Cameron Hughes Lot 321 2010 California Field Blend

Cameron Hughes Lot 321Price: $10
Maker: Cameron Hughes Winery, Geyserville, California
Variety: Red Blend
Packaging: 750ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Cameron Hughes Lot 321 2010 California Field Blend is a really, really nice wine for a mere ten bucks. It’s a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Carignane. Its aroma includes berries and licorice. The Zin is the predominant grape, and on the palate the first impression is lots of fruit – blueberries and raspberries. But then, the flavor expands into a rich complexity, with chocolate and chewy tannins. If you like complex Zins that exhibit good fruit without being simple and too sweet, you’ll like Lot 321.

I found this one at Sam’s Club. Like all of Cameron Hughes numbered lots, when this wine is gone, it’s gone. They claim to offer ultra-premium wine at real world prices, and Lot 321 is a good example. Apparently, for at least part of their supply, they buy excess juice from top wineries and turn them into affordable wines. Their site: Cameron Hughes Winery.

Cameron Hughes Lot 321 2010 California Field Blend is a great buy. I’ll be heading back to Sam’s to pick up at least half a case. It’s a couple of bucks more than Cameron Hughes Lot 250 Meritage 2009, also an excellent and inexpensive red blend, but I actually prefer this wine for sipping on its own.

Cameron Hughes Lot 321 2010 California Field Blend posted at Box Wines

Amazon & Online Wine Sales

Reports today suggest that Amazon is targeting the wine market as ripe for picking. According to the Wall Street Journal, the ecommerce giant held a workshop earlier this week that was attended by 100 wineries.

As we’ve discussed here in the past, a patchwork of laws in the 50 states has made online sales more difficult for wine than other products. If anyone can sort out the logistics of state law compliance and delivering a perishable product, though, it’s Amazon. It will be interesting to see how effectively Amazon can compete with the variety of local merchants, ranging from outlets like Sam’s Club and Costco to supermarkets (some with major wine sections) and specialized wine shops.

Amazon & Online Wine Sales posted at Box Wines

Stackable, Prefilled Wine Glasses

Stacked Wines MerlotWine merchants are always trying to come up with novel and convenient packages, and Stacked Wines has done just that: a 187ml container that is shaped like a stemless wine glass. The containers stack securely, and four of them are equivalent to a standard 750 ml bottle of wine. That’s a slightly larger pour than you’d get at your local restaurant, but I suspect they’ll get few complaints.

Stacked describes their container, dubbed Vinoware:

STACKED’s exclusive Vinoware container was designed by engineers to offer the look and feel of a wine glass. Vinoware is made with a high-quality plastic that is shatterproof and lightweight, while also protecting wine from oxidation and spoilage. With STACKED’s Vinoware, every glass is sure to be fresh!

This seems like a great idea, if the wine is drinkable. There are lots of single-pour bottles available, usually inexpensive wines sold in four-packs, but one still has to have a wine glass. That’s fine for home, but not so convenient for picnics or the beach.

Somewhat similar products have been created before, though in a different form factor. Five years ago we wrote about “instant wine glasses” in the UK.

Stacked describes their wines in glowing terms… The Merlot, they say, has “just enough complexity,” ” tasty fruit flavors like red plum, red raspberry and cherry,” “a soft cedar and tobacco note,” and “a mellow tannic structure.” Not bad for a plastic cup of wine. We haven’t found this product in stores yet, and Texas is one of the few states their online distributor doesn’t serve. If anyone tries this, please post a comment and let us know how it is!

Stackable, Prefilled Wine Glasses posted at Box Wines

Vendi Pinot Grigio 2009

Price: $6
Maker: CL Dolo, Italy
Variety: Pinot Grigio
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 12%
Our Rating: 8.2 out of 10

Vendi Pinot Grigio 2009 Delle Venezie isn’t typical of the varietal. It’s pale straw color doesn’t lead you to expect an overwhelmingly fruity taste. Its flavors are pear and tropical fruit, and this wine is far less dry than most Pinot Grigios. Light acidity clears the palate, preventing it from being overly cloying.

This is a great wine for those who prefer a fruity, not very dry wine, but who don’t want a truly sweet wine. It could be a good compromise white wine for a gathering of wine newbies and those with more demanding tastes.

I wasn’t able to track down anything about the winery, though it is labeled as a Venetian wine imported by Joseph Victori Wines. Nobody has blogged about the wine, either.

Although not your typical Pinot Grigio, this wine is pleasant enough. If you can find Vendi Pinot Grigio 2009, consider it a very inexpensive brunch wine or accompaniment to fruit.

Vendi Pinot Grigio 2009 posted at Box Wines

Barefoot Zinfandel (Update)

barefoot zinfandelPrice: $5
Maker: Barefoot Cellars, Modesto, California
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

It’s been five years since we looked at Barefoot Zinfandel (non-vintage), and it’s good to know that not much has changed with this very inexpensive wine. In fact, although it’s nominally a $10 wine, we scored this bottle for a mere $5. (The Barefoot Wine website lists it at $6.99.) This incarnation of the Barefoot Zin offered sweet vanilla aromas. It was smooth and soft, with chocolate cherry and blueberry flavors and a spicy finish. This isn’t a big, bold, complex Zin, but it’s definitely a drinkable red that will please fruit-oriented red drinkers.

Wine bloggers still enjoy this Zin. Cheap Red Wine says, “…good grape juice for wine lovers. That may not sound exciting to everyone, but very few producers seem able to deliver a fresh, tasty, defect-free red in this price range.” The Wine Tribune commented, “It’s outstanding for the money. Tasted blind, you’d never guess it costs less than a tenner.”

As I noted in my original review of Barefoot Zinfandel, it’s not easy to find a quaffable Zin for way under $10 – that field is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot varietals. While not an outstanding example of the varietal, Barefoot Zinfandel is an excellent buy.

Barefoot Zinfandel (Update) posted at Box Wines

Buying Wine at Sam’s Club

Sam's ClubI’ve always found Sam’s Club to be a good place to buy wine. They have an interesting, if limited, selection ranging from inexpensive, mass-market wines to pricier fare. Some of their best offerings are inexpensive wines that are hard to find elsewhere. For example, after trying one bottle of the rather amazing Cameron Hughes Lot 250 Meritage 2009 that cost a mere $8, I hustled back for another half-dozen bottles. That wine is a one-shot deal – when it’s gone, it’s gone. A dependable and even cheaper offering that Sam’s Club always stocks is the nice Veo Grande Cabernet Sauvignon that ships in wood crates.

Of course, Sam’s has no expert staff to advise you or suggest a wine for a particular purpose. Finding a human of any kind is tough enough. They have always compensated for this by displaying each wine in its own bin with an information card next to it. This card, in addition to the basic identification and price info, often contained a brief note about the wine and, in particular, point scores awarded by well-known sources, like Wine Enthusiast or Robert Parker. I’ve found a few good buys that way – highly rated wines at bargain prices. Occasionally, one might see a “buyer’s choice” designation, which I interpreted to mean that the Sam’s wine buyer had liked the wine in question (usually quite obscure) enough to buy a quantity.

Of late, though, this reliable information system seems to be deteriorating. I’ve seen greater use of ad cards (provided by the winery) which take the place of the old rating notes. Even more annoying is that the tasting notes don’t seem to be updated – the ratings are a couple of years older than the vintage that’s in stock. In one case, the only rating for a 2009 wine dated to 2001 – of what possible use is that?

On my last trip, I found just a small percent of the reds that had applicable rating notes. I suppose with a smartphone it wouldn’t be difficult to search for a given wine on the Web, or even scan its barcode, but that’s not the most convenient way to check out more than a couple of wines.

Is this a local phenomenon, or are you seeing this too? My feeling is that if you are going to be completely self-service, which Sam’s Club certainly is, you must give consumers the information they need to choose products with reasonable confidence. They person coming in to buy a 60″ flat screen TV will likely have done extensive homework and brand comparisons, but the typical wine buyer is more likely to come in looking for something no more specific than “a nice Cab that doesn’t cost more than $15.” Opinions?

Buying Wine at Sam’s Club posted at Box Wines

Wine Gift Ideas

Wine Cellar Wine Glass Charms (Set of 6)I love this season, because all sorts of wonderful wine accessories pop up in stores.  Plus, it’s a time of year when you can get something a little odd or extravagant.  I searched my own accessories plus a variety of sites to come up with some clever ideas for a few wine-lover oriented gifts!

Wine Decanters.

Jeremy Parzen of the Houston Chronicle suggests a wine decanter as a useful and thoughtful gift.

Crystal vessels by Riedel are the benchmark for fine wine decanters these days. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny for their high-concept design and the technical precision… Here’s a little tip: Look for crystal decanters at consignment and thrift stores in high-end neighborhoods. As long as they’re not chipped, they will polish up like brand-new. And remember: Decanters don’t need to be made of crystal. Glass decanters work just as well, are more sturdy, and go a lot easier on the pocketbook. [Top 5 Gifts for Wine Lovers.]

Riedel Cabernet Wine DecanterOne thing that’s really practical about decanters is that they can improve the taste of wine by letting it breathe better than in an uncorked bottle. Reading the wine reviews here, you’ll often see comments about an inexpensive red that improved with breathing.

Wine Aerators

Decanting is great, but if you want to give wine some really quick breathing, try an aerator. The general concept is that you pour wine through the aerator (some actually attach to the bottle) and it is swirled with air as it pours into the glass. Some aerators use a “venturi” effect to suck air into the liquid and produce intense contact.

Cork Kits

Wine Cork Lazy Susan KitOne dilemma shared by every wine enthusiast is what to do with the corks that remain after the wine is consumed. Sure, you could throw them in the trash, but why not preserve the environment and at the same time create a useful, or at least decorative, item that shows off the owner’s wine hobby? These make a great gift, whether the recipient completes the project or the giver presents the finished display. There’s a great selection of cork kits at Wine Enthusiast.

How about a Wine Cave?

The ultimate gift for a wine lover is a great storage system. Most of us can’t excavate a wine cellar, or get access to a real cave, but a climate controlled storage unit is a lot more practical. Better units will offer plenty of storage, along with temperature zones for storing different types of wine. One of the better lines of storage is Eurocave, which usually ships for free. Check out EuroCave Performance Wine Cellars.

Electronic Cork Screws

I always thought these were kind of gimmicky until I received one as a gift. Now, I use it every time I uncork a bottle. They are fast and easy, and will never tear a cork up or fail to open the bottle. I’ve only had one instance of a cork failure with my opener, and that was a crumbling cork issue rather than any fault of the opener. Best of all, family members and guests can easily pull corks, too. People who might struggle with a sommelier tool and end up breaking a cork or shaking the wine can extract corks with intuitive ease. Try one, and you won’t go back to the old-fashioned way of opening wine bottles.

Best Wine Gift Suggestion?

What are YOUR favorite gift ideas for wine lovers? Leave a comment and let us all know!

Wine Gift Ideas posted at Box Wines