Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
February 6, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Folly

Earlier today, we made an addition to our blogroll, so we wanted to take a moment to introduce Wine Folly.  It’s worth a read for a number of reasons, but I can sum it up pretty quickly-Wine Folly is not only the best looking wine blog out there, but it’s also the one that serves as an aspirational example of what’s possible, while being approachable at the same time.

Owned by Madeline Puckette Wine Folly does at least one thing that I absolutely love and that I wish I could do a better job in this space.  Namely the informational wine charts from Wine Folly are the best in the business (she sells them, typically under $20) and are the only examples I can think of, that would fit in well in high end cellars, man caves and offices anywhere in the world. I’d add living room’s, but my wife has to draw the line somewhere.

I’ll let you browse Wine Folly’s impressive blog for great examples, but there are three posts I can’t help but comment on.  Recently they wrote about cork vs screwcaps and while I agree with the premise, the end conclusion is really, really astute from someone who doesn’t actually sell wine.  The most pressing issue facing the wine industry is that it costs so damn much to ship wine.  I realize that cork is becoming something of a major topic of conversation, but my customers are still paying $14 on average to have 2 bottles of wine shipped to them.  If direct to consumer sales are going to continue rising 10%+ per year going forward, it’s a major issue.  Of course, not being charged an additional $5 per shipment for an adult signature would certainly help with the costs associated Fedex! Also, the note that having the wine industry continue being as environmentally efficient as possible is important moving forward.  No matter where you fall on global warming and water rights (let’s be honest, the science of both is settled), I think it is fair to say that the wine industry is going to be adversely affected more so than other industries by any degradation in the overall climate so taking a more central role in helping to control global warming and waste is something the industry should be thinking about doing.  Rising temperatures, I know for a fact, are a topic of conversation among Napa winemakers.

Another two entries that I found especially interesting and insightful was their map of Italian wine regions and a similar post about Sonoma wine.  Look, summing up Italian wine in a couple of thousand words is impossible, I think the Italians like it that way though and let’s be clear, I love Italy.  Breaking down the regions to the types of grapes typically sold with a couple of quick sentences as a guide is really helpful.  Sonoma is set up much the same way and I think, the map of Sonoma wine shows exactly why people are first drawn to Napa Valley-it’s simpler to understand Napa Valley wine than it is Sonoma wine.  That being said, one addition which I’d think would interest Wine Folly’s readers, would be a short additional section highlighting a winery or two in each region to try if you were so inclined.  Maybe I focus a bit too much on the profiles of individual wineries in this space, but I’d love to hear Madeline’s take on certain winemakers and wineries that she’s come across.

I hope you’ll take the time to check out Wine Folly.  From both a quality and frequency perspective, it truly is one of the best and most engaging wine blogs you’re likely to find anywhere.

Written by Mark Aselstine

Mark Aselstine
November 8, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

The Passionate Foodie, Emerson Brown Drink Local & More

With the state legislature in Massachusetts set to vote on a direct shipping bill sponsored by Free the Grapes (among others of course) which would bring the state largely into compliance with an increasing number of states allowing competition, abiding by the commerce clause (if you believe it actually exists, or has gone way of the Dodo bird) and most importantly, giving consumers a wider set of choices when it comes to the wine they drink.

For me, no state has been quite as frustrating as Massachusetts.  I think a lot of the frustration stems both from our inability to compete for customers in a state that, based on demographics would be good for us and receptive to our message of better wine, from smaller vintners.  Also, I’ve seen one of my favorite winemakers and a true star of the industry in Napa Valley struggle with a law that is either simply unfair, certainly politically motivated and quite possibly unconstitutional. Keith Emerson who spends his days making wine at Vineyard 29 under Phillipe Melka, but who also makes a personal brand called Emerson Brown has roots and strong family ties in and around Boston.

Emerson is an interesting case because he comes with a family background where his family owned high end restaurants in an around Boston.  The current shipping and regulations do not allow Emerson’s family to buy and serve his own wine at their restaurants.  Based on my experiences as a kid and my dad owning a Dairy Queen (and more importantly the relationships that was created by simply being around the restaurant as a kid), I don’t think it is a stretch to think these world class wines, would be warmly received at locations where the family is well known.

Another great example is Drew Bledsoe who has returned to live in the Northwest where he grew up and then attended college.  He’s since founded a winery called Doubleback. Bledsoe as you might expect, has become the perfect spokesperson for the wine industry when it comes to Massachusetts shipping.  He’s known and after years have healed some wounds, well liked almost universally within the state.  It doesn’t hurt that his winery cannot legally ship wine into the state either.

That’s probably a longer introduction than I intended, but when it comes to Massachusets based wine writers, there’s a relatively short list of memorable writers.  With perhaps a handful of exceptions, I think that list begins and ends with Richard Auffrey ie the Passionate Foodie.

Auffrey is an interesting case, even in the world of wine writing which seems to bring out a nice range of personalities.  The guy has written a series of books called the Tipsy Sensi, which includes zombies, ninjas and cats.  Seriously.  I’ll admit, I’m slightly intrigued by anyone who may be able to weave those elements into an interesting novel. My personally favorite aspect of the Passionate Foodie blog is his Monday Rant series which is where you see (IMO at least) his best writing and personality shine through.  From a rebuff of a Kansas couple that refused to tip a waiter who provided excellent service, but whom they believed to be gay (seriously, this exists still?) to his continued reminders that drinking and driving is preventable and pointless, to a request that we all stop eating shitty fast food hamburgers from major chains he offers a varied set of tastes and statements.  Among my favorite, a request that we stop spoiling our kids when it comes to food, in a family where my soon to be 3 year has never seen a chicken mcnugget and thinks it’s “silly” when kids at other homes get something different to eat than the parents, I couldn’t agree more.

A practicing attorney he also is well versed and certified when it comes to Spanish wine and Sake while most interestingly, is a board member of the Drink Local Wine organization.  Drink Local has a singular purpose, to provide a set of resources for people looking to drink wine (that we don’t sell!) that doesn’t come from the west coast. 

I’ve expressed support for these type of sites and organizations before, only to have customers and readers ask “Why?” The answer is really simple, wine like food is best from local sources.  Admittedly, a wine drinker who starts drinking $10 local wine often times grows into someone who wants single vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir as well-at least to try and we’re frankly a really good source for that.  That’s just to say that these type of organizations help to grow the industry and some of my own favorite tasting experiences have taken place well outside of Napa Valley, like Wilcox Arizona where I found a group of established, interesting, insightful and exceedingly gracious vintners making wine better than anyone in California might otherwise give them credit for. 

I also think these organizations say something important about the wine industry in general.  In France there are stringent laws, rules and regulations about what grapes can be planted in each region and what wines can be made (and even how they can be made).  That lack of experimentation and improvement has allowed California to grab a dramatic amount of market share in little less than a generation.  New wine regions will continue to push local vintners here in California to not only keep prices reasonable (a very real concern when it comes to not only Cabernet Sauvignon but Chardonnay and Pinto Noir as well) but continue to try new grapes, new planting locations and generally speaking to not rest of their laurels.

Just like direct shipping in Massachusetts, competition from new and lesser known wine regions should help everyone continue to grow this industry over the long term.

Mark Aselstine
September 5, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

The Prince of Pinot

Prince of PinotWhen it comes to wine critics, the recent changes at Wine Advocate, including Robert Parker’s new relative lack of involvement have certainly created a vacuum of sorts.

One of the things we want to do over the coming days and weeks is to feature wine critics that we feel are likely to take some of that available market share.

Our first entry (and frankly the wine website and reviewer we feel most strongly about) is the Prince of Pinot.

Since we first started Uncorked Ventures, one of the first sources we ever check when it comes to buying a Pinot Noir, is the Prince of Pinot.  Written by a retired ophthalmologist (that’s an eye doctor) the Prince of Pinot explains his love for Pinot in a way I only wish I could match:

I figured out early on that Pinot Noir was the greatest food wine on the planet. Loving gourmet delights, Pinot Noir was the natural partner for foods from the sea (salmon, ahi), the air (quail), the water (duck) and the earth (venison). Pinot Noir is made for drinking with food and when you have the perfect match, the experience can bring you to your knees! Seductive, elegant, and earthy, Pinot Noir unites friends, food and good time into a glorious dining experience.

We first started taking the reviews at the Prince of Pinot after taking a meeting with Paul Lato, largely based on the glowing recommendations which existed in his database.  The Prince is unlike a lot of other reviewers in that he seems to enjoy a wide variety of Pinot Noir, there is no discernable bias in his palate between wines which are bigger in terms of fruit or higher in terms of acidity.  We can appreciate that type of even handed review and thought process and especially appreciate his willingness to review wines not only from our neck of the woods here on the west coast, but also those internationally.  Additionally the Prince of Pinot takes the time to review Pinot from up and coming destinations like South Africa and especially New Zealand (we couldn’t agree more, the Kiwi’s are likely the next big thing in imported Pinot) instead of simply telling everyone how good the $200 per bottle Burgundy he had last night happened to be.

If you're someone who loves Pinot already, or simply someone who fancies himself a sophisticated wine lover-reading the Prince of Pinot is a logical and common sense starting point for any wine journey.