Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Shiners, negociants, and taking a flyer.

Posted by Richard Foxall, Aug 17, 2010.

Okay, so I admit it:  I like to buy things for less than I think they are worth.  And what a great time for that in wine.  Wineries are unloading library wines and cutting prices, but there are even better deals to be had.  Wineries bottle up excess wine and sell it without a label to a broker who can't say exactly what it is, but can use the AVA and drop the odd hint--so called "shiners."  Growers sell grapes (since they never contract for everything they have, and contracts disappear when wineries go belly up) to negociants who can't say exactly where it came from... And the wineries themselves sometimes invent a second (or third) label and sell the wine with little fanfare.  So tell me the story of your favorite mystery bottle.  What did you pay?  What did you think it was?  How did you decide to buy it?  Did you solve the mystery? My current story involves a 2004 Rutherford cab that even my friends in the business cannot place.  It drinks at about 10x the price--because it was insanely cheap.  Not a fruit bomb--less than 14% alcohol.  Could it be...

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Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 23, 2010.

Any more 'Mystery Wine' specifics to share, Foxall? I've been tempted by recent offers by Garagiste and BPWine, but haven't yet bitten...

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Aug 23, 2010.

We call them cleanskins in Australia

They are a lottery, usually sold as <region> <variety> <vintage> either with no label or generic label and for between AUD2-10

The best drink like an AUD30-40 bottle the worse...well..."life is too short...."

I find the only way to buy it is at the winery where they will sell cleanskins because they run out of labels or they have a bit of excess and do a leftover blend.  These are often great buys for <AUD10.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 24, 2010.

So happy that this finally got posts, and from two of my favorite Snoothers.  Sometimes the "winery" will set up a website and you can suss out some of the history that way.  But not always.

A few years back, a local store was carrying a Syrah called Bangers and Mash that was really good and ran $5 or so.  I bought one, then another... and a few more.  It had a front end that was like a cab, but finished like a Syrah, so you had to be a little careful on food pairing.  At that price, it was a great wine with a juicy hamburger, or buffalo burger.  I called a friend who works at a very well known Sonoma winery (mostly known for sparklers and pinot, so I knew it was not likely theirs).  He couldn't pin it down.  But he and my wine vet allies (they do overstock buying, some importing and so on, and work at the local discount grocery store) give me some insight.  StephenHarvey's experience is similar to mine, except that the label in the US will often make the wine seem like it's a legit winery.  And who can be sure?

The latest find, the '04 Cab, was called, I believe, Aerial. The label was plainly put on later--the misplacement was obvious--and it had a jury rigged bar code label as well.  The website was a dead link, and no indication it ever existed on any search engine.  I have to check with the buyers at the store, but sometimes they are not allowed to say what it is, either.  That's the MO at Cameron Hughes as well.

I agree with SH that life is short.  But my sources are pretty reliable, so taking a flyer on a $3 bottle is, at worst, accumulating a little cooking wine or cleaning the pipes with a little ETOH and tannic acid. And, frankly, who among us knows or recognizes the labels of everything that shows up in the wine shop, especially when we decide to try something different?  My foray into Spanish wine began almost exclusively by reading, then buying on region/varietal/vintage and figuring that, if I liked the least expensive, I would like the more expensive, too. Of course, starting with Scala Dei was a lucky break, too.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Aug 24, 2010.

Foxall it sounds like your $5 Cab probably was a cab/Shiraz blend which is very common in Aus.  The blend does actually work very well and creates some very good drinking wines from <10 write up to some blockbuster >400 superstars.  We find over here that a lot of cleanskin reds will be cab/shiraz blends as wineries will quite deliberately create a blend that is not part of their brand portfolio to get rid of excess stock.  This a quite sensible commercial strategy as it can produce a really good cheap wine and not damage branded sales of the wineries mainstream products.

I also suspect what can happen is that a winery might blend some excess Napa/Sonoma product with some cheaper Central Valley bulk to at least give them a chance to break even on the wine.

Given the price of Napa Cab would be in the range of $5-10 per litre in bulk and CV Shiraz closer to $0.75 per litre you can see that a 50/50 blend can bring the price down to below $3 per litre which means with basic packaging probably translates into a breakeven price at cellar door of $5/bottle.  If sold to a retailer the equation is even tougher once you add retail margin

I agree with you on the need for good quality entry level product as an intro to any region/country wine.  My only caution on that logic is that their can be a lot of average product at the very low price points.  I am sure you see that in your local product as we do.  I think it is important to emphasize your point on reading and researching before buying to you maximise your chance of a good maiden experience with cheaper wines from a new region

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 30, 2010.

SH: So I found out more about my $3 cab.  Turns out that a winery made their regular program and had overrun.  They put it in bottles, then stuck a label on it later (off center), then couldn't sell it, apparently, even as a second label at discount.  They stored it with a wine storage company off-site.  They didn't pay the wine storage bill and my local discounter got a call.  The facility let him try a bottle, he agrees with me (even he doesn't know who it was exactly) that it's a straight cab, reserve level, top notch Napa sub-AVA.  The storage folks gave the winery a deadline, they missed it, and my discounter bought it and sold it with barcode labels he had printed.  Wow.  And we're never going to see it again.  It sold out in no time flat.  I went back to get more, and that was it--none left.

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 30, 2010.

Should've popped the cork and tasted the wine in the parking lot, then rushed right back in. Put the open bottle in the trunk if you're worried about open container violations. Definitely a practice to follow during this economic phase...

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 30, 2010.

Sometimes they let me taste in the office.  The open container law is a problem, as I drive a Mazda5, which has no trunk.  But no one is going to stop me, and it's actually legal to bring a bottle in the car out of arm's reach now--so that you can bring home wine from a restaurant.  More of a problem: keeping proper stemware in the car.  Or are you suggesting I drink it from the bottle?  Anyway, let me know when you come to visit your family in Oakland and we'll have a glass at A Cote or somewhere.

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 30, 2010.

Unless you carry a tastevin or even plastic cups in the glovebox, why not a chug from the bottle?  Done that before, more than once.

Thanks for the invite, and will be happy to take you up on it, though no travel plans at the moment.....

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 30, 2010.

I think a tastevin around my neck would be a little pretentious.  But I am not ruling it out yet.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 30, 2010.

SH: The $5 bottle was a syrah, plain and simple.  Just really powerful, probably grown in an area a little hot for the varietal.  I have had Au Shiraz/Cab blends, mostly from Penfolds, if I recall.  I know some are spectacular.  But what I had was not mixed with Central Valley juice.  If you do that in any large way, you cannot use anything other than a California appellation.  No Napa, Sonoma, whatever.

What's actually happening here is that some wineries are relabeling $30 product to protect the name of their high end programs.  They are losing money on these wines, but they planted vines a long time ago and can only drop so much fruit before it is pointless to drop more--after all, the fixed cost of the machinery is huge, too.  So, now that people aren't spending $30 a night on wine (paid for with a credit card), they don't want folks thinking their $30 product is going to be $10.  Better to hide the extra juice in a bottle with a funny label and get what my econ teacher called the "chicken killing" price--or the marginal cost of the bottle, which isn't all that high.  Vines were so overplanted a few years ago in the boom that the only way to stop the hemorrhaging is going to be to tear them up... but who wants to be the first to do that and help the guy who doesn't tear his up by reducing overall capacity unilaterally?

Who wants to be Havens and see it all go down with your name still on it?  But that bankruptcy is just going to be the first of many, and there will be lots of efforts to avoid that by temporizing--no matter how good your stuff is in this market, the buyers for $30 wines have diminished, and now you are competing against the fire sales of Havens, Roshambo (okay, she made hot, over the top Zins and deserved to fail), and lots of other good things now available cheap. Shiners will be the ultimate deals if you have good sources. 

One major producer known for its Zins is quietly selling its more-than-competent Sonoma County Syrah through a discounter at $6 a bottle.  A solid weeknight wine, and I am told the faucet will not be closed anytime soon. But no advertising allowed.

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Reply by napagirl68, Aug 31, 2010.

Rockridge Meritage aka Cameron Huges. for ~4.99  Kunde estate chard 2005 for 3.99.... bought many, higher malo than I like, but great and drinkable for many....Imagine Chardonnay RRV ( Chalk hill  vineyard), typical RRV chard.. mineral, pear..lovely

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Aug 31, 2010.

Foxall - Don't you just love a screw up that delivers unbelievable wine for next to nothing.  What you described does happen here, in fact the other thing I manage to get my hands on is export label screw ups which get returned and sold to staff [helps having mates in wine places!!!].  I have got some great deals at <half price and you know what the wine is.

Napagirl - Chalk Hill is one Napa CHard I have tried and loved.  The amazing co-incidence of this wine was that I tried it at a restaurant in Boston - I think it was called Anthony's at Pier 9 and then 3 days later I was at a friends place in Camden in Maine and he had it as the wine for his wedding [2nd marriage for both], and had some left over.  I did send the winery an email to try and get some here but they never replied.

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 31, 2010.

Just got an offer for Jordan 2004 cab at $27, which is half the ex-winery price. 2006 chard at *$15*, where the average price is usually $35. While Jordan isn't my favorite, I've still had plenty over the years, and have done private tours, etc., with the winemaker for clients in the past.

If they're doing this with their public labels, makes me wonder if they haven't been the source of some of the 'mystery wine' bottles I've seen offers for this year....

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 1, 2010.

dmcker:  That;s what makes them mystery bottles, but they are a better risk than ever.  StephenHarvey is right that it pays dividends to have someone on the inside or otherwise in the industry.  If I learn of any second labels/library clearouts/outstanding shiners, I will let you all know. I kow that Jordan's sister winery, J, has offered their overstocked wines to their club members at good prices to avoid having to sell them in the stores at any discounts.  Last I heard, the discounts to members, which were being pitched as "loyalty rewards," were modest, but if Jordan is any indication, they will get steeper.

 BTW, Napagirl, CostPlus sent an email and the Caviste is Acacia, not just someone's extra grapes that they bought, but the first label bottling on closeout.  Also, Stefano at GO says a certain winery known for its macho slogan will continue to supply them with wine for the foreseeable future--mostly Syrah, which is not what they are known for, but it's a good $6 bottle. 

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 2, 2010.

Bought the Caviste.. have not tasted.  I now own more than 200 bottles of wine, and am running into storage issues.  No room for wine cellar. Have a 40btl wine fridge... Garage here in east bay can get HOT.  my closets are a big mess..

BTW- can't remember the year, but just drank and bought my personal fav pinot noir... Lioco, Santa Rosa, CA (sonoma)  Was WONDERFUL... but then again, I do not like huge, alcoholic pinots...Was about 40/bottle at wine shop in half moon bay.

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Reply by dmcker, Sep 2, 2010.

Sounds like an excuse to reorganize a couple of closets! ;-) And buy a bigger wine fridge, of course.  What are commercial storage options going for these days? Good way to force yourself to keep your hands off bottles you truly want to age....

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 2, 2010.

I was thinking of an intervention:  We go over to napagirl's house, sit her down on the couch, then go into the kitchen and whip up a big batch of tapas.  Surely dmcker needs to visit his family here, and StephenHarvey has some pressing business in the Bay Area.  HondaJohn, outthere, and StevenKnabb (sorry if I botched any names or forgot anyone?) can cross the local bridges or take BART.  Then we crack open about 24 bottles, and she has room to move again.  Anyway, her post inspired me to ask, when is it too much?  Check that thread out if you haven't already.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Sep 2, 2010.

Sounds like a good idea

I must try to work out how to scam a trip to the US soon

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 3, 2010.

You guys are welcomed ANY time... I can convert almost anyone to CA wines... I promise... just bring the tapas!!!!

And then I can buy more!!!!

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Sep 3, 2010.

Conversion not needed, just a complete lack of CA wines sold here!!!

I have enjoyed the ones I have tried just not a lot of opportunity to try more

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