Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
December 2, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Special Wine Gift Ideas

You may have noticed that we're allowing a limited number of guest authors in this space.  I decided to allow guest posts for a few simple reasons.  First, I'm sure that our customers and readers are ready for a different voice every once in a while.  Secondly, many of the guest authors that we're lining up, bring different and interesting perspectives to the world of wine and our wine clubs. Anythony Roberts who wrote the following is a great example of someone who brings a different and unique perspective.  He's Australian and a chef, both of which are different perspectives than I offer.  In any case, enjoy!

Wine has enjoyed increasing popularity in the past few years, more so as a gift for the holidays or special events. Almost everyone will appreciate wine at a party, a special family event, or a holiday. As the popularity of wine gifts increases, so does the boredom surrounding its use as a gift. This means you'll need some new ideas in ensuring that the recipient of your gift loves it. We can rely on the fact that there are several flavors of wine; therefore it is not too difficult to add a special touch that will make the gift suit the special tastes of the person it's meant for. This makes the gift immensely appreciated.

Tips for Wine Gifts

Take note of the following tips, should you want to add some sparkle to an event or just make a special gift basket gift filled with wine.

Lighthearted wine is suitable for informal occasions like father's day. If you require something that will go perfectly with pizza or maybe a special dinner including roast chicken, then going with Zinfandel is a good idea.

If the gathering is for the celebration of a special event such as Christmas Eve, then champagne will be perfect. You can add whistles, glassware, confetti and party hats to spruce up the basket gift wine.

When Thanksgiving Day arrives, candles, little pumpkins and candy corn can all be introduced to improve the attractiveness of the occasion. You can also decorate the basket with sweet candies.

Wine for Diet-Conscious

Sometimes the gift may be intended for someone who is on a special diet. This may mean that you need to choose a wine with low calories and/or low alcohol. Some wines are made from grapes picked before they had the chance to build up much sugar. Some others contain sucralose as a sweetener instead of usual sugars. You can choose Bacardi's Island Breeze, or White Lie from Beringer Blass Wine Estates. These boast of low calories and alcohol levels when compared to their California counterparts.

Special Events

If the event is a wedding, then a perfect idea would be purchasing a wine made in the same year the couple is getting married. You can purchase unlabelled wine online or directly from a winery and then create a customized label with the couple's name. Attractive labels can be made from any home computer. The front label can be customized with the couple's name and the date of the wedding while the back label can contain a love note, a poem or a special message for the couple. You can then gift wrap the wine and a perfect gift is born.

Personalized Wine Gifts

In making the choice of a perfect wine gift, you must consider the particular like of the individual for whom the gift is meant. It is probably not a good idea to give champagne to someone who doesn't like champagne. You run the risk of offending the person. Personalizing a wine gift on a special holiday will make the person feel loved and make the gift seem very thoughtful.

Local food and wine magazines can help you with information regarding wine and other items that can be included in a basket gift wine. The internet will also aid your search. Should you know any wine enthusiasts, you can approach them for advice. You can make your purchase at a local wine shop. Attendants at these shops are always willing to offer you help and advice.

A wine gift doesn't necessarily have to be expensive to be appreciated. Special gifts can be gotten while remaining on a small budget. Just remember the purpose of the gift and the occasion it's meant for.

Featured images:

Anthony Roberts is a chef and an avid blogger on food and wine. He also gives tips and ideas on how to make dishes tastes even better with the right kind of wine. He has featured wines such as chardonnay, and pinot gris. He recently visited Clare Valley in Australia and wrote interesting things about its vineyard.

Mark Aselstine
November 22, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

#SFBatKid and the Clever Girls Collective


Every once in a while, it’s nice to get a real honest feel good story.  For us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, last week was largely centered on the story of Bat Kid.  The story’s pretty simple-a five year old little boy has effectively beat Cancer after close to a four year struggle.  How the city of San Francisco came together to celebrate became just as important and I think offered a nice beginning to the holiday season.  Oh did I mention that the kid loves, like really LOVES Batman, so the city set up an entire day long of capers for him to stop while wearing a batsuit and driving around in a batmobile.  It’s the kind of thing that every adult kid would want to do if given the chance and this little boy is certainly deserving and a good reminder of what’s possible.  As the father of a toddler myself, I can also appreciate the many things a sick kid might miss, especially as my son seems to think two daily park trips is an essential part of life, raining or not these days.

Of course, this story went well beyond local interest, showing up on every major national and international news outlet available, even receiving President Obama’s first Vine message, in large part because of the social media work of the Clever Girls Collective.

While this isn’t necessarily a wine related blog post, I thought a social media startup doing something this intense and this well, for free deserves a mention and our respect.

If you’re looking for a social media company to work with, I’d say one that enticed the President to respond to their pitch, would be worth a phone call don’t you think?

Mark Aselstine
November 20, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

#Winechat 11/20 We Host with Wesley Ashley Wine Sample

We're happy to be hosting #winechat tonight with a group of bloggers who received two bottles from Wesley Ashley Wines.  We're featuring these two wines, along with an Oregon Pinot Noir in our Special Selections Wine Club this month.

Instead of including newsletters in our sample shipments, we thought that simply adding our newsletter online....would make more sense as well as making the entire event more accessible for anyone who chooses to take part.

About Wesley Ashley: Only the grandson of two Baptist ministers could be brave enough to explore the question; does wine have a soul? Is the science of wine the most important aspect, or is there something intrinsic to specific wines, the sense of place that it comes from and some other incalculable quality that leads to some being better than others.   In this space, we don’t typically spend a ton of time talking about the people behind the brands but in this case Wesley Ashley is being pushed forward first and foremost by proprietor James Sloate who comes from an influential and successful background in real estate, into the wine industry for the first time. Wesley Ashley is named after his son (whose first name is his middle name) as well as his daughter and takes an interesting look at building a wine brand.  What you have in your glass are two interesting and unique looks into the Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara County, both of which should pair incredibly well with food.  Secondly, Wesley Ashley is making a series of keg wines, at lower price points, in compostable or recyclable containers, which are starting to make significant headway into restaurants in the east bay area of San Francisco.  I met Sloate at his urban warehouse which contains both the Wesley Ashley offices, as well as some of their storage and production facilities and came away impressed with both his passion for wine and his brand, while noticing immediately that this is a better funded winery operation than many startups we run into.  In any case, the wine is extemporary and deserves a space on your dinner table here in the near future.

Tasting Notes Cuvee Blanc: Stereotypical and enjoyable extremely aromatic Rhone white, only 250 cases of total production shows notes of pear, apricot and slight floral accents.  Creamy and silky texture, but enough backbone to give your mouth some warmth (one of the reasons we liked it with turkey).  Satisfying without length on the finish.

Tasting Notes Cuvee: Largely Grenache (75%), the classic strawberry flavors from that varietal are evident from the nose, to the palate.  There is also plenty of spice imparted from the Syrah and an innovative winemaking technique of fermenting the Syrah (20% of the final blend) and Petite Sirah (5%) together and allowing that fermentation to end while already in barrel, has left a nice mouth feel and some oak and vanilla flavors from the wood that you don’t normally have in Grenache.  If you’re someone wanting a Grenache with some more weight, this is a good bet and a good combo.


Mark Aselstine
November 11, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

New Zealand Pinot-Where to Learn More

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve seen an increasing number of wine blogs and industry sources that I know espouse the utter greatness that is New Zealand wine, especially their Pinot Noir.  I agree that the Pinot from New Zealand is extemporary and is likely to see a huge uptick in consumer acceptance here in American in the coming years for the simple reason that an increasing number of consumers are looking for higher acidity in their Pinot-a trait that New Zealand is almost uniquely situated to provide.

Of course, finding information on New Zealand Pinot Noir can sometimes be easier said than done.  Unlike other English speaking wine regions, there simply isn’t an inordinate amount of information out there, even about the relatively small number of New Zealand Pinot’s which are imported into California.

Here’s a great place to look:

Wine of the WeekWine of the Week: Written by Sue Courtney, who is undoubtedly more qualified to review wine than I am, writes a site which is unique within the world of online wine writing in 2013 because it is set up more as an ezine or online magazine than a traditional blog.  What will keep bringing you back though is a thorough look into the world of New Zealand wine and an author who hasn’t forgotten that the goal of sites like hers, should be to educate consumers and not become a shrill for any specific growing region. 

There’s a lot to like and I appreciate Sue’s willingness to share her personal experiences and perspectives.  I enjoy working in the wine industry because of the vast number of different perspectives and styles we’re introduced to over time.  Sue spends more time writing about the aromas of wine than most, that’s something that makes her tasting notes unique and frankly will challenge your own ability to pinpoint these scents if you can track down these same wines.

She has also taken the time to write a bit about the inherent challenges we're faced as both consumers and wine educators or writers to discern if wine shows and the many Gold Medals they produce, hold any real value as an insight into the quality of a wine.  I've been dubious about medals awarded here in California by country fairs and others since I know wineries often continue submitting until they find the right mix of medals, but she gives an insightful look at what she considers important, and not.  It's worth a read if you've ever bought a wine based on a medal.

Oh and lastly, if you’re looking for the biggest and best collections of New Zealand Pinot tasting notes online-try and top this.

Mark Aselstine
November 8, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

The Passionate Foodie, Emerson Brown Drink Local & More

With the state legislature in Massachusetts set to vote on a direct shipping bill sponsored by Free the Grapes (among others of course) which would bring the state largely into compliance with an increasing number of states allowing competition, abiding by the commerce clause (if you believe it actually exists, or has gone way of the Dodo bird) and most importantly, giving consumers a wider set of choices when it comes to the wine they drink.

For me, no state has been quite as frustrating as Massachusetts.  I think a lot of the frustration stems both from our inability to compete for customers in a state that, based on demographics would be good for us and receptive to our message of better wine, from smaller vintners.  Also, I’ve seen one of my favorite winemakers and a true star of the industry in Napa Valley struggle with a law that is either simply unfair, certainly politically motivated and quite possibly unconstitutional. Keith Emerson who spends his days making wine at Vineyard 29 under Phillipe Melka, but who also makes a personal brand called Emerson Brown has roots and strong family ties in and around Boston.

Emerson is an interesting case because he comes with a family background where his family owned high end restaurants in an around Boston.  The current shipping and regulations do not allow Emerson’s family to buy and serve his own wine at their restaurants.  Based on my experiences as a kid and my dad owning a Dairy Queen (and more importantly the relationships that was created by simply being around the restaurant as a kid), I don’t think it is a stretch to think these world class wines, would be warmly received at locations where the family is well known.

Another great example is Drew Bledsoe who has returned to live in the Northwest where he grew up and then attended college.  He’s since founded a winery called Doubleback. Bledsoe as you might expect, has become the perfect spokesperson for the wine industry when it comes to Massachusetts shipping.  He’s known and after years have healed some wounds, well liked almost universally within the state.  It doesn’t hurt that his winery cannot legally ship wine into the state either.

That’s probably a longer introduction than I intended, but when it comes to Massachusets based wine writers, there’s a relatively short list of memorable writers.  With perhaps a handful of exceptions, I think that list begins and ends with Richard Auffrey ie the Passionate Foodie.

Auffrey is an interesting case, even in the world of wine writing which seems to bring out a nice range of personalities.  The guy has written a series of books called the Tipsy Sensi, which includes zombies, ninjas and cats.  Seriously.  I’ll admit, I’m slightly intrigued by anyone who may be able to weave those elements into an interesting novel. My personally favorite aspect of the Passionate Foodie blog is his Monday Rant series which is where you see (IMO at least) his best writing and personality shine through.  From a rebuff of a Kansas couple that refused to tip a waiter who provided excellent service, but whom they believed to be gay (seriously, this exists still?) to his continued reminders that drinking and driving is preventable and pointless, to a request that we all stop eating shitty fast food hamburgers from major chains he offers a varied set of tastes and statements.  Among my favorite, a request that we stop spoiling our kids when it comes to food, in a family where my soon to be 3 year has never seen a chicken mcnugget and thinks it’s “silly” when kids at other homes get something different to eat than the parents, I couldn’t agree more.

A practicing attorney he also is well versed and certified when it comes to Spanish wine and Sake while most interestingly, is a board member of the Drink Local Wine organization.  Drink Local has a singular purpose, to provide a set of resources for people looking to drink wine (that we don’t sell!) that doesn’t come from the west coast. 

I’ve expressed support for these type of sites and organizations before, only to have customers and readers ask “Why?” The answer is really simple, wine like food is best from local sources.  Admittedly, a wine drinker who starts drinking $10 local wine often times grows into someone who wants single vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir as well-at least to try and we’re frankly a really good source for that.  That’s just to say that these type of organizations help to grow the industry and some of my own favorite tasting experiences have taken place well outside of Napa Valley, like Wilcox Arizona where I found a group of established, interesting, insightful and exceedingly gracious vintners making wine better than anyone in California might otherwise give them credit for. 

I also think these organizations say something important about the wine industry in general.  In France there are stringent laws, rules and regulations about what grapes can be planted in each region and what wines can be made (and even how they can be made).  That lack of experimentation and improvement has allowed California to grab a dramatic amount of market share in little less than a generation.  New wine regions will continue to push local vintners here in California to not only keep prices reasonable (a very real concern when it comes to not only Cabernet Sauvignon but Chardonnay and Pinto Noir as well) but continue to try new grapes, new planting locations and generally speaking to not rest of their laurels.

Just like direct shipping in Massachusetts, competition from new and lesser known wine regions should help everyone continue to grow this industry over the long term.