Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
October 28, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Methven Family Vineyards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Estate 2006

So I’m a really, really big believer that wine, especially white wine, can age much, much longer than most people give it credit for.

Part of that belief comes from experience. Two of the probably 5 most memorable bottles of wine I’ve had since opening Uncorked Ventures were aged, well beyond what would have been considered their upper limits.

First, it was a 1960’s Burgundy.  Not a first growth, in fact the wine blogger that initially opened it said it was priced for about $4 back then….in today’s money, how many $15 bottles have you left laying around for a lifetime? Sure, there was some fruit starting to move the wrong direction, but the nose on the thing was simply incredible. It was a complete bottle of wine and made me wonder, outside of the obvious financial implications, if I should ever drink something young ever again.

Secondly and perhaps more germane to what we’re talking about here, during the Rhone Rangers seminar last year, Bob Lindquist from Qupe opened a bottle of Marsanne from the early 1980’s.  Again, incredible nose and a set of flavors that literally wowed everyone in the room. That bottle made me decide to try my hand at a white Rhone blend when I bottled my first, after all, how good might those wines end up being when I’m in my 60’s or 70’s?

I bring that all up because, then you see this Oregon Pinot Gris.  This checks all the boxes of a high end white wine.  First, it is 100% estate fruit and they use some pretty incredible farming practices: mainly that they cap output on the vineyard at 2.2 tons per acre.  To put that number in perspective, Napa’s highest end Cult Cabernet’s sit around 2 tons per acre.  The average in Napa and Sonoma is about 4 tons per acre and in the central valley where cheaper wine is made in California, it’s close to 10.

The winery initially thought this thing would be drinkable through 2010.  I think we can all appreciate that is an inexact science, but having opened two bottles of this now.  Dang, it’s good.

Ok, so a word about Oregon wine back in 2006. This was “the” vintage in Oregon.  Literally any idiot could make great wine according to most.  Pinot Noir in Oregon, much like this Pinot Gris could have gone to 4,6 or 8 tons per acre and still been good.  I should mention that keeping the vineyard output low, gives the fruit more intense flavors and in my experience, a slightly darker color than you might be accustomed to.  When you open this Pinot Gris, it isn’t transparent like many others from Oregon, instead it’s more of a golden honey color.  It’s also almost syrupy, which is something that you do see happen when aging white wine.

Methven Vineyards is owned by Allen & Jim Methven, whom run what seems like a very “Oregon” operation.  They grow blueberries as well as tending bees for honey. If you have kids of your own, the story about how they ended up with their first hive, will make you laugh.  While I have two young kids in my house, the thought of one of them announcing that he was moving, as well as, asking us to take care of his bee hive….sounds about right.

Almost too right.

There’s also a high end Villa on the property with a handful of surprisingly affordable rooms, priced around $200 per night.

Located about 10 miles from my preferred spot in the Willamette Valley (McMinnville) Methven is well worth a visit.  The wine’s quite good and they offer a range of interesting Pinot Noir’s in addition to the white in your glass, as well as the standard Oregon Rose offerings.

If this is your first aged white wine….let me know what you think.  Is it worth the wait?

Currently shipping in our cheapest wine club, the Explorations Wine Club.

Mark Aselstine
October 22, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Zerba Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

So this is interesting right? I mean, how often do you find a wine aged about a decade, or longer by the winery?

Zerba’s an interesting winery.  Those who have been a wine club member for a while know that while my wine country visits during the regular year often tend to focus on California both because there are more logical targets, after all 90% of American wine is still made in California, but also because Napa and Sonoma are day trips and a bit more focused for me (and quite honestly, less night’s away is easier on the family, already dealing with some of the issues that come with a startup). The last two summers I’ve spent a week in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and then a week in Walla Walla Washington, Zerba’s been in both places.

That’s more unusual than you might expect.  After all, it’s about a 6 hour drive from the Willamette Valley (think an hour south of Portland) to get to Walla Walla which if you aren’t familiar, is in eastern Washington state. It’s like a winery having tasting rooms in both San Francisco and Los Angeles simultaneously, all the while believing that they really do belong in both spots culturally.

Additionally, as it turns out, a wrong turn when going into the eastern reaches of Walla Walla, has you end up in Milton Freewater, Oregon.  That’s where Zerba is based.

I think the Walla Walla location fits their style and before you start thinking that these are Oregon guys, playing with Washington fruit-the Columbia Valley AVA deserves a mention.

The Columbia Valley is named after the Columbia river, which creates the border of Oregon state and Washington state pretty close to the Idaho border on the eastern side of both states, however wine growing regions are not often divided quite as easily, as are states.  A river makes an outstanding state border, but a wine region might be better divided by the valley that the river has created over millennia.

Zerba’s really a Washington winery in terms of style, but quite honestly, the Oregon sides of the border are built up more so than the Washington sides of the border in the region, pretty much exactly the opposite of what you find in the western portion of both states, where Oregon has sleepy beach town’s that no one has ever heard of….while Washington has Seattle.  

So more important perhaps? What’s in your glass?

There aren’t critics scores for this 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, but the 2004 vintage in the Columbia Valley was considered quite good overall by Wine Spectator (they score it as a 89 for the vintage as a whole).  It’s partially available because the 2005 is considered a once in a decade vintage, so there’s more interest by buyers and collectors there. We’ve also pushed the envelope a bit here.  The 03’s that I tasted, are starting to lose some appeal.  The 05’s are more expensive than I would have liked for our Explorations Wine Club.  This retails, when new for about $28 and seems fair after a decade of cellaring.

I know I’ve mentioned the fact before, but 98% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase and given how quickly phone calls tend to come when people receive their monthly wine club orders, I don’t doubt that fact any longer.

That being said, age and wine go together well.  I won’t go into the chemistry, that aspect might interest me, but I know that chemistry isn’t nearly anyone’s favorite class-better generally avoided I’ve been told….but let’s say there are a number of compounds inherent in well made wine that work well together over time.  The wine loses some of it’s hard edges and becomes more of a single entity instead of separate composite parts-smell, mouthfeel and finish.

I’ll continue to look for examples of wines like this-because I think it helps to show why people who age wine, do so because of the results that they receive.

Here’s the rub though: wine ages best at about 50 degrees and 70% humidity.  There have been studies showing that wine refrigerators don’t do as good of a job, as does a natural cellar-or at least one large enough to walk into.

I have my warehouse which contains a few juicy parcels set aside for the future, like my oldest son’s birth wine, but that isn’t reality for most of our customers, like it wouldn’t be for my wife and I otherwise.  So, to fill in the gaps so to speak, an aged Cabernet….which I hope you’ll enjoy!

Mark Aselstine
October 22, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Viento Riesling Underwood Mountain Vineyard 2007

Every once in a while, something interesting comes in-that makes you smile.  In this case, an aged Riesling, from a producer that I know….from a vintage that I trust.

Before we go on, I’ll mention off the cuff that Wine Spectator scored this at 91 points.

It’s an excellent example of Riesling in Oregon. You’ll note that unlike the Finger Lakes in New York, there’s no scale on the bottle denoting if there is any residual sugar in it or not (in essence, there is no sweetness scale).  

This is the way I tend to like my Riesling’s-it’s said to be “off-dry” meaning that there is some residual sweetness-but that’s partially due to the grape itself, as well as being part of the winemaker’s choice.

It also reminds me that perhaps this shows my age a bit.  Over the past few years there has been a rise of sweet wines, as well as semi sweet wines such as this. Those markets are heavily influenced by millennials, really one of the first generations that grew up with things sweeter than juice around-after all 2014 marks the 10th year of declining soda sales (http://www.wsj.com/articles/pepsi-cola-replaces-diet-coke-as-no-2-soda-1427388559)  and if you believe that some things that happen in Berkeley before the rest of the country: we have an additional tax on soda in play that has cut down on sales more significantly locally than almost anything else has done.

Anyway, it all means that millennials are more likely to order a sweet wine than were any previous generation.  The wine industry also typically finds that once drinking habits are established, they stick around.

Ok, ok….back to the wine.  The folks in Oregon are known for allowing a greater amount of earthy type flavors to be imparted into their wines, than are the rest of the winemaking world.  That means that they aren’t about to be caught dead making a completely sweet Riesling.  Maybe that’s one of the rationale for not using the scale, largely becoming standard on grapes and wines that can swing wildly in the amount of sugar left over in your wine….but I wish everyone would use it. It’s one of the few labeling tactics that would actually make it significantly easier for consumers over the short and long term.

As an industry, isn’t that something we should be working toward doing?

I’ll also take a moment and talk about Riesling.  If you’re a new member to our Explorations Wine Club and you’ve only bought wine at grocery stores and wine stores, without much help before….this might be the first version of the varietal that you’ve ever tried.

Riesling is one of the few grapes native to Germany, a country where the grape gains it’s greatest influence in the lush, cold Mosel Valley.

When we first opened Uncorked Ventures, our Explorations Wine Club was not limited solely to California, Oregon and Washington State.  Instead it was international. Given that our higher end wine clubs were both focused exclusively on Oregon, Washington and California….it made for a marketing challenge and while we weren’t the smartest guys in the room….we listen well when multiple people make the same suggestion repeatedly. From winemakers to customers, everyone simply told us to stick to the west coast, where we actually knew people-

Back in the old days, one of the first wines we shipped was a dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley and when we were talking to the winemaker, he had sent an image that really struck me (he didn’t take it, but instead showed us that this is how it’s done where he lives.  Retired and even elderly people work harvest in many parts of Germany. The vineyards are also incredibly steep and frankly, dangerous. Parts of the Mosel Valley don’t have much top soil, instead there are rather large rocks, boulders almost that will, on occasion, break off and roll down into the river.  But, where you have grapes struggling for ripeness, rocks are a good thing.  They suck in heat during the warm days and spit it back out in the cold evenings, helping to not only prevent frost, but according to the locals, help the vines reach a better and more acceptable level of ripeness.

That example of a good, affordable and yes, semi-sweet German Riesling stuck with me and I’ve been looking for something similar to this day domestically.

Oregon doesn’t have the retired harvest hands, but the struggle for ripeness that has helped to shape Riesling and Mosel together, epitomizes Oregon Riesling as well. It isn’t quite as cold, but the chances of multiple 100+ degree days in much of Oregon’s wine country, is minimal at best.

That means the Riesling here, might be a bit less mineral infused than its German counterparts, but it’s also perhaps more familiar since it isn’t so strikingly acidic.

Lastly, I’ll mention that even for Oregon….’07 was pretty darn cold. If you take a moment to read about the vintage online, people hate it.  Well, consumers hate it.  Wine reviewers hate it.  Hell, the wineries take time to try and defend it….basically while saying that yes, they kind of hate it as well.

Everyone’s talking about Pinot Noir though-not Riesling.  Here’s the main difference; that vintage in 07 was marred by a huge rainstorm in September that ruined a bunch of fruit and left winemakers with some impossible choices elsewhere-at least in terms of Pinot Noir.

For Riesling, the grapes had already been picked and were happily fermenting before those September rains began.

Mark Aselstine
October 15, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

A Cheap but Good Carmenere, from Trader Joe's

I don't drink a ton of Carmenere, unless I'm in South America....but this was pretty darn good and made me wonder....does anyone focus on it here in California? That might be a bit too much counter culture for the Golden State, but Washington perhaps in the future will give it a shot.

Hi guys! Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It's been a while since I've done one of these. We do have an infant in the house so that kind of affects some of that kind of stuff.

I'm joined today by a bottle of wine that we don't sell that I actually picked up at Trader Joe's a couple weeks back. It's a Marchigüe Carménère. It's a single vineyard. I think it's a good example of what Trader Joe's does well. A single vineyard bottle of wine for seven bucks in the States simply doesn't exist. For somebody who wants to break into the U.S. market doing something through Trader Joe's where it's kind of a one-stop shop and a one purchase order and then everything goes out to a variety of different stores and you kind of get your name out there a little bit kind of can make a lot of sense.

Carménère, if you're not familiar, it is a grape native to the Médoc, which is Bordeaux, but much like Malbec it's a grape that has found a home in South America. Carménère is really the vast majority of Chilean red wine plantings. It is related to Cabernet in a few different ways. They share a common ancestor so I guess you would say that's kind of like us and orangutans. In essence, what you're getting is a largely Cabernet-style wine. Carménère means "red" or "rosy" and it's largely drawn from the color of the foliage, not the color of the actual wine in your glass. 

I think one of the interesting things about Carménère is that it's something that's just now starting to get played with by wine-makers and vineyards. There's going to be a chance for folks I think in Paso Robles and some of the warmer areas in and around the western United States. Walla Walla in Washington is another place where you're starting to see more plantings of it. I don't think you're going to see a ton of single vineyard and single varietal wines being produced, but I do think you're going to start seeing some fifty-fifty Carbernet and Carménère blends. I think you'll see some innovative [vendors 00:01:50] that are starting to push this out in a more meaningful way at least in the United States. 

Once again, this is a short intro to Carménère. If you're looking for a Cabernet alternative, it's an interesting place to start, especially if you'd like to save a few dollars on a bottle of wine. Obviously a large part of what goes into the price of wine is land pricing and land as you might expect in large portions of Chile is still quite a bit cheaper than say it is in Napa Valley. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures and Marchigüe Carménère from Trader Joe's, about seven bucks. Sure, it's not one of our wine club offerings, but hey....it's a fun little wine at a really, really nice price point. It's a single vineyard. Well worth the price if you want a Cabernet alternative. Thanks again. Have a good one.


Mark Aselstine
October 13, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Decalier De La Terre 2009 Red Wine

So, I hope you enjoy Rhone varietals.

In this month’s Special Selections Wine Club shipment, you’re receiving 3 Rhone varietals that pretty much, in my opinion, sums up what’s happening in California wine….at least in terms of Rhone’s.

The white wine that I blended comes from Sonoma.  This is a Lake County red wine blend and the incredible Grenache is from Paso Robles.

Back to what’s in your glass here.  We’ve had a few cases of this wine for a while now, but I couldn’t find an opportune time to include it in a shipment.  I thought showing this interesting Grenache-Mourvedre blend, along with a straight Grenache would help to show the vast differences that the Grenache grape can bring. This is the type of wine that usually ends up as a GSM blend-Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  There’s no Syrah to speak of, largely because the thing doesn’t get ripe in Lake County-at least not consistently.  That changes the way that they make blends and shows the differences that are inherent between growing regions, even one’s that plan on focusing on Rhone varietals.

I’ve done some Lake County wines over the past few months, so I hope the style here isn’t a complete surprise.  A Sommelier friendly wine, it’s light and acidic. It’s a nice impression of what Grenache looks like from Lake County.

In terms of the 2009 vintage, this was almost ideal for Grenache and Mourvedre. You’ll still hear some complaints about the early October rains in 2009, but this Grenache and Mourvedre were both well off the vine by that time….safely fermenting under lock and key. It was a long, hot and dry summer in 2009 in Lake County.  The locals have called it a once in a decade vintage (alas, if this were Bordeaux, they’d call it a once in a generation vintage…..a little better sounding I think). Mourvedre in peculiar needs it to be pretty darn hot to be successful.  Grenache is a grape that does well across a very broad spectrum of growing environments, that’s evident here since it’s so flowery and according to some, light. Grown closer to the cooling effects of the lake, there’s a lightness and a brightness that simply can’t be made in say Paso Robles.

So here’s the thing about this wine.  If you look it up online….there’s not much there. That’s because two things went on, first, this was made by a Sommelier friend in San Francisco.  Well, he didn’t exactly make it, but a winery made it for his chain of restaurants and I ended up with a few cases on trade. It’s also not a wine from Easton Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills and it’s also not from New Zealand (in case you haven’t picked up on that fact already).

But, as I’ve talked about before, 2009 was a good vintage in Lake County. If you were to ask a growing region to sell more good wine than they usually have, you’d think most would be pretty excited at the idea.  The unfortunate part of this story is that Lake County is in a fight for market space both locally here in San Francisco, but everywhere.  If you were a winery, would you want to have to compete with the likes of Napa Valley, Sonoma, the Dry Creek Valley and increasing the Anderson Valley for shelf space?

I wouldn’t.

That’s kept prices down and will keep quality wine flowing into channels like our monthly wine clubs, which aren’t the standard way for wine to get sold.

Given some of the prices I’ve seen similar bottles selling for with a Russian River Valley name (think well into the $40’s) you’ll be pleased with what’s here.