What happens when a reviewer tastes a good bottle, but some consumers buy what appears to be a completely different product? Think it couldn’t happen? Guess again and behold the saga of Sierra Carche 2005.
Last fall, Wine Library, the Springfield, New Jersey wine retailer, sent out an email offering for a wine that seemed to be the wine lover’s dream: a fantastic quality-to-price ratio. The wine on offer was the Sierra Carche 2005, a blend of Monastrell with Petit Verdot and Malbec from the off-the beaten path Spanish region of Jumilla. Jay Miller, a critic at the Wine Advocate, described it as “Inky purple, the wine offers an array of scents which jump from the glass… structured wine with gobs of flavor, terrific intensity… It will provide pleasure through 2025.” He awarded it 96 points. The suggested retail price was $40; Wine Library was offering it for $29.99. Robert Kenney, a New Jersey wine consumer, was so enthusiastic upon seeing the email that he ordered several six packs.
But Kenney’s euphoria turned sour as soon as he pulled a cork. He later wrote on the forums at erobertparker.com that “I have consumed 6 bottles already, praying that with each popped cork, a different genie will emerge…so far, no such luck…slapping 80 points on those bottles is generous.”
Kenney describes himself as an “unabashed fan of DrBigJ,” as Miller is known. But Kenney was so disappointed with the wine that he corresponded with Miller and FedExed Miller one of his bottles last fall for him to taste and “see if indeed it was indicative of the wine that he had tasted and scored highly.” Kenney wrote last week that “During a ten month period I had exchanged seven emails with DrBigJ, reminding/imploring him to taste the sent bottle…to no avail.”
Then a consumer in Pittsburgh, Bob Hudak, posted that he had found the wine for $38 at the PLCB, the state-run store in Pennsylvania. On July 5, Hudak wrote of his experience, “Considering that it was a Dr Big Jay 96 pointer in the WA, I figured I buy 6 bottles. I opened my first one this weekend. Big mistake. The wine had virtually no aroma at all. You couldn’t smell a darn thing. With time and air, some stinky aromas that were off-putting became noticeable.”
Kenney chimed in on the thread as did several other consumers with their negative experiences with the wine. (The wine’s scores on cellartracker.com were not all bad although several reviewers took the time to note flawed bottles and one gave it a 74 but the modal score was around 90.)
On July 14, Miller posted to the forum that he finally opened the bottle Kenney had sent him and declared it “undrinkable.” Miller contacted the importer of the wine, Mark Clinard of Well Oiled Wine Co., who replied, “We have had similar problems with this wine and had a meeting in March with the winery to find out what the problem is. There was clearly some substandard product shipped by the winery and we have had to take back a large chunk of this wine from the market because it was rejected by the trade. I apologize on behalf of the winery for this apparent bait and switch. Going forward we are searching for a different winery for this brand.” He posted his cell phone number and asked that those consumers with problems contact him.
Brandon Warnke, Vice President of Operations at Wine Library, posted that anyone who bought the wine through the store could return it to them for a full refund.
Jay Miller then wrote: “this is about the worst thing that can happen to a critic, to be tasted on a fraudulent wine, publish a note, and then have readers spend their good money on a fairly pricey wine only to find out that it’s plonk or worse. Its reminiscent of the furor over Las Rocas a few years ago that nearly killed that brand. It’s a bad situation all around.” Read more…
One of my friends told me that he recently was looking to get three bottles of one Chateauneuf du Pape. He found it online for $47.99 at a store in New Jersey, coincidentally, near where his mother lives. So he called the store and asked them to hold three bottles for his mom to pick up. But when confirming the transaction, the clerk told him that the wine was $58 a bottle.
My friend replied that it was actually $48 on their web site. The clerk said that was a web-only price and the price via phone and in-store was actually $57.99.
So he hung up and placed the order on the web for in-store pick-up. Read more…
Size of store: 320 sq feet, possibly the smallest in Manhattan [66 West Broadway; Tribeca]
Style of selections: well-edited! My version of the well-stocked wine closet: including daily essentials, quirky finds, and higher end treasures. Selection skews toward the Southern Hemisphere.
price average: 50% of stock is $20 or less
A cool bottle: “Syrocco” Syrah 2006 (Zenata, Morocco) – eye-rolling aside at the clever, rhyming name, the wine is a great value at $16.99. Alain Graillot of Northern Rhone fame is the man behind this project.
Date store opened: December 14th, 2007
Position on proposed reform to allow food stores to sell wine: There’s a Whole Foods around the corner, so the possibility that this will pass, combined with the current economic environment does worry me. Prior to opening my wine store, I ran the national business for several wine brands, so I understand that independent wine/liquor stores can co-exist with large, corporate grocery chains that also sell wine. However, given the current economic environment, this is probably not the best time to test the entrepreneurial spirit of the existing independent retail base to adjust to a drastically changed regulatory landscape. What I find interesting about this proposal is that the benefit (or possible lack of benefit) to the consumer barely enters into the discussion. The proposal was issued as a way to raise state funding, and as such, I think the financials need to be given real, detailed scrutiny.
I’ve seen top-line numbers from both sides, but the devil is in the details – and the only detail I have seen is the written testimony submitted by Whole Foods on 11/30/07 in preparation for last year’s budget (found herein pdf). I hope that unlike the scenario in that document, the State’s calculations take the negative consequences of existing store closures into account. I hope that “700 full-time-equivalent jobs” are enough to off-set the jobs lost due to those closings. And I hope that if passed, the actual franchise fee per location isn’t actually 10% – 0.2% of location sales for small stores ($500K or less per year) and only 0.05% – 0.06% of sales for the largest stores.
My suspicion, although I welcome hard numbers that firmly indicate otherwise, is that this plan will transfer wine sales from small, local retailers to large, corporate chain grocery stores at the time when these retailers have the least chance of success to successfully adjust their business models.
What you might do differently if passed : I already focus on smaller, boutique brands and offer a very high level of service. Ideally, the legislation would allow me to sell high-end beer and a small selection of gourmet goods – without turning myself into a full-on grocery If a grocery store gets to tag wine onto their existing business model, I should think I should have the opportunity to tag beer and cheese onto mine.
And if grocery stores are now allowed to sell wine in multiple locations under the same corporate license, shouldn’t wine stores be given the same ability to gain scale and compete? I’d love to see Frankly Wines logos in locations across the city….I bet I can pick up some old Starbucks leases on the cheap…if only I could find the funding.
Buying crudité and rosé at the same time might help New York solve its budgetary woes. Or so Governor Paterson thinks.
That’s why he has proposed to allow food stores to sell wine, a subject we discussed the day the idea was floated. To recap the budgetary logic, he proposed to more than double the excise tax on wine and increase the points of sale beyond the 2,400 wine and liquor stores in the state and allow the 19,000 grocery stores to sell wine. The Governor’s office estimates that it will bring in an additional $150 million over three years, presumably from new store license fees and excise taxes rather than an increase in overall purchases. The deficit for next year alone is forecast to be $15 billion.
Shortly after I moved to New York State from Chicago four years ago, I was looking for a supermarket wine for a story and wondered where you found “supermarket wine” in New York. The answer is epitomized in this store I saw the other day, which we can call “Wines & Liqu” since that’s the only part of the neon sign that was illuminated. It’s these stores, uninspiring package stores, that don’t much invest in human capital and stock high-volume brands that will be most threatened by the impending change.
But alongside the Wines & Liqu stores are thriving boutiques that is probably the best concentration of wine stores in the universe. Read more…
“Rampant price discounting in the wine industry means 2009 will be party time for wine drinkers while winemakers will be left with the hangover.”
Low prices! Party time! Love it! Oh, wait, that quote actually came from New Zealand’s stuff.co.nz and was referring to a “massive harvests” in Australia and New Zealand.
Here in the US, it may be a different story. Restaurants, many of which have seen a sharp decline in their business, seem to be doing a lot to attract diners, as Frank Bruni detailed on Wednesday in the Times. This includes cutting wine prices, which in many cases, certainly had plenty of room to come down. To the tape: “Wine discounts, waived corkage fees or wine lists showcasing less expensive bottles can be found in Midtown at Alto and the Modern, where bottles under $50 appear in the Bar Room as “wines for our times”; in TriBeCa at Capsouto Frères; and in Greenwich Village at Perry St., owned by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.”
A story in Wednesday’s LA Times suggests that New Zealand’s party time may even have arrived on the West Coast. Patrick Comiskey writes that there’s a “mini-boom for wine lovers” and describes “a buyer’s market for retailers and consumers alike.” But much of what the article describes sounds like smaller retailers stocking more wines at lower price points although some larger stores are using their heft to extract deals from wholesalers “whose warehouses are full of inventory accumulated in better days and who are striking deals to move it out.”
Here in New York, it doesn’t seem like “party time” has made it to stores. Sure, there are a few across-the-board sales in January and February, such as Moore Brothers 10% off everything and Crush Wine & Spirits 25% of whites one week and then reds. But these types of sales happen after the holiday binge every year, the same as case discounts at some retailers. Some stores seem to be offering more selective sales either through a store card or special clearance items. And there’s a stream of emails announcing one or two selections–sometimes more–of fine wine that have become available, perhaps from a distributor, perhaps from a collector. But to get the most for your wine dollar, it seems you have to be opportunistic and well informed and discounting is far from “rampant.”
What’s happening near you? Is it deal or no deal? And if you live outside the US, be sure to share your thoughts too.
“I used to say that the shop was 400 square feet,” Christy Frank told me when I visited her in her downtown wine shop, Frankly Wines, last week. “But it’s actually closer to 350.”
The diminutive shop at 66 West Broadway has a selection that skews toward wines from the Southern Hemisphere and wines under $20. But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the shop is what might well be the world’s largest cork board made entirely from corks pulled from wine bottles.
Christy says that the covered portion of the wall, approximately six feet by eight feet, has about 15,000 corks affixed with wood glue. It took a total of 30 hours of labor to adhere them all. The original inspiration was to tastefully cover a fusebox but it grew to cover the whole wall.
The amount of corks that she actually pulled herself is a relatively small, she told me gesticulating at a small corner of the space. Instead the bulk of the corks came from purchases on eBay where she said there is a thriving market for corks.
Christy says that kids love the tactile nature of the wall and some have written their initials on the corks. Take that Facebook: people can write on Christy’s real wall.
Cara, who runs the green room (or whatever that waiting room is called) for Fox Business, asked me a great wine question when I was on the station in December. Instead of asking me for a specific wine that she might or might not be able to actually find, she asked me for on how to get the most out of wine. Nice! Context! You know I love that.
So I asked her whether she meant actually consuming wine or finding wine. She said both. So here’s what I said:
1. Spend a little extra on good stemware! You don’t have to break the bank since, undoubtedly, the glasses themselves will break at some point. But they can elevate modest wines and do fine wines the appropriate justice. Ravescroft has some good crystal stems starting at $10. And our house staple, as I’ve written before, is the Tritan Forte, which is “impact resistant” thanks to titanium infused in the lead-free crystal.
2. Find a good independent wine shop! You can read all you want about great sounding wines on blogs or in the paper but unless you can actually try the wines, your fun is severely limited. Work with an articulate member of the staff to find wines that you like.
You can read more about these suggestions–and more!–in my new book A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairing, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season. If Cara asked you for your top two general wine tips, what would you tell her?
Also, the first segment I did on Fox Business over the holidays has just unearthed from the great video vault somewhere (although the poor audio and video quality makes it look like I was in a witness relocation program). “Enjoy!”
On a trip this past summer, my family and I got stranded in Chicago overnight because of airline delays. We called a friend who was able to take us in when the airline would not; she put us up even though the delay was entirely their fault (canceled flight). So we decided to make dinner for our friend and I was dispatched to the nearest shopping center where I knew I would get the food at Trader Joe’s. But what about the wine?
Somewhat surprisingly for a suburb with $96,552 median household income, there didn’t appear to be an independent wine shop for miles. But Trader Joe’s sells wine in Illinois stores. And there was another choice: Wine Styles, a franchise wine store wedged in between a karate space and a day spa. I went to both to see what I could find. Read more…