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January 31, 2018
 
Back in 2010 we joined the Wall Street Journal wine club and were pretty underwhelmed with the experience.... so, when I saw this cover wrap on November's Food & Wine Magazine, I had to find out if their $5 wine was really better than most $50 wines.

We Join Another Wine Club
Where All That Bulk Juice Goes....
I received my three $5 wines in December and my first six club selections in January for $95.17. 

It looks like a fresh take on the wine club idea where, based on your reviews, they tailor each shipment to match your taste.   Here is how they explain it....

"Our experts explore the world looking for new and exciting wines from new and exciting places. Then they buy direct to cut out the middle-man, and bring the savings back to you. After drinking the wine, you rate it on the site so that our experts can update each order to your palate. That's why we say that Firstleaf gets better with every box."

I began by doing some research.  Firstleaf wine club is owned by a company out of New York City called Penrose Hill whose website says that they were founded it 2015 and actually call themselves a winery.  

"As an independent winery, we eliminate the middleman to give our customers exclusive access to small-batch wines for less and deliver higher margins to our partners."

And, it appears that they are.   In spite of the fact that each wine has an attractive label and a winery name implying that it comes from an existing winery, the wines....
  • All appear to be bottled in the same brand of bottle
  • All appear to be corked with the same corks
  • Were all bottled in Healdsburg California, each by a different entity with only one matching the winery name on the bottle.
  • The three French whites were also bottled in Healdsburg meaning that the juice was shipped here in bulk from France.
  • We have to assume were all bottled in the same facility which is why Penrose Hill calls itself a winery. 
Usually when you Google a specific wine you get hundreds of review sites and hundreds of places to buy it.  Not here... not one of the nine wineries had a website or a physical address that we could locate.  None of the wines could be found for sale at retail with the exception of one that we found at a liquor store in Connecticut. And, we could not find a single review by a major wine publication.  

So, how were the wines? 
    Each wine came with a glossy, full color 6" x 9"  description card with background on the wine and "Winery,"  food pairings and details on the wine like the grape varietal, growing region, vintage and suggested retail price.  The quality of the marketing material was excellent, I wish I could say that for the wines....   Here is a sampling of what we thought.

    Of the nine wines the whites showed the best.  This French white showed the best of the four whites.... And while the winery seemingly does not exist, the winemaker they credit with the wine does.  He owns a winery called Maison Idiart in the Loire Valley, a long way from Bergerac....
    Chromatrope Bergerac Blanc 2016 Bergerac, France
    Under "varietal" on the card  it is only described as Bergerac Blanc so we really don't know what was in the bottle but is pretty peasant.  With tropical nose and a viscous palate filled with apricot and stone fruit, it has balanced acidity and pronounced sweet edge to the finish.

    The second French white was less pleasant.  Again no trace of the winery on the internet....
    Decollete Pinot Gris Viognier 2016 Languedoc, France
    This blend could only be described as drinkable, hollow and vapid, but drinkable with plenty of residual sugar.

    The only domestic white was a Chardonnay that was called "Our members favorite 91 point Chardonnay,"  they just don't tell you who scored it. And, while we could not find anything about a Lost Dog winery, they do credit Joe Otos as the winemaker.  He is also the winemaker for Willowbrook Cellars who make their wines in Healdsburg....
     Lost Dog Lane Chardonnay 2016 California
    This wine has a floral nose and a thin palate that leads with its acids before the openly sweet fruit kicks in. 

    While none of the five California reds were anything I would choose with dinner the Astrae Mars Red was the best of the reds. And, while the winery does not seem to exist at least they tell you what's in the bottle.  The card says that the varietal is "red blend" but the bottle tells you it is made from Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Petit Sirah.  
    Astrae Mars Red 2016 Lodi, California
    The blackberry, black raspberry fruit is a little thin and but it's certainly there displaying notes of licorice, a pronounced sweetness and no tannic structure. 

    The Hawthorn Grove Merlot was a puzzler....the information card touted  Hawthorne Grove as "The Monterey County Winery of the Year"  yet why would the winery of the year not have a web site or a physical address in Monterey County?
    Hawthorn Grove Merlot 2013 California
    Looks like Pinot Noir, thin and hollow with plenty of residual sugar.

    Again, no record of the winery actually existing anywhere.  Mat dubbed this red "Franken Wine"  and speculated about how much Mega Purple they had used to make it drinkable....
    Sunscript Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Lodi, California
    I can only describe this wine as appallingly bad, thin, woody, stemmy yet sweet on the finish.

    I won't go on to describe the other three wines, I am sure you get the idea.  While there is nothing illegal about this kind of deceptive branding, I think it damages the entire wine industry.  This is an industry that prides itself on the art, craft and traditions of winemaking.  Businesses like this only serve to deceive the public and diminish the image of fine winemaking.    

     

    The Recipe Exchange
     
    Our food department buyer Stacy adapted this recipe from the Half-Baked Harvest food blog... 

    Sheet Pan Cuban Chicken With Citrus Avocado Salsa
    Serves 4
     
     
    Ingredients
    1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
    1/4 cup fresh chopped oregano
    1 teaspoon cumin
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    2 tablespoons orange zest + orange juice
    zest + juice of 1 lime
    kosher salt and pepper
    1 sweet onion, sliced
    2 russet potatoes, cut into wedges
    1 bell pepper sliced
    1 small orange, sliced

    Citrus Avocado Salsa

    1 avocado, diced
    1 orange, diced
    1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
    1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
    juice from 1 lime
    pinch of flaky sea salt

    Instructions
    • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
    • On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the chicken, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic, oregano, cumin, cayenne, orange juice + zest, lime juice + zest, and a large pinch each of salt and pepper. Toss well to evenly coat the chicken. Add the onions, potatoes, and bell peppers, and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Arrange everything in an even layer. Add the orange slices and then transfer to the oven. Roast for 40-45 minutes, tossing halfway through cooking until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes golden.
    • Meanwhile, make the salsa. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.
    • To serve, top the chicken with the salsa. Eat!
     

    Wine Guy Reviews
    This world-class wine almost over achieves in its effort to one-up big Napa Valley Cabernets....
    Ethos Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Columbia Valley, Washington $46

    What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Advocate 93 Points
    .Aged in 53% new French and American oak, this full-bodied, rich, unctuously textured and concentrated Cabernet is loaded with notions of currants, blueberries, smoked herbs, and licorice. Possessing low acidity, a plump, sexy profile and no hard edges, it can be enjoyed 2016-2026. —J.D.

    What We Thought:
    Aromas of cedar and cassis frame the nose of this thick, full-bodied Washington Cabernet filled with ultra-ripe blackberry fruit, oaky vanilla and notes of dark chocolate supported by supple well-integrated tannins.  
     
    This is a very nice, very affordable alternative to Napa Valley Cabernet....
    Wente Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Livermore Valley, California $23
    What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Enthusiast 91 Points

    This bold and full-bodied wine has vivid smoke and spice aromas, with rich blackberry and espresso flavors. A healthy wrapping of tannins add an appetizing bite and a lingering, lightly spicy finish. Overall, the tasty oak nuances are well blended with the ripe fruit. —J.G.

    What We Thought: This robust, full-bodied Cabernet has a palate filled with ripe blackberry and black raspberry along with notes of dark chocolate and coffee with soft tannins that keep it smooth right through the finish.   
     

    New Arrivals

    This 95 Point Top 100 Tuscan Bordeaux blend is a steal at only $50 bucks!  12 six packs now, more om the way (I hope)....

    Mazzei Tenuta Belguardo 2013 Tuscany, Italy $60

    We Bought a Bunch $49.99
    What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Spectator 95 Points

    A red of great purity and polish, offering black cherry, blackberry, spice and herb flavors, this evokes tobacco, graphite and leather nuances as it builds nicely on the palate. Finishes with grip, harmony and complexity, as well as terrific length. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Drink now through 2028. Top 100 Wines of 2017, #23. –BS

    What We Thought: This inky dark monster tastes more like Napa than Tuscany.   Cedar and and cassis and some floral notes of violets combine on the nose while the palate is dominated by blackberry, a little leather, licorice and dark chocolate with firm tannins that should support it for the next 15 years.....

    Pick Of The Week
     
    An Old Friend Returns!
    Decanter Magazine 92 Points
    $12.99!

    This well-balanced wine has always been one of our most popular Chardonnays.....
    Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2016 Livermore Valley, California $16
    We Bought a Bunch $12.99
    What the Wine Critics Thought: Decanter Magazine 92 Points
    The nose exudes peach skin and musk tones whilst the palate gives fresh melon and fig flavours. There is a distinct minerality here on top of under-ripe pineapple and vanilla cream. Drink 2017-2020.

    What We Thought: This lightly oaked, well-balanced Chardonnay has a very tropical nose and a smooth, lightly viscous palate  that displays flavors of apple and ripe pear along with enough acid to keep the finish bright.
     
    To order just use "reply to sender" to return this form or just give me a call. And, be sure to let us know at which store you would prefer to pick it up.

    As always, the Wine Guy Guarantee applies.  If you buy a case of wine and don't like it, just return the other bottles for an exchange or refund. 

    The case discount is 10%. Case discounts do not apply to items with .99 sale price endings. However, sale wines do combine with other wines to make non sale wines eligible for case discounts.



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    Issue 935 Vol. 19 No.
    5
    January 31, 2018
     
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