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Corvidae The Keeper 2012 Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley

Ok, so let’s start with the big “secret” Corvidae is a side project, or affectionately called a 2nd label within the wine industry for the folks behind Owen Roe wines.

A second label comes into being for a variety of reasons, but here’s the usual suspects:

Winemaker wants to work with a varietal that doesn’t make sense under his own label.  As an example, if a cult Cabernet in Napa, say Vineyard 29 as an example wanted to make a Sonoma Pinot Noir, they might do it under a 2nd label to not confuse people.

A winery is 100% estate….but a neighbor has some fruit that they really, really like.

A winery produces mostly $40+ wine and wants an entry level addition, without driving all their current customers into that entry level addition.

The Corvidae wines (the name comes from the latin word for the type of bird, which include crows) don’t fit into one of those categories completely, but in this case, I am guessing the issue is more to do with the grape varietal than anything else.

Let’s start with an admission: Cabernet Franc just might be my favorite varietal.  Well, it’s right there with Pinot Noir, or maybe Grenache, but I’m comfortable saying that I like it much, much more than most. Evidently, I’m also not someone willing to drink a single type of wine for the rest of my life…so there’s that.  That affection for Cabernet Franc is why it’s painful to read the Wikipedia page (that gets posted everywhere around the web) which basically says it’s only grown so that it can be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (ok, ok, I get it) or Merlot (what?)!

At it’s core Cabernet Franc is a dark skinned grape that will remind you of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, to me the fruit and density falls somewhere in between those two grapes-but it carries higher acidity than either. Slate ran an article a number of years ago about the sad state of Cabernet Franc and again sadly, things haven’t changed in the decade since it’s release.  Other than Pinot becoming even more important and everyone in the new world completely forgetting that Merlot exists of course. Heck in the last decade imports of the wine have tripled, yet no one has seemed to notice, or care.

Largely known from the cool climate Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc has been called everything as a good pairing for fish, to a variety that can’t ripen well.  Sounds a lot like Pinot Noir right? Of course, those imperfections have little to do with the grape itself and have much more to do with the Loire Valley, itself one of the coolest growing climates in France.  Having tasted a Cab Fran from the Russian River Valley and a few from Napa in addition to the Washington wine in your glass, ripeness isn’t an issue.

Then again, if the grape is always going to 3rd, 4th or 5th in line for vineyard space, how good can the wines ever get? What’s needed is a region to focus on it and I don’t mean Long Island (Long Island actually make some good wine, but it’s already been developed so there isn’t a lot of production) but instead a part of a new world wine region that can make enough for people to actually get some of the wine at the entry level, but also care about it enough to make great wine with it by giving it some of the best vineyard space they have.

Enter the state of Washington.

If you haven’t been in one of our monthly wine clubs for long, you might not have had a Washington wine before, so here’s some quick background.  Walla Walla is probably the most important region for wine in Washington and the climate couldn’t be any different from what most picture in their heads (Seattle and it’s rain, right?).  It’s damn hot during the summers and Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah do well there.  Pinot does not.  Smart vintners won’t even plant the stuff to the east of the mountain ranges any longer-it’s just too warm during the summer growing months.

Anyway, Cabernet Franc has an uphill fight to gain acceptance and market share everywhere, including Washington, but there’s one major, major difference.  Most people when they judge where the wine industry is going, tend to look only at plantings.  In that case Cabernet Franc is the 4th most planted red wine grape in the state of Washington and 9th overall when you add the white’s.

What makes Washington the new world’s best hope for the grape though is that while plantings aren’t much different than elsewhere, pricing is.  Instead of also being at the back of pricing (the prices that winemakers pay to growers I’m talking about here) Cabernet Franc is either first, or second depending on the vintage (of course, Cabernet Sauvignon continues to be king of grapes).  That tells me that local winemakers LOVE the stuff.  When winemakers like something, they tend to find ways to market it.  They’ll pour it and encourage people to try it in person, basically marketing the grape by itself for the first time in America.

I liked this version of Cabernet Franc because it comes with all the tell tale markers of the varietal.  Think like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Higher acidity though.  Flavor notes that include herbs and a certain tobacco element when you first open the bottle.

Lastly, a minute on the Columbia Valley. One of the very few vineyards that span state lines, the Columbia Valley is Washington’s most important (and first) AVA, with 99% of the wines being produced in the state grown within the AVA (others are grown on the fringes of Seattle) but the AVA also has a few miles of Oregon within its boundaries.  As often happens, state’s are drawn with different natural dividers than are viticultural areas.  The Columbia River makes a nice boundary between Oregon and Washington, but the mountains that form the valley itself are what matters for the wine industry. Thus the dichotomy.  Additionally, good luck making any generalizations about an area this big (think about a fifth of the entire state, give or take) because there are plenty of microclimates around the river itself, in the foothills and at significant elevation.

Give it a shot, let me know what you think!

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Kiona Vineyards 2013 Chenin Blanc

Kiona Vineyards is a trailblazer in Washington wine, having planted what I believe to be the first grapes in what has become the Red Mountain AVA.  It started with 12 acres and according to anyone that you ask, many times that number of people telling founder John Williams that he had completely lost his mind.  Why would he think that planting grapes on 12 acres of sagebrush was a good idea? Well, Kiona is now on their 3rd generation and have about 250 acres under vine…..so it’s gone better than anyone, perhaps outside of John and his Ann, thought possible.

A short word on the name since, having grown up in Southern California, that sounds like a Hawaiian island to me-Kiona is the original Yakama Nation Native American name for the Red Mountain area that is literally translated to “Brown Hills”.  The Red Mountain AVA designation is actually more important here than another AVA might be elsewhere, there’s only about 1400 acres under vine in the AVA.  We can talk all we want about soil compositions (those are certainly important to be sure) as well as elevation and steepness of hillsides, but one thing that I think separates the Red Mountain AVA from others is that the average rainfall is only 7 inches.  As happens here locally in the Bay Area near Half Moon Bay, the mountains in essence trap the clouds which would otherwise deliver rain.  Seattle gets a lot of it and those folks on the other side of the mountains, don’t get much.  They get even less during summer and fall, giving winemakers the ability to allow grapes to sit on the vine for as long as possible, without any real concern about rain coming along and ruining a large portion of the crop at the last minute.

So Kiona has been there quite a while, but the future is still coming for Washington wine, so they aren’t the household name that they would be, if say, those 12 acres were purchased in Napa.  Of course, the wine is no worse, but the region will get there.

Kiona boasts a nice family story that almost everyone in the wine business aspires to: three generations working together, hopefully without killing each other, while living what many would call a dream life.

We wanted to feature a Chenin Blanc here for a few different reasons.  First, the grape is native to the Loire Valley of France, one of the coldest growing climates in all of France.  Washington isn’t cold though and the state’s success with this continues to show that there’s something a bit different about growing conditions in Washington that simply isn’t getting articulated by simple soil composition studies, or rainfall totals.

California vintners have always planted the grape, in large amounts, in the most generic vineyards around the state.  A single vineyard Chenin Blanc like this? It doesn’t exist.

It’s often referred to as a workhouse variety, which really means that in the hot climate of the inland valley’s that cut down the state like a scar, the grape grows well, given enough water to produce those $5 wines that we all started drinking.  The French, of course, are slightly aghast at the treatment of what they consider something of a noble variety.

A lot of the Washington folks that I’ve talked with have said that they think Chenin Blanc might end up being the white wine grape that the state is known for.  Part of that is a certain mindset that comes from having to compete with so many regions in regard to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet based blends on the red wine side, wouldn’t it be nice to have something a bit less complicated on the white wine side….at least from a marketing perspective?

Many wine regions have struggled with the transition from unknown and underappreciated to established and few have found a single red and a single white wine grape that they can be known for, without question.  After all, travel to the Rhone Valley of France and tell me, what the white wine grape of choice?  They’re 300+ years in and haven’t figured it out yet.

Washington though is onto something here and prices could easily jump for these low production versions of Chenin Blanc, if they can figure out the marketing.  All the classic appeal is here, there’s plenty of acidity, but there is also a ton of fruit aroma that isn’t necessarily apparent in other white wine grapes around the state.

Members of our Explorations Wine Club are enjoying this Chenin Blanc as part of their regular wine club shipments, at least some of them are!

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Klinec Rebula Review

The world of wine continues to expand. Growing regions go well beyond what we cover, let’s have a look at a Solvenian winery.

Hi, guys! Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. This is going to be a little bit different because this is a wine that we don’t actively sell, but I thought it was kind of interesting. As we get ready for a trip to Walla Walla, Washington next week, and getting some wine club shipments for the month of July out over the next few days, I thought I’d take a minute and talk about what might be the most interesting wine I’ve had in a really long time. The winery’s called Klinec. It is Slovenian. Slovenia, the European country since 2004, used to be part of Yugoslavia, and they’ve gone ahead and started importing small amounts of some of their higher-priced wines. This retails for about $30 and I believe it’s the most expensive wine made in the country.

Long story short, country is only a stones throw from Italy, if you’re not familiar. I know most Americans get a little discredit for their view of geography. I’m certainly included in that. Although, I can tell you where fifty states are that I don’t think that most Europeans can do. The [inaudible 00:01:03] glass, it’s from a wine region where they have a lot of native grapes but they don’t have a large history of wine cultivation, at least not in an international sense. You’re going to notice this, so, yes, that’s orange. Ribolla is the grape. Ribolla is kind of an interesting one. It is one of their native grapes in the country. It’s one of the ones that, as they do tastings and bring wines into new markets, and in this case, San Francisco, they tend to make it Ribolla. The story is, it’s pretty acidic, but it’s orange because, not because it’s a different type of skin. It’s a white wine grape. They make most of the wines by macerating the skins and allowing a longer kind of contact between grape, and juice, and skin than you would with most white wines, that’s where the color comes from.

In essence, they’re making a white wine in a style that’s more typically made for red. We’ve seen that a few other places. There’s definitely some up and coming wine regions that are attempting to do the kind of stuff like that, but Slovenians are the first ones to do it on this scale. They have a whole vibrant local food and wine industry and I just wanted to take a few minutes and talk about that. Klinec is not something that will show up in a wine club shipment anytime soon. We have shipped this to a few customer just to see what they think and we’ve gotten kind of … Half the feedback has been, “We weren’t quite sure what to do with that.” The other half would be, “Hey, you suggested to put this with goat cheese and a prosciutto.” Which is kind of relevant to the region of the world that they’re in. If they were ten miles further to the east they’d be in Italy, so that makes a little more sense when you think of it that way. It held up pretty well.

It’s highly acidic and it’s also kind of an interesting … I do think that there’s an area of opportunity for a lot of wine makers if you’re going to make whites that don’t necessarily sell as well as reds. Especially for folks that are looking to gain market share in Asian markets, where 90% of sales are red wine, doing something like this where it’s macerated skins and it gives it a little more of a fleshy texture that we don’t get with a lot of white wines, while keeping the acidity that’s native in these grapes, I think there’s a chance for some people to do some pretty special things.

Klinec, it’s worth a shot. If I went out to a wine bar tonight, would I suggest that my wife, who will have a glass or two a week, to order it, no. If you’re somebody who really, really enjoys wine, likes both history and kind of supporting up-and-coming wine regions, it’s something to look for. I don’t know what the distribution model is at this point in the United States. I don’t believe that they have any. They went through a larger distributor who had some issues moving the wine, but those are large accounts. For a smaller, local vendor, they might not have something like this but they might have something that is interesting from a different region of the world that you can check out. I encourage you to do so.

We’ve talked about the future of the wine a lot on this plate, on this blog, and kind of in the video segments. In large part, as land in established growing regions gets more and more expensive and the wine then being produced in those growing regions becomes more and more expensive, you’re going to have an increasing number of competitors who are coming from regions that you wouldn’t necessarily know had grapes. This is a good examples. Those regions won’t necessarily make wine the exact way that you thought they might. This is a good example of that. After all, it’s orange, and we’re not quite sure what to do with that. It’s an interesting take and I hope you’ve enjoyed this small talk and small macerated skins, in any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Of course, we hope you’ll consider a wine of the month club today as well. Have a good one.

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Bardessono Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Let’s spend a minute on Bardessono, if you haven’t been a wine club member for a year or so, this is certainly a new name.  The pedigree is pretty clear, Bardessono is one of the larger vineyards in Yountville, which if you aren’t familiar, is the home to more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than any other city in the world.  It’s a walkable destination in Napa Valley, where one can have breakfast at Bouchon bakery, lunch at Ad Hoc and dinner, if one is lucky enough to fall into a reservation at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Bardessono sells grapes to a few folks interested in what is a relatively unheard of Napa AVA designation: Yountville and they make about 200 cases of their own.

This wine is the result of a 3rd generation farmer, thinking that maybe, instead of focusing on the property itself, he’s try his hand as more of a winemaker.  Then he decided to fully devote himself to the high end eco friendly 55 room inn on the property-so it ends up in your shipment instead of a wine list around the country.

About 2 barrels, 55 cases of this wine were made.

Tom Bardessono won’t tell us where in the Knight’s Valley this wine came from.

Let’s go back to Tom.  3rd generation farmer.  Trained winemaker.  Assistant winemaker at Miner Family Wines by day-home winemaker (if you can call an estate I’m estimate at being worth 30M+ just that) by night. If you Google Bardessono, you’ll find that the first result is the luxury inn and spa, about 55 guest rooms and running close to $1k per night. It’s an exclusive place and one of the best locations in Napa Valley from which to be based.

Suggested retail price for the wine that Tom makes from his estate vineyard is $75.  Knight’s Valley is a better known AVA within Napa, so you’re likely looking at something similiar. Ok, probably more.

To give you some idea on the Knight’s Valley AVA.  It sits to the west of Chalk Hill in Napa and to the east of Alexander Valley.  It’s technically Sonoma and according to many, home to the Sonoma Cabernet industry. Although if you consider fruit only as good as its neighbors, then having Chalk Hill and Alexander for neighbors isn’t so bad right?

There’s about 30 growers in the region. It’s an interesting spot to visit and it reminds me so much more of the Willamette Valley of Oregon rather than Napa Valley simply because as you drive through the region, you’re as likely to run into an apple orchard (after all this is Sonoma, home to the Gravenstein apple) as you are grape vine after grape vine. Usually when we see growers come into some grapes from a different region, they’ve done something along the lines of either a trade (grapes for grapes) which is my best guess here, or they’re bartering grapes for something else, perhaps consulting winemaking.

In any case, we have a classically trained winemaker-something that you’re going to find is common in this shipment…..as well as an absolute top rate growing region.

You might be wondering where the name comes from and unlike the Medieval military connotation that you might be considering, it’s named after Thomas Knight who bought much of the original Spanish land grant back in the 1800’s after making a name for himself at the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma Square. Sonoma still has the original barracks and some interesting historical facts about the state’s time as a Republic (one story that gets so much less attention than the time Texas spent, which is interesting I think). That’s been one of the surprising things to me after living almost my entire life in Southern California, spending 5 years on the Central Coast (let’s be clear, from Santa Cruz south to Ventura is the central coast…give or take, yes it’s different) and now living in the Bay Area….people take this whole California Republic thing seriously. Not Texas seriously, but t-shirts and stuff.

There’s some real history here for both the state, as well as grape vines, which Knight planted shortly after purchasing the land, along with peaches, apples and wheat.  He really did bring grapes to what is Sonoma’s most easternmost point and the warmest growing climate in one of America’s fastest growing wine regions.

Sonoma’s made a name for itself with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but much like Santa Barbara, the region is capable of growing Bordeaux varietals in its warmer regions even if most of the general wine drinking public, doesn’t appreciate that fact. There’s plenty of wineries bucking the trend of course and although I’ve talked about Knight’s Valley and other regions as warmer regions, they aren’t as warm as Napa Valley, there’s a greater amount of acidity inherent in these wines. I think part of the issue is a marketing one, more so than anything else.  Who is the quality leader in deep and dark red wine from Sonoma? If I asked about Pinot Noir, we’d all have our individual favorites, be it Anthill Farms, Littorai, Williams Selyem, Kosta Browne or any number of newer producers like Cartograph & Thralls….but for Bordeaux blends, or straight Cabernet? Verite gets HUGE scores in most vintages, but the average buyer at a wine shop hasn’t ever seen a bottle. Rodney Strong and some of the single vineyard Kendall Jackson stuff get great scores, but the huge production levels and wide availability on the lower end cloud a ton of people’s perception of the high end (Mondavi suffers from the same bias, their To Kalon single vineyard Cabernet is still among the best wines produced in any single vintage).

Part of the issue is also that Knight’s Valley is among the 5 original Sonoma sub AVA’s and most of the growers in the region (during my conversations at least) are fiercely loyal to the wider Sonoma designation.  They don’t as of yet have a single trade group for their wines, which are really quite different than many of their neighbors.

I’m going to bet that we see some of this change over the coming years.  Knight’s Valley deserves more attention and while the Napa folks move even more increasingly toward straight Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s an opportunity for others to fill in a hole with blends and yes, even some higher acidity Cabernet.

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Black Rock Zinfandel

Ok, so let’s start with the elephant in the room.  Yup, it’s a Lake County winery and yes, two of our monthly wine clubs are receiving the wine this month….it isn’t likely the two that you expect though.  But, before you start thinking this is a new project, or someone trying to make a go of it in unfamiliar territory, it’s owned by the Venge family.

If you drink a ton of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, or you find the history of wine and California wine in peculiar interesting,  Nils Venge needs absolutely no introduction.  He is famous in the industry for having the first 100 point Napa Valley wine according to Robert Parker and his other property, Saddleback Cellars has helped to continually grow the Oakville AVA to where it is today, behind perhaps only Rutherford in the pantheon of new world Cabernet Sauvignon.

We have a bit of a personal connection with Nils son Kirk, who attended UC Davis (like almost every other would be winemaker who grew up in the industry) along with my sister in law.  Kirk makes highly acclaimed wines at B Cellars, which we’ve worked with in the past, as well as at Renteria Vineyards and his family’s namesake project, Venge Vineyards (ok, so there’s 3 or 4 others at any given time, but I won’t bore you with the details, he’s good and knows anyone who is anyone in the industry). I also appreciate that while so many new winemakers and new wine projects have headed toward Pinot Noir, or obscure growing regions and colder conditions, the Venge’s seem happy to make these fruit forward and almost jammy wines….you know, the stuff that put California on the proverbial wine map in the first place.  There’s still room for that and although this might not be my preferred style, it is summer and summer brings plenty of BBQ and time outside, which seems to fit exactly what’s being offered here.

I think you’ll be more interested, instead of a family history lesson of the Venge’s, to hear a bit about Lake County though.  If you’ve been a wine club member since last Christmas, give or take you’ve received a Lake County wine or two along the way, newer members likely are seeing the AVA for the first time.

I’ve talked at length about how as prices continue to increase, wineries are forced to move increasingly to the prolifery of great growing regions.  Napa and Sonoma sit right next to one and other, with Carneros and the city of San Francisco to the south.  The only room for growth in the region generally referred to as the “North Coast” is to the north.  Sure there’s some room out east, but the only temperate regions are pretty much Berkeley and Oakland, other than that….it gets pretty darn hot in Contra Costa County, pretty quickly as you get away from the Bay. Thus, most wineries and winemakers look north for less expensive vineyard space and that’s why you find Mendocino wines gaining ground, Anderson Valley and of course Lake County.  As you drive up highway 29 through Napa Valley and especially once you hit Calistoga, you see signs for it, Lake County 50 miles…give or take.

Lake County is appropriately named, for Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake in California.  It also boasts more volcanic soil than other regions of the state because of the existence of a now dormant volcano.

Wineries of the region are largely clustered around Clear Lake, where nighttime temperatures fall precipitously giving winemakers that nice combination of acidity as well as fruit forwardness….after all, California continues to be damn hot and Clear Lake is inland.

What’s in your glass is also grown at altitude.  That might be the least understood aspect of fine wine by the general public.  We’re accustomed to hearing the word valley when it comes to great wine growing regions.  Napa, the Rhone, Dry Creek, Barossa, Hunter, Willamette, etc etc.  What we don’t talk about as much are the regions that are warmer and that winemakers use altitude to gain some extra moisture in the air, as well as some extra wind, which both help keep berry sizes smaller.  Those smaller berry sizes help to give fruit the complexity that we all want, even in warmer climates where some of that complexity can be lost by idea conditions. Arizona and New Mexico have been pretty successful with the setup and we’re seeing an increasing number of warmer regions try to plant wine grapes at altitude to buffer some of those incredibly warm temperatures.  Having grown up in Southern California I can attest that deserts, even coastal deserts get hot during the day, but during the summer they can be pretty darn cold at night.  Thus the reason so many tourists end up walking around with those ever present “San Diego Lifeguard” hoodies every summer.

Lake County has seen its profile rise due to projects like this one and winemakers, especially those Napa folks that want a bit of land are being pushed increasingly north as the lower valley develops quickly.  Downtown Napa was once little more than a home to a few streets around the river, a courthouse and a whole lot of empty storefronts.  The action was in the upper valley. Things have changed a bit though, as San Francisco has become even more expensive and tourist dollars have continued to flow, developers have noticed and the lower Napa Valley has become increasingly up market in terms of accommodations, restaurants and yes, as you might expect, real estate prices.

The cheapest parts of Napa these days sit to the extreme north, far enough to not be convenient from a time or traffic standpoint for those who want a second home in wine country.

That’s helped the rise of Lake County as more winemakers live in Calistoga and even further afield, an hour’s drive up the 29 to Clear Lake doesn’t seem to bad, especially in comparison with the snarls of traffic that exist to the south.

With more attention winemakers and vineyard managers have been able to find plots around Clear Lake with their preferred make up.  There’s much debate on the point by the way, if grapes should be slightly below the fog line, right at the fog line (which sits, reportedly at about 750 feet above sea level) or lastly, if the grapes should just be at the highest altitude possible.

The Venge’s have opted for the final choice here and 2500 feet in elevation, a generation ago was considered a fool’s errand. Books have been written about the chase for elevated vineyards (The Vineyard at the End of the World is a personal favorite about a South American vineyard at 10k feet above sea level, they’re trying for Pinot Noir)

Lastly, a short word about Zinfandel.  There’s been a lot of debate about the genetics of Zin and where it came from originally.  UC Davis, as with most things in California wine, is at the forefront of the research into grape genetics.  They’re actually completing something along the lines of a grape genome in fact.  So Zinfandel is usually compared to Primitivo, the Italian grape that seems oh so similar to so many people.  California vineyard owners swear that Zin is the ancestor to Primitivo.  Italians of course, think the inverse is true.  As it turns out, there’s a Croatian grape that is the long lost relative of both of them.  As an aside, most of the international varieties that we enjoy today.

Here’s the more interesting part of the Zinfandel story though-mainly that the genetics are still being written.  There’s a grape that brings a lot of history into question. It’s also Croatian and is called Plavac Mali.  Plavac Mali is generally thought of as the child of the original Zinfandel vines in Croatia and another native variety in a region that has given rise to any number of wine grapes that are now household names. There’s some new research though that shows that Zin from California likely contributed to the planting.  Researchers didn’t previously believe that vines had gone back and forth between the two continents in the 17th century, but the exact way that Zin was born in California is now being debated some once again.

I think it’s an interesting question to ponder, maybe too serious for a wine newsletter, but Zin was definitely a part of California viticulture since the early 1800’s.  That 200+ year period gave it plenty of time to genetically adapt to the climate of the Golden State and that’s why many Sommelier’s will tell you, it’s pretty easy to pick apart the differences in flavor profiles between Zinfandel and Primitivo. Those years also gave rise to the idea of a field blend which is unique to California.  Zinfandel and other dark skinned grapes have largely been allowed to grow as they may within vineyards and genetic material seems to pass relatively freely between vines.  Enough in fact that certain vineyards throughout the state are not called Zinfandel or Petite Sirah any longer, but simply field blend vineyards since the genetics no longer match either grape perfectly.  The grapes are harvested at once and then fermented together, usually in and old world style of open top containers.  It’s something to look out for, especially if you enjoy this fleshy, acidic Zinfandel that I hope makes you think, this would have been something good to drink after a day of mining for gold in the hot California sun.

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Chemin Des Papes 2013 Review

Chemin Des Papes Cotes Du Rhone 2013Every once in a while, it’s fun to taste something we have no intention of shipping.  In this case, it’s a Cotes Du Rhone blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.  Those who know me, also know that I love small local businesses.  This bottle came from a small local grocery store (well, no meat, so I guess it is technically a produce market) which I felt compelled to buy after my preschooler needed to use the bathroom, which in essence is for their employees-hardly something they had to let us use.  I wanted to buy something with a bit more margin than the peaches and scones that comprise our usual order.

 

 

 

 

 

Video Trascription:

Hi Guys. Mark Aselstine here with Uncorked Ventures. First we’re digging out a little bit here. I was in Walla Walla last week to taste through some Washington wines and to source some wine for upcoming wine club shipments. Much of that won’t be in the next month or two, it’ll be a few months down the road. Being based outside of San Francisco, we tend to try to put together groups of wines and then ship down all at once as opposed to shipping a handful of cases from a few different wineries. Quite honestly it’s more cost effective and it leads to better wine for all of our members.

Today I wanted to spend a couple of minutes talking about something that I don’t do very often which is a French wine. This is a Chemin des Papes. You’ll have to excuse, my French is not great. That’s probably one of the … Part of the backlash from growing up in Southern California where Spanish you hear almost exclusively when it comes to foreign languages and my Spanish isn’t bad. My French is terrible. Chemin des Papes it’s what’s referred to as a Cotes du Rhone. When we hear Rhone, that’s really clear, that’s the Rhone Valley in France. People don’t give the Rhone very much credit. When it comes to casual wine drinkers, when you think of France you think of Bordeaux first, you think of Burgundy second and some folks will think of Champagne region, too.

The Rhone Valley is actually the oldest wine growing region in France. The [Venetians 00:01:30] reportedly brought grape cuttings and started to grow wild vines there in the 12th Century. Much like California, it wasn’t until the Catholic Church started to move in in great numbers and if you know the history of the Catholic Church at all, not to bore you, but the long story short is for a while the Pope was actually based in France as opposed to Vatican City in Italy or Rome. That’s when cultivation of grapes really took off. That’s when we see wide scale plantings of stuff in the Rhone Valley. That’s really the 18th Century.

The Rhone is known for two things. First it’s a warm growing region and south towards the Mediterranean sea. This is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre. On the white side you see Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne. The one thing you will notice, not a lot of household names. A lot of people know about Syrah and recognize Syrah and then they think to themselves very quickly, “I don’t like Syrah.” One of the things we try to do is sometimes try something at random. This Chemin des Papes is made in, quite frankly, huge quantities. I picked it up for about 10 bucks at a local, I’d call it a grocery store but that oversells it. We have a local, a couple of blocks down from the house, produce market. They sell no meat inside but produce is great and they have a small wine and beer selection that’s almost exclusively international. This is in wide scale distribution throughout not only the United States but I think they go out to something along the line of 50 countries or so. Certainly all over Europe and then most of Asia and then North America as well.

What this is is 60 per cent Grenache, 40 per cent Syrah. It’s fairly typical for the region. It’s a really nice wine though. It’s nice if you’re looking for a solid house wine at a really affordable price. Chemin des Papes should be literally everywhere in your local market. Wine store may or may not have it. I’d bet you that the small to go grocery stores carry it. I thought it was interesting and I thought it was also interesting to get to talk a little bit about the Rhone Valley here in this space, which we don’t get to do quite often enough. Like I said, people don’t give Syrah very much credit but if you find Syrah to be too dark, too dense, or you say, “I think I prefer a cab,” which is most of the United States to be honest with you. Something that’s a higher percentage Grenache rather than Syrah is probably something that’s going to fit the bill a little bit better.

The Chemin des Papes, reportedly they make something along the lines of 2 million cases of this. It’s quite clearly everywhere. This is a really good value at 10 bucks and I certainly wouldn’t [bahoo 00:04:02] buying another bottle or two along the way. It’s a nice intro to French wine and when people talk about French style versus California style, this bottle, I think, does a good job of doing it. I think really often on the California side of things you tend to have these big over ripe things at the $10 price point. France, the tend to have a lighter hand and it’s also because it’s simply a little bit cooler there. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you’ve enjoyed this short intro to the Rhone Valley of France and the Chemin des Papes Cotes du Rhone 10 bucks locally for wherever you sit and in any case have a good week. We certainly are. Thanks.

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Paso Robles Wineries: An Area to Look for Value

A short introduction to two of my favorite Paso Robles wineries: Kinero and Atla Colina. Different setups to be sure, but both making some amazing wine at prices which are more than fair. Also, a few words on why prices in Paso Robles have yet to get out of control.

 

Video Transcription:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine again with Uncorked Ventures. I’m joined today by two bottles of red wine, both from Paso Robos. I wanted to take a couple minutes to talk about Paso, and the general feeling of the wine industry down there, and what’s going on.

First, I should take a minute to introduce. Paso’s a region in California. It’s about equidistant between Los Angeles and San Francisco, about 200 miles from each. The good news with that is that they have relatively easy access to both markets. The bad news is San Francisco is still dominated by Napa and Sonoma. L.A., it’s one of the most competitive markets in the country. As a wine maker, or a wine sales rep, if you had to spend a couple days somewhere, say in the middle of February, no matter what region of the country you are from, or region of the world for that matter, L.A.’s not really a bad spot. Especially when you can count on it being 75 degrees and clear. In any case, L.A. competitive. San Francisco’s uber competitive, perhaps the most competitive market in the world.

Wineries have this [inaudible 01:03] position. They’re making great wine. They’re making it at great prices, but they don’t have a huge natural market like some others do. That has helped to keep prices down, and has helped to keep production sizes down while at the same time making world class wine.

I think first we will start with, so this is a Kinero seller’s bottle. I’ve talked about Anthony Yount in this space, and in other’s before. He’s the wine maker at Denner Vineyards. Anthony is somebody who I have a ton of respect for, and somebody who’s really starting to influence other wine makers. I’m starting to have more and more conversations with folks from both the central coast, and even sonoma, saying “Hey, I spent a couple days with that guy last year, and he really changed the way that I make wine.” I don’t think there’s any higher praise that someone can get.

A minute about Denner. Robert Parker, of course, wine advocate, and probably the most famous critic in the world. At some point, a few years back, he was in 5 grand crew vineyards in California. That is, if we would take the French classification system and bring it to California, which 5 vineyards would he name? He named 4 up here in Napa and Sonoma, and then he named one in Paso. That’s the James Berry vineyard. When you walk through the James Berry vineyard, something really interesting happens. You walk across a golf cart path. Really, about three feet or so, and then you hit the Denner Estate vineyard.

Anthony is the wine maker at Denner. The Syrah and other stuff they produce is well worth a look. He also makes this small personal label called Kinero. Kinero up to this point has been focused exclusively on white wines. He tells the story that his dad didn’t drink white wine. He wanted to make something that his dad would like. You’re talking a more acidic chardonnay. He makes that grenache-blanc blend, which our most inexpensive wine club, our explorations wine club received this last month. This is the first red he’s produced. It’s from the Basseti vineyard. It is Grenache, which I think that a lot of people that know me or know me well think that I might be obsessed with the grape, especially when it’s done well. This shows everything that’s important and interesting about Paso.

First, $40. I believe 47 cases produced, that’s about 2 barrels of wine. It’s a minuscule quantity, almost small enough to be almost a joke. We have it for our wine club members. Our premium wine club, our reserved wine club will receive it, and if you are a monthly special selections member, you’ll receive it too. Other than that, sorry, there’s just not much of it to go around.

Basseti vineyard, they’ve got some pretty great Sera. I’m in essence going to tell you the story when were sitting across the dining room table from each other that they had these couple blocks that weren’t working well for a couple of reasons that no one could’ve suggested or thought of before. They grafted over to gernache. This is not out for general consumption with critics. Antonio [inaudible 03:52] scored it 93 points for $40. It’s just incredible. That’s the short version.

Secondly, I have a bottle here from Alta Colina. I’ve talked about Maggie and Bob and the folks of the Tomin family, and have done Ulticleana in the past too. Ulticleana’s a little bit different. For Anthony and Canero, he’s sourcing grapes, and I think he owns a small vineyard of his own. He’s growing at this point. Ulticleana took a different perspective and a different path. They had a little bit more money behind them, of course. They’ve purchased this large vineyard block, and it’s on the great side of West Paso. If you were to try to buy it today, you probably couldn’t anymore because they’ve profiled Paso in the 8 or 9 years that they’ve been there has come up so much. Bravo to them for both planting the vineyards and the grapes for a while. Starting a small personal label. You used to go to a tasting room, and you used to drive into another winery, and then they were on the side that, of the tasting room that could seat four people. It’s a really great experience.

Now, they have a taste, shout it tasting room on the hill, so to speak. You meander up the hill, and then you can look down across part of the valley there. It’s a Tessla charging station. You can tell that you found a winery that knows what they’re doing. Ulticleana started, and had an assistant wine maker who I know pretty well. Jeff Cohn from JC Cellars. He really has helped form there style. Anything from Kinero buys some grapes from Ulticleana, and you hear that repeatedly. Ulticleana is thought of by folks in the industry as one of the truly great vineyards in Paso. They’re also large enough that where they can sell it to a lot of people. I will tell you that I know for sure that if I owned a 200 acre vineyard, I would be happy selling 180 acres. If I was keeping 20, I don’t know if it’s 20 that they keep, but it’s something along those lines. If I was keeping 20, I would be keeping either the best 20, or pretty damn close to the best 20.

Alta Colina makes some incredible wine. I mentioned Robert Parker earlier. He is one of the ones who is the first ones, much to his credit by the way, being on the Ulticleana band wagon. I think the first year that they released, he gave them multiple 90 point scores across the board. Spectator, literally every critic, everyone who tries these wines loves them.

This is a GSM. I mentioned that I might be slightly obsessed with gernache earlier. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. That’s the classic thing in Paso. It might be what they’re known most for. Sera might grow the best, but it might be GSM that really takes them to the next level as far as the quality of production. Yeah, Ulticleana. This is a 93 point wine from Parker. We shipped it for our reserve members, and it’s something that I’ve had multiple people tell me “Hey, that was really really good.” I think that’s at that $50 price point, pretty incredible stuff.

That’s a short intro for a couple things that are going on in Paso Robos. There’s literally dozens of other examples of really really great wineries that are outside of the general consciousness down there. Terry Hoage, a good example, ex-professional football player making great wine. Of course you have the Saxsum and Turley folks who are floating around, and there’s many others. In any case, this is Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you enjoyed a short intro to Paso. I think the two things that really stand out to my mind are the wines are really great. That’s first, and foremost, most important. Second, they are probably under priced, at least $15 or $20 per bottle when you compare to Napa and Sonoma. That’s because they don’t have a really true huge natural market within, where our wine maker could go for a day trip and sell 15 or 20 cases of wine whenever they need to. That keeps prices down. It keeps them out of the normal distribution cycles, and if your somebody who really likes fine wine, and you like supporting smaller, local, family run wineries, Paso is a great place to look.

Again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope you’re having a good week.

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Welcome to Gewurztraminer

A brief introduction to Gewurztraminer, one of the most difficult grapes for growers to work with, but one of the most aromatically pleasing white wine’s when made well.

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. First, I hope everybody’s having a good Thursday as we get closer and closer here to the end of the week. I also hope that everyone’s temperatures locally are coming down. If you are looking for ‘where the heck is my wine clip shipment?’, the short answer is, we delayed a week or 10 days or so. We had mid-80 degree temperatures last week in San Francisco. Quite frankly, I was in Walla Walla for the week and, so 80 degrees in San Francisco, at least over 100 elsewhere. I talked with somebody in the Midwest yesterday. He said they were 108 locally. That’s not a good time for us to ship any wine. Wine is on its way. You should have it shortly. Thanks for the patience, as always during the summer months. We know. It’s tough.

I’m joined today by two bottles and you can tell these are a little bit interesting looking to start with. They’re both Gewürztraminers. A couple of words about the grape first, to start. Traminer is kind of the grape family. There’s 10 or 12 of them floating around. The fact of the matter is, traminers are historically good at changing genetics on us. Over the past 100 years or so, we’ve ended up with a bunch of different versions of the grape. They’re all kind of cousins at this point, but not directly related, you know, father-son kind of thing.

Gewürztraminer. We don’t see it much in California and you’re starting to see it more in the Pacific Northwest. Amity is an Oregon player. Novarro is kind of an entry-level producer. California is Anderson Valley. You don’t see it a lot in California. You don’t see it a lot outside of kind of the Northwest because, quite honestly, it needs cold weather. If the weather gets too warm, the grape grows and grows and grows. The vines are almost unwieldy, where you see, if you’ve ever grown pumpkins in your backyard and they tend to grow a foot a day. The grape vines actually do a little something like that. Big vines, kind of foliage everywhere, leads to a lot of grape growth and it leads to pretty crappy wine. They need cold weather.

The other problem with that is they lay in cold weather so that they can keep their best traits. One of the best traits is they have this beautiful floral aroma that the grape’s well-known for, but it is also a very early bud-break and a very slow ripener. Early bud-break in cold climate sounds all fine and good until you realize that in cold climates, you’re more likely to have a early spring frost. That literally kills off an entire crop of grapes.

Gewürztraminer, it’s something that if you find yourself saying I don’t love Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc’s not really exactly my thing, I am constantly looking for something on the white wine side that I enjoy, the aromatics on the thing are great. The acidity is usually pretty high. That’s both because that’s what the grape takes, but to make it well, you have to make it in a cold enough climate that you keep most of the acidity. It’s well-worth a look. Look for Oregon, California’s Anderson Valley probably makes the best stuff in the U.S. right now. The Finger Lakes region of New York is definitely trying. They’ve had a wide variety of success and not exactly success with it. They’re coming and getting stronger as it goes. It’s well worth a look.

If you’re somebody who wants to branch out a little bit, Gewürztraminer. I’ll ask you the question the same way we ask people sometimes when we talk on the phone to them. Name a part of France. The quick version that people come up with, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, blah blah, blah. They go down the list. The Lower Valley, the Round Valley, and then we mention Alsace. They kind of stare at us. This is an Alsacian varietal. Anderson Valley does an Alsace Festival. It’s a really really interesting look into world wine that you probably don’t see all the time. If you’re a member of our cheapest wine club, our Explorations Wine Club, you might be receiving an Amity Gewürztraminer. You might now. We got split shipment going right now. If that’s something you’re interested in and you’d like to try Gewürztraminer, shoot us an email. We can find you a bottle or two.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Have a good week.

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How to Plan an International Wine Excursion

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Jenna for providing our first guest post here at Uncorked Ventures. If you’re interested in writing for us, please have a look at our guest posting guidelines.

Thanks to the conveniences of the Internet, global supply chains, and interconnected economies, anyone can order a bottle of wine from anywhere in the world and have it in their hands in a matter of days.

However, there’s nothing quite like uncorking a bottle in its native country. More specifically, there’s nothing quite like tasting wine on the very estate from which it was harvested.

Six Tips for Planning Your Trip

If you’ve never considered planning an international wine tasting excursion, now may be the time to give it some serious thought. Don’t worry: we’ve collected some tips and tricks to guide you through the process of planning your trip.

1. Choose a Location Whether you’re a fan of Cabernet Francs from France’s right bank, or your fancy Syrahs from Australia’s Hunter Valley region, there’s a destination waiting for you. The hard part is selecting a particular area and not spreading yourself too thin. The goal of your trip should be to see, taste, and experience as much as possible – leisurely. Planning for too many stops along the way can make you feel rushed and stressed. Hone in on a single area, and never plan on visiting more than three or four wineries in a single day.

2. Read Plenty of Reviews Review websites are your best friends. Spend some time reading both about positive and negative experiences at each winery. This’ll give you an idea of the good and the bad. You’ll also learn some insider tips about what’s worth trying, what you should avoid, and how much certain things cost.

3. Let Restaurants Direct You Many people have trouble figuring out a logical itinerary or schedule of wineries. It’s typically challenging because people don’t have an end goal. One of the best ways to direct your travels naturally is to design daily itineraries around lunch and dinner. Find out where you want to eat, and then stop at locations along the way. Once you have a start and a finish, everything else will fall into place.

4. Hire a Local Driver This should go without saying, but make sure that you hire a driver if you plan on visiting multiple wineries in a day. Not only will a driver keep you safe, but they also allow you to soak in the views and forget about directions. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

5. Consider Making Reservations You won’t need to make a reservation everywhere you go, but don’t assume that every winery allows you simply to walk in and taste. Some of the more popular ones may actually limit the number of people who visit each day by requiring an advanced reservation. Keep a look out for this requirement when reading through reviews.

6. Learn About the Region You’ll get a lot more out of your trip if you spend time learning about the region you’re visiting. Read up on the history, learn some interesting facts, brush up on your vocabulary, and prepare questions. Employees at wineries love talking about what they do. Asking questions about why they grow certain grapes, how weather affects the harvest, and what’s drinking really well will only improve your experience. Start Planning Today While there’s plenty to see on this side of the world, don’t eliminate the possibility of taking an international wine tour. In taking one of these excursions, you can open yourself up to new tastes, cultures, and experiences. Using these six tips, you can make sure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible. And, always remember: the goal is to see, taste, and experience as much as possible in a leisurely fashion (with an emphasis on “leisurely”)!

 

Jenna Cyrprus Head ShotJenna is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.

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Amity Vineyards Dry Gewurztraminer Willamette Valley 2011

We’ve worked with an Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir in the past, but some of it is worth repeating here since we haven’t shipped one of these in our Explorations Wine Club as of yet.

Amity has been around for quite a while in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, having been one of the first wineries in all of Oregon completely focused on quality.

That’s interesting right now, because the winery was recently acquired by a box wine maker, a sign of the times no doubt, but there’s some confusion from folks in the industry about the future of both the fine wine program, as well as the estate vineyard itself.

This wine was made 3 years before the change, so quality isn’t at issue.

Gewurztraminer is an interesting and finicky grape and I think perhaps more interesting to talk about in this space than is the story behind Amity, especially given that it’s changing so rapidly.

Gewurztraminer also boasts a pretty complex history.  UC Davis, as I know I’ve mentioned before in these wine club newsletters, has done an incredible job at sequencing wine grape genomes over the past two decades.  They’ve said publicly that the family of Traminer grapes have the most unstable genome around-which winemakers consider both good and bad.  The bad part is that every vintage is going to offer something a little different in terms of fermentation, even when you’re being consistent with your winemaking process and the type of yeast that you’re using.  The good part though is that after a decade or two in a vineyard, the vines and genetics have likely become fairly unique.  That uniqueness is something that can bring people back consistently to the same winery, no two established Gewurztraminer vineyards are likely to be genetically exact matches after only a few years of growing.

So here’s the real problem and why you don’t see more Gewurztraminer across wine regions. First, the buds incredibly early.  Pinot Noir is known as a more delicate and difficult grape, but in California’s Anderson Valley, Gewurztraminer buds at least a month earlier.  Budding early is completely fine and perhaps preferable if you’re in warm climates, but Gewurztraminer thrives in colder climates, so frost is a very real concern after bud break.  Once you survive the early spring, things don’t get much better though.  So if the weather is warm, then the vines literally are untenable.  If you’ve ever grown pumpkins in your yard you have some idea of what I’m talking about here, vines can be untenable if they’re growing well.  In wine grapes, that also leads to a tremendous amount of sugar. More sugar leads to higher alcohol content.  For Gewurztraminer that can be especially bad because it causes the grape to lose its distinctive floral bouquet, which is why I enjoy the wine and why so many others do as well.

I should take a moment to mention that this is a dry version of the grape.  Often times vintners get tired of attempting to remove all the residual sugar and go for a slightly sweet version of Gewurztraminer.  We also see some vintners that want the grape to be a stand in, first wine consumed of sorts for people who are accustomed to soda or other sweeter beverages.

To me, if we were talking about say, White Zinfandel or something that is admittedly, not a serious wine grape for people that want to actually you know, drink wine….sure that’s a really great thought.  Wine is fighting the craft beer movement after all for relevance among millennials (I don’t view it like that, after all, plenty of time to drink both, all of my friends, some of which count as millennials and others simply are a few years older as well will drink some of both already).

So what’s the future look like for Gewurztraminer in America? You’re going to continue seeing plantings of it in colder regions.  Sales will continue to increase.  Some of the big brands are going to make bad versions of it and sell a ton of those bad versions.  Small producers will rule in a way that isn’t possible with easier grapes, there’s a very real advantage with Gewurztraminer when you grow it and can pick a portion of the vineyard every day.  Plus, the big boys are finding cool climate vineyards now, but having them plant and manage truly cold vineyards is asking a bit much!