Caveat Vini

by Tim Elliott on January 16, 2011

Good Grape is one of my favorite wine blogs. Written by Jeff Lefevere, who is my collaborator on the Unfiltered podcast, the blog always digs deep into the world and business of wine. I think of it as the New Yorker of wine blogs as it’s rare to see wine coverage of such depth in the blogosphere (or really in mainstream consumer press).

Good Grape mastheadSo I was interested in Jeff’s adventures with Groupon as chronicled in his post yesterday. If you are plugged into social media marketing, as both Jeff and I are in our day jobs, you have no doubt heard about group buying sites like Groupon and Living Social. The idea is simple; present a compelling offer — many times 50-75% off retail — and set a minimum threshold of buyers for this offer to lock in. If you reach that number, everyone is charged for the deal and gets their coupon to use for the product or service. If the threshold is not reached, the merchant does not have to extend the discount. This method ensures there is a large enough group of customers for the merchant in order for them to justify the discounts. And it encourages people to share the deal with their social graph on Twitter and Facebook extending the advertisers’ reach.

Jeff’s adventure started with a $75 voucher for online wine merchant Barclay’s Wine he bought for $25. After perusing the selection at hand, Jeff became enamored with their selection of library wines and decided to purchase a bottle of 1996 Gran Vino Enologica Rioja, Gran Reserva. Since he only paid $25, Jeff thought he was safe betting, “the house money,” on his selection. But when he received the wine he quickly came to the conclusion something was amiss.

Before telling the rest of this tale, a quick aside for some hard-won, personal advice. When you see a smoking good deal in wine, it’s rarely a deal at all. In my experience, I’ve only been able to get a couple of steals; one was at a trusted fine wine shop that just need to move some inventory. The other was a Ridge Merlot from the 1970′s at Trader Joe’s for $4 back in 1983. Every other time I’ve taken a flyer on some unbelievable deal, I’ve been disappointed or worse. But Jeff’s deal here sounds like a decent bet as the wine sold for $62.50. The deal part comes from his Groupon voucher.

Going back to Jeff’s wine, it look promising on paper with a glance at a vintage chart showing an 85 from Robert Parker and an 88 from Wine Spectator who noted, “Balanced wines with good fruit and firm structure.” Gran Reserva, the highest designation for Spanish wine, was made by many producers in 1996 including Marques de Riscal and Bodegas Montecillo. So this was a good vintage for Rioja wines overall if Jeff had consulted internet sources before his purchase.

When the wine arrived Jeff noticed a couple things that concerned him. The label on the bottle looked brand new and the bottle itself seemed very light for a wine bottled in the late 1990′s. His first concern would not have raised any red flags with me since I saw piles of unlabeled Rioja in caves when I visited there in 2007. Known in the trade as “shiners“, not labeling wines in Spain is a common practice as this allows the producer to label for the importer and not affix those ugly strips to the bottle you often see with French and Italian wines. So it’s not a surprise that Jeff’s wine was labeled last year when it was sold to the importer. But the light bottle would have concerned me as a producer would not bottle their most prized wine in a cheap bottle nor go to the trouble of re-bottling a great wine just to save a few Euro in shipping costs.

I’ll let you hit the source link for the rest of the story but let’s just say this is a cautionary tale for anyone buying older vintages from unknown producers. A bit of pre-purchase Googling is always recommended.

via Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

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