My favorite rosé

La Mascaronne rose

I’ve played the field this summer, wanting variety and new experiences, but had to come back to my true love. In rosés, that is.

La Mascaronne Quat’Saisons is a gorgeous wine from every vantage point – a stunning pale coral in the bottle; intense berry and flower on the nose; bright berries and minerals in the mouth. It drinks beautifully, alone or with food. Hands down, it’s my favorite rosé.

Produced in the Côtes de Provence, La Mascaronne is a classic provençal blend of Cinsault (70%), Grenache (16%) and Syrah (14%).

Unfortunately for those of us who dallied, the 2012 vintage is going fast, so finding it now may be difficult, as I discovered today. I bought the last two bottles at Buy-Rite in Jersey City ($14.99). Given Robert Parker’s 91-point rating on this vintage, the manager told me, it had flown out of the store. (International Wine Cellar gave it 89 points.)

I discovered La Mascaronne last year at Sparrow’s uptown store in Hoboken. I tried one bottle, loved it, and returned to Sparrow to buy more, rationing it out over a few months. I didn’t find the 2012 at Sparrow this summer (maybe they’d had it but sold out early), but Jeff spotted it on Bin 14’s wine list and we enjoyed a bottle there last week – reigniting my search that led today to Buy-Rite.

I’m rooting for a good 2013 harvest in Provence and wondering how I’ll make it to next summer, when I plan to buy a case of this lovely gem.

Join the (wine) club? Part two.

Yesterday I started thinking and writing about wine clubs, with which I lack personal experience. I’ve gotten oodles of introductory offers over the years, and their initial shipment deals always look enticing. Today, in fact, a mailing from Laithwaites offers 15 bottles (representing 9 different reds) for $90 ($69.99 for the wine plus $19.99 shipping).

But surely not all wine clubs are created equal, and I have lots of questions. For instance:

Most importantly, are the wines – often labels that are unfamiliar – decent and do delightful discoveries abound?

  • How good is a club’s customer service?
  • Are the tasting notes discerning and well written, and any extra goodies that come along (wine openers, etc.) well made?
  • Once you get beyond the teaser-rate initial shipment prices, are club wines a bargain compared to retail prices for similar quality?
  • Would wine-snob friends be happy with the offerings if given a gift subscription?

So far, the best consolidated location I’ve found to compare and contrast wine clubs that are not specific to a particular winery is E-wineClubs.com. They’ve reviewed and ranked 30 clubs, but the reviews appear to be from 2011.

For winery-operated clubs, fresh market intelligence will be generated this year, thanks to a survey just announced by the Wine Market Council – a winery-dominated trade association that tracks U.S. wine consumer attitudes and behavior. But survey results will be targeted to club sponsors rather than consumers.

Wine club members, past and present, please weigh in! What are your caveats? Your recommendations? Help the rest of us navigate through this expanding universe of wine clubs.

Join the (wine) club? Part one.

I have no personal experience with subscription-model wine clubs. I have feared that selections will be disappointing, that I could do better making my own choices. At the same time, I know many clubs offer labels not typically available to retail buyers and at prices that can be attractive.

So maybe I’m wrongly biased and, if I picked the right club(s), I’d broaden my vinicultural horizons immeasurably.

Most wine clubs are one of two types: winery-sponsored clubs, through which a particular producer can deliver bottles, often those for which it can’t get retail distribution, directly to consumers; and unaffiliated clubs that source from multiple producers.

In the second category, a few clubs are associated with non-wine brands (e.g., Zagat, New York Times, Wall Street Journal) and some offer a specialized selection (kosher, sparkling wine, non-U.S., for example). NOTE: the Zagat and WSJ clubs are supplied by the same retailer, New Jersey-based The Wine Cellar.

Most clubs give subscribers some options – setting red versus white preferences, adjusting the delivery frequency – and make it easy to cancel at any time.

But clubs have pitfalls, notably around shipping: many are restricted in the states to which they can ship, and I can’t discern a coherent pattern to the limitations. For instance, Zagat ships to Massachusetts residents but Cellars Wine Club cannot. Wine of the Month Club apparently ships by wagon train to Massachusetts, as its site warns those residents to expect three- to five-week delivery times. The New York Times Wine Club notes that, in Indiana, it can ship only to certain ZIP codes. Utah and Pennsylvania residents (among others), you’re pretty much out of luck.

Tomorrow I’ll have more to say – and to ask you, dear readers – about wine clubs. In the meantime, does anyone have a wine club shipping story or lesson to share?

Los Vascos: my iconic wine revisited

Los Vascos label (2)

I have much affection for Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the first wine I learned to seek out for everyday drinking once wine for me graduated from an object of mindless enjoyment to a matter for study and appreciation (see My iconic wine).

But that was some two decades and countless interesting wines ago, and I hadn’t tasted this Chilean classic in several years. Would I still enjoy it?

With some ceremony and great mindfulness – as I wanted to document every detail of the experience for you, dear reader – I opened and served a bottle of the 2011 vintage two nights ago. I’d picked it up at my neighborhood supermarket (Los Vascos is ubiquitous) for the lowest price I’d seen locally ($8.99). I paired it with a pan of bean and chicken enchiladas in mole sauce I’d made that afternoon. Jeff, my frequent partner in wine discoveries, and I compared notes as we went along.

First, pull the (synthetic) cork: it popped nicely. Next swirl, sniff, swirl, repeat: the nose was redolent of earth and pepper. Finally, sip: honestly, the first taste disappointed. While the color was dark ruby, the wine tasted thin and a bit too alcoholic. (This vintage is 14% alcohol.)

But as dinner progressed, the wine transformed into a smoother, deeper pour – proving that even fairly simple wines benefit from the modest oxidation that comes with drinking a bottle in one sitting. (I note that Lafite’s website advises decanting this wine for one hour.) And it complemented the food beautifully.

This least-expensive Cabernet offering of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s Chilean estate remains a great value after all these years. My affection is undimmed.