based on your preference in whites, reds, or a mix, and by U.S., International, or Mix. This option was created by the magazine Food & Wine and is called Firstleaf. The barriers to entry are quite small, and $19.99 includes the S&H for three bottles. It is somewhat of a Netflix of wine; you then get to rate the introductory wines Yay or Nay, and additional selections for your next six-bottle shipment will be created. The next shipment is determined by how many bottles you consume a month. If you are likely to consume three bottles a month, then they determine that a six-bottle shipment every two months is right for you. You can of course, adjust as needed, based on your needs, to four, six, or eight bottles every two or even three months. I signed up for three bottles a month and therefore a six-bottle package cost me $79.99 plus $9.95 S&H. I was able to get the six-bottle package without the S&H cost, making future packages for the year $13.34 per bottle—not a bad deal.

I personally picked the International option as I was interested in seeing what all would be included. I received a beautifully packaged box about a week later with a thank-you card and the introductory package of three wines. As of now, this seems like a great price.  Now I just need to try the wines and see if they are indeed worth it. I am in the process of trying them, but I’m sure they will be up to par as this is a joint venture between Sunset and Food &Wine magazines. I’ll post an updated review on the wines later.

Below are a few screenshots of what to expect:

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BUY AS YOU GO AND SUPPORT NEW WINEMAKERS: Naked Wines

And yet a third option, and perhaps one that a lot of people may be interested in as it doesn’t include a monthly subscription, is Naked Wines. A few years ago, after having attended a Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon, I got a chance to try Naked Wines (not to be mistaken with Naked Winery). Naked Wines has a very interesting setup where you can initially join with a $100 voucher which is applied to your first purchase.  Generally, this will allow you to buy anywhere from a 6-pack to 12-pack case with some additional money. Or, you could use this $100 and apply it to a few select wines that you might be interested in. However, you may quickly realize that you’d rather try them at a better price, and you might consider trying a few others at the same time for the same price. With this in mind, you generally go for a wine pack of a number of wines, even those reserved for exclusive “Angels.”

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“Angels” at Naked Wines are people, like you and me, who decide to invest in these blossoming winemakers. As an Angel, you are supporting hundreds of winemakers internationally who have a dream and want to sell their wine but who individually wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of a larger distribution partner such as Naked Wines.

Naked Wines makes it possible for these winemakers to get their wines out to the general public, and, in return, the winemakers sell their wine at reasonably discounted prices so that people like you and me can try them. To become an Angel, you invest a monthly amount starting at $40 a month which can be later allocated toward the purchase of future wines at a special price. If you like a certain wine, then you can buy more through Naked Wines at a great price. Click here to get the $100 voucher for your first pack.

As I’ve been rating red wines, I personally went for the Carnivore 12-bottle case and would have had to pay $134.99, which included S&H. That brought the price of this Carnivore case to about $11.50 a bottle, taking into account taxes. Shipping is free, if the purchase of over $100, and $9.99 for an order of under $100.

In full disclosure, I was able to apply a goodwill voucher of $70 to this purchase, and I was able to get the wine for around $65, making this a steal for me.  However, at generally $11.50 a bottle, this might yet be the best price I’ve seen.  I’m looking forward to the nice assortment of Syrah, Zin, and Pinot Noirs that I’ll get to try.  Needless to say, I am all set for now on wine. I’ll be reviewing them all here soon and will keep you in the loop.  Enjoy the discount of $100 and perhaps apply it the Big Reds six-pack?

I hope that this information on wine-buying has been useful to you. And, yes, wine clubs can be the best thing since sliced bread! Enjoy your wine!

Drinking Now: Terre Margaritelli from Umbria

Italy is a place commonly known for its Tuscan wines, generally from the Chianti region of Northern Italy. Chianti’s main grape is Sangiovese followed by Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Sangiovese is, however, grown in a number of regions of Italy, including that of a small region just south and literally bordering Montepulciano, one of the most famous Chianti regions, Umbria.1-vigna-e-cantina-da-sud

Umbria, somewhat of a lesser known cousin of Tuscany, mainly grows Sangiovese as well. Umbria also produces a well-known crisp peachy white wine called Orvieto made from Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello and other varieties. Umbria has two DOCGs (notable wine regions): Torgiano Rosso Riserva and Sagrantino di Montefalco.

I had the pleasure to try a few wines from a winery called Terre Margaritelli, which is located in the heart of Umbria, between Assisi and Perugia on a 128-acre estate planted with organic vineyards in Miralduolo, Torgiano DOCG area. This particular winery had its start in 1870 and the Margaritelli family has passed on its love of wine generation by generation.

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Grechetto grapes ready for harvest.

One of the first wines I had the chance to try was a Greco Di Renabianca, a white wine made from the grape varietal Grechetto. It ages for about two to three months in French oak and later aged in a bottle for a year. It was a very interesting wine for me as it was reminiscent of a lightly oaked Chardonnay.  It had the same kind of apple and white floral notes with a grassiness that I tend to like about unoaked Chardonnay wines but a light buttery finish that didn’t linger too long.  The grapes pictured above are the Grechetto grapes, which are more commonly used to blend but have the potential, as demonstrated in this wine, to stand alone. It retails for around $25 a bottle.

img_0790The wine that I enjoyed the most was the 100% Sangiovese, Freccia Degli Scacchi, with the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG classification. It has been aged 24 months in French oak and 24 months in bottle. This wine reminded me somewhat of a Priorat (NE Spain) wine with some flintiness (licorella) and licorice on the palate. The color of the wine was a deep garnet red. On the nose, baked dark berries, leather and some candied fruit and finally in the mouth: blackberries, dark cherries, licorice, licorella, and a long persistent finish.  It retails around $30 a bottle.

Both of these wines were not only tasty but eye-opening for the region. I look forward to trying more wines from Umbria and hopefully visiting the region one day!

 

 

Discovering the Hungarian Burgundy: Kovács Nimród Wines

When one now thinks of Hungary and its wines, one thinks of the deliciously sweet, luscious wine Tokaji (Tokay in English). Few, however, know that from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, Hungary was arguably one of the third most sophisticated wine cultures in Europe, after France and Germany.  Hungary sits on the same northern latitude as Burgundy, France, and the Willamette Valley of Oregon; this location makes it an ideal place to produce crisp white wines.  Yet interestingly enough, it also has a continental climate, which allows the country to produce riper, bolder varieties. Hungary dedicates about 70 percent of its total wine production to white wines. Few also know that Hungary has 21 wine-producing regions, seven of which were more commonly known based on the historic quality of their wines. One of the most prestigious of these is Tokaj-Hegyalja in the northeastern part of the country, along the Slovakian border. The six other regions include Badacsony, Somló, Szekszárd, Villány-Siklós, Mátra, and Eger.  Eger is where my story on Kovács Nimród wines begins.

Thanks to the generosity of Bottle Rocket Wine Works, a wine distributor, I was invited to taste some of the wines of Hungary.  I love a great Tokaji wine, and honestly, when I attended this tasting, I expected to taste a few Tokaji wines. Instead, I was met with some beautiful wines that were Burgundian in style and that I never knew existed. I had the opportunity to meet Nimród Kovács of Kovács Nimród Winery(KNW), located in the “Gran Cru” region of Eger in the northeastern part of Hungary.

The region of Eger is known for light-bodied reds as well as Hungary’s popular “bull’s blood,” a dry red wine. Bull’s blood, or Egri bikavér, is one of the most popular dry red wines. Eger is halfway between Tokaj and Budapest in the middle of the country. The legend goes that in the mid-1500s that when the Magyars (ancestors of modern Hungarians) were besieged by the Turks, the Magyars had been drinking red wine while fighting fiercely, and this had stained their faces red. Seeing their red-stained faces and fierce fighting, the Turks feared that the Magyars had been drinking bulls’ blood to obtain their fierce prowess—and they retreated. And this is how the wine got its name.

Compared to other regions of Hungary, the Eger region has a cooler climate similar to that of Burgundy or the northern Rhone region, and this allows them to produce varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as heartier reds such as Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It is also where Hungarian varietals Furmint and Kekfrankos can be grown.  KNW tends to use for its barrels mostly Hungarian oak, which can be likened to having the best of both oaks, American and French oak.  Barrels made of Hungarian oak come from the same species as French oak but have an even tighter grain and more subtle impact.  This oak tends to convey vanilla-, spice-, and caramel-like flavors over a longer period of time than do traditionally used French and American oak. It also gives a smoother, creamier texture to the wines as well. At a price about halfway between those of American and French oak barrels, these Hungarian oak barrels are perfect for the varietals grown in this region.

My three favorite wines from this tasting were the 2010 Furmint and 2011 Furmint; 2013 Pinot Noir made with Dijon 777 clone; and the 2007 and 2009 NJK Grand Cru.

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2010 and 2011 Furmint

Tokaji, the most widely known Hungarian wine, is a beautifully luscious white-gold wine with an amazing aging potential due to the acid commonly found in Furmint, the grapes used.  Furmint has long been the dominant grape varietal for the Tokaj region in Hungary and was made popular during the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  It has been used since then to make sweet wine through an aging-on-the-vine process using botrytis, which is a fungus commonly known as “Nobel Rot.” Nobel Rot keeps the grape from evolving into gray rot, the destructive form of rot, and instead allows the grape to dry out on the vine, naturally concentrating the sugar compounds.  This is a process commonly seen not only in Tokaj but also in Sauternes, regions where moist air and dry air alternate, allowing the fungus to thrive.  Furmint, however, can be used to make a dry white wine as well. In this case, this 2010 Furmint came from a difficult vintage and therefore made a truly wonderful complex wine.  This wine had medium acidity, likely in part because 30 to 40 percent of the grapes used for this vintage had botrytis, giving the wine a nice complex finish.  Nevertheless, it still had somewhat of a stainless-steel Chardonnay notes with a touch of flint and buttery oak.  I loved the pear, peach, and apricot notes that peaked with a long clean citrus finish.  The 2011 Furmint was similar, but I enjoyed it more than the 2010 Furmint due to the intensity of the crisp finish of the former.

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2013 Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a grape most commonly grown both in Burgundy, France and in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The clone used for this vintage was a Dijon 777, which is known for being very dark and rich and for being commonly blended with other wines.  However, this clone is now being produced on its own, showing an intensity and complexity not seen in other clones. I personally have long been a fan of this clone since being exposed to it while working for Hyland Estates in the Willamette Valley, where I had the opportunity to try several of their single-clone Pinot Noirs.

This particular vintage tasted as if it could compete with that of an Oregon Pinot Noir, and I soon found out why. This wine was made by a RoxyAnne Oregon winemaker, Kent Barthman.

The wine had a distinctly spicy perfume with a considerable raspberry note and an almost skunky-ness, but not in a bad way.  I know it’s hard to believe it’s not bad, but I really enjoyed it quite a bit, and at a $25 price point, I would happily choose one of these Pinot Noirs to share with friends.

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2007 and 2009 NJK Grand Cru

Both vintages of this NJK wine were spectacular. These wines were aged for 24 months in Hungarian oak and reminded me of a big bold Syrah. The grapes come from the limestone-laden soils of their Grand Cru Nagy Eged vineyard and offer a beautiful leather, blackberry, raspberry, baked plum mouth that ends as elegantly as it started.

I hope I have enticed you to try some Hungarian wines—and at the price points, you really have very little to lose. Enjoy!