Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: Current Releases From 90+ Cellars

The Return Of Extreme Value Wine

Bottom line: Brilliant business model delivering a diverse wine portfolio of extraordinary value and quality.


The Rest Of The Story:  Readers may remember the Extreme Value Wine article back in March where we introduced you to Cameron Hughes and his incredible collection of high-end Cabernets.  Thanks to some very deserved press, CHW has been having a hard time keeping wine in stock (a problem every merchant wants).

Enter 90+ Cellars.  The brainchild of Latitude Beverage founder Kevin Mehra, 90+ is making a name for itself in the world of négociants.

In contrast to CHW's model, 90+ sources bottle-ready wines with an established track record of critical acclaim. So, rather than trusting the merchant's opinion about their wines, 90+ is banking that consumers gravitate towards trusting mainstream wine critics' numbers. And they're right about that. Nothing sells wine faster than a high score from a prominent critic.


We spoke with Kevin Mehra, President at Latitude Beverage (which launched 90+ Cellars last August) to get the lowdown on their business model. Rather than focus on the high margin direct-to-consumer business, they've opted to work within the traditional three tier distribution system. Why in the world would you want to do that? The answer surprised us, but reveals their innovative approach to a centuries-old way of doing business. "We realize that retailers are the key to introducing our product to consumers, so we have our own sales force who works to establish partnerships directly with specific vendors in key markets. Then, rather than using distributors in the traditional sense, we use our own distribution licenses where allowed and in other states negotiate flat fee distributor partnership . This means we can afford to give retailers a larger cut while still extending huge savings to the customer.”

This smart way of working within the system while extracting value from it has earned Latitude a nomination as a finalist for the 2010 SBANE Innovation Awards.

Even more to their credit, 90+ now ships direct to 21 states from their online store. Better yet, they offer free shipping and 10% off 12 bottles. For all you wine drinkers who are still on the sidelines of buying online, you no longer have any excuse. Better yet, since 90+ basically sells direct to retailers, ask your favorite wine shop to look into these wines.

The bottom line for consumers is that these wines are consistently superior in quality and priced exceptionally well. Could this be extreme extreme value wine? Call it whatever you want. It's solid, no risk, quality drinking at grocery store prices.

So, what about the wines? Are they any good? Frankly, we approached these wines with a healthy dose of skepticism. We've conducted countless blind tastings only to refute "mainstream critics" opinions about wines, so we weren't expecting these to be any different than any other wine we review. We were wrong. And to prove the point that ratings aren't all that matters, Kevin says, "We start with a wine's pedigree, but get our retailers' thumbs up before we commit to buying."

These wines are categorically terrific. There's not a wine in the mix that isn't fantastic. And looking at their retail prices, they each represent extraordinary value. This label, thus far, is predictable in the best sense of the word: Dependable. Every one of these shares the highest rating we've ever awarded:



Full disclosure: These wines were all received as press samples from Ninety Plus Cellars.

2008 Chardonnay McLaren Vale Lot 11 $13
Bright, light on its feet and even-keeled.  Heady aromatics.  Not too big on body or excitement, but an impressive offering and intro to Chardonnay from this region.  A departure from the standard Cali Chard profile - not too wild a departure, but clearly presenting its likeable personality.

2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand Lot 2 $11
Refreshing, succulent, and attention-commanding.  There's nothing subtle about this wine.  Intense, but balanced.  Lots of Kiwi personality and zing.  Good luck finding someone who won't enjoy it.  Stereotypical New Zealand Sauv Blanc done perfectly.  In keeping with the brand's model, a zero-risk wine.

2008 Pinot Grigio, Napa Valley, California Lot 16 $12
Not your mother's Pinot Grigio.  Absolutely terrific balance and body with a dry finish.  Refreshing and light without being insipid.  A crowd pleaser.

2008 Pinot Noir Carneros Lot 15 $17
Ho hum.  Another fantastic varietal example at a great price.  Textbook Carneros Pinot.  Good.  Better than good.  Better than even that.  Shit, it's seventeen freaking dollars....for Carneros in a bottle?  A steal.

2007 Shiraz Viognier , McLaren Vale Australia Lot 4 $17
Something about this blend makes it peculiar in concept, but not in practice.  Not here anyway.  A dead ringer for ultra-high-end Rhone Ranger style Central Coast Syrah.  Except it's from Australia and half the price.  Another lip-smacking savory selection.  Not for everyone, but only an asshole would complain about this wine.  A quality product.

2007 Merlot Napa Valley Lot 17 $14
With scents to fall in love with, the outstanding value Merlot is lighter bodied than you'd expect from the nose - at first.  Prominent oak and tannins are well rounded, but this wine is so young to drink it now means food.  Though the fruit is still developing (probably markedly better in a year or two) it's easy drinking in the meantime.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Steve,

    Where can we pick up a bottle or two of this?

    Thanks,

    Jan

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jan,

    Thanks for your question. They've got a cool page on their website (http://www.ninetypluscellars.com/stores.php5) that'll let you plug in your zip code to see what stores close by carry it. If there's nothing close, then you can always order some online.

    Happy shopping!

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  3. Where will this trend end? If you extrapolate this business model, will there be any traditional wineries in the future? Or just brokers who buy, market, and distribute wine made by producers who just vinify it? It seems like this is just a further fractionalization of an already incoherent industry.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Cai,

    Great questions. The truth is that the négociant model has been around for centuries, so the concept is nothing new, just the innovation in the ways companies like 90+ and CHW are working within - or outside - the traditional distribution system. Traditional wineries who survive the ups and downs of economic cycles will continue to operate in the capacity that best suits them.

    As far as it being "further fractionalization of an already incoherent industry", let me offer a few thoughts:
    - First, "incoherent" implies a lack of relevance or clarity. If it were so irrelevant, you wouldn't be reading a wine blog and I certainly wouldn't be writing it. And a lack of clarity is just another way of saying that it's not homogeneous. Thank God for that. The unique producers and the infinite variety of wines they produce make this the enthralling subject that it is.
    - Fractionalization is what sometimes happens when there is a more efficient way to bring a product to market, though this, too, can go too far. Consider also that wineries who are selling excess capacity to négociants aren't doing so for shits and giggles. They're doing it to preserve brand equity, to get a fast injection of cash to stave off the bank, or who knows why else. In this respect, the négociant is helping to preserve the traditional winery model - not replace it.
    - There's plenty of room in the marketplace to accommodate all these different players and models.

    Thanks for chiming in.

    ReplyDelete

Please add your comment here: