Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
May 10, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Saini Old Vine Zinfandel Pear Block 2012

Saini Old Vine Zinfandel Pear Block 2012

Ok, so I’ve been told that people are sick and tired of hearing about lower alcohol wines in these newsletters-I’ve been asked to give me something that reminds me what made California famous.

Here you go.

Saini is a 4th generation grower and before the 2012 vintage, scores from critics were always suspect.  That’s kept prices reasonable, then Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate folks tasted the 2012’s and came away impressed to say the least.

93 points for the wine that’s in your glass.

In some ways, this is a perfect storm for a good Parker score.  For a magazine (can we call it that when only a single page is in color?) that prides itself on answering only a single question about a wine: how much did I enjoy this? A Zinfandel at 15.5% alcohol, might always be highly scored. Only Saini hasn’t been to this point.

I think part of that is the fact that they are 4th generation growers and what you do as a grower, is different than what you do if you are growing an estate vineyard.  If you’re making the wine yourself, you retain more control and the finished product becomes more important than anything else along the way. Saini has also been working through the process of moving to their own production.  Growers and wineries typically have contracts for about 5 years on average, so this is one of the first full vintages where the family had the opportunity to make the entirety of their wine, the way that they see fit. The results, I think you’ll agree, are memorable.

Called full bodied and opulent, I couldn’t agree more.

A final note on Saini, the vineyard.  These are Zinfandel vines that have been planted since 1940, I’ve tasted through a range of Zin lately from the Dry Creek Valley and unlike other varietals, I really do feel that the hype behind “old vine” Zinfandel is warranted.  There’s a real difference in the depth and complexity of those vines planted a great deal of years ago, when compared with more recent additions.  Here’s the issue though, at your local wine store, or especially a grocery store or discount chain where someone might not be as available to help: unlike say AVA requirements, there are no legal requirements for what constitutes an “old vine”. Many vintners, in an effort for some extra sales say they have an old vine Zin, as soon as the vines are past 10 years old.  Personally speaking the expected life span of Cabernet or Pinot vines are about 35 years or so, give or take.  I’d look for old vine Zin, older than that.

I’m not the biggest fan of Zinfandel, it has been said after all that people usually either enjoy Pinot Noir, or Zinandel but not often both….but this is a damn good wine and well deserving of the critical praise that it came with.

Wine club members are receiving this Saini Zinfandel in their May shipments.  Enjoy!

Mark Aselstine
May 8, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Wait Cellars Green Valley Pinot Noir Devoto Garden Vineyard 2012

Wait Cellars Green Valley (a sub AVA of the Russian River Valley) Pinot Noir Devoto Garden Vineyard 2012

So that’s a mouthful of a name right? So Wait Cellars is a local winery for us here in San Francisco, owner Bob Wait owns the Page on Divisadero Street in SF, which you’ll see referred to as a nightly bar, or even a dive bar depending on who you’re talking to. When I hear it from folks who live in other districts of the city, it’s referred to as a dive bar, but often with a longing look because their local watering holes have been getting torn out for redevelopment with increasing regularity. With the wine being made at Bluxome Street winery just down the street, Wait Cellars has become something of a local essential on high end restaurant wine lists. When you open your bottle you’ll see why.

Allowed to ferment with exclusively native yeasts (a risky proposition at a winery with anything of a shared space) the wine has a lightness and depth that speaks to the 2012 vintage that Sonoma winemakers describe as idyllic so often that it must have come from some type of marketing campaign.  Really though, the vintage was pretty perfect for what this type of wine is trying to be.  The spring and summer was cool, which was only topped off by a consistently warm and dry summer and early fall.  While Napa winemakers talk about their vintage of the century every few years, this is the first time I’ve heard that type of hyperbole from Sonoma vintners. If this were Burgundy, prices would have gone through the stratosphere already.

The Green River Valley, deserves a mention before I go on. A smaller AVA completely contained within the wider Russian River Valley. Located in the southwestern part of the Russian River, it’s the coldest growing region in the RRV.  As you leave the town of Sabastapol, many times you’ll notice a definite change in the temperature, it’s at least 5 degrees colder than it is in town, which is why you end up with brighter, more acidic wines.  Oh and the fog comes straight in from the Petaluma Gap, enveloping the region in fog until mid morning and again beginning fairly earlt in the afternoon. That more acidic wine is the style of the day of course, but the sun still shines for long enough for the grapes to reach ripeness, which is helping the Green River Valley to be among the most sought after growing regions in Sonoma.  Over the past few years, the prices for Pinor Noir grapes from the region have close to doubled and while not in the range of Napa Valley Cabernet as of yet, but it’s getting more expensive by the vintage.

Before I go on, I should mention…..93 points from Wine Enthusiast. Also mentioned as one of the top 12 Pinot Noir’s from Napa and Sonoma for the entire vintage.  It’s a wine we’re happy we sourced before the scores came out!

So what’s in your glass? A Sommelier’s dream.  Mid level tannin.  High acidity.  There’s been whole cluster fermentation, which leads to the slight hazyness in your glass.  Most winemakers would attempt to clean that up, simply for sales sake….a lot of consumers think that means there is something wrong with the wine, it’s simply not filtered, but there’s something to be said when you’ve only made 300 cases of a wine and you’re pretty sure it’s great and also that you can move the wine at local restaurants, or the bar you own.  Then one of the 3 most important wine reviewers on the planet gives your little side wine project a 93 point score and things maybe just changed.  For Wait, this is a wine that may move someone from being a bar owner who tried to make a little wine on the side, to someone who makes wine for a living and got his start because he owned a bar.

I love this wine and I love the story.  At 300 cases and this level of quality, it’s a project that I am truly happy to support.

Currently being shipped to wine club members for their May 2015 shipments.

Mark Aselstine
May 7, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Andretti Merlot Napa Valley 2011

Can Merlot be a serious grape? What if it comes from a vintage that has been universally panned in the main stream press?  What if it’s from Napa Valley?

We’ve talked about Andretti in the past, of course, with almost unlimited financial backing both through ownership cash infusions, as well as the clout to arrange meetings with any restaurant group, distributor or broker in the world, there’s going to be some good wine made.

Andretti’s wines are made by esteemed winemaker Bob Pepi, which is why this is taken off the curiosity list and into the category of, high quality wines….at least in my opinion. Although known for his work as his father’s right hand so to speak in developing Sangiovese in the Valley, Pepi’s history in Napa makes Merlot, in my opinion a natural off shoot.

Pepi’s been in the valley for his entire life and the ability to continually source outstanding grapes, comes largely from relationships in Napa Valley.  There’s about 1400 people total in Napa making wine today, most of which wouldn’t give Merlot a second look.  They’re too busy thinking about a Sonoma Coast Pinot, or a mountain Cabernet.  History isn’t a bad thing though in this case, in Bordeaux Cabernet and Merlot inhabit opposite sides of the river and neither is considered a red headed step child, as Merlot has become here in California.  An old world approach respects Merlot for what it can be given a solid vineyard and a good growing year.

That brings me to the much malingned 2011 vintage in Napa Valley.  Was it colder than normal? Yes, it was.  My meetings with winemakers though are interesting when it comes to their 2011 wines….I’m not scared of shipping them and I think my wine club customers have enjoyed them enough that I don’t need to intentionally skip the vintage as a whole in Napa.  Winemakers don’t know that though.  Inevitably, they’ll open an ‘11 and say….take it with a grain of salt, it’s an ‘11.  Then they’ll ask as soon as I’ve tasted it, pretty good right? When you look at the sun hours chart for the vintage (I haven’t seen it online, but some of the more scientifically inclined winemakers swear by the thing, which all too often is sitting above their chemistry set) it was about 10% cooler than normal.  To me, once you taste what’s here, it isn’t a death knell for the vintage.  Are these classic Napa wines? Not exactly, they’re a bit more acidic and austere, but Napa’s been a world famous wine region for a generation in large part because everything, ALWAYS gets ripe.  Hell, you can’t complain about Napa being too “big” and “over-ripe” in the 2010 vintage, then come back and say that the ‘11’s are underripe and undrinkable.  I mean, sure we can all be some version of Goldilocks and looking for the perfect fit for our cash and wine expenditures, but when you actually open this and drink it, I think you’ll say the same thing that the average winemaker does: this is pretty good.

Folks in our Special Selections Wine Club, as well as select members of our Reserve Selections Wine Club will get a chance to tell us, can Merlot be taken seriously?

Mark Aselstine
May 6, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Caraccioli Sparkling Brut 2008

Caraccioli Sparkling Brut 2008

I have to admit, I didn’t drink a lot of sparkling wine before a few months ago, but necessity intervened.  To start, we’re expanding our gift basket offerings, including a breakfast styled gift basket, so I need a sparkling wine to carry and include in that basket.

Secondly, my wife does love her Champagne.  If you aren’t familiar, California technically cannot produce Champagne since that’s a region in France and while a few brands don’t bother following what is actually law, all sparkling wine, even when made from Chardonnay, should be labeled as sparkling wine….not Champagne.  I’m suspicious of those not following the rules there, since it seems like an easy marketing mechanism to steal some extra on premise sales and I hate those wines that are brand driven, instead of being quality driven.

Ok so more important, Caraccioli.  There aren’t many small production sparkling wine houses in California-in fact other than J Vineyards and Korbel, even Sonoma and Napa offer a select few choices, none of which I both liked enough to ship while being small enough production to warrant my attention. Caracciloi is a project from Gary Caraccioli who leads what is a 4th generation of farmers, making wine for the first time starting in 2006.  Early returns on the sparkling side have been solid, or above and as we move into later vintages, there’s the opportunity for much, much more.  These grapes come exclusively from the famed Santa Lucia Highlands, known world wide for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The Brut Cuvee in your glass is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, made in a traditional fashion.  I had originally run into Caraccioli a couple of years back, but this is our first large scale release of their wine to our wine club customers, in large part because production is incredibly small. Also, I ran into a pretty famous critic, who used to write for Wine Advocate, who asked his name not be used here….we chatted about the death of sparkling wine startups in California, only to have him mention Caraccioli and that the scores are sitting in the low 90’s now, but they’re figuring out the winemaking side of things and their fruit is among the best in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

That was enough for me and this could easily be our house sparkler, if we could pay about $50 for the privilege.  When compared to some of the larger labels out there, you’ll find a sense of depth and nuance here that belies the youth of the winery, but shows what might truly be possible when it comes to sparkling wine production in California’s colder climates. We hope that our wine of the month club members enjoy the first sparkling wine we've found sufficient in quality to ship in the past two years.

Mark Aselstine
May 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Dexter Lake California Red Wine 2013

Dexter Lake 2013 California Red Wine BottleIt’s the most ridiculous bottle I’ve run into in some time.  There’s the mustache, which makes me think I should have shipped this thing in Movember, instead of the spring.  Then there’s the free Wordpress website that hasn’t been updated since the summer of 2013.

Seems like a winery trying really hard for sales, right?  Kind of a mess too, right?

I thought the exact same things, before I actually opened a bottle.  It’s good and it’s a classic California red.  Which led me to do some more digging about how this weird, strange thing ended up on my doorstep.

Dexter Lake is a project from winemaker Matthew Rorick, who makes the acclaimed Forlorn Hope Wines. Since those are almost stupidly small production lots, I’ll let Jon Bonne from the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section do some of the introduction for me.  Bonne called Rorick a winemaker to watch in 2013 and has included his Forlorn Hope label among 150 wineries leading the charge to a new type and style of wine in California.  That style is one I am more accustomed to than most (it’s what I would make, if I could in fact make wine) but has led to some interesting experiences.  Rorick’s first Chardonnay spent 14 months fermenting because he used native yeasts and the fermentation kept stopping when the weather got cold, hot, rained etc.  It would make a less patient guy dump in some commercial yeasts like most winemakers, only to return after 21 days to a finished fermentation.  Instead, he’s continued, native yeasts, whole grape clusters and only a touch of sulfur (other than Donkey and Goat, God Bless you if you find anyone else not using any these days).  Maybe it’s Rorick’s background as a surfer in San Diego (Oceanside, but we counted it as kids, so I’ll count it here) but there’s a patience here.

Part of that patience I’m afraid does come from his wife’s family owning Snowden Vineyards in Napa, a winery that we’ve shipped in our Special Selections Wine Club previously, but the profile of Snowden has undoubtedly allowed Rorick the space to generate the types of wines that he wants.  

Emboldened by a 19th century winemaking text Rorick is working to master a new generation of California wine, even if the winemaking techniques he’s using happen to have been created in the Chateau’s of Bordeaux, around the time when Charles Darwin was walking around London.

Oh and before I forget, this is a series of old vine vineyards in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco, which make up the backbone for this wine.  Sometimes, even superstar winemakers want to try something new and when they do, they often have a 2nd label to do so. We think our Explorations Wine Club members are going to especially enjoy this full bodied California red, that comes in at only 13% alcohol, a trick of native yeast to be sure.