Uncorked Ventures Blog

Staff Writer
March 9, 2015 | Staff Writer

Corks, Corks, Corks

The purpose of adding a closure to something is to prevent it from spilling and to preserve its contents. There is a plethora of ways in which to close something. There is not one right or one wrong way. Wine bottle adhere to these same standards. When it comes to these fancy bottles, we as a society have gotten use to seeing them with a cork at the top. That little piece of spongy, wood like texture has captivated our minds and has us fixated on its presence. The infamous “pop” as you unplug the cork brings a smile upon ones face like a kid in a candy store. You know that you just opened something magnificent and your palate is patiently waiting.

Change is something that can be hard to accept. Even though it may be for the right reasons, it may affect our perception of an object. When wineries started introducing the screw cap on their bottles, many consumers turned their cheek and looked upon them as unacceptable. The common perception of a screw cap wine bottle is that it is inferior to its predecessor, the cork. (Editor: We don't discriminate based on the closure for any of our wine clubs, but we do realize that if people are going to age wines from either our Special Selections Wine Club, or our Reserve Wine Club that cork is likely a preferable choice for the vast majority of our customers)

Corks have been around for well over 300 years as a means to stopping wine bottles. So it’s easy to understand the resistance to change. They are made by using the bark of a Quercus Suber or better known as the cork oak. These trees are harvested about every 9 years and are not harmed during the harvesting process. (Editor's Note: Cork is also 100% renewable and recyclable, as you might expect since the cork can be harvested from trees, without cutting the tree down, in fact some of the cork trees in Portugal, which is the largest supplier of natural cork, can be many hundred of years old)

This material is exceptionally durable to be so lightweight. It is flexible and extremely resistant to the penetration of moisture or air. Knowing these key components makes it easy to understand why corks have been the material of choice for so long.

However, there is one major flaw to using a rock. Corked wine is the result of a contaminated cork leaking into the wine. The contamination comes from TCA, which is a chemical compound that is often referred to as cork taint. TCA may have contaminated the cork during the production process. When this happens the wine will have an unpleasant odor.

Minor disadvantages include wrestling with the cork to remove it from the bottle. Only to have it break on you at the last minute. Now you have tiny pieces of cork floating in your glass that you may need to spoon out before sipping.

Screw cap wine bottles are becoming more of the norm in the recent years. Well known wineries have begun investing in these closures. Whether the bottle is stopped with a cork of with a screw cap it still performs the same job. It’s also easier to open the wine bottle with a screw cap. (Editor: I've talked about my thoughts on corks vs screw caps in the past as well)

There is still much hesitation for all producers to convert over to using a screw cap because of the consumer’s opinions of them being cheap wines. As better known wineries convert to using the screw cap societies opinions will change. They will see the benefit of being able to easily open a wine bottle. Get ready to clean out those kitchen drawers and remove those corkscrews. 

Mark Aselstine
March 8, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Pairings for Fish

Everyone may not find a great meal to be a fish dish. There are quite a few people that do not like seafood at all. Then you have the few that like fish, but do not like any other seafood item, such as shrimp or lobster. Regardless of your stance, it’s never too late to give it a try. You never know you may be surprised how the meal tastes when it is served with the perfect wine.

With any meal you need to take into consideration the meat that you will be serving. Whether its beef, chicken or fish it will affect which wine you will serve. Generally speaking, white wines will often pair well with fish, but you will need to be aware of the type of fish that you will be providing.

There are about four specific types of fish. Each group differs greatly in texture and taste. These groups include medium flaky fish, lightly flaky fish, rich and meaty fish, and the strong flavored fish. Knowing these groups of fish will help you pair it with the perfect wine.

Let’s begin with medium flaky fish. These fish include trout, Halibut, Cod, Red Snapper and Grouper just to name a few. These fish are a little firmer and slightly thicker than a lightly flaky fish. A rich full bodied white or a medium bodied white will pair well with these fish. Try a Californian Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay.

Sea Bass, Tilapia and Flounder are all considered lightly flaky fish. These white fish are very lean. In order for a wine to blend well with these fish look for a white wine that will not overpower their subtle taste. Champagne or an Italian Pinot Grigio will suit these fish nicely.

A rich and meaty fish can remind you of a cut of red meat because it is so thick. Salmon, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna are all meaty fish. These fish are very firm and have a strong texture. Flavorful white wines that are rich in flavor pair will with these fish. A Chardonnay or a white Pinot Noir will blend well with a meaty fish.(Editor's Note: add Rhone varietals here like Viognier or even  Roussane) You may even find a few red wines that may pair well with these fish because of their meaty texture. A Lambrusco, for example, would serve a fish in this group well.

Sardines and Herring are considered strongly flavored fish because they are salty and have what some would term a “fishy” taste to them. If serving a strongly flavored fish look for a white wine such as a Pinot Noir or a Champagne.

When served with a meal, wines are just considered a drink. That notion is easily understood, especially when you take into consideration that they are liquids. Unfortunately, we may not be giving a good glass of wine enough credit. In most cases a great wine pairing enhances a dish. It is because of this, that perhaps wine should be considered a side instead of a beverage.

(Editor: As always, if you're looking for a combination of white and red wines delivered straight to your door on a monthly basis, please consider joining our Explorations Wine Club.)

Staff Writer
March 7, 2015 | Staff Writer

Sediment in Wine

We all love the ability to age a good red wine. As with anything that ages, the longer it sits the more prone it becomes to developing certain unflattering attributes.  Red wine, as appealing and beautiful as it may be, provides us with a perfect example. If you are a serious wine collector, you may be more familiar with this than most.

When you reach for a bottle that you’ve been holding onto for almost a decade, you happily brush off the little bit of dust that may have collected on the bottle. You then uncork the wine and inhale the fresh aromas. However, when you go to serve it, you notice that it has a little bit of a jelly like substance floating around.

Wine that has been sitting for many years, closer to a minimum of ten years, may have begun to form sediment. We know sediment as a matter that forms within a liquid, because of the force of gravity the sediment settles at the bottom. The sediment that forms in many aged wines is no different.

Sediment is a natural formation in wine. It is comprised of the settlement from the tannins and other solid matter in wine. There are at least two distinct forms of sediment that can develop within a bottle of wine.

The most obvious from that you may see is the sediment that resembles pulp. It can easily be seen by holding an aged wine bottle up to the light. If you have stored your wine bottle properly, which is on its side, then the sediment would most likely be found on the side of the bottle. If your bottle has been stored up right, you will see that the matter has settled at the bottom of your bottle.

Another form of sediment that you may encounter is tiny crystals, called tartrate. Tartrate is formed when potassium and tartaric acid unite. As a result of the combination a solid is created in the form of crystals.

Sediment is not harmful to you in any way. Its prime downfall is that it is not appealing to the eyes. Even the tartrate crystals, as gorgeous as crystals can be, are unflattering when seen floating or adhered to the rim of your wine glass. Even more can be said of the pulp sediment. The thick matter sitting in a glass can easily unsettle a stomach.

If you do find sediment in your wine, do not discard the wine. It is still a great bottle of wine, it just has a few unflattering qualities that need to be removed. Before serving the wine take care to remove as much of the sediment as possible. You may even need to aerate the wine before serving. If by chance you are not able to remove it all and a few straggling pieces of sediment remain, do not be alarmed. The sediment itself may taste a bit bitter, but it shouldn’t ruin the complete taste of the wine. (Editor: I had a member in our Reserve Wine Club tell me that he opened one of the first bottles we ever shipped, from Alpha Omega Winery in Napa Valley, here's me stirring the lees at Alpha Omega, the other day, some sediment needed to be removed from the top of the bottle, but other than that, perfect.  As always I hope you'll consider a wine club membership with us!).

Mark Aselstine
March 6, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Westrey Pinot Gris

I’ll start with a simple mention or note on vintage here, some of you are receiving the 2006 version of this wine and others the 2011.  Weird right? Well, not really-they’re tasting pretty similar right now largely on account that the ‘06 vintage in the Willamette Valley was among the warmest on record, with some winemakers calling it the most similar they’ve ever seen to a stereotypical California year.  To that end, some wineries held back their 2006 white’s until they softened up a bit.  That’s why the 06 is here.  Others have the 11, which is a more classic Oregon vintage, full of restraint and even perhaps a longing for some fruit.


I wanted to feature a Westrey Pinot Gris for some time in our Explorations Wine Club simply because they make such a classic version of what I consider to be Oregon wine.  These are largely acidic driven white’s, made without the benefit of malolactic fermentation.  If you aren’t familiar with malolactic fermentation, it largely softens wines, removing much of their acidity.  Originally French winemakers used the process to help soften the bittyness of acid profiles that can be inherent in cooler climate regions.  In California, winemakers will tell you, if you’re willing to listen for a while, that they feel like allowing malolactic fermentation allows a more complete integration of oak in wine.  Of course, this is Oregon, so we’re not looking for oak and at least personally, I’m not looking for a cooler climate version of a California wine, that acidity and slightly bittyness in terms of mouthfeel, is part of the attraction.


Westrey’s been in the Willamette Valley for about 20 years now, based in the small historic town of McMinnville where I tend to stay on visits because it’s walkable and has a number of nice local restaurants, coffee houses and the like.  I mention that because I think Westrey shows that influence in the prices they charge, as well as the types of wine that they produce.  In the age of $25-$35 white’s and $50+ Pinot’s in Oregon...Westrey has stayed quite constrained and consistent on price point through the years.  For that, they should, without a doubt, be commended.


During most vintages (including what’s in your glasses now), Westrey is using only their estate fruit for this Pinot Gris, offering I think a good classic look into what’s happening in the realm of Oregon white wine.


I think it’s also worth a note that during some vintages, you’ll see Westrey using only native yeasts.  While winemakers debate the topic ad nauseum and never come to any sort of real conclusion about the relative worth of native yeast fermentation, I can tell you that native yeasts definitely call for a more in tune winemaker (at least in my opinion) and here’s why.  Using commercial yeast, you know not only the exact amount of time that fermentation will take, but also what the ending alcohol level will be.  Native yeasts aren’t so simple in either regard.  Generally speaking fermentation is the process that converts sugar in the grapes into alcohol, so winemakers tend to believe that grapes picked at higher BRIX (the level of sugar within the fruit) should lead to higher alcohol wines.  Until, they experiment with native yeasts and find things aren’t so straightforward.  I mention all that to say, it makes September and October to be a rather nerve racking time, or at least even more so than it might be if they were picking yeast out of a catalogue, especially given that there are multiple natural versions on every grape and fermentation when natural has even been known to stop suddenly, only to start again when the weather warms up a bit.


Long story short, natural yeast is a pain in the neck when compared to purchased.  Westrey deserves a mention for both the wine they produce, but how they go about it.

About 250 cases per vintage are produced of this Pinot Gris.

Mark Aselstine
March 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Desert Wine Guy, Badet, Clement & Cie

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So over the last few days I've had conversation with a few new wine blogs that have popped up. One of which is called the Desert Wine Guy based outside of Vegas. One of the things that we've talked about is finding good value wines and where to find them.

So one of the things that I've wanted to do over the last few years and this was a kick starter in that vein, was to try random wines that I found interesting when I was at local grocery stores, local to me here in the Bay area of San Francisco. Trader Joe's, which I know is national now and we'll come back to Trader Joe's in a second, Safeway, the huge national brand, I grew up in Southern California so that was Vons, so it might not be Safeway but it's some Safeway family of companies that you probably have.

We're lucky that we do most of our shopping at a local place called Berkeley Bowl which is a Whole Foods competitor but at maybe half or a third of the cost. We'll shop at Costco, too occassionally for a bottle of wine. I only sell Oregon, Washington and California bottles so on the international stuff I am at the same place that most consumers are. I frankly don't know a whole ton a lot about a ton of regions of France outside of the standard Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, what have you.

So one of the things that the Desert Wine Guy has talked about was this bottle. This is Revelation Cabernet Merlot from Badet Clement and Cie. My French is not great but it's just good enough to know that Cie is company. So it's Badet Clement and Company. And they are based in, it says de Pays D'OC and this is one of the regions, ways that I think the French don't do themselves justice for when they import stuff into America. So this is the Languedoc and I've talked about the Languedoc in the past.

French wine laws are restrictive to the point of being borderline crazy. If you bought a vineyard in Bordeaux tomorrow they would tell you exactly what should be planted and where. Burgundy is even worse. Champagne the same. The Languedoc's one of the few, few regions in France where if you're a wine maker and I want to buy a vineyard and I'm going to plant six different types of grapes. I want to see what I can make and what I can make well and after that I'll figure the rest out. The Languedoc is one of the few regions where you can do that.

It also happens to be one of the largest continuous stretches of vines anywhere in the world. And that's important for something like this which comes into Trader Joe's for, I think I paid $5.99 for it. That's California pricing so you're probably, if you're outside of California paying a dollar or two more if not $10 or so in total.

 So this is a really nice Cab Merlot blend. One of the things that happens in the Languedoc is that they do a good cheaper impersonation of other areas of France and that's what you have here. They've gone for kind of a Bordeaux based blend and you kind of get that where it's more highly acidic than what you get from California for the most part. This reminds me more of Washington than something that you get in California. But there's really good blackberry and dark fruit flavors and the acidity really holds up. And it's something that you'll be really, really happy that you paid $6 bucks for or $8 or whatever it happens to be at your local Trader Joe's.

 And I think that also brings into a larger story about how does Trader Joe's source their wines, so on this stuff I'm fairly certain that this is a wine that's made specifically to come into the U.S. market. I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a tasting for the wines of Provence in San Francisco. They referred to it as rosé in the city. And that's what Provence is known for in France is making some of the best rosé around. This was a group of 60 or 70 wineries. A lot of times they have wine makers there.

Like I said my French is not great but they're kind of to translate enough to understand that they had these three or four bottlelings in front of them and three or four would be available and there was, oh this one that we make 4,000 cases of specifically to try to bring into the U.S. and that's from label design down to the actual stylistic type of wine that they have.

So Trader Joe's will work with people. I suspect this is probably in that same vein. They also, we were talking to a winery in Napa a few years ago about doing a Sauvignon blanc bottling and they had a few extra barrels of wine. And that's fairly typical for something that will happen in a large vinage. They will have a few extra barrels. We looked at it as a way to bring really good value for our exploration wine club folks who wouldn't be able to necessarily access this Sauvignon blanc from Napa based on the average price that they're paying versus what the average price of a Sauvignon blanc in Napa ends up being. And at the end of the day we couldn't do it because the folks ended up selling the whole lot to Trader Joe's. So they have this wine that depending on the vintage and stuff sells between $25 and $35 at the winery all of a sudden it was under a different label at Trader Joe's from $4.99. So that's what Trader Joe's does. That's what they do a really good job of and it's something that people will be happy about if they know how to search through and find what they're looking for.

So it's something that you can expect more from me. I'll start talking randomly about wines that I pick up at Trader Joe's, Safeway or Whole Foods or Costco, in that reign, since I know that those are stores that people have access to across the country. And if you have a few minutes and you're looking to read a different perspective on the world of wine, Desert Wine Guy has a blog spot blog as well as a new website and it's worth a look. The guy owns a vineyard and is based out of Vegas and so I think that adds a different perspective to those of us who are based in California or based in wine regions ourself.

So have a look if you have a minute and Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope that you guys have enjoyed it. The Revelation 2012 Cab Merlot blend from Trader Joes, it's Badet Clement and Cie. Worth a look and you'll be happy you paid $6 bucks for it. Have a good one. Lastly, if you enjoyed this, I hope you'll consider a wine of the month club membership with us.