Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
June 17, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Vaughn Duffy Rose 2012

Vaughn Duffy Rose 2012

About Vaughn Duffy: We’ve been running Uncorked Ventures long enough now to know when we’re about to get a sales pitch.  One thing that’s happening with increasing frequency are friends and acquaintances introducing us to their friends who make some wine on the side or want to sell us some other wine related product.  For that reason, I was a bit worried when I heard from a friend/neighbor that a good friend of his “makes some wine in Sonoma”. Fortunately, it turns out his friend is Matt Duffy, an honest to goodness real winemaker who has a day job running a custom crush facility called Vinify.  Vinify provides space for about 30 wineries to craft their wines, while also granting them access to a shared tasting room. That day job also allows Matt access to not only a group of accomplished winemakers with which to work, but also the vineyards that they own or source fruit from.  Those relationships are increasingly showing up in his wines, with a number of incredibly popular high end vineyards now showing up under this start up label including the Stori Vineyard which you might not have heard of because of its small size, but it’s neighbors sound awfully familiar to those who love Sonoma wine: Merry Edwards, Keefer Ranch & the acclaimed Paul Hobbs. As we mentioned in our sidebar, his Rose was named one of the top 100 wines of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and has been gaining quite a bit of traction in high end restaurants in and around San Francisco.  Unfortunately for the average consumer, the city of San Francisco is about where the distribution of this wine ends, so we thought our customers would enjoy trying the first Rose that we’ve ever thought highly enough of, to ship.  Duffy’s background is also interesting for a winemaker, he went to UC Berkeley and was the editor of the sports section of the Daily Californian, fashioning himself the next  Peter Gammons before settling on making wine and a life for himself in Sonoma.  He’s certainly an up and coming winemaker and we think you’ll enjoy his straight forward and crisp style, described by some as more old world than new.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: When tasting the wine we find layers of flavor that we attribute to the multiple Pinot Noir lots, as well as the Syrah. The finished wine shows tropical notes of melon and mango, and has a gentle way about it. The will be best consumed within one year of its release. We think it’s our best Rosé yet. 

A Small Secret About Rose: One thing a lot of people notice about Rose, is that you generally don’t see much in terms of vineyard location or anything in terms of a listed AVA (this is listed as the very generic Sonoma County).  In many cases, Rose is a byproduct of sorts of other red wine and is sourced as a sort of afterthought or run off.  Not here, as one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 wines of the year, Vaughn Duffy takes it’s Rose seriously.  Grapes are picked at ripeness levels, specific to Rose and then pressed off their skins immediately.  What you end up with is (in our opinion at least) a more complex Rose, which in reality is simply a light red wine and not an afterthought like so many others.

Time Posted: Jun 17, 2013 at 10:37 AM
Mark Aselstine
June 13, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar from Olive Crush in San Carlos, CA

gourmet gift basket by Uncorked Ventures

Some information from our gourmet gift basket:

We selected olive oil from Olive Crush in San Carlos after seeing this small, local shop listed among only 30 stores in the entire country selling true, high quality olive oil according to the recently published book Extra Virginity.  Depending on the time of year you receive your gift basket, you’ll receive olive oil from either the northern hemisphere (normally California, Italian or Spanish) or the southern hemisphere (Chilean, Australian or South African mostly) because at it’s core, olive oil is a fruit juice and needs to be as fresh as possible. The balsamic vinegar which is included is strictly sourced from one high quality Italian importer.  There is a simple reason for that, most high end balsamic made elsewhere is aged for 6 years.  The Olive Crush’s Italian importer ages theirs for 18 years, making it the same high quality that you’d see at a steakhouse or similar $50+ per plate restaurant.  We love this stuff and everyone who tries it, finds it hard to go back to store bought balsamic.

Time Posted: Jun 13, 2013 at 10:38 AM
Mark Aselstine
June 12, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Coro Wine A Mendocino County Original

Coro Mendocino TastingYesterday I was invited to a wine tasting and general introduction to Mendocino County and it’s restaurants, hotels and other tourist attractions.

Held in the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate Club, Mendocino County clearly spared no expense in the location that they chose and that attention held up throughout the day, as the event was the best organized trade tasting that I’ve attended in some time.

One request which I always make about these events, let’s find venue’s better accessible by public transportation outside of Muni-the fact is most of the people I meet at these events are forced to drive because venue choices aren’t accessible by either BART or Caltrain, which frankly seems silly.  That isn’t an issue with Mendocino County’s event specifically, but a general complaint about how events are planned in San Francisco for the wine industry.

Ok, so the even itself was split up into three main areas.  Two of the three were the standard set up with wineries having their own tables and the ability to pour their wines.  One thing I noted was that for the consumer part of the event (5-7pm) they had clearly marked signs stating how you could purchase the wines-that’s a big improvement over many trade and consumer tastings, where you’re often left to guess.

The highlight and really the reason I decided to attend was an hour long tasting led by winemakers about their Coro Mendocino program.  In essence winemakers and wineries in Mendocino have created a European style collective to try and increase sales as well as recognition of the wines being grown in their region.

In their case, they are focusing on blends based largely on Zinfandel (45-70%) but not so much that the wines can be labeled as varietal specific Zin.  They allow a list of 9 secondary grapes, all Mediterrean in origin, although it seems like most winemakers seem to be happy to focus largely on Syrah, Petite Sirah, Primitivo and Sangiovese for their secondary set of grapes.  Lastly, they are allowed 10% free run at the end of the vintage, putting in whatever the winemaker in question feels would benefit the wine the most.

Coro Mendocino WinesI found two aspects especially interesting to the program.  First, the wineries have agreed to use some common art work and design on the bottles.  It’s the type of thing which I can’t even imagine happening elsewhere in the state.  Secondly, there is a rather intense process of peer review before a wine can be accepted into the program.  Every winemaker who wants to take part sits on a tasting panel four times before the wines are released, in an effort to make sure the quality is high enough, not to make the taste or profile more generic.  One of the reasons the winemakers seem to like that set up is that they are in essence, able to expand their palate’s without hiring a range of consulting winemakers.

Our tasting featured wines from 6 of the previous 12 vintages of Coro Mendocino, with two wines being poured from each vintage.  While I think many of the attendees would have enjoyed a wine from each vintage, it was interesting to see a rather stark contrast between two wines made in close proximity to each other, seeing how even with an extensive peer review process that winemaker choices are still shining through the wines rather brightly.

In any case, it was a really fun afternoon for me and an interesting and rather unusual way to learn about what might be the most innovative program in California wine.

Coro Mendocino, check it out if you can find the wines (it isn’t easy, they are all around 200 cases or so in production) and while ABC wouldn’t be happy about it, somehow they all seemed to be independently priced at $37.

Time Posted: Jun 12, 2013 at 10:11 AM
Mark Aselstine
June 10, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

A First Trip to Paso Robles

Paso Robles is certainly a wine region gaining acceptance among casual wine drinkers, it’s also a region that many within the wine industry have looked at as an up and coming star and perhaps a future Worldwide Wine Capital for some time.  It’s been called everything from “The Next Napa” to being equated with visiting Napa in the 70’s. That’s high praise that is well deserved.

One of the issues with visiting Paso when compared with Napa, Sonoma or even Santa Barbara is that there is a significantly smaller pool of information about the wineries available both in print and online, although that’s slowly changing.

Over the next few days, we’ll be featuring everything Paso Robles.  First the wine, then food, places to stay and where to get more information online.

Since we know the wine is the star here, let’s start with the obvious first question that most people ask: Where should I go Wine Tasting in Paso Robles? A quick primer, Paso is home to Rhone varietals in large part, while you will see the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon made in Paso, the focus is largely on Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre and other Rhone varietals.

Alta Colina: We’ve talked about Alta Colina in this space before, but we truly do love their wines.  Their small tasting room is located at Villicana Winery (it sits about 4) which is the experience that most people are really looking for when visiting wine country.  The wines are dense and rich even by Rhone and Paso standards, but we enjoy a tasting trip here for two main reasons.  First, the tasting room is often staffed by Maggie whose family owns the winery and she is willing to take consumers up to their vineyard for a quick look around.  You’ll quickly see how passionate she is about her families winery and their vineyard, which is only a short drive from the tasting room.  Secondly, Alta Colina offers an interesting mix of wines largely centered on Syrah.  We find that being able to taste Syrah’s from the same vineyard, often just a few yards away from each other shows the grape off better than trying Syrah’s from different regions or wineries within the same region.  You get to experience the affects of soil construction, wind and sunlight on wines grown in close proximity to each other.   Many people are surprised at the differences in flavor profiles achieved by their 0900 Syrah (our favorite wine here) and the newly minted Block 2 Syrah.

Denner: So we’d admit that we love the Denner wines on their own, but part of the reason we include them here is because their winemaker Anthony Yount also has a small personal label called Kinero that you won’t be able to taste elsewhere.  Yes, try for an appointment with the winemaker himself.  In any case, a visit to Denner offers an interesting paradox in the wine industry.  Robert Parker once called the James Berry Vineyard among the 5 Grand Cru vineyards in the state.  That’s great for Paso and well deserved to be sure, but most people don’t realize that Denner’s estate vineyard is located literally on the other side of a gold cart path from the famed James Berry Vineyard.  It’s a great way to be able to literally taste some of the best fruit in Paso, without paying the whole price for the experience.  Yount’s personal label is also a joy for many consumers.  A white label specifically, these are complex Rhone white’s crafted for people who don’t usually drink white wine.  For most men that we know, that hits the spot fairly well and it’s also interesting to meet an up and coming winemaker who is still among the youngest in Paso.

Barrel 27: In Sonoma, warehouse wineries are all the rage.  In Paso, we haven’t seen the same type of acceptance of that model, Barrel 27 being an exception.  A dual project by winemakers Russell From and McPrice Myers, Barrel 27 offers some of the best value wines in Paso. The Rock and a Hard Place Grenache and the Head Honcho Syrah are among the best values at their respective price points ($18 and $28) found anywhere not only in Paso, but California wine. One of the joys of visiting Barrel 27 is seeing a tasting room which is far from the uptight stale experiences that we have so often in the wine industry.  The last time we were there, we were greeted by a staff actually having a good time and Eric Clapton playing blaring on the stereo. Given that they have a dual winemakers working on site, who both produce a range of wines under their own labels (both at higher, but reasonable price points) there is an opportunity to taste close to 50 wines in a given trip, which does remind us that palate fatigue can kick in.

Pithy Wine Company: We originally visited Pithy at their previous location in downtown San Luis Obispo, their new downtown Paso spot is a better fit on a number of levels. We make a stop at Pithy for not only the wine, but their assortment of other high end food products as well.  From olive oil and balsamic vinegar to their own root beer that is made a couple of times per year, there is truly something to keep you interested here for quite some time. 

Terry Hoague Vineyards: If the Hoague name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the ex University of Georgia and NFL star who now headlines a winery of his own name.  We always send clients to Terry Hoague Vineyards during a Paso trip because the wines are lighter and perhaps even more European in construction than many others in the area. Hoague’s football background comes through as well, from the names of the wine (the 46 is a favorite of ours, based on the defensive alignment all the rage during the 80’s) to some of the decorations around the tasting room.  If you have a NFL fan in your party, this is a perfect stop on a number of levels.

There are, of course plenty of other great places to taste among Paso's 150+ wineries but these are some of our personal favorites.

Time Posted: Jun 10, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Mark Aselstine
June 5, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Dragonette Cellars MJM

We recently featured Dragonette Cellars again in our Special Selections Wine Club.  With a tasting room in Los Olivos, we originally found Dragonette at Family Winemakers in San Diego and initially knew of them as a Pinot house.  As we've found over time, their location in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley affords them access to some interesting Syrah as well and this is an interesting blend, largely Syrah that shows off their ability to craft denser and deeper wines.

About Dragonette: We’ve previously shipped a Dragonette Pinot Noir, which we continue to be impressed with, but any time a winery is willing to name a wine after their three significant others, we’re interested.  The MJM represent the three first initials of their wives/girlfriend.  This wine is considered their proprietory red wine blend, but in essence it’s Syrah for this vintage.  Given their location in Santa Ynez Valley, that makes sense, especially with many of the grapes for this wine coming from Ballard Canyon, California’s most recently created AVA-and one of the few largely specializing in Syrah. More than anything else, though the critics LOVE Dragonette-so we wanted to share another of their wines. From the Wine Advocate itself to the California tasting panel at Wine Spectator, scores have been consistently coming in at 90 points and above for Dragonette-meaning these wines are becoming quickly in short supply.

Tasting Notes: 93pts Stehpen Tanzer
Opaque ruby.  Black and blue fruits, incense and a touch of candied plum on the highly perfumed nose.  Lush and powerful, offering sweet blackberry and boysenberry flavors and suave floral pastille andspicecake nuances.  Bright acidity gives this fleshy wine lift, spine and focus.  Closes with substantial but harmonious tannins and a jolt of exotic candied violet.

Time Posted: Jun 5, 2013 at 10:41 AM