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BevMo! 5¢ Sale: Pinot Buyer Beware

BevMo! is a large chain retailer of wine, beer and spirits with over 100 stores located in California, Arizona and Washington. Founded in 1994 as Beverages and More!, BevMo! is a privately held corporation. The company has its own wine reviewer, Wilfred Wong, who was hired in 1995. A veteran wine writer and wine judge, he assesses the retailers wines and scores them on a 100-point system. Wong also writes a blog on the company’s website, and reportedly tastes 8,000 bottles of wine a year for BevMo! Obviously his role creates a potential conflict between scoring wines favorably and the company’s business plans for the wines. I have no idea whether he tastes the wines blind, but he claims that he is not influenced by wine salespersons, distributors or BevMo!’s buyers. He tends to be liberal, however, with his scoring as I discovered recently.

Currently, BevMo! features a promotion called “The World’s Best Wine Sale,” in which certain wines are offered for sale, and when the buyer purchases one wine, he gets the second bottle of the same wine for 5¢. A number of well-known brands of Pinot Noir that are stocked at the store are not part of the promotion, but three inexpensive ones were at the store I visited: 2010 Babcock Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 2011 DeLoach California Pinot Noir, and 2011 Irony Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

I counted 38 Pinot Noirs (mostly from California) with labels I had never heard of available for pickup at the store in my neighborhood and listed on the website. All were priced under $30, and many of the wines were reviewed very favorably by Wong (scores ranging from 87 to 94 points). 17 received scores of 90 or above: Archaic (90), Heliotrope (90), Contrada (90), Craftwork (92), Dahlia (91), Donovan-Parke (90), Frog Haven (90), L’Attitude (90), Longhand (94), Michael Pozzan (90), Quimay (91), Ranch 32 (92), Row 503 (90), Sonoma Landing (91), Stanza (90), Triplebank (91) and Zinnia (92). Most of the labels do not have websites and a number are labels made by wineries and sold exclusively to BevMo!

I have never seen or heard of most of these labels, and none of them are in my website Winery Directory which lists 1841 wineries, mostly from North American, that produce Pinot Noir. I pride myself in keeping up to date on producers, but was astonished to find so many producers previously unknown to me with bottlings priced under $30 that were reviewed so favorably.

I visited my local BevMo! retailer and randomly selected six Pinot Noirs from the shelves. Five were part of the 5¢ Sale promotion and five had been rated by Wong as deserving scores of 90 to 94. The one wine (Valley of the Moon) not scored by Wong had won a Gold Medal at the 2012 California State Fair Wine Competition. These wines were essentially blind tasted since I had no previous familiarity with any of the producers. None of the wines tasted were of outstanding (Geek Icon) or even Very Good quality. Two of the wines were Good and represented good value, especially at the 5¢ Sale promotion pricing. Two of the wines were Decent, and two of the wines were Unsatisfactory, one of which had been awarded a score of 94 points.

My conclusion was buyer beware when searching the shelves at BevMo! for good quality Pinot Noir especially when you come across unfamiliar labels. You can find some good wines at reasonable prices, but be careful when gambling on unknown wines, regardless of the shelf talker and score. Like everything else, but especially for Pinot Noir, you get what you pay for, and I have never seen a really good Pinot Noir offered at what is essentially a 2 for 1 pricing at BevMo!

2009 Valley of the Moon Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $24.99. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Perfumed with aromas of strawberries, cherries, and spice. Light in weight, but decent strawberry and blueberry flavors, offering easy drink ability. The tannins are soft and mellow, and the finish offers a cherry tang with a hint of oak. Good, especially attractive at the 5¢ Sale promotion price.

2010 Dahlia Monterey County Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $19.99, screwcap. WW 91. Produced by Testarossa Winery and sold exclusively to BevMo! · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Nice array of aromas including dark red fruits, rose petals and seasoned oak. Light weight flavors of vanilla-infused black cherries and dark red berries, with a cherry-driven finish. The wine has a good spark of acidity and supple tannins, with a noticeable oak presence in the background. Good.

2010 Michael Pozzan Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $24.99. WW 90. · First bottle: Light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Aromas of black cherry and cola, veering to the overripe side, with hints of charcoal and oak. Mid weight core of black raspberry and black cherry fruit with some green oak in the background, finishing with a prominent cut of acidity. Drinkable, but no message. Decent. Second bottle: Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Aromas of Bing cherries, briar, smoky oak and oak spice. Light and elegant with prominent acidity, featuring flavors of deep red cherries and berries with noticeable oak and stem in the background. Decent at best.

2009 Craftwork Estate Grown Monterey Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $29.99. WW 92. · First bottle: Very light reddish-purple color in the glass. Pleasant aromas of red fruits and sandalwood. Light weight, tasty flavors of red cherries and berries with a hint of candied rose petals, finishing short, tart, slightly astringent and mildly oaky. Decent at best. Second bottle: Very light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of red cherries, red berry jam and sandalwood. Brisk and juicy, with lightweight flavors of dark red cherries with a noticeable riff of oak and a green, steely note in the background. Decent at best.

2010 Longhand Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $24.99. WW 94. Not part of the 5¢ Sale promotion. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Very ripe nose exhibiting aromas of raisins, beef jerky and grilled plums. Porto, roasted fruit flavors with flamboyant finishing tannins that overwhelm the mid weight fruit. Unpleasant and Unsatisfactory.

2008 Contrada Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $19.99. WW 90. From Michael Pozzan Winery in Oakville. · First bottle: Light reddish-purple color with a slight brickish rim. Volatile acidity upon opening which blows off revealing aromas of overripe, roasted fruit, and prune, mahogany and pharmaceutical cabinet. Woody black cherry flavor, firm tannins, in an elegant, soft style. Rather unpleasant to drink. Unsatisfactory. Second bottle: Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Nondescript nose. Flavors of tar, creosote, rubber, and oak with little fruit. Unpleasant and out of sorts. Surely a smoke tainted wine. Unsatisfactory.

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