Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
December 6, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Prohibition Day

80 years ago today yesterday (hey, I’m busy here) the United States Federal Government decided that their experiment with Prohibition was a failure and it should end.

There’s been a lot of incredible work done over the years chronicling the affects of Prohibition on both the wine industry itself, but the country as a whole.  For some wine regions like Livermore, Prohibition and their inability to get started quickly after its repeal was the end for their inclusion in great AVA’s of American wine. If you asked someone in the early 1900’s what the most important wine region in America happened to be, they might have said Napa Valley, or they might have said Livermore.  It’s interesting to me that some regions were able to innovate and stay afloat during those trying times, while others struggled to come out the other side so to speak. It also makes me wonder, can Livermore come back to the forefront?  Where are we seeing innovation take place currently in American wine?

More to the point of Prohibition and its repeal, Ken Burns produced an outstanding documentary on the history of the laws and their unintended consequences, which is worth a look if you ever have what amounts to a free weekend. The one thing that struck me then and continues to strike me now about the history of that time period is that the IRS and the income tax allowed Prohibition to happen in the first place.

It has been said and documented that before 1913, about a third of the entire revenue of the Federal Government came from taxes on alcohol sales.  After 1920 though, politicians had quickly realized that income taxes were a more efficient way to raise revenue than were use fees, like what had been going on to that point.  With almost two thirds of revenues now coming through income taxes, the government was able to start what we’d largely call a culture war on organized crime and the sale of alcohol.

It’s also been said that behind closed doors in the early 1930’s when declining tax revenues started to hit harder than normal (revenues were down 60% from their peak) politicians found an easy way to raise revenues once again, allow the sale and taxation of alcohol.

In any case, I think all of us can agree it’s an interesting time period of American history and as we continue to have debates about the relatively acceptable size of government today, hopefully we can look back at this time period and learn a little something about taxes, rights and government spending.

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.