Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Blogger Interviews-Vinography

We recently had the opportunity to ask one of favorite bloggers a few questions via email. For those new to reading about wine online, Vinography is certainly an essential resource and is a blog which we read almost daily here at Uncorked Ventures. Alder (the writer, founder, editor etc) has been extremely forthcoming with us during our limited discussions which we both appreciate and respect. He’s a no non-sense editor and we think his blog should be used as an example and as a best practice for anyone just starting to write about wine.

Why do we read his blog? To start, we enjoy his writing style, but more importantly the content he covers is probably more suited to our business than any other blog out there. Aside from his extensive tasting event coverage (during which you might see him walking around Ipad and wine glass in hand, typing notes for the blog) we also enjoy his coverage of wine regions and current happenings in wine. Unfortunately, some blogs fall into the problem of only reviewing sample wines which readers can’t possibly access, that doesn’t happen with Vinography. While Vinography will cover the higher end of the market more often than some other blogs out there, there is plenty of information there for anyone interested in wine no matter if you’re a fellow blogger, in the business yourself as a third party, consumer or even a winery. Lastly, if you are a winery looking for a landing spot for your advertising dollars, he has the nicest looking set of demographics in the industry.

Lastly, we’d be remiss without taking a moment to thank Alder for his time. We realize how often these type of requests must come in and appreciate the time and effort clearly evident in the responses which appear below.

-When did you start drinking wine?

In some small way, I grew up in wine country. I would spend summers with my dad in Sonoma County, and when my grandparents came out for visits, we would invariably go wine tasting with them. For the most part I have fond memories of cavorting on the lawns outside of these big “castles” but on occasion I’d hang out with the adults and listen to them chat. I got my first sip of wine that I actually liked on one of these days, which I believe was a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. I didn’t know that wine could be sweet before then, and that sip convinced me that all wine wasn’t disgusting.

My real love of wine began while I was studying for a time in England. The food served in the colleges at Oxford University in the early Nineties was awful, and so I found myself cooking for myself more and more. Thinking that the civilized thing to do would be to drink wine with a home cooked dinner, I would go down to a local bottle shop and buy a wine. Too intimidated to talk with anyone at the shop, I’d simply look on the lower shelves that I could afford and pick a label that looked interesting.

I really enjoyed this exploration, which opened up a whole world of flavors and grapes and places to me, and so when I returned home to the US and completed my degree, I continued to buy wine and cook a lot, both with increasing passion.

-Vinography started in 2003, how has the wine blogosphere changed in the 8 years since?

Back then there wasn’t a wine blogosphere to speak of. Now there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of wine blogs around the world. It’s a bit crazy, really. Now there are blogs that are taken quite seriously as legitimate outlets for the kind of wine writing that used to be exclusive to a few top magazines and newspapers. We’re seeing something of a democratization of writing about wine. There’s a lot of crap out there, of course, but a lot of new voices on wine, mine being but one, have emerged, and the consumer is much the better for it.

-Do you mind sharing one great wine experience with us?

Well, since it’s top of mind, and I can still almost taste it, I’ll talk about my experience last night. I was at the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, and the last evening of the conference, they have a dinner where everyone brings along at least one bottle of wine to share with friends. The evening was winding down, and I had tasted a lot of really amazing, and really expensive wines, when I wandered around the corner and bumped into a winemaker friend of mine who had just extracted the cork from a dusty bottle. It was a 1959 Chambolle-Musigny Premiere Cru Burgundy from a producer that doesn’t even exist anymore, and it was utterly sublime. It literally stopped about eight of us in our tracks for half an hour. We just stood there sipping this wine, transported. The gal next to me kept saying “Oh my god. Oh my god” over and over again. I felt the same way. This wasn’t one of the top wines of Burgundy, it was a humble mid-range wine, stored well, probably bought for under $10 on release from the winery, and it was rocking our world. It represented everything good about wine, and what is so magical about Burgundy.

-If you only could drink wine from one winery, or one winemaker for the rest of your life…..which winery, or which winemaker would you choose?

This is such an impossible question. One of the things I like about wine is the sheer variety of it. Any wine, no matter how great, would get boring if it was the ONLY thing you had to drink.

-Any advice for those interested in pursuing either a career in wine or simply wanting to gain more attention for their wine blog?

Career in wine, huh? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Anyone who thinks they’re going to make a decent living in the wine industry likely has a rude wakeup call coming. Anyone who thinks they’re going to make a decent living writing about wine is either unbelievably naive, or simply insane. If wine is your passion, you should definitely find a way to exercise it, but everyone should think twice about whether the best way to do that is to make it your job. If writing about wine is your passion, then you simply just need to do it. Every day. Start a blog and just crank out the content. If you have a blog, then force yourself to write something every day. The way to get more attention for your wine blog is to have great content and lots of it. Period.

Thanks again Alder. We can certainly appreciate the sentiment on the difficulty making a living in the wine industry. We’re reminded of the old saying, it takes a large fortune to make a small one in Napa Valley….we’ve heard a few wineries joke that the paradigm should be changed given the global wine market. Having been open ourselves now for around 14 months, it’s certainly a difficult and competitive industry, but we couldn’t imagine going back to doing anything else. We’ve also found not only wineries, but sometimes direct distributor competitors can be among the most supportive and understanding people we’ve met anywhere. There is a camaraderie among the wine industry which neither Matt nor I have see in any other industry we’ve been a part of. It’s that camaraderie and yes, the product which makes this whole venture worthwhile.

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