Uncorked Ventures Blog
You might think funny wine labels are just gimmicks to get you to buy the wine, and in part, perhaps they are. But these outrageous wine labels have stories behind them that might help you enjoy the wine just a little more because you’re drinking up history, as well as alcohol. (an early Editor's note, we realized pretty early that wine club memberships were just as much about the story, as what happened to be in the glass. There's plenty of really good wine being made, sorting though is as much about flavor profiles, as it is the people behind the wine)
Dracula’s Blood comes from Vampire Vineyards, which originated in Transylvania. The vineyard got its name because, at the time the vineyard was established, Transylvanians were as afraid to do business with Westerners as Westerners were afraid of Vampires. Today, the vineyard is located in California.
Cat’s Pee On A Gooseberry
Busy English wine critic Jilly Goolden described drinking a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc as like “diving into a gooseberry bush.” Many believe her colleague Oz Clarke added the “Cat’s Pee” part and then Coopers Creek released “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush.” '
This other-worldly label is the product of a company called Vineyard in a Van—a company that goes to landowners who hope to start a vineyard, with everything necessary in their van to get them all set up. One part of the service is helping you design your own wine label, and one customer started a label called “Cosmic Cruisers” under which they created ChardonnAlien.
This is an Egri Bikavér—one of Hungary’s most famous red wines. Legend has it the wine was named after a famous invasion in Hungary’s history, when a military leader mixed bulls blood into the wine of his soldiers to give them strength.
This sounds like it might be a surf term (editor's note-I know our author here Julia is from Southern California as am I, even in San Francisco people are confused by the gnarley term), but the label actually comes from the vines. The owners of this label started their vineyard in a row of “gnarled” old vines. The twisted, old vines(that's characteristic of Zinfandel where the vines can age well over 100 years, as some wild fields in California will show) yield much fewer grapes than regular vines, but the grapes pack a lot of flavor.
Fat Bastard was created by two friends—it started as an experimental wine that was never meant to hit the market—and when one of the friends tried it for the first time, he used the expression he used to describe anything that was really, really good. He said, “Zat iz what you call eh phet bast-ard.” That’s “Fat Bastard” with a French accent.
Wolftrap wine is made in the Franschloek valley in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. When the wine makers first established their vineyard there, they got an understanding of just how old the valley was by finding a real wolf trip there. However, in their time there, they’ve never seen a wolf. The wine was named to invoke the mysteries around the vineyards.
Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm are among the biggest names in wine, here's a short history as well as some of the notes on their current offerings.
Hey Guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Over the last few days, we have been able to revisit some spots over the central coast, specifically Santa Barbara County and up in the Paso Robles and some of the Rhône varietals that are being produced. Quite frankly, in the State of California, you can't talk about Rhônes without mentioning Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon Vineyards. Randall and Bonny Doon are in essence synonymous with each other. He's the wine maker there and the owner. The short history is that Bonny Doon started in '83. Randall was on the cover of Wine Spectator in '89 where they titled him "The Rhône Ranger." That's pretty appropriate given that at the time he was still making Syrah in the state of California and there was all of 200 acres or so still planted. These days there is over 40,000. Randall has been at the forefront both in crafting Rhône varietals that people with drink and enjoy but also working through the Rhône Rangers and other trade organizations to encourage other wine makers and winery's to craft Rhône varietals.
We talk a lot in sports about coaching trees and such and such learn from him. Locally, we have Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors who is a coaching tree from Phil Jackson who he played for or maybe even Gregg Popovich when he was in San Antonio. We don't talk about winemaker trees quit as much. In this case, my connection to Randall Grahm and to Bonny Doon started with William Allen who makes the wines at Two Shepherds that I think a lot of people know that I enjoy quite a bit. They are some of the lightest in style in the state of California. Randall has been instrumental with William both learning about how to make wine and helping him through the process. I thought it was important to share some of the Bonny Doon wines, and why I think they are important, and why they continue to be important to this day. I was four years old when the winery opened, so it's a weird sensation for me to be talking to folks that have been it for so long.
One of the things that you should know about Bonny Doon is that it is located just outside of Santa Cruz, about ten miles north, in a small town called Davenport. It is truly one of the great wine tasting environments that you are going to find. You can literally walk across Highway 1 to the beach. San Mateo County coastline is starting to turn into Santa Cruz County at that point. Both coastlines are not like how I grew up in Southern California where it is developed and there are parking lots and freeways. The Highway 1 is a one lane road in each direction, at that point, with a 45 mile an hour speed limit. In essence you are parking in small dirt lots along the road and hiking down a couple hundred feet to the beach where there is literally hardly anyone else there. It is a beautiful, beautiful spot. If you are going to visit the bay area and you want to go to the beach, Davenport is a nice place to stay. There are a couple of restaurants, a roadhouse, a hotel or two. I am sure there is an Airbnb Rental floating around at this point, seeing that we are in the middle of the sharing economy.
Here's some stuff from Bonny Doon. First, I want to talk about Black, White and Red Allover. It's a Central Coast blend, 81% Syrah, 16% Viognier, 3% Grenache. It also brings up an interesting thing. I had a conversation with the folks at Bonny Doon about Grenache. (A note, I love Grenache in all it's forms which makes me strange, but gives me another solid choice along with Pinot Noir and Cabernet to sit as part of our wine clubs) None of us like a Grenache that you can see all the way through. It reminds us too much like a rosé at that point. You just get some of the experience of the industry from these folks. They talked about how Grenache needs a cover, a canopy, the vines have to be grown a certain way. You might not lose out on flavor if they grow them differently, but you are going to lose out in color. I thought that was really interesting. Black, White and Red Allover, it's become one of the Bonny Doon classic wines at this point. The Syrah Viognier blended together is done in France, not done in America, it scares people a little bit, I still think. Bonny Doon is fighting to change that. It adds a bit of acidity interest and a different flavor profile than you might be used to. At $25 this is just an absolute steal.
One of the other ones I want to talk about that will fit well in an inexpensive wine club, I might add, The Heart Has Its Rieslings. The Central New York and Western New York County, the Finger Lakes have talked a lot about Riesling and how they think it is going to be a great grape as time goes by in the United States. Mainly because, as millennials, and I count myself among that group, as we get older... we all grew up drinking soda and other sweet beverages. As we are drinking more wine, we're spending more on wine, we are drinking wine earlier than other groups have, at least other generations have, in the United States. We are not at a French or Italian level by any means, but it is a heck of a lot closer than it ever has been before. Riesling is the wine that wine makers feel strongly it is going to be a good intro.
You will see a chart that shows how sweet these are. This is moderately sweet. What I like about this, San Benito County, Monterey county blend, is that it adds a touch of both, the acidity is still quite high but there is some minerality. You can look at this and is it as good as the classic, classic Rieslings from Mosel in Germany that are both mineral driven, and salty almost, and still can be very sweet at the same time. It's not at that level, but for $16 you don't expect it to be. This is a really good wine though. If you have people over with varying palates, you have some people that don't necessarily drink wine, this is a great choice. Quite frankly, as an apéritif your house, this would work really well.
Another thing that I want to talk about, the most wine geeky among us are going to love visiting Randall Grahm and the folks at Bonny Doon because they are willing to do some stuff that quite frankly is just odd in the industry. This is the [Cigare 00:05:34] Syrah from '09. It's 83% Syrah, again it's 17% Viognier, as we talked about a moment ago. What they will do for you that almost no one else will, is they will sit there, they will line up four Syrahs from four different vineyards in the same vintage and you get to see what you like and what do you find interesting about Syrah. This is a crowd pleaser. It's mid-palate, the whole nine yards. It's classic California Syrah. They make a different one in the valley, which is a much cooler climate and it is probably the most acidity driven Syrah I've ever had in my life. There are just a lot of different things going on. Of the interesting things going on, an apple pear cider fermented in bottle, champagne style, with how they make it. They have a little bit of everything for everyone.
That is my quick spiel. If you are in the neighborhood, if you want to try some interesting Rhône varietals that are made a bunch of different ways from a bunch of different vineyards and really get to walk along the central coast and get some history about the industry itself too. Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon, they make probably 25,000 or so cases right now, distributed at a lot of places, but at the same time many of the higher end Syrahs, once you get into the $30 and $40 range are only made a couple of hundred cases each. They fit both levels of a winery that you can find locally but also a small enough production that it is interesting for us to find too. In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. I hope you have enjoyed it. Have a good one.
In a perfect world, we’d have the knowledge to pick out the greatest wine within seconds of perusing a wine isle. But, often, we don’t, (Editor's note, since we were named one of America's 10 best wine clubs by Forbes Magazine, we can help...at least once a month) and instead our emotions, or our exhaustion, or just our sense of humor takes over and we pick out wines not for the region or the year or the type of grape, but for these funny reasons.
The name sympathizes with you
Even winemakers know the power of making the consumer feel “understood,” which could be why you’ve taken home bottles with names like “Mommy Needs Her ‘Juice’” and “Rough Day” and “Therapy.” You’re sending a message If you’re a fan of play on words and literary tropes to send messages to someone, then maybe you’ve handed somebody a bottle of “Guilty Men” or “Murder on my Mind.” Or how about a bottle of “Mad Housewife?”
It matches your collection
Maybe you’re a collector of Elvis Presley paraphernalia, so you grab a bottle of “The King of Rock N’ Roll” Cabernet, just for the photo of Elvis on it. Or your room is covered in smiley faces, so you grab a bottle of the mysterious Smiley Face wine. (another Editor's note, I have a friend who loves KISS and doesn't really drink much wine, but sure enough in his garage hides plenty of KISS wine)
It’s what you and your college friends got drunk off of
Sometimes wine is just nostalgic. Even though you could only afford some truly questionable vintages back in your college days, the memories of you and your roomies, each with your own respective bottle and a straw sticking out of it, watching “The Real Housewives of Insert Any Place Here” makes up for the taste of copper and sour grapes.
Some article told you to
Rushing to a dinner party and feeling lost in the wine isle of the grocery store, you quickly Google “best dinner party wines” on your phone, and snag the first bottle you can find on the shelf. You’ll tell your hosts you read all about it. You wont tell them you read all about it like, 15 minutes ago for the very first time.
It was the most expensive
Sometimes you want to impress someone, you know nothing about wine, and you figure the biggest price tag equals the biggest reputation. So you drop $70 on a bottle you know nothing about. It’s covered in awards Admit it: you’ve been drawn in by the award stickers on bottles that say “Voted best Pinot Grigio five years in a row.” Do you ever look up who voted it the best Pinot Grigio? (see our entry on Do Wine Medals Matter?)For all we know, it could be the winemaker’s grandpa’s dog—Spotty always slurps it all up when he gets it in his bowl!
You’re feeling wild
And the wine happens to be named something like “Wild Thing” or “Wicked Chick” or “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Yes, that last one is a real wine). If you are guilty of buying a bottle for these reasons, don’t feel too bad: the host at your dinner party is probably serving whatever was on sale at a bulk buy store.
The wine aisle of a grocery store can be an overwhelming place, and there isn’t a sommelier on site to help you decode it. But, you go because that’s where you have a club card and you get amazing savings. You can walk away with as good of a bottle as you would’ve gotten at a boutique wine shop, if you know how to read the aisles.
Write off big wines
If it comes in a box or a giant jug or bottle write it off. These tend to be mass-produced. That’s not to say all big or boxed wines are bad, but just know that almost all fine wine labels never put their wine in boxes or big bottles. So why take the risk? How to choose a year Supermarkets will often have bright tags on certain bottles, to indicate it’s a particularly good year. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes the store needs to unload that wine because it’s actually about to turn bad.
So know these tips:
When picking domestic light white wines and rosé, pick the most recent year of release.
Heavy white wines like Chardonnay are best within the first three years of their release. After that, they might lose the acidity that gives them their particular flavor.
Whites from cold regions contain an acidity that keep them good for many years, so it’s safe to buy these from most years. The scores and awards Supermarkets will usually put tickets in front of bottles that have won some sort of award in that year. The jury is still out on whether or not the 100 points scale is useful, (Editor's note, we only ship wines that have either been rated at 90 points or above, or that we consider of equivalent quality since wine ratings are generally only available to wines with larger distribution than what we ship) but what is useful is knowing the reviewer who gave the award. If you have your phone on you at the store, and are interested in a bottle, look up the reviewer who gave it the award and read a bit about what types of wines they like. If their palate sounds similar to yours, you’ll probably like the wine they gave an award to.
Go out of your comfort zone
Stores know they can up the price on wines people are very familiar with, so if you want to save money, be willing to try wines you’ve never heard of before. Beaujolais and Pinot Noirs are your savior. These are very versatile wines that pair will with most foods, and even the inexpensive ones can have a great, concentrated flavor.
Find the wine buyer If you can, track down the wine purchaser for that grocery store. Almost all stores have someone who is in charge of all the wine purchases—they’ll be the most helpful to you out of all the staff.
You’ve got your snacks, your sense of adventure, the incredible view you drove up a windy road for an hour to achieve, and your bottle of wine (Editor's note: presumably from your most recent wine club shipment) . But oops….no wine opener!
That’s okay: here are some surprising ways you can open a bottle of wine without an opener.
With a wire coat hanger
If you have a wire coat hanger, straighten and bend the hook of it so that it looks like a fishhook—so it will have a much smaller round at the top of the hook. Then, push the hook into the cork until it gets to the bottom of it, with the bottom of the hook escaping the bottom of the cork, hooking it. Pull the hook out and the cork should come with it.
With a shoe and a wall
You almost definitely have the two things required for this trick (unless you were trying to connect with nature and carried your picnic barefoot out into a field.) Remove the protective seal from your bottle, and stick the bottle (with the bottom of it in the soul of the shoe) into either a men’s dress shoe or a sneaker. Firmly begin banging the bottom of the shoe, while holding the bottle securely in it, against a wall. The pressure against the bottom of the bottle will begin to pop out the cork at the top.
With a phone book
Many of the same physics of the shoe trick will work with a book. Take a very thick book like a phone book, and pound the bottom of the wine bottle onto the top of the book, as you pound the book onto the wall. Hopefully you don’t do it on the wall you share with a neighbor. The cork should begin to pop out.
With a screw and a hammer
Just as you would put a screw part way into a wall to hang a poster string from, and then later remove that screw with the back of a hammer so your landlord doesn’t get mad you broke the “no nailing things into the wall” rule, you can remove a wine cork. Just twist a screw about two thirds of the way into the cork, leaving about half an inch out, and then with the back of a hammer, pull out the screw. The cork will come with it.
With three nails and a hammer
If you don’t have a screw, you can take three or four nails and jam them into the top of the cork, with about half an inch of the nails exposed. Then slide the back of a hammer over the nails, yank them all out at once and the cork will come with them.
With a knife
Take a knife and insert it into the top of the cork, at about a 45-degree angle. So you want the knife to be going in the direction of the inner wall of the bottleneck, opposite of its entrance point. Once you have it as far in as it can go, begin to twist the knife handle around, and you’ll see the cork begin to twist out as well. Push in the cork If you plan on drinking the entire bottle today, you don’t need to salvage the cork. In that case, you can just use a knife, or even the bottom of a blunt, long object to push the cork into the bottle, rather than trying to get it out.
With a shoe string
Tie a thick knot in a shoe string. Next, bore a hole down the center of the cork—with maybe a screw or nail. Shove the knotted string down the hole in the cork, so the knot sort of anchors itself underneath the cork in the bottle. Pull out the string with all your might and the cork will come along.
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