October 29, 2007

Sonoma Cellar, Wine Clubbing (or not), and Paso Plans!

I know I promised to tell y'all about the Sonoma Cellar dinner last week, but there's so much to cover! All I can say is that the dinner was great, the company better, and the wines were Nickel & Nickel. Need I say more? The wine family in Las Vegas relatively small, yet we're always surprised when we see each other at these events.

Besides, I lost my notes and some of the details escape me. Sorry! Maybe my fellow Bloggers, Scott and Elaine Harris at http://vinolasvegas.blogspot.com can pick up the loose ends.

I belong to several wine clubs. I love them all and wish I could join more! But there are wine clubs and there are wine clubs. In my life there are several types, and there is a definite love/hate relationship with some.

Locally, I belong to a wine club sponsored by Jimmy's Café (
www.jimmyscafelv.com). Called Grape Beginnings, it is a fun club with lots of perks for members. The funnest perks are the discounts you get for just showing up and buying something to eat and drink! There are other perks that include free corkage Wednesdays which has allowed me to bring my non-wine list favorites to share with friends. Bringing wines that are on a restaurant's wine list is very, very tacky.

Jimmy has instituted First Wednesday wine tastings…there's always food, and usually a winery or distributor rep talking about the wines in their portfolio. The cost is minimal ($10 or 12 for members, a tad more for non-members), and very satisfying. Just showing up and inhaling Jimmy’s wonderful appetizers is worth the price of admission! Arrive early, though. Jimmy has lots of members who are fans of his food and the wonderful wines that they showcase.

There are the quarterly Winemaker dinners that are available only for members, and those are great! If you recall, I covered the Stanley-Lambert winemaker dinner that took place at Jimmy's. Lindsay Stanley (motto: I’m a crazy Aussie) was there, talking about his wines, the history of wine in Australia, and why winemakers love beer. We were regaled with several baudy stories (Lindsay is *not* shy!) which kept us laughing. Included with the wine courses were incredible appetizers created by Jimmy’s kitchen.

The price of the membership is $49.00 per year, and it has already paid for itself in corkage fees alone.

The other type of wine club that I belong to is the winery club. These are clubs that are maintained by the winery itself and often have specials available only to members. I was once a member of many clubs, but my credit cards (and budget and space) were suffering, so I had to cut back. I’m trying to plan carefully so that I can rejoin, so stay tuned.

These clubs vary in their methods of getting their wines to you. Some offer several levels of membership. The first wine club that I joined came about because of a tasting at Khoury’s, believe it or not. I don’t remember the other wines that were poured, but one of the wines was Robert Young Scion. It was an epiphany. Over the years I had discovered “good” wines (always onward and upward), but this was in another league altogether. The Khourys were able to order some for me, and I promptly joined the club once I was able to enjoy an entire bottle. The club has been wonderful, and I’ve had the opportunity to taste other Robert Young wines that just can’t be easily found in the retail market.

This winery has approximately quarterly shipments, and the prices of the bottles are less than retail or the Internet. Believe it or not, they are in Napa. What?! The Paso Ho in a Napa wine club?!? Remember that Paso is more about Rhône varietals. There’s a method to my madness!!

Villicana, Opolo, Kosta Browne, and Hug Cellars are among the others to which I belong, and I dropped a few others for varying reasons. One winery charged more for the wines than I could buy them retail. And to add insult to injury, dumped a hefty shipping fee on top of that. Well, it only took one shipment to tell me that this was a losing proposition! Another wine club “honored” me by putting me on its waiting list, and then eventually got around to allowing me to buy my “allocation.” I carefully chose several wines that I knew I’d like and was only able to purchase ONE bottle. Period. Well, that was a little annoying. What’s up with this “first come, first served” thing? So I quit that one, too.

I think Kosta Browne has the best system. Yes, I had to hang out on the waiting list for a while. But when I got my allocation, they made it known that it would be held for me until a certain date, and then would be released for others to buy. Perfect. If I was not able to get that particular allocation, there was no penalty (i.e., we won’t let you buy our wine next time) attached. Quite the opposite happened: I was able to get my allocation, refuse a couple of bottles, and pick up some extras of another vineyard as well.

So the story goes on and on. While I’m very happy with the clubs I belong to now, there are several others that intrigue me. Alas, the almighty budget must take precedence!

And then there are the “common” wine clubs, generally called "wine of the month” clubs. I only joined one of these, and for the four months that I belonged to it, was charged $40.00 plus shipping per month for four relentlessly mediocre wines.

I know that there are many people who are members of this type of club, and the positive thing is that these clubs allow the members to sample a wide variety of wines in taste, from different locations, and of many different types. There are two risks that you run into; or more accurately, that *I* ran into.

One was the fact that you didn’t always know what you were getting. Most of the time, I’d never heard of the winery, and the quality of the wine told me that I was in no danger of hearing about them soon. At least not in a positive way.

The other problem is the availability of the particular wine. It’s great to sample a bottle of something that may not suck, but if you want to get a couple of extras, that wine may only be available through the wine club. And if they ran out of that particular bottle, then good luck in finding it anywhere else!

So there you go. Your experience with wine clubs may differ. If so, please share! If you’d like to report other wine clubs in the local area that are worth checking out, leave a comment or send an email!

And to the person who asked me when the heck the Logo Link page is coming … all I can say is, SOON! Unfortunately, I was somewhat sidetracked by a home project (it looked like it would be relatively simple, even if labor intensive. Who knew.), and my weekend warrior project has stretched out over three weekends. With any luck, I’ll be done this next weekend. I hope.

The updates on the site will be two separate Las Vegas picture pages … one on events (wine tastings, events such as HenderZIN, wine dinners, etc.), and one on just home tastings with the gang(s). I have a bunch of pics that I want to put *out there,* but don’t want to swamp one page with too many.

I have plans for updating the Paso Robles page, but time and budget are being juggled now. I’m working with a couple of people to do a great update and showcase some of the folks and wineries there. I’m looking forward to reporting this, so stay tuned!

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