As you’ve been reading our musings on girl scout cookies and “perfect” wine pairings, you’ve no doubt been wondering, “What’s up with First Vine anyway?” We assume you meant that in a good way, of course, and there’s plenty going on. Here’s a brief roundup (brief for me, anyway…)
Before our website first went live nearly six (gulp) years ago, we had researched e-commerce packages and quickly realized that the basic online “shopping carts” weren’t going to work for us. So on the recommendation of our website designer, we signed up with a local e-commerce provider because at least we could meet to discuss what we needed. The sales system wasn’t designed specifically for wine, so we still had to ask for custom programming for a lot of the features on the site, like our six-bottle packages and monthly delivery maximums for states like Virginia. This worked reasonably well for a while, and was still better than commercial packages.
In the intervening years, though, as states passed laws allowing direct shipping of wine to customers, the world e-commerce for wine started growing. Not just for sales behemoths like wine.com, but for small wineries that could now ship to a bunch of states. So all the things that you could get from a winery — recurring orders, wine clubs, scalable discounts, and the like — had to be available for customers online. A new mini-industry of wine-based e-commerce providers stepped up to fill this need.
In the next few weeks, firstvine.com is going to migrate to one of these new providers with a winery-based e-commerce platform. The homepage will look almost exactly the same, (what can I say? We like it!) but every other page will be different. The first thing you’ll notice is that instead of a tiled presentation of wines three-across, each wine will now be presented in its own horizontal block. This allows some room for a teaser description of the wine and the ability for you to add it to your shopping cart without going to the detail page for the wine. So if you’re on the everyday reds page and want to order Cave la Romaine Rouge Volupté (an excellent choice!) you’ll be able to save a step by adding it to your cart right there. You’ll also be able to get back to the page you were on from your cart rather than going back to the homepage.
But what’s really new here is that you, the customer, have a lot more flexibility:
- If you’d like a recurring delivery, you can set it up for three months, six months, or a year. You can customize the whole package yourself, or leave it to us to pick the wines. Then, if you like something you received and want to make sure you get it again, you’ll be able to note that and we’ll make it part of the package.
- You’ll be able to place orders for all of the 17 states we ship to directly from firstvine.com. Previously, you had to go to our associated page on a third-party shipping site to ship to 13 of them, but now you’ll be able to do it all from our site.
- Once we get our thousands of old orders into the system, you’ll be able to see all the orders you’ve made. If you want to duplicate an old order, that’ll be a one-click operation. You’ll also be able to give yourself reminders of what you liked and didn’t. You’ll also be able to store credit card information on the site if you want to.
- By the end of 2013, you’ll also be able to leave reviews for each wine on the site. If you liked something and want to recommend it to others, you’ll be able to share your recommendation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Maybe even Google+ if we can bring ourselves to do it 😉
The new system will also allow us to make offers that we couldn’t before. For example, let’s say we have arranged a Thursday-evening delivery with a customer. We can then automatically contact all our customers who live a certain distance from that customer’s home and offer a discount if they’ll be home that evening to take delivery too.
We’re in the final setup and QC phase right now. We hope everything will be ready by the end of March, and we’ll keep you posted.
While we were managing the website transition, we also got a couple of shipments of new wines. They’ll be available for sale on the new site, but in the meantime, here’s a teaser.
A new Crianza and rosado from Bodega Hiriart: You know (and love) the Hiriart Roble and Lágrima Rosado. We’ll be offering Hiriart’s Crianza, which I like to call the “adult” version of the Roble. They’re both 100% Tempranillo, aged in oak, but the vines for the Crianza are at least 40 years old (as opposed to 10 – 20 for the Roble), meaning more concentrated fruit. And by regulation, wines called Crianza have to spend a year in oak and at least a year in the bottle before release (while it’s six months in oak and six months in the bottle for the Roble). The new rosado is called Sobre Lías — on the “lees” in Spanish. Hiriart’s rosados are made with a little Verdejo for flavor and acidity, and in this one the wine is allowed to age on the residue (or lees) of the Verdejo grapes — skins, pulp, yeast, etc., for extra flavor. Since Verdejo is a white grape the wine doesn’t get extra color, just more flavor. It’s a little more mature-tasting than the Lágrima, although still very fresh. You can think of it as your winter dinner rosé as well as a wine to pair with salads and seafood.
A new Red to Impress from Cave la Romaine: A few years ago, Cave la Romaine started offering wines from vineyards in villages nearby with the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation. These villages had met the AOC’s requirements for a promotion in quality. To make things interesting, the winemaker at the cave decided to blend and vinify these wines exactly the same way, 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, aged in concrete. We’ve already offered the red from Séguret, and it’s a big seller. Now we’ll also have the red from Puyméras. Although the two villages are only about 10 km apart, you can taste a difference in the wines — and since they’re otherwise the same wine except for where the grapes are grown, it’s an interesting comparison. There’s no better way to learn about wine tasting than with wines like these!
Another Wine Commercial
I got a lot of e-mails about my post on my favorite wine commercials. And recommendations for a few I’d missed, mostly because they were earlier than the 70s and 80s. So to end the non-recipe portion of this post, here’s a commercial recommended by my Dad for Italian Swiss Colony Wines. The clip below is two commercials together, both led by a man who could be Chef Boyardee, except that he’s wearing lederhosen and sounds like Mr. Magoo. (Played by Ludwig Stössel, who portrayed a German Jewish refugee in “Casablanca.”) And then there are the sappy jingles, done with guitar and tremulous voice. (“It’s love that makes the wine grapes grow, love that tends the vines…”) Don’t miss the homage to Joanna Spyri with the recreation of Heidi and Peter’s wedding, too, or the cheesy image of making rosé by dropping rose petals into a glass. Best of all, though, is the mention of “The Land of Italian Swiss Colony,” which makes you think of Lugano, maybe? Nope, it’s Asti, in Sonoma County, California. How did I not know that California had its own Land of Lederhosen and Yodeling? Definitely on the list for my next visit!
I have a confession to make: I have a giant pile of cookbooks on the floor on my side of the bed. I’m always on the lookout for cookbooks, since I read them in bed like magazines. While I will splurge on things like the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook (hard to read in bed since it’s so big and heavy, if I fall asleep it’ll land on my face), I also like remainder and used book sales. Including Amazon’s Kindle version of the remainder books that they offer every once in a while.
This is how I got The Italian Slow Cooker Cookbook by Michele Scicolone. It’s a reasonably good slow cooker book with some interesting recipes. The one that caught my eye was pork loin braised in milk. I tried it and it was delicious, but it’s also a recipe that only cooks for four hours and there’s no indication that you can leave it on the “keep warm” setting. I suspect that it’s because the pork loin will dry out, but this means it’s not really something you can do on a weekday while you’re at work, either. Or on a weekend day when you’re not around to tend to it.
So I decided to try the recipe with chicken thighs instead of pork loin. The thighs cook for longer and won’t dry out. Since the chicken has less flavor than pork, I added some garlic and dried thyme. And although it’s a real pain to brown food before you put it in the slow cooker, I think this recipe needs it. Luckily, you can get the vegetables ready while the chicken is browning, so you won’t be standing at the stove the whole time.
The chicken and milk combo cry out for a little acidity and some floral notes, so try it with Bodega Traslagares Verdejo ($13). Since you can’t get the wines in the commercial anymore, this way you can make your own Italian Spanish Colony at home anytime you like. (Hey, at least “Spanish” starts with “S.”) No lederhosen required!
8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), skin removed
2 carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 large onion, halved and peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups whole milk (or a combination of milk and a little cream, but don’t use low-fat milk)
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Melt a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Dry the chicken thighs with paper towels and sprinkle them with quite a bit of salt and pepper. Brown the chicken thighs for at least five minutes on each side.
While the chicken is browning, turn on the food processor and drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube. Turn off the machine, then cut the carrots into large chunks and put them in. Pulse four times, then cut the onion and celery into large chunks and add them to the carrots. Continue pulsing until everything is very finely chopped but not pureed.
Remove the browned thighs from the skillet and put them in the bottom of the crock of a large slow cooker. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and oil to the skillet, then add the minced vegetables, the dried thyme, and some salt and pepper. Sauté until lightly browned. Stir in the milk and bring to a simmer, scrape up the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon, then pour the milk and vegetable mixture over the chicken. Put on the cover of the cooker, and set it to low power for 6 hours. The chicken should be completely tender. You can leave it on the warming setting after that.
Stir everything up well before serving. Serve the chicken over noodles or rice with plenty of sauce.