Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
August 10, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Amity Vineyards Dry Gewurztraminer Willamette Valley 2011

We’ve worked with an Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir in the past, but some of it is worth repeating here since we haven’t shipped one of these in our Explorations Wine Club as of yet.

Amity has been around for quite a while in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, having been one of the first wineries in all of Oregon completely focused on quality.

That’s interesting right now, because the winery was recently acquired by a box wine maker, a sign of the times no doubt, but there’s some confusion from folks in the industry about the future of both the fine wine program, as well as the estate vineyard itself.

This wine was made 3 years before the change, so quality isn’t at issue.  

Gewurztraminer is an interesting and finicky grape and I think perhaps more interesting to talk about in this space than is the story behind Amity, especially given that it’s changing so rapidly.

Gewurztraminer also boasts a pretty complex history.  UC Davis, as I know I’ve mentioned before in these wine club newsletters, has done an incredible job at sequencing wine grape genomes over the past two decades.  They’ve said publicly that the family of Traminer grapes have the most unstable genome around-which winemakers consider both good and bad.  The bad part is that every vintage is going to offer something a little different in terms of fermentation, even when you’re being consistent with your winemaking process and the type of yeast that you’re using.  The good part though is that after a decade or two in a vineyard, the vines and genetics have likely become fairly unique.  That uniqueness is something that can bring people back consistently to the same winery, no two established Gewurztraminer vineyards are likely to be genetically exact matches after only a few years of growing.

So here’s the real problem and why you don’t see more Gewurztraminer across wine regions. First, the buds incredibly early.  Pinot Noir is known as a more delicate and difficult grape, but in California’s Anderson Valley, Gewurztraminer buds at least a month earlier.  Budding early is completely fine and perhaps preferable if you’re in warm climates, but Gewurztraminer thrives in colder climates, so frost is a very real concern after bud break.  Once you survive the early spring, things don’t get much better though.  So if the weather is warm, then the vines literally are untenable.  If you’ve ever grown pumpkins in your yard you have some idea of what I’m talking about here, vines can be untenable if they’re growing well.  In wine grapes, that also leads to a tremendous amount of sugar. More sugar leads to higher alcohol content.  For Gewurztraminer that can be especially bad because it causes the grape to lose its distinctive floral bouquet, which is why I enjoy the wine and why so many others do as well.

I should take a moment to mention that this is a dry version of the grape.  Often times vintners get tired of attempting to remove all the residual sugar and go for a slightly sweet version of Gewurztraminer.  We also see some vintners that want the grape to be a stand in, first wine consumed of sorts for people who are accustomed to soda or other sweeter beverages.

To me, if we were talking about say, White Zinfandel or something that is admittedly, not a serious wine grape for people that want to actually you know, drink wine….sure that’s a really great thought.  Wine is fighting the craft beer movement after all for relevance among millennials (I don’t view it like that, after all, plenty of time to drink both, all of my friends, some of which count as millennials and others simply are a few years older as well will drink some of both already).

So what’s the future look like for Gewurztraminer in America? You’re going to continue seeing plantings of it in colder regions.  Sales will continue to increase.  Some of the big brands are going to make bad versions of it and sell a ton of those bad versions.  Small producers will rule in a way that isn’t possible with easier grapes, there’s a very real advantage with Gewurztraminer when you grow it and can pick a portion of the vineyard every day.  Plus, the big boys are finding cool climate vineyards now, but having them plant and manage truly cold vineyards is asking a bit much!

Guest Writers
 
August 8, 2015 | Guest Writers

How to Plan an International Wine Excursion

Editor's Note: Thanks to Jenna for providing our first guest post here at Uncorked Ventures. If you're interested in writing for us, please have a look at our guest posting guidelines.

Thanks to the conveniences of the Internet, global supply chains, and interconnected economies, anyone can order a bottle of wine from anywhere in the world and have it in their hands in a matter of days.

However, there’s nothing quite like uncorking a bottle in its native country. More specifically, there’s nothing quite like tasting wine on the very estate from which it was harvested.

Six Tips for Planning Your Trip

If you’ve never considered planning an international wine tasting excursion, now may be the time to give it some serious thought. Don’t worry: we’ve collected some tips and tricks to guide you through the process of planning your trip.

1. Choose a Location Whether you're a fan of Cabernet Francs from France’s right bank, or your fancy Syrahs from Australia’s Hunter Valley region, there’s a destination waiting for you. The hard part is selecting a particular area and not spreading yourself too thin. The goal of your trip should be to see, taste, and experience as much as possible – leisurely. Planning for too many stops along the way can make you feel rushed and stressed. Hone in on a single area, and never plan on visiting more than three or four wineries in a single day.

2. Read Plenty of Reviews Review websites are your best friends. Spend some time reading both about positive and negative experiences at each winery. This’ll give you an idea of the good and the bad. You’ll also learn some insider tips about what’s worth trying, what you should avoid, and how much certain things cost.

3. Let Restaurants Direct You Many people have trouble figuring out a logical itinerary or schedule of wineries. It’s typically challenging because people don’t have an end goal. One of the best ways to direct your travels naturally is to design daily itineraries around lunch and dinner. Find out where you want to eat, and then stop at locations along the way. Once you have a start and a finish, everything else will fall into place.

4. Hire a Local Driver This should go without saying, but make sure that you hire a driver if you plan on visiting multiple wineries in a day. Not only will a driver keep you safe, but they also allow you to soak in the views and forget about directions. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

5. Consider Making Reservations You won’t need to make a reservation everywhere you go, but don’t assume that every winery allows you simply to walk in and taste. Some of the more popular ones may actually limit the number of people who visit each day by requiring an advanced reservation. Keep a look out for this requirement when reading through reviews.

6. Learn About the Region You’ll get a lot more out of your trip if you spend time learning about the region you’re visiting. Read up on the history, learn some interesting facts, brush up on your vocabulary, and prepare questions. Employees at wineries love talking about what they do. Asking questions about why they grow certain grapes, how weather affects the harvest, and what’s drinking really well will only improve your experience. Start Planning Today While there’s plenty to see on this side of the world, don’t eliminate the possibility of taking an international wine tour. In taking one of these excursions, you can open yourself up to new tastes, cultures, and experiences. Using these six tips, you can make sure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible. And, always remember: the goal is to see, taste, and experience as much as possible in a leisurely fashion (with an emphasis on “leisurely”)!

Jenna Cyrprus Head ShotJenna is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.

Mark Aselstine
 
August 6, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Welcome to Gewurztraminer

A brief introduction to Gewurztraminer, one of the most difficult grapes for growers to work with, but one of the most aromatically pleasing white wine's when made well.

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. First, I hope everybody's having a good Thursday as we get closer and closer here to the end of the week. I also hope that everyone's temperatures locally are coming down. If you are looking for 'where the heck is my wine clip shipment?', the short answer is, we delayed a week or 10 days or so. We had mid-80 degree temperatures last week in San Francisco. Quite frankly, I was in Walla Walla for the week and, so 80 degrees in San Francisco, at least over 100 elsewhere. I talked with somebody in the Midwest yesterday. He said they were 108 locally. That's not a good time for us to ship any wine. Wine is on its way. You should have it shortly. Thanks for the patience, as always during the summer months. We know. It's tough.

I'm joined today by two bottles and you can tell these are a little bit interesting looking to start with. They're both Gewürztraminers. A couple of words about the grape first, to start. Traminer is kind of the grape family. There's 10 or 12 of them floating around. The fact of the matter is, traminers are historically good at changing genetics on us. Over the past 100 years or so, we've ended up with a bunch of different versions of the grape. They're all kind of cousins at this point, but not directly related, you know, father-son kind of thing. 

Gewürztraminer. We don't see it much in California and you're starting to see it more in the Pacific Northwest. Amity is an Oregon player. Novarro is kind of an entry-level producer. California is Anderson Valley. You don't see it a lot in California. You don't see it a lot outside of kind of the Northwest because, quite honestly, it needs cold weather. If the weather gets too warm, the grape grows and grows and grows. The vines are almost unwieldy, where you see, if you've ever grown pumpkins in your backyard and they tend to grow a foot a day. The grape vines actually do a little something like that. Big vines, kind of foliage everywhere, leads to a lot of grape growth and it leads to pretty crappy wine. They need cold weather.

The other problem with that is they lay in cold weather so that they can keep their best traits. One of the best traits is they have this beautiful floral aroma that the grape's well-known for, but it is also a very early bud-break and a very slow ripener. Early bud-break in cold climate sounds all fine and good until you realize that in cold climates, you're more likely to have a early spring frost. That literally kills off an entire crop of grapes.

Gewürztraminer, it's something that if you find yourself saying I don't love Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc's not really exactly my thing, I am constantly looking for something on the white wine side that I enjoy, the aromatics on the thing are great. The acidity is usually pretty high. That's both because that's what the grape takes, but to make it well, you have to make it in a cold enough climate that you keep most of the acidity. It's well-worth a look. Look for Oregon, California's Anderson Valley probably makes the best stuff in the U.S. right now. The Finger Lakes region of New York is definitely trying. They've had a wide variety of success and not exactly success with it. They're coming and getting stronger as it goes. It's well worth a look.

If you're somebody who wants to branch out a little bit, Gewürztraminer. I'll ask you the question the same way we ask people sometimes when we talk on the phone to them. Name a part of France. The quick version that people come up with, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, blah blah, blah. They go down the list. The Lower Valley, the Round Valley, and then we mention Alsace. They kind of stare at us. This is an Alsacian varietal. Anderson Valley does an Alsace Festival. It's a really really interesting look into world wine that you probably don't see all the time. If you're a member of our cheapest wine club, our Explorations Wine Club, you might be receiving an Amity Gewürztraminer. You might now. We got split shipment going right now. If that's something you're interested in and you'd like to try Gewürztraminer, shoot us an email. We can find you a bottle or two. 

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Have a good week.

 

Mark Aselstine
 
August 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Paso Robles Wineries: An Area to Look for Value

A short introduction to two of my favorite Paso Robles wineries: Kinero and Atla Colina. Different setups to be sure, but both making some amazing wine at prices which are more than fair. Also, a few words on why prices in Paso Robles have yet to get out of control.

 

Video Transcription:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine again with Uncorked Ventures. I'm joined today by two bottles of red wine, both from Paso Robos. I wanted to take a couple minutes to talk about Paso, and the general feeling of the wine industry down there, and what's going on. 

First, I should take a minute to introduce. Paso's a region in California. It's about equidistant between Los Angeles and San Francisco, about 200 miles from each. The good news with that is that they have relatively easy access to both markets. The bad news is San Francisco is still dominated by Napa and Sonoma. L.A., it's one of the most competitive markets in the country. As a wine maker, or a wine sales rep, if you had to spend a couple days somewhere, say in the middle of February, no matter what region of the country you are from, or region of the world for that matter, L.A.'s not really a bad spot. Especially when you can count on it being 75 degrees and clear. In any case, L.A. competitive. San Francisco's uber competitive, perhaps the most competitive market in the world. 

Wineries have this [inaudible 01:03] position. They're making great wine. They're making it at great prices, but they don't have a huge natural market like some others do. That has helped to keep prices down, and has helped to keep production sizes down while at the same time making world class wine. 

I think first we will start with, so this is a Kinero seller's bottle. I've talked about Anthony Yount in this space, and in other's before. He's the wine maker at Denner Vineyards. Anthony is somebody who I have a ton of respect for, and somebody who's really starting to influence other wine makers. I'm starting to have more and more conversations with folks from both the central coast, and even sonoma, saying "Hey, I spent a couple days with that guy last year, and he really changed the way that I make wine." I don't think there's any higher praise that someone can get. 

A minute about Denner. Robert Parker, of course, wine advocate, and probably the most famous critic in the world. At some point, a few years back, he was in 5 grand crew vineyards in California. That is, if we would take the French classification system and bring it to California, which 5 vineyards would he name? He named 4 up here in Napa and Sonoma, and then he named one in Paso. That's the James Berry vineyard. When you walk through the James Berry vineyard, something really interesting happens. You walk across a golf cart path. Really, about three feet or so, and then you hit the Denner Estate vineyard. 

Anthony is the wine maker at Denner. The Syrah and other stuff they produce is well worth a look. He also makes this small personal label called Kinero. Kinero up to this point has been focused exclusively on white wines. He tells the story that his dad didn't drink white wine. He wanted to make something that his dad would like. You're talking a more acidic chardonnay. He makes that grenache-blanc blend, which our most inexpensive wine club, our explorations wine club received this last month. This is the first red he's produced. It's from the Basseti vineyard. It is Grenache, which I think that a lot of people that know me or know me well think that I might be obsessed with the grape, especially when it's done well. This shows everything that's important and interesting about Paso. 

First, $40. I believe 47 cases produced, that's about 2 barrels of wine. It's a minuscule quantity, almost small enough to be almost a joke. We have it for our wine club members. Our premium wine club, our reserved wine club will receive it, and if you are a monthly special selections member, you'll receive it too. Other than that, sorry, there's just not much of it to go around. 

Basseti vineyard, they've got some pretty great Sera. I'm in essence going to tell you the story when were sitting across the dining room table from each other that they had these couple blocks that weren't working well for a couple of reasons that no one could've suggested or thought of before. They grafted over to gernache. This is not out for general consumption with critics. Antonio [inaudible 03:52] scored it 93 points for $40. It's just incredible. That's the short version. 

Secondly, I have a bottle here from Alta Colina. I've talked about Maggie and Bob and the folks of the Tomin family, and have done Ulticleana in the past too. Ulticleana's a little bit different. For Anthony and Canero, he's sourcing grapes, and I think he owns a small vineyard of his own. He's growing at this point. Ulticleana took a different perspective and a different path. They had a little bit more money behind them, of course. They've purchased this large vineyard block, and it's on the great side of West Paso. If you were to try to buy it today, you probably couldn't anymore because they've profiled Paso in the 8 or 9 years that they've been there has come up so much. Bravo to them for both planting the vineyards and the grapes for a while. Starting a small personal label. You used to go to a tasting room, and you used to drive into another winery, and then they were on the side that, of the tasting room that could seat four people. It's a really great experience. 

Now, they have a taste, shout it tasting room on the hill, so to speak. You meander up the hill, and then you can look down across part of the valley there. It's a Tessla charging station. You can tell that you found a winery that knows what they're doing. Ulticleana started, and had an assistant wine maker who I know pretty well. Jeff Cohn from JC Cellars. He really has helped form there style. Anything from Kinero buys some grapes from Ulticleana, and you hear that repeatedly. Ulticleana is thought of by folks in the industry as one of the truly great vineyards in Paso. They're also large enough that where they can sell it to a lot of people. I will tell you that I know for sure that if I owned a 200 acre vineyard, I would be happy selling 180 acres. If I was keeping 20, I don't know if it's 20 that they keep, but it's something along those lines. If I was keeping 20, I would be keeping either the best 20, or pretty damn close to the best 20. 

Alta Colina makes some incredible wine. I mentioned Robert Parker earlier. He is one of the ones who is the first ones, much to his credit by the way, being on the Ulticleana band wagon. I think the first year that they released, he gave them multiple 90 point scores across the board. Spectator, literally every critic, everyone who tries these wines loves them. 

This is a GSM. I mentioned that I might be slightly obsessed with gernache earlier. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. That's the classic thing in Paso. It might be what they're known most for. Sera might grow the best, but it might be GSM that really takes them to the next level as far as the quality of production. Yeah, Ulticleana. This is a 93 point wine from Parker. We shipped it for our reserve members, and it's something that I've had multiple people tell me "Hey, that was really really good." I think that's at that $50 price point, pretty incredible stuff. 

That's a short intro for a couple things that are going on in Paso Robos. There's literally dozens of other examples of really really great wineries that are outside of the general consciousness down there. Terry Hoage, a good example, ex-professional football player making great wine. Of course you have the Saxsum and Turley folks who are floating around, and there's many others. In any case, this is Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you enjoyed a short intro to Paso. I think the two things that really stand out to my mind are the wines are really great. That's first, and foremost, most important. Second, they are probably under priced, at least $15 or $20 per bottle when you compare to Napa and Sonoma. That's because they don't have a really true huge natural market within, where our wine maker could go for a day trip and sell 15 or 20 cases of wine whenever they need to. That keeps prices down. It keeps them out of the normal distribution cycles, and if your somebody who really likes fine wine, and you like supporting smaller, local, family run wineries, Paso is a great place to look. 

Again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope you're having a good week. 

Mark Aselstine
 
August 4, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Chemin Des Papes 2013 Review

Chemin Des Papes Cotes Du Rhone 2013Every once in a while, it's fun to taste something we have no intention of shipping.  In this case, it's a Cotes Du Rhone blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.  Those who know me, also know that I love small local businesses.  This bottle came from a small local grocery store (well, no meat, so I guess it is technically a produce market) which I felt compelled to buy after my preschooler needed to use the bathroom, which in essence is for their employees-hardly something they had to let us use.  I wanted to buy something with a bit more margin than the peaches and scones that comprise our usual order.

 

Video Trascription:

Hi Guys. Mark Aselstine here with Uncorked Ventures. First we're digging out a little bit here. I was in Walla Walla last week to taste through some Washington wines and to source some wine for upcoming wine club shipments. Much of that won't be in the next month or two, it'll be a few months down the road. Being based outside of San Francisco, we tend to try to put together groups of wines and then ship down all at once as opposed to shipping a handful of cases from a few different wineries. Quite honestly it's more cost effective and it leads to better wine for all of our members.

Today I wanted to spend a couple of minutes talking about something that I don't do very often which is a French wine. This is a Chemin des Papes. You'll have to excuse, my French is not great. That's probably one of the ... Part of the backlash from growing up in Southern California where Spanish you hear almost exclusively when it comes to foreign languages and my Spanish isn't bad. My French is terrible. Chemin des Papes it's what's referred to as a Cotes du Rhone. When we hear Rhone, that's really clear, that's the Rhone Valley in France. People don't give the Rhone very much credit. When it comes to casual wine drinkers, when you think of France you think of Bordeaux first, you think of Burgundy second and some folks will think of Champagne region, too. 

The Rhone Valley is actually the oldest wine growing region in France. The [Venetians 00:01:30] reportedly brought grape cuttings and started to grow wild vines there in the 12th Century. Much like California, it wasn't until the Catholic Church started to move in in great numbers and if you know the history of the Catholic Church at all, not to bore you, but the long story short is for a while the Pope was actually based in France as opposed to Vatican City in Italy or Rome. That's when cultivation of grapes really took off. That's when we see wide scale plantings of stuff in the Rhone Valley. That's really the 18th Century.

The Rhone is known for two things. First it's a warm growing region and south towards the Mediterranean sea. This is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre. On the white side you see Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne. The one thing you will notice, not a lot of household names. A lot of people know about Syrah and recognize Syrah and then they think to themselves very quickly, "I don't like Syrah." One of the things we try to do is sometimes try something at random. This Chemin des Papes is made in, quite frankly, huge quantities. I picked it up for about 10 bucks at a local, I'd call it a grocery store but that oversells it. We have a local, a couple of blocks down from the house, produce market. They sell no meat inside but produce is great and they have a small wine and beer selection that's almost exclusively international. This is in wide scale distribution throughout not only the United States but I think they go out to something along the line of 50 countries or so. Certainly all over Europe and then most of Asia and then North America as well.

What this is is 60 per cent Grenache, 40 per cent Syrah. It's fairly typical for the region. It's a really nice wine though. It's nice if you're looking for a solid house wine at a really affordable price. Chemin des Papes should be literally everywhere in your local market. Wine store may or may not have it. I'd bet you that the small to go grocery stores carry it. I thought it was interesting and I thought it was also interesting to get to talk a little bit about the Rhone Valley here in this space, which we don't get to do quite often enough. Like I said, people don't give Syrah very much credit but if you find Syrah to be too dark, too dense, or you say, "I think I prefer a cab," which is most of the United States to be honest with you. Something that's a higher percentage Grenache rather than Syrah is probably something that's going to fit the bill a little bit better. 

The Chemin des Papes, reportedly they make something along the lines of 2 million cases of this. It's quite clearly everywhere. This is a really good value at 10 bucks and I certainly wouldn't [bahoo 00:04:02] buying another bottle or two along the way. It's a nice intro to French wine and when people talk about French style versus California style, this bottle, I think, does a good job of doing it. I think really often on the California side of things you tend to have these big over ripe things at the $10 price point. France, the tend to have a lighter hand and it's also because it's simply a little bit cooler there. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you've enjoyed this short intro to the Rhone Valley of France and the Chemin des Papes Cotes du Rhone 10 bucks locally for wherever you sit and in any case have a good week. We certainly are. Thanks.