Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

About San Diego: Vintage Wines Limited

Looking for another great place to shop for wine? I've been up to Vintage Wines Limited on Miramar Road in San Diego. The owner John Lindsay and his daughter Nicole were gracious enough to meet with me and talk about what makes Vintage Wines Limited different. And by different I mean one of kind, a place you walk into and get some sage advice about purchasing quality wines.

It's the kind of place where you can try before you buy, or sit down and unwind after work and have of a glass of wine and chat with the owner or other staff members about all things vino. If you find a wine you like, John or his staff will be all too glad to point out some wines which fit your individual palate.

One of the main reasons I wanted to bring this store to your attention centers around my very first experience with Vintage Wines. I had been looking for this wonderful Jade Mountain Mourvedre 2005 I had during a tasting at Disney's California Adventure. So when I got home I called around for a place to order the wine, I must have called at least 6-7 places before I called Vintage Wines. 

Everyone told be that they did not carry the wine and when queried about whether they could order said wine, they all told be no, sorry. When I called Vintage Wines they said in one breath, we don't carry it but we would be glad to order it for you. After I hung up the phone, I thought to myself now that is customer service at it's best. 

Vintage Wines Limited has been in business for some twenty two years here in San Diego. John considers himself one of the "dinosaurs' of the wine retail world. New technology is not his thing, that's why you will find his daughter Nicole helping out in the store and bolstering their online image. The staff is very friendly, knowledgeable and everyone is willing help you find the perfect wine for your event or your everyday drinking needs.

Whether you are a newbie to wine or a seasoned oenophile, they either have what you are looking for or will order it for you. Some wines are excluded from this mantra of course because they are so highly allocated. For example Kosta-Browne has been cutting allocations to wine (Vintage Wines included)stores to because of the demand.

They get the name vintage wines from the fact that they carry many "Vintage" wines which you will not find elsewhere. The temptation which John described to me as "fanatical" was the need or want to trophy hunt wines, like many of the collectors he knows who will sell their treasures to John once they realize like John, "you can't take it with you and you will never be able to drink through that kind of inventory." 

Like John told me, "wine is for enjoyment, not a trophy to be collected." Because the relationship oriented business style which VWL employs, they are able to obtain some very rare finds. For example, the 2006 Richebourg, Grand Cru, Domaine Jean Grivot for $479.99 selling elsewhere online for $529.99 or the highly sought after Australian Astralis vintages 1996-1998 and even Grange Verticals. (All these wines of course are kept in the Reserve Wine Cellar) 

While VWL makes it a practice to purchase wine from personal collectors, you just can't walk in off the street with some expensive bottle and expect them to purchase your wine; like it was explained to me this is a business built upon relationships.

For the casual everyday drinker who cares nothing about labels, where it came from or even what the owners name is, and you only want to drink a very good wine for very little money, than VWL is the ticket. With about 50% of the wines in the store with the "value" moniker and having scored over 90 points from some major publication you are sure to get a winner to take to that next party or celebration. As you can see in the picture above labeled "red value" VWL has many different wines to accommodate all budgets and tastes and have a seal of approval from a major wine publication.

When it comes to wine from the heralded Burgundy region of France, they have what VWL calls an extensive collection for a San Diego based wine store. Yep, as you may have guessed it when you move further up the coast toward California's wine "Mecca" (read that SF) you will find a vigorous depth of rare or hard to find premium wine. 

But if you are like me and love to browse new wine shops searching for something new or elusive here in San Diego and don't want to commute to LA of SF just to get a trophy label wine than VWL is your place to shop hands down. But they also carry wines from every major region on the globe and even a few labels which I've never heard of from Lebanon of all places, who knew.

Why I recommend VWL:

Great Buys: I am a huge fan of QPR (quality price ratio) and here are a couple examples of great buys in John's opinion, which are the Twenty Rows for $17.99 and the Bryan Page, 3 Doves for $15.99 for a 750ml bottle of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, both selling less than the lowest Internet price I was able to find. The fact they have good quality wine to fit every budget and occasion. 

Great customer service:

Try before you buy: The wine tastings every Saturday for a modest Abe Lincoln, you can taste up to six different wines and on occasion if a distributor is looking to get a new wine some attention a seventh wine could be thrown into the mix. 

Seasonal wine tastings: for example the Champagne tasting held in the fall where up to twenty different labels are available for tasting

Futures Program: If you like like to buy Bordeaux for example at futures prices, they have a program available for those who are interested.

What are some drawbacks:

Driving: if you've been on Miramar Road it can be daunting at times. Tempature: I thought the store was a little on the warm side, definitely cooler than being outside but none the less it was no where near 57 degrees which I keep my wine in my cellar. Location: a little difficult to find if your not familiar with the area, it's in a small strip mall which is easy to pass by as your GPS device tells you have arrived.

Overall Recommendation: This is a great place to buy wine, the selection is first rate. The advice is solid and everyone can feel comfortable as there are no snobs looking over your shoulders, shaking their heads at what they may perceive as your pedestrian palate. 

Get on their mailing list to stay abreast of latest great wine deals. Please check it out for yourself and tell them Bill, your San Diego Wine Shopping Examiner sent you! Until next time cheers everyone!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Value oriented wine retailer, San Diego Wine Company

If you live in San Diego and you love wine, undoubtedly you may have heard or know of the San Diego Wine Company. I like to think of their location as somewhat central in San Diego. It's located between the I805 and the I15 on Miramar Road across from what use to be known as "Fighter Town" USA and now is the home of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

The SDWC is the home of what I call QPR wines! What is quality price ratio you may ask? It’s simple, it means to me getting the best quality wine for the lowest possible price and most of the time they succeed marvelously in this mantra.

However there are a few times I find glitches in the formula, which will ultimately disappoint. Two recent examples of that was my purchase of Port and a Maderia. Both of which meet the low price part of the equation, but failed miserably on the quality portion. In drinking these wines with some friends after dinner, I commented that these wines were more like the "diet" version of your favorite soda. Noting that I did pay a small price for these wines comparatively but this was no solace for the one word review of these two wines, posers!

What do I like about SDWC, is that this a no non-sense type of wine store. No clever marketing campaign, no slick ads covering the walls, no fancy wine racks, no granite covered anything, just stacks of wine in the case boxes they arrived in with hand written signs and posters proclaiming the screaming deals that await the savvy wine shopper.

For Example I purchased the Chateau Soudars Haut Medoc 2005 from SDWC for $19.95 and can be found else where on the web anywhere from $25.00 to 21.00 with shipping, which in my mind $19.95 is a good deal! This wine is definitely a QPR champ, with WS giving this wine a score of 89 points! I believe they still may have some this hanging around which will improve with some bottle aging.

Another example, the Sebastiani 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley I purchased from them a year ago was $23.95 and with a quick check around the web the current price for this wine ranges from $34.99 to the lowest price of $24.95 with shipping not included. This wine exemplifies the SDWC passion for finding wine with high QPR! WS gave this wine a mere 88 points, but if you throw price and availability (which WS does not) into the equation you are easily getting a 92 point wine for about $24.00, that folks is what you call an everyday drinker! A wine to fill up the cellar with for value conscious everyday imbibing and represents many of the screaming deals they have waiting for you at the SDWC.

Other great benefits of the SDWC, is that the owner Matt Francke who labored for seven years as the Assistant Manager before seizing his opportunity to purchase the store from the previous owner is that you will never meet a nicer guy in the wine biz, personable and knowledgeable about all things vino. Hit him up for a recommendation and he will probably have 4 or 5. They also have great flyer or newsletter they send out each month and if you're green conscious, so are they and recommend having the flyer sent to your email inbox, where the newest deals come packed in a neat PDF file.They also keep their store air conditioned, even during the peak days of heat here San Diego protecting the precious cargo inside.

One of the better benefits is that SDWC also has tastings every Saturday so you will have an opportunity to "try before you buy" for a very modest fee, (normally around $10.00) considering how many wines you are able to taste in a single tasting. Last but not least, ladies if you struggle to muscle out a couple cases of wine to your waiting vehicle the gentlemen there will be glad to assist you with a carry out service.
Some of what you could call the downside is that SDWC does not take the AX card, while it helps keep costs low; some customers wanting to pay with this method are disenchanted by this fact. The tasting room experience is nowhere to be found, you really are on a self guided discovery, for which the uninitiated may seem somewhat daunting for discovery. While the SDWC, proclaims they taste through every wine before it gets in the back door and onto the floor I believe as I mentioned earlier a few slip into the inventory that in my opinion don't deserve floor space. It's is possible that in order to buy some desirous lots of wine from a distributor at a certain price point they may be coerced into accepting wine that does not meet the perquisite criteria stated above.

Over all my recommendation the SDWC is a great place to purchase wine. A shop which I frequent as often as I can afford, as it's difficult to get out of the store without a case purchase or two. I highly recommend it to all my friends and acquaintances, from who I only hear good things about their individual experiences. Many folks who are just starting out in getting to know wine, who tend toward the sweeter varietals will like the many options to choose from and the great price points. Until next time (and to borrow a phrase) stay thirsty my friends, cheers!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Good wine, prices and service at the Barrel Room

This weekend was a busy but very fun weekend packed with weddings, bottling wine, wine makers dinners and hanging out with friends at a great North County wine bar, The Barrel Room, Vintage Wine Bar And Bistro - Rancho Bernardo, CA . As my friends and I are sitting around the tables at the reception and as the evening was winding down, one of us Googled from their phones for wine bars in Ranch Bernardo, first hit was the Barrel Room. I gave it a Yahoo search on my phone and the reviews revealed four and a half stars and I thought it sounds good and with the majority of group identifying themselves as oenophiles and foodies or both we departed from the reception and headed over to the Barrel Room.

The barrel Room as I mentioned is in what I would call "North County"! For me (living in Chula as I do) anything north of the 52 freeway is the North County of San Diego. The Barrel Room is tucked away inside a large strip mall, anchored by a large grocery store. It's easy to miss driving up or down Bernardo Center Drive. As my wife and I arrive and make our way inside the first thing we notice is that the place is packed, quickly I grab some newly vacated leather bound arm chairs and just a few minutes later we are greeted warmly by a hostess asking us if we need a table and we reply we need a table for ten in a packed out wine bar. She grimaces only for a second, recovers and suggest a large party would be vacating soon and she would be able to accommodate our request. Mean while as our other friends are arriving, the hostess brings us menus and the "wine-list" and another suggestion that if we like the comfy of the arm chairs and leather bound couches that we could remain there, either way the choice is ours!

I knew almost immediately I would be writing up this wonderful establishment for the Examiner and confirming my intentions was the fact that most of the wine on the menu was at or very near retail prices, impressive and surprising. This was my very first experience at the Barrel Room and it was a most delightful to say the least. We had to turn away a bottle of wine we ordered which had a odd fault making the wine unpalatable and was graciously taken back without even the slightest qualm, truly remarkable customer service. Six of us drank through two bottles of wine and noshed on artisan cheeses and olives for $34.00 each. The wine was from Four Vines, the Anarchy 2007 and the 2005 Hess Collection "Allomi" Cabernet Sauvignon.

So you may be asking what is the 411 on The Barrel Room ? Well I am so glad you asked and I have already hinted at a few of the reasons that makes the BR a great place to hang out with friends or business acquaintances sip some well made wines and nosh on artfully selected appetizers. They also offer a dinner menu with what appears to be very reasonable prices, with pairing suggestions below the food descriptions.

What I liked about the Barrel Room: Good service, fair full bottle prices, ample parking, a great wine list (awards garnered) and near the freeway.

What I didn't like about the Barrel Room: Limited seating area (they can pack out quickly), difficult access to retail wine (for perusal purposes), by the glass price somewhat steep, the small or non-existent lobby, and the difficulty in spotting the location from the street.

Recommendations: A wonderful place to sit back and enjoy wine at the bar, table or on the cozy couches and armchairs. The mark up on the wine is minimal compared to their counter parts in the restaurant industry and thus deserves your patronage. The service is genuine and sincere, even when it's crazy busy, so go on in relax the wait times is minimal even when the appearances may look other wise. Go early (to get a seat) and budget to take a bottle of your favorite home if so inclined for five dollars less than the posted menu price. If you want to drink by the glass, feel free to ask for a sip (their policy) first to make sure it's something you will like, before committing to a full glass. Until next time cheers everyone!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Coloring outside the vines, Four Vines 2006 Anarchy

Anarchism . . . stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral. Emma Goldman (1869 - 1940).

But in the case of the Four Vines 2006 Paso Robles Red Blend Anarchy you find the wisdom of not always following the rules or coloring inside the lines. This is one of the wines known for being a "unconventional" Rhone style blend, one that my wife and I picked up on our Paso Road trip in 2008.

This was one winery on our list which we had to stop by for a tasting and we are glad we did. When we arrived it was early mid-week and the open sign still read closed! Undaunted we pulled around the small building, which they share with another winery and preceded inside. A small tasting room, but well appointed, with some of the vineyard soil samples of the various vineyards on display. They sell some shirts which reflect their mantra of unconventionality and the tasting glasses feature the Reidel "O" glass for a $10.00 fee. Btw, these glasses sell retail for that price and don't include the wine. So a pretty good deal in my estimation.

Four Vines got started in 1996, it's a partnership headed by winemaker Christian Tietje, and are mainly known for there specialization in Zinfandel. The Zin fruit is sourced from a number of regions – Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lodi, Amador, and of course the westside of Paso Robles. They also make several other wines including Chardonnay, Syrah, and a number of blends, both traditional and unconventional, which they call their "Freakshow" wines of which the the 2006 Four Vines Anarchy falls into this category. Their Four Vines '04 Petite Sirah, "The Heretic", made the 2007 Wine Spectator Top 100. The "Naked" Chardonnay (which I not a huge fan of) and Old Vine Zinfandel Cuvée make up most of the 45,000 case annual production, while most of their other wines are made on a much smaller production scale, thus attributing a more boutique quality and as a result are difficult, but not impossible to acquire and appears they (blends) are the wines I seem to like the best.

First Swirl: In the glass the wine has ruby core and lightly colored cerise colored rim. Not as fully extracted as I expected it would be, but none-the-less a brilliant crisp appearance.

First Sniff: I was amazed at the complex but lightly perfumed nose, vibrant, highly nuanced aromas of raspberry, dark cherry, tobacco, minerals, and black pepper.

First Sip: Immediately my palate felt the attack of rich, supple, silky-sweet and lively ripeness of brisk bramble berry flavors, with a slight chocolaty under pinning . This is what I would call a sharply delineated and well structured. The finish is persistent but firm, rounding out with a youthful edge of acidity contributing true grip.

Vineyards: The blend is based on Old Vine Zin, Syrah and Mourvedre all sourced from Paso Robles according to Winemaker Christian Tietje and self admitted Zin Bitch. Which exact blocks and vineyards are unknown.

Composition: The 2006 Anarchy blend makeup features 32% Syrah, 36% Mourvedre and replacing the "traditional" Grenache is some Old Vine Zin making up 32% of the blend.

Alcohol: The 2006 weighed in at a respectable 15%, with no noticeable hotness.

Pricing : In the tasting room without a club discount this wine retails for about $40.00 each and else where on the web it can be found anywhere from $32.00 to $38.00 each. What I would call a fair price based on availability, case production and overall quality.

Recommendation: A well made medium priced wine. If you like Rhone style wines and would like to try something unconventional with a slight hedonistic edge than this wine is for you. The price point puts it just a bit outside the everyday drinker category, but definitely a wine to have a few hanging around for weekend occasions. If you are in the area stop by and see them, it's worth the experience. Until next time Cheers everyone!
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