Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
November 22, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

#SFBatKid and the Clever Girls Collective


Every once in a while, it’s nice to get a real honest feel good story.  For us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, last week was largely centered on the story of Bat Kid.  The story’s pretty simple-a five year old little boy has effectively beat Cancer after close to a four year struggle.  How the city of San Francisco came together to celebrate became just as important and I think offered a nice beginning to the holiday season.  Oh did I mention that the kid loves, like really LOVES Batman, so the city set up an entire day long of capers for him to stop while wearing a batsuit and driving around in a batmobile.  It’s the kind of thing that every adult kid would want to do if given the chance and this little boy is certainly deserving and a good reminder of what’s possible.  As the father of a toddler myself, I can also appreciate the many things a sick kid might miss, especially as my son seems to think two daily park trips is an essential part of life, raining or not these days.

Of course, this story went well beyond local interest, showing up on every major national and international news outlet available, even receiving President Obama’s first Vine message, in large part because of the social media work of the Clever Girls Collective.

While this isn’t necessarily a wine related blog post, I thought a social media startup doing something this intense and this well, for free deserves a mention and our respect.

If you’re looking for a social media company to work with, I’d say one that enticed the President to respond to their pitch, would be worth a phone call don’t you think?

Mark Aselstine
November 20, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

#Winechat 11/20 We Host with Wesley Ashley Wine Sample

We're happy to be hosting #winechat tonight with a group of bloggers who received two bottles from Wesley Ashley Wines.  We're featuring these two wines, along with an Oregon Pinot Noir in our Special Selections Wine Club this month.

Instead of including newsletters in our sample shipments, we thought that simply adding our newsletter online....would make more sense as well as making the entire event more accessible for anyone who chooses to take part.

About Wesley Ashley: Only the grandson of two Baptist ministers could be brave enough to explore the question; does wine have a soul? Is the science of wine the most important aspect, or is there something intrinsic to specific wines, the sense of place that it comes from and some other incalculable quality that leads to some being better than others.   In this space, we don’t typically spend a ton of time talking about the people behind the brands but in this case Wesley Ashley is being pushed forward first and foremost by proprietor James Sloate who comes from an influential and successful background in real estate, into the wine industry for the first time. Wesley Ashley is named after his son (whose first name is his middle name) as well as his daughter and takes an interesting look at building a wine brand.  What you have in your glass are two interesting and unique looks into the Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara County, both of which should pair incredibly well with food.  Secondly, Wesley Ashley is making a series of keg wines, at lower price points, in compostable or recyclable containers, which are starting to make significant headway into restaurants in the east bay area of San Francisco.  I met Sloate at his urban warehouse which contains both the Wesley Ashley offices, as well as some of their storage and production facilities and came away impressed with both his passion for wine and his brand, while noticing immediately that this is a better funded winery operation than many startups we run into.  In any case, the wine is extemporary and deserves a space on your dinner table here in the near future.

Tasting Notes Cuvee Blanc: Stereotypical and enjoyable extremely aromatic Rhone white, only 250 cases of total production shows notes of pear, apricot and slight floral accents.  Creamy and silky texture, but enough backbone to give your mouth some warmth (one of the reasons we liked it with turkey).  Satisfying without length on the finish.

Tasting Notes Cuvee: Largely Grenache (75%), the classic strawberry flavors from that varietal are evident from the nose, to the palate.  There is also plenty of spice imparted from the Syrah and an innovative winemaking technique of fermenting the Syrah (20% of the final blend) and Petite Sirah (5%) together and allowing that fermentation to end while already in barrel, has left a nice mouth feel and some oak and vanilla flavors from the wood that you don’t normally have in Grenache.  If you’re someone wanting a Grenache with some more weight, this is a good bet and a good combo.


Mark Aselstine
November 11, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

New Zealand Pinot-Where to Learn More

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve seen an increasing number of wine blogs and industry sources that I know espouse the utter greatness that is New Zealand wine, especially their Pinot Noir.  I agree that the Pinot from New Zealand is extemporary and is likely to see a huge uptick in consumer acceptance here in American in the coming years for the simple reason that an increasing number of consumers are looking for higher acidity in their Pinot-a trait that New Zealand is almost uniquely situated to provide.

Of course, finding information on New Zealand Pinot Noir can sometimes be easier said than done.  Unlike other English speaking wine regions, there simply isn’t an inordinate amount of information out there, even about the relatively small number of New Zealand Pinot’s which are imported into California.

Here’s a great place to look:

Wine of the WeekWine of the Week: Written by Sue Courtney, who is undoubtedly more qualified to review wine than I am, writes a site which is unique within the world of online wine writing in 2013 because it is set up more as an ezine or online magazine than a traditional blog.  What will keep bringing you back though is a thorough look into the world of New Zealand wine and an author who hasn’t forgotten that the goal of sites like hers, should be to educate consumers and not become a shrill for any specific growing region. 

There’s a lot to like and I appreciate Sue’s willingness to share her personal experiences and perspectives.  I enjoy working in the wine industry because of the vast number of different perspectives and styles we’re introduced to over time.  Sue spends more time writing about the aromas of wine than most, that’s something that makes her tasting notes unique and frankly will challenge your own ability to pinpoint these scents if you can track down these same wines.

She has also taken the time to write a bit about the inherent challenges we're faced as both consumers and wine educators or writers to discern if wine shows and the many Gold Medals they produce, hold any real value as an insight into the quality of a wine.  I've been dubious about medals awarded here in California by country fairs and others since I know wineries often continue submitting until they find the right mix of medals, but she gives an insightful look at what she considers important, and not.  It's worth a read if you've ever bought a wine based on a medal.

Oh and lastly, if you’re looking for the biggest and best collections of New Zealand Pinot tasting notes online-try and top this.

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
November 8, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Blackbird Vineyards A New Napa Classic

Blackbird VineyardsThere’s been a ton of debate about Napa vs Bordeaux for well over a generation now.  I’ve always been somewhat frustrated by the whole idea that as an industry we have to decide who makes better Cabernet Sauvignon, can’t we simply agree that it’s good for the world of wine and wine drinkers that two regions on two continents make outstanding Cabernet, in largely divergent styles.

Part of that divergence comes from the fact that Bordeaux tends (well, if you eliminate the first growth’s that let’s be honest, few of us can afford anyway) to source grapes from multiple vineyard locations in a contiguous location to craft their wines.  Part of the reason for that difference, which is a rather large one when we’re talking about how wine is made, is how vineyard sites were drawn up in Bordeaux and truly across much of wine country in France.  The French created their vineyard plots by looking at terroir or the natural geography of the land, before defining ownership.  In California, even Napa Valley the ownership piece has always come first, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it has lead to many more single vineyard offerings in Napa than you’ll often see in Bordeaux, if you compare similar price points.

The VineyardAt Blackbird Vineyards, there is a certain European and French sensibility to their wine, which comes from both ownership and their winemaker as well.  The winemaker on site is Aaron Pott who comes with two unique experiences which likely make him uniquely qualified to make a French inspired Cabernet in Napa Valley.  First, he tells the story about learning about wine for the first time in a Parisian Bistro at the age of 9.  He ordered a glass of milk, only to be told that milk is for babies and being brought a watered down glass of red wine.  I haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time in Paris, but anyone who has traveled there of late can probably both appreciate the story and believe that it probably happens more than we know.  Secondly, Pott spent 6 vintages working in St. Emillion after meeting and befriending winemaker and winery consultant extraordinaire Michele Rolland while working at Newton.  Newton itself is a hot bed of sorts of European influence within Napa, having employed several winemakers of European descent over the years.  In any case, if you want a French inspired Cabernet, finding a winemaker with a UC Davis viticulture degree and experience making wine in both Napa and Bordeaux makes a lot of sense. We’ll talk about Aaron’s work here and elsewhere at a later date, but we hope it suffices to say that the winery is in exceedingly good hands here with Food & Wine’s Winemaker of the Year for 2012 at the helm.

Anyone running a business knows that good hires and smart planning takes someone to set up a business in such a way to allow those type of smart decisions to happen, so we should mention that here’s where I think Blackbird shines when compared to other wine projects.  Founder Michael Polenske comes to the world of wine with a financial planning background and he has taken that focus and applied it to the wine industry. 

Arise MerlotFrankly, that isn’t something that we see all the time, too often winery projects get out of hand in terms of pricing vs quality as they serve only as an ego building exercises for the owner/founder and never end up being run like a real business.  That’s why you end up seeing so much $100+ Napa Cabernet sitting on the secondary market.  Polenske says that he is now in the business of leisure, which is just better stated than we ever could, but it’s important to note that he also owns a variety of sites around Napa devoted to food, art and furnishings.  We don’t typically mention business arrangements in this space, but it’s refreshing to see simply because I’d love to see more of these targeted and focused projects around the valley.  It frankly makes my job easier when a winery offers an interesting take on Napa Valley Cabernet, does it well and offers the wine at a fair price point given the quality.

These are wines that we can ship in any of our wine clubs and we think, they are wines that you, as a consumer should be aware of.

Specifically, their Arise red wine (which contains almost enough Merlot to be so named, not like any winery would make that choice given the current sales environment swirling around the varietal), priced at $50 is a wine that deserves notice by consumers for a few reasons.  First, as you might expect, it is more European in style meaning you’ll find more acid and less fruit forwardness especially in the 2011 which was produced in a cooler Napa Valley vintage.  Arise hits the mark in terms of great Merlot, which unfortunately many American wine drinkers wouldn’t recognize even if it were sitting on their dinner table.  The wine is dry, yet brings a certain sweetness which is another of the trademarks of the grape, although it’s one usually only found in high end French versions of the grape.