Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
March 23, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

McCrea Cellars

McCrea Cellars was one of the very first Rhone producers in the state of Washington. Since the 90's they've turned out award winning bottles, having opened when a paltry 5 acres of Syrah had been planted in the entire state.

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

This is something that I should have done quite a while ago I think. I enjoy Rhone varietals quite a bit and I'm also somebody who thinks that that state of Washington has a lot of really good things going on up in the Pacific Northwest. I think a lot of times people get accustomed to California wine because California makes about 90% of the total American production and especially on the cheap side almost all of it is kind of from California central valley and then as you start drinking more expensive wine and kind of branching out folks try local stuff but then they're met with Oregon which can be kind of more austere than their planning and kind of feels like it's coming out of left field a little bit.

The state of Washington is probably more similar to California as far as climate and growing conditions. So many people when they hear about Washington growing grapes they assume that you're talking about Seattle and the rain and the whole kind of common wisdom that we have about the state. But when you go to the eastern part of the state it feels a lot like California. You know, Walla Walla is pretty darn hot over the summer. So that's all to kind of segue to what amounts to the state of Washington's first true producer of Rhone varietals, and this is McCrea Cellars. It's owned by two couples but I'll focus on Doug McCrea who makes the wine for them. Doug makes about 4,000 cases a year and they're all Rhones.

We recently shipped an '06 Viognier (it went into our Explorations Wine Club) from him and anytime you start talking about white wines that are 8 or 9 years old you start getting into the how is this holding up kind of thing. Viognier is a white where if you ask the French they'll tell you it's both the natural accompaniment to Syrah where in the Cotes du Rhone they will even add a small bit of Viognier in with the Syrah kind of on a consistent basis, but they'll also tell you that the wine can lay down for quite a while. And that's when we tasted these we thought that they were not only holding up well but they were a nice representation of what was happening in the state of Washington and not just 10 years ago. So this is the Ciel du Cheval vineyard and that's also worth a mention here.

The Ciel du Cheval vineyard was one of the first vineyards in the state of Washington to both plant Viognier and Syrah. When we first opened Uncorked Ventures one of my first conversations actually with a Washington winemaker was Doug McCrea who I asked who distributes you guys, how do I get your wines? Because there's all these requirements you have to go through to pull wine from one state to another including tax payments and all that kind of stuff. And Doug's been really helpful over the years. Perhaps more helpful than he should have been both in setting me up with some of his wine but then also helping me find some other Washington producers that would fit what we're trying to do. The Ciel du Cheval vineyard is one of the first. When Doug McCrea first started making wine at McCrea Cellars if you wanted to make a Syrah in the state of Washington, there was five acres planted and today's there's over 4,000. So I think that speaks to both the increasing quality but the increasing demand for what's being produced and I think that over time you're going to see more and more wineries spring up like this. I think this is a healthy thing for the industry, of course.

And McCrea Cellars, if you're interested in learning a little bit about what is a short history of Washington wine to this point but also seeing where the Rhones are kind of going, increasingly in California we're seeing this kind of rush to cooler climate conditions and we seem to go from the Syrah made is Napa is too thick and kind of too jammy for some high-end consumers to enjoy but if we can go to the Sonoma Coast then we're fighting Pinot vineyards and that kind of stuff for space. I think the state of Washington is kind of a natural secondary market for this kind of stuff and I am hearing a few Napa winemakers or at least a few Sonoma winemakers who are talking about bringing grapes down from Washington to make wine with those. So I think it's an interesting state of the industry right now and McCrea Cellars is definitely worth a look.

Anything that you want that's a Rhone they probably make it. They make a Piquepoul which is incredibly rare in the United States and Cinsault too. So, once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures and this is a short intro to McCrea Cellars and the state of the Rhones in the state of Washington. Thanks again guys and as you're no doubt heard before, I hope you'll consider a wine club membership of your own!

Mark Aselstine
 
March 16, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

2 Shepherds Winery

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It's been a while since I've done one of these and I've been remiss completely in not mentioning what might be my favorite winery in all of Sonoma. I'm joined today by a bottle of 2 Shepherds and, so you can get a little better look at that. This is 100% cinsault from the Bechtold Vineyard.

I'll talk a little bit about the Bechtold Vineyard for a minute first because I think it does a good job of explaining kind of what 2 Shepherds does. 2 Shepherds is actually a one man show. William Allen's become a little bit of a friend in the industry, at least I hope so. He's the north coast president of the Rhone Rangers. William got a start in the industry, he works a high tech sales job by day and makes about 1000 cases, or 1500 cases of wine by night under this label. He has a small tasting space just outside of downtown Santa Rosa called Avenue, which is well worth a look on a number of levels. William wrote a blog called Simple Hedonisms for quite sometime. He espoused two beliefs and [traits 01:03] on that blog and that was first he loved Rhone varietals and second, he was firmly in the camp of lower alcohol in California wine.

When I think of Lodi, I think of, you know, Lodi's hot. Hotter temperatures lead to bigger, more dense wines, but that's not what we have here. This is 130 year old cinsault vines, they were planted in, give or take, the late 1880's and unbelievably, in Lodi where the average summer temperature is well over 100 degrees, they are able to dry farm them. The Bechtold vineyard has this sandy soil, which is fairly consistent for Lodi, water tables at least 30 to 35 feet down. The vines clearly are in the water table if they're still producing this long. Just to give you some idea about the finesse and depth that is possible when you leave a vineyard alone for 130 years, especially when it's on native root stock, because 130 years ago we weren't grafting yet.

2 Shepherds, it's worth a look. William, this is kind of what he does. I love his Saralee's grenache, which is kind of one of the few sites left in the Russian river valley that grows grenache. He finds these really small parcels. The cinsault is all of 37 cases, and that's what you'll find with the majority of stuff he produces. You'll see a grenache block that's about 200 cases, that's the big production wine that he makes. It's a really hands on kind of outfit. I tell people when they ask me, "Hey are you a member of any wine clubs?", you know Napa or Sonoma, since my wife and I are a half hour or 45 minutes away. Quite frankly, we'd consider something that had events that we'd like to do on the weekend or that kind of stuff. William's maybe the only wine maker who's wine club I would consider

joining personally, just because I love what he makes so much. I feel like it's the profile and just the whole experience of one man making wine and being able to sit down and tell you about it that people are looking for right now.

If you're interested in tasting what John Bonne from the San Francisco Chronicle has called the future of Californian wine, 2 Shepherds was one of 150 wineries that Bonne listed in his book as kind of the lower alcohol movement and helping to shepherd that forward in California. 2 Shepherds is also a member of 46 Brix, which is a program that we're a member of here at Uncorked Ventures. In essence it's Amazon Prime for wine shipping. You pay a $79 fee once per year and then you're given free shipping on two bottles of wine any time you order them. I have a number of wine club customers who take part in that. Quite frankly, it makes the monthly wine club shipments, $6 for shipping as opposed to $10 to $15, depending on where they live. 2 Shepherds is a member of that as is Cornerstone and a few other bigger names than we are for sure. In essence, if you want to get to know William and his wines a little bit better, you can read some of his older stuff on Simple Hedonisms. The hype for 2 Shepherds label has well left the station at this point, and we're far from the first retailer to say that we really support this and we really, really like this. When we've shipped it to customers, to wine club customers, they've really, really liked it. Quite frankly, it's one of the few wineries that really feel lucky just to be able to take part in and to be able to support as time goes by. Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures, if you want a small production, lower alcohol Californian wine, 2 Shepherds might be the first place to start. Thanks again, have a good Monday.

Mark Aselstine
 
March 8, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Pairings for Fish

Everyone may not find a great meal to be a fish dish. There are quite a few people that do not like seafood at all. Then you have the few that like fish, but do not like any other seafood item, such as shrimp or lobster. Regardless of your stance, it’s never too late to give it a try. You never know you may be surprised how the meal tastes when it is served with the perfect wine.

With any meal you need to take into consideration the meat that you will be serving. Whether its beef, chicken or fish it will affect which wine you will serve. Generally speaking, white wines will often pair well with fish, but you will need to be aware of the type of fish that you will be providing.

There are about four specific types of fish. Each group differs greatly in texture and taste. These groups include medium flaky fish, lightly flaky fish, rich and meaty fish, and the strong flavored fish. Knowing these groups of fish will help you pair it with the perfect wine.

Let’s begin with medium flaky fish. These fish include trout, Halibut, Cod, Red Snapper and Grouper just to name a few. These fish are a little firmer and slightly thicker than a lightly flaky fish. A rich full bodied white or a medium bodied white will pair well with these fish. Try a Californian Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay.

Sea Bass, Tilapia and Flounder are all considered lightly flaky fish. These white fish are very lean. In order for a wine to blend well with these fish look for a white wine that will not overpower their subtle taste. Champagne or an Italian Pinot Grigio will suit these fish nicely.

A rich and meaty fish can remind you of a cut of red meat because it is so thick. Salmon, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna are all meaty fish. These fish are very firm and have a strong texture. Flavorful white wines that are rich in flavor pair will with these fish. A Chardonnay or a white Pinot Noir will blend well with a meaty fish.(Editor's Note: add Rhone varietals here like Viognier or even  Roussane) You may even find a few red wines that may pair well with these fish because of their meaty texture. A Lambrusco, for example, would serve a fish in this group well.

Sardines and Herring are considered strongly flavored fish because they are salty and have what some would term a “fishy” taste to them. If serving a strongly flavored fish look for a white wine such as a Pinot Noir or a Champagne.

When served with a meal, wines are just considered a drink. That notion is easily understood, especially when you take into consideration that they are liquids. Unfortunately, we may not be giving a good glass of wine enough credit. In most cases a great wine pairing enhances a dish. It is because of this, that perhaps wine should be considered a side instead of a beverage.

(Editor: As always, if you're looking for a combination of white and red wines delivered straight to your door on a monthly basis, please consider joining our Explorations Wine Club.)

Mark Aselstine
 
March 6, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Westrey Pinot Gris

I’ll start with a simple mention or note on vintage here, some of you are receiving the 2006 version of this wine and others the 2011.  Weird right? Well, not really-they’re tasting pretty similar right now largely on account that the ‘06 vintage in the Willamette Valley was among the warmest on record, with some winemakers calling it the most similar they’ve ever seen to a stereotypical California year.  To that end, some wineries held back their 2006 white’s until they softened up a bit.  That’s why the 06 is here.  Others have the 11, which is a more classic Oregon vintage, full of restraint and even perhaps a longing for some fruit.

 

I wanted to feature a Westrey Pinot Gris for some time in our Explorations Wine Club simply because they make such a classic version of what I consider to be Oregon wine.  These are largely acidic driven white’s, made without the benefit of malolactic fermentation.  If you aren’t familiar with malolactic fermentation, it largely softens wines, removing much of their acidity.  Originally French winemakers used the process to help soften the bittyness of acid profiles that can be inherent in cooler climate regions.  In California, winemakers will tell you, if you’re willing to listen for a while, that they feel like allowing malolactic fermentation allows a more complete integration of oak in wine.  Of course, this is Oregon, so we’re not looking for oak and at least personally, I’m not looking for a cooler climate version of a California wine, that acidity and slightly bittyness in terms of mouthfeel, is part of the attraction.

 

Westrey’s been in the Willamette Valley for about 20 years now, based in the small historic town of McMinnville where I tend to stay on visits because it’s walkable and has a number of nice local restaurants, coffee houses and the like.  I mention that because I think Westrey shows that influence in the prices they charge, as well as the types of wine that they produce.  In the age of $25-$35 white’s and $50+ Pinot’s in Oregon...Westrey has stayed quite constrained and consistent on price point through the years.  For that, they should, without a doubt, be commended.

 

During most vintages (including what’s in your glasses now), Westrey is using only their estate fruit for this Pinot Gris, offering I think a good classic look into what’s happening in the realm of Oregon white wine.

 

I think it’s also worth a note that during some vintages, you’ll see Westrey using only native yeasts.  While winemakers debate the topic ad nauseum and never come to any sort of real conclusion about the relative worth of native yeast fermentation, I can tell you that native yeasts definitely call for a more in tune winemaker (at least in my opinion) and here’s why.  Using commercial yeast, you know not only the exact amount of time that fermentation will take, but also what the ending alcohol level will be.  Native yeasts aren’t so simple in either regard.  Generally speaking fermentation is the process that converts sugar in the grapes into alcohol, so winemakers tend to believe that grapes picked at higher BRIX (the level of sugar within the fruit) should lead to higher alcohol wines.  Until, they experiment with native yeasts and find things aren’t so straightforward.  I mention all that to say, it makes September and October to be a rather nerve racking time, or at least even more so than it might be if they were picking yeast out of a catalogue, especially given that there are multiple natural versions on every grape and fermentation when natural has even been known to stop suddenly, only to start again when the weather warms up a bit.

 

Long story short, natural yeast is a pain in the neck when compared to purchased.  Westrey deserves a mention for both the wine they produce, but how they go about it.


About 250 cases per vintage are produced of this Pinot Gris.

Mark Aselstine
 
March 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Desert Wine Guy, Badet, Clement & Cie

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So over the last few days I've had conversation with a few new wine blogs that have popped up. One of which is called the Desert Wine Guy based outside of Vegas. One of the things that we've talked about is finding good value wines and where to find them.

So one of the things that I've wanted to do over the last few years and this was a kick starter in that vein, was to try random wines that I found interesting when I was at local grocery stores, local to me here in the Bay area of San Francisco. Trader Joe's, which I know is national now and we'll come back to Trader Joe's in a second, Safeway, the huge national brand, I grew up in Southern California so that was Vons, so it might not be Safeway but it's some Safeway family of companies that you probably have.

We're lucky that we do most of our shopping at a local place called Berkeley Bowl which is a Whole Foods competitor but at maybe half or a third of the cost. We'll shop at Costco, too occassionally for a bottle of wine. I only sell Oregon, Washington and California bottles so on the international stuff I am at the same place that most consumers are. I frankly don't know a whole ton a lot about a ton of regions of France outside of the standard Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, what have you.

So one of the things that the Desert Wine Guy has talked about was this bottle. This is Revelation Cabernet Merlot from Badet Clement and Cie. My French is not great but it's just good enough to know that Cie is company. So it's Badet Clement and Company. And they are based in, it says de Pays D'OC and this is one of the regions, ways that I think the French don't do themselves justice for when they import stuff into America. So this is the Languedoc and I've talked about the Languedoc in the past.

French wine laws are restrictive to the point of being borderline crazy. If you bought a vineyard in Bordeaux tomorrow they would tell you exactly what should be planted and where. Burgundy is even worse. Champagne the same. The Languedoc's one of the few, few regions in France where if you're a wine maker and I want to buy a vineyard and I'm going to plant six different types of grapes. I want to see what I can make and what I can make well and after that I'll figure the rest out. The Languedoc is one of the few regions where you can do that.

It also happens to be one of the largest continuous stretches of vines anywhere in the world. And that's important for something like this which comes into Trader Joe's for, I think I paid $5.99 for it. That's California pricing so you're probably, if you're outside of California paying a dollar or two more if not $10 or so in total.

 So this is a really nice Cab Merlot blend. One of the things that happens in the Languedoc is that they do a good cheaper impersonation of other areas of France and that's what you have here. They've gone for kind of a Bordeaux based blend and you kind of get that where it's more highly acidic than what you get from California for the most part. This reminds me more of Washington than something that you get in California. But there's really good blackberry and dark fruit flavors and the acidity really holds up. And it's something that you'll be really, really happy that you paid $6 bucks for or $8 or whatever it happens to be at your local Trader Joe's.

 And I think that also brings into a larger story about how does Trader Joe's source their wines, so on this stuff I'm fairly certain that this is a wine that's made specifically to come into the U.S. market. I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a tasting for the wines of Provence in San Francisco. They referred to it as rosé in the city. And that's what Provence is known for in France is making some of the best rosé around. This was a group of 60 or 70 wineries. A lot of times they have wine makers there.

Like I said my French is not great but they're kind of to translate enough to understand that they had these three or four bottlelings in front of them and three or four would be available and there was, oh this one that we make 4,000 cases of specifically to try to bring into the U.S. and that's from label design down to the actual stylistic type of wine that they have.

So Trader Joe's will work with people. I suspect this is probably in that same vein. They also, we were talking to a winery in Napa a few years ago about doing a Sauvignon blanc bottling and they had a few extra barrels of wine. And that's fairly typical for something that will happen in a large vinage. They will have a few extra barrels. We looked at it as a way to bring really good value for our exploration wine club folks who wouldn't be able to necessarily access this Sauvignon blanc from Napa based on the average price that they're paying versus what the average price of a Sauvignon blanc in Napa ends up being. And at the end of the day we couldn't do it because the folks ended up selling the whole lot to Trader Joe's. So they have this wine that depending on the vintage and stuff sells between $25 and $35 at the winery all of a sudden it was under a different label at Trader Joe's from $4.99. So that's what Trader Joe's does. That's what they do a really good job of and it's something that people will be happy about if they know how to search through and find what they're looking for.

So it's something that you can expect more from me. I'll start talking randomly about wines that I pick up at Trader Joe's, Safeway or Whole Foods or Costco, in that reign, since I know that those are stores that people have access to across the country. And if you have a few minutes and you're looking to read a different perspective on the world of wine, Desert Wine Guy has a blog spot blog as well as a new website and it's worth a look. The guy owns a vineyard and is based out of Vegas and so I think that adds a different perspective to those of us who are based in California or based in wine regions ourself.

So have a look if you have a minute and Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope that you guys have enjoyed it. The Revelation 2012 Cab Merlot blend from Trader Joes, it's Badet Clement and Cie. Worth a look and you'll be happy you paid $6 bucks for it. Have a good one. Lastly, if you enjoyed this, I hope you'll consider a wine of the month club membership with us.