I recently spent some time down in California, my home state, on a family trip. Mostly I spent time seeing friends and family, and old places I lived before moving north to Oregon some years ago. However, I couldn't help but visit some of the great wine shops of California in the spare moments I had to sate my wine obsession.
One such shop is Wine Expo in Santa Monica, close to where I grew up. Wine Expo is the roost of Roberto Giovanni Rogness, infamous contributor to online wine sites such as erobertparker.com. Roberto, or Robert as his co-worker (employee?) calls him, is legendary or notorious (depending on your opinion of him) for championing Italian wines.
Occasionally Roberto has been known to brush up against certain internet taboo, such as promoting wines he sells in his store, which has won him some reputation for being a bit of a shill. I can't fault him too much though. Anybody who repeatedly gets Mark Squires' goat is ok with me.
More commonly, Roberto's sheer exuberance for off the beaten path wines tells the real story. The guy loves Italian wine, and wine from all over for that matter, but generally off the beaten track stuff that the mainstream wine industry overlooks. He's knowledgeable and passionate, and is a champion for wines you simply haven't generally heard of. At Wine Expo, even a geek like me sees a majority of wines he's never heard of. What I do know suggests to me that Roberto and his associates generally bring in quality stuff. And his newsletter is worth reading, with musical references and the occasional bust on so-called "deals" at unique grocers like "Pirate Bob's." Pirate of course might be another name f0r Trader, Bob perhaps referring to a common man's name like, maybe, Joe. You think?
The only real issue I have with Wine Expo is equal parts pricing and promotion. Pricing is a tricky thing, because each market has its own benchmarks. Things that are cheap in one town might be generally more expensive in another town. So it's tricky to compare pricing sometimes city to city, or state to state. Wine Expo deals largely with wines other stores don't have. You can't really compare pricing directly if no one else carries the wines. But a few that I'm familiar with from overhead high Oregon are noticeably higher priced at Wine Expo than I find locally. I'd expect the opposite, because Oregon isn't exactly low-priced wine central. Cases in point. Pierre Peters NV Champagne is mid-$40s here. It's $60+ at Wine Expo. Provenza Negresco is nearly $30 at Wine Expo. I find it locally for less than $20.
I wouldn't think too much of that. This is west LA and everything's more expensive I suppose. But then I see the 2001 Marchesi Torrigiani Torre di Ciardo promoted as a $21 or $22 wine on major discount for just $10.99. I'm intrigued and buy a bottle. Turns out a simple web search shows that this wine is quoted in the Wine Spectator as $15 full retail and is available a few other places for the same $11 or slightly more. The wine itself is a nice drink, favorably and accurately reviewed here. But it's not $20+ anywhere that I can find, and that kind of promotion (essentially "we have a MAJOR deal here...") is misleading and, really, unnecessary. This wine is a good buy and you should pick some up if you like somewhat modern Tuscan red wine that still shows its Italian roots and pairs well with a simple dinner. Just don't think you're getting some GREAT bargain. It's just a good buy. Isn't that good enough?
I'm left feeling mixed about what I hear and read at this shop. Bypass that and focus on the wines and you'll do fine. Pierre Peters Champagne and every other I recognized at Wine Expo is very good stuff. You may not pay a rock bottom price all the time, even if you think you are. But you'll get quality.
I'd give a web link to Wine Expo, but they don't have a site. Find them on Santa Monica Blvd. I'll report later on a Valtellina I also picked up. There's a good story involving erobertparker.com regarding the wines of this region. I'm interested to see what I find.