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Sandhi Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict 2013

Sandhi Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict 2013

324 cases produced.

So to start, 95 points Wine Enthusiast.

I considered ending the newsletter right there and grabbing a bottle to share with a friend.

But, I thought I should tell the whole story, since you’re here and all……..

So the big draw here is that the vines for the Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay are from 42 year old Chardonnay vines, in fact, the first plantings of any type in the Sta. Rita Hills. You’ll notice that there’s a couple of bottles in this Reserve Wine Club shipment that are benefiting from old vine status.

Before, you start looking for old vine labels to help find good wines….unfortunately there are no rules or regulations about when wineries can use the designation.  People within the industry seem to agree that somewhere around 30 years of age vines start behaving like old vines, however some less scrupulous vintners will attach an old vine label to the front of a bottle, after 5 years of age.  Given the highly constrained nature of wine…..you’d think some government agency would come up with a set of archaic and formulaic rules on this stuff, like immediately.

Ok, so there’s the short sales sheet pitch on the wine, here’s the part that I find more fun. Sandhi Wines is a project between winemaker Sashi Moorman, along with Rajat Parr (the former wine director for Michael Mina’s restaurants) and finally, Charles Banks who owned Screaming Eagle.

I think the two business guys need little introduction, so I’ll stick to Moorman & then circle back to Parr, who is probably the most interesting guy in the room.  We originally ran into Moorman’s work at Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Ynez.  We found Syrah’s from their Estate Vineyard, where it’s hot, to have a sense of finesse and more acidity than we previously expected out of the region. There’s a sense of restraint that is evident in Moorman’s wines from the property that simply isn’t present at other adjacent projects. Plus, Peter Stolpman who runs the place is one of the best in the business, he’s been nicer to us, given our purchasing levels, than he ever needed to be.

Moorman’s place here makes sense, Parr is known for founding a wine tasting called “In Pursuit of Balance”.  Quite humorously, the first two years we were open, I applied for trade tickets to the event….and was denied.

We’ve grown a bit since then and I’ve attended the past two years.  It’s a fun event with a certain predisposition toward wines that are focused more on acidity than they are fruit.  The catch phrase of course is “a sense of place”.

While I agree with the general premise & this is a style of wine that I personally would choose to drink on a regular basis, I do want to take a moment to point out a few things in regard to the whole balance vs fruit debate.

Personally, I think it’s a terrible idea to have to choose only one style of wine.

Secondly, some areas of California are simply hotter than others.  Should we only be drinking Sonoma Coast Pinot and never a Napa Cabernet? I haven’t met a single actual real consumer that thinks that.

While I agree with Parr’s line of thinking, one bottle which sticks out in my mind was a Caliza Syrah.  Caliza is pretty much a one man show, not far from where this Chardonnay was made and they couldn’t be more different.  That Syrah clocked in at a shocking 16+% alcohol level. But, it was one of the best bottles that I’ve had in some time & I remember both the conversation that flowed while we drinking it, as well as where we were (sitting in my brother in law’s back yard). That’s what is suppose to happen with a great bottle, right?

Lastly, we’re all products of our environment and Parr is a Sommelier by trade.  Part of being a Som, is that you’re pairing wines with food.

Do you always eat while you’re having a glass of wine?

In Europe, most statistics show that to be the case. In America, not nearly as much.  That colors our attitudes toward wine in general, but also toward certain stylistic viewpoints. I know in our house, a bottle is often open during cooking and then during the meal itself.

Ok, so why the Sta.Rita Hills.  The Hills are in Santa Barbara County and anyone who has spent time there knows one thing, the fog is almost always around.  Seriously, there are summer days that the weather seems perfect…hitting 80 at noon.  At UCSB, we’d go into class and come out 50 minutes later to barely be able to find our bikes because it was so foggy, so quickly.

The locals say that at about 4pm every day….the ocean “turns on the ac” and the fog belt rolls in.

If you’re growing something like this Chardonnay, then you want it both sunny and cold.  At least at night, so the grapes can retain their acidity.

The older than usual grapes also mean that there is going to be a finesse and complexity here that won’t be apparent from a younger vineyard. To put the age of these vines in perspective, Grgich Hills in Napa Valley puts out a “Commemorative” bottle of Chardonnay every year to celebrate the Tasting of Paris in 1976.  The average age of the vines is 20 years.

Signorello is another Napa Valley Estate with older Chardonnay vines.  From what I’ve heard, these are likely the oldest vines in the Valley that have been planted to Chardonnay.  They average about 30 years in age.

That brings up a point-as vines age, how does that effect the wine that is produced?

The first thing to realize is that for the first 5 years or so (10 if you’re at a really high end estate) the fruit is either trashed, or sent into bulk wine.

After 25-30 years (notice how few if any vines are older than this?) vines start producing less fruit. Most growers will discard the vine at this point and replant it-it simply is not economically feasible for them to keep the vines, as they continue to age, yield will continue to decrease.

That is, of course, unless they can get more cash for the fruit on hand. At some point, it becomes almost impossible to pull out the vines.  I’ve seen that transition happen with vines in Napa in regard to some Old Vine Zinfandel, as well as, with the Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault (one of the most expensive vineyards to source from in California, it happens to be in Lodi…a testament in itself to the power of patience in the wine industry), which has an average vine age of something like 125 years. These days, can you imagine someone actually planting Cinsault across their entire vineyard?

Enjoy the old vine Chardonnay.  It’s a special wine and one that will certainly end up on everyone’s list of the top 100 for the year both because of the people behind the wine, but also the quality of what ended up in the bottle.

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Decalier De La Terre 2009 Red Wine

So, I hope you enjoy Rhone varietals.

In this month’s Special Selections Wine Club shipment, you’re receiving 3 Rhone varietals that pretty much, in my opinion, sums up what’s happening in California wine….at least in terms of Rhone’s.

The white wine that I blended comes from Sonoma.  This is a Lake County red wine blend and the incredible Grenache is from Paso Robles.

Back to what’s in your glass here.  We’ve had a few cases of this wine for a while now, but I couldn’t find an opportune time to include it in a shipment.  I thought showing this interesting Grenache-Mourvedre blend, along with a straight Grenache would help to show the vast differences that the Grenache grape can bring. This is the type of wine that usually ends up as a GSM blend-Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  There’s no Syrah to speak of, largely because the thing doesn’t get ripe in Lake County-at least not consistently.  That changes the way that they make blends and shows the differences that are inherent between growing regions, even one’s that plan on focusing on Rhone varietals.

I’ve done some Lake County wines over the past few months, so I hope the style here isn’t a complete surprise.  A Sommelier friendly wine, it’s light and acidic. It’s a nice impression of what Grenache looks like from Lake County.

In terms of the 2009 vintage, this was almost ideal for Grenache and Mourvedre. You’ll still hear some complaints about the early October rains in 2009, but this Grenache and Mourvedre were both well off the vine by that time….safely fermenting under lock and key. It was a long, hot and dry summer in 2009 in Lake County.  The locals have called it a once in a decade vintage (alas, if this were Bordeaux, they’d call it a once in a generation vintage…..a little better sounding I think). Mourvedre in peculiar needs it to be pretty darn hot to be successful.  Grenache is a grape that does well across a very broad spectrum of growing environments, that’s evident here since it’s so flowery and according to some, light. Grown closer to the cooling effects of the lake, there’s a lightness and a brightness that simply can’t be made in say Paso Robles.

So here’s the thing about this wine.  If you look it up online….there’s not much there. That’s because two things went on, first, this was made by a Sommelier friend in San Francisco.  Well, he didn’t exactly make it, but a winery made it for his chain of restaurants and I ended up with a few cases on trade. It’s also not a wine from Easton Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills and it’s also not from New Zealand (in case you haven’t picked up on that fact already).

But, as I’ve talked about before, 2009 was a good vintage in Lake County. If you were to ask a growing region to sell more good wine than they usually have, you’d think most would be pretty excited at the idea.  The unfortunate part of this story is that Lake County is in a fight for market space both locally here in San Francisco, but everywhere.  If you were a winery, would you want to have to compete with the likes of Napa Valley, Sonoma, the Dry Creek Valley and increasing the Anderson Valley for shelf space?

I wouldn’t.

That’s kept prices down and will keep quality wine flowing into channels like our monthly wine clubs, which aren’t the standard way for wine to get sold.

Given some of the prices I’ve seen similar bottles selling for with a Russian River Valley name (think well into the $40’s) you’ll be pleased with what’s here.

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A Cheap But Good Carmenere from Trader Joe’s

I don’t drink a ton of Carmenere, unless I’m in South America….but this was pretty darn good and made me wonder….does anyone focus on it here in California? That might be a bit too much counter culture for the Golden State, but Washington perhaps in the future will give it a shot.

Hi guys! Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. We do have an infant in the house so that kind of affects some of that kind of stuff.

I’m joined today by a bottle of wine that we don’t sell that I actually picked up at Trader Joe’s a couple weeks back. It’s a Marchigüe Carménère. It’s a single vineyard. I think it’s a good example of what Trader Joe’s does well. A single vineyard bottle of wine for seven bucks in the States simply doesn’t exist. For somebody who wants to break into the U.S. market doing something through Trader Joe’s where it’s kind of a one-stop shop and a one purchase order and then everything goes out to a variety of different stores and you kind of get your name out there a little bit kind of can make a lot of sense.

Carménère, if you’re not familiar, it is a grape native to the Médoc, which is Bordeaux, but much like Malbec it’s a grape that has found a home in South America. Carménère is really the vast majority of Chilean red wine plantings. It is related to Cabernet in a few different ways. They share a common ancestor so I guess you would say that’s kind of like us and orangutans. In essence, what you’re getting is a largely Cabernet-style wine. Carménère means “red” or “rosy” and it’s largely drawn from the color of the foliage, not the color of the actual wine in your glass.

I think one of the interesting things about Carménère is that it’s something that’s just now starting to get played with by wine-makers and vineyards. There’s going to be a chance for folks I think in Paso Robles and some of the warmer areas in and around the western United States. Walla Walla in Washington is another place where you’re starting to see more plantings of it. I don’t think you’re going to see a ton of single vineyard and single varietal wines being produced, but I do think you’re going to start seeing some fifty-fifty Carbernet and Carménère blends. I think you’ll see some innovative [vendors 00:01:50] that are starting to push this out in a more meaningful way at least in the United States.

Once again, this is a short intro to Carménère. If you’re looking for a Cabernet alternative, it’s an interesting place to start, especially if you’d like to save a few dollars on a bottle of wine. Obviously a large part of what goes into the price of wine is land pricing and land as you might expect in large portions of Chile is still quite a bit cheaper than say it is in Napa Valley. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures and Marchigüe Carménère from Trader Joe’s, about seven bucks. Sure, it’s not one of our wine club offerings, but hey….it’s a fun little wine at a really, really nice price point. It’s a single vineyard. Well worth the price if you want a Cabernet alternative. Thanks again. Have a good one.

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Wines of the Pacific Northwest-Washington

Wines of the Pacific Northwest—Washington

America is the proud nation of some of the best wines that can part clouds and let the light bulb go on no matter what you’re having. While Washington State’s wine production might be dwarfed when compared to others like that of California, it is still able to make a substantial offering on a yearly basis, which also happens to be growing by around 5000 acres of vineyard per year. Here we will talk about some of the famous wines of Washington.

The Washington State can be roughly divided straight down the middle, with the Cascade mountains, which is the western part and nearest to the coast. This is the area where most of the population lives and its climate can be defined as foggy and damp. On the other side, we have the eastern part, which is on the other side of the mountain range. This area is mostly barren and dry, and its only through irrigation that growing wine grapes is possible at all. One of the best wine clubs in America, could explain that Washington’s climate isn’t the same as Seattle!

The two parts that the Washington State offer a variety of grapes due to the diversity in climate and temperature. Light wines can only be successful in good vintages, thus the damp and cool western part of Washington serves its purpose well. The eastern part of the Washington State is where most of the vineyards can be found even though the continental climate and somewhat harsh winter is cold enough to kill the vines one year in five. Some the largest AVAs of this State are the Yakima, Walla Walla valleys and Columbia, with the latter being the largest of the AVAs.

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Who Produces the Best Wines, Oregon or Washington?

The two states of Washington and Oregon have always boasted some of the best vintages in the country, with the exception of California. But when it comes down to the best wines, which of the two is better and growing the right grapes, with the right techniques. The following lines are going to be about the virtues of various wines from both of these well-known wine producing states.

Putting the 400 strong wineries in the Oregon State up against Washington which has over 750 wineries doesn’t seem fair but surprisingly, when it comes to the best wine producers of the two, local allegiance and animosity is as evident as the State’s borders that divide them. Of course, they two share an AVA (the Columbia Gorge) and at least one of the best wine clubs around, doesn’t discriminate between the two.

In the Washington State, wineries such as those in Woodinville do not have the proper climate to ripen grapes such as the vinifera properly. That being said, where Woodinville lacks in conditions its makes up for in precise winemaking innovations, which means that it’s safe to say that some of Washington State’s wineries, and particularly Woodinville can easily competes with some of the best wine regions in the world.

Oregon has made a name for itself with its Pinot Noir, which is unmatched when compared to that of Washington. This fact alone has given Oregon the reputation of producing better wines than the Washington State. And that’s not all, Oregon is also known for its whites such as the Pinot Gris and the Chardonnay, both of which have made some serious strides during the past few decades. Some of the famous wineries in Oregon are Brandborg, Cowhorn and Del Rio vineyards that are all known for producing outstanding wines.

Pretty much like the Civil War, it’s hard to tell who is actually the best with the clear division on both sides, and in some cases, even within the States themselves. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that both states offer something unique to the wine market, mostly because of their climate throughout the year and the growing conditions.

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Washington Wines-A Grape for Every Palate

Washington State is the proud producer of a full range of different wine styles. From the solid commercial wines to the mass produced commodity wines and the super premium produced wines, the Washington State has a grape for every pallet.

By far, Washington State’s most planted grape has got to be the Merlot, which does very well due to the climate. Other wine types also include the Cabernet Sauvignon, which also does quite well. When it comes to the whites, wines such as Semillon have proven to be very successful, and are far from the hard candy kind of taste which is prevalent with most whites in other states.

Whether it’s the grapes themselves or the technique, the whites in Washington State certainly have it going on. That being said, these aren’t the types of wines that are cheap. Even when comparing them to some of the European brands, white wines from the Washington State are considered to be more expensive while being similar in quality to the European brands. Although, Washington whites aren’t as ridiculously expensive as those from other states such as California for example. Any of the best wine clubs around, could tell you, there’s no reason that Washington wines should not be included…there’s a great price to value ratio in play here.

Be that as it may, the wines that come out of the three main AVAs of the Washington State, which are Columbia, Walla Walla valleys and Yakima will always find a market when it comes to premium wines. Both in the US and in European countries. Some of the big vintners of the Washington State are L’Ecole No 41, Andrew Will and Firesteed Cellars to name a few.

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The Value of Wine-What’s in a Bottle?

Trying to discover the value of wine these days is really interesting. Especially because of the many varieties that are being produced by the three major wine states of Washington, Portland and Oregon. So, what goes into making the wine that lives on your neighborhood supermarket shelf? Most of us don’t realize the fact that there are many wines whose whole existence relies on the use of insecticides, fertilizers and pesticides. Not to mention the amount of manipulations and additives that are used during the fermentation process. So, how does one define which wine is natural wine really? Whether you buy a wine brand from Washington, Portland or Oregon, here are a few questions you should answer before picking one from the shelf. In other words, if you aren’t a member of one of the best wine clubs in America…how do you know exactly what you should be paying?

Factors which influence Wine Quality;

Cost of small hand-crafted wines.

Natural winemaking requires consistent monitoring by skillful people.

The incorporation of animals to the farm, which will also involve, taking care of them.

The cost that goes into getting stainless steel tanks for fermentation, which are usually high quality and are utilized only for a month per year.

The proper health benefits for the workers in the winery.

Biodynamic wine certifications.

The use of regenerative and biodiversity techniques in farming, which also includes having to cultivate insectaries and cover crops, along with composting.

Lastly, the 60-gallon French oak barrels which cost over a thousand dollars a pop.

All of the points mentioned above make a big difference to the numbers on the price tag of a bottle of wine. When it comes to price, anything around $15 all the way up to $30 is a good deal, with some exceptions of course. These wines start to unfold after a few days after being opened, and can grow in texture and taste as they air.

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Oregon Wine History

Unlike the States of California and neighboring Washington, the State of Oregon isn’t a very big player in producing wine. After all, the state has only devoted some 9000 acres to vineyards. That being said, Oregon still boasts of more than 120 wineries which produce some of the best vintages in the Pacific Northwest.

This is quite an achievement for a state which only began growing grapes during the 1960’s. This also happens to be one of the most exciting features of Oregon. The fact that the state has come such as long way in such a short time means that its able to develop further with the help of its older quality minded vintners along with well funded newcomers.

According to the stats, it is clear that the Oregon State is dominated by many small but premium quality wine producers, who seem to prefer growing light red varieties of wine, which is no surprise due to the cool and rainy climate which encourages elegant instead of powerful wines. In fact, Oregon is famous for its Pinot Noir (especially that from Domaine Drouhin) which has brought the State international recognition. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine we’re among the world’s best wine clubs simply because we do such a good job at bringing in Oregon’s wines to California and beyond.

The vast majority of wineries in the state of Oregon are situated in the Willamette Valley, which runs north to south, from Portland to Eugene, which is only a few miles from the coast. Apart from the well documented Pinot Noir of Oregon, other vintages such as the Pinot Blanc and the Chardonnay have also managed to make a place for themselves, while the Pinot Gris reigns supreme when it comes to the whites.

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3 Wine Regions to Visit on a Vacation

For a short period, vacations allow you to be lazy for once and relax. If you enjoy a good glass of wine you can plan a vacation to one of the top regions on the planet for world class vineyards. It does not matter whether you can tell the difference between a good chardonnay or cabernet sauvingnon, simply enjoying the taste of wine is all you need have an amazing trip. (Editor’s Note, as much as your friendly wine of the month club here at Uncorked Ventures likes to send you to multiple bottles and take you on a trip to wine country, nothing is quite the same as taking an actual trip to wine country itself)

The vineyards we have chosen are both scenic and have a good array of distinct grapes and vintages to sample. There are many great wines to taste and enjoy, you just have to know where to look.

La Rioja, Spain

The La Rioja region exports wines to 100 different countries. There are many different types of wines including red, rose, and whites. It is more fun to sample all of them than just stick to one (in my opinion, that is). We recommend that you visit the local wineries and sample the traditional offerings of the region to appreciate the taste. If you want to see more of the region but stay near La Rioja you can go to the city of Bibao or nearby San Sebastian, which are both welcoming to tourists and have a lot to see and do.

Alsace, France

Many people forget the wine due to the rolling hills and the lush green meadows in this region of France. The native people that live here are very friendly to tourists. Many say the best features of the town are that it is a tiny village with a “big” town feel. The winieries in this region are unlike anything else. They are known for their outstanding Pinot Blanc, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Muscat d’Alsace. The local wineries are very open to tasting and tours which allows you to get a feel for the local people and add some culture to your trip.

Veneto, Italy

While Tuscany is known as the most prominent Itialian wine region, Veneto has some great offerings. This is where much of the commercial wine from Italy is produced. The wines here are typically dry and fruity. The wines from this region that are a must try include Soave, Recioto, and Valpolicella. Venice is also a short distance away from this region, this makes it an easy stop on any Italy tour itinerary. The most common wines you will see are heavy merlots and cabernets due to the grapes most commonly found in the area. Chardonnay is also extremely popular and fairly priced.

Wine is consumed all over the world and new wine producers are popping up constantly, adding great wines to the list that we hope will continue to grow. No two wines (or wineries!) are the same and this trips to the home regions like these will allow you to experience the tastes and culture first hand. You never know what you will find and enjoy.

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What is Cabernet Sauvignon

Being hundreds of years old, Cabernet Sauvignon is a very popular wine that originated in the Bordeaux, France, in the 17th century. It is now found in nearly all major wine countries in the world. You have probably even drank it at some point in your life. It has been grown in a variety of climates, favorably hot, being that it is internationally recognized through its prominence in being a premier Bordeaux wine.

Being hundreds of years old, the grape is of relatively new variety. It is a full-bodied wine with high tannins and high acidity, but because of its amazing ageing ability, it gets better as time goes on. Starting as a French wine, it spread across Europe and eventually to the new world. Many attributes have allowed for this wine to gain significant popularity. First and foremost for its ease of cultivation, having thick skin and being naturally very low yielding, all have allowed this wine to be mass produced. Usually mixed with Merlot and Cabernet Franc to allow for richer flavor.

A wine that is able to age has the ability to get richer in taste as time goes on. Well, this wine has been known for its outstanding ability to age, giving it a powerful reputation in France as a premier wine. As it ages, there can be many new flavors and aromas that emerge. Ageing that can continue for several decades long is what makes a wine like this special and unique. California’s Napa Valley is a place that has built its reputation on this wine. Producing it with higher alcohol levels and ageing it remarkably well.

If you go to Italy though, than you will usually find this wine in something called the “Super Tuscan”, a famous blend that is found in the Italian district. Having a variety of food pairings, because of its amazing ageing ability. Cabernet Sauvignon has shown to have the best pairing with not-so-light dishes. Probably caused by its high tannin content, it has the ability to overwhelm light and delicate dishes. Red meat is usually the number 1 on the list of food pairings with the wine, with it being so famous for its ability to bring out the fruity flavor of the wine. In the end, this wine has been extremely popular for its effect on many wine makers. Many producers have become famous, because of their use of the wine. Noticeably the Bulgarian wine industry, which introduced this wine to the international wine market. Making not only Cabernet Sauvignon famous, but driving its own industry to success. Since then, it has made its way over too countless countries around the world, been changed and adjusted in different ways, and is probably the most prominent wine in the 20th century. Even though it was overtaken by merlot, in the late 20th century, it still is one of the world most prominent wines. I would still consider this wine as being one of the top 5 wines out there in the world today.