Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
January 8, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

5 Wine Topics I’m Sick of Talking About, but Stand No Chance of Going Away


5) Spanish wines are the next big thing. No wait, Portugese wines are the next big thing. Wait, Italian wines are the next big thing. New Zealand. South Africa. Argentina. Chile. Etc Etc. The wine industry is growing world wide, here is hoping that regions everywhere improve the quality and the value of their offerings while keeping some sort of local character to their wines.

4) Robert Parker and his retirement from current California vintages. The first scores from Antonio Galloni are out and they are, not surprisingly, more of the same. Did anyone really expect a dramatic departure from Wine Advocate which has become the most trusted name in wine reviews?

3) The Other 46. I’m still wondering exactly how New York has weaseled its way into a grouping with California, Oregon and Washington. Despite several great examples to the contrary, I just haven’t seen the consistent quality from New York state yet-at least on the level produced consistently on the west coast. Great wines are being produced to be sure, but overall is the quality comparable? Can we just admit that great wine can be made anywhere and move on? New Mexico makes a great sparkeling wine lineup. Arizona is trying. Michigan is working hard. Virginia might be the best hope for the east coast. Texas and Texans love their own and the region outside of Austin is surprisingly temperate. 40 years ago Pinot Noir in Oregon sounded like a stupid idea, haven’t we learned anything? The wine industry is incredibly adaptable and more quality wine regions are a good thing, let’s let them all develop without trying to compare them all the time.

2) Cork versus artificial cork versus screw tops. I get it. Honestly I do. Artifiical cork doesn’t spoil any bottles, but it might not age as well and it definitely removes some of the romance from wine. Screw tops are easily and much more efficient for restaurants, bartenders love them as it saves at least 45 seconds per opening. For a busy restaurant in a major city, that could save you thousands of dollars per year. I think everyone in the industry knows all of this already-what’s the point in continuing the discussion if you don’t stand a chance of changing anyone’s mind? By the way, those natural cork ads as you enter wine country across the world talking about the environment seem like a winning proposition for an industry dependent on wine sales at $50 and above, exactly the market where people get really environmentally conscious.

1) Low alcohol content wines are better than high alcohol content wines. Heck, I’ve got to hand it to the French wine industry, they’ve turned the entire conversation on its head. No longer does it matter if a wine is balanced, or if you can tell the alcohol level in a wine. All that matters is that legally mandated alcohol level on the front of the bottle. For an industry that has fought so vehemently against scores, it’s a little odd don’t you think? I’m sick of the conversation because we’re missing the point. Warmer climates are going to produce higher alcohol wines. That’s just a fact. What isn’t a fact though is that all higher alcohol wines are out of balance. I could line up 10 wines we’ve shipped over the past two years that hit 14% or higher in alcohol and you’d have no idea because they are well made and the alcohol content is completely in balance with the fruit in the wine.

Mark Aselstine
January 3, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

My Favorite Wines, Winemakers and Wineries of 2011

10) B Cellars: I’ll admit it. I love Napa. It’s part the ambiance. It’s part tradition. It’s part nostalgia. It’s mostly the incredible wine, both the consistently great Cab’s produced everywhere in the valley, but also the innovative smaller wineries that you haven’t heard of yet. We shipped Blend 24 by B Cellars, partly because we loved the wine, but also partly because they’re willing to experiment and grow one of the best Sangiovese crops in California.

9) Anything from Los Olivos (the other side of Santa Barbara). Dragonette. Tensley. Stolpman. Blair Fox (more on him/them later). Beckmen. Kaena. The list goes on and one, with all the offerings priced incredibly fairly given the quality. If I had one day to taste with a group of friends, Los Olivos might be the stop considering there are 30 tasting rooms within walking distance of each other.

8) Kamen: I’m going to date myself here a bit, but Karate Kid is one of my favorite movies of all time. Yes, I am about the perfect age, but meeting the guy who wrote the screenplay was one of life’s little thrills. Robert Kamen might write screenplays for a living, but his Kamen wine label might be the best Cabernet produced in Sonoma. If you’re anything like my wife, you might not be as thrilled to meet the guy who did the screenplay for Karate Kid, but might be more interested in a Walk in the Clouds!

7) Blair Fox: Certainly one of the coolest winemakers on the block. We haven’t shipped one of his Syrah’s…..yet. Tierra Alta Vineyard is my personal favorite.

6) Copain: Lower alcohol has a home in California wine. You just need perfect vineyard locations and a willing winemaker to make it happen consistently. Welcome to Copain where we will vouch for literally any wine they make from their entry level Tous Ensambles, to their vineyard designate wines which truly shine.

5) Andrew Will: Bordeaux has already found its way to Washington, most wine drinkers simply haven’t discovered it yet. These are restrained wines considering their vineyard sources and are clear crowd pleasers whenever they are opened.

4) JC Cellars: Multiple wines rated in the mid 90’s and priced at around $40 will get you a lot of attention. Think Tensley 3 years ago, before the massive hype and waiting list.

3) Woodward Canyon: Great high end Cab’s. A great entry level second label.  There isa  lot to like here on a number of different levels.  If you want to try your first Washington wine, this is a place to start.

2) Sojourn: We love fleshy Pinot’s. If I want a Pinot to break apart in my mouth, I’ll buy something from Oregon. Winemaker Erich Bradley crafts quality Cab and Pinot all in a Burgundian style.

1) Anything made by Mike Smith. We’re guilty of liking the exclusive and getting the heads up about Mike’s label from Maybach didn’t hurt either. High quality Cab’s from some of the top vineyard sources in the state. All of the wines made by Mike show a level of sophistication not often seen at their prices. Parker said to get on the list before he left town and we couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t hurt that we like Mike quite a lot, he also helped us to find one of the great hole in the wall Mexican food restaurants in all of Napa.

Mark Aselstine
December 31, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Happy New Year

As another year winds down, Matt and I want to wish all of our customers and readers a very Happy New Year!

We’ve enjoyed the ride this far and while 2012 will certainly bring its own set of challenges and obscales, we’re incredibly happy with Uncorked Ventures and the quality wines we’re sourcing on a regular basis for our customers. We appreciate your business and are looking forward to the new year!

Mark Aselstine
December 10, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Lot 18 Goes International

Lot 18 has certainly been the talk of the wine world for some time on a number of different levels. While I don’t choose to talk about competitors in this space often, we have divergent enough business models that I don’t see the harm mentioning them here. Additionally, I think it is important to point out that while at Uncorked Ventures we’re shipping almost all 90+ point wine, that’s tough to do when you’re selling them by the tens of palates like Lot 18 is…..

In any case, the wine world was literally stunned a few months ago when Lot 18 accepted 30M in venture capital funds. Everyone wondered what the plan was given that sizable financial investment. Theories were espoused including Lot 18 beginning to craft its own wine to buying wineries directly. Frankly, none of them seemed likely.

Word comes today that Lot 18 has purchased a Paris based ecommerce company called Vinobest. It’s the start of a global expansion for the brand.

I can see the attraction to going international, in fact exporting wine is on the Uncorked Ventures to-do list for 2012-2013, but a true international expansion poses a whole different set of challenges. The bottom line, I wish them nothing but the best and having another wine company who is acting more on quality than on discounts only helps us at Uncorked Ventures.

Mark Aselstine
December 9, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

The Rich Get Richer

If you’ve been around the wine industry for any length of time, you probably realize that AVA’s do matter and are contentious. Let’s face it, the average consumer is more likely to buy a wine from Napa Valley than Paso Robles.

The biggest news here is that the Russian River Valley has been expanded to include a massive Gallo owned vineyard.

It’s an interesting situation. In Sonoma, most winemakers and vineyard owners wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a stand against Gallo. That doesn’t mean that Gallo is being heavy handed here and they’ve certainly been a good steward of the Sonoma Country wine scene for a generation, but does this really help the Russian River AVA?

I don’t think Napa Valley would carry the same significance if wineries like Mondavi didn’t help put it on the map, but in 2011 does it matter any more especially with the Russian River Valley already a household name?  I think it is telling that the Russian River Valley grape growing association originally opposed the expansion, before becoming neutral.