Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
November 29, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

R2 Wine Company

A short intro to R2 Wine Company, but more importantly: I hope the beginning of your holiday season is going well.

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine from Uncorked Ventures.

First, I hope everyone's holiday shopping season is going well. Since today is small business Saturday, I do hope you find some time to go out in your neighborhood, and find some great, local small businesses. I think a lot of us have them. I know that's one of the reasons why we love living in the San Francisco Bay Area because we do have so many small, little, local shops. I hope you take adavantage. I hope when Cyber Monday rolls around on Monday, and then throughout the rest of the holiday season, you'll think of us and think about ordering a wine club, either for yourself or a wine club as a gift for a family or loved one. In any case, hope everyone's shopping season's going well. We braved some of the crowds yesterday at Target and Toys 'R' Us for my little guy and it was an adventure as always.

I did want to take a couple of minutes and talk about you see two bottles in front of me, this is the standard 750mL bottle. Then the Black Pine sitting next to it is the magnum. R Squared, people refer to it as R2 wine company. It's owned by two brothers, the Roessler brothers, who come from a tradition of making wine up in Sonoma. They started Roessler vineyards back in 2000, or a little bit before. It was Wells Gunthrie at Copain was the consulting wine maker. If you're not familiar with Wells, we talked about him in this space. Copain was one of our first meeting, when we started Uncorked Ventures. There reason for that was simple, Wells started the label and he made these fruit forward, heavy driven, stereotypical California wines. The story goes that he sat down with some of his peers from France and he was frankly, embarrassed to open what he had made. Then over time, he as shifted into being this low alcohol driven, Copain is a ventable name within the wine industry, because they do make these low alcohol, higher acidity wines. They make them at fair price points. They do something that's French in style and there's ..a set of single vineyard offerings of Pinot and, then they make a line that's more entry level in the $20 to $30 price point. That's a blend of multiple vineyards throughout the state of California or thought a single AVA, like Sonoma or Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. Roessler Vineyards started with Wells Gunthrie as the consulting wine maker and they ... Things went well for them to eventually be acquired and they've turned into Walt Wines, after being sold.

As you might expect, the Roessler brothers didn't want to get out of the industry. They started a different brand that's called R Squared. I'm sure you can come to the conclusion where that name came from. A few months back, I had the ability to sit down with their new wine maker, whose name is Drew Huffine. Drew and I share one thing in common, that we both went to Santa Barbara for a while. Drew was actually a PHD student in Poetry, before he caught the wine making bug and left in the middle of his poetry program to start making wine down in Santa Barbara.You can really see ... He has a poetry background, before he worked at the winery for a while. He's had some other jobs at places that you'd recognize that I won't name off here. The Roessler, the R Squared website does a good enough job with that. Drew's also the high acidity or higher acidity driven ... There's plenty of fruit in these bottles, and acidity driven wine.

The Vin Blancs is actually, 80% Viognier, we had the conversation ... Frankly, I love this wine. I'm actually a little sad that this is the last bottle that we have sitting around. It's one of my favorite whites that we've found all year. Viognier doesn't sell, that's just a fact. First, consumers don't know how to pronounce it so they're scared to order it in restaurants. They're scared to ask wine shops employees about it, because they don't know how to say the name. THey're not really sure about the grade. They don't see it very often. Vin Blancs, you can see, the nice four black label. Calling it something that's not a proprietary name for the grape I think makes a lot of sense and I think, probably helps their sales. Black Pine, [inaudible 00:04:11], the story about this and I will actually say that this is autographed by the wine maker, which we thought was fun for Thanksgiving. Black Pine's the biggest production of all the wines. It takes about half of the R squared production. It's a Pinot blend from the Central Coast. It does a really good job of expressing what's going on down there. While some of the cooler climate and not in vineyard sites throughout Santa Barbara County and the wider Central Coast AVA.

R Squared does much of what Copain does. There's a bunch of smaller production, single vineyard wines that are really, really incredible and a higher price point, around $150 for Pinot. Then they have more entry level price points, including this Viognier, which runs in the low 20's. We actually shipped the Vin Blancs in our explorations wine club, which is the cheapest of our three wine clubs. We did a red wine blend that's Syrah based in our special collections club, which is the cheapest of our red wine clubs. In any case, Mark Aselstine, with Uncorked Ventures. Hope you guys are having a nice holiday, I hope travel was well for everyone and I hope that family, in laws and out laws all treated you well, as well. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
November 26, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Last Minute Thanksgiving Wine from Costco

Yup, I get it.  You're not always going to dig into your personal cellar (if you have one at all) for Thanksgiving wine and beyond that, who has time to plan ahead with everything else going on....travel, a short work week, kids overly excited, shopping, cooking and much more. Yes, even an online wine club can suggest a last minute wine or two that should be available locally.  

Before we start, I won't offer the standard Thanksgiving pairing advice here.  Yes, Pinot Noir and turkey probably go together better than other wines, but that being said, when's the last time you only ate turkey? Heck, when's the last time there wasn't a bottle open before the turkey was finished? I bring that all up because we have a simple piece of advice when it comes to wine pairings around the holiday's....drink what you, your family and friends enjoy.

Here's a couple of brief wine suggestions if you're headed to brave the crowds at Costco this evening:

Cameron Hughes Costco Style Cameron Hughes: If you don't know the Cameron Hughes story, he's the best example of a negociant here in America.  Partnering with wineries and growers throughout the country (and now it appears, the world) Hughes takes extra wine that a winery can't sell and bottles it under his own labels.  Interestingly, he's taken some of this to the next level by creating blends between some of what he receives, although making wine from grapes, isn't in the reportorie currently. If I wanted a $10 Cabernet from America, I'd buy a Hughes Cabernet and not even think twice about it.  When it comes to Cameron Hughes, the hype truly is real. Hughes makes a range of wines from the Cabernet that's pictured here, to a range of white's as well.  If you want to get into the pairing thing, I personally think Viognier works better with much of what's likely on your table than does Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.



St Francis Old Vine Zinfandel

 St Francis is one of the best known wineries in Sonoma for a reason, the juice is good and the prices, respectable.  While the term "old vine" Zinfandel actually doesn't carry any real meaning (a winery can add that to their Zinfandel label, at any point, yes even during the first year the vines are planted) these St Francis grapes are many of the original winery plantings from the early 1980's in addition to some puchased vineyards and lots that are significantly older.  People generally love the stuff when made well and I even converted somewhat after a trip to visit Canard Vineyard and their 125 year old vines. If you have family and friends that "only drink Cabernet" this is something to sneak in instead and surprise them with.  Oh and this is the first time I remember seeing Magnum's (and larger) at my local Costco.  It's a nice touch and one that I should have seen coming with the advent of the large bottle, craft beer aisle.

Mark Aselstine
November 26, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Death Spiral of Merlot & How 2nd Labels in Washington Might Save It

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First, if I don't get a chance to say it tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving.

Today is Wednesday the day before Thanksgiving and we're definitely starting to get kind of our holiday season and that means getting orders out a little bit more quickly than we do otherwise and also just shipping some really, really incredible wine.

I'm not sure exactly how well this is coming through. The white label on video just is a little bit of a challenge sometimes but I want to talk about two things really briefly today and that's first the rise of second labels and then second, the demise of Merlot or maybe in the inverse.

Let's talk about Merlot for a second. We run three wine clubs and all three are considered 90+ points in quality. We feel like that's really important. That's the type of wine that we would want to drink no matter the price [inaudible 00:00:43], that's what we think. When you watch consumers walk down the aisles of Beverages & More, Safeway, the little critic scores mean an awful lot and make it a heck of a lot easier to sell wine. That's 90 points as opposed to 89 points. Plenty of people that have been in the industry longer than me and are much smarter than me have talked about that kind of ad nauseam.

The demise of Merlot. We don't ship a lot of Merlot and there's a very simple reason for that. Within California it's greatly gone out of style over the last few years so now you see with somebody starting, Twomey makes some great Merlot of course, and there's a few other good examples but you've seen Merlot vineyards pulled out to add more Cabernet. If you have a warm climate site in California, you have Cabernet going in, you have Syrah going in, Grenache even at this point probably goes in before Merlot. If you have a cool climate site, you're planting Pinot and if not, some other kind of the varieties I just named also go in before you go to Merlot. In essence what's happening is as a generation ago Merlot had one of the first kind of highest orders of, you know, this is the type of planting, this is the type of soil, this is the root construction, this is the water table. This is what makes Merlot grow really, really well and that was kind of at the forefront of thought of people when they were putting vines into a vineyard for the first time. Now it's an after thought.

Much like I talked about Tempranillo a while ago, Merlot is kind of subjugated to the back corner of the vineyard. It's like, "Oh, we don't know what else will grow well here. Let's try some Merlot and just see what happens because we don't really care about it. We don't think we can sell that much of it anyway." That's truly happening in California. The grape is what it is. It lacks a little bit of depth according to most people and that's why kind of people have gone into both enjoying more Cabernet from higher-end vineyards and then on the cooler climate side, liking more Pinot. But, anybody who's ever tasted through a range of Bordeaux, either first growth or not, can tell you that Left Bank Cabernets work incredibly well and then the Right Bank Merlot-based ones work incredibly well too.

In California we're just not quite doing it as well as other places and that's in large part due to kind of vineyard choice that's going on. That's a sales construct more than anything.

This is an Nelms Road Merlot and I wanted to talk about this in two ways. First, on the Merlot side of things, Washington is where you want to go if you want a quality Merlot at a decent price and kind of the 90+ point quality thing going on. Nelms Road is a great example of a Washington Merlot that kind of ticks all those boxes. I think retail on this is about $25. A few of our club members have seen this show up in recent shipments. We have a couple bottles left that will go out over the next couple of days. It's not kind of a focus for us but ... Nelms Road also I think is a great story. This is a second label. A second label happens when, in this case the father winery is called Woodward Canyon and they make some really, really great $60 Cabernet but those are aged vines in the State of Washington and so they have the second label on it. In essence what happens is it's either declassified Woodward Canyon grapes either from the exact same vineyard but the vines are a little young or they didn't get the quality from them that you would expect or that they would want for a $60 Cab or a $60 red blend. They declassify them and then put them into an Nelms Road blend. The folks at Woodward Canyon do an incredible job. It's truly a winery that's in it for the long term. This is not something that you would develop for yourself as a winery if you didn't care. You would just put in $60 grapes and say, "Oh, it's not a great vintage. We'll do better next year." That's not what they did.

Nelms Road is actually the street that the winery owner grew up on. I think that says a lot about kind of where he's at personally and professionally and kind of his ability and willingness to wait out over the long term. If you want a great, great Washington Cabernet or Washington red wine blend, Woodward Canyon is a great spot, especially their Artist Series.

In any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. two things for today, the demise of Merlot in California. It's all about vineyard choice. Perhaps the rise of Merlot in Washington, it is the most similar climate to California at least on the West Coast and perhaps the world and the rise of second labels as a way for wineries to keep moving the dial [inaudible 00:05:04] consumers exposed to their brand. If you try this Nelms Road Merlot, it's rated 90 points by most wine critics here and say, "Hey, that was a really good bottle of wine for 25 bucks. I wonder how good the $60 bottle is?" That's exactly what they want. In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures.

Hope you guys have a Happy Thanksgiving and we'll talk to you soon. Bye.

Mark Aselstine
November 24, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Pax Mahle Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Happy Monday to everybody. We don't typically give a people a preview in this space about what's upcoming in a shipment, but this month there's something I'm kind of particularly excited to talk about and this is a Pax Mahle Syrah.

I've been accused in this space, by a couple of folks who are in our reserves selections club, which we really do consider kind of among the best premium wine clubs available anywhere. That's because we dig just a little bit deeper than our competitors.

This Pax syrah is great example. The wine maker originally came west to Napa from New York to run Dean and DeLuca's wine program, which interestingly enough, is one of the few retail to wine maker focus tracks that you've seen multiple people go through and then do really well in the industry.

Pax is probably the best example that I originally got in touch with his wines and his wine making style through a round about fashion. The story goes like this: My brother-in-law, Matt, and I took a trip up to [Dolce 00:01:02], which is up in the top of the Mayacamas mountains. It looks down, you can see the Golden Gate bridge. This beautiful, wind-blown property where they make some really, really great cabernet and they grow some syrah as well. One of the buyers of the syrah is a winery called Agartha, which is one of Pax's other projects. This is his namesake winery.

Since I've been referred to as a Francophile by a couple of our wine club members, I decided that I would ship somebody who comes from a sommelier background, he ran Dean and DeLuca's wine program, so it's definitely a more focused, more obscure version, which is something that I like. I thought it would be interesting to look into this Castelli Ranch version of the syrah, for two reasons.

First, this is his biggest wine, if you're being called a Francophile you might want to zig when your customers expect you to zag, so this is a good example of this. Castelli Ranch is interesting. Pax originally had a group of investors with this project. They've been responsible for farming at this site since '01. There's a break in the lineage of the kind of vineyard being able to use it for fruit, from I believe it's '08-'11, so this actually the first vintage after he's had complete utter control of his own project. I think it really shows through. It's a great example of what syrah can be, and why wine makers and those of us in the industry still think syrah could be something really, really great in California wine. Although, consumers aren't necessarily ... are not being impressed quite yet. This is kind of classic Russian River Valley.

When I think of the Russian River, I always think of the ending point of any wine from pinot to this syrah, there's kind of this fleshiness, this fruit-forward, this roundness to it that I don't get from anywhere else within California, and definitely not from France or Oregon or any of the other cooler climate regions. It's really, really memorable. This is ... it flows through the syrah which is just spicy enough to be interesting but without being overly done. It is just an incredible, incredible wine. We wanted to feature it in our a reserved selection club this month for the simple reason that it's an allocated wine. If you want to go to your local wine retailer and buy a couple of bottles, it's probably not available. If you look at wine searcher there's really no listings for it anywhere. You'll have to join an email distribution list for Pax to even have the right to buy it; they don't even have the wine for sale on the website. It's just a great, great wine. It's a great example of what syrah could be in California if wine makers do a really good job with it. I think Pax tells a great story about somebody who's looking to do more austere wine making style, but at the same time, when you're left with Castelli Ranch, which is truly one of the great vineyards within the Russian River Valley and it's warm, making a style that is consistent with consumer acceptance and fruit forwardness ... Pax has referred to this wine as a 'fruit bomb' in the past. I don't think it goes that far, at least not in this vintage. Overall, it's just a really, really incredible wine and it's really, really a great story. I think it's an important story for the wine industry to be able to tell, both in terms of how people become wine makers, especially if they're not trained at Davis or another wine making school. Then in addition to that, how wine makers make different styles of wine based on the vineyard.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Pax syrah, Castelli Ranch, two kind of good names to know. Hope you had a good weekend, thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
November 22, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Tasting New Zealand Pinot Noir

Every once in a while, we taste a few things for fun too:


Hey, guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Over the past few days, I’ve gotten to taste through some New Zealand wines, which isn’t something that we typically would source for our wine club members. We focus on California, Oregon and Washington only, but there are times when it can be valuable to taste through a range of different offerings.

First, I like to know what’s going on in the wider wine market. I think that’s important. Second, we’ve had conversations with a few really well-known wine critics over the few years that we’ve been open, and two a man, they’ve told you in essence, if you want to get better at tasting, you need to taste wine. That’s part of kind of why we sometimes will feature international wines. We are approached sometimes by importers or distributors that have some international stuff they think is interesting.

These are 2 that came up. Both of these are New Zealand. If you’re an American, like I am, you may not be completely sure with kind of … We know that New Zealand’s next to Australia, and it’s kind of out in the South Pacific. There’s 2 islands; most of what we have imported to the United States here for New Zealand wine comes from the south island, from the Otago Valley.

New Zealand’s kind of different than what we get a lot of places, so it’s the most geographically extreme growing region in the world, to this day … so far south. That leads to 2 things. One, it doesn’t ever get that warm. They have hours and hours of bright sunshine, but they’ve got this really cold ocean, and they’ve got … Because it is an island, truly kind of in the middle of the ocean, so you have a lot of wind. When you combine that with kind of the sea air, you get grapes that never get too hot, and then there’s still a rather large diurnal temperature swing.

We always used to laugh when I was growing up in San Diego that we’d see the tourists on the beach at 4:30, and then come 5:45 when the sun went down, they’d be freezing because they didn’t have a change of clothes or a sweatshirt even, because they didn’t realize that it cools off so quickly, as soon as the sun’s gone. New Zealand gets the same thing, just in a kind of much more dramatic way.

The first one is one that I wanted to spend just a minute talking about. It’s a husband and wife team who were doctors, and I think that’s kind of important for 2 things. It’s one of the classic trades that you see; doctor to winemaker. I do say classic trades, because I’ve seen this at least 5 or 6 times at this point.

People always argue if making wine is an art or a science. To me, it’s a little bit of both. If you think about what the entire wine making process is, it isn’t just once the grapes are picked, how do you handle fermentation, and how do you go from step A through Z? It’s the entire process, from when you do water, even down to when do you pick. You can see a dramatic difference in vineyard …

Canard Vineyard is a great example, up in Napa. They have some really old zinfandel vines, and you can see one of their big clients, who has bought wine from them for a number of years, picks rather early in the growing season. I think the wine is good, not great. Their own stuff at Canard is incredible, but they let it hang on the wine, literally until the last moment. They’re checking brix, which brix is just the sugar content of the grapes, if you’re not familiar, on a daily if not multiple times per day, basis. You can really get something added to the wine, if you’re willing to change it and let the grapes hang for as long as possible.

New Zealand’s whole setup allows for that to happen, and that’s where I think, with owner and wine maker who used to be in the medical profession, you’re comfortable with being able to figure out all the details as fermentation goes along, so you can really let the stuff hang on the vine for as long as possible. New Zealand pinot, it’s what they’re really known for. You get a more austere, a higher acidity version of pinot, but there’s still a lot of fruit there. They have this really long growing season, in fact longer than we do in California. It’s probably more similar to what you find in Oregon than anything else in the United States. It’s worth a look.

This first wine is actually in Whole Foods here in the East Bay of San Francisco. I think they have it for $25 or something. The suggested retail from the winery directly in New Zealand … It’s not as if you can get it directly from them, an ocean away … is $28. It’s worth a look be it for a quick wine gift this holiday season, or simply for your own enjoyment . New Zealand overall, also worth a look, especially if you’re looking for a $20 bottle of pinot. It’s kind of right in the sweet spot.

Thanks again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Have a nice weekend.