In the recession era, the fastest-growing segment of the wine industry is in the $9-$12 range. High-end wineries, on the other hand, have found it nearly impossible to sell bottles for their $50 or $75 retail price. Consumers just aren’t splurging on wine the way they used to. Rather than mark down their merchandise and do permanent damage to their reputations as sellers of luxury products, many wine makers are turning to companies that’ll sell the vino anonymously on the cheap—and buyers and drinkers never find out exactly who made the wine. The result is that a bottle of wine that usually costs $35 is sold for just $18—only it comes with a generic, no-name label.
Well, technically, there is a label on the bottle: 90+Cellars. The company, created by a Boston entrepreneur named Kevin Mehra, is featured in a Boston Globe story that describes the business model (many operations sell marked-down wine in similar fashion), but also what sets this business apart:
90+Cellars tries to distinguish itself from the competition by only carrying finished wines that have received a gold medal or 90-plus rating in a past vintage. The company’s name is derived from the high scores that the trade publication Wine Spectator and other industry critics confer upon top-tier wines. 90+Cellars promises to keep the wineries’ names secret in exchange for hefty discounts — savings that are passed on to customers.
Saving money and drinking wine with a tiny dose of mystery: This sounds like a magical combo. Come to think of it, plenty of casual wine drinkers I know rarely ever pay attention to what’s on the wine label anyway. What matter is what’s inside the bottle—and the fact that you got it at a steep discount doesn’t hurt. Everything tastes better on sale, right?
It’s not as if you’re expected to buy a bottle and you have no idea whether it’s Chardonnay or Chianti or Two-Buck Chuck inside. 90+Cellars offers some clues as to what the buyer can expect. Here’s one example of a description for a Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 from Sonoma County:
Story: This lot is a perfect blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. We sourced this wine from a world class vineyard located at an elevation of 2,000 ft on the Sonoma Valley side of Mount Veeder. The steep, southern-facing slopes consist of soils called the Sonoma Volcanics, these soils result in small, concentrated flavored grapes with pure flavors and a pronounced sense of place. This is a special occasion, weekend wine that now you can enjoy any day!
Taste: This wine offers rich flavors of cassis and mocha enhanced by smoky notes. The velvety mouthfeel and long, elegant finish add style to this classic Cabernet Sauvignon, which is perfect for pairing with herb-crusted roasted rack of lamb, grilled rib eye steak and hearty cheeses. Fire up the grill and open a bottle!
I’m no wine expert, but based on that description, I’m pretty sure this one is a red, not a white. Sounds pretty yummy too.
Perhaps more importantly, it retails for $25 and is being sold for $16. Other wines that sell for $75 if they come with their original label are sold by 90+ for as little as $25.
The mystery of where the wine came from and how much it originally cost could add a fun element to home wine tasting, which is fun to begin with. Think of this as a blind taste test, only you never get answers. Everyone knows wine can be intimidating, what with “smoky notes” and “cassis” and whatnot. If you’re sampling 90+Cellars bottles, though, tasters have really good excuses for being clueless.