Uncorked Ventures Blog

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.

Mark Aselstine
November 14, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

International Tempranillo Day

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Today is International Tempranillo Day. If you're an American wine drinker, that might not mean a lot to you, but Tempranillo is actually the fourth largest planted grape in the world. It's native to Spain. It grows in warm climates. It's only now starting to be planted within California.

You're seeing some plantings in Paso Robles, specifically, but if you're looking for a great, international Tempranillo, Oballo is a pretty good choice. It's pretty reasonably priced, $25 or so, per bottle. Imported into the United States from Rioja, it's one of the great stories of a wine grape in Spain that it's not an international grape yet, but it has gained a level of international significance because in it's native habitat it grows and grows really well. Oballo's a great example.

Tempranillo. It's a dark grape, kind of like a Cabernet or Merlot, but it's thicker. It's almost syrupy. There's a level of almost dirt, and there's an earthy quality to it that makes some people, like my business partner Matt, who doesn't like it very much. But others, like me, it's a fun grape.

For estates that we cover, California, Oregon and Washington. Oregon, just too damn cold. They can't grow it. They wouldn't even attempt it to be quite honest with you. Warmer climates in California are attempting. This Field Recordings Tempranillo (this is also a wine that we'll gladly include in our chocolate gift basket as well over the next few weeks, it'll pair beautifully with the dark cocoa heavy TCHO chocolate that we include) is a pretty good example. It's a solid expression of the varietal coming from Paso. Bodega de Edgar, we featured in previous months, kind of the same thing. It's the first wave of Tempranillo, growers and vintners in the United States coming through.

For me, there's two other regions that are worthy of note at this point, as far as Tempranillo in the United States. The first, the state of Washington is trying. They're not quite sure, to be honest, if they are warm enough yet. There's a couple of AVA's, Lake Chelan is a good example, where they're right on the borderline if they can grow it or not. They're trying. Initial results are, uneven and inspiring might be a good way of putting it. So there's some hope.

The state of Texas. Texas is a big retail market. You can argue about some of the local laws and regulations on shipping. They seem to want their retailers and their wineries to be able to ship every where but no one to be able to ship there. This is a topic for another day, and the commerce clause, quite frankly. In any case, Tempranillo has kind of taken the mantel as Texas' national grape or state grape. There's a lot of hope that, especially in hill country in Texas, as you get outside of Austin, into what they consider hill country, and those of us from the Western states kind of laugh at. When your hill's a thousand feet high, it's not exactly a hill. That's called our backyard. The Texas Tempranillo, quite frankly, I've only had a few of them ,and that was at my wife's family reunion a few years ago. I didn't walk away blown away by the grape. Four years is a long time. There's a lot of hope for over the long-term. Texas and the Tempranillo there will maybe not be as good as Rioja or even international quality, but it would not surprise me if hill country in Texas ends up producing the best American version of the grape, just because their climate is probably the most similar to Northern Spain.

In any case, happy International Tempranillo Day. I will also say, from a wine club perspective, we've shipped a few of these this month. We constantly have the conversation about what can we ship that might be interesting and a little bit different around Thanksgiving or Christmas. In this case, for the Thanksgiving holiday everyone always suggests that you pair a Pinot with turkey, and that's certainly true, but the average American has a whole lot of side dishes and fixings, and ours is certainly kind of emblematic of that. Tempranillo can serve pretty well to pair with all of those. If you haven't planned the Thanksgiving wine list yet, include a Tempranillo. See what you get. I bet you a lot of people that aren't as interested in the hard core sommelier style parings are going to walk away and say, "You know what? That wine worked really well with turkey, especially the dark meat, and it worked incredibly well with some of the thicker side dishes that we serve." In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Once again, happy Tempranillo Day.

Mark Aselstine
November 13, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Future of Pinot Noir

My thoughts, for what they're worth, on the future of Pinot Noir in California and elsewhere.

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Over the past two months in our Special Selections Wine Club we've done two high-end Pinots. From the Wine of the Month Club level we strictly do California, Oregon, and Washington. The reality is you end up getting a lot of Pinot since that's probably the most widely planted grape among those three states in essence because as far as red wine goes Oregon does almost exclusively Pinot on the high-end.

I had a club customer named Jerry who asked me quite honestly what I saw as the future of Pinot, so I thought this would be a good way to give a response because I do have some thoughts and I've given it a lot of thought over the past few months actually. I have four example bottles for you and I think it helps to show exactly what we're talking about both over the short and long-term specifically within in California but also in the wider wine world, and especially on the west coast.

The first example is a winery called Sola. It's actually based up in Napa, but in essence they're going to Cameron Hughes model. Cameron Hughes, if you're not familiar, you can pick up a Cameron Hughes Cabernet down at your local grocery store for 10 to 15 bucks. He sources either grapes although most usually it's bulk wine. What happens is 2014 is going to be a great example because it's a big finisher in California, so wineries ... I can't name any of them, but if they produce a $40 Pinot and they just simply get too much wine from their estate vineyard, now they don't want to send that all to retailers frankly because they don't always trust us to keep retail price the way that we should. Instead they either work with a winery like Sola which then bottles the stuff and ships it out for $20 retail or if they're a price point lower than that, you sometimes see it in Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's quite famously had a $25 Napa Sauvignon Blanc two years ago that they sold for six bucks and then I know it was a really well known winery. When the whole information got out they weren't very happy about it. In essence, you're going to continue to see projects like that, wineries making good wine, but can't sell it. That's the first thing.

Second thing. This is, I think, the best bottle. If you can get a look at it, it's the really cool setup of the barrel being lifted by the crane. This is Bluxome Street Winery. It's based in San Francisco. The winemaker was formerly at Ant Hill Farm which is repeatedly only when we ask winemakers, "Hey, what do you drink? What do you drink?" The guys who make huge Napa Cav that garner big scores Mike Smith's one from Quivet and Myriad who you're lucky to even buy from at this point, Chris Maybach said the same thing that Ant Hill Farms was almost required drinking in his house. A cool climate expression of Pinot, dainty almost where you feel like you can see through it, so Ant Hill is really hard to get. The waiting list is in a couple years, same winemaker at Bluxome Street. Bluxome Street shows two things that I think are important in the wine industry. First, cool climate Pinot. The further west you can go in Sonoma people are liking it right now and I think you're going to continue to see that. Bluxome Street, I also think speaks to something else that's almost just as important if not more important and it's the rise of the urban winery. Bluxome Streets and San Francisco, downtown San Francisco before the earthquake in 1906, this is where the wineries were. Wineries setup shop there. They figured it was easier to truck grapes into the city than it was to truck to people up to the wine country. I don't think that's any less true today. I think that wineries that are willing to figure out the details of having an urban tasting room where they don't have to fight for every single customer I think are going to do really well. Bluxome Street makes incredible, incredible wine. This is a single vineyard from Hurst Vineyard which is really well thought of in Sonoma. This is something that we ship in one of our wine clubs, we're proud of, they're proud of, everybody who goes into Bluxome Street just loves the place and that's the winemakers history, Ant Hill, and I think you will continue to see this. I bet you five years now they have a waiting list for their wine club too.

Next, speaking on the cool climate urbane, this is Comptche Ridge. Quite frankly the wine bottle does not do well on video. I've tried, it just doesn't. It tells you a little bit about Sonoma and Sonoma is always going to be one of their preeminent destinations for Pinot Noir within California. However, if you wanted to buy a piece of property in Sonoma, you probably can't afford it. If you're a winemaker, you definitely can't afford it. What do you do? You move further north and in a lot of cases further west where the land is cheaper. Comptche Ridge is literally cut out from an old redwood grove. None of those things are highly protected, so in essence it's in the middle of current redwood groves. It's the expression of Pinot that you would expect from the coolest climate that you can find in the state of California. It's probably the most burgundian. They're really, really light both in flavor and in ... When you can put it in your glass you can almost feel like you can see through it. We got a really good response to this wine in our wine club last month. Some of our folks are getting it this month. It'll pair wonderfully with Thanksgiving turkey like a lot of Pinot will. You're going to continue to see that, cooler, cooler vintages, but then on the outskirts of what we consider the current wine regions.

Lastly, speaking of maybe not the outskirts of current wine regions, that's Bergstrom. Bergstrom's up in Oregon. You're going to continue to see that. I think as time continues to go by you're going to see the people, consumers, and importantly some LEAs and people within the industry who have responsibilities for buying wine, I think I probably fall into that category at this point, are more and more both accustomed and familiar with Oregon, and you're going to see Oregon grabbing a larger market share. I don't know that they'll necessarily take that away from California because the two are so stylistically differently, but I do think that you're going to see them grabbing some market share from France. I think there are some other countries that fall into that same category. New Zealand, I think, is going to be a great example with the move to more acidity driven wines and the less of the fruit forward on the Pinot taste that people are increasingly looking for these days. I think you're going to see a different set of winners than you did probably 10 or 15 years ago. Oregon is definitely going to be on that list.

Once again, the history of Pi- ... Not the history, but the future of Pinot it's anybody's best guess. It's such a dynamic and moving market, but I do think you're going to continue to see more urban wineries. You're going to continue to see cooler, cooler climate fruit and you're going to continue seeing if your smart about what you're buying, you can get a great deal like Sola. If you are willing to try new things from different states, different countries, you can get a really good deal with some of the Oregon juice as well. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The future of Pinot, I hope you guys have enjoyed it. We're trying something different with a little bit longer videos every once in a while, so please let me know what you think. Thanks again.