Uncorked Ventures Blog

Staff Writer
January 17, 2015 | Staff Writer

Understanding a Label

Everyone observe things differently, we all have heard the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Something that catches your neighbor’s attention could very well be something that you will turn a blind eye to. For instance, when you walk into a store and look at the range of wines that are available. As you stroll down the aisles and browse the assortment, for a moment, you stop. Your eyes squint to gain a little focus. You tilt your head slightly as you reach for a bottle.

What was it that caught your attention? Was it the color of the wine or maybe the color of the label? Perhaps it was simply the artistry on the label. 

Everyone Observe things differently, we all have heard the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Something that catches your neighbor’s attention could very well be something that you will turn a blind eye to. For instance, when you walk into a store and look at the range of wines that are available. As you stroll down the aisles and browse the assortment, for a moment, you stop. Your eyes squint to gain a little focus. You tilt your head slightly as you reach for a bottle.

What was it that caught your attention? Was it the color of the wine or maybe the color of the label? Perhaps it was simply the artistry on the label. Choosing a good quality wine cannot be solely based on look alone. In order to know what you are purchasing you need to have an understanding of what is contained in the bottle itself. The label could easily be considered the most important aspect of your decision to make a purchase. Unfortunately, not everyone knows or understands exactly what is coded in the label.

A wines label can tell you the history of the wine, where it is from and what you can expect upon your first taste. Understanding this vital information can help you to make more informative choices when choosing a new wine.

The most obvious information that you may notice on the label first is the name. This could be the name of the wine itself or the producer of the wine. Knowing who made the wine can help you to recognize similar wines from the same producer.

The grape variety and/or appellation provide you with pertinent information on what you will taste and where the wine is from. If you are looking for a specific taste, pay attention to the grape variety because it will tell you what types of grapes were used to produce the wine. Some bottles may also have the appellation indicated. This tells you where the grapes for the wine came from.

The alcohol levels are noted on the label as alcohol by volume or simply ABV. This tells you the percentage of alcohol in the bottle. Paying attention to this detail is a great way to know how strong the taste of the wine may be.

Vintage, is perhaps one of the most well known keywords to look for on the bottle. It is often mistaken for the year that the wine was bottled, which is incorrect. The term vintage actually refers to the year that the grapes, to make the wine, were harvested. For example the grapes could have been harvested in 2000, but the wine may not have been bottled until 2002.

Another word that may be listed on the label is word reserve. This sounds fancy, right? It could mislead you into thinking what you are holding is a “top-notch” bottle of wine. The term reserve correlates to the aging process. It means that the wine may have had extra aging time. Whether it’s on the label or not is almost irrelevant. It really isn’t something that is a make or break kind of deal. (Editor's note, it's one of the most common questions that comes up from people who are members of our monthly wine clubs, but we don't ship many "reserve" wines simply because the term has absolutely zero legal meaning in California wine.....it's solely a marketing tool)

Understanding the information contained on the label will help you to choose better quality wines. 


Mark Aselstine
January 16, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Benessere Syrah & Napa Valley Syrah in General

High acidity Syrah....it does exist.


Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I'm trying today ... I'll lift it up a little bit so you can see the whole bottle. By Benessere Syrah. A few of our wine club members are going to receive this this month. I wanted to take a couple minutes. We've worked with Benessere in the past, specifically a month or two ago where we shipped their Sangiovese. We've gotten some really, really good feedback about that. A couple customers compared it to something that they had in Brunello, or Italy, which is the ancestral home to Sangio. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but the vineyard site definitely I think is among Napa's best, when it comes to Sangio. I think a lot of those same traits come through in the Syrah. The Sangio is a lighter in style. It's Napa, so it's going to be full of body. It's not going to be Oregon. Anybody who has that expectation or is looking for a French interpretation of a varietal, just is going to end up being unhappy. I think that's okay. The Syrah, much the same way. This is a lighter in style Syrah. It's definitely higher in acidity than anything else that you're going to find almost anywhere, at least from Napa. That's kind of what they're going for. I also think it speaks a little bit a lot ... I've talked a lot about the future of Syrah within California and why winemakers and winery owner and why everybody feels like Syrah's so important. I think this is an example of a Syrah that's going to work and work really well. It's fairly priced in the $40 range per bottle. I think Benessere is going to continue to do well with this. I hope anyone with a wine club membership likes it. I'm sure that they will. It's a different ... So often when people get Syrah for the first time, or they buy a Syrah at local wine store or grocery store without being able to try it, it's that mouth-puckering dry, which a lot of people will say it doesn't work as well with food. This is higher in acidity so I think people are going to like it better. I hope when you give it a try you like it. Thanks again. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Mark Aselstine
January 14, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Myka Chardonnay & The Santa Cruz Mountains


Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about both the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA as well as Myka Cellars. Myka, we've talked a little bit about in the past. I think it's an up-and-coming winemaker who he's still finding an exact direction that he's going to go. He produces smaller, he says terrior-driven wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains and so if you're not familiar with Santa Cruz, you may be, should be, but first ... Here's the background for Santa Cruz.

A lot of people talk about the history of California wine and they talk about the Judgment of Paris in 1976 and how that put Napa on the map. What they don't talk about is that there's a winery, most of us know it if you drink wine consistently, called [inaudible 00:00:43] that started in the Santa Cruz Mountains and their Cab showed phenomenally well in that Tasting in Paris in 76, I believe they finished third, although we'll post the full results for everybody so they can see them, and in subsequent years when, say, Robert Parker and other critics have tasted three of the same set of wines and have gotten largely the same results, saying that the Napa folks bested Bordeaux, which has fared even better in subsequent years.

Santa Cruz Mountains really didn't get the credit that it deserved and I think there's a few reasons for that. First, Santa Cruz is a beach town, it's really for those of us who grew up in Southern California, there's a stretch from Santa Cruz down to Santa Barbara that feels like the Central Coast and to me that's a different, definitely a different type of area than, say, the Bay Area is here, Wine Country is, or Southern California being San Diego and LA, so it definitely feels a little different down there so that's part of it.

Second of all and probably more importantly, it's a hard region to get to. It's 45 minutes or an hour from Santa Cruz or an hour and a half or so from most of the population centers here in the Bay Area, and it's zig zagged up the mountain, doesn't feel very safe to drive, have to know where you're going. At some point your GPS goes out because there's no Internet connection, et cetera, et cetera. It's not a fun place to get it. It's much like when I offered to set some of my friends or family members up at wineries on Atlas Peak in Napa, which is frankly, I think maybe the best place to go tasting in all of California but as soon as they look at the directions, universally I get the response that says, "Hey, that sounds fun and those wines look really, really great but don't you know the wine maker at Alpha Omega, which is right along the 29, that looks like a little easier to get it." That's all certainly true.

Santa Cruz, I think they're trying to move tasting rooms closer to where people actually live or at least where people can visit more easily but there's a certain elegance and understatedness about the tasting room up in the mountain above the fog line. That's really beautiful on its own right and worth a trip but they're not going to get as many people willing to make that trip and you're definitely not going to get the random people driving up to 29 like really if we're honest about it, [inaudible 00:02:55].

That's Santa Cruz Mountains. The wines are also more highly acidic, so it's both warmer up in the mountains but they have a morning fog belt and an afternoon fog belt. A lot of folks are used to hearing that kind of stuff at least from me and from us and from a lot of wine folks but really when you try your first Santa Cruz Mountain Chard, you notice something extremely different than what you get from Napa. It's much more biting acidity. The French will say that they're more balanced and they like them better, the marketplace hasn't quite bore that same kind of reaction to them yet. This wine's in the $25 range, an equivalent priced bottle from an equivalent vineyard in Napa might sell for $50. There's definitely some different stuff going on. Anyway, Myka Cellars, Myka, the winemaker, is an interesting guy. He's I think at this point figuring out what direction he's going with the winery.

He makes some really, really high-quality wine. I think there's a question about is he going to try to go the range of I'm going to make 100,000 good cases or is he going to settle in at a 10,000-case range and makes them really, really excellent, 200 to 1,000 case increments of single-vineyard stuff. Frankly, I hope he does that. The guy has some perspective, which I think were sometimes lacking in industry in general. Myka Cellars Chardonnay, some of our wine club members have received this in the past. If you're a new member to our Wine Explorations Club, which is the most inexpensive of our wine clubs, you may receive this in your first shipment. We have a case or two remaining laying around the warehouse that we're shipping currently.

Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures, I hope you've enjoyed a short talk on both the history of the Santa Cruz Mountains and I think they're important today and if you have questions, please let us know. We're happy to answer. Thanks.

Mark Aselstine
January 13, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Portalupi and the Petaluma Gap

Just a little more on the Sonoma coast and when a vineyard might not be coastal, but may have plenty of coastal influence (ie, cooling fog).

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I'm joined this morning by a Portalupi Pinot Noir. I thought Portalupi was an interesting story for a couple reasons. First, to start, if you have a wine club membership with us, you might be receiving this in your January shipments, which are set to go out early next week.

Second of all, so Portalupi, it's a small winery based up in Healdsburg, which is Sonoma County, kind of the heart of the Russian River Valley. They source fruit from a variety of different vineyards. It's a husband and wife team who knew each other as children, spent what amounts to 30 years or a lifetime apart, and then met, married, and started the wine label back in the early part of the century. They've been around about 10 years or so.

This is their kind of classic pinot noir. It's called Sonoma County and also Sonoma Coast. I actually thought this was interesting because it's the Petaluma Gap. The Petaluma Gap's kind of exactly what you would expect when you hear the word gap when it amounts to wine regions. Santa Barbara has much of the same thing, when in essence you have a hole in the mountain range, and that allows the kind of cooling influences from the Pacific Ocean to come in. Santa Barbara quite famously has the 1 degree per mile and 1 degree per hour that it cools off during the day and in the evening. Petaluma Gap's something really similar. I had a winemaker a few years ago who makes both Sonoma County pinot and Napa Valley cab, who sent me to what he amounts to his favorite Sonoma pinot vineyard which is Sangiacomo, which is just a few miles from Sonoma Square. The square's pretty hot during the summer, especially for those of us coming from the city or the East Bay. When you get out of the square, you drive a few miles, and then all of a sudden, if you get out of the car, it feels at least 10 or 15 degrees cooler. That's because it's the Petaluma Gap and in essence, you just have the onshore flow coming from the bay and really from the Pacific Ocean as it's coming up. That's where this wine comes from. It's a Petaluma Gap wine.

I think it's an outstanding value at $32. It's also a good [entrance 00:02:04] to what's kind of happening with the wider wine [seed 00:02:06] in Sonoma. There's a push for more and more western vineyards, closer to the ocean as possible. Fort Ross has been so spectacularly successful with their vineyards. It's only a mile from the Pacific Ocean. A lot of people were thinking, "Well, what's kind of the next logical step to that?" I don't know if you're going to see beachfront property taking over for vineyards, at least not in Northern California, but I think that there's going to be a push for these regions, where even if they're not right next to the ocean, if they have some of those same influences, because there's a whole ... One of the unique parts of San Francisco and kind of the wider Bay Area is that there's a mountain range that runs almost right along the coast. That keeps the [inland 00:02:47] ... There's kind of almost a bowl in essence. You have mountain ranges on both sides of the city. That happens in wine country too. That's why, you know, Sonoma is on the western side, there's Napa kind of in the middle, and then if you go east, it gets really warm really quickly. You're going to keep seeing people that are looking for these small microclimates, and how those microclimates might affect the wine that's in your glass. This is highly acidic. It's exactly what you would expect. At $32 though, they probably underpriced it by a few. We hope that our wine club members enjoy this month. Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Hope everybody's having a nice January, and if you're on the East Coast or in the Midwest, I hope you're starting to dig out from the snow a little bit. Have a good one.

Staff Writer
January 9, 2015 | Staff Writer

Food & Wine Pairings

Food and wine go together. They are meant for each other like a good marriage. No dinner is complete without a good glass of wine. Food tastes better with wines because they complement each other’s aroma, taste, and texture. A good glass of wine can bring perfection to your food. Think about the first bite of chicken you had yesterday. The first bite gave you a smell of the rich aromas, the taste of the flavors and experienced the texture of the chicken in your mouth. The second bite is also good, but it can’t be as good as the first as your mouth has already experienced the sensation the chicken provided. A drink of wine is necessary to refresh the senses of your mouth and offer it an alternative set of aromas, flavors, and sensation. (Editor's Note: When giving a wine gift taking these pairing suggestions into account makes a ton of sense, especially as we're still in the time period of holiday parties and host/hostess gifts)

Matching food with fine is a matter of personal taste. The easy way, to match a wine with food, is to think of wine as a sauce and match it to the strength and flavors of the dish to the wine. Here are some tips that you can follow to achieve the perfect combination of food and wine.

• Pair spicy food with wines that include residual sugars. For example, try German Riesling with spicy food as the sugar cools down the spice.

• It is a good idea to pair char –grilled foods with wines that have been aged in oak. The intensity of the oaked wine can be tamed by charred or grilled food and can bring out the fruit flavors of the wine instead.

• Pair foods with wines that have similar or complementary flavors and textures. For example, mildly flavored wines match with mildly flavored foods while the big and flavored foods are combined with flavored wines.

• Combine fried foods with wines that are high in acid. The acid in the wine creates a balance between the fried / fatty food and the wine.

• Pair sweet wines with salty food

• Deserts can be combined with sweet wines that are as sweet as them.

• Pair wine with the foods that come from the same ethnicity and background. For example Spanish food and Spanish wine. For more help here are some of our favorite classic food and wine pairings:

• Champagne and caviar

• Chablis wine goes well with oysters

• Red burgundy wine and roast beef

• Red Bordeaux wine and lamb

• Chinese food and piniot noir

• Smoked cheese with Shiraz(Editor's Note: our writers gives away his background here, other than Australia and some parts of SouthEast Asia....it's Syrah to everyone) 

• Pizza with Dolcetto

• Choose chardonnay with fatty fish

• Artichokes, eggs, spinach, fennel, and horseradish are some of the foods that are impossible to match with the right wine. For example, horseradish spoils the flavor of a wine, so it’s a good idea to limit the amount of wine with these particular foods. People enjoy and appreciate their dinner when the food and wine both are good. So you should try these tips and combinations in your next party.