Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
October 12, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Beer...Deer and Purple Cauliflower

Yesterday brought Matt and I back to wine country, to both pick up a bit of wine as well as having a few brief meetings with winery partners both new and old to our wine clubs. It was a productive day, Sonoma was especially beautiful having the sun break through after four or five days of rain. For those vintners willing to take some risk and let their red wine grapes hang on the vine for a while longer, it looks like they are going to be rewarded by 10 straight days of warm temperatures and sun. When vineyard owners look back on the 2011 vintage, they might simply thank the rains for helping to wash the grapes off for them, while also helping drive more water into the grapes, which is generally a really good thing right before harvest.

You might be wondering about the title here. Over the next few weeks we’ll be launching a new section of the education section on this site. Along with having access to Uncorked Ventures perfect wine tasting days in a number of places, we’ll also start sharing some basic restaurant reviews. We spend as much time in wine country as anyone and we hope Uncorked Ventures will become your preferred destination to plan your next trip to wine country.

Beer: We had lunch at Hopmonk Tavern. Originally from Sabastopool, it now has a location a few blocks from Sonoma Square. Far enough from the square to find as many locals as tourists as well as one of the nicest outdoor seating arrangements we’ve found yet in Sonoma make this a nice lunch spot. They also have live music (and a breathalyzer) outside in the evenings. My only one small complaint is that the beer isn’t brewed on site, but by a larger more famous brewer in San Jose. Overall, it’s a good spot and we’ve heard the original site is in a historic building, which warrants a visit as well.

Deer: On the way to the Durell Vineyard we came across three deer running through some of the open space before the vines. After a few minutes of trying to get a decent picture, we gave up. Seeing the deer reminded me that all of the land use and permitting which is often contentious in wine country, is so incredibly important. I really do believe that having a healthy natural environment helps create better wine.

Purple Cauliflower: Our evening ended at the southern tip of wine country at Boon Fly Restaurant in Carneros. It’s long been thought of as one of the top restaurants in wine country-for good reason. Dinner was excellent, corkage is reasonable at $15 and the dessert menu comes with their famous doughnuts as well as a variety of non-chocolate choices (one of my major complaints about too many restaurants in wine country is that they only have chocolate desserts).  I mention purple cauliflower because the side of vegetables which accompanied my steak included bell peppers, asparagus and purple cauliflower, all of which are grown on site at this Plumpjack property.

Mark Aselstine
October 10, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Sweet Red Wine


Photo Courtest of: http://withfriendship.com/user/kethan123/port-wine.php

One thing which has been a very positive development within the wine industry of late, is greater education for the general public about wine. As I think we all have experienced, the more education or understanding you have of something, the more comfortable you generally are at sharing your opinion and choosing what you like best, instead of what you’re suppose to like.

In that vein, the San Francisco Chronicle had an article about how sweet red wine is making a comeback with wine drinkers.

For a long time, sweet wines have gotten a bad rap as something that only people who don’t know anything about wine like to drink.

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in this space discussing the concept of late, but getting people drinking wine (from the industry’s perspective) is much more important than the type of wine they drink. Someone who likes sweet red wine and drinks it consistently will be more likely to try a dry table wine in the future than someone who only drinks beer.

With all that being said, there are a few grapes which produce slightly sweet wines under normal fermentation conditions. Roussane and Marsanne blends are a good example and when we’ve poured such a wine at tasting events the results are mixed. Some people are completely turned off by the touch of residual sugar, while others tend to enjoy it quite a bit. In the end, these wines typically sell well so I’m sure a sweet red would do just as well.

Lastly, do I think the industry is going to move back to large scale sweet red wine production like the American wine industry was during the two decades right after Prohibition? No. I do think that bringing an increasing diverse range of wines to the marketplace is good for consumers. If you take regional examples, many people would argue that California’s willingness to let vintners experiment is one of the reasons why the state has undergone such dramatic improvements in both quality and quantity of wine crafted within its borders.

Time Posted: Oct 10, 2011 at 9:43 AM
Mark Aselstine
October 7, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Enthusiast and Their Best Value's for 2011

I'll admit, it felt a little early to start seeing best of lists for 2011 when we only recently started the 4th quarter of the year, but Wine Enthusiast released their Top 100 Value Wines of 2011.

While I won't stop to belabor the point, one thing you'll notice with only a short glance at the list, there are still excellent wines produced in California for fair prices.  California has 3 wines in the top 10 and another 3 falling between 11 and 20.

It seems that so many retailers of late have talked at length about the values created in Spain, Portugal and elsewhere while they've seemingly forgotten about California.  It is worth noting that Washington State continues to show well and I think it quickly becoming the clear cut choice for the second most important wine producing state in the United States.  Oregon certainly makes world class Pinot Noir, but the depth of choice from Washington at several price points is almost staggering compared to where it was only a decade ago.

Enjoy the list.

Time Posted: Oct 7, 2011 at 10:01 AM
Mark Aselstine
October 6, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Tim Fish of Wine Spectator and Value from California Wineries

We spend a lot of time in this space talking about smaller wineries and how they deliver better value than their larger counterparts with massive marketing budgets, staff and wineries.

Of course, we also have to be cognescent that the wine drinker who starts by buying $5 wine at Trader Joe’s eventually tends to upgrade both in terms of palate as well as pocketbook.

To that end, I thought the article written by Tim Fish over at Wine Spectator was an interesting one. I do agree that Bogle does a nice job in its price range, although I do think there are a number of wines in the $15-$20 range which most people would enjoy more, even with the small uptick in price point.

That being said, the thought that there is a lack of value available in California wine is a significant long term issue. As someone working to sell California wine, I want people to begin having good experiences with wine from California as early as possible.

Wineries such as Bogle do provide a valuable service to both the consumer as well as the more expensive wine industry. I’m sure that someone who enjoys an 84point Zinfandel for $12 would be interested, especially as time goes by, in trying a 90 point bottle for $20. Hopefully that enjoyment continues as does the appreciation for a single vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir.

Mark Aselstine
October 5, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Blog Wednesday-Dr. Vino

In many ways it is a surprise that it has taken us this long to feature what is among my favorite 3-4 wine blogs on our Wine Blog Wednesday series, but this week we feature one of the biggest names in wine writing: Dr. Vino.

As with many of my favorite blogs, Dr. Vino doesn’t simply post reviews of wines on his site, which can become tiresome for readers in short order. Instead he features a steady stream of industry insights, features on newcomers to the industry and overall interesting features on what’s happening within the world of wine. It almost goes without saying that only a few, if any other blogs cover such a wide variety of topics such as pairing wine with dehydrated food, the best wines under $15 and the labor situation in South African vineyards (makes that Cab blend I opened last night look a bit different sitting on the table this morning).

So who is Dr. Vino? If you’re one to believe his Wikipedia entry (and you should), Dr. Vino is Tyler Colman who holds a PHD from Northwestern and has been educating people about wine and the wine trade for some time in Chicago and now New York.

Personally, I enjoy his ability to call into questions some of the ethics of reviews such as Robert Parker.

While I think Parker has done a lot for the industry, the constant score focus is a difficult situation for any retailer. In our wine club shipments we have to constantly work to continually find high scoring bottles, which is both difficult and in many ways against our stated goal and model which is to spend time in wine country with winemakers and vineyard owners to receive access to prized allocations.  Our favorite bottles and the wines which have received the highest percentage of reorders have not been the highest rated wines we've shipped (with the possible exception of that Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir).

In any case, Dr Vino has helped much of the wine world begin to move away from being so score focused which is a really, really good thing. His writing has also been published everywhere from the New York Times to Forbes, with a couple of books mixed in as well.

If you’re ready to move beyond reviews on a wine blog, Dr. Vino should be at the top of your list.  At Uncorked Ventures we have great respect for his work and truly enjoy reading his blog.

Time Posted: Oct 5, 2011 at 8:24 AM