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!

Staff Writer
 
March 22, 2015 | Staff Writer

Famous California White Wines

California is a quintessential place for growing some of the best grapes in the US. Here we are going to talk about some of the famous white wines that California is famous for.

Chardonnay

The California Chardonnay can be best described as fruit forward with light hints of minerals and a toasty finish. The Chardonnay is the State’s most widely planted grape and is known for its spectrum of flavors that match the variety on the California terroir.

Chenin Blanc

You can enjoy Chenin Blanc with chicken in coconut curry or sliced ripe pears. Whichever way you try it, the Chenin Blanc is nothing if not versatile as compared to other off dry whites. The white wine is known for its crisp and refreshing taste which goes well with a number of food combinations.

Pinot Gris

The pinot Gris offers the crisp taste of citrus flavors that the California state is so famous for. The Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio as it’s called goes perfect with light meals like pasta or noodles with shrimp.

Riesling

The California Riesling foes well with Thai spring rolls or bacon on rustic country bread. Its floral aromas of the Napa Valley gives it flavors of pears, apples with hints of honey.

Moscato

Try the delicious and sparkling Moscato with vanilla custard or a rich cheesecake. The Moscato’s tangy taste goes well with dark chocolate torte as well and is even great for an afternoon sip with its late harvest, full-bodies taste.

 

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.

Staff Writer
 
March 12, 2015 | Staff Writer

How Dessert Wines Are Made

Dessert wines have become more popular over the recent years. This is especially true with people that do not usually partake in drinking wine. However, because of its sweetness they are more willing to give it a try. What classifies a dessert is its sugar content. These wines have higher sugar levels than that of red or white wines.

There are a number of methods that wineries may use to make a dessert wine. Regardless of the method that they use, the process of making sweet wines could possibly begin with a late harvest. A late harvest means that the fruit was gathered later in the harvest season. By allowing the fruit to over ripen it produces a higher sugar ratio in wine. Along with the high sugar comes a higher alcohol volume as well. This process can be used alone or in conjunction with another method.

One of the most popular methods for creating dessert wines is to stop the fermentation process. When the fermentation process is stopped early it prevents the yeast from turning all of the natural sugars into alcohol. Thus allowing the wine to maintain a higher residual sugar content, resulting in sweet wine.

There a number of ways in which the fermentation process can be stopped. One of which is called fortification. When using this method the fermentation process is stopped by adding liquor, usually brandy, to the wine. Another technique is called cold stabilization. If this method is used the batch is refrigerated to stop fermentation. The last manner in which the fermentation process can be stopped is to sue sulfur dioxide. This method is called chemical stabilization. Though chemical stabilization is an effective way to stop fermentation, it is not recommended as a first option. When using this process it is possible that the sulfur dioxide will interfere with the natural aroma of the wine. (Editor: We've shipped a dessert wine previously in our Explorations Wine Club as well as our Special Selections Wine Club, even though we don't do it often)

Another way to achieve a sweet wine is to use Noble Rot also known as Botrytis. (See Our Explanation of Noble Rot Here) Noble Rot is a mod that develops in the vineyards on the grapes. It creates small cracks along the grapes skin. As a result it attacks the grapes water content. While this can be distressing to a vineyard that is trying to produce a merlot, it is welcomed with open arms to those that are looking to make a sweet wine. By dehydrating the grapes, noble rot leaves behind only the solid material. By using these grapes wineries produce wines with much higher sugar content.

Wineries go to great lengths to ensure that their wines are of the highest quality possible. They take even more care in creating their dessert wines. The processes that are used and the time that it takes to develop the sugars for a dessert wine are taken with great care. While you sip on your next glass of Moscato or perhaps a glass of bubbly Champagne, take a moment to think about the process the winery took to provide you with this subtle pleasure.

As always we hope you'll consider joining one of our wine clubs today!

Staff Writer
 
March 9, 2015 | Staff Writer

Corks, Corks, Corks

The purpose of adding a closure to something is to prevent it from spilling and to preserve its contents. There is a plethora of ways in which to close something. There is not one right or one wrong way. Wine bottle adhere to these same standards. When it comes to these fancy bottles, we as a society have gotten use to seeing them with a cork at the top. That little piece of spongy, wood like texture has captivated our minds and has us fixated on its presence. The infamous “pop” as you unplug the cork brings a smile upon ones face like a kid in a candy store. You know that you just opened something magnificent and your palate is patiently waiting.

Change is something that can be hard to accept. Even though it may be for the right reasons, it may affect our perception of an object. When wineries started introducing the screw cap on their bottles, many consumers turned their cheek and looked upon them as unacceptable. The common perception of a screw cap wine bottle is that it is inferior to its predecessor, the cork. (Editor: We don't discriminate based on the closure for any of our wine clubs, but we do realize that if people are going to age wines from either our Special Selections Wine Club, or our Reserve Wine Club that cork is likely a preferable choice for the vast majority of our customers)

Corks have been around for well over 300 years as a means to stopping wine bottles. So it’s easy to understand the resistance to change. They are made by using the bark of a Quercus Suber or better known as the cork oak. These trees are harvested about every 9 years and are not harmed during the harvesting process. (Editor's Note: Cork is also 100% renewable and recyclable, as you might expect since the cork can be harvested from trees, without cutting the tree down, in fact some of the cork trees in Portugal, which is the largest supplier of natural cork, can be many hundred of years old)

This material is exceptionally durable to be so lightweight. It is flexible and extremely resistant to the penetration of moisture or air. Knowing these key components makes it easy to understand why corks have been the material of choice for so long.

However, there is one major flaw to using a rock. Corked wine is the result of a contaminated cork leaking into the wine. The contamination comes from TCA, which is a chemical compound that is often referred to as cork taint. TCA may have contaminated the cork during the production process. When this happens the wine will have an unpleasant odor.

Minor disadvantages include wrestling with the cork to remove it from the bottle. Only to have it break on you at the last minute. Now you have tiny pieces of cork floating in your glass that you may need to spoon out before sipping.

Screw cap wine bottles are becoming more of the norm in the recent years. Well known wineries have begun investing in these closures. Whether the bottle is stopped with a cork of with a screw cap it still performs the same job. It’s also easier to open the wine bottle with a screw cap. (Editor: I've talked about my thoughts on corks vs screw caps in the past as well)

There is still much hesitation for all producers to convert over to using a screw cap because of the consumer’s opinions of them being cheap wines. As better known wineries convert to using the screw cap societies opinions will change. They will see the benefit of being able to easily open a wine bottle. Get ready to clean out those kitchen drawers and remove those corkscrews.