Posted on

Wine Documentary

wine documentary

Quite honestly, there aren’t many high quality wine wine documentary movies out there. The wine industry is awfully hard to create high quality film, in large part because so much of what actually happens in the industry is contained within a small segment of the year: harvest.  For a documentary filmmaker, having to film the 16 hour days that accompany harvest can be almost impossible.  It’s hard to build trust with winemakers quickly enough to have unfettered access during harvest.

Plus, if you’re trying to make a wine documentary, it’s hard to know where to start.  Too often those in Hollywood, don’t know how the wine industry works and vice versa.

Somm: A wine documentary that’s about the people studying for the Master Sommelier exam. With less than 200 Master Sommelier’s in history, the documentary filmmakers are creating drama by saying that not everyone studying for the exam, will pass.  Winemakers and wine regions from California to France and Italy are featured in such a way as to prove that it’s impossible to know everything about wine. 

My personal thoughts on the wine documentary Somm: The most popular documentary series about wine, it’s a pass for me.  I’d prefer to see more of the people actually making the wine, rather than the people studying it.  Think about a documentary about a chef, do the filmmakers follow around the food critic or the chef himself?

Mondovino: Attempts to show how the wine industry is changing based on globalization.  There are some cringe worthy moments in the movie, normally held to only American winemakers, largely due to the relationship between vintners and their vineyard workers, often low wage immigrant labor from Mexico.  Mondovino is shot in a single camera, interview style and does a good job introducing you to a cast of characters in the wine industry in both France and California.  

My Personal View of Mondovino: I like the overall concept enough, there is a very real difference between corporate winemaking and small batch winemaking.  But, I think the folks behind Mondovino miss the mark by trying to set the wine documentary up as a California vs France, Good vs Bad thing.  There’s plenty of small scale wine in California, even more as a percentage than there is in France, so this felt contrived on a few levels.

A Year In: So, there’s a few of these.  There’s a Year in Champagne.  A Year in Burgundy etc.  I LOVE the concept of showing an entire year of the wine industry in a specific region.  In my opinion, it’s the only real way to show what actually happens.  After all, it’s not necessarily a skill or any specific task that makes winemaking hard, or nearly impossible. Instead it’s the mental grind of planning ahead and truly being at nature’s mercy all the time.  The Year in Champagne, is really the first wine documentary that in my opinion shows how

American Wine Story: This was the first wine documentary that I watched and said, yup….that was awesome!  Part of it I’m sure was familiarity. I’ve shipped Brooks Wines before (the story is about the death of the founder of Brooks and how his son, being raised in the midwest owned a winery and how winemakers kept the winery alive until he could take over). Plus, some old friends including Cartograph Wines were interviewed for the project. American Wine Story is a great story of perseverance and I really liked seeing Oregon on film since seemingly, every domestic wine documentary seems to be based in Napa Valley.

Blood Into Wine: Another wine documentary set outside of Napa, which is a good thing.  Blood Into Wine is the story of Maynard Keys, the former lead singer of Tool becoming a winemaker in his native Arizona. Having tasted these wines over a lunch with Keys, it was interesting to see him on film talking about his project.  If you have any interest at all in wine being made in what is called the “Other 46” this is an essential wine documentary.

Decanted: Ok, so not surprisingly, another wine documentary set in Napa Valley.  Decanted does the best job of all the wine doc’s out there at actually interviewing winemakers, however the entire thing feels a bit disjointed.  It’s almost like the folks behind it, ran into so many awesome stories that they didn’t feel like they could pick a single one.  So they tried to tell them all, at once-which lost some of the appeal for me.  The visuals are stunning of course, but it just still feels incomplete.

As more wine documentaries are released, I’ll try and keep this list updated.  If I had to make a suggestion, Somm is a fun watch overall if you aren’t expecting winemaking.  American Wine Story and Blood Into Wine are the best wine doc’s out there right now though.

Posted on

How Many Bottles in a Case of Wine?

how many bottles in a case of wine

There are 12, standard 750ml bottles in a case of wine. If you’re using the metric system, or filing tax payments for a winery, the most important number is that those 12 bottles make up 9 liters of wine.  Exactly 9 and you’ll see why that’s impressive in a minute. But first, let’s delve a bit deeper into what should be a basic question in the wine industry: how many bottles in a case of wine?

I’ve always thought the size of a wine bottle is an interesting story (largely it’s because 750ml is the approximate amount of air your lungs can hold and wine bottles were once blown by hand, by glassblowers).  But why 12 bottles in a case?  Why not 6?  Or 9, especially 9, wouldn’t a 3×3 case have made more sense? Our current 12 bottle in a case setup, isn’t uniform or square, it’s a 4×3.

The honest answer about why a case has 12 bottles and not some different number is that I don’t know. I’ve asked around.  I’ve googled it. I’ve looked at the reference materials I have and there’s absolutely nothing, there’s no reason given. It seems that there are 12 bottles in a case of wine, because there always have been 12.  But why?

I’m going to conjecture that there are 12 bottles in a case of wine because those 12 bottles often weigh about 35 pounds.  35 pounds, based on personal experience is about the amount that most grown adults can comfortably carry without dropping it.  It’s not the minimum, but pretty close to the maximum in my opinion. If you needed wine to be transported as quickly and efficiently as possible, especially when you were working by hand without the help of any technology, wouldn’t you want to maximize the amount of wine in each trip, while minimizing breakage? Makes sense to me.

So how many bottles in a case of wine?  It’s 12. 

Why are there 12 bottles in a case of wine?  That part is unclear at best.

Posted on

How Many Bottles of Wine in a Barrel?

what is a garagiste?

We’ve all seen them in a winery: rows and rows of oak barrels.  Many people do wonder, how many bottles of wine in a barrel?

oak barrels in a wine cellar

I know you all want a straight answer.  The answer that you normally read is 25 cases in a barrel of wine, or 300 bottles.

But, that’s not entirely true. The fact is, that the number of bottles of wine in a barrel can and does, change.

Look at how wine is often transferred from that barrel to the bottling line:

how many bottles of wine in a barrel

As you might expect, you might lose a bit of wine in those “pipes”.  You might also lose some wine in barrel due to any number of factors…..yes, shrinkage definitely does happen in the wine industry like it does to retailers across the globe. But, the entire concept of taking wine out of a barrel to taste it happens with something called a “wine thief”.

So yeah, some wine is “lost” along the route.

Take the last two barrels of wine that I’ve bottled myself.  The first one, Aselstine Stoney Peak White gave me just over 22 cases.  The second, with the same bottling line and other factors, Aselstine Family Cellars Carignan gave me just over 25.  

Was someone thieving along the route?  Maybe.  Did I give away some of those extra 30 bottles along the way? Maybe.

But really, this is an ongoing issue for wineries across the world.  When you ask the question, how many bottles of wine in a barrel?  You think it’s a simple answer and many would tell you 25.  Winemakers would shake their head at that simplistic of an answer.

Posted on

What Are Tannins?

Ready to Process Sangiovese Grapes

There are a number of terms within the wine industry that we take for granted, but that the average consumer, might not be familiar with.  Tannins probably comes up more often within the industry than we care to admit, but what are tannins?

Tannins exist in all the parts of the grape, which aren’t the juice.  So basically we’re talking about grape skins, seeds and grape stems.

You experience tannin in two ways generally and if you’re unlucky, a third.  First, tannins can lead to the sensation of dryness in your mouth.  Secondly, tannins can cause you to pucker your cheeks when you drink wine.

As for those that are unlucky, it’s generally accepted that tannins are the reason that some people experience headaches from wine, especially red wine since the tannin levels of red wine are so much higher.

As you might expect, different grapes carry different levels of tannin naturally in large part because of the thickness of their skin.  Pinot Noir is a finicky grape, in large part because it has a very thin skin. So less tannins than say Carignan which comes with a much thicker skin.

There are also a ton of winemaker choices that go into the amount of tannin in a wine.  Allowing grapes to ferment with longer skin contact, increases tannins.  Fermenting with whole clusters does the same.  Of course as is the case with a lot of winemaking, some winemakers will tell you that some of the choices that seem to add more tannins to wine, actually don’t.

In any case,  if you’re wondering what are tannins?  They’re the part of your glass of wine, that dries out your mouth and provides structure to what you’re drinking.

Posted on

What Causes Sediment in Wine?

Pile of Corks...Hopefully none cork tainted

What Causes Sediment in Wine?

Every so often, I open a bottle of wine and am greeted by:

What Causes Sediment in Wine?

So to start, there’s nothing wrong with the above picture.  Sediment is a completely normal thing when it comes to red wine. If you get it in white wine, unless the wine was aged for a significant period of time, something has gone wrong.

What causes sediment in wine?

So sediment in wine can come from two main sources.  Neither is necessarily bad, but like so much in wine, it’s nice to know more, than less.

First, if you’re aging your wine, that usually does lead to some level of sediment.  Tannins can combine with phenols as time goes by (more on Phenols here).  Normally, people who drink much older wine than I do, report this starts happening in earnest around the 10 year mark.

Secondly, they can be caused by any number of things within the wine itself.  Left over yeast cells.  Bits of grape skins. Grape seeds. ETC ETC.  Yes, even bits of dirk.  (if that disgusts you, a quick reminder, wine is an agricultural product, like the strawberries your kids ate at breakfast).  If a winemaker filters his/her wine, it’s to remove this kind of stuff.  For white wine, this is much, much more common than it is in red wine.

So what causes sentiment in wine?  There’s a couple of possible things, neither of which is an issue and neither of which should cause any level of concern, even if it does.

Posted on

Harvest Update 2018

what does uncorked mean

It’s a difficult thing.  To get an update on harvest from winemakers during harvest.  Harvest, for better or worse, is a crucible of 16 hour days, in fact that it’s so bad that winemaker spouses joke that there are harvest widows, those left behind during the 12 weeks of average 16 hour days.  Some elementary schools go so far as offering later after school care during harvest.  It’s a crazy time. Here’s some more information on 2018 harvest in both Napa Valley and Sonoma.

Video Transcription: Hi all. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. In any case, I wanted to give everybody a quick harvest update. So, no scattered bottles of wine today, although I know that’s always fun.

So, harvest is kind of in full swing in some areas and not even happening in others. So, I’ve talked to Sonoma Winemaker who makes mostly Pinot and Chardonnay and she said that she has three picks this week, and then she’s done. Meanwhile, some of my friends on the central coast, they’ve said they haven’t picked anything, including rosé. So you get these huge swings, but the frank matter for the year is that it’s been a pretty cold summer in California, at least in much of it, so winemakers were kind of begging for heat at some point to get the grapes to ripen those last few bricks.

So bricks is the sugar content in the wine. 17, 20, 22, 24, depending on what kind of style people want to make is kind of the range where people pick. Often, it’s the hardest to get them from that 17 to whatever that finishing wine is, and that’s where you need the most heat. And I think this year we’re gonna see the largest dichotomy between early picks … Not early, but late picks in some areas, but then extremely late picks in others, and that’s driven by two things. First, of course, local climate plays a big role, but then second, when you have cold years, it takes a lot longer to ripen these thicker skin grapes that are … Like, [inaudible 00:01:28] is an example. So if you’re growing Carignan or Syrah, you’re probably, fingers crossed, hoping beyond hope that the rain that’s coming this week in parts of the state is not gonna hit you very hard because it’s not even supposed to be warm after that, so that really is the issue that we’re gonna start running into.

As the picks for these thicker skin grapes move later and later in the year, these are also the grapes that are most at-risk for stuff like mildew, which happens from moisture. But, this part of the year is also where we have the most moisture coming in, and it’s the coolest part of the growing season, so it’s the least chance for the moisture to dry out. So you’re gonna have people, I think, in some areas of the central coast, at least, that are going to have to make some real decisions about should we let this hang on the vine, or maybe we should make something that’s a little bit more acidic. So, for all those folks that say California can’t make anything that’s Frenchman style, they might get their wish this year.

So, in any case, that’s the quick harvest update. We’ll have some harvest for your guys probably coming this week, and it’s been a fun 10 days or so. Hope everybody’s doing well.

Posted on

Do You Chill Red Wine?

do you chill red wine

There’s a lot of common wisdom in the wine industry, not all of it is really accurate, in large part because we’re often missing some historical significance.  Take what should be a simple question: do you chill red wine?

The common wisdom is that no, you don’t chill red wine, you serve it at room temperature.  White wine is supposed to be chilled.


Not exactly on either count.  Most of these truisms are turned at least slightly on their head because we live in an era of insulation, central heat and central air.

When we talked about the appropriate temperature for the serving of wine, you’ve got to think about where and when those ideas came about.  Take an old dusty farmhouse in Bordeaux (yeah, Bordeaux was full of peasants back in the day, that’s not how we picture it though) or an old brick building in Champagne.

Room temperature in those spots was much different than it is today.  In fact, there was a lot less difference between red wine serving temperatures and white wine serving temperatures in those spots any number of years ago.

These days, we chill white wine too much.  Our red wine is too hot.

So, if you ask me, yes, we should be able to chill red wine.

But again, this largely depends on where you live. Average temperature in many wine regions is remarkably consistent, 60 to 65 degrees.  That’s about right, but when’s the last time you set your thermostat to 60 degrees?  For our house, we’re within a half mile or so of San Francisco Bay, so it’s never all that hot and never all that cold either.

Ok, so what red wines should we chill? Personally, I find that there is a direct correlation between the amount of acidity in a wine and how cold people like to drink it. So more acidic wines are better bets to be chilled than are more tannic versions.  So you should consider chilling Pinot Noir before Cabernet Sauvignon as an example.

Secondly, one thing that we do know, is that serving a wine at cooler temperatures does tend to decrease the aromatics of the wine, so if you’re mostly concerned with the smell of a wine, don’t chill it nearly as much.  This does hold true for white wines as well.  Gewurztraminer coming out of the refrigerator is a problem as an example.

Lastly, as always, two caveats.  Knowing a bit about the vineyard sourcing or winemaking makes a TON of difference.  I’d gladly chill a Grenache from William Allen at Two Shepherds, but wouldn’t dream of doing the same from that same varietal made by Anthony Young at Kinero.

Oh and most important of all.  If common wisdom doesn’t work for you, please don’t follow it.  If you like your Chardonnay as cold as ice, go for it.  If you want your Zinfandel coming out of an ice bucket like a beer on the 4th of July, don’t let any wine snob stop you.

So, do you chill red wine?  Kind of.  It’s complicated.

Posted on

What Wine Goes With Steak?

what wine goes with steak

Ok, so this is the first in what I expect is going to be a longer wine pairing guide with food, since food/wine pairings do matter.  So what wine goes with steak?

The Standard Bearer:

Cabernet Sauvignon: No wine in the world comes to dominate local markets quite the same way as does Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s the most common pairing with any number of foods, in large part because it’s the most commonly served red wine in the world.  Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with steak, because it is both full bodied, but also because it retains some acidity especially in cooler climate vineyard locations.

Zinfandel: California’s native grape according to many, Zinfandel offers a spicy backbone that other grapes simply cannot match (ok, there’s Syrah, but come on now, nobody drinks much Syrah no matter how much as an industry we try).  The key to pairing Zinfandel with steak is to look for old vine Zinfandel. Younger Zinfandel vines can be too tannic and overpower the meat.  Old Vine Zinfandel retains a significant portion of its acidity.

Grenache: Ok, now I’m moving into grapes which go well with steak, that others aren’t going to mention.  Grenache, surprisingly to many Americans, is one of the most planted red wine grapes in the world.  It takes on much, much different character depending on where it was planted and some winemaking choices along the way.  Typically, if you’re looking to pair your Grenache with steak, you’ll want to find cooler climate versions, they tend to be a bit meatier.

Pinot Noir: Without a doubt, the fastest growing varietal in America.  Thanks Sideways. People have long gone to thicker skinned varietals to add a wine to their steak dinner, but things are changing.  Consumer preferences in America are moving further and further away from grapes like Malbec and Caignan and toward lighter skinned grapes like both Pinot Noir and Grenache.  A lighter and more acidic wine like Pinot Noir would never have been paired with steak a generation ago.

Ok, so what wine goes with steak?  Overall, the basic idea is a simple one: drink what you like.  But, if you really want to have an accurate pairing between your steak and your wine: choose Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Grenache or Pinot Noir.

Posted on

Palate vs Palette

Palate vs Palette

Without a doubt, there’s any number of these in the English language, words that sound very similar, if not exactly the same, but that have different meanings. In this case, we’re talking about palate vs palette.

I think the classic example might be “right” vs “write” but there are a few of these that touch on the wine industry as well.

Palate is one of these terms that gets tossed around pretty often in winery tasting rooms, while the palette is often misused for another aspect of the industry, pallet.  Yeah I know, it’s actually probably more confusing than simply palate vs palette.

When we’re talking about the term palate, we’re normally referring to an individual and their own unique set of flavors that they notice, or don’t notice, more often than the average individual.  A few examples, some people find that they taste salt in their food more than others.  Others, (I fall into this category) notice the bitterness in certain foods more than others, so as an example, I really dislike chocolate. Your palate is your personal preferences and ability to notice those flavors in both food and wine.

for our Palate vs Palette blog entry

A palette on the other hand is often misused by some in the wine industry to not mean the artists paint holder/mixing trey, but instead the piece of wooden board that cases of wine are stacked on top of.

Palate vs Palette

Ok, so when people are wondering what’s the difference between palate vs palette in the wine industry, they’re really talking about the term palate.  It’s something that ties together both winemakers as well as, tasting room staff, which isn’t actually that easy to do!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion of the differences between palate vs palette, with a side of pallet thrown in.

Posted on

How Many Ounces in a Bottle of Wine?

How Many Ounces in a Bottle of Wine?

Quite simply, it’s 750ml. Or about 25 ounces. (Ok, so it’s technically 25.36, but 25 should be close enough right? When’s the last time you didn’t spill anything?)

A more interesting question, how many ounces are there in a glass of wine?  It’s less than you think, which also means that there are more glasses of wine in a bottle than you probably think.

In any case, there’s about 25 ounces in a 750ml wine bottle.

Also, if you’re wondering why a wine bottle is that size today.  Think back to ancient times, glass wasn’t made in factories, but instead by people.  750ml is about the amount of air held in the average humans lungs. (here’s my write up on that one).