Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
March 6, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Westrey Pinot Gris

I’ll start with a simple mention or note on vintage here, some of you are receiving the 2006 version of this wine and others the 2011.  Weird right? Well, not really-they’re tasting pretty similar right now largely on account that the ‘06 vintage in the Willamette Valley was among the warmest on record, with some winemakers calling it the most similar they’ve ever seen to a stereotypical California year.  To that end, some wineries held back their 2006 white’s until they softened up a bit.  That’s why the 06 is here.  Others have the 11, which is a more classic Oregon vintage, full of restraint and even perhaps a longing for some fruit.

 

I wanted to feature a Westrey Pinot Gris for some time in our Explorations Wine Club simply because they make such a classic version of what I consider to be Oregon wine.  These are largely acidic driven white’s, made without the benefit of malolactic fermentation.  If you aren’t familiar with malolactic fermentation, it largely softens wines, removing much of their acidity.  Originally French winemakers used the process to help soften the bittyness of acid profiles that can be inherent in cooler climate regions.  In California, winemakers will tell you, if you’re willing to listen for a while, that they feel like allowing malolactic fermentation allows a more complete integration of oak in wine.  Of course, this is Oregon, so we’re not looking for oak and at least personally, I’m not looking for a cooler climate version of a California wine, that acidity and slightly bittyness in terms of mouthfeel, is part of the attraction.

 

Westrey’s been in the Willamette Valley for about 20 years now, based in the small historic town of McMinnville where I tend to stay on visits because it’s walkable and has a number of nice local restaurants, coffee houses and the like.  I mention that because I think Westrey shows that influence in the prices they charge, as well as the types of wine that they produce.  In the age of $25-$35 white’s and $50+ Pinot’s in Oregon...Westrey has stayed quite constrained and consistent on price point through the years.  For that, they should, without a doubt, be commended.

 

During most vintages (including what’s in your glasses now), Westrey is using only their estate fruit for this Pinot Gris, offering I think a good classic look into what’s happening in the realm of Oregon white wine.

 

I think it’s also worth a note that during some vintages, you’ll see Westrey using only native yeasts.  While winemakers debate the topic ad nauseum and never come to any sort of real conclusion about the relative worth of native yeast fermentation, I can tell you that native yeasts definitely call for a more in tune winemaker (at least in my opinion) and here’s why.  Using commercial yeast, you know not only the exact amount of time that fermentation will take, but also what the ending alcohol level will be.  Native yeasts aren’t so simple in either regard.  Generally speaking fermentation is the process that converts sugar in the grapes into alcohol, so winemakers tend to believe that grapes picked at higher BRIX (the level of sugar within the fruit) should lead to higher alcohol wines.  Until, they experiment with native yeasts and find things aren’t so straightforward.  I mention all that to say, it makes September and October to be a rather nerve racking time, or at least even more so than it might be if they were picking yeast out of a catalogue, especially given that there are multiple natural versions on every grape and fermentation when natural has even been known to stop suddenly, only to start again when the weather warms up a bit.

 

Long story short, natural yeast is a pain in the neck when compared to purchased.  Westrey deserves a mention for both the wine they produce, but how they go about it.


About 250 cases per vintage are produced of this Pinot Gris.

Mark Aselstine
 
March 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Desert Wine Guy, Badet, Clement & Cie

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So over the last few days I've had conversation with a few new wine blogs that have popped up. One of which is called the Desert Wine Guy based outside of Vegas. One of the things that we've talked about is finding good value wines and where to find them.

So one of the things that I've wanted to do over the last few years and this was a kick starter in that vein, was to try random wines that I found interesting when I was at local grocery stores, local to me here in the Bay area of San Francisco. Trader Joe's, which I know is national now and we'll come back to Trader Joe's in a second, Safeway, the huge national brand, I grew up in Southern California so that was Vons, so it might not be Safeway but it's some Safeway family of companies that you probably have.

We're lucky that we do most of our shopping at a local place called Berkeley Bowl which is a Whole Foods competitor but at maybe half or a third of the cost. We'll shop at Costco, too occassionally for a bottle of wine. I only sell Oregon, Washington and California bottles so on the international stuff I am at the same place that most consumers are. I frankly don't know a whole ton a lot about a ton of regions of France outside of the standard Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, what have you.

So one of the things that the Desert Wine Guy has talked about was this bottle. This is Revelation Cabernet Merlot from Badet Clement and Cie. My French is not great but it's just good enough to know that Cie is company. So it's Badet Clement and Company. And they are based in, it says de Pays D'OC and this is one of the regions, ways that I think the French don't do themselves justice for when they import stuff into America. So this is the Languedoc and I've talked about the Languedoc in the past.

French wine laws are restrictive to the point of being borderline crazy. If you bought a vineyard in Bordeaux tomorrow they would tell you exactly what should be planted and where. Burgundy is even worse. Champagne the same. The Languedoc's one of the few, few regions in France where if you're a wine maker and I want to buy a vineyard and I'm going to plant six different types of grapes. I want to see what I can make and what I can make well and after that I'll figure the rest out. The Languedoc is one of the few regions where you can do that.

It also happens to be one of the largest continuous stretches of vines anywhere in the world. And that's important for something like this which comes into Trader Joe's for, I think I paid $5.99 for it. That's California pricing so you're probably, if you're outside of California paying a dollar or two more if not $10 or so in total.

 So this is a really nice Cab Merlot blend. One of the things that happens in the Languedoc is that they do a good cheaper impersonation of other areas of France and that's what you have here. They've gone for kind of a Bordeaux based blend and you kind of get that where it's more highly acidic than what you get from California for the most part. This reminds me more of Washington than something that you get in California. But there's really good blackberry and dark fruit flavors and the acidity really holds up. And it's something that you'll be really, really happy that you paid $6 bucks for or $8 or whatever it happens to be at your local Trader Joe's.

 And I think that also brings into a larger story about how does Trader Joe's source their wines, so on this stuff I'm fairly certain that this is a wine that's made specifically to come into the U.S. market. I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a tasting for the wines of Provence in San Francisco. They referred to it as rosé in the city. And that's what Provence is known for in France is making some of the best rosé around. This was a group of 60 or 70 wineries. A lot of times they have wine makers there.

Like I said my French is not great but they're kind of to translate enough to understand that they had these three or four bottlelings in front of them and three or four would be available and there was, oh this one that we make 4,000 cases of specifically to try to bring into the U.S. and that's from label design down to the actual stylistic type of wine that they have.

So Trader Joe's will work with people. I suspect this is probably in that same vein. They also, we were talking to a winery in Napa a few years ago about doing a Sauvignon blanc bottling and they had a few extra barrels of wine. And that's fairly typical for something that will happen in a large vinage. They will have a few extra barrels. We looked at it as a way to bring really good value for our exploration wine club folks who wouldn't be able to necessarily access this Sauvignon blanc from Napa based on the average price that they're paying versus what the average price of a Sauvignon blanc in Napa ends up being. And at the end of the day we couldn't do it because the folks ended up selling the whole lot to Trader Joe's. So they have this wine that depending on the vintage and stuff sells between $25 and $35 at the winery all of a sudden it was under a different label at Trader Joe's from $4.99. So that's what Trader Joe's does. That's what they do a really good job of and it's something that people will be happy about if they know how to search through and find what they're looking for.

So it's something that you can expect more from me. I'll start talking randomly about wines that I pick up at Trader Joe's, Safeway or Whole Foods or Costco, in that reign, since I know that those are stores that people have access to across the country. And if you have a few minutes and you're looking to read a different perspective on the world of wine, Desert Wine Guy has a blog spot blog as well as a new website and it's worth a look. The guy owns a vineyard and is based out of Vegas and so I think that adds a different perspective to those of us who are based in California or based in wine regions ourself.

So have a look if you have a minute and Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope that you guys have enjoyed it. The Revelation 2012 Cab Merlot blend from Trader Joes, it's Badet Clement and Cie. Worth a look and you'll be happy you paid $6 bucks for it. Have a good one. Lastly, if you enjoyed this, I hope you'll consider a wine of the month club membership with us.

Mark Aselstine
 
March 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Mariposa Viceroy 2010

This wine is still titled Mariposa, which was the former name of the winery that simply calls itself Cru Wine Company.  Located in Madera California which sits about 10 miles north of San Francisco in swanky Marin County and only about 30 miles south of both Sonoma and Napa, Cru Wine Company is perhaps perfectly situated to source grapes and then easily sell their wines.

    That being said, selling in Marin is uber competitive as literally every single start up in the valley is trying to place their wines there and there isn’t any home field advantage to speak of.  Cru’s big advantage, outside of an owner with especially deep pockets, is that they have perhaps the most engaging and unique winemaker in the industry.  Ken Post had already had two separate careers before the wine bug hit, he had built his family farm into a 2,000 acre behemoth in Paso Robles as well as building a highway construction business from the ground up. He also rides a motorcycle, or at least did before a fall left him a year of rehab.

    From all the choices at the winery, I found this wine to be the most engaging.  First, it’s an entry level price point for GSM in Paso Robles, at $23 retail and the spirit of that tag comes through, it’s made to be consumed early and isn’t overly tannic.  (Please note, we've shipped this wine previously in our Explorations Wine Club) Of course, I think there are some connections from previously owning a large farm in the area which Ken rather sheepishly admittedly to the last time I saw him. When so many consumers dislike Syrah & have never heard of, nor tried a Grenache, I often want to show them a wine like this, the nature of this wine surprises with hints more consistently with cherries and bright fruit, rather than the brooding and contemptible versions of Syrah and wine in general that we’re accustomed to from Paso Robles.

    I think there’s also time here to talk a bit about the 2010 vintage in Paso Robles.  So often within the wine industry we hear about how good, bad or indifferent a vintage was in Napa, but other regions hardly rate a mention at all. 2010 was called apocalyptic in Napa and throughout much of California due to the cold early start to the growing season (which leads to farmers cutting fruit and canopy cover to ensure they get to ripeness) following by an unbelievably hot August (which burned the life out of grapes that didn’t have a large enough canopy to cover them) in combination with water restrictions due to the California drought.  In comparison to other fine wine regions across the state, Paso knows it’s pretty damn hot during the summer.  While a series of 100 degree days in Sonoma and downtown Napa sends the natives scurrying to the beach, in Paso that’s part of the normal summer experience even in west side Paso (where this wine is from).  That knowledge of impending heat and really being able to count on mother nature sending that heat made 2010 a better year to look for values in Paso than it is elsewhere in California.  Then again they’re calling 2010 Bordeaux the vintage of the century, or was that 09? Or maybe 2007 in Napa? Yes, vintages get a lot of hype, perhaps too much so when we’re talking about a $23 bottle we just want to hold up well.

 

Mark Aselstine
 
March 4, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Anam Cara Heather’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005

Every so often, we get the chance to feature what is an aged wine, directly from a winery cellar.  This Anam Cara Pinot Noir is a unique look into small production, single vineyard Pinot Noir if you have the patience to let it age for a decade.  I like shipping wines like this, at least occasionally, simply because, as I found during my first winery visit after opening Uncorked Ventures, that 98% of wines are consumed within 48 hours after purchase. Having dug into those numbers, because I think they’re important in terms of helping to decide what we should be shipping to wine club members, it’s also apparent at least according to industry watchdogs like Wine Business and Wines & Vines, that those stats hold up across most price points, including where our Reserve Wine Club falls.

    So about Anam Cara specifically: to start, this was their first vintage of their Heather’s Vineyard Pinot which is named after the founder’s daughter. The family story is actually pretty typical, Nick and Sheila met while working in London only to move back and start a business which brought them into Napa Valley and further into the wine business itself.  Sheila worked in public relations while Nick built the family fortune through a series of pizza restaurants around California.  Eventually, wanting a piece of land and a winery for themselves, they found a run down orchard in Oregon (given Napa land prices were close to 250k an acre a decade ago and have doubled since, especially considering you need at least 10 acres for a new winery...this is a story we’re going to hear with increasing regularity)

Heather’s Vineyard It isn’t really a separate vineyard from their estate vineyard itself, but a block of vines within the larger estate vineyard.  When Adam Cara Cellars spent a few years selling fruit to others, they noticed that a few rows of vines had two unique characteristics.  First, they ripened about a month later than blocks only a few yards away and also seemed to produce dramatically less fruit, about 1.5 tons per acre, which is about the smallest I’ve seen (to put it in perspective, I spent some time talking to winemakers about a 130+ year old, dry farmed Lodi vineyard of Cinsault this past week that produces about 2 tons per acre). There’s some sunlight issues with this part of their vineyard, namely that trees overhang part of the vines, which leads to another problem, any fruit that’s produced early in the season, gets eaten by birds since netting can’t really happen until well into the summer growing season (sunlight in Oregon is simply too valuable and blocking it too early, leads to underripe fruit, even in the Willamette, a cardinal sin). The results of all this, including using only a single clone of Pinot Noir, is a complex, yet remarkably light version of Pinot Noir. There’s plenty of cherry and wild berry flavors here, including finish, which to me, is a hallmark of Oregon Pinot, I find it earthy, others have called it slightly bitter….all the same, a classic Oregon Pinot flavor profile.

    Priced at between $60-$65 depending on when people have looked from the winery, other versions of Heather’s Vineyard Pinot Noir have scored into the mid 90 point range from major critics.  There isn’t, at least to my knowledge (I’ve also asked the winery) any major critics scores around the 2005 largely because it was both their first vintage and a scant 75 cases were produced.  While production hasn’t yet climbed beyond that level for the Heather’s Vineyard offering, critics have been more willing to score the wine based on past successes of the winery’s other offerings, but also because Oregon Pinot Noir is so much more mainstream at this point than it was only a decade ago.  I’ve told the story before, but anyone interested in taking a trip to wine country on the west coast, should really consider a few days in Oregon’s Mcminnville and the wide Willamette Valley.  Unlike any region I’ve been to in either California or frankly, Washington, there aren’t vines anywhere.  Penner Ash makes some of the most respected Pinot Noir in the new world with multiple estate offerings being priced above $100 and the guy across the street still grows wheat and pears.  There’s something about that which seems appealing to me and something that seems to come through with this wine as well.

    Since so many of you ask….how long does the winery, or do I think this can last? Conventional wisdom is a few more years in the cellar should be fine, but it’s ready now.  That being said the most memorable bottle I’ve ever had came from what amounts to a $5 Burgundy, that had been aged 40 years. I think these acidic Pinot Noir’s hold up better than most people give them credit for.

Mark Aselstine
 
February 23, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Shipments Are Being Delivered & The Week At Hand

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First a Happy Monday. Hope everybody's having a nice start to their week.

A couple of things, first, if you're in the midwest or on the east coast and you have a current wine club membership with us, or you received a wine club gift, it's likely that you're going to receive some wine in the next 24 to 48 hours, if you haven't already this morning with Fedex. The simple reason behind that is the weather has sucked. We've been trying to time shipments to get everything there so it doesn't sit in a warehouse in say New Jersey or New York where it could be exceedingly cold over the weekend. We try to time it so it stops somewhere that's a little more palatable. Hopefully, we've done that pretty well. If you're a wine club member, shipment should be there shortly.

Second of all, over the past week you'll see, or the next coming week at least, you'll see a couple of things from me on the written side of our Uncorked Ventures blog. That'll be largely about a couple of tasting events that I had on Friday. First, I got a chance to go to a Premiere Event for Atlas Peak Vineyards. Not the Valley Premiere, the wider wine auction that has been in the news the last couple of days, was two days ago on Saturday. They raised what is an ongoing record. It seems every year the amount of money raised for charity goes up. In this case they raised 6.1 million dollars. Last year it was 5.9. The year before that, if you remember when they first started to ramp up the program, was about 3 million. You're seeing a pretty quick ascension into a wider amount of money raised for charity.

Napa Valley Premiere is interesting because it's largely focused on both retail and wholesalers. The idea is as a wine club I could go and bid on some of these small lots of Cabernet. It's not largely happening. I could bid on some Cabernet. Then in turn resell that at a profit to my wine club customers. That's not something that we currently do. Although you've seen some astronomical prices paid. Last year there was in the Erickson lot of 260 basically Screaming Eagle bottles that sold for, I forget, $250,000 or something for a wine import house in Los Angeles. You can see all that stuff. It's kind of fun. It's a fun time in Napa. You have all these small scale private events. It's not a great time to visit. We saw some folks yesterday who were just trying to go and to view wines cellars in Yountville and found the place closed. Although much to the folks from Dos Lagos' credit, they found a glass for them and were able to turn what was going to be. These guy from Denver were going to go home and say Napa was difficult because we couldn't get anywhere, to wow that was really a lot of fun and the folks from Atlas Peak are really nice. I think that's something you see in the wine industry a lot. That's one of the reasons why I like the industry myself. Premiere happened. It's interesting because it's both a charity but a business event as well.

Thirdly, I had the chance to sit down with Matt Reid who makes the wine at PWR which is the People's Wine Revolution. I'm going to have a write up about that. I got a chance to actually sit and taste with Matt in his backyard. Met his dog who was a fun guest at the tasting, as well as taste through six of his wines. He does an amazing job given the price point of under $20. You can bet better than even money that People's Wine Revolution will show up in our Explorations Wine Club here in the coming months. Once again Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, Wine Club [inaudible 00:03:40], coming your way in a couple of fun tasting events on our site that we'll write up a little bit more later. Hope everybody's off to a good week. Thanks again.