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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A16 Wine Club: How to Leverage the Experts

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge Shelley Lindgren, Wine Director and Co-owner A16
  • Shelley Lindgren, Wine Director and Co-owner A16

When I first started learning about wine, one of the first things I did was sign up for a wine club. The idea of monthly deliveries of high-quality wines from regions around the world appealed to me as something like having a personal trainer waiting for you at the gym: you're paying the bill whether or not you use that expertise, so you use it.

Now you can leverage A16 and SPQR's wine team in the same way with their new wine club, curated by Wine Director and Co-Owner Shelley Lindgren. For $95 a month you get three of her Italian wine picks delivered to your door.

Since A16 focuses on Southern Italian cuisine while SPQR favors the north, the club offers selections from either or both -- your choice. Bottles are chosen from the selected restaurant's wine list, so you might get an older vintage, or wines that aren't readily available through traditional retail. In some months a bottle is bumped up to "Reserva," and the bottle count drops to two.

You also get to leverage the wine staff's talents, as long as you're willing to trust them entirely. It's a way "to bring the A16 and SPQR experience into their own homes," says Shelley.

Italian wines are a weak spot for me -- other than a few top producers, I find the tannic assertiveness too often makes me wish I'd waited a few more years, regardless of how many years I've already waited. So, I took a month's subscription from the A16 side of the club. Here's what I got, and thought:

Bianca Vigna, Prosecco, Brut, Veneto NV.

This was a nice surprise as I wasn't expecting a sparkling wine. The wine had a nice tension, good minerality, and a lightness verging on ethereal. It's dry, light, crisp, and distinctly of the rock -- a very nice Prosecco exactly in line with the tasting notes included in the box.

Note: Even though I let the wines rest for at least two weeks (SOP for wines we taste for this column), I still had a high school baking soda and vinegar volcano when I opened the bottle.

Biondi - Outis Bianco, Etna, Sicilia

While the included tasting notes denoted 2010, the wine I received was 2009. Italian whites can be exceptional, but they range in character rather dramatically across the varietal and producer spectrum. This one falls more to the "musty" side of the chart. While the nose has some pleasant notes of citrus, the flavor of the wine is more muddled, sour and with a modest note of the mold of cheese. I can see how this wine appeals to a certain type of palate, but it doesn't appeal to mine, and, as the tasting notes were for a different vintage, I couldn't tell if their notes applied with this bottle. I would likely look for cheese to pair with this wine for a party with some Italian wine drinking friends that like their wine to the side of umami.

Lanari "Fibbio," Rosso Conera, Le Marche

Another bottle-to-note mismatch. The tasting notes show a 2008 vintage while the bottle shows 2006. While I'm happy to have the extra bottle age, the inconsistency of information makes it tough to enjoy that expert guidance Shelley provides.

The notes make it clear this is a wine they are big fans of at A16. "One of the wines we most enjoy sharing with our customers who love wine," the tasting notes say. This wine drinks classically Italian to me. Tight, tannic, and a meaningful dose of "macho" in a refined presentation (a feather-weight boxer in a Savile Row suit). As with the white, this is clearly a wine to pair with food, not a wine to sip and contemplate, unless you are doing so with a Cuban cigar. It's well crafted, intense, and in need of quite a few more years in bottle.

Overall, while the club delivered the artisan, region-indicative wines...

  1. You need to like classically styled Italian wines to start with and be willing to learn about regions and varietals that may be new to you. That's fair -- it's what they offered -- but if Super Tuscan wines define Italy for you, this may not be your best option.
  2. The wines were clearly chosen to be paired with food, so you should be prepared to do the same. The tasting notes provide some guidance to pairings, so you can learn both about Italian wines, and what to have them with.
  3. They need to work out the kinks. I can chalk up the semi-exploding bottle of sparkling wine to the possibility of a bump un-observed, but mistakes on two out of three of the tasting notes is an easily avoidable error. If you want to use the club as a learning experience, that's hard to do when the textbook doesn't match the lecture.

Membership may be purchased for a specific number of months, as a gift, or as an ongoing subscription, and may be cancelled at any time. You can sign up for the A16 and SPQR Wine Club at or

Contact Ben Narisin at . Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodieand like us on Facebook.

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