Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
June 9, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Trentatre Rosso Wine Review: Trader Joe's

Our second review of a wine from Trader Joe's, as well as a few places on the web to find more information about Trader Joe's wine selections:

Hi, guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First a happy Tuesday for everyone. I'm joined today by something that has not shown up in a wine club shipment and will not because this is a Trentatre Rosso from Trader Joe's.

I talked a few weeks ago, and I talked about the desert wine guy and his blog and some of the other spots around the web that talk about good cheap wine. Trader Joe's is definitely a place that does a good job.

I was quoted in a grandparents.com article a few weeks ago and talking about how Trader Joe's does a really good job on the bulk market. Sometimes big Napa wineries have a little bit of extra juice that they would like to have go away quietly, and Trader Joe's had bought a Sauvignon Blanc that sold for $25 or $30 bucks at a name winery, and they had in the store for $4.99 under a different label. That's a good example of what they do, and one of the ways that Trader Joe's can deliver value.

I thought I would take a couple minutes and talk about some of the stuff that I've come across at Trader Joe's, and this is a good example of that. The Trentatre Rosso, it's Italian, and my Italian is not that great, but it's good enough to be able to read the back of the bottle, which is in English, and it says that it's ... Trentatre is 33, and the reason for the name of 33 is quite simply that it's a blend of 3 grapes in equal portions, Cabernet, Merlot and then Montepulciano, which in essence is Sera. You have a Cab, Merlot, Sera blend. If it was made in a different section of Italy, this is made in southern Italy, so you wouldn't call it a super Tuscan because it's not from Tuscany, but it's the same general setup. This is something that I found, and we look for easy drinkers in our house just like everybody else does. There's a couple good spots on the web if you're interested in learning a little bit about what Trader Joe's has, how it gets there and what's something that's good to buy versus something that you might be a little more disappointed with.

Jason's Wine Blog (although he isn't updating any longer, it's a great historical resource into Trader Joe's wine) is one of those spots that I've been reading for a while. If you're looking for bottles of wine under $20 bucks, Reverse Wine Snob does about a good job as you could possibly do. I think John is a nice enough guy over there to help people out along the way too.

Anyway, Trentatre Rosso, I think it's a good example of what they're doing in Italy and how Italy has become relevant again in the wine industry. It's thought of as this old world producer but in essence, everything in Italy has changed in the last 25 or 30 years. They came up with some new standards for quality to improve the quality of what they're offering. They've also planted a range of international grapes. Italy has a huge challenge, and it's a challenge you see in Spain and Portugal and a few other places as well. Americans don't traditionally order wine that they don't think they can pronounce. It's one of the reasons why Riesling is not as popular as Chardonnay even if it's the same equivalent. Restaurateurs that I talk to here in San Francisco will tell you that if it's a cheaper Riesling for the same score, if they are putting scores on their menu, which I hate if they do that, but a lot of folks do, more people will still order a Chardonnay because it sounds more familiar, they're more used to drinking it and quite honestly, they know they can pronounce correctly. The Italian grapes really suffer from that whole setup so Trentatre, I don't even know if I'm saying it 100 percent correctly. That's another reason why Prosecco is not as popular a champagne. The Italians have to fight that and one of the reasons they've been able to fight that a little bit is by creating these super Tuscans where they plant international grapes, and then they blend the international grapes with a native grape that grows in the area. You see it most often in Cabernet and Sangiovese, but this is Cab, Merlot, Montepulciano, so you'll see it across the board. Then when they do that, they're able to create a trade name. Trentatre is a trade name, not an actual name of a grape or a region or whatever. I think that's helping them along the lines.

If you're somebody who is looking for a good, easy drinking bottle of wine for $15 bucks or so that hits the Cabernet, Merlot spot, quite honestly, vineyard space in California is expensive, and it's the entry level price point for Cab and especially for Pinot in California, it starts to hit into the $20 range. It becomes a little less enticing. You've see Washington step into the void a little bit there with that slower price point in the $10 to $15 range, and I think you're going to continue to see Italy, Spain and some of the other warmer weather producers in Europe try to nudge into that market as well. I think for the wider wine industry, that's fine, that's a good thing, and it'll continue to create pressure for California to keep prices in reasonable levels, which is sometimes easier said that done. In any case, hope you enjoy a bottle of wine every once in a while. Trader Joe's is definitely on our list. I should be on your list too. If you have a few minutes, Jason's Wine Blog, Reverse Wine Snob, they do a good job talking about what's going on at Trader Joe's, what's new and what's worth it to buy and what might not be.

In any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, hope everybody is having a good week.

Mark Aselstine
June 2, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Beringer Vineyard: Corner of 121 & 29

Highway 29 and Highway 121 in Napa ValleyThis is the corner of highway 121 and highway 29 in Napa Valley.  If you've never been to Napa the 29 is the only real complete north/south transit road through the entire valley (further up valley, you can take the Silverado Trail). The 121 is one of the main turnoffs for those heading to Sonoma and offers what I consider the most beautiful 10 miles of vineyards I've run into anywhere.  Pictured is part of a Beringer Vineyard on the corner in the Carneros AVA, which is unique in this section of California because it exists in both Napa Valley as well as Sonoma's AVA's.

If you're wondering why the trip, I was picking up some wine for a upcoming wine of the month club shipment from a small scale storage facility that sits about a mile from the turn off.

Mark Aselstine
June 1, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

PWR Newsletter

A couple of strange aspects to this shipment.  First, you’ll notice both bottles of wine come from the same winery, I think this is the first time we’ve done this at the Explorations Wine Club level in over 2 years.  Secondly, I’ve written about the winery, People’s Wine Revolution, after I first met with winemaker Matt Reid, so some more information on the project at http://www.uncorkedventures.com/blog/Peoples-Wine-Revolution which has a lot more information on the project and why I felt it was important enough to handle two bottles in this shipment.

Some brief information, winemaker Matt Reid is a highly accomplished winemaker at spots like Seavey and Benessere (where we were introduced) but he noticed a few things.  Even at severe discounts (and the discounts that winemakers receive might make all of us blush), many of the people making wine in Napa, can’t afford to buy it.  Thus, his People’s Wine Revolution where he tries to bring outstanding, Napa Valley $100+ quality, to wine being sold for about $20.  Of course, that means you won’t find Pinot or Cabernet being made with his label, those grapes are simply too expensive.  Instead you’ll find Rhone based varietals like Viognier and Grenache.

Grenache from Lodi: I have to admit that Grenache is my favorite grape and I’ve been called something of a fiend for cool climate versions of the varietal by those in the business that know me well.  Lodi isn’t exactly known as a cool climate destination, it’s actually pretty damn hot during the summer months. Lodi has been making a lot of improvements in the quality of fruit that it produces and some of it,. runs afoul of what we’d expect in California.  First, it’s a top down approach with the AVA setting pretty stringent standards on how grapes can be grown, especially in terms of sustainability. The Lodi sustainable program is a strict set of rules on how farmer’s need to go about growing their grapes, down to making suggestions of improvements or as they term it, areas of concern.  One thing I find interesting, there’s a small beetle that’s on the endangered species list, yet exists in and around vineyards.  It doesn’t hurt the vines, but does get destroyed with fertilizer, or when cover crops are completely removed.  Lodi is to my knowledge, the only growing region in the world that uses elderberry bushes as part of their cover crops, or end caps to help give this beetle a place to live.  It might seem like a small thing, but if you read the history of Napa Valley or even the Russian River Valley, these seemingly small concerns and details, when they’re handled well, seem to build on themselves as time goes on.

If you’re not familiar with the Clements Hills designation on the bottle, that’s a sub AVA in Lodi, located in the furthest southeastern corner of the AVA.  It gained it’s own AVA status because it’s simply wetter and hotter than much of the rest of the larger AVA.  I’ve talked about it some in regard to the challenges faced in Arizona and elsewhere, but when you have a really hot environment in which to grow grapes, one way to combat that, is to plant at altitude.  Most the grapes in this Grenache come from higher altitude plantings, many are planted at 1,000 above sea level, or higher. The wet conditions also allow either dry farming, an unheard of practice in the San Joaquin Valley because of the heat, but a sustainable one.  Both of those factors come into play and you’ll note a much, much higher level of acidity than you might otherwise expect in this bottling. We haven’t done much from Lodi, but a bottle like this does make us wonder if we’ve missed some interesting wine along the way, especially when you have a fairly unique set of terroir and a world class winemaker.

Viognier from Dry Creek Valley: This is a 100% vineyard designate wine, from Salem Ranch. Salem Ranch is an 8 acre vineyard and being located in Dry Creek Valley, it’s mostly Zinfandel, as you probably expected.  There’s a single block of Viognier that the farmers like to have on hand, much of the time for blending, but Matt takes enough to make just under 300 cases per vintage. Having a single block Viognier at this price point, yes even for a more obscure grape like Viognier, is about half the price of what you’d expect. If you aren’t familiar with Viognier, it’s a white wine grape from the Rhone Valley.  It’s been used in blends from the region for generations because it offers some of the best aromatics of any white wine grape.  In the Rhone, you’ll see it blended with Marsanne and Roussane, although there’s a movement afoot in Sonoma for more single varietal Viognier’s.  The grape is finicky which helps explain why so many people haven’t planted it over the years.  Too cold and it molds.  Too hot and the alcohol level gets out of control and then you lose the aromatic qualities that people enjoy about the grape.  In that way, Dry Creek is a nice spot to grow the grape and prices for the grapes are kept under control because there aren’t many winemakers looking for it…..yet.

I hope you enjoy this look into a winemaker looking to make affordable, world class wines.  I can’t stress how unique Matt’s perspective is, I’ve met literally hundreds of winemakers who have had jobs at wineries that you’d recognize based on name alone and it’s only a handful that don’t want to copy that exact same business model. People’s Wine Revolution, it’s a unique project and one that deserves our attention and support.

Mark Aselstine
May 30, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Benessere Vineyards from Big Tree Road

Benessere Vineyards from Big Tree RoadAnother interesting view (imo at least) of Benessere Vineyards. This image was taken on Big Tree Road, looking back across the vineyard I thought it was interesting to be able to see the winery building in the distance, as well as the general setup of a spring vineyard.  During winter months you'll see a larger number of cover crops, many high end vineyards like Benessere uses clover and other cover crops to be able to sustain top soil levels, while adding nutrients like nitrogen back into the soil. You can see a few of the other plants growing in the vineyard at the forefront of this image, including on the end cap of the vine line on the left. Lastly, I liked this image because I felt that it showed how Benessere sits almost tucked into the hills at form the eastern reaches of St. Helena.

I was stopping at Benessere to pick up wines for shipments in our Explorations Wine Club this month, from winemaker Matt Reid (although the wines are his own, not those from Benessere).

Mark Aselstine
May 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Culler Wines: A Classic Name Exists

Every so often, I run into some news which seems important enough to pass along in this space.  I've been writing a bit about the history of Napa Valley, both the environmental movement, growers vs vintners and the names and wineries which helped to make the valley what it is.

During a bit of research I found myself on the Culler Wines website and found that famed winemaker Karen Culler was taking a break from winemaking and potentially walking away to spend more time traveling after 30 years in the business. I've only run into one Culler Cabernet Sauvignon, but this was classic Napa from a winemaker with what looks like an ecclectic mix of wine offerings.

In any case, bon voyage Karen, I can't do her send off justice myself, so I'll recommend you read it here.

PS-the line at Bouchon has gotten pretty brutal