I ran into a Pinot Noir producer in Sonoma last week, he produced a yearly Cuvee of Pinot Noir. It’s something more commonly associated with wines produced in Champagne, but given that it’s showing up on wine labels, I thought some others would wonder:
What does cuvee mean?
Let’s start with the most technical definition of Cuvee, from the federal government: Nothing. Yup, the term Cuvee has no legal definition on a wine label. Like many things that winemakers and more importantly wine marketers put on a wine label, there’s no real definition of Cuvee, they may think it will help the wine sell well, or it may something to them internally. There’s really no way to know.
Cuvee in Champagne:
This is where we need to stop and think about how wine made in Champagne and really all sparkling wine programs are dissimilar than all other wines on the market (ok, so in fairness I am eliminating the very cheapest entry level wines in this discussion, Charles Shaw and other $4 and under wines aim to indistinguishable year to year as well). Champagne houses really do want their product to be the same every year. That’s why they often source from a large number of vineyards, that’s why Champagne doesn’t have a vintage listed on it and lastly, that’s why each house has their own unique starter that might actually be more important than the grapes they have coming in the front door.
In Champagne Cuvee refers to the first pressed juice. It’s the best juice and is often bottled immediately by itself. The remaining pressed juice is often blended much more
What is a Cuvee Wine?
In the United States and really, outside of the Champagne region of France, while there might not be a technical definition of Cuvee, there is a practical one when you speak with winemakers. Most winemakers will tell you, that quite simply Cuvee means a blend. Depending on the region, it might be a blend of different grapes, like a GSM from Paso Robles, or a blend of multiple single vineyards of Pinot Noir in Sonoma.
It’s quite simply, Koo-Vay. Or Coo-Vay if you prefer and if that helps you understand the softer K sound.
You can’t always drink what you sell. So here’s a Veuve Du Vernay review of a sparkling wine made in France. No, not Champagne. More on that…..
Hi, all Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures so I’ll hold this up so you can get a look at it. So this is a Veuve Du Vernay, and you’ll have to excuse me. My French is not nearly as good as my Spanish, and probably my Italian, too. But, I thought this was interesting for a few levels.
So first, so let’s see if I can get this up there. So this is from France, but if you look on the back, it says sparkling wine, and that kind of gives you a couple hints. So the Veuve Du Vernay is sold kind of mass-market here in the United States. It’s a French sparkler, but they can’t call it champagne because it’s not from the Champagne region of France. So that’s something that I think throws people off sometimes is that you can be a French sparkling wine, but not a champagne. And so, often what that entails is that the grapes are coming from a less expensive wine region than that.
So this brand, they make a kind of single vineyard because nobody really does that for champagne or sparkling wine. But, they make something from the lower valley, which is kind of the higher end. So you’re going to get some more fruity here, which is kind of the coldest occurring climate in France. It’s where they a lot of Cab Franc, but then, also a lot of white wine ingredients as well. But then, you’re also going to get other kind of lesser-known regions in France and more kind of the bulk wine market. I think that’s where this is kind of interesting.
So the wine retails for, call it eight or nine bucks at kind of a huge place like Total Wine. We have a little, teeny, tiny grocery store, kind of market-style thing, down from the house and it’s maybe 12 bucks in there. So this is actually brought into the country and produced by Bronco Wine Company, which is the same folks that do Two Buck Chuck for Trader Joe’s. They do a number of other kind of huge brands, too, and that’s kind of their profile and what they look to. And I think this is part of the challenge for sparkling wine, is that it is so much more darn expensive. Because if you think for a company that’s doing three, four, and five dollar bottles of, say Cabernet and Pinot, and then, all of a sudden, you have a sparkler that’s coming in at 12, it’s a pretty big price point step forward.
This is actually a really, kind of good introduction to sparkling wine in a lot of ways. It’s light, it’s crisp, it’s refreshing. It works, probably best as an apéritif, as opposed to being paired with food because it is pretty light. You’ll see it described as [inaudible 00:02:26]. I don’t think that kind of does it justice. I think it’s a lot lighter, citrusy, and zingier than that, which is I think not so bad when it comes to a sparkler.
So in any case, a couple of things, I think if we can take anything away, yes, you can have sparkling wine from France, that’s not champagne. It just comes from a different region. They could have some champagne grapes in there. Obviously, at this price point, I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility. Two, mass-market wines do exist internationally, and there are American wine brands producing these wines internationally and bringing them into market. The Bronco Wine Company does do a good job of that. I think that’s fair to say. And three, you do see one of these huge brands that come in, you do see a pretty significant price point difference between your local small store and the large national or international retailers. And often, I think this is pretty consistent, it can be 50 percent or more per bottle difference. Like, you might think, for mass marketed wines, mass sales lead to lower pricing.
So it’s a good sparkler, and it’s something that if you needed it for say, a Christmas party or a large gathering of people where you needed a case or two, I think this is a great choice. It’s not going to offend everybody, it’s not going to be a bottle where you walk home and you say, “Hey, that was a great sparkler,” but it’s completely reasonable as far as palate goes. You can pair it with pretty much anything, and everybody will walk away and say, “Yeah, that was good.” And I think that’s really all you can ask for ten bucks or so in a sparkling wine coming from France.
So once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Obviously, not coming in a wine of the month club, but I think it’s interesting to talk about how the wine industry actually works in practice, and I think this is a good example of that. Thanks again.
If you ask someone in the wine trade, does white wine have tannins? Most of the time, they’re going to say no. Really, that’s not correct. All wines carry some level of tannins, but white wines certainly have less tannin than do reds.
What are Tannins?
Let’s start with the basics, tannin is the part of a wine which makes you want to pucker your mouth when you drink it. It’s the “dry” part of the wine. For some people, tannin comes across their palate as a bitterness (often leading to their preference for white wines).
The highest amount of tannin comes from grape seeds, skins and the stems. As you might expect levels aren’t consistent from white wines to red and even among different grapes, let alone when taking into account winemaking choices.
Winemaking Choices and It’s Effect on Tannin Levels in White Wine:
Tannin comes from contact with seeds, skins or stems. When it comes to white wine, there are going to be times when the wine is in contact with the seeds. Eventually, usually within hours, those are filtered out. Secondly, yes, at times a winemaker will allow a white wine to soak in the skins for a time period. At most a few hours, let’s call it 8 or so at maximum. Normally not very long. Lastly, while whole cluster fermentation has become a thing in red wine, in white wine you might see it for Chardonnay or even Sauvignon Blanc, but only for a few hours (less than a day to be sure).
In terms of the level of tannins in white wine, winemaking choices are going to have more effect on the level of tannin than are the varietals in question (the vineyard location will as well) but in reality, there’s simply not much in the way of tannins in your average, mass marketed white wine.
So the next time you hear the question, does white wine have tannins? You’ll know that the only real answer is that, yes, but how much depends on a whole lot of other factors……but if you’re within the normal range of winemaking choices, a white wine doesn’t have much in the way of tannins.
I’ve spent a lot of time discussing closures for wine bottles, but perhaps the most basic is cork. Although most people that drink wine know what cork looks like, some often wonder what is cork made of?
The basic answer here is that cork is made of wood. But that’s not entirely true either. Typically we think of wood as being the trunk of the tree, but cork is really only the water resistant cells that separate the outside of the tree’s bark, from the inside. If you stop and think about it for a second, normally seeing a soggy cork is a really bad sign right? It’s also rare. Compare that with a piece of wood that you leave in the backyard before it rains. The rain soaks in quite a bit right? So cork is a part of a tree, much like wood, but not exactly.
How Cork is Harvested:
Cork is traditionally grown in Portugal and is 100% sustainable. It’s easy to think of sheep as something similar, you can shave off their excess wool and it grows back. The exact same thing happens with a cork tree, the cork can be shaved off and it grows back. That process of shaving and regrowing means that the product itself is sustainable, but also that while we traditionally think of cork as being made of wood, that’s not entirely accurate.
So what is cork made of?
The technically correct term is that it’s park of a tree’s bark, but yeah, most people are going to say it’s wood. That’s close but not quite right.
Lastly, I found an interesting video that shows the process of shaving a cork tree as it happens in Portugal:
So you’ve probably seen a bunch of emails as I have over the past few days, a great many companies are working toward getting into compliance with a new EU regulation called GDPR.
A couple of notes before I go on: GDPR is a standard set of privacy features in regard to customer data held by corporations across all 28 countries in the EU.
Here’s how I understand the changes:
Consent to opt into a number of marketing activities has been strengthened. You need to ask for individual opt ins for email as an example.
Consent has to be easy to withdraw
Any data breach must include a notification within 72 hours of its discovery
Consumers will be able to access all their consumer data held by a company
Unlike a lot of privacy laws though, GDPR comes with a very real set of teeth. Fines for small business can be up to 4% of revenue, with a cap of $20MM.
So, let’s start with the basics. I think this is great. Not only as an individual and a consumer, but as a small business owner. Frankly, I’ve been distressed when some larger corporations haven’t held themselves to a very high standard when it comes to data loss prevention, or simply keeping data and sharing it. It can be frustrating.
So at Uncorked Ventures, I won’t ever share your data for marketing purposes (never have and yes, I get asked almost every week). You won’t see ads on my site. You won’t see me re-targeting on the web and for about 2 years now since I changed website software, you have 100% access to each and every piece of data held on our software. That change happened when this decision was first announced. You’re welcome to delete your name, address, credit card, order history and basically everything else we have stored. You can also delete your data in its entirety, or order without ever having us store it in the first place. You can do that immediately, without question and without complaint.
I’ll continue to watch changes in data and privacy, not only because I have to, but because it’s important. Rules like these are put in place for a reason, in large part because big data can be used to target groups of people.
If you look at the picture above, that’s the difference between a 5 ounce pour and a 4 ounce pour. Keep reading and I promise I’ll show why that’s so important. So this is a question that does come up every so often, but how many ounces are there in a glass of wine?
The real answer, it depends on the amount of alcohol in the wine you’re drinking, but I’ll try and give you a good guideline.
The second part is what’s important there. 12% alcohol content, in America…..doesn’t really exist. Sure I’ll see Riesling or some other white wine that sometimes hits that level (honestly, I remember the last 11% alcohol content wine I saw, because it’s so rare in this wine marketplace), but Chardonnay from California (the most common order in America) averages close to 14%. I’d venture a guess that 15% is closer to reality than is 12%, especially for red wine.
The difference doesn’t seem like much at first blush, but there’s a fundamental different as you open your bottle of wine.
Secondly, it’s important to note that there’s about 25 ounces in a bottle of wine.
So under the CDC guidelines, that says there are 5 glasses of wine in each bottle. But there’s not, because the alcohol content is actually quite a bit higher. So instead of 5 glasses, there really are suppose to be 6. I think this is where a lot of people can easily drink too much, many people will tell you there are only 4 glasses in a bottle of wine. But really, there’s 50% more for much of what we drink.
So how many ounces in a glass of wine?
It’s 4 ounces.
Yeah, I know, you were probably hoping it would be 5 like everyone says. But it just isn’t because the type of wines that we produce have changed so much over the years. Especially on the red wine side of things, there’s literally zero chance of that being true any longer.
Every so often, it’s fun to drink something that you aren’t selling. My wine clubs only deal with west coast wines, yet this Kirkland Gigondas comes from the south of France in the Rhone Valley.
Hallmark, this is me with Uncorked Ventures. So all you subs can get a good look at this, which hare the lights we have which are the best we can do unfortunately. So this is Kirkland, which is Costco. This is kinda something they bottle themselves. And this is a gigondas wine. If you’re not as familiar with smaller french growing regions, I think a lot of people who drink french wine consistently (or at least like Rome wines in general) know that Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre on a red wine side are either native or have largely evolved in Southern France in a section called the Rhone Valley.
As part of the Southern Rhone Valley, there is an area called Chateaux du Pape, which has the most highly thought of, the most age-worthy, etc, etc. the most expensive growing region in Southern France is Chateaux du Pape. A lot of people in the United States, the attempt is to copy that stuff. As you might expect over time, they’re not producing any extra wine, but there are more people on the planet, so prices have gone up. So the logical thing for a lot of people to do is try to figure out kind of where that next growing region is that will remind them of Chateaux du Pape without the price point. And that’s led to some stuff like Paso Robles, kind of growth on the international wine scene. But it’s also led to some smaller fringe growing regions that remind people enough of it, or are at least close enough that the average wine drinker might say, “Hey, this is gonna be similar.”
So gigondas is definitely one of those. It’s bout 10 miles northeast of Chateaux du Pape. It carries some of the same characteristics, and as since they’ve kinda modeled their wine region after their more famous neighbors. These are grenache-based blends. It’s grenache, serrat, mourvedre blended together. Not in a DSN kind of way, but in kind of an 80% grenache, 10% the others kind of thing in most cases. So how is this similar to Chateaux du Pape, and how is it different? The most similarity comes from the soil. This section of France has a lot of wines known. It’s been kind of exposed and withered away down into larger veins deeper in the rocks over millennia. So you have a limestone-rich environment which most winemakers will tell you is kind of the ideal growing condition for wine.
Where is it different though? A lot of these are grown at altitude, so while Chateaux du Pape is largely on the valley floor, gigondas is often at some significant elevation. The ADA is actually approved up to 2600 feet, and you see a lot of vineyards planted at 1500 and 2000. That really has a dramatic effect on the wine in the glass. While the Chateaux du Pape tends to be kind of thicker, heavier, jammier kind of substances, and that sets them apart from what’s produced in much of France. His gigondas wines end up being lighter in style because it’s harder for the grapes to ripen all the way when they’re at significant altitude. That’s why you’re seeing Arizona, New Mexico, and other warmer parts of the United States that are trying to grow rind for the first time, or at least world-class wines for the first time. Attempting, “Hey, even if it’s 110 degrees over the summer, what if we go to 4,000 feet? What does that do to the end result?” The end result is it kinda calms everything down quite a bit.
So if you’re looking for a decent look for what a Chateaux du Pape might be if it was that altitude, this might be the way to do it. But just to have a good understanding, this is a solid french wine for 10 or 15 bucks, it’s just not what most people think they’re getting. So once again, Marcus, here with Uncorked Ventures, obviously not sipping for a wine-of-the-month club shipment, but I thought it was kind of an interesting wine, and I hope everybody’s doing well.
Yesterday in Napa Valley, I got the chance to see something that I didn’t necessarily think I ever would. A rather high end winery (which I won’t name, because I don’t think they are sharing this publicly at least as of yet) was grafting grape vines from Merlot to Aglianico. In total, they were grafting over just an acre or so, not that much fruit or vines in total. But, it was an interesting process to experience, see and document on a few levels. The first thing that absolutely struck me was that this, is exactly how Napa feels about Merlot these days:
The process of grafting grape vines is a multi step process, handled by a skilled team. Although my Spanish isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to get my point across (it’s a hell of a lot better if I need to order food, find a hotel or generally exist) and the use of latino labor in the valley is something I want to go into greater detail at some point. Let’s say that these guys seemed happy, said they were full time employees of a vineyard management company and generally, seemed cool with their work (that’s not always true on any of those points when it comes to farm labor, so it was something that struck me).
The first part of the process, which I was excited to see, but happened the evening before, involves a chainsaw and cutting the top off the vine. While that seems extreme, it’s normal in the wine trade. Almost no grape vines in the world today are planted on their own rootstock. While consumers like drinking international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, those vines didn’t evolve with pests that evolved in the new world. Phylloxera has a long history of destroying vineyards throughout the world once it started getting passed from new world to old and back again.
So here’s the close up of a vine root, once it’s only the root.
Ok, so the vines have been removed from the roots.
What happens next?
The process is relatively simple. You cut into the vine roots and place the cutting of what you want to grow. You’d do the same thing for apples or really any other fruit. We just don’t normally think of it in those terms, but grapes are just another fruit that sells for a higher price per pound than what you get at the grocery store.
So what’s he doing in the video? First, you’ll see a couple of cuts placed into the bark of the vine root. I have exactly zero clue why thats done.
As I pan up, you’ll see him cutting what looks like a small twig, into an even smaller twig. That’s the Aglianico that’s going to be placed. Then you can watch as the vineyard worker leans down, cuts away more of the bark into the middle of the vine and places his small twig into the crease that he’s just created.
Lastly, you’ll see him shake the root a bit. He’s doing a final check to make sure that the crease he has made to hold the new cutting, will in fact hold it.
As you might expect, there’s one final thing to be done:
What’s happening here? He’s making sure the new graft is going to stay in place, but the white tie serves a second purpose as well. It keeps the weather a bit warmer on the cut site while also helps the vine heal, with the graft attached.
Is grafting grape vines a complicated process? Not entirely, but it’s a lot more back breaking work than many want to put in. It’s also not that exact, so if someone ever told me that not every graft took, I’d completely understand.
So I realized, that after I changed my wine club newsletter format, that some of the wine in the warehouse was still stuck in the old school format. It felt weird to be shipping two wines in some people’s initial shipments, one with the new newsletter format and one with the old
Hi, all. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’ll hold this up so you can get a better look at it. This is a wine that we’ve had for a while. This is under my own label which is Aselstine Family Cellars and this is actually a Carignan. It comes from a vineyard up in Mendocino and just as a quick reminder if you’re unfamiliar, every so often we get offered a barrel or two of wine from a winemaker that I like. The situation can change dramatically from year to year for some folks. Most of the men and women that I work with tend to be very small houses. They tend to either have jobs for other wineries or other jobs that happen to cause them to make wine as something of a side [inaudible 00:00:42].
In this case the guys got a “promotion” at work which lead to twice as much travel with no extra paycheck and he had been planning to expand production by a thousand cases or so which left him a few extra barrels that he would like to get rid of without having to decrease prices. I was happy enough to take a barrel and bottle it on my own and so that’s kind of where this comes from. It’s a Mendocino Carignan and so why Carignan? I think if we look at where the industry has moved, it’s interesting to watch that the type of wine that people are drinking is more acidic. We talked a lot about cool climate vineyards and why that exists. Mendocino is definitely cooler overall than a lot of other places.
But it also means that there’s an opportunity to grow Rhone wines and Carignan is a Rhone. There’s only 200 acres or so in California. Can we create these Rhones instead of these dark, brooding style, like almost too tannic to drink now considering consumer preference. Do they come out a little bit lighter? I think when you open this you’ll find that it be kind ofk generally pleasing mid palate. That’s one of the things that I like to do when I end up with a varietal that people aren’t familiar with. I want to have it made in such a style that we can present it so people can focus on the flavors not on, “Oh, my God, this is so tannic I can’t drink it.” Or, “There’s no fruit here and I can almost see through this red wine kind of thing.” I want it to be middle ground in a lot of ways. That way you can say, “Hey, do I actually like what this tastes like?” As opposed to, “I don’t like the style or the mouth feel of this.”
I think Carignan is one of those grapes that behooves the grape in some ways because it can, if it’s grown in a cooler climate, produce something that is a Cabernet alterative. If we look at California and really washington and … Okay, everything, every wine growing region really in the new and old world other than say Oregon or Burgundy, the Pinot spots, Cabernet tends to dominate and so you end up with a lot of vendors and winemakers who want to do a little bit something different but they have an easy time selling Cabernet so they don’t want to go too far away from it. This is a nice way to not go too far away from it.
I think if you’re at the receiving end, a wine shipment from us, if this is your first shipment, I hope you enjoy it. I hope you learn a little bit something and you get to experience a different varietal. We’ll do plenty of Cabernet. We’ll do plenty of Pinot. I also will try to present some of these that are a little bit lesser known. I think it’s fun. I think you’ll a little something and I hope that you’ll be more comfortable ordering wine in the future if you know a little bit more about some standard growing regions in California and some non-standard growing regions in California. I have a little bit more experience with what comes out of Oregon and Washington traditionally and kind of groups of grapes.
I don’t think it’s necessarily important to know exactly what flavor combinations you get, but I think you can reasonably expect to say, “Hey, I had Carignan from Uncorked Ventures and I actually thought that was pretty good. Maybe I’ll try another one.” That’s where I hope we get to. I know you won’t buy all your wine from me. I’m generally just okay with that. So once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. This is Aselstine Family Cellars Carignan and I think you’ll find it’s a good, pleasing mid-palate wine. It will remind you of a lot of wines that you’ve had that I think if you can focus on the flavor combinations instead of the acidity or the tannins, I think you get a good intro to a varietal that is pretty darn rare in the United States. Once again, thanks for your business.
A couple of interesting things here. First, yeah it’s Gewurztraminer. (it’s not as hard to say as many expect) Second, this is a different take on Rose and a good intro that not every grape is either green or darker in skin color. Gewurztraminer is more like pink……
Hi all, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So, I’m going to hold this up so you can get a little better look at it. So, this is a union sacre, which is a winery down on central coast and this is a Gewurztraminer. So, if you look, I’ll see if I can do this. So, first the back of the bottle, if you look at the back of the label, it’s one of the great unused marketing places that wineries have. And these guys actually put stuff on the back label. So, that’s kind of cool. So, if you look through something that’s kind of pale as far as wine goes, you can get a little something there on the back, and it’s just a little level of interest. I think that’s something that we’ll see a little bit more of as the years go by. One of the few places they can actually telemarketing message or show a picture or something without kind of having to change what they want to show on the front, so it’s kind of fun.
So in the newsletter for this, and this is expiration’s wine club wine. You’re going to get some more information on the winery, which I think is kind of cool, ’cause it’s a joint project between two folks, one American and one French. And, we’re going to talk a little bit about Gewurztraminer on the central coast and the kind of grape as a whole.
So, Gewurztraminer’s kind of one of those grapes that you’ve probably never heard of. People in the United States and really, much of the English speaking world won’t order it because they don’t think they can pronounce it correctly. And, frankly, have never had one. So, there’s a number of sales issues that go into it. So, it’s also kind of a strange grape. So, most people aren’t aware, we think of grapes as being either red or white. And, really white, when you see the actual berries, they’re green. But, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are actually more pinkish than they are green. And that’s not where this actually comes from. Most Gewurztraminer is actually ends up being the color of a normal white wine, just like pinot gris does. So, one of the things that they do a little bit differently is they leave the contact with the skins a little bit longer, and instead of a white, you end up with something closer to a rose, which I think is kind of an interesting look at Gewurztraminer.
So, why is it so darn hard to find these? And it’s not just the name. The grape itself ripens really quickly, if it’s warm. So, it in essence eliminates 95 percent of all vineyard space. It’s a grape that’s native to the Swiss Alps. And you see it in parts of France and Italy, at higher elevations where it’s really cold. So, you have to have a really cool climate and often an altitude to grow the thing and there’s just not that many spots for it. Napa used to have a lot of it in the 50’s, and that was because it can be made into a sweet wine really easily. But, as sweet wines went out, and cabernet prices went through the stratosphere, everybody pulled the Gewurztraminer and put in Cabernet, makes sense.
So, only now are we starting to see more plantings of this around the central coast. And it’s really the only place in California where you can reasonably expect to grow it. I wish the Oregon folks would try more of it. There’s kind of this constant push and pull with rose, people in Oregon are so Pinot focused, much like in California, in Napa at least, maybe in much of the state, Cabernet focused. And so, you don’t ever want to make rose because it’s priced so much less than your pinot would be. So, I do wonder if maybe there’s some cooler vineyard climates that wouldn’t always to ripen pinot, that they could maybe make a Gewurztraminer rose. Instead of having to either bleed off to make a pinot or to intentionally plant pinot that you know is not going to ever get ripe to make a rose from. And, I think this is just a different level of interest.
So, I know this is a different one. I think it’s a good part of going club to expose people to different varieties, and different wine making styles. People think of rose as either bleed off, or a vineyard choice where you only can’t ripen something. And this is kind of a third entry into that. There’s not a lot of rose made this way with a pink skinned grape and leaving it on the skins for a little bit longer. It’s a traditional way to make rose but you don’t see it with this [fridal 00:04:09]. So I think it’s an interesting look. It’s a fun wine and as the summer gets here in more full force, I think it’s something that people will enjoy.
So, what are you going to taste with a Gewurztraminer? It’s really pineapple flavors that you end up, you get these tropical aromas. If you’ve ever heard of lychee, that’s the classic flavor and smell that you get from this. And, really, when you open the bottle, I think the first thing that I really strongly request that you do is, let it sit for ten or fifteen seconds and then take a smell. Gewurztraminer, it’s really made a name for itself because the aromas on it are so dramatic and, that’s why people like it. So, in any case, I’m Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures and I hope you enjoy your monthly explorations wine club [showing 00:04:55].