Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
November 22, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Tasting New Zealand Pinot Noir

Every once in a while, we taste a few things for fun too:


Hey, guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Over the past few days, I’ve gotten to taste through some New Zealand wines, which isn’t something that we typically would source for our wine club members. We focus on California, Oregon and Washington only, but there are times when it can be valuable to taste through a range of different offerings.

First, I like to know what’s going on in the wider wine market. I think that’s important. Second, we’ve had conversations with a few really well-known wine critics over the few years that we’ve been open, and two a man, they’ve told you in essence, if you want to get better at tasting, you need to taste wine. That’s part of kind of why we sometimes will feature international wines. We are approached sometimes by importers or distributors that have some international stuff they think is interesting.

These are 2 that came up. Both of these are New Zealand. If you’re an American, like I am, you may not be completely sure with kind of … We know that New Zealand’s next to Australia, and it’s kind of out in the South Pacific. There’s 2 islands; most of what we have imported to the United States here for New Zealand wine comes from the south island, from the Otago Valley.

New Zealand’s kind of different than what we get a lot of places, so it’s the most geographically extreme growing region in the world, to this day … so far south. That leads to 2 things. One, it doesn’t ever get that warm. They have hours and hours of bright sunshine, but they’ve got this really cold ocean, and they’ve got … Because it is an island, truly kind of in the middle of the ocean, so you have a lot of wind. When you combine that with kind of the sea air, you get grapes that never get too hot, and then there’s still a rather large diurnal temperature swing.

We always used to laugh when I was growing up in San Diego that we’d see the tourists on the beach at 4:30, and then come 5:45 when the sun went down, they’d be freezing because they didn’t have a change of clothes or a sweatshirt even, because they didn’t realize that it cools off so quickly, as soon as the sun’s gone. New Zealand gets the same thing, just in a kind of much more dramatic way.

The first one is one that I wanted to spend just a minute talking about. It’s a husband and wife team who were doctors, and I think that’s kind of important for 2 things. It’s one of the classic trades that you see; doctor to winemaker. I do say classic trades, because I’ve seen this at least 5 or 6 times at this point.

People always argue if making wine is an art or a science. To me, it’s a little bit of both. If you think about what the entire wine making process is, it isn’t just once the grapes are picked, how do you handle fermentation, and how do you go from step A through Z? It’s the entire process, from when you do water, even down to when do you pick. You can see a dramatic difference in vineyard …

Canard Vineyard is a great example, up in Napa. They have some really old zinfandel vines, and you can see one of their big clients, who has bought wine from them for a number of years, picks rather early in the growing season. I think the wine is good, not great. Their own stuff at Canard is incredible, but they let it hang on the wine, literally until the last moment. They’re checking brix, which brix is just the sugar content of the grapes, if you’re not familiar, on a daily if not multiple times per day, basis. You can really get something added to the wine, if you’re willing to change it and let the grapes hang for as long as possible.

New Zealand’s whole setup allows for that to happen, and that’s where I think, with owner and wine maker who used to be in the medical profession, you’re comfortable with being able to figure out all the details as fermentation goes along, so you can really let the stuff hang on the vine for as long as possible. New Zealand pinot, it’s what they’re really known for. You get a more austere, a higher acidity version of pinot, but there’s still a lot of fruit there. They have this really long growing season, in fact longer than we do in California. It’s probably more similar to what you find in Oregon than anything else in the United States. It’s worth a look.

This first wine is actually in Whole Foods here in the East Bay of San Francisco. I think they have it for $25 or something. The suggested retail from the winery directly in New Zealand … It’s not as if you can get it directly from them, an ocean away … is $28. It’s worth a look be it for a quick wine gift this holiday season, or simply for your own enjoyment . New Zealand overall, also worth a look, especially if you’re looking for a $20 bottle of pinot. It’s kind of right in the sweet spot.

Thanks again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Have a nice weekend.

Mark Aselstine
November 21, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Amycas White Wine & The Future of White Wine in Oregon

Oregon really is a great spot to taste and it'll continue to get better as time goes by as well and more tourist facilities are created.  I do hope that the quaintness of the area isn't lost though.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I wanted to take a couple minutes today and talk about the Willamette Valley in Oregon and both a little bit about ... to get a good shot here, this is the Brooks Winery, their Amycas white wine from 2013 which is a really good offering in the $20 range. I also think it speaks to a couple wider things which is something that we've got some good feedback here with the videos.

As a wine of the month club one of our main goals is to have people enjoy the experience of wine country at their house. We handle California, Oregon and Washington only because it's easier for us to tell the story of what's happening in these wine regions when it's a little bit more condensed. Plus quite frankly, we're a start up, we're little, if you call you'd probably get me on the phone. That kind of gives you some idea about where we're at as opposed to some of the big corporate players. I do think some of the big corporate players do a really nice job with the international stuff, but they're not out there scouting for wine.

Brooks is something we've scouted for and found, and we like quite a bit. I think their Amycas white does a good job telling a little bit of the story about what's happening in Oregon on the white wine side and why it's important. Mostly everybody, when you talk about the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the two at this point are pretty much simultaneous for each other. They make Pinot, really good pinot, higher in acidity, it's a cooler temperature growing region, outside of the fact that when I was there over the summer it was close to 100 degrees for a week, but that's another story and it's not as often as it is in California, that's for sure. The one thing Oregon has struggled a little bit with is finding a natural white wine accompaniment.

You know Napa has been lucky in that Cabernet and Chardonnay kind of both grew well together and consumers love them both almost equally. It was a natural pairing. Sonoma has had a little bit of the same challenge and they make Chardonnay as well but it's a little bit different style. There's certainly some of that going on in Oregon. There's plenty of people that believe Sauvignon Blanc is the right answer. To me personally I think that this is a better example for where the industry may be going.

This is a Pinot Blanc. The largest percentage is 58% Pinot Blanc. If you're not familiar, and most of us aren't, frankly I would still have to look it up, Pinot Blanc is just a genetic modifier on Pinot Noir, as you might expect. It grows well there, they know they have the right climate for it, etc. It is notoriously a pain to grow. Evidently at some point in the vines, the entire thing turns black, they don't get any fruit, and that's when you know you've got to replant it. That's a little frustrating. The other thing I find interesting about this wine is it's 20% Muscat. We've seen a little bit of Muscat coming back into the market place. You see in San Francisco in the city you'll see some sweet Muscats on the menu, as either an aperitif or a dessert wine.

Generally speaking consumers don't know what the heck it is. Personally I think that's kind of a shame. There's two reasons for that, first Muscat is of the 200 types of grapes that we use both for table grapes, wine grapes, really any grape that you could buy, almost all probably are descendant from Muscat, that's the first thing. The second thing is Muscat is this huge, broad category. When you look at genetic variation over many thousands of years it gets really varied from one clone to the other, so Muscat takes so many different forms that it's almost hard to understand what's going on with it. Saying Muscat doesn't leave you all that much information. This is one of the white wine grapes, as you might expect. This wine also includes a percentage of both Pinot Gris, which is another kind of Oregon standard, and Riesling. Personally speaking, I hope that they try more Riesling. I hope they do more blending. When you go to the Willamette Valley in Oregon you meet people who are really, really passionate and who know their plot and their vineyard, as well as anybody in the wine industry that I've met anywhere, so I think that over the long term white wine blends might be better for them than a single vineyard planting. Also I think it adds an element of interest, especially on the Pinot front, when you go to the Willamette Valley, even for me who is tasting for our wine club members and trying to source for gift baskets and all that stuff too, the one thing I find myself is that it's Pinot after Pinot after Pinot. As fun as it is to drink Willamette Valley Pinot and then single vineyard Pinot and then [inaudible 00:04:35] back at every single winery, having that's just something that's simply white wine, is kind of nice at some point too. In any case, Brooks Winery up in Willamette, their Amycas white wine which I think is a good example of where Oregon either should be going or is going to be going. As consumers get to try it, they'll like it.

Mark Aselstine on Uncorked Ventures. Thanks again for the time.

Mark Aselstine
November 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What Wine Comes in Your Gift Baskets?

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures to answer a quick question that I got over the weekend from a customer.

The question was quite simply what wine goes in your gift baskets. I know we're a little bit different than a lot of companies in that we don't actually explicitly tell you on our website exactly which wine's going in. There's a pretty good reason for that. We ship wines that are part of our Special Selections Wine Club for the most part in our gift baskets. We try to pair them pretty well with what's in the gift basket. As an example, our chocolate gift basket is typically includes a Carbernet, Syrah, something that's a little bit darker persuasion.

On the other side, our Gourmet Gift Basket does oftentimes will have a pinot and then something else. Most of it also depends if you're getting one bottle or two. If there's a second bottle included, it gives us a little more leeway, I think, and oftentimes we'll then, if you are doing a chocolate gift basket, we can give you a darky, more [inaudible 00:00:55] pinot that can still work with it.

In any case, so yeah, our gift baskets, they're sourced from our Special Selections Wine Club. Retail price on those is between $40 to $50 per bottle most often and yeah, oftentimes we get as good a feedback on the wine as we do on the gift basket both in terms of the packaging and the other included products.

Once again, Mark Aslestine with Uncorked Ventures, keep your questions coming, guys. We appreciate it.

Mark Aselstine
November 17, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Calera Wine Company & Divergent Critics Scores

Before you ask, yes there a few other single winery AVA's out there-perhaps the best known is the Cole Ranch AVA, itself only a square mile and with a single winery owning all the land.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Today I wanted to spend a couple of minutes talking both about Calera Wine Company, whose 2011 Mills Vineyard Pinot I have in front of me but also about the differences in wine critics and why when you walk down the aisles of your local wine store, a 95-point wine might not be the same as a 95-point wine that's sitting next to it.

First a little bit about Calera. Calera was started in the early 70s by Josh Jensen. It's one of the first truly Burgundian California pinot producers. We've talked a lot about cool vintages and cool climates. The one part that we don't talk as much about because I think consumers I start to glaze over is about soil type and composition. If you're a researcher at UC Davis, you'd think that stuff is really important but the average consumer can't wrap his or her mind around it quite as much. Frankly as me as a buyer in the industry, I still don't necessarily know exactly what wines [inaudible 00:00:58] versus a different soil composition really means for what ends up in your bottle because it seems like soil type and winemaker choice play hand in hand more so than some other things.

If you're going to do a Burgundian style, Burgundy is really well known, it has limestone soil almost exclusively. Limestone quite frankly sucks to grow anything in. It's porous but the roots can get really down the water table. For grapes, it actually works pretty well. It imparts a certain minerality to the wine. The owners of Calera looked everywhere for a great Pinot Noir vineyard, Sonoma, Napa, all the usual spots, even throughout Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast, couldn't find anything that was almost exclusively limestone.

There have what's called a Mount Harlan AVA. It's one of the few single-winery AVAs in the United States. They're the only producer up there. In essence, Mount Harlan is outside of Hollister it's about 90 mile south of the city of San Francisco. To put in perspective, that's almost right in between San Francisco and Paso Robles. Paso Robles sits about 200 miles or so. They're about 25 miles inland, so it's cool but it's not dark and moody foggy for Mount Harlan, being up on the Mount also gives them a longer range of sunshine than most folks would get at a smaller elevation at the same level.

I also wanted to just talk about this Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot for a very specific reason. [inaudible 00:02:28] wine critics in their scores and we mark it ourselves and we say that we produce wine or we ship wines that are 90-plus points in quality and that's definitely true and that's the goal for every single bottle that we ship but I think we also have to have a discussion about what is 90-point plus quality really mean.

This is the 2011 but the 2010, these are sold on Calera's website for between $45 and $55, kind of the standard California pinot pricing. Last year Parker scored the 2010 Mills Vineyard, which is their estate vineyard on Mount Harlan, at 96 points, and so boom, all of a sudden the wines are reselling from wine shops at $90 to $100 and then people are begging folks to be able to get an allocation to the point that Calera actually forced you, if you wanted to buy a Mills Vineyard and you hadn't been a consistent customer from them as a retail shop, you had to buy some of the more generic Central Coast pinot, which as an aside, is really, really good at $30 or $35 price point, is a steal. That's not really a problem.

Parker likes a certain style and I think most of us who have bought wine consistently and paid attention to the wine critics in the industry in general know that Parker likes bigger and bigger wines, and that's OK and there's nothing certainly wrong with that and that matches probably the average consumer's palate more so than some of the other critics do. Antonio Galloni, who quite famously was going to take over part of Parker's Wine Advocate ratings at least for Napa, and then they had a falling out of sorts, and Galloni reviews on his own at this point, but he rated the wine at 89 points. The difference from Parker's 96 where the wine's going from $50 retail give or take up to in the stratosphere of 100 versus Galloni, who rated at 89 points. An 89-point $50 pinot in California just doesn't sell, not in a retail shop in front of a distribution standpoint it just doesn't work. I think this is especially important if you're sending a wine gift, as one's idea about a 90 point wine club might be different than someone else's.

I think that's one thing. If you're looking for a 90-plus point quality, there is some human element effect here and I think it says a lot of if you try wines based on critics' scores, there is importance, especially because we're only talking three or four really main wine critics still out there to pay attention to hey, did you think this was really the best pinot produced in California for the year? Quite frankly, Calera just might have been last year. There's a certain brightness and acidity that almost jumped out of the bottle at you where I actually referred to it as almost a sparkling pinot because they were just so much jumping out. The 11 is not quite like that. The 11's probably not going to receive a huge score but there are won't be such a dramatic difference. This is probably a 92 or 93.1 according to everybody. It's more of a consistent and a better equation to what they normally do.

Calera Wine Company is certainly worth a look. They are important because they are one of the first California pinot producers to truly go Burgundian in style and during the whole 80s and early 90s ramp-up of bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, and more and more chardonnay, they kept doing what they do, and that might be partially because they're outside of the regular realm of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Paso. Mark Aselstine, Calera Wine Company's worth a look, Mount Harlan if there ever is another winery out there, is definitely worth a look, and if you're paying attention and buying strictly on wine critics' ratings, it makes sense to pay attention to which ones you like and which ones you don't. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
November 15, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Cabernet in Napa Valley-The Present and Future

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Another question that's come up over the last few days is how does wine get made in Napa right now?

I made a video a couple days ago about the future of Pinot in California, and a couple folks have asked follow-up questions about, "What does that mean for Cabernet?" Kind of through the same kind of pockets of information and how things are getting done does that actually fit.

Napa's completely different, almost than anywhere else in the United States. First of all, the main issue is that there's the ag preserve, which, in essence, for a generation now, has pitted growers versus vintners. The growers have largely fought against larger marketing activities in the Valley ... weddings, that kind of stuff ... while, of course, the vintners, the winery owners, have fought for increasingly concerts, weddings, literally anything they can do to sell some extra wine.

Kind of two things are happening. First, you have an explosion of wineries that are based in Napa. Second, you have a very limited kind of space. As Coombsville and other areas are getting built out and planted out, there's really no room left in Napa. If you currently want to buy a parcel in Rutherford, Oakville, kind of a name that you would recognize, and the people across the United States and really across the world would recognize, you need more than 10 acres to have a commercial winery, so that's one problem. The second problem, and it's probably the bigger one, is that it's ranked $500,000 or so per acre, so you're looking at a minimum $5,000,000 investment. Quite honestly, when you see these parcels sold, you're seeing them sold often at a huge premium and often kind of ... not an under-the-table sale but from one person to another with some type of other business transaction going on, too.

Over time, you've seen small vintners being moved out, big conglomerates and corporations moving in, so that's kind of what's happening in Napa. That really is affecting how wine gets made and what the future of Napa Valley is. Here's a couple wines that I think help represent kind of what's going to be coming increasingly from Napa and kind of how, as a consumer, you can benefit from it. First, Edge is consistently rated 90-plus points by Wine Enthusiast and other major magazines. It's also considered one of the best wine ... Wine Enthusiast does their best 90-point wines from Napa. They don't do under $20 like they do for most regions, and varietals they do under $30. Edge falls in the $25 to $30 range. Almost always 90-plus points. The back story is this wine's made by Signorello Estate, made on the property by the winemaker, but the grapes don't come from the estate. A portion of them do, and a portion of them are sourced from outside, in other areas of Napa, other vineyards, what have you. In essence, they're taking some extra juice from other folks that they know and know well, and then they're blending it together, using a winemaker at a great facility to do so. That's one way that you get a "affordable" bottle from Napa. We work with Edge. I really like the folks there. My wife and I actually spent an anniversary eating lunch there. They have a really nice restaurant, where it's kind of food and wine pairings. It's worth it to check out. There's a gorgeous view of the Silverado Trail and that kind of stuff. That's one thing for Edge.

Bardessono I've talked about before. This is another thing that you're going to start noticing. There are still, in every AVA within Napa, and there are 16 of them ... There are some families that have grown grapes for generations, have never made their own wine. Bardessono really, in essence, has been a grower for four generations now. This is the first time that they've made a concerted effort to make wine of their own. They've also diversified their property with kind of a LEED-certified hotel and all that kind of other stuff. They're in Yountville, so that's kind of fun in itself. You're going to start to see an increasing ... If you own a vineyard, you might as well make some wine because it's pretty easy to sell, and this is a really, really great bottle of wine. It's kind of in the mid-$50 to $100 range, which for Napa Valley Cab, at this point ... They say $65 is the new $45, and that seems to definitely be true. Last but not least, one of the things that you still see in Napa to this day, and you will probably always see, Troll Bridge is a project that I really, really enjoy. The owners are a design firm here in Berkeley. They make only about 300 cases of wine a year right now. They hired the winemaker from [Turnbull 00:04:21]. Jon makes some incredible wine in his day job, and this is an opportunity for him to make some kind of smaller-production stuff. As much as we can complain about Napa being expensive and doing ... causing all the ripple effects of that, one of the things that you'll continue to see is people that have a lot of money, or have made their money elsewhere, are going to continue to pour it into the Valley. There's a certain kind of ego aspect to it, for sure ... I think we can all agree on that, and that's OK ... about owning in Napa Valley. If you don't own a vineyard but owning a label, where ... I don't know if this will come across on the video or not. These are all hand-numbered, and they only made 900 of them. If you're in our Special Selections Club or our Reserve Selections Club, you've received the Troll Bridge already.

If you're joining one of our award winning online wine clubs now, you can shoot me an email and say, "Hey, I'd really like to try Troll Bridge. I know it's kind of one best-thought-of wines of the year."

In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Future of Pinot went over well. We tried to give you a little bit more information about what's happening in Napa and why it's happening. I feel like, as consumers, if you know a little bit about the industry and what's going on, it leads to being able to find better wine, kind of ... maybe not at a discount but not throwing your money away on a $30 bottle that you could find the same thing for $12. Signorello and their project, Edge, Troll Bridge, Bardessono, I think are three great examples of what's happening in the industry in Napa and why it's happening. I hope you've enjoyed it. Thanks again.