Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
June 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Comptche Ridge Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Mendocino County

When it came time to talk about this Comptche Ridge Pinot, I struggled to find a specific story that I wanted to tell.  Yes, this is perhaps the most Burgundian of wines that we’ve ever shipped and while the winery is owned and operated by two brothers, much of the wine industry is family owned at this point, well at least until a conglomerate offers tens of millions for your brand name. What I think is most important about this wine though isn’t the specific vineyard where it’s from, but it’s the Anderson Valley itself.  Located about two hours north of San Francisco along the undeveloped coastline of California, Mendocino County and the Anderson Valley has become prime Pinot Noir territory for those who want to make wine from a vineyard that they can actually own themselves, while being in a cool climate region.  Literally cut out from Northern California’s famous Redwood groves Comptche Ridge offers the best insight into a family taking lighter styled California Pinot Noir to it’s logical extreme.  Actually that’s part of the allure of Anderson Valley, an AVA that I recently had to the pleasure to visit and taste through with almost all of the 20 different vineyard’s in the area.  The results are becoming more impressive as time goes by and a number of the most talked about winemakers in Napa and Sonoma have expressed an interest either publicly, or privately in our brief conversations about wanting to craft their own version of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.

Perhaps the best approximation comes from the owner of Nob Hill Cafe in San Francisco who simply summed up the wine in your glass as being a “Somm whisperer”.  What she means by that quite simply is that every Sommelier who tries this wine, wants it on their list.  Food friendly, but with enough backbone to be interesting the Comptche Ridge folks use almost 50% whole cluster’s, which adds some extra tannin and depth to the wine.  Given the cold temperatures and fog that give this wine it’s light fruit and low alcohol content, that addition is crucial.

Wine Club members in both our Reserve and Special Selections Wine Clubs have received this wine.

Lastly, it’s probably important to note that Pinot Noir is the traditional accompaniment to turkey.  While we might be challenging you a bit with the bottles of Tempranillo, we thought it might be nice to play it safer with the other part of the shipment.

All of 45 cases were made of their 2012, here’s the winery provided tasting notes (as per their request):

The 2012 Pinot Noir Comptche Ridge is all about texture, silkiness and polish. Wonderfully layered and sensual in the glass, with dark red cherry, plum, licorice and star anise as some of the many notes that grace the palate in this exquisite, layered Pinot. The 50% whole clusters add lift, but are also beautifully integrated.

Mark Aselstine
June 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Brooks Amycas White Wine

To start, this is the Brooks winery in Oregon….there’s are a few other wineries of the same name, many in areas that aren’t as familiar to wine drinkers, like Tennessee. Opened in 1998 by Jimi Brooks (who tragically died of a heart attack in 2004 at only 38) and passed to his son Pascal, winemaker Chris Williams has been tasked with helping the winery to keep its footing with a managing partner who couldn’t legally drink the wine he was technically responsible for.  Pascal was only 15 when he became managing director of Brooks back in ‘04, although he’s living in the Midwest with his mom, returning to the Willamette Valley to work harvest and spend time when not in high school.  Luckily, the family had a plan in place, even with a tragic and unexpected passing and they’ve set the winery up well for now and into the future. A horrible story to be sure and having a toddler in my house and being in my mid 30’s, it puts things into perspective to be sure, but sitting slightly outside of the wine establishment and having such a different set up both in terms of space (the winery building is only 35 feet by 50 feet, that’s especially tiny in Oregon where land is cheaper) and ownership, leads to some innovation.  

I think this Amycas white is a good example of that innovation.  Oregon has struggled for some time to find a complementary white to their standard bearer Pinot Noir, but this might be an example of where some wineries might go.  Made from a combination of Pinot Blanc (yes, genetically related to Pinot Noir) and Muscat, (there are also smaller amounts of Riesling and Pinot Gris) it’s an interesting mix of floral notes and acidity.

Personally, I find the Muscat addition the most interesting.  Perhaps the oldest and most genetically diverse grape in the world, some of the current research at UC Davis shows that perhaps all of the 200 cultivated grape species in the world today, are somehow descended from Muscat.  It certainly seems that when 5,000 years ago people found wild grape vines growing around the Mediterranean, it was likely Muscat.  Typically, you can find Persians, Italians, French and even Spaniards convinced that the grape originated in their part of the world, to this day, no one can be quite sure.  I find the addition of Muscat interesting from a historical perspective, but also because despite the preponderance of different types of Muscat grown today, they all share a single rather unique trait, an intense aroma of sweetness and floral. Those aromas come through loud and clear for me in this wine and makes it interesting in a way that some wines, especially the classic oak and butter Chardonnay’s, simply are not.

Previously featured in our most inexpensive wine club, the Explorations Wine Club.

Winery Provided Tasting Notes: Perfumed honeysuckle and paperwhites, white peach, rose petals and orange blossom flowers. So pretty in the nose with lychee, gardenias and pear. In the mouth the rich fruit explodes! Canned pear syrup, peach, lemon pie, cantaloupe, melon, passion fruit and jasmine. Beautiful wine with a lush texture, finishing with a hint of orange rind and bright acid. Loving this wine both in the aromas and the structure and pure ripe fruit. Great with tuna conserva, celery root salad, grilled fish, etc.

Mark Aselstine
June 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Pax Cellars Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah 2011 Russian River Valley

This is perhaps the first time I had absolutely no idea how to account for a wine monetarily, within a wine club shipment.  Pax Cellars is allocated and this Russian River Valley Syrah from Castelli-Knight Ranch is not available commercially when I’m writing this. The winery even declined to provide pricing information for me, although if you take the time to register for an account with their website, you’ll have the opportunity to buy a few bottles.

Pax Mahle might be the most sought after winemaker in Napa Valley these days (ok, we’ll consider Phillipe Melka busy with his 16 projects in this scenario) , in large part because he’s been able to build Syrah into a brand by itself. Originally brought into the valley to help run Dean & DeLuca’s wine program, Mahle stated this label back in 2000.  Things got a bit weird in 2008 when some of their business partners wanted to sell and the label only just came back into existence a handful of years ago.  I’ve been accused of being a secret Francophile, or worse by members at this club level who would swear that I am only concerned with cooler climate fruit, so I decided to swing exactly in the opposite direction, with a Syrah of all things.  

The Castelli-Ranch vineyard offers a good example of why people originally loved the Russian River Valley, soil’s good, water table is reachable and there’s plenty of warmth and sunlight. Pax calls this vineyard a “fruit bomb in waiting” during private conversations, but loves this vineyard.  I think part of the love for the vineyard is that he’s bought all the fruit and been responsible for farming decisions here since 2001.  In essence, even without ownership, this is the wineries estate vineyard.  Mahle takes this experience seriously, going so far as to buy an acre or couple tons of fruit from neighboring vineyards if they train their canopy’s in a different way, really doing anything at all to find how different decisions, or as he often says, lack of decisions, affect the final produce in your glass.

Anyone who wants to experience Pax Mahle’s wines, should start here. I originally was acquainted with Mahle’s work though a vineyard on the Mayacamas Mountains that provides him some fruit for his Agartha label, called Audelssa. Maybe it was a memorable 45 minute drive up the hill for us to reach Audelssa, but the Agartha wines represented everything that California ever wanted with Syrah.  I was told in no uncertain terms, if you want to experience the original, get a bottle of the Castelli-Ranch. Of course, for many his work at Wind Gap is now the biggest and best expression of his talents, but there’s something that reminds me of unbridled joy in this Syrah.

Mark Aselstine
June 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Bluxome Street Pinot Noir Hurst Vineyard 2012

Bluxome Street, in many ways, helps to represent the future of winemaking in California. Owned first and foremost by growers, the winery is based in San Francisco’s trendy and upcoming SOMA neighborhood.  Well before SOMA became tech’s new foray into the city(currently tenants like Twitter, SalesForce & Airbnb call SOMA home) SOMA was home to the original California wine industry.  Before the devastating 1906 earthquake & then Prohibition, SOMA was home to close to one hundred active and working wineries.  Grapes were grown in Napa and Sonoma of course but winemakers chose to locate in the city because there were a lot of people and an inordinate number of them, thanks to the gold rush and resulting boom, had money to spend.

Not much has changed.  Sure, there’s still counterculture elements to SF and taking the MUNI across town still might cause me to have to cover my 3 year old’s eyes at some point, but SF is gentrifying in some places, all the while building nicer and nicer where only mechanics and warehouses existed previously.  That’s about where Bluxome Street is located.

Perhaps more importantly than it’s location is what is being produced.  Bluxome Street is focused largely on Pinot Noir, which isn’t surprising given the pedigree of winemaker Webster Marquez.  A native Virginian, Marquez went to school in Virginia and then spent two years working at a winery in Virginia, before coming to California and finding a job at Williams-Selyem. That’s proven to be a breeding ground for new winemakers in California, especially those focused on a more austere and acidic profile of Pinot Noir, but Marquez’s story began to really take shape when he helped to found (with 2 partners) Anthill Farms.  If you aren’t familiar with Anthill Farms, the Wall Street Journal has said it is helping to redefine California Pinot Noir and the winery has up and inordinate number of times in my conversations with winery owners and other winemakers.  From the much acclaimed Mike Smith who crafts Myriad and Quivet to Chris Maybach (yes, of the wine and of course, car fame) everyone I know who has been in the industry for some time, is enamored with Anthill’s wines.

Bluxome is the natural off shoot of that, same style, same winemaker, easier spot to sell wine.

I say this is where winemaking is moving because urban wineries have an easier time selling wine than those based on a cloudy, foggy, cold hill somewhere in western Sonoma County where these grapes are grown. Putting on our marketing hats for a second, I’d much rather have a tasting room in San Francisco with its 16M visitors than the few hundred thousand that make it into Sonoma, wouldn’t you? Of course with Bluxome, there’s a ton of care and concern with their winemaking and while the industry (me among them of course).

Previously featured in both of our high end red wine clubs, Bluxome Street represents exactly the typeof wines and wineries we love to find, ship and talk about.

Lastly, the Hurst Vineyard site is generally referred to as Truett-Hurst which is part of the “middle reach” of the Russian River Valley, meaning this is still dry river bed, but occasionally heavy rainfall can inundate the vineyard to this day. It’s also one of the few vineyards in the RRV not only picked up hand, but picked bunch by bunch with multiple passes through each.  Quality is the sole concern here and it shows through.

Mark Aselstine
June 23, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Groundwork Grenache Rose

Groundwork Grenache Rose

Ok, so I know there’s a percentage of you out there that HATE Rose.  Please bear with me, this isn’t what you think.

Let’s start with some basics, this Groundwork Grenache Rose is made by winemaker Curt Schalchlin whom I met over a few glasses of wine at the Berkeley standout Bartavelle which has become something of a go-to meeting spot for me. His label, Sans Liege is literally a one man show.  Curt does everything.  Manages vineyards, thus the focus on only central coast vineyards and nothing in northern California (not that there aren’t enough choices in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, among other lesser known spots) since he wouldn’t be able to get to those vineyard consistently enough to manage them properly.  Of course, there’s back and forth inherent between growers and vintners, since the two groups often cannot even agree how grapes should be sold.  Growers want to sell grapes by the ton, winemakers want to buy them by the acre. Part of the continuing issue is that growers (well at least the less scrupulous among them, yes, there are a few) will water the grapes hanging on the vines in the last days before they are picked.  That leads to two issues, first that they get paid more.  Second, the wine ends up being worse because it’s watered down.  Of course, winemakers and vintners aren’t innocent in the whole affair either: take the wine market back in 2009 as an example.  A ton of Napa vineyards had long term contracts between growers and vintners, sold by the acre.  Big, awesome vintages happened in 07 and 08, only to see the wine market collapse aftermath of the financial crash. Vintners walked out of contracts, leaving growers holding the bag so to speak, they vowed that they’d never go back to selling by the acre (winemakers tend to keep yields super low in an attempt for higher end wine) because if contracts don’t hold up, they’ve cost themselves a ton of money.

Thus, the focus by most small scale winemakers on vineyards that they can manage and relationships that they can nurture, face to face.

Curt makes his wines down on the central coast and features grapes from some of the most intense vineyards in the region.  From Alta Colina to Bien Nacido, there are high scoring wines coming from these vineyards each and every year, usually made from Syrah-or other deeper, darker wines.

The Rose in your glass is made from Grenache grapes and here’s the story behind Rose.  

Winemakers usually have one of two reasons for Rose if its made by accident and a third, if they actually want to make Rose.  First, they have a red wine that doesn’t quite get ripe enough, so they “bleed” off some Rose to make sure the remaining wine that is left, is significantly dense enough to be interesting.  In essence, they’re making a stylistic choice for their wine, no matter the vintage.

Secondly, a grower has a section of the vineyard that they simply cannot get ripe, or something goes wrong, or simply the vines are new and not established enough as of yet. There’s a vineyard issue.

Lastly, you have a winemaker who wants to make Rose.

They make it somewhere between a white and red as far as process, which is evident here.  When you taste Curt’s Rose, you’ll notice that it tastes like a light bodied red wine, that’s the point and that’s why I can ship it.

I’ve shipped at least one of the first version of Rose-it’s acidity in a glass and I don’t mind it. Curt’s Rose falls into the 3rd category though and it’s the only type of Rose I’ll ship these days.

I get it, outside of SF and NY, Rose simply isn’t too popular.  This type of Rose would play anywhere though.  Think of it this way, if this were a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from a cool vintage, you might end up somewhere like this.  

That’s the beauty with warm vintages, warm weather vineyards and a winemaker who actually wants to make a Rose.

Yeah, I know it’s pink in your glass.  Don’t assume though before trying it, It’s not quite as pink as you think, this is a light red. I hope our Explorations Wine Club members enjoy an interesting look into a wine style that's only now coming into vogue across the country.