Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Balsamic Vinegar

People in the wine business, including Matt and I at Uncorked Ventures, like to joke about wine being cellared for too long…..when that happens you have vinegar.

Those jokes made me think about some of the different vinegar choices on the market currently, especially as we see wineries in Napa Valley starting to produce not only olive oil but vinegar as well.

Of course, a winery is going to produce balsamic vinegar.

Much like Champagne though, no winery outside one specific region should be using the name, although the practice is common. Balsamic vinegar is made only in Emilia-Romaga which is just north of Tuscany in Italy.

How do you tell which balsamic vinegars are of the highest quality? Unfortunately, the easiest way to tell is the price. A 3 ounce bottle can often be priced at close to $20, or much, much more.

The process of making the vinegar is both time consuming and labor intensive. It goes something like this. Unfermented grape must is boiled down into a syrup. This syrup is then allowed to ferment and turns to vinegar. The vinegar is then aged at least a decade in a series of progressively smaller barrels of different wood types. Oak, chestnut, cherry, linden, mulberry, juniper and ash are the most common choices although locally grown wood is often used at some point in the process as well. As evaportation occurs the resulting syrup becomes sweeter and sweeter, while flavors become more dense.

So, how should you serve a balsamic vinegar if you happen to find a great example at your local fine food retailer?

Our suggestion, sprinkle a bit (don’t pour!) on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and enjoy what many Italians consider the perfect appetizer.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine


Last week we talked a bit about the Atlas Peak AVA and some of the exciting things happening there, since our wine club customers have already received their February shipment we’re now comfortable taking some time to talk about the wine and winery which we featured from Atlas Peak.

Vinroc is located high on Atlas Peak and we were interested in tasting their wine as soon as we saw their marketing slogan which said there were “More Coyotes than Tourists” on the mountain. That sounds like hard to find wine.

When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by owner/winemaker Michael G. Parmenter who gave us a quick visual tour of the property. Michael and his wife “Kik” Lee are in the process of building their dream on Atlas Peak. They started by building the wine cave which is cut back into the mountainside and have now moved on to building their home and tasting room. It’s a well designed space which seems to be a year or so away from completion, until then you’ll be tasting in the same space which we did, the cave itself.

The vineyard sits directly below the site of their new home and the soon to be finished tasting room, which must have one of the best views of any vineyard on Atlas Peak. We were immediately struck by the size of the vineyard, at just under five acres it was easy to see the hands on effort which goes into this wine. Michael talked about being able to harvest literally berry by berry or vine by vine if need be. With an operation consisting of Michael, his wife and two vineyard hands it’s pretty clear that these are wines which are truly hand made.

Ok, about the wine itself. Let’s start with a couple impartial reviews from names you’ll probably recognize:

From Wine Spectator: “92 Points. Well-crafted, dark, rich, intense, concentrated and well-structured, with a mix of loamy earth, mineral, graphite and dried currant flavors that echo red and black licorice. Full-bodied, with a hint of new leather. Drink now through 2019. 325 cases made. —J.L.”

From Robert Parker: “An impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Atlas Peak area of Napa Valley, this dense ruby/purple wine has sweet tannin and a very floral nose intermixed with cassis and plum. Round, generous, seductive and opulent, this is a classic 2007-delicious, forward, and ideal for drinking over the next 10-15 years”. Rating: 90.”

One of the things that struck Matt and I while we tasted were the tannins of this wine. Parker nails it insider his review (as usual) when he says they are slightly sweet. That was our experience as well, not in a residual sugar kind of way, definitely not like a Port, but to me it was more reminiscent of a berry being left on the vine until the absolute peak of ripeness. We were also impressed at how approachable the wine is, especially considering it comes from mountain fruit. We discussed it in our Atlas Peak AVA article last week, but the cool breeze coming up Atlas Peak from Carneros allows the fruit to regain lost acidity at night and gives the fruit a longer growing season.

To us, that drink ability factor helped set this wine apart from other mountain fruit. It wasn’t as bitty or condensed as we were accustomed to from Howell Mountain or Mt. Veeder.

That drink ability is a really good thing for consumers though for any number of reasons, but we think it also kept scores down a few points simply because it’s slightly unexpected from mountain fruit. The bottom for us at Uncorked Ventures, we feel like Vinroc is one of those wineries which is going to deliver ever increasing scores as time goes by, even though the quality of wine is largely already there.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Blog Wednesday-Wine Harlots

One tough aspect about being based online, it’s sometimes difficult to meet some of the people that you speak with regularly through email, Facebook or Twitter. We’ve been lucky to spend some time with one half of the Wine Harlots at a couple of tasting events in and around San Diego and have always enjoyed the interactions.

Wine Harlots is one wine blog which we enjoy reading at Uncorked Ventures for a variety of reasons, but the biggest being that the Wine Harlots seem to really understand that consumers have different expectations based on prices that they pay for wine. It makes sense, but sometimes people in the business and some wine blogs seem to forget that your expectation for a $2 Chuck from Trader Joe’s is dramatically different than a $200 cult producer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

We especially like the somewhat off beat and interesting reviews, such as their review of X winery from Napa Valley: “This is a wine fit for extraordinary divas and thirsty Wine Harlots. A seriously sophisticated quaff. The aroma of black fruit segues to the flavors of blackberry, black cherries, raspberry and spice on the palate with a lingering earthy toastiness on the finish. This is a rich and delicious wine. To complement the X Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the perfect pairing is Donna Hay’s Warm Chili Beef Salad with Coriander Pesto.”

The bottom line: An interesting wine blog which is one of the very few to offers reviews at every price point you can imagine. They also include links to relevant recipes as well which is a nice touch if you’re looking for a complete meal.

Lastly, we couldn’t talk about the Wine Harlots without mentioning their social media success. Easily, one of the most influential bloggers on Twitter with over 18,000 followers they also filled up the 5,000 friend allotment on their Facebook account which led to the creation of their new fan page.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Premiere Napa Valley

Premiere Napa Valley

Every year the Napa Valley Vintners Association holds Premiere Napa Valley, a live auction event where various lots of wine are sold with the proceeds going to charity. This is hardly your high school’s gala though, as $2.4 million was raised this year in what amounts to the highest ever take for the event.

Many people consider the day of barrel sampling and then bidding to be the best barometer of fine wine sales during the upcoming year. Many of the wines on display are already sold out, meaning for a retailer to find an allocation there is no other choice than to bid at the auction.

While we don’t necessarily agree that this is a great barometer for fine wine sales as a 5 case offering from Scarecrow wine netted a $125,000 donation from a Tokyo based wine distributor (over 2k per bottle) we are comfortable in saying, increasing prices at auction is a healthy sign for an industry which has had difficult times during the past two years.

Taking a little something from the official press release, we do think it’s informative to see which wines are garnering the highest bids: “Rounding out the top ten highest earning lots of the day include Schrader Cellars, Ovid, first-time Premiere-participating winery, Levy and McClellan, Shafer Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Winery, Reynolds Family Winery, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and Beringer Vineyards”

I think you can agree that the list of highest earning wineries shows an industry both in touch with its past (Mondavi and Beringer) as well as with upcoming names in Reynolds Family and Ovid.

Time Posted: May 24, 2011 at 6:29 PM
Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Languedoc from Facebook

One of the aspects I like about our business is the ability to interact with customers and our Facebook Page offers that in a familiar format.

A good friend and Wine Exploration Wine Club member had the following to say:

“I am enjoying my second glass of the Domaine de Nizas GSM blend…one of my favorites from the wine club so far!”

First, thanks for the kind words Heather. We thought it was an interesting example of a GSM blend from a wine region which is still relatively unknown to American consumers.

Languedoc has been overshadowed for centuries by its more famous neighbors including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and even the Rhone Valley but the Languedoc is now becoming known as the area to look for to see experimentation and innovation in French wine.

To start, the Languedoc is huge. It currently produces about a third of all the wine crafted each year in France. For that reason, the region was once making wine which was cheaper than water for French citizens. The French government went so far during the world wars to provide a daily ration of the wine to its soldiers.

All of that changed in the 1980’s when a group of creative vintners realized that the climate in the Languedoc was very similar to the Southern Rhone Valley and Provence. It’s a warm climate which makes it incredibly easy to grow grapes which is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. Grapes which don’t struggle, hardly if ever make incredible wine. The question quickly became, how can vineyard sites be situated so that the night time temperatures allow the grapes to regain their acidity? As in many wine regions, the answer came with both altitude and the influence from a nearby body of water.

The top vineyards of the Languedoc are located in the foothill mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We had wanted to feature a GSM blend from the area because those varieties of grape are being planted in dramatically more places, but quality levels are also soaring. Plus, since many international consumers aren’t yet aware of the area prices are significantly less than a similar quality of wine being produced in the Rhone Valley.