Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
September 12, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

9/11/13 #Winechat Finger Lakes Riesling

I can’t help but take a moment before talking about our #winechat last night which involved a series of sample bottles provided by Finger Lakes wineries to address the 12th anniversary of 9/11.  So much has been written already by so many places I can’t add anything new to the discussion other than to simply say that here at Uncorked Ventures we hope that all of those who serve as first responders continue to stay safe and those who lost someone special on that horrific day find as much peace as humanly possible. 

Thank you for all your sacrifices.

Ok, so on to wine chat for this September 11th.

A group of bloggers were sent a series of sample bottles of Riesling from the Finger Lakes wine region in New York State. To start with the most basic, the Finger Lakes is a region of wineries centered in western New York State.  Ok, so maybe they’re technically central, but it all depends on the person you’re asking is from the City in which case anything 1 mile west of Manhattan is western, or from Buffalo.  Since I was actually born in Buffalo and have plenty of family living on both sides of the great divide of New York State, that is the city vs upstate (ie everyone else) I feel confident in my ability to point that out without making anyone too upset.

Finger Lakes New York MapAnyway if you look at the map of New York State you’ll find out a few things almost immediately.  First the Finger Lakes are aptly named since they’re long and they all run in parallel to each other in a north-south plane.  Seriously, they really do look like fingers.

Secondly, they’re well positioned as an area to take advantage of much of what New York State has to offer.  Yes, the city is a way’s off, but the Thruway is easily accessible (it’s still hard to type that after driving a Freeway my entire life in Southern California and no, I still can’t believe they charge tolls as often as they do) and offers relatively easy access into America’s largest and most important market.  Secondary cities in New York State also offer their own unique and interesting mixes of food and wine culture as well as growing markets for Finger Lakes vintners.  Buffalo was decimated in the same way as Pittsburgh by the end of the American steel industry, but has been staging a comeback of sorts as America’s insurance home.  Albany is the state capital to one of the largest states in the country, in fact the one which holds the world’s financial center.  Syracuse is a diverse, urban and often gritty college town which is still one of my favorite places to see a basketball game anywhere in the world.  Rochester has one of the most diverse economies in the region, in fact one that we’d be proud to call our own here in California, even after Kodak virtually went belly up taking many jobs with it.  All of this is to say, there’s a market for local wine, it’s big and it’s growing.  Additionally, the location also offers relatively easy over land access to other major market’s both on the east coast as well as in the Midwest, after all Philadelphia is barely any further away than is New York City.  This is equivalent to Napa Valley vintners selling their wine in Los Angeles here in California, a day’s trip isn’t anything to worry about.

Of more interest perhaps for our readers is the focus of the Finger Lakes.  The climate and the influence from the lake’s ensure that the region is often thought of in the same terms as the Rhine region of Germany.  Much like the Rhine, the Finger Lakes focuses on Riesling.

Riesling on the VineRiesling, as we know given the amazing work of the faculty and researchers at UC Davis to document the genetic past of wine grapes across the world, was actually born in the Rhine Valley of Germany, likely in the 14th or 15th century.  Generally speaking most wine consumers know this grape as its slightly sweet version, although dry versions are created on a yearly basis as well.  One of my favorite moments during this week’s #winechat was hearing from a few of the New York wineries about how they chose to have a dry wine, or a sweet wine.  I enjoyed the fact that most produce some of both from different blocks in the vineyard, after all I do agree that both versions of the wine have an attainable market.

Really what you need to know about Riesling lies in it’s percentages. It is both the 20th most planted wine grape in the world, but likely the 3rd most important white wine grape and certainly among the top 10 overall. That is simply to say that finding good growing conditions for the grape can be easier said than done, but if you find them the results can truly be both memorable as well as superb.

More on the wines as well as our community tasting notes tomorrow-


Mark Aselstine
September 11, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Ampelos Cellars

Ampelos WineI have to admit, I find it easy to be mesmerized by Santa Barbara wine country and that’s not just because I enjoyed my time in Santa Barbara, the warmer weather and views make it one of the most appealing wine destinations in America.

Of course, Ampelos Cellars and their owners share some of those same thoughts which helps to explain how they ended up retiring onto 80+ acres in the Sta. Rita Hills all the while creating a new business for themselves.

I think the background of Ampelos is interesting, the winery is named after a Greek word for wine, largely taken because the proprietors have owned a bed and breakfast on a small Greek island for some time.  For many, retiring to that small Greek island would have been a happy enough end don’t you think?

For Rebecca and Peter Work, having one incredible retirement opportunity simply wasn’t enough, it seems they wanted both the beachside bed and breakfast as well as the winery.

Of course, most people don’t end up owning a vineyard without some type of connection to the wine industry and for the Work’s, their connection is among the clearest possible.  Their son Don Work is the current winemaker at Sea Smoke.  It bears a quick mention that neither the quality of the grapes in the Sta Rita Hills need a long mention in this space, but neither does the quality of the wines being produced at Sea Smoke.  It’s said that California lacks the Grand Cru classification system that has served Bordeaux well for about 150 years, but we’ve heard from respected sources like Wine Spectator that the vineyards owned by Sea Smoke would certainly be included, or at least seriously considered among the five best in the state, or the equivilant to our Grand Cru.  Additionally, Sea Smoke works solely off a mailing list these days, making the wines as successful with consumers as they are with critics.  We’ve heard they’re the Studio 54 of wineries, it’s hard to get in, but once you do, you never want to leave.

Ok, so what do you have here at Ampelos?  To start, you have a winemaker who currently holds the same title at a winery that makes wines you simply can’t buy , they’re too sought after and the mailing list attached to them reportedly is about a decade long.  You also have a vineyard purchased in an earlier era of Santa Barbara wine, before Sideways and the hype which has ensued.  Has Ampelos enjoyed the critical acclaim that Sea Smoke has?  Certainly not and before Don Work ascended at Sea Smoke, Ampelos would have been simply one of about a dozen wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands that we thought was ready to take the next step to making world renowned wine.  Now, that connection is more clear that many realize and we think, the time is right to enjoy an Ampelos wine, after all a long mailing list is likely in their future as well.

Here’s what to taste from Ampelos:

Pinot Noir.  Let’s not get too complicated here, any Pinot made here is going to be among the best in California in a given vintage.

Grenache: I personally think it’s the next big thing from the Santa Lucia Highlands as the wine comes off these cooler vineyard sites with an incredible depth of flavors and spices.  It seems as an industry we’re constantly looking for the next big thing when it comes to cool weather grapes, perhaps we’re just making things too complicated.

Late Harvest Viognier: Despite my Studio 54 reference earlier, I’m still a Millennial.  Yeah, I know.  In any case we’re reaching an age where a greater percentage of people have grown up drinking sweeter beverages than ever before from juice to soda.  All that means is that there’s going to be an ever increasing market and market demand for sweet dessert wines.  You don’t see ice wine’s or Port’s you’d actually want to drink at this $25 price point often.

Mark Aselstine
September 6, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Dos Lagos Vineyards

Dos Lagos Vineyards, in my estimation is going to one of the most talked about names in Napa Valley within 5 years: Here's Why:

Dos Lagos VineyardsI’ve talked about Atlas Peak before in this space, but it is truly one of the more interesting and unique places in Napa Valley these days.  I’ve heard it described by a few folks who have been the Valley for some time (certainly longer than I have) that Atlas Peak is much like walking back in time, to a simpler time in Napa.  That’s a time before the tasting of Paris, before the $30M+ sales of wineries and before the pretentious nature of some wineries which have gained famous names more for real estate than for wine.

When we start to look at wineries and wines to include in our wine clubs, we tend to look at two things.  Vineyards and winemakers.  Sure a great story is a bonus and makes writing these blog entries and newsletters easier, but at the end of the day the most important aspect of a winery is what ends up in the glass.

The vineyards on Atlas Peak aren’t at issue any more.  The wide ranging and dramatic success of Stagecoach Vineyard among others has truly put the AVA on the map when it comes out outstanding growing areas for Cabernet, among other grapes.  In fact, when we’ve done informal taste tests with some of our best customers, they tend to enjoy Atlas Peak wines at least as much as their more famous relatives on Howell Mountain and other mountain AVA’s within Napa Valley.

The second aspect of a winery is their winemaker.  Here’s where everyone should truly be sold on Dos Lagos-their winemaker is Robert Foley.  Foley isn’t one of the new generation of winemaker superstars who doubles on the San Francisco celebrity circuit, but you’ll recognize a few of his winemaking projects immediately: Pride, Switchback Ridge and School House.  If you were to ask a number of wine critics which Napa Valley winery made mountain fruit a household attraction, I’m betting more than half would tell you that Pride is the biggest thing in mountain wineries within Napa.  All that is to say that Foley’s credentials are as strong as any winemaker, anywhere.

If you were wondering how Foley came to this project, a short guess has to be centered around the fact that the grapes from Dos Lagos are in his own wineries’ Claret.  If you feel strongly enough about a vineyard to include them in a wine whcih carries your own name you're probably going to feel comfortable making an esate wine for the fruit as welll.  Foley hasn’t taken on a new project, by our count at least, for at least a decade.  For an industry veteran, I think that speaks volumes about what he thinks of the Dos Lagos fruit.

Lastly, no article about a winery is complete without talking about the folks behind the idea and the brand.  Dos Lagos is owned by Tom & Marcie Dinkel.  The Dinkel’s, unlike so many winery owners (or even wine club owners, present company included) have chosen to not clutter their own website with personal information-so suffice to say that the couple seems to have a diverse set of interests, such as a day job in solar power, loving the America’s Cup which has finally come to San Francisco and of course some art along the way as well.

If you’re looking for a new, interesting Napa Valley Cabernet then Dos Lagos should be at the top of your list.  With their first vintage under a decade ago, Dos Lagos is still a new venture and stands to continue gaining market share and attention as time goes on. 

Mark Aselstine
September 5, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

The Prince of Pinot

Prince of PinotWhen it comes to wine critics, the recent changes at Wine Advocate, including Robert Parker’s new relative lack of involvement have certainly created a vacuum of sorts.

One of the things we want to do over the coming days and weeks is to feature wine critics that we feel are likely to take some of that available market share.

Our first entry (and frankly the wine website and reviewer we feel most strongly about) is the Prince of Pinot.

Since we first started Uncorked Ventures, one of the first sources we ever check when it comes to buying a Pinot Noir, is the Prince of Pinot.  Written by a retired ophthalmologist (that’s an eye doctor) the Prince of Pinot explains his love for Pinot in a way I only wish I could match:

I figured out early on that Pinot Noir was the greatest food wine on the planet. Loving gourmet delights, Pinot Noir was the natural partner for foods from the sea (salmon, ahi), the air (quail), the water (duck) and the earth (venison). Pinot Noir is made for drinking with food and when you have the perfect match, the experience can bring you to your knees! Seductive, elegant, and earthy, Pinot Noir unites friends, food and good time into a glorious dining experience.

We first started taking the reviews at the Prince of Pinot after taking a meeting with Paul Lato, largely based on the glowing recommendations which existed in his database.  The Prince is unlike a lot of other reviewers in that he seems to enjoy a wide variety of Pinot Noir, there is no discernable bias in his palate between wines which are bigger in terms of fruit or higher in terms of acidity.  We can appreciate that type of even handed review and thought process and especially appreciate his willingness to review wines not only from our neck of the woods here on the west coast, but also those internationally.  Additionally the Prince of Pinot takes the time to review Pinot from up and coming destinations like South Africa and especially New Zealand (we couldn’t agree more, the Kiwi’s are likely the next big thing in imported Pinot) instead of simply telling everyone how good the $200 per bottle Burgundy he had last night happened to be.

If you're someone who loves Pinot already, or simply someone who fancies himself a sophisticated wine lover-reading the Prince of Pinot is a logical and common sense starting point for any wine journey.

Mark Aselstine
September 3, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Napa Valley Discounts & Free Stuff

I’ve been told that I’ve been writing a bit too much about Sonoma in this space and not enough about Napa Valley.

Point taken.

I do know that Napa can be expensive and no matter your budget for a trip into Napa Valley, it’s fun to get something at a discount isn’t it?

Here’s a few places you can score some interesting discounts for your next trip into Napa:

Napa Valley Register:  It’s really the only true home town newspaper for Napa Valley and the Register undoubtedly offers more local content than does the San Francisco Chronicle. Almost every locally based hotel and business of note does some sort of advertising with the Register and most offer a discount or two along the way, even if those discounts aren’t always easy to find.  From the Napa Valley Register’s home page, click their “Visit Napa Valley” link on the header and then search for the deals link on the right.  Looking through their current choices you’ll find everything from discounted hotel stays to free wine tastings at over 50 wineries

Wine Country This Week: The magazine does an outstanding job keeping current with exactly what’s happening in the Valley and offers 2 for 1 on basically anything you’d ever want to do on a visit. It’s also worth a read because they really do a good job at featuring lesser known and smaller wineries in their monthly issues.

Email Someone Like Us: Seriously.  If you’re visiting a wine region that we work with, really anywhere in California, Oregon or the state of Washington please email us first.  We’ll happily make reservations with you with wineries for tastings, most of the time you won’t be sitting in the tasting room with everyone else but being given a complete tour of the property, often by a member of the winemaking team.  It’s really the only way I’d ever want to see wine country and your first barrel tasting experience is usually one to remember.