Tag Archives: Total Wine

Can You Trust a Wine Recommendation?

Everyone tastes wine differently. Although, I think it is important to note from where the recommendation is coming. A friend you drink with frequently and know what they enjoy? Sure. An attendant at a wine store? Not so much…

So, maybe you can trust friends, or family to make a reasonable recommendation, but can you trust your wine retailer? I attended a wine tasting hosted by Total Wine this evening and was so dumbfounded by the event, it seemed important to write about. See the brochure for the event below. Perhaps you have attended something similar at the Total Wine near you?

Wine Re-Sellers

A new store manager introduced herself and it seemed the intent of the event was to meet some of her higher volume customers. I purchase enough wine and spirits from the Total Wine near me to have earned a membership in the top tier of their Total Discovery club. This was a free event for a select group.

I have never tasted such a poor selection geared toward wine enthusiasts in one place. What kind of impression was the new manager trying to make? Either, she was never trained to select quality wines, or this event was used as an opportunity to push a bunch of awful wine with higher profit margins. Either way, a sad proposition. The previous manager at least included a few better wines in every event and made it worth attending. This was outright torture. I happen to overhear a customer asking how she could dislike so many of the wines and the attendant responded something like this: “These wines might not appeal to everyone. You should stretch your thinking to include other wine styles.” Oh my gosh, she was pulling the shame card. As if the poor, unsophisticated know-nothing wine drinker could just open their mind… and appreciate other “important” wine styles. The assumption is suggested that we are totally incapable of judging impartially what a “good” wine is. While this approach was nearly insulting, the idea is one I have used before in discussions with wine enthusiasts. That is… if the wines are actually selected to represent good examples of their region of origin. In this case, it was used as an excuse.

So, how does the average consumer investigate and select wines to purchase? Too often, you are stuck depending on recommendations from wine attendants that share a supposedly educated opinion regarding the quality of available wine carried in their inventory. So, what if these attendants are self-serving and recommend wines that they are told to promote? Perhaps at a higher profit? This is a clear betrayal of trust. This night, I heard memorized talking points taken from marketing pieces with very little relevance to the actual product. Do any of these wine educated people have a personal opinion?

The Wines

  •  Mailly – NV Champagne Grand Cru Delice
  • Albrecht – 2015 Pinot Gris
  • Amici – 2015 Chardonnay
  • Ceja – 2009 Pinot Noir
  • Ringland – 2014 Shiraz Barossa Valley
  • H to H – 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape
  • Truett Hurst – 2015 One Armed Man
  • Titus – 2014 Cabernet Suavignon Napa Valley

Wine Tasting Notes and Comments

Mailly – I have never tasted a Mailly Champagne I liked. This producer threw the time-honored Champagne flavor profiles out the window to make what they must think us crazy Americans will buy! Champagne should be clean and crisp and the bubbles should dance on your tongue. This was their Demi-Sec (slightly sweet) variety. The wine was thick and rich and cloyingly sweet. It had a strong bitter aftertaste. The typical yeasty smell of some champagnes was on the nose, but on the palate it seemed to add a buttery character to the wine. Save your money and buy some Mumm Cuvee instead, or spend a little extra to buy a Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee.

Albrecht – What happened to Albrecht Pinot Gris? My memory of their wines puts them in the same category as Trimbach for quality. Maybe it was this vintage? This was tasteless with no aroma. For a similar price, try a Trimbach PG instead.

Amici – This is a totally manipulated Chardonnay, with too much oak. There was a strong bitter flavor that often comes from a malolactic fermentation that did not go as planned. This is rich and buttery, but the fruit is not fresh and it should have had more acidity. Way down on my list. For less money, try the Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and experience a proper entry level oaked Chardonnay.

Ceja – The first reasonable quality wine of the night. This offered a fairly average representation of a typical Carneros Pinot Noir. I am not a big fan of all that fresh red cherry in these wines, but at least this one was pretty typical. Try Schug, or Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir instead for something a little more interesting at about the same price.

Ringland – Ugh, sweet medicinal cough syrup. ’nuff said.

H to H – The second of the two reasonable wines. This is a fair representation of a Chateauneuf du Pape and at this price point: a good effort. It misses the jammy fruit, tannins and acidic structure you would expect. On the other hand, it IS hard to find a good CDP for less than $40/btl.

Truett Hurst – We were told this wine was better than “The Prisoner” and once tasted, you will never go back. This “One Armed Man” tasted like it really needed the other arm. The wine tasted mostly like a cheap Paso or Lodi Zinfandel. The Prisoner blend doesn’t hit you in the face with the Zin and other varietals are added to bring tannins and acidity to the party. For a few dollars more, find The Prisoner on sale and enjoy.

Titus – I am not sure I can even put this in the average Napa cab category. This is over-oaked and manipulated to add a soft, smooth texture at the expense of the freshness of the fruit. A young Napa cab should have fresh fruit, high acidity and tannins. This wine was short on all the character that makes a Napa cab special. For near the same price, try the Baldacci Four Brothers Cab Sauv and taste what a Napa wine should be at this price.

What Can You Do?

Here is a simple suggestion: read the back of the bottle, or do a quick internet search at the winery website first… then ask the attendant their opinion. If what you are told is the same, run away as far and as fast as you can AND be suspicious if this bottle just happens to be their favorite. Try other shops/stores and look for someone who will give you their actual opinion. If it varies from what is printed on the bottle, you are in luck! Then, hopefully you get a follow-up question similar to: what do you like?, or what other wines do you already buy? There’s your evidence of a keeper, a wine attendant you can trust!

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Filed under Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Chappellet Vineyards and Sonoma Loeb Tasting Streamed to 45 Total Wine Stores

Chappellet Live! A Virtual Tasting from Napa Valley’s Pritchard Hill

Saturday, April 19, 2014
Tempe, AZ

Featured Wines:
Sonoma Loeb Chardonnay Reserve – $29.99
Sonoma Loeb Chardonnay Envoy – $39.99
Sonoma Loeb Sonoma Pinot Noir – $24.99
Sonoma Loeb Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Reserve – $39.99
Chappellet Napa Chardonnay – $34.99
Chappellet Cervantes Mountain Cuvee – $34.99
Chappellet Napa Signature Cabernet – $49.99
2008 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet – $119.99

WINE EVENT INTRODUCTION

Fabulous idea! This is a great way for a medium size winery (under 40K cases?) to reach a broad audience. Technology provides opportunities, if we know how to leverage it. Unfortunately, the technology had its challenges. The audio had a terrible echo, which could have been eliminated by muting all the sites other than the point of origin. The message was a bit scattered, but the mother of the host family was awesome! She was interesting enough to host her own wine talk show… all in all, for a first effort at internet marketing – a gallant one, and they will get better over time. Keep it up guys! Good Luck!

WINE FLIGHT #1 – WHITE WINES (3 NOTES)

I liked the lower cost Sonoma Loeb on its own, but the Chappellet chard would be best accompanying food.

  • 2012 Chappellet Vineyard Chardonnay

USA, California, Napa Valley

This was a VERY traditional Napa style chardonnay specifically made for accompanying food. The color was a very pale straw and extremely clear. The nose was very weak, but bright, with notes of grapefruit, lemon curd and oak. The palate was a touch sweet, light-bodied with very high acidity. The flavors on the palate matched the nose with a short finish. This is not an easy drinking aperitif. It would be much better with a nice seafood, or pork dish.

  • 2012 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Private Reserve Carneros

USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros

This is an attempt at a classic Burgundian oaked chardonnay. Very weak nose, showing nail polish initially, then aromas of lemon curd, vanilla and oak. Medium bodied and very dry with high acidity. Palate was soft, but had a minimum of depth to the flavors. I sort of enjoyed this for an easy drinking chard at a wine bar kind of beverage. It resides somewhere between a food wine and an aperitif. Over-priced at $30/btl, but decent enough.

  • 2011 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Envoy

USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Russian River Valley

The winemaker tried so hard here, but missed the mark. I guess if you were looking for a Rombauer chard you might find this appealing, but they do over-the-top chards much better. Big nose of lemon curd, butterscotch and pineapple with a strong presence of oak. There is some minerality, but it does not come through to the palate. The wine coats the mouth with rich textures. The palate simply brings the nose through with no mid-palate and there is a medium finish of pineapple. Only medium acidity… so food pairing options would be limited. There is too much oak and the freshness is lost because of it. I didn’t care for this wine.

WINE FLIGHT #2 – RED WINES (5 NOTES)

Regarding the Pinot Noir, the lower priced Sonoma Loeb again was superior to the higher-priced wine. Of Cab Sauv and blends, the Pritchard Hill Cab stood out by far as superior, but at $120/btl… my goodness!

  • 2011 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

USA, California, Sonoma County

The nose is full of cherry cough syrup, browned butter, oak and medicinal overtones. High acidity and medium tannins provide a fair amount of structure. The texture is very light. The palate is full of red cherry and oak. It also has a smokey flavor with a light spice character. This is too fruity and the oak is not integrated. There is enough structure and complexity present to elevate it a bit.

  • 2012 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley

A strong oak character. The nose is full of sweet red cherry, butter and oak. The acidity is very high with low tannins. Not very well balanced. The texture is very light. This could have been very good with more freshness to the fruit. On its own, the acidity bites… but paired with the right foods, this wine would be awesome. The flavor profile is a bit simple.

  • 2011 Chappellet Vineyard Cervantes Mountain Cuvee

USA, California, Napa Valley

Powerful nose of alcohol that did not blow off dominates. This is a light bodied wine, with high acidity and high tannins. Good structure with reasonable balance. The palate is fruit forward with sweet cherry and black raspberry moving to a mid-palate of bitter dark chocolate and a long slightly bitter finish with earthy undertones. This would be a very good table wine, pairing well with richer food dishes, but I would expect it to cost under $30/btl.

  • 2011 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Reserve

USA, California, Napa Valley

Very dark extracted looking wine with an intense nose of alcohol, plum and blackberry. High acidity and high tannins – very young. This has a light mouth-feel, offering more of a food wine approach. The palate is fruit forward with sweet plum, blackberry and white pepper. The fruit is very concentrated. The mid-palate brings in oak and toffee and then finishes with vanilla. A middle of the road Napa cab.

  • 2008 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard

USA, California, Napa Valley

A beautiful wine. The nose is full of rich black plum with a pretty floral character, moving to menthol and alcohol. High acidity and high tannins with a nice mouth-feel. The palate is fruit forward with extracted plum and blackberry with a mid-palate of tobacco, tar, oak and vanilla. The finish is long with a mildly bitter dark chocolate flavor. This wine is balanced and has good structure, but it is still young and would benefit from another 3-5 years in the bottle.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes