Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bordeaux Tasting of the 2010 Vintage

I will be attending the preview tasting of the 2010 vintage of classifed Bordeaux.  There will also be a few Sauternes at this event.  There are a few things that will make this tasting very high on the interest level.  For one, the price of the vintage is one of the highest ever and this is said to be caused by the excellent quality of the fruit.  What is not said is that the impact of the Asian market has driven up the price.  Asia has now become the darling of Bordeaux as they will pay what the market will bear in order to procure Premiere Cru wines.  First Growth Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Petrus, Haut Brion etc.  The wines already are at retail for more than $1,000 a bottle !   I have vintages of some of these first growths from years '64, '66, '70, 'n82 and '86 and they are stunning wines but not worth $1,000 in my opinion.  I feel that in the near future there will be a strong down turn in prices because what has happened now is that the volume needed to fill the market place is slowly disolving.  The the retail displays of Bordeaux are no longer the range of years past.   Floor stacks of classified wines from recent vintages are now reduced to shelf space items.  Wine consumers are now looking at other countries and varietals for the red wine consumption.

Another reason this tasting should be interesting is because of all the hoopla over the quality of the vintage  In my more than 40 years of wine participation I have heard vintage of the century spoken time after time.  This might be a good time to revisit that saying since there have only been ten years in this century to rate Bordeaux.  Viticulture and cellar practices are at the highest levels in the world.  Money has allowed even smaller producers to improve vineyards and cellars as well as invest in barrels of high quality.

The tasting is January 18th in San Francisco.  I will report my findings soon after.  Remember if you want to find the price of virtually any wine in retail use  This is a great resource for all wine lovers.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I have been invited to attend two Spanish wine tastings this week. It should be a great time considering I/we returned from two weeks in Spain. We were not able to visit wineries as part of our visit. The one thing that made a huge impression on me was the miles and miles of Olive trees in the countryside. From Spain to Seville and Seville to Granada much of the growing landscape was Olive trees. A lot of Spanish olive oil is mixed with oils from Italy, Greece, Portugal and other growers.

The tastings this week are from the regions of Valencia and Rubero di Duero.  All of the Rubero wines I have tasted are top class with great fruit extract and broad flavors which coat the palate and provide ample pleasure.  I will post my thoughts and the names of the brightest wines this coming week.

       Enjoy a glass of wine soon.



This past summer I attended the Pacific Wine Company (PWC) reunion. This was a gathering of friends and former employees of one of the most unique wine shops in San Francisco from the late 1970's to the early 1990's.  The reunion was set up by propietor Mike Lynch and Steve Kopp. Mike is the creative force behind Big Bang Productions, an advertising business.  Steve Kopp is the owner of Tamalpais Wine Co. The invited guests provided wine from their business or cellars to share during dinner. They will be listed at the end of this post.

It has been 15 years since the store closed its doors but the legacy still lives on with the unique bi-monthly news letters which featured the art work of Bob Johnson.  Bob continues to produce art work with wine themes as well as label work for up and coming wineries. His studio in Healdsburg is a must visit destination on the square for any wine lover.  The senior member of the PWC family is John Farnsworth (79) who reminds us of his long history and active participation in wine. His British humor and demeanor were a great asset to a wine shop full of  high energy youngsters. Rene Rondeau was the buyer/manager of Esquin Imports which imported great European wines for decades. Bill Mayer is now an importer of German and Austrian wines as well as an accomplished poet. Morgan Miller runs Odd Lots in Berkeley and has years of retail experience. Randy Yazzolino has been an importer for more than 20 years of fine European wines.

The end result of having all these people together was a great evening of banter and wine stories. Here are a list of some of the wines tasted during the evening.
2002 Wehlener Sonneuhur  Kabinett---fantastic
1985 Volnay Pothier-Rieusset --- Very good
1988 Gevrey Chambertin  D. Rion-- good
1998 Ravenswood Monte Rosso Zinfandel--- Excellent
1970 Ducru Beaucaillou   -- very good
2001 Chimney Rock Reserve Cabernet ---- excellent
1993 Pousse d'Or  Bousse d'Or  --- very good

Not mentioned were many other German and Austrian wines of very high quality as well as some Champagne.   There should be another reunion and another story to tell.  In the mean time check out the Bob Johnson located at 314 Center St #209 Healdsburg, Cal.  (707) 529-3755.  Having friends who love wine and are in the trade makes for a most interesting evening of food and wine.
P.S.  I just bought a case of the 2002 Wehlener and it is just great German Riesling...

Thursday, October 11, 2012


During the past week I attended one of the most informative tastings of Italian wine in years.  I was introduced the Italian region of Morellino di Scansano.  This growing area is within the  physical area of Maremma. The closest airport is located in Grosseto. The growing area of the appellation covers land near the Mediterrean up to the foothills of the town of Scansano. Morellino di Scansano was given the D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in 2007. This is the Italian equal of say: Pommard, Barbaresco, Gigondas, Barolo,St. Emilion etc.  In order to earn this denomination the wines must be of at least 85% Sangiovese and come with in the geographical land mass designated. The wines produced must show the individual character of the land.  At present there are 250 growers of the wine region with 90 producing their own label of Morellino.

The quality of the wines produced under the name Morellino de Scansano is outstanding. I had never before seen or heard of the name or region of Morellino. The range of wines tasted were well above average in quality and all had solid color and aromatics which expressed the Sangiovese in many different ways due to the blending of either Granache, Merlot, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, or Syrah. Most of the wines see modest amounts of time in oak except for the reservas. The young 2011's are most often produced in stainless steel or concrete vats.  As for the price of these wines they fall in the area of $15-$22 per bottle.  This is very fair when they are compared to other Italian reds of similar quality.

Within the Italian  viticultural community there is keen interest. This is shown when people like Jacopo Biondi-Santi have established vineyards in Scansano.  His  Castello di Montepo is unique since he has brought a special clone of Sangiovese known as BBS11, which is from the Biondi-Santi llGreppo vineyard.  His annual production is but four thousand cases!!!  He is the biggest name on the scene but among the other producers are people with as little as 10 hectares as well as a co-opertive with 20+ growers.  Keep your eyes open or ask your wine merchant if they have  access to Morello di Scansano. These are wines that will reward your curiosity. Importation of Morellino di Scansano like all newer wines is just getting started.

Some producers you should look for are;
Castello di Montepo
Moris Farms
Terre di Flori
Tenuta Pietramore di Collegafiano:  "Brumaio"
La Selva:  "Colli dell'Uccellina
Bruni: "Laire" Reserva

Keep in mind that since the DCOG is only five years old there is a lot of room to grow. I found the owners and winemakers to be technically sound and eager to expand the their market place.  The quality of the wines shown is very high.  This appellation is well worth your time and effort. Bring a bottle of this region to your Italian wine buff friends and watch their expression.  Enjoy..

Chile Defines New Vineyard Designations

On Oct. 9th, I attended a tasting seminar which was to introduce the new designation of vineyards in  Chile. The new alignment is linear so that it subdivides many existing appellations.  This is ambitious in that as recently as the past month they (government/growers) have decided to give consumers more information to make their choices. Here they are:

COSTA: Coastal vineyards are influenced by the Pacific Ocean and its moderate temperatures as well as fog.

CORDILLERAS: These are the vineyards of the plains which are more inland but can still get some marine influence. These vineyards are typically the warmest spots and are the home to deep reds like Carmenere, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc etc.

ANDES:  High altitude vineyards have the cooling effect from the Andes.  Because of their location their water source is run off from the Andes.  The greatest daily temperature variation, called diurinal,  is in the Andes. 

These designations have been made but not implemented as of now.  The problem is that many growing areas such as Maipo, Colchagua and Maule cover more than one area of designation. My thought is that the concept is excellent but the market place is still realizing the potential of wines from Chile.  What ever they choose to implement this recognition it must start out very simple such as: color code for each region, a number or letter designation, a seal or some form of recognition which will not deter a buyer but still give information.

The wines that were shown from each region expressed the concept that there are indeed regional differences within the same valley. Another fact that helps Chilean wines get their rich flavors and aroma compounds is that the growing season runs from September to March. Most of the wines produced have a long hang time, i.e. time grapes remain on the vine.  Here are some of my impressions of wines which are available now in the market place.

Tabali "Talinay" Limari area Coastal 2011:  This is a serious Sauvignon Blanc with very clean pronounced steely aromas and flavors. Grown on a limestone base this leans toward a Sancerre style with stunning acidity to carry the flavors into a very long finish.  Clone 1 and 242 are the source of this wine. What is quite amazing is that this vineyard is in a desert climate with drip irrigation from Andes run off.  Taliney vineyard is only six years old !!

DE MARTINO Alto Los Toros  Andes Syrah 2008:  This stunning wine was produced from the third leaf since planting.  At 5,000 ft. altitude it has deep rich color and wonderful aromas for such a young wine. The future of this vineyard apppears limitless.

El PRINCIPAL 2007 Maipo Alto -Cabernet Sauvignon:  3,000 ft. altitude with generous aromas of leather, graphite and stone.  Wonderful wine which can stand up to rich meat and cheeses.

MONTES OUTERLIMITES. Carignon, Granache, Mouvedre 2010 Alphalta Vineyards.  From an 8 year old vineyard which is farmed by the famous Montes winery, this vineyard is an Andes designation with 15% new french oak.  Not quite a full blown Rhone wine it is just as on spot with the classic blend of Rhone flavors with a lighter body. Very good...

VENTISQUERO  2010 SINGLE VINEYARD CARMENERE  MAIPO CORDERILLAS: From 14  year old vines and quite full and impressive.  Notes of coffee and dried fruit are mixed with mild tannins for a full mouthfeel and finish.  Impressive for what it is..

Summary:  The wines of Chile are true bargains in the world of wines.  They are grown in ideal conditions and have had a large investment for capital to establish modern winemaking.  They are still finding the best places for each varietal but they are learning quickly.  I am a big proponent of southern hemisphere wines.  You get quality at a more than reasonable price.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Crush Pad Quandry

Recently Crush Pad the custom producer of individual wine producers has gone out of business.  This has caused all of the clients to be in limbo as to how to retain ownership of their barrels of wine and continue to get them into bottle.  There are many questions to be asked and answered in this issue.

My first issue is the cost of being an absentee wine maker.  The out of pocket cost of even a modest wine is so much more than you would pay for a wine of comparable commercial quality. The only thing you are getting is a finished bottle of wine with your name on it.  Your ego is costing you a lot of money !!!  This is the second time Crush Pad has closed its doors.  A few years ago they left San Francisco and sold off all their old inventory and it was a field day of very good buys at the expense of those people who were not able to finish their wines.  They lost all of their money and Crush Pad sold off their wines.

It now appears that people who have wine in barrel are not able to get their wine since Crush Pad is in debt to many growers and other industry providers.  The wine is now being held as an asset against all of the claims by people who are owed money.  It is possible that some people will lose their barrels of wine and the money they have invested to this point. The best possible senario is that the court will allow the owners of wine to gain access to what is theirs after paying more money.  The worst case is that the court will declare all of their assets part of the liquidation and sell them off to the highest buyer. So much for your home made wine with expert guidance. This is the classic  case of  no one wins..

My advise is to skip this type of operation and continue to buy smart.

2008 Gallo Signature Napa Cab is a Winner!!

During the speed tasting of red wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland I tasted perhaps the best most well crafted  Cabernet of the week. It was produced by Gallo Family Wines. It was their 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon..  Winemaker Gina Gallo has crafted a stunning wine with complex flavors that yell "I am great wine."  What struck me most was the deep dark and rich aroma of berry and rich tannins. The larger portion of the fruit for this wine came from the  William Hill vineyard  the other component is from Monte Rosso the legendary site which was owned by Louis M. Martini.  155 barrels of this gem were produced which works out to just under four thousand cases.  There was not one wine on the table which could match the color, aroma, flavors, texture and finish of this wine.. The best part is that the suggested retail is $40!!

In this mad world of super high prices for wines which do not merit the dollars, here is a classic Napa Cabernet that has a realistic price and in my mind is a bargain when you compare it to the likes of wines in the $75+ category. During the conference I tasted a number of cult Cabernets and this wine is the equal of any of them. Try a bottle of this wine before some writer gives it a ton of points and it disappears from retailers shelves.

 I am told that the release date for this wonderful wine is the first part of October.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Cabernet Day was August 30th and it brought eight tasters to enjoy and evaluate eight  wines.  The field of wines presented were from Argentina, California and Washington.  The group montra was to find quality Cabernet at any level and discuss how the wine developed while tasting them.  Most of the wines tasted were the result of contacts throught the recent Wine Bloggers Convention in Portland as well as considerations from a local importer.  They had no strings attached and were more than willing to see how their wines would do in a local tasting.  For their support we thank them.

The wines were opened one hour prior to the tasting and this proved to be not enough time. As the tasting progressed many of the wines opened up and showed much more in flavors and finish as opposed to the beginning.  One general thought was that the Argentine wines showed try tannins and were not the oak driven style of wines common today in upper end California Cabernets.  As time passed the Argentine wines gained in flavor and showed much more than at the start.

There was one Washington wine and it turned out to be the favorite of the day.  Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions 2010 which is rated a best buy by Wine Spectator showed a medium body and very fine and not course tannins.  It is very drinkable now and for the short term. The best part of the wine is that it is only $15 a bottle at full retail.  Their problem in the Bay Area is limited availablity due to lack of a wholesaler.  That should not be a problem in the future as they produce a good quantity of wine and the prices are extremely fair.

The Argentine wines  were in the middle of the pack and the clear standouts were Tikal Jubilo 2009 which retails for $40 a wine with much body and a nice mix of oak and complex fruit aromas. Another hit is the widely available Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. This is the mid-level Catena wine which retails for $20 and is much more complex and flavor packed than their entry level wines.  As with any Catena wine it is well made and a very reliable food wine. This was one of the wines which just opened up after another hour, it displayed  fruit at the sides of the palate and finished with a lingering after taste.  Another winner was Hermanos 2011 which was a 70/30 blend of Cabernet and Malbec.  This wine was different in that it is grown in the highest elevation area of Argentina the provence of Salta/Cafayate.  This beauty retails for only $15 and represents a lively red with easy drinkablity and the right balance of fruit and acidity and not overly tannic.

Our last wine was a generous donation from one of our tasters Jim A.  He brought a bottle of Robert Mondavi 1985 Reserve Cabernet.  This was to showcase two things: what age can do for  a California Cabernet and the taste of a lower alcohol wine (12%).  What we experienced was a wonderful wine with subtle Cabernet flavors and a multi layered  mouth feel. It was all you could ask for in aged Napa Cabernet.

In summary Cabernet Day was a success in all aspects.  We found an excellent dollar value from Washington and some excellent Argentine wines which for the money represent value to red wine drinkers.  The finishing bottle of aged California Cabernet was a fine end  to a day dedicated to the glories of the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

August 30th Cabernet Day !!

August 30th is Cabernet Day !  This is an opportunity to join with wine friends and explore the world of Cabernet.  There are many roads you can travel to enjoy this day.  I would recommend that you set a few rules and then see what your results give you in the way of new wines to experience and recommend. Here are a few ways of making the most of Cabernet Day.

* choose  a price point for the wines to be tasted.  $20 or less or whatever your group is confortable with.

* Growing region.  This is huge because in California alone you have  excellent vineyard sites up and down the state.  Napa- Rutherford, Calistoga, Mt. Veeder and Spring Mountain.  Sonoma- Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Geyserville to name a few. 

* Foreign Cabernets. Chile, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy and the list goes on..

* Blind taste and rate the wines. This takes away the bias some people may have toward a label or place of origin.

Our group has focused on South American Cabernets as they offer a very high ratio of quality to dollar.  With increased capital from American and European growers and vintners the quality of wine has gained many fold in the past 15 years.  Our group will taste and rate 6/8 wines and I will publish our results.  This event is a great learning tool and also fun to take part in.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tasting Some Old Vine Zinfandels

 Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to taste a number of Old Vine Zinfandels.  The results of the tasting reveals a dramatic range in quality and the perception that Old Vine is misused. Ultimately the consumer is the one who misses out on the opportunty to consume one of the iconic wines of California.  As posted before there is no uniform mandate for producers to conform to a norm for the production of Old Vine Zinfandel.  This problem also exits for late harvest wines like riesling and semillon.

A week ago I attended a tasting of Old Vine Zinfandel produced by Ravenswood Vineyard.  These wines originate in Napa, Sonoma and Lodi.  Given the sheer volume of wine produced, there are more cases produced than there are acres of producing Old Vine Zinfandel.  Old Vine in  my opinion is not 30 years of age as the vine can produce significant tonnage for many more years.  The results of the Ravenswood tasting was that all the wines if priced at $10 or less are good red wines with little to no Zinfandel character. Color was dark and the aromas were not of Zinfandel. The vintages tasted were 2009 and 2010 so time in bottle would not be a consideration.  I would like to see what they use as criteria for Old Vine on their label.

Recently I had the opportunity to taste a number of wines which  are in my opinion true Old Vine Zinfandel.  Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma has a 2008 Old Vine Zin  (15%) which they acquire through a number of growers who are under long term contract. Dry Creek also provides their own vineyard crew who manage the vineyard during the vintage. This wine which can retail for as low as $24 or less is an excellent deep dark and rich Old Vine Zin and is highly recommended because of price quality ratio.

Bogel makes a good inexpensive Old Vine Cuvee which has more fruit and flavor than all three Ravenswood bottles and sell for $10 or less.

Del Carlo Old Vine Zin is the real deal and is sourced from the Teldeschi vineyard. The 2 acre plot of Zin is right at the century mark in age and produces a bright clean wine with berries and loam aromas. It is a healthy 15.5% in alcohol but with acidity which holds everything together. Priced at $32 this is a fair price for true  Old Vine Zinfandel fruit.

Sausal Old Vine and Martini Monte Rosso, Rancho Zabaco and Rosenblum all produce Old Vine fruit that expresses what consumers are looking for, they represent quality in the vineyard and winemaking.  The Monte Rosso is exceptional and so is the price.  If you have a special occasion take the step with the Monte Rosso it is a most exceptional wine.

Overall I would suggest that a tasting with friends could do you more of a service than buying individual bottles.  Make no mistake there is a wide range of quality. Be prepared to spend $30 to $40+ for the real thing. Anything less than $30 I would consider a very good deal.

What should you find in a true Old Vine Zinfandel?  Color should be rich and dark. Aroma and taste should  be full of berries and have blackberry etc brimming from the glass. Alcohol is generally 15% plus because of the need to ripen full clusters, many growers look for 25 degrees brix or more for healthy maturity of fruit and not just a number to pick.

Summer   time is perfect for the consumption of Zin.  BBQ meats and vegies and cheese are a perfect match for the fruit of a good Zinfandel.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are There Wine Merchants Anymore?

How many times have you needed a quality recommendation and found that the people working at the liquor/wine store are not savy about their product line?  Sadly the side effect of large scale wine dealers who floor stack wines is that they hire people not totally aware of their full inventory.  Costco is a great example. At Costco you get excellent prices but you have no one on the floor to explain their inventory. Costco works well for people who know what they want or have a set line of wines they drink and do not venture out. Although Costco does at times have winery reps there to sell you their product.

How can you increase your odds of getting a different bottle of quality wine and get an explanation of what  it is like?  Your first objective is to let the retailer know what type of wine you drink and enjoy. Give the name of the producer, vineyard, style of wine and price. With this information you stand a good chance of getting a positive new experience.  Remeber one vineyard can produce a single varietal but in the hands of different winemakers the end product is different and unique.

A good rule of thumb is to look for smaller shops which attempt to either import or be the sole retailer of a specific winery.  Also look for a location which is not in a high rent area as they are under the gun to make enough to pay the rent (unless they own the building). That being said these retailers most often do not carry the standard line of wines you see in Safeway, Costco, World Market, Bev Mo etc. They stake their claim to finding quality small producers who produce less than 1,000 cases.  This allows them to personally sell either the line or individual varietal bottlings.

Wine columns often review varietals from lesser known producers and often give the name of either the retailer or importer. This is a great chance to explore the styles and terrior of a grape grown in different  areas or countries.  As a savy shopper you will find some great deals in wines from countries which grow unique varietals.  Always read about and get as much information as possible before you purchase a bottle, this will increase your odds of getting something worthwhile.  Jon Bonne of the Chronicle offers up quality suggestions and gives detailed descriptions.  Good Cheap Vino is an excellent local site for weekly suggestions of wines and where to obtain them.

Wine is a journey and it is so rewarding when you discover a wine which opens up your palate to a new range of flavors and complexity.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

ZAP Tasting & BBQ A Hit

Just returned from the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting and BBQ at Rock Wall Winery in Alameda.  This annual event brings together a number of Zinfandel producers from varied areas of California.  The goal of this event is to serve food that compliments the various styles of Zinfandel made in these regions.  One of the benefits of this type of gathering is that food makes these wines shine and show their different flavors when matched with dishes such as Chicken Mole, Carnitas with salsa and queso, beef spare ribs with Argentine salsa and pulled pork sliders.

In my opinion this was a better consumer value than the huge tasting in January of each year. The January event has the vast majority of quality producers pouring their wines, but the crowd is so large that it becomes extemely difficult to taste as the day grows longer.  For that event I would choose a set number of wineries and go to them first.  After that let your mind wander and look for someone new or a winery you have not tried in many moons.

Why was this Alameda tasting more user friendly?  The first is that the crowd was not overwhelming and you could actually talk to people pouring and get information. In many instances you were able to speak to the owner/winemaker:  Jeff Cohn and Carol Shelton to name a few.  This event was held inside the Rock Wall winery and it was open air with tables both indoors and out.  The cost of this event was $50 per person, but that is a deal when you consider tasting so many superior producers. Add to that the high quality food that was part of your ticket and $50 was more than reasonable. Think of what it would cost you to have plates of the above mentioned food along with the outstanding wines that were poured and you are getting a deal for the price of admission.

If you love Zinfandel, join ZAP and attend the various events they present to the public. These events will inspire you to try different styles of Zinfandel and expand your horizons.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Del Carlo a real Sonoma Experience

Just returned from a visit to Del Carlo Winery in Dry Creek.  This six hundred  case winery is an opportunity to visit and taste what is the heart and soul of Dry Creek.  Ray and Lori Teldeschi are the owners of this 50 acre property which grows Cabernet, Old Vine Zin  (80/100 years old) Syrah, Petite Syrah and Dolcetto.  They produce their wines from about 10% of their vineyard production and sell the remainer to other premium producers. Duxoup Winery uses their fruit and houses their barrel storeage and bottling facility.  Their Old Vine Zin comes from a 2 acre plot of vines which are almost 100 years old. They most often bottle age their wines for two years and release them about 4/5 years after the vintage.

What is special about Del Carlo? They offer personal tours of their property and will also taste customers for a nominal fee. This is not the traditional Napa Valley show me your credit card and let's see what we can do for you..   Lori and Ray operate a successful vineyard management company and take care of a number of quality estates. They prune, drop clusters, thin canopy, contract buyers and make sure the vineyards   produce the highest  quality fruit possible.

Ray is the son of Mike Teldeschi, who was the original source of Zinfandel for the legendary Joe Swan. Ray was raised on this land upon his birth in 1948. Looking at his hands you know he is not a gentleman farmer. He and Lori are involved daily in the growth and production of the vineyards they  manage.  Swan's grapes for his Zins from the late '60's to very early 70's were sourced from this vineyard.  As I looked at the rolling hills and landscape of this vineyard you can see vines which have been grafted from old  root stock to healthy pest resistant vines.  The 2012 vintage at this time looks to be plentiful.  As with any farming mother  nature will determine  what the ultimate product will be in the months of October and November.

I tasted the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel (15.5%) and it was well balance and quite young. This is real old vine fruit !!! There is much to still come from this wine as a few more years will show.  Their 2008 Cabernet (14%) was also on the young side with strong Cabernet aromas and very balanced tannins.  It too needs a few more years of bottle age. Both of the wines are not over oaked and as a result they drink well now and will mature with  bottle age.  One of the benefits of being small is their price point is very reasonable. The Zin is $32 and the Cab is $30. When you look at the cost of most wines in this category you will see that these represent good value.

What do you get if you visit Cel Carlo?  Phone in advance and if they can they can set up a vineyard ride in their vintate 1950 Chevy truck  with a tasting of their current release wines.  This is one tour when you will actually go with the owner/winemaker  and not some PR person.

In summary Del Carlo Winery is a hidden gem in the Sonoma wine experience.  Their truck  accomodates  about 12/14 people.  Contact  4939 Dry Creek Road Healdsburg, Ca. 95448.   707-433-1036.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wines Til Sold Out WTSO

I have seen many internet sites  which advertise and attempt to sell wine from many sources.  As you on the internet have seen there are emails from: wineries, retail stores, auction houses, grocery outlets, discount stores, magazines and other print media.   I will admit there are some that are better than others: Ridge with their releases and videos, Wine Spectator with their informational videos from producers around the world and other sites which try to lure with with big name producers and SALE WINES.

I have been following WTSO which originates from New Jersey. I also found out that their shipping does not come from New Jersey entirely.  When they agree to take a lot of wine it is shipped from the  storeage facility or winery They will offer short term deals on a specific wines  at what they advertise as a steep discount.

 What makes this site attractive is they post wines from around the world and they fall into a particular regiment.  No sale of wine will exceed $100 and they are sold without tax and include free shipping.  All wines are sold as either 2,3 or 4 bottle purchases. This makes it easy to sell a case of wine with only three, four or six people buying.  They have a huge customer data  base and appear to sell all their wines in short order.

The customer must have some knowledge of the producer and year in order to make an informed purchase.   You are also buying the wine without tasting it.  I have been told that customers who have had corked or spoiled wine have had their wines  credited to their account. This is a major customer advantage.  Wineries or wholesalers who sell on WTSO must show that the customer is getting a true discount from the original retail price. I always either check out the website of the winery or, to see what the current retail value is..

WTSO is a front runner in the world of internet wine sales.  Like me if you wait long enough there will be a wine which makes you want to buy.  You decide if it is within your needs as a wine and in your pocket book.   Good hunting.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Old are Old Vines?

Old Vine wines are marketed in many countries with the concept that old vines produce less fruit per vine and more intense flavors.  The ultimate question is what makes up a true and honest old vine?  I have talked with wineries which feel 30 years  and older is an old vine since they often replace lower producing parcels at the 30 year cycle.  The other end of this is vineyards which have been planted and are older than 60+ years.   Beyond this level are vineyards planted prior to and around the 1900's. This does not include vineyards which have been budded with bud wood from very old vines and given a marketing name.  

Industry wide there is no clear definition of what "Old Vine" means.  There are way to many bottlings of wine labeled old vine than there are vineyards able to produce that amount of wine.  I would suggest that old vine is fruit from vines older than 65 years.  Looking at these vineyards be they in Calfornia, Australia, Argentina or parts of Europe they  show a unique shape and are not the trellised vines you typically see in contemporary vineyards today.  These vines have avoided the plight of vine pests which kill the root systems or the leaf structure.  

The best way to find honest old vine fruit is vineyard designation and case production. There are many old vine vineyards sold by: Martini, Rosenblum, Ravenswood, Catena Zapata, Starry Night, Carol Shelton and others. 

A California bottling of old vine Zinfandel which produces 20,000 cases is probably not old vine in the true sense of the word. How could a wine like this sell for less than $10??  Is the blend one tenth  old vine suggesting that it can use the name like a vintage solera sherry?  This is a marketing tool that is being used and the consumer appears to be taking the bait. 
By definition you can not over crop an old vine, it does it on its own. 

How do you find true old vine wines?  I have always tried to find a vineyard designated wine and look to see if they reveal their vine age.  Sonoma has a wealth of old vine Zinfandel vineyards and they are highly sought after.  As a consumer you should be prepared to spend in the $30+ range for real old vine wines.  I personally believe that there is a difference in the depth of flavor and richness of the fruit.  Perhaps getting a group of friends together and tasting a range of wines with the Old Vine  label and see for yourself if it is what they advertise.  

Castilla-La Manche Keep an Open Mind

I recently attended a tasting of wines from the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain. The tasting started with a flight of 9 wines two of which I had never tasted before.  The moderator for the tasting was Karen MacNeil a well know author and commentator of wines.  She did a fine job of providing a preview of La-Manche with respect to:  topography, climate, soils, vines, enological trends as well as  what to expect from the wines in the glasses.  Spain as a country is the third largest producer of wine in Europe with 1,240,000 acres of grapes, only France and Italy surpass it in production. With such a large amount of land under production tonnage  is low due to poor soils and older vines.

I learned that there are 52 different varieties of vines grown in the LaMancha region of Spain 26 each red and white.  The La-Manche region is the second highest  in Europe next to Switzerland. It should be understood that Spanish wines like many other countries are best understood when consumed with food. They tend not to be fruit driven wines with any residual sugar in the glass.  This was obvious when the wines were paired with typical Spanish foods: paella, serrano ham, manchego cheese, empanadas, tortas etc.  These wines compliment the food but do not dominate the flavors.  All I tasted had solid acidity and smooth texture when blended with the dishes.

I tasted the following wine varietals which I had never had before Reds: Bobal, Graciano, Agria and Whites: Airen, Macabeo, Albillo and Jaen.  The red wines as a group tended to veer toward being very dry and lightly tannic. There is still a standard of aging noble reds in barrel for years and then holding them in bottle for release 4/6 years after the vintage.  Wines aged a long time in neutal oak tend to not have distinctive aromas or for that matter flavors which set them appart.  I did find the Rose wines to be exceptional and distinctive in all aspects.  Summer time with a cool bottle of Spanish Rose is a perfect match for any light meal and satisfies the palate when mixed with fresh summer dishes.   The white wines also had a lot of mineral aromas  and flavors due to the high altitude of the vineyards.

Things to look for when buying Spanish wines.  They are some of the best deals with respect to dollar value and wine quality most fall into the $8-$25 bracket with most at the lower end. There are many co-operatives which produce large volumes of very well crafted wine and they are not to be missed because of their  price to quality ratio.  Pair your Spanish wines with foods and your experience will be much improved.  Search out wines from La-Manche and you will open a new door in your wine experience.  My favorite wines were Roses and then the wide range of  reds many using  such Rhone grapes as: Monastrell, Syrah and Grenache. The whites are at their best quite young and fresh.

Seek out the wines of Spain for a wonderful experience.  Slip a bottle into a dinner with friends and get their opinion when they mix and match the wine with food.  I think you will find it very rewarding.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Malbec Day

Last month  a group of wine oriented friends got a head start on World Malbec Day.  Our design was to taste and match some light foods with Argentina's main grape. We bought some of the better known small producers and decided to match food dishes with the wines.  We at first tasted and gave a score to the wines and then we matched them with food to see how they would change.  As we suspected the food made a big difference in how we looked at the wines.  All of the wines were in the very good category and rated  between  87 to 90.  Overall our opinion was that Malbec as a grape does well on its own because it does not tend to have harsh mouth coating tannins.  The fruit forward nature also is pleasing as a food match.  I feel that red meat and cheese are the perfect foil for Malbec, that is not to say that other foods will not do well.  Roasted vegies with a touch of garlic also shine and hold up well to the flavors of Malbec.

One of the best virtues of Malbec is the quality price ratio.  Most of the well known Argentine wines are at $20 or less.  Large retailers sell Catena, Alamos, Crios, Archeval Ferrer, La Posta, Llama, Pascal Toso and many more at less than $20.  I have had many California Malbecs and they ask much more for a wine which does not compete with the real McCoy.  With news of a grape shortage in California, I would suggest that consumers look to Argentina for great red wine at very fair prices.

We were sent samples of Crois and La Posta.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Vouvray Discovered Once Again

 Our group of 10 wine tasters ventured into one of the forgotten regions of wine production in France.  We chose Vouvray the ground zero of Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley.  Even though the appellation produces almost a million cases of wine annually you do not often see it on the shelves or displays of many wine stores and shops.  To be honest Vouvray is not the first name to come to mind when choosing a wine for lunch or dinner.  There are many stars who produce high quality Chenin Blanc such as  Gaston Huet, Champalou, Phillippe Foreau, Domaine Pichot, Francis Pinon and many others.  Huet has produced many late harvest wines which rank along with German Rieslings and French Saurternes as some of the top wines in all of Europe.  Decanter Magazine and Wine Spectator have listed his late harvest wines as among the finest in recent times.

A major selling point in consuming Vouvray is that the price to quality ratio is very high.  With the slightly foral nose and crisp acidity you have the perfect wine for spring and summer sipping and social occasions.  The results of the tasting of six wines was that five of the six were well above average in quality and the price per bottle was usually well below $20.  All of the wines chosen were all grower produced and of high quality.  Vouvray would make an excellent gift for those people who enjoy dry wines with a good dose of floral aromas.  The amount of Chenin Blanc grown in California is still very small compared to say the 1970's.  I would give this piece of advise about California Chenin Blanc, they tend to be a little heavier in body and lower in acidity. They are still a good drink, but in my opinion not the match of a quality Vouvray.

Do yourself and friends  a favor and seek out a Vouvray and experience a different flavor profile and stretch your wine horizons with a different white.  I think you will come away with a very positive experience.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Ancient Peaks Winery Quality Wine

During the past ZAP tasting in San Francisco I renewed my friendship with Ancient Peaks Winery in Paso Robles.  They poured an outstanding Zinfandel and it is priced to compete with any and all comers. My first experience with AP was a few years ago when they did a special bottling of Cabernet Franc for Trader Joe's  it was fantastic and only $10 a bottle. 

 They have a special story. 

Ancient Peaks produces about 10,000 cases of wine a year but sells almost 90% of their fruit to other premium wineries in California.  Located just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean they get a marine air flow which holds their grapes' natural acidity and fruit flavors. Being a grower first they are able to select the premium lots for use in their Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot, just to name a few of their wines.  

Their vineyards are not yet dry farmed but they get more than 30 inches of annual rain fall which bodes well for the future when the vines establish a root system which will allow them to be dry farmed in the future. There is a section of vineyard dedicated to Rhone varietals which have recently become very popular with wineries in the Paso Robles area.  Public interest in Rhone varietals is resulting in an increase in growing grapes such as Granche, Viognier, Roussane, Syrah and Rousanne to name a few.  Some Ancient Peak Zinfandel Blocks have been grafted to the Rockpile clone which can yield a very profound flavor profile.  

The wine press is aware of the quality and user- friendly pricing of the wines which is under $20 for anything labeled Ancient Peaks. The current issue of  Wine Spectator rates the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel as outstanding buys for the money.  Wine Enthusiast, Wines and Spirits and the San Francisco Chronicle have all rated Ancient Peaks as a great dollar value.  Current full retail for the reds is $17, but they can be had for $15 or less at many retail stores.  Last year Costco sold their excellent Merlot for $10 and it did not last long. 

Do yourself a favor and try your favorite varietal made by Ancient Peaks and you will have discovered the ultimate deal in well crafted wine at a great price.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Malbec World Day April 17th

  April 17th is the second World Malbec Day.  Here is an opportunity to bring your friends together and explore the wide range of quality Malbec made in Argentina.  Argentina boasts more than 50,000 acres of Malbec with 60% more than 25 years of age.  The real deal here is that the climate is so perfect for the growth of this wonderful user friendly grape.  I will gather with a group of friends and we will taste and share 8 different Malbecs.  This is not an expensive event for you to hold.  The majority of Argentine Malbecs sell for between $12-$18 a bottle.  Most serious publications rate a collection of various producers anywhere from 85-90 points, which means the vast majority of wine imported is above average.  

 Argentina can produce world class wine because of a number of benefits and we the consumer benefit.  Other than a rare hail storm the weather is warm and dry and the evenings are temperate  to cool.  Grapes retain their acidity and do not raisin.  Labor is inexpensive and the quality of work in the field and cellars his very high.  Foreign investment over the past decade has improved the quality of wine production and enhanced exportation.  It can be said that Argentine Malbec is superior to most others produced in the world and at a lower price.  

Join in on the celebration April 17th and gather some friends to taste what is the hottest selling foreign wine in the world.  As mentioned above the cost is more than fair and the experience will make believers out of those who take part.  Here is a list of producers quite often found in wine shops and stores:  Alamos, Luca*, La Posta*, Catena Zapata*, Tapiz/Zolo*, Kirkland, Altocedro*, Llama Old Vine*, Arhaval-Ferrer*, Clos de Los Siete, Vina Cobos, Dona Paula, Bodega Norton, Lamadrid*, Melipal*, Crios de Susana Bilbo, Salentine, Pascual Toso, Tempus Alba* and Tikal.

Wines with * are in my opinion well above average for their price range. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Restaurant Corkage and Etiquette

Bringing wine to a restaurant requires etiquette from both parties.  People who have cellars quite often like to bring bottles to partner with good food and friends. This policy requires that the diner bring a wine which is special.  Restaurants allow patrons to bring a wine/s which are unique or have a special significance. They charge a fee (corkage) which helps them recoup the lost sale of a bottle from their list as well as the use of their glasses and or decanter.

Rule one is never bring a bottle of wine which is either on the restaurant list or currently available at large retailers. This does not bode well for the diner. 

Rule two always call in advance to inquire what the corkage policy is and what they may charge. Often a restaurant will not charge you for one bottle if you purchase a bottle from their list which is very fair. 

Rule three what qualifies as a special bottle?  This can range from bottles brought back from a trip, to birthday or anniversary bottles.  If the wine is unique, old or of limited production this also meets the criteria of special.  When in doubt ask the restaurant and they will gladly respond. 

Rule four always offer the waiter or chef a taste of the wine. Many times just the offer will increase the your level of service or experience. The size of the taste is up to you. I have on occasion seen the fee waived for regular customers. Wine is a social beverage and meant to be shared in good company. 

What is a normal corkage fee?  This depends on the type of restaurant and their typical bottle price. I have seen a corkage from as low as $10 to as much as $75 or higher.  The end goal of bringing a bottle is to compliment the food of the establishment.   The restaurant can at its descression refuse to open bottles brought in by patrons. This is not a frequent happening but they are not obligated to open wine. Another tactic used to discourage corkage is to charge a very high price per bottle opened.   

In the end it is helpful to always ask about policy. Always thank the staff for their help in serving you and your guests at dinner.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wineries Under the Radar

  After attending the ZAP tasting at the end of January I found a few gems which are well worth you trouble to obtain.  Each winery produces Zinfandel from estate grapes.  There are so many styles of Zinfandel. What stands out for these producers is their ability to produce solid food friendly wine which has the ability to age for a hand full of years if not longer. Cost wise they would be considered in the low to mid range: $17-$27.  I would recommend using Google to put them into your travel plans if you are in their geographic area.  Here we go.

Dancing Lady Winery:  The Passalacque family have been owners of the vineyard land since the turn of the century.  I am very fond of their Old Vine Zinfandel '08 and '09.  Each is rich in color and full of the berry fruit which makes Zinfandel the favorite of so many wine consumers. It retails for $27.  The production is not very large and they sell a good portion to their wine club. They also grow Merlot and Syrah.  As a family venture the viticulture is done by Fred P.  and the wine making is done by their grand daughter.  Highly recommended.

Ancient Peaks Winery:  This winery south of Paso Robles is one of the outstanding dollar value producers in the state.  Their Zinfandel as well as all of their other wines come from estate fruit. The Margarita Vineyard is large enought that they sell fruit to many other outstanding wineries in the area. The Zinfandel vineyard will see some Rockpile clone grafted into a parcel as well as the Swan clone. Their Zin is rich and round with a dry earthy finish and mild tannins.  If you are in the Paso Robles area their tasting room is a must. South of Paso Robles take route 58 and at 22720 El Camino you will find their tasting room. Well woth a visit as they are the only show in town. They also produce excellent Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot at the same low price of $17.  They have in the past made wine in a private label for Trader Joe's and also sold some Merlot through the Costco chain.  Very high dollar value wines.

Ballentine Winery:  Originally founded in the early 1900's it closed  and was opened once again in 1992. The orginal family vineyards as well as added land now accound for vineyards of about 100 acres in Napa. Their Zinfandel is top notch and quite rich. They also sell quality Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. Their price range is $24-$29 a bottle.  What makes them special is they have sold their estate fruit to the likes of Ravenswood, Mondavi, Caymus Rosenblum and Rombauer.  This is a clue to the quality of fruit they grow.  The other plus is their tasting room is not a dollar first visit. They welcome you and are most pleased that you have chosen to taste their wines.  I have visited in the spring when they have a wine sale and made some excellent buys.  They would like a call prior to arrival, (707/ 963-7919.   Well worth your time and money.

   Next post is discuss  What is Old Vine Wine?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Zinfandel Grand Tasting (ZAP) How Do I Get The Most Out Of It ??

In the next couple of months wine lovers will have an opportunity to attend a few rather large public tastings.  These tastings offer the wine lover an opportunity to view and sample a huge range of wines which may be on their radar.  Attending one of these events requires a plan and discipline. One of the up and coming events is January 29th the  Zinfandel Advocates Producers annual tasting.  This event is centered on Zinfandel produced in California from producers both large and small. As is the case with Zinfandel it has a huge range of styles and flavor profiles. 

Cost: most tastings run from $65 prior to the tasting to $80 at the door if tickets are still for sale.
The cost is very fair if  you consider the range of wines and their market value.  You can expect to find some new wineries to catch your fancy.

Eat something prior to attending the function.  Nothing worse than drinking 12%+ on an empty stomach.  You will probably see a number of people who have not  done this during the length of the tasting. 

Arrive early and I mean perhaps a hour or so. The buildings fill up very quickly and you will soon find yourself elbow to elbow with people wanting to taste at the most popular producers.  Getting there early will give you anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to get to the people you want to see if you are lucky.  

Check out the presenters and pick ten producers you want to taste. If you like a certain winery or style mark them and when you walk by their table be prepared to taste. Look at the email of the event and who is presenting. Most catalogues attempt to be flowing but more often than not the booth is not easy to find. 

Sip, spit and pace yourself. There are always food items to compliment the wines. Do not get hung up in trying to taste every winery you see. That philosophy is a no win for you since there is more wine than you will ever consume. 

Overall enjoy the experience and keep good notes. Share this time with a friend and exchange notes so that you get input for the huge number of wineries who participate. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wine Publications and Information

There are many excellent wine publications which offer the reader extended reviews of wine.  Should you subscribe to wine related magazines and journals?  How do they influence your ability to choose and purchase wine? What are the benefits of wine publications now and in the future? These are just a few of the thoughts that come to mind when you get a card, email or letter asking for your business. There are so many publications.  How do you know which is right for you?

Newspaper wine columns are often a good source of information.  Major papers have a wine column and it can have a wealth of information.  Excellent writers are in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, SF Chronicle as well as Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles papers to name just a few.

If you are an avid consumer and love a variety of wines I would suggest that you purchase a trial issue or two to see if the format is what you are looking for. Many publications offer a free issue or two to interest you in buying their publication.  Think of what type of wines you drink and where you most often purchase them.  Do you want a domestic publication which lists a large number of available wines in your price range?  Are you interested in the people who are the movers and shakers in a specific area or varietal?  Do old and rare wines interest you?  Are you looking to find publications which give information about wine regions and travel?  

Another excellent source of information is importers. They often have on their website informational videos and interviews to help you find that wine you have always wanted to taste. Larger importers also list events in which they participate in your locale. Look on the back label and inquire at their website.

Find the wine publications in the library, book store or local wine association in your area.

Some magazines which come to mind are: The Wine Information Guild, Wine Spectator, Wines and Vines, Decanter Magazine, Wine Enthusiast, Food and Wine, Wine News Magazine, Gourmet, AAA magazine.   Many others offer content for both consumer and professional.  View wine publications online.  The work is up to you to cull through and find that right magazine which will guide you to current releases that will expand your horizon in wine.

If you are very interested in wine or just starting out, reading quality literature will expand your horizons and provide you with a wealth of information.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wine Clubs are they for you?

Most wineries offer some form of Wine Club as a way to sell you their wines throughout the year. It is common for them to incorporate different forms of "perks" as a way of encourageing you to become a member. Some of these perks can be: barrel tastings, new vintage releases, parties of various types depending on the cycle production or holiday of the year.  Another perk is the price which you can buy the wine. Typically it is a discount of 20% or more for futures or pre-release wines.  As always it is in your best interest to try to taste what you will be getting in a few months or years.  This being said if  the winery meets all this criteria and you are fully committed to their wines and style you are in a perfect club for you.

What are the options to look for to protect you from ordering a wine or wines you my not want to own or drink?  Recently a friend of mine got a half case of wine which he paid for as part of his Club membership and opened two bottles to find that he was not happy with the quality of the wine. I suggested that he contact the winery and inform them of his problem.  They gave him a credit and encouraged him to visit the winery and taste.  The wine he bought is commercially available and being a member saved him some money. However he terminated his membership soon after because the wines no longer were made in the style he preferred and he did not want to incur the cost of more wine that was not to his taste.  Make sure you can opt out of a club if you are not happy with the wine you get. Also inquire if you can pick and choose or skip a shipment because this will meet your needs not the wineries.

I prefer to belong to a winery list that offers wines which are well thought of and very hard to find. This may be the only way you can aquire their wines.  Lists can take months to years before you are able to purchase their wine. An example are a number of Washington wineries: Andrew Will, Cayuse, Walla Walla Vinters and Reynvaan to name just a few who make a very small amount of high quality and well rated wines. Their mailing list offers the buyer their wines at their base price which is always higher in a retail store if you can ever find them. You will not be able to buy a large amount but something is better than nothing. Be prepared to spend some extra money but the quality is superior.  I have known of people who will get the wines and then turn around and sell them to a retail store and make a huge return on their money. This is provided that you are able to find a store that wants the wines.

The wine world is huge and Wine Clubs limit you to just one portion of the market. As stated earlier if the wines meet your needs then go for it.