Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
November 21, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Amycas White Wine & The Future of White Wine in Oregon

Oregon really is a great spot to taste and it'll continue to get better as time goes by as well and more tourist facilities are created.  I do hope that the quaintness of the area isn't lost though.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I wanted to take a couple minutes today and talk about the Willamette Valley in Oregon and both a little bit about ... to get a good shot here, this is the Brooks Winery, their Amycas white wine from 2013 which is a really good offering in the $20 range. I also think it speaks to a couple wider things which is something that we've got some good feedback here with the videos.

As a wine of the month club one of our main goals is to have people enjoy the experience of wine country at their house. We handle California, Oregon and Washington only because it's easier for us to tell the story of what's happening in these wine regions when it's a little bit more condensed. Plus quite frankly, we're a start up, we're little, if you call you'd probably get me on the phone. That kind of gives you some idea about where we're at as opposed to some of the big corporate players. I do think some of the big corporate players do a really nice job with the international stuff, but they're not out there scouting for wine.

Brooks is something we've scouted for and found, and we like quite a bit. I think their Amycas white does a good job telling a little bit of the story about what's happening in Oregon on the white wine side and why it's important. Mostly everybody, when you talk about the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the two at this point are pretty much simultaneous for each other. They make Pinot, really good pinot, higher in acidity, it's a cooler temperature growing region, outside of the fact that when I was there over the summer it was close to 100 degrees for a week, but that's another story and it's not as often as it is in California, that's for sure. The one thing Oregon has struggled a little bit with is finding a natural white wine accompaniment.

You know Napa has been lucky in that Cabernet and Chardonnay kind of both grew well together and consumers love them both almost equally. It was a natural pairing. Sonoma has had a little bit of the same challenge and they make Chardonnay as well but it's a little bit different style. There's certainly some of that going on in Oregon. There's plenty of people that believe Sauvignon Blanc is the right answer. To me personally I think that this is a better example for where the industry may be going.

This is a Pinot Blanc. The largest percentage is 58% Pinot Blanc. If you're not familiar, and most of us aren't, frankly I would still have to look it up, Pinot Blanc is just a genetic modifier on Pinot Noir, as you might expect. It grows well there, they know they have the right climate for it, etc. It is notoriously a pain to grow. Evidently at some point in the vines, the entire thing turns black, they don't get any fruit, and that's when you know you've got to replant it. That's a little frustrating. The other thing I find interesting about this wine is it's 20% Muscat. We've seen a little bit of Muscat coming back into the market place. You see in San Francisco in the city you'll see some sweet Muscats on the menu, as either an aperitif or a dessert wine.

Generally speaking consumers don't know what the heck it is. Personally I think that's kind of a shame. There's two reasons for that, first Muscat is of the 200 types of grapes that we use both for table grapes, wine grapes, really any grape that you could buy, almost all probably are descendant from Muscat, that's the first thing. The second thing is Muscat is this huge, broad category. When you look at genetic variation over many thousands of years it gets really varied from one clone to the other, so Muscat takes so many different forms that it's almost hard to understand what's going on with it. Saying Muscat doesn't leave you all that much information. This is one of the white wine grapes, as you might expect. This wine also includes a percentage of both Pinot Gris, which is another kind of Oregon standard, and Riesling. Personally speaking, I hope that they try more Riesling. I hope they do more blending. When you go to the Willamette Valley in Oregon you meet people who are really, really passionate and who know their plot and their vineyard, as well as anybody in the wine industry that I've met anywhere, so I think that over the long term white wine blends might be better for them than a single vineyard planting. Also I think it adds an element of interest, especially on the Pinot front, when you go to the Willamette Valley, even for me who is tasting for our wine club members and trying to source for gift baskets and all that stuff too, the one thing I find myself is that it's Pinot after Pinot after Pinot. As fun as it is to drink Willamette Valley Pinot and then single vineyard Pinot and then [inaudible 00:04:35] back at every single winery, having that's just something that's simply white wine, is kind of nice at some point too. In any case, Brooks Winery up in Willamette, their Amycas white wine which I think is a good example of where Oregon either should be going or is going to be going. As consumers get to try it, they'll like it.

Mark Aselstine on Uncorked Ventures. Thanks again for the time.

Mark Aselstine
November 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What Wine Comes in Your Gift Baskets?

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures to answer a quick question that I got over the weekend from a customer.

The question was quite simply what wine goes in your gift baskets. I know we're a little bit different than a lot of companies in that we don't actually explicitly tell you on our website exactly which wine's going in. There's a pretty good reason for that. We ship wines that are part of our Special Selections Wine Club for the most part in our gift baskets. We try to pair them pretty well with what's in the gift basket. As an example, our chocolate gift basket is typically includes a Carbernet, Syrah, something that's a little bit darker persuasion.

On the other side, our Gourmet Gift Basket does oftentimes will have a pinot and then something else. Most of it also depends if you're getting one bottle or two. If there's a second bottle included, it gives us a little more leeway, I think, and oftentimes we'll then, if you are doing a chocolate gift basket, we can give you a darky, more [inaudible 00:00:55] pinot that can still work with it.

In any case, so yeah, our gift baskets, they're sourced from our Special Selections Wine Club. Retail price on those is between $40 to $50 per bottle most often and yeah, oftentimes we get as good a feedback on the wine as we do on the gift basket both in terms of the packaging and the other included products.

Once again, Mark Aslestine with Uncorked Ventures, keep your questions coming, guys. We appreciate it.

Mark Aselstine
November 17, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Calera Wine Company & Divergent Critics Scores

Before you ask, yes there a few other single winery AVA's out there-perhaps the best known is the Cole Ranch AVA, itself only a square mile and with a single winery owning all the land.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Today I wanted to spend a couple of minutes talking both about Calera Wine Company, whose 2011 Mills Vineyard Pinot I have in front of me but also about the differences in wine critics and why when you walk down the aisles of your local wine store, a 95-point wine might not be the same as a 95-point wine that's sitting next to it.

First a little bit about Calera. Calera was started in the early 70s by Josh Jensen. It's one of the first truly Burgundian California pinot producers. We've talked a lot about cool vintages and cool climates. The one part that we don't talk as much about because I think consumers I start to glaze over is about soil type and composition. If you're a researcher at UC Davis, you'd think that stuff is really important but the average consumer can't wrap his or her mind around it quite as much. Frankly as me as a buyer in the industry, I still don't necessarily know exactly what wines [inaudible 00:00:58] versus a different soil composition really means for what ends up in your bottle because it seems like soil type and winemaker choice play hand in hand more so than some other things.

If you're going to do a Burgundian style, Burgundy is really well known, it has limestone soil almost exclusively. Limestone quite frankly sucks to grow anything in. It's porous but the roots can get really down the water table. For grapes, it actually works pretty well. It imparts a certain minerality to the wine. The owners of Calera looked everywhere for a great Pinot Noir vineyard, Sonoma, Napa, all the usual spots, even throughout Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast, couldn't find anything that was almost exclusively limestone.

There have what's called a Mount Harlan AVA. It's one of the few single-winery AVAs in the United States. They're the only producer up there. In essence, Mount Harlan is outside of Hollister it's about 90 mile south of the city of San Francisco. To put in perspective, that's almost right in between San Francisco and Paso Robles. Paso Robles sits about 200 miles or so. They're about 25 miles inland, so it's cool but it's not dark and moody foggy for Mount Harlan, being up on the Mount also gives them a longer range of sunshine than most folks would get at a smaller elevation at the same level.

I also wanted to just talk about this Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot for a very specific reason. [inaudible 00:02:28] wine critics in their scores and we mark it ourselves and we say that we produce wine or we ship wines that are 90-plus points in quality and that's definitely true and that's the goal for every single bottle that we ship but I think we also have to have a discussion about what is 90-point plus quality really mean.

This is the 2011 but the 2010, these are sold on Calera's website for between $45 and $55, kind of the standard California pinot pricing. Last year Parker scored the 2010 Mills Vineyard, which is their estate vineyard on Mount Harlan, at 96 points, and so boom, all of a sudden the wines are reselling from wine shops at $90 to $100 and then people are begging folks to be able to get an allocation to the point that Calera actually forced you, if you wanted to buy a Mills Vineyard and you hadn't been a consistent customer from them as a retail shop, you had to buy some of the more generic Central Coast pinot, which as an aside, is really, really good at $30 or $35 price point, is a steal. That's not really a problem.

Parker likes a certain style and I think most of us who have bought wine consistently and paid attention to the wine critics in the industry in general know that Parker likes bigger and bigger wines, and that's OK and there's nothing certainly wrong with that and that matches probably the average consumer's palate more so than some of the other critics do. Antonio Galloni, who quite famously was going to take over part of Parker's Wine Advocate ratings at least for Napa, and then they had a falling out of sorts, and Galloni reviews on his own at this point, but he rated the wine at 89 points. The difference from Parker's 96 where the wine's going from $50 retail give or take up to in the stratosphere of 100 versus Galloni, who rated at 89 points. An 89-point $50 pinot in California just doesn't sell, not in a retail shop in front of a distribution standpoint it just doesn't work. I think this is especially important if you're sending a wine gift, as one's idea about a 90 point wine club might be different than someone else's.

I think that's one thing. If you're looking for a 90-plus point quality, there is some human element effect here and I think it says a lot of if you try wines based on critics' scores, there is importance, especially because we're only talking three or four really main wine critics still out there to pay attention to hey, did you think this was really the best pinot produced in California for the year? Quite frankly, Calera just might have been last year. There's a certain brightness and acidity that almost jumped out of the bottle at you where I actually referred to it as almost a sparkling pinot because they were just so much jumping out. The 11 is not quite like that. The 11's probably not going to receive a huge score but there are won't be such a dramatic difference. This is probably a 92 or 93.1 according to everybody. It's more of a consistent and a better equation to what they normally do.

Calera Wine Company is certainly worth a look. They are important because they are one of the first California pinot producers to truly go Burgundian in style and during the whole 80s and early 90s ramp-up of bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, and more and more chardonnay, they kept doing what they do, and that might be partially because they're outside of the regular realm of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Paso. Mark Aselstine, Calera Wine Company's worth a look, Mount Harlan if there ever is another winery out there, is definitely worth a look, and if you're paying attention and buying strictly on wine critics' ratings, it makes sense to pay attention to which ones you like and which ones you don't. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
November 15, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Cabernet in Napa Valley-The Present and Future

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Another question that's come up over the last few days is how does wine get made in Napa right now?

I made a video a couple days ago about the future of Pinot in California, and a couple folks have asked follow-up questions about, "What does that mean for Cabernet?" Kind of through the same kind of pockets of information and how things are getting done does that actually fit.

Napa's completely different, almost than anywhere else in the United States. First of all, the main issue is that there's the ag preserve, which, in essence, for a generation now, has pitted growers versus vintners. The growers have largely fought against larger marketing activities in the Valley ... weddings, that kind of stuff ... while, of course, the vintners, the winery owners, have fought for increasingly concerts, weddings, literally anything they can do to sell some extra wine.

Kind of two things are happening. First, you have an explosion of wineries that are based in Napa. Second, you have a very limited kind of space. As Coombsville and other areas are getting built out and planted out, there's really no room left in Napa. If you currently want to buy a parcel in Rutherford, Oakville, kind of a name that you would recognize, and the people across the United States and really across the world would recognize, you need more than 10 acres to have a commercial winery, so that's one problem. The second problem, and it's probably the bigger one, is that it's ranked $500,000 or so per acre, so you're looking at a minimum $5,000,000 investment. Quite honestly, when you see these parcels sold, you're seeing them sold often at a huge premium and often kind of ... not an under-the-table sale but from one person to another with some type of other business transaction going on, too.

Over time, you've seen small vintners being moved out, big conglomerates and corporations moving in, so that's kind of what's happening in Napa. That really is affecting how wine gets made and what the future of Napa Valley is. Here's a couple wines that I think help represent kind of what's going to be coming increasingly from Napa and kind of how, as a consumer, you can benefit from it. First, Edge is consistently rated 90-plus points by Wine Enthusiast and other major magazines. It's also considered one of the best wine ... Wine Enthusiast does their best 90-point wines from Napa. They don't do under $20 like they do for most regions, and varietals they do under $30. Edge falls in the $25 to $30 range. Almost always 90-plus points. The back story is this wine's made by Signorello Estate, made on the property by the winemaker, but the grapes don't come from the estate. A portion of them do, and a portion of them are sourced from outside, in other areas of Napa, other vineyards, what have you. In essence, they're taking some extra juice from other folks that they know and know well, and then they're blending it together, using a winemaker at a great facility to do so. That's one way that you get a "affordable" bottle from Napa. We work with Edge. I really like the folks there. My wife and I actually spent an anniversary eating lunch there. They have a really nice restaurant, where it's kind of food and wine pairings. It's worth it to check out. There's a gorgeous view of the Silverado Trail and that kind of stuff. That's one thing for Edge.

Bardessono I've talked about before. This is another thing that you're going to start noticing. There are still, in every AVA within Napa, and there are 16 of them ... There are some families that have grown grapes for generations, have never made their own wine. Bardessono really, in essence, has been a grower for four generations now. This is the first time that they've made a concerted effort to make wine of their own. They've also diversified their property with kind of a LEED-certified hotel and all that kind of other stuff. They're in Yountville, so that's kind of fun in itself. You're going to start to see an increasing ... If you own a vineyard, you might as well make some wine because it's pretty easy to sell, and this is a really, really great bottle of wine. It's kind of in the mid-$50 to $100 range, which for Napa Valley Cab, at this point ... They say $65 is the new $45, and that seems to definitely be true. Last but not least, one of the things that you still see in Napa to this day, and you will probably always see, Troll Bridge is a project that I really, really enjoy. The owners are a design firm here in Berkeley. They make only about 300 cases of wine a year right now. They hired the winemaker from [Turnbull 00:04:21]. Jon makes some incredible wine in his day job, and this is an opportunity for him to make some kind of smaller-production stuff. As much as we can complain about Napa being expensive and doing ... causing all the ripple effects of that, one of the things that you'll continue to see is people that have a lot of money, or have made their money elsewhere, are going to continue to pour it into the Valley. There's a certain kind of ego aspect to it, for sure ... I think we can all agree on that, and that's OK ... about owning in Napa Valley. If you don't own a vineyard but owning a label, where ... I don't know if this will come across on the video or not. These are all hand-numbered, and they only made 900 of them. If you're in our Special Selections Club or our Reserve Selections Club, you've received the Troll Bridge already.

If you're joining one of our award winning online wine clubs now, you can shoot me an email and say, "Hey, I'd really like to try Troll Bridge. I know it's kind of one best-thought-of wines of the year."

In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Future of Pinot went over well. We tried to give you a little bit more information about what's happening in Napa and why it's happening. I feel like, as consumers, if you know a little bit about the industry and what's going on, it leads to being able to find better wine, kind of ... maybe not at a discount but not throwing your money away on a $30 bottle that you could find the same thing for $12. Signorello and their project, Edge, Troll Bridge, Bardessono, I think are three great examples of what's happening in the industry in Napa and why it's happening. I hope you've enjoyed it. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
November 14, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

International Tempranillo Day

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Today is International Tempranillo Day. If you're an American wine drinker, that might not mean a lot to you, but Tempranillo is actually the fourth largest planted grape in the world. It's native to Spain. It grows in warm climates. It's only now starting to be planted within California.

You're seeing some plantings in Paso Robles, specifically, but if you're looking for a great, international Tempranillo, Oballo is a pretty good choice. It's pretty reasonably priced, $25 or so, per bottle. Imported into the United States from Rioja, it's one of the great stories of a wine grape in Spain that it's not an international grape yet, but it has gained a level of international significance because in it's native habitat it grows and grows really well. Oballo's a great example.

Tempranillo. It's a dark grape, kind of like a Cabernet or Merlot, but it's thicker. It's almost syrupy. There's a level of almost dirt, and there's an earthy quality to it that makes some people, like my business partner Matt, who doesn't like it very much. But others, like me, it's a fun grape.

For estates that we cover, California, Oregon and Washington. Oregon, just too damn cold. They can't grow it. They wouldn't even attempt it to be quite honest with you. Warmer climates in California are attempting. This Field Recordings Tempranillo (this is also a wine that we'll gladly include in our chocolate gift basket as well over the next few weeks, it'll pair beautifully with the dark cocoa heavy TCHO chocolate that we include) is a pretty good example. It's a solid expression of the varietal coming from Paso. Bodega de Edgar, we featured in previous months, kind of the same thing. It's the first wave of Tempranillo, growers and vintners in the United States coming through.

For me, there's two other regions that are worthy of note at this point, as far as Tempranillo in the United States. The first, the state of Washington is trying. They're not quite sure, to be honest, if they are warm enough yet. There's a couple of AVA's, Lake Chelan is a good example, where they're right on the borderline if they can grow it or not. They're trying. Initial results are, uneven and inspiring might be a good way of putting it. So there's some hope.

The state of Texas. Texas is a big retail market. You can argue about some of the local laws and regulations on shipping. They seem to want their retailers and their wineries to be able to ship every where but no one to be able to ship there. This is a topic for another day, and the commerce clause, quite frankly. In any case, Tempranillo has kind of taken the mantel as Texas' national grape or state grape. There's a lot of hope that, especially in hill country in Texas, as you get outside of Austin, into what they consider hill country, and those of us from the Western states kind of laugh at. When your hill's a thousand feet high, it's not exactly a hill. That's called our backyard. The Texas Tempranillo, quite frankly, I've only had a few of them ,and that was at my wife's family reunion a few years ago. I didn't walk away blown away by the grape. Four years is a long time. There's a lot of hope for over the long-term. Texas and the Tempranillo there will maybe not be as good as Rioja or even international quality, but it would not surprise me if hill country in Texas ends up producing the best American version of the grape, just because their climate is probably the most similar to Northern Spain.

In any case, happy International Tempranillo Day. I will also say, from a wine club perspective, we've shipped a few of these this month. We constantly have the conversation about what can we ship that might be interesting and a little bit different around Thanksgiving or Christmas. In this case, for the Thanksgiving holiday everyone always suggests that you pair a Pinot with turkey, and that's certainly true, but the average American has a whole lot of side dishes and fixings, and ours is certainly kind of emblematic of that. Tempranillo can serve pretty well to pair with all of those. If you haven't planned the Thanksgiving wine list yet, include a Tempranillo. See what you get. I bet you a lot of people that aren't as interested in the hard core sommelier style parings are going to walk away and say, "You know what? That wine worked really well with turkey, especially the dark meat, and it worked incredibly well with some of the thicker side dishes that we serve." In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Once again, happy Tempranillo Day.