Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
January 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Champagne vs Sparkling Wine

Champagne vs Sparkling Wine. Why there is a difference between the two, even if the French and American governments can't exactly agree what the difference should be.

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Couple of things today. I want to spend a couple minutes talking about the difference between champagne and basic sparkling wine. In essence, there's kind of one thing that happens here.

In California, there's been a large kind of ... not a fight, but an argument over can California vintners use the word champagne on their label. One of the examples that we have here is Korbel. Korbel's maybe the best-known kind of American producer of what is champagne or sparkling wine. In essence, they're the same thing.

Champagne is supposed to be made only in the Champagne region of France, but the French don't do us any favors here in using a, basically varietal name for something that they make with the growing region, making them one and the same. Yeah, from a marketing perspective in the 1800s, this probably made a lot of sense, but these days, it probably makes less sense. Just like although if there is a town in France called Napa, we wouldn't want Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or we wouldn't want a vintner in Sonoma using the Napa label. Just like, when I went to the Fancy Food Show, I wasn't thrilled to see a chocolate vendor from New Jersey using the Napa Chocolate Factory label. At the same time, there's got to be some influence of ... Dom Perignon basically invented this way to make wine, and there's got to be some way for people to be able to differentiate what's a sparkling wine in a champagne style, versus what's just a sparkler. Korbel uses the... Which is, at least in America what we're allowed to do is put California champagne.

It is what it is. I have 3 wines with me, none of which are technically champagne, all of which would love to call themselves champagne, and they're all not allowed to call themselves champagne for different reasons. First Korbel. Korbel is kind of a classic name in American wine. There's two brothers that came to, in essence, what is Sonoma in the late 1800s. They started producing champagne. Then they survived prohibition and everything that's come after. This is probably still served ... it came up I think in Obama's first inauguration, they served a California champagne, and the French government kinda threw a hissy about it. I think things have settled down enough for everybody to cool our heads for real. I think everyone realizes that if you want a champagne from France, buy champagne from France. If you want an American sparkling wine, calling it champagne is not going to kind convolute it enough for anybody to really be confused. [Inaudible 00:02:25] we've talked a little bit about in this space before. I think it's one of the truly up and coming names in California Wine.

They're from down in Monterey. The thing that people don't realize about the champagne region of France is it's pretty damn cold. I think that's why the kind of wine got made the way that it did. In essence, what happens with champagne when they're producing it is that when you have a normal fermentation ... and we have some pictures of this up on our site ... is that CO2 is produced. It goes up in to the sky. It goes away. Done, goodbye, thanks for coming. If it's cold enough, fermentation can stop midway, and the CO2 is trapped. One of the things that they figured out in the champagne region of France is that they were just cold enough that they weren't being able to finish fermentation before the cold really set in after harvest, so they were allowing fermentation to finish in the bottle. If you think about it, if you put everything into a bottle of wine and put the cork on, where's the CO2 go? It's trapped within the wine itself, and so then the only way for it to escape is in bubbles once you open the thing. That's how you end up with a sparkler. Jacques Pelvas, this is another French guy. They're from the Languedoc. I've talked about the Languedoc a little bit in this space before. The French, just like champagne, burgundy, Bordeaux, there's a lot of rules that go int o what can be grown, what can be made, how do you label your wine. They're certainly the most restrictive country in the world when it comes to wine labels and how to create them and even what you're allowed to plant in your vineyard. The one region in France that is truly open for anything, which reminds us a little bit of California, is the Languedoc. The Languedoc has done a little bit of everything. They'll remind you of the [Rhone Valley 00:04:09] in parts where they're Syrah and Grenache and doing a pretty good job of it. They'll remind you a teeny-tiny bit of Bordeaux in parts where they've growing [cab 00:04:17], and this is kind of a grower cooperative champagne from ... no, not a champagne. See? Now I've got myself doing it. From the Languedoc too. Three wines, none of which can actually be champagne but all of which are champagne, at least production-wise. I hope that over the long-term that they can come to some conclusion. I think putting an American champagne on the label is frankly ... it's fine. I think there's bigger things for everyone to worry about within the wine industry than simply how to label something, especially when you have two different countries and two different laws and much different laws going into it. BTW, I think there's a quick answer here, I talk about this stuff and pay attention to it because as a wine of the month club, I think it can be important to follow trends and fads within the wider wine industry.

The French definitely do a larger amount of rules and regulations than do American wine companies and American wine kind of oversight. I think there's going to be naturally some butting of head there. I think there's probably more than there should be right now. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you've enjoyed this short talk of what is champagne versus sparkling wine, and wine in California is technically all sparkling wine, but some folks if you had your label before 2006 are still allowed to use champagne on your label one way or another. Champagne versus sparkling wine.

Thanks again

Mark Aselstine
January 26, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

GSM Blends in California

A short intro to GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blends in California. Why they're more important than you probably think:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First, happy Monday. Secondly, I hope everybody on the East Coast, especially in New York City, is going to survive what everyone seems to be calling The Storm of the Century.

Wine club shipments have been delayed a couple days. They're going to go out in the next day or two, especially if you're on the East Coast. I didn't want the wine sitting somewhere in the Midwest or on the East Coast where it was going to show up to you like a wine Popsicle, so we avoided that. The wine will go out today or tomorrow.

In any case I did want to take a couple minutes then to talk about something that I see happening more and more within the wine industry. When you look at kind of traditional France, Bordeaux and Burgundy you see single varietal wines, or at least in parts of Bordeaux it's like that. Burgundy, especially with Pinot Noir, it's like that. Napa has kind of made a name for itself with both kind of single vineyard or single source Chardonnay, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. But there's this whole wider wine industry that's starting to turn more toward blends and there's a couple reasons for that. First, if you don't own your own vineyard you're constantly sourcing stuff from multiple vineyards. It's a heck of a lot easier to have more of a consistent style if you're sourcing from multiple vineyards and blending it together yourself as opposed to sourcing a single vineyard and saying, you know, we've got this great example of a cool climate Russian River Valley Saralee's Vineyard Grenache, only to see Saralee's Vineyard then sell the Grenache to a larger winery after you've done it for a few years and you're basically stuck at zero. We saw that happen to a few folks that we know pretty well.

In any case one of the natural offshoots, if you can't own a vineyard in Napa or Sonoma and you are left a little bit more on the periphery of the wine industry, you may find yourself growing Rhone varietals. As we've talked about numerous times, in this space at least, Syrah is a difficult sell in California and elsewhere, so you're probably looking at a GSM blend as a way to present your label, your style, and get the wine out there without having to fight the whole consumer sentiment that "I don't like Syrah." Here's a couple great examples. First [inaudible 00:02:07] this is a GSM blend from down in Paso Robles. According to the bottom of the bottle 48% Grenache, 29% Syrah, 2% Mourvedre. The Mourvedre, if you're familiar, it's traditionally a blending grape in the Rhone. It's used the same way here in California. In essence the wine maker puts that in for only one purpose so it is a little chalky and it's thick and syrupy, but more than anything else the biggest thing about Mourvedre is that it's dark purple in color. It's one of the darkest, non-black skin grapes that you're going to find. That's why they use it, because it darkens everything up a little bit. Fore Family Vineyards, it's another good example of the GSM. I don't think they even have the percentages here listed, which is something that frankly I don't mind. If you're saying it's a GSM then it just kind of is what it is, whatever the percentage is. It can change from year to year. Fore Family is based up in Lake County. It's kind of one of the preeminent growers up there in Lake County. I think they're, kind of, other than an estate wine program that's starting to take steps forward that kind of commensurate with the quality of wines that are being produced by others with their fruit. I think that's what you're starting to see. If you're a wine region on the periphery of what thought of as the classic wine regions in California and also in France, [inaudible 00:03:29] France in Languedoc where they've kind of adopted GSM blends as one of the things that they do, and they do quite well. You're going to see that continuing more and more. I would be frankly quite surprised if there wasn't another ... there's this whole other 46 movement and that's the wine producing states in the United States that in essence are not California, Oregon, Washington, the three we cover, and not New York because you have New York City and you don't have to try very hard. I'd be surprised if one or two of those didn't focus on Syrah or at least on GSM to try to see what they could get in the market place with it. These are kind of bold, intense wines and that's something that people are gravitating toward. If you look at the success of Cabernet in the market place you can see why somebody would think well if Cabernet does so well and Syrah does so poorly, maybe we can blend to something and get it closer to Cabernet, even if I don't have grapes from a Cabernet vineyard that would lead itself to $125 wine.

In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. I hope everybody is staying warm. I almost hesitate to admit that we're sitting at close to 70 degrees here in the Bay Area and everybody is feeling quite good about that.

Hope everybody is doing well. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
January 18, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

January 2015 Wine Club Shipments

Just a really brief update that we'll be shipping January 2015 wine club shipments over the next 3-4 days. Looking at the weather forecast, it appears there is a pretty good set of weather being predicted for the next week to ten days, so we'll have all January shipments out during that time frame.

Please note, with the holiday things may take slightly longer than usual to get to the east coast, so we'll find a nice warm section of the country to have your package spend the weekend.

If you have questions about an upcoming, or even a past shipment, please don't hestitate to drop us an email.

Mark Aselstine
January 16, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Benessere Syrah & Napa Valley Syrah in General

High acidity Syrah....it does exist.


Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I'm trying today ... I'll lift it up a little bit so you can see the whole bottle. By Benessere Syrah. A few of our wine club members are going to receive this this month. I wanted to take a couple minutes. We've worked with Benessere in the past, specifically a month or two ago where we shipped their Sangiovese. We've gotten some really, really good feedback about that. A couple customers compared it to something that they had in Brunello, or Italy, which is the ancestral home to Sangio. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but the vineyard site definitely I think is among Napa's best, when it comes to Sangio. I think a lot of those same traits come through in the Syrah. The Sangio is a lighter in style. It's Napa, so it's going to be full of body. It's not going to be Oregon. Anybody who has that expectation or is looking for a French interpretation of a varietal, just is going to end up being unhappy. I think that's okay. The Syrah, much the same way. This is a lighter in style Syrah. It's definitely higher in acidity than anything else that you're going to find almost anywhere, at least from Napa. That's kind of what they're going for. I also think it speaks a little bit a lot ... I've talked a lot about the future of Syrah within California and why winemakers and winery owner and why everybody feels like Syrah's so important. I think this is an example of a Syrah that's going to work and work really well. It's fairly priced in the $40 range per bottle. I think Benessere is going to continue to do well with this. I hope anyone with a wine club membership likes it. I'm sure that they will. It's a different ... So often when people get Syrah for the first time, or they buy a Syrah at local wine store or grocery store without being able to try it, it's that mouth-puckering dry, which a lot of people will say it doesn't work as well with food. This is higher in acidity so I think people are going to like it better. I hope when you give it a try you like it. Thanks again. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Mark Aselstine
January 14, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Myka Chardonnay & The Santa Cruz Mountains


Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about both the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA as well as Myka Cellars. Myka, we've talked a little bit about in the past. I think it's an up-and-coming winemaker who he's still finding an exact direction that he's going to go. He produces smaller, he says terrior-driven wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains and so if you're not familiar with Santa Cruz, you may be, should be, but first ... Here's the background for Santa Cruz.

A lot of people talk about the history of California wine and they talk about the Judgment of Paris in 1976 and how that put Napa on the map. What they don't talk about is that there's a winery, most of us know it if you drink wine consistently, called [inaudible 00:00:43] that started in the Santa Cruz Mountains and their Cab showed phenomenally well in that Tasting in Paris in 76, I believe they finished third, although we'll post the full results for everybody so they can see them, and in subsequent years when, say, Robert Parker and other critics have tasted three of the same set of wines and have gotten largely the same results, saying that the Napa folks bested Bordeaux, which has fared even better in subsequent years.

Santa Cruz Mountains really didn't get the credit that it deserved and I think there's a few reasons for that. First, Santa Cruz is a beach town, it's really for those of us who grew up in Southern California, there's a stretch from Santa Cruz down to Santa Barbara that feels like the Central Coast and to me that's a different, definitely a different type of area than, say, the Bay Area is here, Wine Country is, or Southern California being San Diego and LA, so it definitely feels a little different down there so that's part of it.

Second of all and probably more importantly, it's a hard region to get to. It's 45 minutes or an hour from Santa Cruz or an hour and a half or so from most of the population centers here in the Bay Area, and it's zig zagged up the mountain, doesn't feel very safe to drive, have to know where you're going. At some point your GPS goes out because there's no Internet connection, et cetera, et cetera. It's not a fun place to get it. It's much like when I offered to set some of my friends or family members up at wineries on Atlas Peak in Napa, which is frankly, I think maybe the best place to go tasting in all of California but as soon as they look at the directions, universally I get the response that says, "Hey, that sounds fun and those wines look really, really great but don't you know the wine maker at Alpha Omega, which is right along the 29, that looks like a little easier to get it." That's all certainly true.

Santa Cruz, I think they're trying to move tasting rooms closer to where people actually live or at least where people can visit more easily but there's a certain elegance and understatedness about the tasting room up in the mountain above the fog line. That's really beautiful on its own right and worth a trip but they're not going to get as many people willing to make that trip and you're definitely not going to get the random people driving up to 29 like really if we're honest about it, [inaudible 00:02:55].

That's Santa Cruz Mountains. The wines are also more highly acidic, so it's both warmer up in the mountains but they have a morning fog belt and an afternoon fog belt. A lot of folks are used to hearing that kind of stuff at least from me and from us and from a lot of wine folks but really when you try your first Santa Cruz Mountain Chard, you notice something extremely different than what you get from Napa. It's much more biting acidity. The French will say that they're more balanced and they like them better, the marketplace hasn't quite bore that same kind of reaction to them yet. This wine's in the $25 range, an equivalent priced bottle from an equivalent vineyard in Napa might sell for $50. There's definitely some different stuff going on. Anyway, Myka Cellars, Myka, the winemaker, is an interesting guy. He's I think at this point figuring out what direction he's going with the winery.

He makes some really, really high-quality wine. I think there's a question about is he going to try to go the range of I'm going to make 100,000 good cases or is he going to settle in at a 10,000-case range and makes them really, really excellent, 200 to 1,000 case increments of single-vineyard stuff. Frankly, I hope he does that. The guy has some perspective, which I think were sometimes lacking in industry in general. Myka Cellars Chardonnay, some of our wine club members have received this in the past. If you're a new member to our Wine Explorations Club, which is the most inexpensive of our wine clubs, you may receive this in your first shipment. We have a case or two remaining laying around the warehouse that we're shipping currently.

Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures, I hope you've enjoyed a short talk on both the history of the Santa Cruz Mountains and I think they're important today and if you have questions, please let us know. We're happy to answer. Thanks.