Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
December 11, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What is a Meritage Wine?

What is a Meritage wine?

It's a question that comes up every so often, in this case it was asked by someone who had seen our introduction to Korbin Kameron the other day.

A Meritage wine is a blend of two or more of the five official red wine grapes of Bordeaux. Those are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. These days the Meritage Association has added Carmenere to the list of acceptable grapes for Meritage red wine blends.

If you're looking for a Meritage white wine, it needs to be a blend of two of the traditional Bordeaux white's.  Those are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle du Bordelais.

Another interesting note about Meritage, no single grape can make up 90% of the blend.  That's one thing that's a bit strange to me because if a single varietal makes up at least 75% of the blend, it can be a varietally labeled wine, so there's some overlap.

Lastly, the name Meritage itself is a combination of merit and tradition.  Blends in Bordeaux typically don't contain enough of any single grape to be a varietally labeled wine & vintners in America thought they were losing out on some marketing opportunities because of it.

Hope you've enjoyed this introduction to Meritage, it's a name that has meaning within the wine industry, but perhaps not as much as it once did. If you're thinking of joining an Uncorked Ventures wine club, you'll see these most often in our Special Selections Wine Club just based on the average price point of production in California and elsewhere on the west coast.

Mark Aselstine
December 10, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Lennox Vineyards An Introduction to Micro-Wine in Sonoma

A short intro to Lennox Vineyards and how micro-wineries are popping up in Sonoma and elsewhere.

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

This is a video that I can't believe it's taken me this long to make as far as an introduction to a winery that I think deserves some attention that it basically can't receive because it's so small. Lennox Vineyards is a small project. It's a family owned, husband and wife. Mike worked in the tech industry for a long time and wanted kind of a simpler life for his kids as he raised them. They kind of have this quintessential wine country experience. They walk across the vineyard to get to school kind of thing.

Lennox is based in Sonoma County. It's based just outside of the city of Sebastapol which is frankly one of my favorite places to visit in Sonoma. If you think about where the Berkeley liberals went after the '70s were over and prices started to get more expensive, Sebastapol is kind of one of the spots where they landed, kind of western Sonoma County in general. Sebastapol is part of the Russian River and so it's a warmer growing environment than many that you hear talked about kind of in national wine magazines these days where kind of cooler is always thought of as better. Sebastapol as part of the Russian River is one of the cooler aspects of it. Lennox came to us.

We shipped the wine a few months ago in our Explorations Wine Club, maybe a year ago at this point, from Envolve which, if you watch any Reality TV, was the bachelor's winery. That's undergone some ownership changes over the past few months but let's say it's the bachelor's winery. What people didn't realize when they watched the show was that they didn't actually grow their own grapes. They were sourcing them from Lennox Vineyards. Mike and the folks at Lennox, they have two kind of vineyard sites. The first is 9 acres and that's a few blocks from where they live.

Then they have this 2/3 of an acre, kind of a home estate parcel and they have what they consider a micro-winery. In essence they have a really nice garage set up with the home office that's been parceled out and cut in half and so they have kind of their entire wine making operation right there on site. There's a full chemistry laboratory. There's enough space for, I don't know, I'd say 10 or 12 barrels of wine and then they have kind of what we say in the wine industry, finish case storage or where they put the cases after everything's been bottled.

Over the past few years there's been kind of this rise of ... people don't have bottling operations themselves or on site. They're not doing them by hand like I spent a day in San Diego County doing but they have a mobile bottling truck come out. They bottle the whole thing in an hour and then you're done and it's a heck of a lot better kind of setup.

Lennox deserves attention I think, because they grow some outstanding grapes. We said this in the newsletter when we shipped this wines that if you bought a small parcel of land in Sonoma County and you had some basic rudimentary wine-making experience from a couple UC Davis classes. If I think about it, how many times do I walk by my strawberry patch and stuff in the backyard every day, it's a small handful. If you were growing grapes for sale, you might do it more than a handful of times.

If you visit Lennox, that's kind of the idea that you get. You see kind of this immaculate vineyard set up. It's 2/3 of an acre. In essence, Mike can tell you every single vine and what it's produced in over the last three or four vintages and if it's doing well, if it's not doing well. There's kind of this hands-on aspect that people are really craving in the wine industry. There's nothing generic here at all. At the same time, Mike himself, he's improved his wine making skills a lot if you kind of taste from one vintage to the next but at the same time, is this guy the next Phillipe Melka, you know? Eh! But at the same time, he's pretty good. To me that means a lot and so that means that's somebody that I want to support. The prices also are really, really reasonable.

Retail on the Pinot is 32. You'd be hard pressed to find another single Russian River Valley Pinot for $32. Chardonnay, I don't think they have any right now. They've been grafting Chardonnay vines over to Pinot. Quite frankly it's the smart business decision. The Pinot's just more value as you might expect. The Chardonnay I think you'd see run in the $15 to $20 range.

Again, one of the absolutely cheapest versions of Russian River Valley Chardonnay. These are really nice wines. There's a nice balance of fruit and acidity. I think, as people that really, really like wine, people are kind of drawn to stories and the guy and his wife pruning the vines by hand and picking them literally by bunch as they come in for fermentation says a lot about where we hope this industry can go and how we hope this industry can support these type of farms and these type of small scale wine operations because they're interesting and in my opinion they're much more interesting than the large scale Gallo or whatever the case may be, where they're making millions of cases.

I hope if you have a chance to try Lennox Pinot you will not only give it a try but you will also appreciate it for what it is. This is just in essence exactly what you get from the grapes growing in the ground in this vineyard. That's to me something that's really, really special. There's no kind of outside intervention here. It's truly kind of a family plot and a family project. I'm really excited about it. I love tasting these wines as they come out of each vintage because I think they're important and I think is shows kind of where we hope the industry can go.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you ... if you haven't received a Lennox Pinot from us or a Lennox Chard and you're joining a wine club or giving a wine club membership as a gift over the holidays, your folks will probably get something that we have remaining of these but we're starting to run a little bit low. Hopefully Mike will work with us again in the future. I hope if you can find him locally that you do although at a couple hundred cases total, you probably won't. Shoot him an e-mail or give him a call. It's highly worth the time and like I said, the prices are really, really fair.

Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Have a good one.

Mark Aselstine
December 9, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Korbin Kameron An Introduction

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, and what presents to be an interesting and eventful week here.

I wanted to spend some time talking about Korbin Kameron, because this is a wine. And this is actually his estate blend Cuvee Kristin from 2009.

This is actually going to go out to wine club members in the next few days at both the special selections and the reserve selections level. Those are our 2 premium wine clubs and sometimes there's a little bit of overlap of bottles.

On the reserve selections front, we talked about a path syrah earlier. They'll be receiving that in addition to a 3rd wine, a sparkler. At the special selections level, you get this and then another red to go with it. In any case, I wanted to spend a couple minutes talking about this wine. I think it's an interesting story, both on a couple levels. So first, Korbin Kameron, its sitting on the western faces of the Mayacamas mountains. We learned a little bit about that from a winery called Audelssa, in one of our first kind of Napa slash Sonoma trips. In essence, the Mayacamas bisect Napa and Sonoma.

If you drive up Napa, then you have to go west. If you've come from Sonoma, you go east. These guys are on the Western facing side. If you have the right view, and you have a clear enough day in the city, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of San Francisco. It's kind of this gorgeous, gorgeous view. It's also cold, it's windy, and it's kind of all these things that make for really, really deep and interesting wines, especially cabernet and merlot, and kind of ripe bank varietals. Korbin Kameron's an interesting story. Over the years, especially kind of the 07/08 vintages, the ones that everybody says, hey, buy these. Buy as much of this as you can. Korbin Kameron makes great wine in those vintages, but not kind of like ... exemplary, better than everybody else. I think when Kameron shines is where the weather is a little bit colder, and it's a little bit harder to make great wine. They continue to deliver outstanding stuff from this estate vineyard, because it is colder up there, it's a longer growing season. But specifically, they focus on making a more highly acidic Cabernet, or a highly acidic- in this case it's a true right bank blend. I'll have to look because there's no way I'm memorizing this. 29% Merlot, 25% cab franc, 18 Malbec, 9 petite Verdot, 9 Cabernet sauvignon. In essence, you have a true right bank blend. It's interesting to me, as a winery perspective, both because they're doing right bank blends when so many folks have decided, hey, why would I- seriously, why would I plant Merlot when if I planted Cabernet, it'd be worth 4 times as much? So that's a legitimate point. But second of all, when you drop Cabernet on the label, it also kind of sells for a greater amount than a Cuvee Kristen, when everybody says, what the heck is Kristen? Well, it's just a proprietary name that they made up. Korbin Kameron, if you can find any of the estate grown fruit, really, really great wines. They're higher in acidity. This is kind of the thing that if you pour this for a somm at a restaurant, they just love the thing. We think it's great with food, and we think it's something that stands up well. As Americans, we don't drink only with food, like they might overseas in Europe, but we tend to pour a glass for ourselves as we're walking around and mingling around Christmas. And then we also have a glass with dinner, or whatever the case may be. Appetizers. This is a wine that we feel really strongly about. We feel strongly that it stands up in both circumstances, both with and without food. We feel like that's really important.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The one thing that I hope you take away from this, these kind of higher acidity, kind of more sommelier-friendly wines tend to hold up better in what's considered a average or poor vintage in Napa and Sonoma. They're from the Moon Mountain AVA, which is one of the newest in the region. The moon mountain was created, in essence, because these guys are technically Sonoma, not Napa, but they're growing Cabernet and other kind of Bordeaux varietals, and there's kind of no natural home for those. And they're also kind of at some pretty severe elevation of a few thousand feet. Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Hope you guys enjoy the wine as you receive it for wine club shipments. We are shipping kind of as we speak, so the wine should be showing up before the holiday for everybody who's ordered already. As kind of a final reminder, we are based just out of the city of San Francisco, so it's a full week to the East Coast. We pray to God that FedEx will work a weekend before the holiday, but we can't guarantee that. If you order by the 17th, worse case scenario, it arrives Christmas Eve. So that, in essence, becomes the East coast cutoff for us. We're not going to say noon, like most folks do. We'll say order it by 4, and we'll do our best to get it there by 6:00 cutoff. Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Thanks again for all the support.

Mark Aselstine
December 8, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Picpoul-An Introduction

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

So the first happy Monday and it feels like the holidays are really getting into full swing. For us that means phone ringing, wine club memberships and wine club gifts starting to go out.

I hope everyone's shopping is coming along well. Every once in a while we get a return package from somebody who isn't able to sign when the wine comes to their front door. Fed Ex will typically make three attempts, after that it's held for a few weeks locally. Eventually it comes back to San Francisco to us. We try to contact the gift giver or the recipient, depending on whose email or phone number we have, typically email.

Every once in a while we can't get a hold of everybody so their last shipment makes its way to the back of the warehouse for us to follow up. Eventually, some times, we end up with a bottle of wine. Sometimes those feel like old friends come to visit. So this is a Picpoul which is something that a lot of wine drinkers have never experienced before. The short history of the grape is that the thing is from the Languedoc in France which is one of the French, most interesting wine regions. France as a country they've decided that they're going to have this historic look at wine. The way that wine existed in the 19th century was the way it's going to exist for an indefinite period. They classified wineries at that time and they won't change them. There's also this arcane kind of law system that prevents vintners in certain areas, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, from planting different types of grapes. The Languedoc is one of the few areas in France where they're truly allowed to plant what they want. This is one of the few grapes that have come and are genetically from native to that part of the country of France.

A Picpoul it's technically a Rhone varietal so you do see it in the Rhone Valley, but Languedoc is probably where it's planted the most. Chateau de Paup it is actually one of the approved grapes in the Chanteau de Paup, although the total plantings are so minuscule that you're talking about one-tenth of one percent in the total Chateau de Paup  area. I just wanted to say a little something about Picpoul.

It's a really interesting grape. It's something that you're starting to see kind of pick up a little bit in California, in areas that they focus on Syrah and other Rhone varietals they haven't quite found that perfect white wine. You see Marsanne & Roussane blended together a lot, that's certainly been successful in areas of Santa Barbara that they [inaudible 00:02:25] known varietals. But there is some of these warmer areas in the inland Valleys, the Alexander Valley is probably a good example of that, where they've used Zinfandel and they've used Syrah, but they haven't quite found something that's perfect on the white wine side. Picpoul is something that I know a few wine makers feel pretty strongly about. Most haven't even had it and they certainly never had a domestic version of it. You're talking about a few hundred acres total in California. This is something you're going to start to see more.

Once again Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you liked that short intro to Picpoul. We'll talk to you soon. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
December 5, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Lack of Sparkling Wine Startups in California with an Exception

A short intro to why you don't see many small sparkling wine producers within California and more importantly, where to look:

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First, welcome to another rainy day in San Francisco for us and we hope you're enjoying your holiday season as it continues to move along. During this month's reserves selections wine club, which is really our premium wine club offering, we're featuring one sparkling wine, and that is this Caraccioli Brut Cuvee from ... This is, what is this? This is the '08 version, which is actually what is going in our shipment. Sometimes, we have samples laying around from other vintages so I just wanted to make sure I have the right bottle sitting in front of me.

There is a few things that come up with sparkling wine in the United States, especially in California. First, everyone always asks, "Hey, why are you only able to source sparklers for higher end wine clubs that you guys do?" It's kind of two fold. First, when you make a sparkler, there is one major issue that prevents California from having a lot of start up wineries that focus on sparkling wine. That's that grapes need to be picked at brix that is the sugar content within a grape, that leads to alcohol levels between 10 and 12%, give or take. For most California vineyards, it's just warm enough that to pick at that level, you are left with this under ripe and kind of flavor free fruit. That's not a good way to make any wine, let alone a sparkler that needs every little bit of intensity that you can soak out of it.

Caraccioli does a good job. It's from the Santa Lucia Highlands, which is really one of the coolest growing regions in the state. It is one of the few places where you can get champagne grapes that come out the most champagne-sih in the United States. That's why, especially our explorations wine club level, which is the most inexpensive choice that we have, we end up ... When we do sparklers, we do them from Oregon.

For the most part, Oregon. I was going to say Oregon and Washington, but in reality, Oregon is the best choice if you're looking for a West Coast sparkler at a sub-$20 price points. That's just because it is a cooler climate in the state of Oregon and it's a heck of a lot easier to get grapes out at the right format. Caraccioli is a pretty good story. This is a really, really outstanding wine. It's something that when you open with people, it's different. I think Schramsberg has become kind of the defacto this is what we do for sparkling wine within Napa and within California and they do a really good job. To be better than that at a reasonable price point is difficult to find sometimes.

I think we have found one. We have worked with these guys in the past and gotten really good feedback. Quite awesome. My wife absolutely loves this wine and I feel like she is as good a judge as anybody. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you have enjoyed this short intro to sparkling wine in California and why it can cause a problem for wine makers and more importantly, why on the West Coast, Oregon might be a better spot to look. Thanks again.