Archive for January, 2008

good/bad sales tactic

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

A quick post. I just looked at an offer I got for a reserve Shiraz from Australia. They advertise the shiraz as “extremely limited – 1 bottle per person”. Now the bottle commands an “extremely limited” price, so I ain’t buyin’ (sadly), but I was curious to see if it was in fact only 1 bottle per person or if they were using that to try to get people to buy more.

What I discovered was interesting. The site DOES allow you to buy more than 1. Giving the online retailer the benefit of the doubt let’s say they have not yet figured out how to limit purchases on selected items to 1 per customer. What was interesting was that the site shows you “quantity remaining”, and that very low number DID go down as I ordered mine. Maybe this is in fact a very limited wine…

So in the spirit of giving people (online retailers) the benefit of the doubt, lets say this was NOT a tactic at all, just another offer from a typically well priced retailer…


Blind Tasting

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I just enjoyed another article written by Laurie Daniel for the San Jose Mercury News. This one titled “Blind tasting Can Be A Real Eye-Opener”. OK, the title is a little old-man-pun style, and the article was written citing some recent research done by Standford Business School and California Institute of technology (regarding how price influences people’s appreciation of wine)…but she sheds some light into wine appreciation. And as an advocate of blind tasting, I like to see other people touting its unique ability to force people to appreciate what it is the glass as opposed to its label, reputation or price tag.

I like blind tasting for a multitude of reasons. As someone who DOES NOT profess to having a master palate it is OK when in a blind tasting I pick a (supposedly) inferior wine over one priced much higher or said to be much more highly regarded.

I also like blind tasting as a result of an experience from my time working in the lab at a Napa custom crush. There was a producer who made their wines there that consistently had trouble maintaining the natural balance of their wines. They would doctor the heck out of their wines just to get them into better balance. Yet these same wines carried a triple digit price tag and a reputation to match. Proof that marketing, a high price tag, or for you conspiracy theorists – paying off critics, is enough to “fool” consumers. (One of the many reasons why I STRONGLY advocate tasting wine YOURSELF and buying wines YOU like – not those you are told you should like).

The last reason I’ll mention here as to why I am such a fan of blind tasting has to do with my affinity for Israeli wines and my STRONG belief that they are STILL under appreciated. We Israeli wine people joke that simply being “Israeli” means that critics will (subconsciously??) deduct 3-5 points from their scoring of the wine. Oh how I would love to set up a blind tasting for well known critics and sneak a few Israeli wines in with some other New world wines.

Bottom line, read the Laurie Daniel article, and know that when you are contemplating that $100 bottle vs. the $30 bottle, yes you may enjoy the $100 bottle more – but it will only be BECAUSE it cost you $100 and NOT because you were drinking a better wine…

Now how do you go enjoy that $500 bottle of Bordeaux after reading that…????….SORRY!

Happy drinking!



Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Lo & Behold, I am compelled to eat my words. Granted you may not be STEALING these wines from the retailers, but searches revealed higher prices being charged elsewhere. As to whether they are good wines or not, sadly, I have not tasted them and as such can not vouch for their quality. The first wine however (according to the retailers website) scored a 91 from Robert Parkers; The Wine Advocate.

Deal # 1 – 2006 Kofererhof Muller Thurgau. (maybe not a wine you think of in the dead of winter, but…) “sale” price $14.99. Listed elsewhere for as little as $16 or as much as $28.

Deal # 2 – 2005 Bibi Graetz Casamatta – For sale for $9.49, made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. A nice spicy varietal, great for winter time stews. And at under $10, when others are advertising said wine for between $10 (best price) to as much as $20 for the bottle, probably a wine i would take a shot on.

Now again, I’d prefer to try these wines at my local store before buying a case for everyday consumption, but given what others are charging for these wines, at least you know you aren’t being ripped off.

I’ll drink to that!


Wine buying deals – huh??

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Well loyal readers, I have not forgotten about those of you who have asked for insight into good wine buys. I have received my requisite 5+ daily emails offering tremendous deals on fabulous wines…BLAH BLAH BLAH. I just looked into an email I got from one such online retail wine shop. They preface their present offer with details about how while people are spending $20+ on everyday bottles these days, they still search high and low for us, their loyal customers. And as such they are offering a supposed $18 bottle of Red Rhone wine for only $15 (plus shipping of course). Now $15 for a decent Rhone Red is not terrible, depending upon the quality of the wine. As we all know I would of course recommend tasting the wine before placing any large orders, but since that is impossible in VIRTUAL WORLD we have to take a leap of faith. DON’T LEAP HERE. Said wine turns up on a search in a few other locations, beginning at $13.99.

I write this little story just to let you know of the challenges one faces when trying to find a well priced bottle of wine. But I will persevere…and find you good wine deals I will!!!

Until then, happy drinking…

The BATTLE for direct shipping rages on

Monday, January 28th, 2008

I’m catching up on emails as I attempt to recover from a very busy Israel trip. While I recently posted about and their “sting operation” to turn in retailers who are supposedly illegally shipping wine I just came across a very HEATED & interesting interview conducted by one of my most trusted wine industry sources, Megan Haverkorn of Wine & Spirits Daily.

This interview conducted by Megan on January 11th with an advocate from both sides of the shipping argument (which I will paste below to simplify finding it) allows both sides to present their arguments. While I am all for de-regulating state to state shipment of wine from retailers (as is often the case for wineries) it seems that the battle for this deregulation will be heated and vehemently contested. An interesting read for anyone who is hoping to (legally) sell wines online…

Friday, January 11, 2008

Three Tier Battles – A Talk with Tom Wark and Craig Wolf

There has been a lot of back and forth between online retailers and wine wholesalers in the past week, so we sat down with Tom Wark, executive director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association (SWRA) and Craig Wolf, ceo of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) separately to get to the bottom of the issue. Both trade groups say they are working for the greater good. But the SWRA claims wholesalers are only out for the money, while the wholesalers claim their concerns are for minors and for state-based regulation.

WINE & SPIRITS DAILY: Why have the SWRA gone through the effort of investigating distributor political contributions in every state?

TOM WARK: Wholesalers have every right to contribute obscene amounts of money to politicians across the country. But when those contributions are accompanied in nearly every state by anti-consumer and pro-wholesaler laws, it’s time to take stock of exactly what’s behind those laws. That’s what the “Wholesale Protection” report does.

The enormous contributions tell me that the wholesalers understand that a great deal is at stake and they are willing to spend what it takes to protect a regulatory scheme that functions to keep them awash in cash. In nearly every state law there exists a mandate that wholesalers get a kickback on nearly every bottle of wine that consumers eventually consume. This is what wholesalers are protecting by spending $50 million on campaign donations.

CRAIG WOLF: Everybody in this business should be, if they are not, involved in the political process…We know the SWRA is involved in political donations and we know they’re funding lawsuits to the tune of millions of dollars. They’re spending money in the way they deem fit for their agenda and so are the wholesalers who are putting up money to support candidates and elected officials who understand the importance of an accountable licensed system and protecting it. That is the American way. To try and vilify wholesalers in that way I think is absurd.

If you look at the report, they mix in beer wholesalers’ money with ours and try to attribute all the $50 million to wine and spirits wholesalers.

Second of all, we lobby on any number of items that are important to our members beyond simple issues of direct shipping or threats to the three tier system. Unlike us, the SWRA has one specific goal in mind: deregulation of the system. Our money is not only to protect a very important system, but to protect our employees and their jobs, which are in the score of thousands in the country. We also, like every other industry, lobby in the areas of health care, workplace safety, employee benefits, etc.

WSD: I understand your contention, Tom, that is playing a tattle tale, but shouldn’t all online retailers be playing by the same rules?

TOM: Yes. And that’s why I was very pleased to read the CEO of saying that an open market for wine is best for the consumer, for the wine industry and for My hope is that will join the effort by other retailers to create exactly these kinds of markets. But if they choose not to fight these pro-consumer, pro-industry battles by educating their customers and contributing to the effort, I at least hope they’ll say “thank you” to those retailers and consumers who did fight the battle on’s behalf when the laws are changed.

WSD: In the past, the SWRA has argued that online retailers follow state laws and therefore should be allowed to ship directly to consumers. Has’s “sting operation” hurt the SWRA’s argument that retailers are lawful and should ship direct?

TOM: I’ve yet to meet any wine consumer that believes markets should be closed to out-of-state retailers so that wholesalers can make more money. And by reading the various comments across the Internet and elsewhere on this issue by consumers, I think it’s pretty clear that the only thing that has resulted from this episode is that consumers have been made further aware of the anti-consumer laws that have been put in place to protect wholesalers. So, no. This doesn’t hurt our argument. It helps it. We are simply asking for the right to ship wine in exactly the same way that most states allow wineries to ship.

CRAIG: Wholesalers read the wine blogs. We know what’s going on with the wine blog websites. If they think that when they make these statements about acting with impunity and violating the law and that nobody is going to find out about it, they’re wrong. What’s most shocking about all these conversations we’re seeing by Tom Wark and other retailers on these blogs is that they’re more concerned with not getting caught violating the law then they are with trying to effect change legally. We have no problem if they want to go into the legislatures to fight these battles…but what they’re advocating for is to have their illegal conduct go unreported and unaccountable. They’re not upset with the fact that their own members may be violating the law and jeopardizing their licenses. No, they’re upset about the fact that they got caught.

Say what you want about’s business model and their viability. The fact is they’re trying to operate legally and change the system. We don’t agree with trying to ship direct – we disagree with that – but we think they’re going about it the right way. And we’re happy to debate and any other retailer about whether direct shipping is or is not a bad policy. But we’re not out their vilifying people.

I guarantee you the wholesalers will make these statements by Tom Wark and the other retailers out there about their lack of concern for illegal sales available to every regulator in this country.

They can’t engage in illegal conduct just because they don’t like the way the system is.

WSD: It seems like the SWRA has really stepped up its activity and PR in the last year. Is that because the organization smells success?

TOM: Everyone smells success on the issue of retailer-to-consumer shipping. All one has to do is listen to the arguments that wholesalers advance in opposition to it and you realize that they do too. Direct shipping will increase minors’ consumption of alcohol? Come on. The Supreme Court and the Federal Trade commission as well as nearly every alcohol regulator in America know that’s absurd. Then when you hear wholesalers argue that the Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision only applied to retailers you further realize that there is a certain desperation…eventually it will be made clear that the principles explained in Granholm apply to wineries and retailers alike.

That said, in the last year we’ve stepped up our efforts to educate consumers, retailers, lawmakers and media. That hasn’t been too hard to do when you have states like Illinois passing anti-consumer laws in the face of massive consumer opposition. We will continue to expose the protectionist arguments for what they are, continue educating and continue to stand up for consumers.

CRAIG: Look, welcome to the battle. Their advocacy for direct shipping is just the next in the chain of things we’ve been dealing with all along with direct shipping. We’re happy to have this debate at the state and federal level. But that is where the debates should occur. Not in the courts. And certainly not by condoning illegal conduct. We’re not out to vilify retailers or wineries. We understand they have a different perspective on things. We think they’re incorrect, we think their policies are misguided. But we’re not out to vilify them.

WSD: Tom, since presumably all of your retailers are buying their wine from licensed wholesalers, why do you think wholesalers are so against you?

TOM: Wholesalers don’t have to pick and choose their battles because they are so flush with cash as a result of the protectionist laws that exist everywhere. As a result they play a zero sum game where they oppose even the most benign and reasonable pro-consumer laws. Any effort that in any way alters the state mandated, anti-consumer three tier system is opposed. Think about this: A retailer selling and shipping a bottle of wine to a consumer in another state is exactly the same kind of transaction as a winery selling and shipping a bottle of wine to consumer in another state. Exactly the same. Yet the wholesaler are willing to argue that it is so fundamentally different in some way that it must be stopped. That’s just Fantasyland thinking. But, the wholesalers can AFFORD to think that way and advance that argument because there is no restriction on what they can spend to advance that argument. In the end, as always, the consumer looses to the Fantasyland Faction.

CRAIG: If wholesalers were simply interested in the bottom line, we would be advocating for more direct shipping by retailers. After all, every bottle sold by a retailer ultimately came from a wholesaler. But wholesalers don’t believe in commerce at any cost. And as can be seen from the investigation, the cost to the states is in lost revenue, lack of accountability and open disdain and disregard for their laws.

WSD: It seems like people in the wine industry are mainly bothered by the way went about “tricking” its competition. What bothers you and other SWRA members the most about the situation, Tom?

TOM: I can’t speak for the various members of SWRA. But what bothers me is that says one thing and does another. If really believe what they say they’d be sending e-mails to their customers in every state where retailer-to-consumer shipping is illegal; they’d be cutting checks just like other retailers to support the legal efforts to overturn the laws that prohibit wine lovers from getting the wines they want. They’d not be letting others do the heavy lifting while they play a game of Wine Cop that has no effect on their long term profitability and does not benefit the American wine consumer.

CRAIG: I think it’s wrong for the SWRA to vilify others who are simply pointing out that illegal conduct is occurring and should stop. Tom Wark is supposed to represent legally licensed retailers – and those retailers have an obligation to sell product legally. What kind of message does it send that he is more concerned about his members getting caught than he is about complying with the law?

A new kind of blog post – wine deals!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

I receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 emails/day from various online wine retailers. From to wine Library it is a wonder there is not a professional association for “Addicted wine buyers anonymous” (I would be the “President and also a member”!).

Given sufficient time I will try and go through the various offerings and see if there are any I believe to be standouts, and if there are i will post them. While all these emails advertise the HUGE discount these wines are being offered at versus their typical price, a little additional research reveals that more often than not, this discount represents the price drawing closer to the mean price for said wine. My simple method for determining which offers are in fact standouts involves visiting good old to see what the same wine is selling for at other online retailers. Hope this proves to be valuable to some of you…

Please feel free to drop me a quick note and let me know if you feel this as a valuable service, as that would provide further motivation for keeping up with said posts. I will try and start off with todays best deal shortly… STAY TUNED….

OK…went through a bunch of emails and there was one deal that seemed to stand out.  On you can pick up a Knights Valley Beringer 2000 Cab for $19.67.  BUY HERE.   Saw it selling elsewhere for $25 and being auctioned for starting bids of $20 or $25.  Not necessarily a “no brainer must buy”, but a nice Cali Cab under $20 from a reliable producer…

Have a great weekend.


Wine Australia Festival – wrap up

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Yesterday, January 24th, jet lagged and feeling a bit under the weather, I attended the Wine Australia Festival in NY’s Wall St Cipriani.

I have admitted on several occasions to being an amateur taster (although I wonder what qualifies those who claim to be experts as experts) yet I have also stated often that I believe the most important aspect of wine appreciation is recognizing what wines YOU like and enjoying those, not listening to what the SO CALLED EXPERTS have told you to drink.

Back to the tasting, there were 39 official tables set up, each with at least one producer and about 3-6 different wines, ranging from Whites such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, and Sparkling wines made from Chard or Pinot Noir (or a combo of the two) to the famously fruit forward reds made from Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir & of course Shiraz (AKA Syrah)…just to name a few.

I attended the tasting with a good friend & fellow wine tasting group member – a fellow who happens to be selling wine at a prestigious Manhattan retailer while waiting for the publishers to duke it out over his book. Upon arriving at our first table I announced to said friend that my palate has been evolving and that I have been growing tired of the heavily extracted & rich reds, seeking more elegance, finesse & complexity in wines. While I know this seems quite snobby, and may have been, I am about to make a confession. I MAY have initially made such a proclamation believing that that is what one SHOULD do – progress past the “fruit bombs” and learn to appreciate the more “well made” wines. So what happened – I realized about 2/3 of the way through my tasting that I still do prefer the fruit forward styled wines to the more “elegant wines” (which just seemed to me to possess an absence of fruit). By the same token I did very much enjoy some wines that had obvious fruit but seemed to be in better balance given a lower alcohol level (less than 14%).

By my compatriots calculation we tried about 75 wines each – within 3 hours. This is a feat I believe is difficult enough for the so called experts, let alone little old me with my cold (oncoming flu?). For the first 10-20 wines I tried to diligently take notes. Didn’t work well. Especially when i began to feel the pressure of hitting as many as possible before we were ceremoniously told THE TASTING IS OVER. (The subtle tactic used was “the coat room will be closing in 10 minutes – get your coat now or it will forever become the possession of Cipriani). But I digress. After the first 10-20 wines complete with note taking I reverted to a simple characteristic word (ie. Oaky, fruit bomb, earthy) or adjective (ie. Wow, ehh, hmmm) and number ranging from 1-5 (although I found no 1’s and only one 5).  I must note that the numbers are a personal thing – only to indicate to ME how I felt about the wine.

A quick count of wines tasted by going through the book and noting which wines had some writing alongside, indicating a wine I tasted revealed that I did in fact taste 68 different wines. 14 of the 68 were tasted upstairs in an area designated for VIP’s. How my partner in wine crime and I made it into the VIP area is still somewhat unbeknownst to us. We were tasting wines at the Grant Burge area when the winemaker encouraged us to go check out his “Meshach” Shiraz up in the VIP area. He told us who we should speak to about entrance to said VIP area. What fools we were. Fighting with the ordinary masses to taste sub-$20 wines when the VIP and its $30, $40, $50…even $100 wines were awaiting. Truth be told, after tasting 50+ wines before arriving at the VIP area I was spent by the time I got to the VIP wines.

OK, this has turned in to a very long post with little concrete revelation. So I want to end by recalling something I pointed out to two fellow tasters in the VIP area. I noted that some of the expensive wines I was suddenly privy to taste reminded me A LOT of the other wines I had tasted just minutes earlier that possessed much less inhibiting price tags. BUT…and there was one noticeable BUT. The more expensive (VIP) wines seemed to have a softer mouth feel. Same heavily extracted fruit, high levels of alcohol & noticeable gripping tannins.  Yet either my palate was completely numb by that point or these wines I was now tasting were somehow a little more well rounded, a little more balanced & had softer, smoother& silkier mouth feels to them.

In summary, while I had a great time, drank (or I should say tasted) A LOT of wine, much of it quite enjoyable, I was not blown away. Many of these wines seemed to me to be quite indistinct from one another. Yes I learned that the hotter regions were where more of the richly extracted wines came from. And the cooler regions are where the more minerally/earthy wines came from. But overall, trying to taste through as many as 100-200 wines seems a lesson in futility. Of the 3-400 people of the trade in attendance I wonder how many can truly assess wines in such a setting. And if they could, were there really a handful of standouts???

Have a fabulous weekend fellow wine drinkers. Hope you have a nice special bottle put aside for the weekend. CHEERS!!!


Moderate Drinkers Who Also Exercise Are More Likely to Live Longer

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Got this fabulous headline from a Wine Spectator email.

“A study published Jan. 9 in the European Heart Journal… concluded that moderate consumption of alcohol and moderate exercise are both associated with longer life but, more important, the benefit increases when the two behaviors are combined. ”

Yet another study hailing the health benefits of RESPONSIBLE wine consumption.

Well, I made it back from Israel last night in one piece. What an amazing trip. There is a big Australian wine tasting today in lower Manhattan that i will be heading to. I expect to write a full report either later tonight or tomorrow.

Until then, Happy (and HEALTHY) wine drinking!


What makes a good wine?

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

What makes a wine GOOD?

Is it a high score from a critic?

Is it a technically well made wine (proper balance of tannins, alcohol, acid, fruit, etc.)?

Is it a wine with a nice mouth feel?

OR, is it simply a wine that YOU like?

OBVIOUSLY, this is a loaded question. I think presented with this question in a comparable multiple choice format, 99 out of 100 people would say – well of course it is a wine that YOU like.

But I am raising the question as i wonder if this is a question many winemakers & wine consumers need to really examine.

With regards to consumers, this question is both complicated and straight forward. Complicated in that I don’t think too many people would admit that they buy wine based on price or scores, but it is a sad reality. Wine consumers have SOOO many choices, how does one narrow those choices down? Start by eliminating wines out of your price range (too high) or whose price tags lead you to believe they can not be any good (too low).

You can then narrow it down by deciding between red or white, eliminating wines from countries you might not be interested in (DO NOT eliminate Israeli wines) or whose labels you don’t like (silly but frequently done). Skip wines made from varietals (grapes) you are not interested in (or are out of fashion ie. Merlot), or a host of other reasons that make sense to you. Easy right? Well, you probably still have several thousand wines left to choose from. OK, I’ve gotten a bit carried away, especially since this was not the intended direction of this post. And while any method you choose in picking a wine is right, I’ll simply say that while variety is nice, I would recommend tasting wines and finding ones YOU LIKE. One of the best ways of doing this is attending wine tastings and going to Wine bars to find wines, styles & wine producing countries you like.

As to where I INTENDED to go with this email…the wineries and their respective winemakers.

I completely understand that as idealistic as it would be to have a winemaker who makes wine THEY like as opposed to one they can sell, that winemaker might find them self out of business very quickly. Obviously they have to make a wine they can sell.

OK, then what? Do you make a “Parker Wine” (a wine made in a style known to be preferred by influential wine critic Robert Parker)? Do you make a “Lab Wine” (one whose PH, TA & other technical aspects are all where they “should” be)? Do you make a wine you think you’ll be able to sell? Do you make a wine YOU like? Or do you make a wine you think your peers will like?

This is a question I won’t even attempt to answer. But I raise it having recently read about a winemaker in California who admitted to falling into the Parker trap. He was making a very ripe, heavily extracted, high alcohol wine. And he found himself getting high scores, selling a lot of wine, and shopping a lot for OTHER PEOPLE’S WINES. He has since declared that he is getting back to making wines he can enjoy that are to be lower in alcohol & less ripe. I wish him a lot of success. While I think that his “Anti-conformist” attitude might help to initially garner some loyal customers, in the long run a lower score might hurt overall sales.

I feel like I opened up a big can of smelly worms and am now walking away… I’m sorry – I’m tired and have football on my mind. I know I resolved nothing here. I suppose just some topics to ponder and revisit in future posts. Or maybe I reintroduced something for both consumers & winemakers to think about…and maybe they should each ALSO consider what the other thinks about when either making or purchasing wine.

Have a great week everybody. And drink whatever BLEEPIN wine you want to drink!


Blogging from the Israel Wine World

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to blog about tonight and two controversial issues come to mind, relating to the following two topics:

1 – Internet sales of wine

2 – Wine ratings/reviews

The first, internet sales of wine has come up as there is presently a very exciting project underway to sell Israeli wines online. While I believe that the project will ultimately be successful I have urged my contacts to be realistic in their expectations. It has also come up in the “wine world” of late given a little controversy surrounding and how the CEO has been very vocal in pointing out that there are many retailers illegally shipping wines throughout the US.  This was written about in Wine Spectator in an article “ Conducts Sting Operation Aginst Other Retailers“.  I’ll blog about this further as it becomes more relevant.

Wine ratings & reviews has come up as everyone in Israel has an opinion when it comes to the recent Wine Advocate review of israeli wines. I can probably write a book on this topic just based on conversations I have had the last week here in Israel. BUT, what I want to touch upon is something a bit more controversial (and interesting). It was expected, and realized that many of the wines would receive scores a few points lower than the wineries would have liked – OR, then local wine critics have given. At the same time something UNEXPECTED HAPPENED, there were a few wines that received scores higher than people here are used to seeing from the specific winery. How could such a thing happen??? Lower scores, OK – it was expected. But higher scores????

N O, accusations were not made. BUT, it was pointed out that there are WAYS of “tricking” wine critics. Especially when the critic is not familiar with the wine AND/OR the wine is not available in the market where the critic resides (so they can’t simply go to the store and buy a bottle). One such method can be perpetrated when the winery, during the barrel aging process, discovers that one barrel is responding particularly well to a given wine. Rather then blending that barrel in with the rest of the batch, the barrel might be bottled separately, and those bottles might be put aside for personal use AND WINE REVIEWS.

Again, there were no accusations & knowing many of the winemakers & wineries I do not believe that this took place. I am simply blogging about something which COULD take place and that is much more interesting than telling you about how great the winemakers are, how beautiful the country is, and how darn COLD it has been here since I arrived.

OK, enough controversy stirring for me for one night. Have a fabulous weekend wine drinkers of the world. I will be enjoying lots of Israeli wine this weekend with all kinds of special friends. I suggest you do the same!!!