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Wine of the Week: Bonny Doon, 2008 Le Cigare Volant

Date: Tue, Feb 4, 2014 Wine Tasting

The New California Wine: "The style pendulum may be swinging back toward restraint over hedonism" ~ John Bonne

I think we all like finding buried treasures, sometimes they're a treat and other times, and well you know where that is going. This wine I discovered in my own wine cellar was definitely on the treat side of the proverbial ledger. I had purchased a huge wine cellar last year and had moved everything from my pantry [all eight cases plus] into the what is a cavernous monstrosity sucking down power like no tomorrow [part of the reason I opted for a solar solution].

Getting back to the wine, it's a brilliant Rhone style blend from one California's most iconic producers,the eclecticBonny Doon Vineyardsfound in the eye-pleasingly beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in northern California, found just a bit south of Napa and Sonoma.

While I've only had the opportunity to visit this area once, way back 2007 [when I was still working full time] sadly my opportunity to visit Bonny Doon slipped from the itinerary and I missed seeing the vineyards for myself [there's always next time]. That said, Mr. Randall Grahm was gracious enough to have sent me a couple samples to peruse at my leisure, coupled with an invitation to visit next time I'm in the area.

Many vinosapiens get a quizzical look on their face when I talk about theSanta Cruz Mountains AVA. I'm sure they must be thinking, "uh, where the *bleep* is that" and then most are not even sure what AVA is anyway. It's the kind of [nearly useless] knowledge that begs the question,"what are you, some kind of cork-dork?"

If I had to chance to answer, I'd most assuredly answer with an enthusiastic nod of agreement and say,"guilty as charged".It would be so easy to pick me out of a lineup, purple-teeth and purple stained fingers oh-my, depending on the situation and a crazy collection of old corks.

If you're quite bored and feel like busting out a wine-map or you just want to Google it, you'll find theSanta Cruz Mountains AVAislocated just south of San Jose, California. This huge appellation represents just over 350k acres. According to Vinogusto, "It's astonishing, given the hardships [in particular the onset of huge fires in 2009] of viticulture in the Santa Cruz Mountains, that this appellation hostssomeof North America's most elite wineries, with the likes ofRidge,David BruceandBonny Doonand I am a big fan ofByington andTestarossaas well.

So now that you have an idea of where I am talking about in regards to where this wine is from, now it's is time to bring into to focus the subject of this review theBonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008. Literally translated, "Le Cigare Volant" which is French for"The Flying Cigar"or euphemistically speaking, the flying saucer. Sci-Fi fans take note, this is afirst-contactwine!

I finally cracked open thestelvin closureand poured myself a glass just hour before dinner for its first evaluation, passed with flying colors. In the glass anearopaque garnet colored core, giving way to cerise colored rim, then brilliant aromas escaping easily from the glass sporting some brier and underbrush, black cherry and undefinable gamy note.

What I found was an extremely elegant wine, a Rhone Zone blend I received as a sample long ago.A very soft pedaled blend with Grenache leading the way light cherry, violets and plum, loads of minerality and soft earth. The tannins as tame as your tabby, and will reward all those willing to give it a swirl for themselves.

On the palate, is an impressive concentration, with chewy plum, currant, nice minerality, licorice and tarry notes. Although listed as a California wine, it's is made in anterroir-drivenold world style and does not require any long term cellaring, since it is drinking amazingly now and the finish just sails on and on.

With/without Food:This wine was a great quaff just by itself, a surecrowd-pleaserwith an appropriate amount of decanting and just a wonderful wine for pairing with many different food combinations. Keep in mind this can't be said of all wines and is a high compliment to thewinemakerand the growers of these grapes,well done! Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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Good Wine Makes Good Neighbors.

Date: Mon, Feb 3, 2014 Wine Tasting

Good wine makes good neighbors.

Robert Frost said “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” but I think he may have been mistaken. Rather, good wine makes good neighbors. There are few better ways to share time with friends, or those you do not yet know well enough to call friends, than over an open bottle of good wine.

In my tweets (@bruisedGrape), I frequently make reference to the #TreehouseBoys but have never really explained who they are nor introduced them. We are, perhaps, a bizarre collection: academics, physicians, brokers, government contractors, parcel-delivery and wine guys. One might even term us “Brothers in wine”. Ours is a friendship developed over years but I joined later than most and was introduced to the group gradually.

Some years ago, we moved house and our new neighbor, a fellow academic who shared my love for wine, befriended me perhaps entertained by my naïve enthusiasm for grape juice. He had been collecting wine for decades and was passionate about the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and Mosel. He shared great wines with me from each of these, and other, regions. Many of which were older that I was.

We tasted wine together every Thursday, and occasionally, we were be joined by someone new: a stockbroker, a physician, a contractor - old friends of one or all of the others. Then one day I was introduced to the common theme – the wine guy from whom they all bought their 1982 Bordeaux futures. Let’s call him Mr White (please excuse the Reservoir Dogs reference). The Treehouse Boys had being buying wine from this same source for 30 years and, over a short period of time, our weekly tasting became the excuse we needed to establish a club for big kids.

The quorum was formed and, to this day, we continue to taste, commiserate, celebrate, gossip, argue, laugh and taste some more – each and every Thursday. So why then are we called the #TreehouseBoys? We were so named by Mr Brown, the wine store manager, because putting us where good wine can be bought is apparently like building a tree housefor bunch of mischievous kids andtelling them it’s the first day of summer vacation – every Thursday.

We constantly try to outwit and out-taste or simply deceive each other with wine, bringing the old, the esoteric, the new and the classic. The wines are often shrouded in a brown bag until we have all completely lost any shred of the oenophile’s dignity we thought we owned. Everyone, however, returns to “wine genius” status immediately upon the great reveal and we claim to have been just on the verge of naming the region or the vintage.

So back to the point of this blog, my wine of the week, another surprise wine from one of my #Treehousecompatriots. This week’s wine is the 2004 Justin Vineyard Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon. Justin Baldwin bought the 160 acre Paso Robles property in 1981 and planted much of it to Bordeaux varietals.

Initially, this wine had me confused. The bottle was brown-bagged as usual. The wine was deep purple in the glass with little hint of bricking on the rim but the nose was effusive leathery, tobacco, funky with black fruit. It was reminiscent of a Bordeaux but the fruit seemed a little too ripe for an old world wine.The palate showed black and blue fruit with dark chocolate-covered beef jerky, bell pepper, spice, toasty oak and earthy tannin. The oak might have been a little much for me if the wine was younger but it had integrated a little better with bottle age and seemed less stark that it would, perhaps, have otherwise.

Needless to say, my initial thoughts were not so structured nor did they lead me immediately to a correct first approximation of the wine’s identity. That said, it was a solid effort, and made all the more enjoyable to have the chance to share it with friends. The only thing that remained for me was to hurry home with the last of the wine and share it with my wife who, by some miracle of intuition had created an incredible pairing - beef stew beef stew with tomato, carrot and acorn squash in a base of tomato and beef stock.

It was a wonderful evening that began in the company of friends, and ended by enjoying a great meal with my beautiful wife and the same character-filled bottle of 2004 California Cabernet. As we finished the last of the wine I rotated the cork between my fingers and read:

Just stop
Just sit
Just stay
Just relax
Just reflect
Just remember
Just Justin
Just call 1-800-726-0049

So JUST-IN-case you think that exploring wine with friends is a choice between the stuffy and the uninformative, think of the Treehouse Boys as we pull the cork on another great Thirsty Thursday Night. Go and text your friends or knock on the door of a neighbor. Ask them to drop in and share a bottle with you. Get to know them a little better and have fun with your wine. It will soon be grass-cutting season again and you will see them much more frequently anyway.

Wouldn'tit be so much better, if your Saturday ended with a great bottle of wine and a conversation with friends? So remember what I said – Good wine makes good neighbors, and whether it’s your nextdoor neighbors or other friends life is so much better when you take a moment to chat, laugh together and share something special.

I have no pricing information on this, and as for rating - I won't on this occasion - the wine was not consumed under my standard scoring criteria (http://cuveecorner.blogspot.com/). Besides, my Treehouse buddy really did not want it to be scored. Sometimes you simply want to enjoy it - with special people.There's just no way to put a score on that experience.

You are JUSTIN time to pull another cork!


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Why Wine Tasting Notes are Important and Useful

Date: Fri, Jan 31, 2014 Wine Tasting

"Tasting notes are just self-indulgent. I reallydon'tsee any use for them exceptstoking an author’s ego or a publication’s collective ego" ~ Eric Asimov

I being the contrarian that I'm known to be, I take great exception to his wild-eyed assertion. Do I think he was speaking to me directly, nah of course not, it's highly likely he has no idea who the bleep I'm. But that said, the tasting notes I write are not here just for my own self-indulgent purposes; my gawd if that was the case, I wouldn't even bother to keep a blog or tweet, instagram and/or FB. If you've read this blog for even a short amount of time, then you'd quickly realize it's nothing of the sort suggested above.

The guy makes his living, 'writing' and writing a tasting note is part of the wine review process. For him or anyone else [other wine writers] to suggest that writing a tasting note about a wine sent for the review process or simply encountered by whatever means is a bad-thing. To me that statement is near the withering heights of hypocrisy. Please, oh-please give me a break!

My intended purpose [for writing a tasting note] is to encourage exploration of the wine world and exuberance for said discovery. Secondly, it's an effort to help [assist] keep folks from being locked into drinking the same wines over and over by suggesting alternatives. There's a huge wine-world out there and the tasting notes I write are nothing but a mere sign-post on the highway, pointing the way to exploration.

Now to the reason I think tasting notes [such as the one I'm about to write below] are very helpful, and not only those which I write, or type out via various social media platforms I use daily. The wine which appears in today's review is the type of wine which if it had the tasting note I'm about to write would have been so very helpful to me and anyone else considering purchasing it.

The2011 Rasteau, Domaine la Soumade,"Cuvée Prestige"which I uncorked a few weeks back, is a beast of wine. So much of a beast in fact that it's highly advisable that you uncork one day and drink it the next. That's right just uncork it, and leave it slowly developovernight in your pantry, that's how I handled it and it worked out quite nicely. This not the first time I've had to do that, and I'm certain it won't be the last. Further, I'm not sure even a few hours in a decanterwould have been sufficient enough for that wine to open up properly.

Don't get me wrong, because when I say it's a 'beast' I don't mean that in a bad way. It's just that this wine is no where near 'approachable', in the mere moments after it has been uncorked. The tannins are huge and bracing, it's not a wine for the faint of heart, it's more akin to drinking French Roasted coffee from a French Press black. If you've done that recently or its a vivid memory from the past you mostly likely don't recall that experience fondly.

Are you starting to see why a tasting note like the one I'm writing at this moment would have been helpful for this wine? This wine is the poster boy for, "Why Tasting Notes are Helpful". If you still don't get it or see my point, then there's sadly no hope for you and the reason that wines in can and wine filled bags in a box are still a big hit. But for everyone who 'gets-it' please feel free to continue reading.

Here comes the awful tasting note part of the article; so if you find this makes you squeamish please look away it will be over very soon. Here's the score for this wine 91points, you'll find it sells for $28 most places.

Talk about brooding, this wine took two days to fully unwind. A deep, dark color in the glass rushes to meet you at the door, like an armed man waiting for the thief behind the door. This inexpensive Rhone Zone gem; will wow the palates of the more discerning and veteran wine drinkers, while easily scaring away the uninitiated. A wine beaming with flavors of espresso, near ripe blueberry and blackberry fruit, dark chocolate, finely ground dark rich earth and tar. You can truly taste the terroir, a wine with real soul and substance. I can't wait to sample the rest of their line-up.

Domaine La Soumade in the commune of Rasteau, produces this wonderfully expressive cuvée prestige, a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. I thought that perhaps, the percentages were a bit skewed, considering its muscular profile, but no I'm wrong. I just didn't expect a Grenache to be this big, it's a smoky, meaty wine offering generous dark fruits, pasted over taught tannins and plumed with enough acid to carry the generous fruit.

A wine likeI'vesaid which requires loads of patience if you’d like this wine soonerrather than later. Frankly, I’d recommend purchasing it, throwing it into a deep dark hole of your cellar and throwing away the key for quite some time, this puppy is really meant for long term aging. Until next time folks remember life is short, never stop exploring. Slurp long and prosper cheers!

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The Rhone Zone: E. Guigal 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Date: Thu, Jan 30, 2014 Wine Tasting

"The best Châteauneuf-du-Papes are among the most natural expressions of grapes, place and vintage. ~ RP

Another brilliant 2007 Rhone Zone gem that could have you wanting to high five the Pope and possibly have you considering becoming a convert? Now, okay maybe that last bit is astretch, but a high-five at the very least is in order, right?

This wine is ready to rock soon as you uncork the bottle, it's dressed to impress. Loaded with under brushand piped with wild black licorice, the kind you'd likely encountertraipsingaround on a local San Diegohiking trail, on a warm sunny San Diegoday.

Here's what I found, roasted, but not overly ripe dark plum and ripe cherry which all quietly play bass in the background, while tar, figs, more underbrush and other spices jam on the sax to a harmonious beat that will have your toes tapping. The tannins are as tame as a tabby and so well integrated, there's nothing but wine drinking pleasure here.

I'm awarding this wine the highly coveted "drink now and drink often" designation. While it sells for $47 at some wine stores, the wise vinosapien shopping around the internet can find this bad-boy selling under $40, making a very nice wine to uncork with family and friends on any weekend.

A bit of history: The nameChateauneuf-du-Papemeans 'new castle of the Pope' and refers to the fact that the town. A great spot to set up shop, located just north of Avignon, and was chosen as the new home for the Pope's court way, way back in the early 14th century.
"Robert Parker love him or loathe him [you decide]commented on Marcel Guigal that "In the past 20 years I have spent visiting wineries and vignerons, I have never seen a producer so fanatical about quality as Marcel Guigal."
While many folks familiar with the Rhone Zone, adore and admire longingly what some call the prestigious Northern Rhone regions, like Hermitage. The truth is the north only accounts for about 5% of all production of the entire Rhone Zone. The remaining 95% is made in the south under far-less-prestigious and lesser known names. Now that said, the south does have some of its own red-carpet walking prestige; it’s known asChateauneuf-du-Pape.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards are farmed organically or biodynamically, and the region's abundant sunshine and frequent wind (calledle mistral) practically preclude the need for treating the fields with herbicides or pesticides.
The wines themselves are equally pure, their flavors rarely masked by aging in new oak." ~ Robert Parker
Whether you agree with Mr. Parker or not, like or don't like his use of the 100 point scale, I think we can all agree on one thing he's knows CDP like the back of his hand and has some very good insights into this region.

This wine has everything the average vino-sapien is looking for via earthy, mineral-driven nuances, [you literally taste the vineyard dust] engaging aromatics which draw you in for the first slurp. A food friendly wine with a gentle verve of dark and red fruits pulsingthroughits soul, that will make you sad once you've poured the last drop from the bottle.

Even the garden variety wine-twirler will immediately "get" this wines easy going, yet very sensuouspersonality. This isthe style of wine which makes food pairing choices so easy and wonderfully fun. I can't imagine too many things that would not pair well with this wonderfully well-made wine from a stellar vintage.

If you've never taken a visit to the Rhone-Zone via bottle, plane, train or automobile;thanthisfolks is your ticket to ride. A wine that will come out, shake your hand and you'll become fast friends. It will leave you wondering why you had not met sooner. My score on this wine is94points, the kind of wine to purchase by thecaseload. It’s an easy, fun and flavorful thrill ride, so very much worth the price of admission. Untilnext time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

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Fié Gris and Me

Date: Wed, Jan 29, 2014 Wine Tasting

"The wine cup is the little silver well, where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell" ~ William Shakespeare

Folks who know me, understand that I'm not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but to be fair I rarely even think about uncorking a white wine. I do however love all types of Sauvignon Blanc as a go-to ingredient for various recipes. That said, every once in a great while, I'll reach for a white wine and often it's something like a Grenache blanc from Paso Robles or the Rhone and possibly even a random Riesling [the wine that supposedly goes with everything].

Last night was one of those moments, as I was preparingKatie Lee's easy-breezy [so simple even a vinosapien like me could prepare that] Sole Meunière Recipe [seen below], while the Prez was giving everyone "the same old song and dance" via the State of Union Show. I sadly opened/uncorked my very last bottle of 2010Fié Gris I had stashed in the cellar, so now it's time I look for a refill.

This Recipe below turned out perfectly, and the resulting sauce was in a word "wow" and I know that because the ever fussy [discriminating] Mrs. Cuvee asked for a second helping, that's how I know I've hit the proverbial home-run. A fact that further demonstrates that if I can prepare this dish, anyone can. Sadly, tho she is still not sold on the beautiful qualities ofFié Gris like I am. Btw, if you save room with dessert FG goes great with toasted marshmallows.


1/4 teaspoonkosher salt[don't fuss if it's not kosher]
One of the big wine [surprises] discoveries for me last year is a great little wine calledFié Gris,[Éric Chevalier] a wine whichto me isthe poster boy for "esoteric". And for me to be crazy [wonderfully excited] about any Sauvignon Blanc, it would appear that it has to be French, and it's typically a Sancerre which captivates me so often. Now enter Fie Gris [Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Vin de Pays du Jardin]I really dig this description below.
"Long before there was Sancerreand/orPouilly-Fumé, certainly long before Marlborough or perhaps even Sauternes.And long, long before there waseven SauvignonBlanc in the New World, storytellers and wine historians say, there wasFie Gris." ~North Berkeley Imports.
The following was my tasting note from last year. Nothing has changed, this a wine with real soul and substance. The nose on this winegrabbed my attention immediately; very smoky very [gunflint], bell-pepper,loads of wet-stone, infused with just a twist of lemon peel and not fully ripe plums. On the palate, vivid acid, but still a lush full bodied mouth feel,smoke from a distant fire, herbaceous, wet-stone fruit, making for a wonderfully terroir-driven wine experience not to be missed.

I've not sure ever tasted a wine similar to it, but there's something familiar about it. Ifoundit to be a very exotic wine to be sure, but nonetheless extremely captivating, inviting sips at first, then slurps and finally even a big gulp [oh-my].

Until next time folks remember,whilewe recognize that convenience is an important factor in the fast turn-around bottled [#wine] segment. It's my contention that good food & good wine should not be the rare commodity, but rather it should be a model which we strive to live-by!

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Wine of the Week: Chateau Rollan de By, Medoc 2008

Date: Wed, Jan 22, 2014 Wine Tasting

"Bordeauxisn't just "buttoned-down luxury" folks just need to look behind the label to discover the soul of @BordeauxWines"

It's time for the Wine of the Week via Throw-back Thursday. This Left Bank Merlot dominated gem from the Medoc comes to us via the folks at Chateau Rollan de By. A Chateau found in the wonderful vine-land known as Bordeaux, more specifically a Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc AOC.I was quite surprised and happy to find that I still had one bottle left in a dark corner of my cellar. I'm happy to report that it's drinking better than ever, far better than it was in 2011 when Ioriginallyposted this review.

So once again, in today's wine review spotlight is the Chateau Rollan de By 2008 Bordeaux is Cru Bourgeois.For the folks who don't know or are not familiar with this "special" Medoc classification given to acknowledge some of top Chateaux.In short, whatCrus Bourgeoismeans for the average vino-sapien at large is that these two words seen on the label are aguarantee [of sorts] about the quality of the wine in the bottle.
"If Cru Bourgeois is on a wine label it means that the wine has been examined and certified as having the high enough quality and taste characteristics to qualify as a Cru Bourgeois." ~ The Kitchn
The Cru Bourgeois certification and classification is done on a yearly basis. Therefore, having it one year is no guarantee that you will have it the following year. Now that said, from what I've observed while I was there last year, is that the Bordelais in the Medoc have created their own slice of wine paradise with this certification, one that doesn't come with the expensive price tag far too many associate with Bordeaux.

I grabbed this wine from my local Costco [Morena] here in San Diego back in 2011, fortunately you can still find this wine available for purchase at various places online. If you're still not part of the "buying wine online crowd" then may I suggest that you give it swirl soon. All the wine buying trends suggest it's a genie that's not going back in the bottle any time soon. Besides, it's rather painless and so easy any cave-man can do it.

Back then theywereselling it for right around $24 if my memory serves me correctly. I've seen other placesonlineselling this same winefor under $20, if you can score it for this price, I'd buy it by the case. This wine is whatI'dcall a “drinknow and drink often” classicCru Bourgeoisat its best.

A wine which had been featured on the inside cover of Wine Speculator, heralding its marvelous achievements of being picked for their magazines 2011Top-100 wines of the year list. That of course is quite a high-honor, and I'd like to say congratulations, job well done.

On anothercongratulatorynote;TheChateau Rollan de By 2009 Bordeaux "Cru Bourgeois" hasreceived top honors fromheavy-hitters Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauveas one of the Organic Wines of the Year for 2013. Some very good news for all you folks who get weak in the knees over hearing an excellent and yet relatively inexpensive wine is also"organic". That said, here's your opportunity to stock up on a very good wine from a great vintage.

Positioned at number ninety-sixon the WS "bestof the year" list[just made the cut]. The folks at WS scored this wine90 points and labeled it as I have; a drink now and drink often with a solid buy recommendation.I took that to mean that this winemay nothave the stuffing for long-term [10-15 years] cellaring, which I think is the point.

While Bordeaux has been seenbymany as wines which often rewards only those among us who are patient enough to allow [time in the cellar] the wine to properly mature. After uncorking this wine more than once, Ithink this wine was made in a style which I would label as "immediate appeal" a very approachable Medoc to the buy today, drink today then repeat.

Honestly, I don't think that is so bad and why would you want lay this bottle downanyway as it's drinking pretty fab at the moment. I would have to say I pretty much agree with part of the WS opinion, there's not enoughsubstance for the long-term future [10-15]. But it's my opinion that drinking pleasure in the here and now is at its peak. That said, stock up now this fab juice for the price.

Swirl, Sniff and Slurp: In the glassa wonderful blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot, a blend weighing in at a mere13.0% on the ABV scale. The usual suspects are found here in my tasting note; a dark colored ruby core, leaning toward purple, at first blush in the aromas department, a rich bouquet of dried plum and raspberries, fused together with some nice graphite and rich earthy elements, very compelling and appealing.

On the palate a delicious northern Medoc blend that captivates in what I would call a far more finesse type approach, as it does not hit you over the head with a basket of ripe dark and red fruits but subtly endears itself to you, like a significant other feeding ya some fruit, while you'reblindfolded. So you have ripefruits laid over smooth tannins, like blackberry andblackcurrantand more earthytype suggestions of cocoa and cedar lead to the rich, yet complex medium length finish. A real foodie type wine sure to please a majority of palates.

What's the Score: I gave this wine a solid 89 points back then and still stand by that score. While I'm at it; I'd like to couple that score with a hearty "buy"recommendation.Now if you can score this wine for under $20, it's quite the "good-buy" for the adventurous foodie and even the wandering-wino looking for their next thrill ride down tasty lane.

Final thoughts: This bottlerepresents in my mind the perfect entry level Bordeaux that willease any newbie into exploring this region alittle more thoroughly via this fine example of what the Medoc can offer even those on a budget.That's all I have for you today folks, until next time sip long and prosper, salud!

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Wine of the Week: 2009 Foradori Granato

Date: Sat, Jan 18, 2014 Wine Tasting

It has beensaid, "Wine buffs write and talk as though the food and wine will be in your mouth at the same time, that one is there to be poured over the other. This is bullshit. Gustatory enjoyment comes from food and wine and cigars of your liking. So far no one has said that a Monte Cristo is the only cigar to smoke after Armagnac, Romeo and Juliet after Calvados ... but the time may yet come."~ Clement Freud

Clement here makes some good points and he is right who am I tell you what to drink or eat for that matter? I mean c'mon we can all agree, that each of us should drink/eat what we like. But like the patrons who visit the wine store where I work, whooften look for my recommendations and or opinions on certain wines before making their purchase, I only offer my impressions for your and their consideration; what you or they do with that advice is ultimately in your hands.

I can tell you this though; many customers over the years come back to the shop and tell me how happy they are with my recommendations. I've even recommended wines while working the wine demo scene in a local San Diego Costco, only to have a customer who was visiting from Atlanta and who had purchased quite a few cases based on my recommendation to enthusiastically thank me via an out of the blue phone call. But again, please drink what you like, but if I may be so bold, if you'd like to drink better than the average vino-sapien, then please stick around for this review and the many to follow.

After being uncorked on a Thursday evening, and sealed up via a vacu-vin at the end of [COB] evening, opening the bottle again on Friday evening brought much joy. This wine improved significantly, the fruit was far more accessible, the tannins had mellowed and the fine ground minerality was much more evident. It's a bottle that just needed a few hours of decanting or uncorking the day before, to be fully enjoyed the next. I'm so glad I had another opportunity to get to know this fantastic Northern Italian gem better.

The 2009 Granato is 100% Teroldego [a new grape to me] comes from three different vineyards of the Campo Rotaliano in the Trentino-Alto Adige region in Northern Italy, very near the border of Slovenia in the appellation of Vigneti delle Dolomiti [IGT].

Many other reviewers have given this wine outstanding scores and praise, I echo a few of those sentiments but slow my roll just a bit, when it comes to the use of the word phenomenal or other jumping up and down adjectives. This wine is a beauty no doubt, offering gorgeous aromas of blackberries, dark cherries, herbs, and stiff but drying tannins. You also may notice subtle hints of coffee and lovely fine ground minerality and a vivid underlying acidity bringing the balance.

While this wine demonstrates amazing depth, underlying power and a medium sized finish, it does require patience. It’s not a wine that comes dressed to impress right away, it’s a bit of a wallflower. To fully enjoy this wine, bust out the decanter many hours before you plan to get out onto the dance floor via your empty wine stem.

This wine is a real beauty, consider honestly seeking it out. It's a unique experience that will bring you much joy. I can't go 94 points on it, like so many have, but I'd give it at least it a solid 91 points. It sells for $54 most places and isbottled under a cork closure. Until next time folks please remember life is so short, don't settle for theordinary when you can have the extraordinary, slurp long and prosper cheers!

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Do you know Bordeaux's Cru Bourgeois?

Date: Fri, Jan 10, 2014 Wine Tasting

It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. ~ John Wooden

Whether we are talking about basketball or taking care to make the right moves in the vineyard, it's the little details [which often go unseen] that make big things happen. I've reviewed this same wine before, but it was reviewed for a post I did for the French Wine Explorers [yep, name dropping] last year.

But after having uncorked a second bottle recently, I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss this little gem. A very good wine [not a sample] that sells most places for just under $20. Would I say it's a great wine, no it's not "great" by the exacting definition of the word. But that said; it would be great to have this tasty gem swirling about in your glass, just waiting to be slurped with reckless abandon [that's the way I do it].

As it says in the title, do you knowBordeaux's Cru Bourgeois? If not, well you should and this article is the perfect opportunity to dive into what may appear to be a relatively newclassification. However, the truth is that it has been around since the middle ages, which I'm pretty sure was a long time ago. The Bourgeois had a sweet deal going on back in the day, freedom from having to pay taxes [bestowed on them by the English] and they had their pick of the prime vineyards, but then French Revolution came along, everything changed and not for the better either.

Fast forward to the present day, after years of wrangling, wrestling and plain old bickering the termCru Bourgeois was allowed back on the label and the classification was in effect reborn. Of course the folks who didn't make the "cut" claimed the "process" was not fair and decided to take their toys and go home. If you want all the juicy details, I'd invite you check out the blow-by-blow action right here.

You have to put in many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile. - Brian Tracy

Now if you're wondering okay, so what is the big deal? Good question, the "big deal" is that designation supposedly means you're getting a much higher quality wine than you would otherwise. And to make insure this is taking place, independent panels of wine-tasters have been established to make sure everyone is playing by the rules and tasting the wines to make sure those on the list, deserve to be there. Again if you'd like the exacting details and you'd like to read all of the steps then please feel-free to do so here.

Now here comes the part of the article some have dubbed astyrannical? I know, I know that is what I thought, say what? It's just my simple tasting note, my experience with the wine so you can take it or leave it. But as someone in the wine blogging world had formerly used as his tagline, "I spit so you don't have to" meaning the wines being reviewed is most likely one of the better gems that has been come across in the course of tasting many toads [those not worthy of mention or drinking].

So now all that said, here without any further ado are my tasting notes enjoy. A very tasty CruBourgeoisfrom Chateau Du Retoutin the Haut-Medoc of France. I found this wine boasting ofabundant dark plum, blackberry, cassis, and licorice dominate this youthful wine, but there's enough minerality and stiff but forgiving tannins driving through the middle to remind you this is Bordeaux with attitude.

Old world charm and new world flair, an amazing combination that’s bottled unfiltered and unfined this gem from Chateau Du Retout could age for another 10 years easily. Until next time folks remember life is short, you never know when you may be uncorking that last bottle. So for crying out loud, please drink like you mean it and please don't settle for junk wines. Until next time, continue to slurp long and prosper cheers!

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Treat Yourself To A Chateauneuf Kind Of Year

Date: Mon, Jan 6, 2014 Wine Tasting

As you may have already gathered, I love Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP). So as we enter a new year I thought that I would highlight a few more wonderful CDPs from the 2011 vintage. With so many value wines from this vintage drinking wonderfully well now, why not make this your year to explore Chateauneuf du Pape.

The 2011 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape is intensely aromatic, almost effusive with notes of black and red currant/cherry, herb provençal and spice ushered from the glass. On the palate, the core is equally driven and focused. The extraction, however, is not overwhelming and is almost perfectly matched by bright and lifting acidity. Toasty vanilla notes meld with the acidity to provide a defining edge to a wonderful cobbler of summer fruits and spice. The entire package is layered over wonderfully pliant sweet fruit tannin. Satisfyingly persistent, the finish brings a little pepper to the party, just to prompt the next sip.

To be clear, this is a wonderfully elegant wine, beautifully perfumed and enticing. Everything about it cries “drink me now!” (Second day – red fruit sorbet on the nose, red currants/cherry predominate the palate sweet and spicy fruit tannin with hints of pepper and great depth of flavor). This has what I might simply call – a delicious factor. It just dances a happy wee jig in your mouth and your tongue will thank you for the introduction. The 2011 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape is available around the US for $55-65/btl, and worth every dime. 92 points, Andy.

The stone-covered soils of many CDP vineyards are frequently featured on the labels or in the names of their resulting wines. e.g. cailloux or galets.

Sample kindly provided by Reliable Churchill Distribution
The 2011 André & Lucien Brunel Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape is truly a delight in this uneven vintage. Beautifully translucent in the glass, the nose is flush with fresh raspberry coulis, black cherry, summer flowers accompanied by kirsch and hints of spice. On the palate the immediate impression is of black/red currant, black cherry, pepper and spice. The mid-palate and finish are edged by garrique, game/cured meats and a wonderful nori-like minerality, highlighting this elegant and beautifully assembled CDP.

As a whole, Les Cailloux is agile, light on its feet but the palate remains pure and well focused. Lifted by great acidity, the fruit seems lively and the tannin lithe and flexible. It does however retain sufficient muscle to provide continued evolution in the cellar over the next 7+ years.

As with prior vintages of Les Cailloux the 2011 is a wonderful food wine, possessing a fine balance of minerality, acidity fruit and tannin. It is more than capable of standing up to a great lamb stew or Osso Bucco or pairing well with game or poultry without overwhelming their flavor. The 2011 Les Cailloux CDP is available in the US for around $45/btl. 91+ points, Andy.

At the risk of taking analogy too far, the 2011 Domaine de Marcoux is filled with excitement and energy. It feels like the passion and romance of early love. By contrast, the 2011 Les Cailloux is deep, dark and filled with character and experience; the slow burning flame of a love that has been tested by the fires of life.

At whatever stage of life, love or wine you are, these are wonderful examples of moderately priced, early drinking CDP that will not disappoint. So fire up some hearty winter fare and pull the cork on these wonderful wines.

Santé à tous


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Winemaker Profile: Alison Crowe, Garnet Vineyards [Part Two]

Date: Mon, Jul 8, 2013 Wine Tasting

"A slight chill can focus aromas, tame the perception of alcohol and can make a red [wine] seem more refreshing, especially when the weather heats up." ~ Alison Crowe

Here's part-two of a great conversation I had with the winemaker of Garnet Vineyards in Carneros. A Santa Barbara native and winemaking degree from UC Davis in her back-pocket she's lighting up the wine world. If you'd like to stay in touch with her many adventures, you can do so by following herhere.

In the photo above she is demonstrating the proper technique on how-to reinsert the bung back into the bunghole [oh-my]. If you didn't know, Alison has ventured into the world of wine-blogging, one she has dubbed theGirl and the Grape;you should check out when you have a chance. As an example; Alison queries in a recent blog post "so don't know your bung-hole from your wine thief?" so if you don't then grab the rest of the storyhere.

There were so many questions, I had to break up this conversation into two parts. I know I promised I'd have it ready to go by Monday, but life-happened. That said, here is part-two and without any further ado here you go.

Cuvee Corner: Being a winemaker in your region is tough, but what are some of the benefits and/or challenges?

Alison Crowe: Benefit: Every day is casual Friday. Challenge: Everybody thinks you just drink wine all day.

CC:It has been said "Writers about wine should, at least on occasion, be troublesome, irritating and critical.” ~ Andrew Jefford what are your thoughts?

AC: I’m in an interesting position because I'm both a winemaker and a wine writer.Sometimes I have to wear my brand-owner hat, but I will tell you I am always wearing my journalist hat, which perhaps makes me a little more curious, skeptical and some would say outspoken than many of my winemaking colleagues.

I believe constantly challenging our assumptions is important and I love writing about what’s happening in and what’s changing in the wine business. On the winemaking side, I believe in science and data but the first truth to which we must answer when making wine is pleasure- the truth of our senses.

CC: It has been said, "No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land" ` Helen Keller how would you describe yourself?

AC: I’m curious, generous and skeptical workaholic hedonist who believes in the power of human relationships and in first giving others the benefit of the doubt. I love people. Winemaking begins with people.

CC: It has been said,” The greatest wines are not forced, pushed or exaggerated,” [Italian Winemaker Bernabei]. And he went on to say “They maintain their sense of place" what your thoughts?

AC: I always believe that you have to respect the fruit. I've been writing this in articles and it’s in my book: Sometimes all you have to do is get out of the way.

CC: Has the profile of Pinot Noir in California changed in the past 10 years?

AC: “California Pinot Noir” is a big category and since Sideways has expanded greatly in volume. See my answers to “unbalanced fruit bombs” for more insight- There are indeed more bottles of what I would call “value” California Pinots out there, say $7.00/bottle and under, built largely on mass plantings of Central Valley Pinot Noir.

But most Pinot-lovers aren't drinking these wines and are sticking to their tried and true Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Monterey Pinot Noirs. Have these wines changed? I think in exciting new ways. I love how the popularity of the varietal has prompted it to keep being planted in abundance in cool climate areas like the Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast and the Russian River.

We keep loving our Pinot and keep nurturing it, and as our vineyards mature we learn more about how best to grow it and make it. I love the variety in style and approaches I see in Pinot Noirs and I think as a varietal class, it really offers so much for the curiosity seeker. Few other varietals lend themselves to such different clones, yeast regimens, fermentation schemes, oak and aging approaches.

Try finding that same scale of sheer variety in something like Napa Cabernet; that is a very narrowly-proscribed winemaking recipe viz a viz ripeness levels, maceration, barrels, etc. I make Pinot Noir and when I go to a big Pinot Noir tasting, I'm as excited to try new things as any wine country tourist because my colleagues are always doing new things.

CC: Do you think some California Pinot Noir gets tagged with an unfair reputation for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs?

If wines are indeed unbalanced fruit bombs then it’s fair to call them that, and there are certainly some out there, just like there are unbalanced fruit bombs in just about all varietals and categories. It seems to be a style some winemakers aspire to.

Pinot being a grape that is typically planted in the cooler areas of California, it’s odd to me to even put “unbalanced fruit bomb” and Pinot in the same sentence. Compared to Cabernet, Zinfandel or even “red blends,” Pinot Noir still remains the safest playground for those seeking something with higher acid, less oak and less “fruit bomb” character.

The grape simply just won't go there as readily as other varietals, which is one of the reasons I love it. There is no denying, however, that the Sideways frenzy prompted vast plantings of Pinot Noir in areas where it typicallyhas notbeen grown (like the southern Central Valley) and these grapes are showing up in under $7 bottles that perhaps are more like “red wines with Pinot Noir on the label for marketing purposes” than expressions of the varietal I would hold up for someone’s education on varietal typicity.

CC: If you were offered to work outside the comfy confines of domestic wine production, where would you go and why?

AC: I’m not sure how many of the struggling small farmers and brand owners I know would call the domestic wine business “comfy” but I think I get your question… if I were offered a job in the fragrance industry in Europe, I would definitely be intrigued.

The world of perfume has been a lifelong love, and it’s actually through exploring herbs and flowers, and how they have scented aromatic compounds that perfumers try to capture in liquid form, much like a winemaker does, that actually steered me toward wine in the first place. I think I got into wine because I grew up in Santa Barbara’s wine country; had I grown up in Provence I may have become a perfume-maker.

Additionally, I think someone in the wine business, with a degree in winemaking, which essentially is an applied microbiology degree with a healthy dose of biochem, agriculture and some marketing thrown in, would not necessarily find themselves too out of place in the world of distillation, brewing, cheese-making, the restaurant biz or small-scale farming. Remember that winemaking is like glorified microbiological zoo-keeping.

It’s taking a perishable natural product, shepherding it through a food processing plant (your winery) and turning it into something more lasting and enjoyable. Planning, logistics, managing people, and managing perishable agricultural products….You can see how many folks who are in the restaurant business make very successful crossover winemakers too.

And never forget how turned on we all are by the cool stories about who and what are behind the delicious and delightful jams, pastas, beers, breads and cheeses we all enjoy so much. Storytelling, communicating and sharing are an integral part of making our handicrafts live, which is why I also writearticles about winemaking which was published in "The Winemaker’s Answer Book" in 2007. I also just launched a blog called Girl and the Grape. Wines and words are my way of communicating my passion with the world!

CC:When it comes to Pinot Noir, where do you derive your inspiration in the winemaking process?

AC:Foremost from the vineyards and then secondly purely from hedonism. I am all about pleasure. First you have to channel the vineyard and respect the fruit. You have to let the fruit tell you what it can or can't do, you can't force it. But once the lots have been aging separately for at least eight months, you can start to blend based solely on the pleasure principle.

I have my favorite barrels and oak types but I don't have “rules” as to what does or doesn't go with something else, like “Francois Frres can never be blended with a Tonnellerie Quintessence barrel,” for example.

I am simply trying to make the most delicious bottle of wine possible. I do a lot of trial and error and blind tasting, and I am constantly surprising myself. It’s great to let your experience be your guide but it’s important to keep challenging your assumptions.

CC:If there was just one wine type/style left to drink in the world what would it be and why?

AC:Sparkling wines. I find endless interest, and food pairing versatility, in a cold glass of tart, refreshing bubbly.

CC:Of all the many grapes in the world which do you think is the least understood or respected?

White Zinfandel. Just kidding, that’s a trick answer. There’s no such grape variety as White Zinfandel, though it’s often a question new visitors to wine country or wine newbie’s ask. “So where’s the White Zin grown?” It starts out as red Zinfandel grapes and gets slightly squished to make the familiar pink stuff.

But even though so many of us would never touch White Zin, you have to respect it’s place in winemaking history; starting in the 1970’s, it helped set the stage for today’s rosé revolution and single-handedly introduced millions of people to wine drinking for the first time.

Many of those folks have branched out and began to drink wines they never would've thought of touching decades ago. It all happened before I was born and certainly before I was legal to drink but, like Robert Mondavi’s pioneering of marketing California wines in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the White Zin explosion helped get us where we are today.

CC:It’s has been said, it takes a lot good beer, to make great wine, thoughts?

AC:Beer or sparkling wine, it all has bubbles, so it all counts! Many of us choose a martini, or gin and tonic but I think the key is that it be refreshing, not too sweet, and yes, effervescence does help. Basically after we've had our hands in red wine vats all day, and its hot outside, do I really want a big glass of red? I don't think so- bring on the Domaine Carneros!

Thanks again Alison it was great chatting with you here, thanks for making the time. I hope everyone has enjoyed this series; I have another winemaker interview in the pipeline, one which I just completed, so I hope you check it out next week. Until next time folks, remember life is short, make the most of it, sip long and prosper cheers!

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The U.S. Uncorked: Top 10 Wine-Travel Destinations [Part Two]

Date: Tue, Jul 2, 2013 Wine Tasting

“No nation is drunk where wine is cheap; and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.” ~Thomas Jefferson

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone and welcome to part two of the Top Ten Wine-Travel Destinations. I trust everyone has their travel plans set for this week's Fourth of July festivities. Mrs. Cuvee and I off on another wine adventure, heading north from San Diego to spend some time in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

6.The Monticello Wine Trail: This newly emerging wine-destination in Virginia is not too be missed and the winery featured in the image above is in my view one of the best examples of "why" you need to get your buns over-there to see what is going on for yourself.Amy Zavattocommenting on the Virginia Wine Scene had this to say;"Nearly 240 years later, Virginia has becomeJefferson's land of the free-run, home of the grape" Wow, who doesn't like to have their dreams come true, even if those dreams and visions are not realized in your lifetime?

I had both the privilege and the pain of visiting this area on thee HOTTEST weekend of the year during the 2011 WBC in Charlottesville. While none of that diminished the beauty of this great area, or the wines I experienced. I'd say choosing to visit in late June, July or August would not be the best choice. Jefferson's Vineyardreview.If you'd like to visit this wine-tastic area and I recommend that you do, here's a handy-dandyguide.Key Varietals: Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Chardonnay.

7. Woodinville, WA: An amazing easy place to visit for anyone traveling to Seattle, as it's just a mere 30 miles outside of the Emerald City. So pack those picnic baskets, load-up the bicycles, the kids and dogs and go experience some the best wines being made in the state of Washington. I know, here we are back in Washington State, and for that reason alone you should take note. Here is the linkto discovering either the Warehouse district or the Tourist District and your key to uncovering some seriously good juice. Key Varietals, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc,Semillon and more.

One big-time recommendation for dining while in the area, don't miss theBarking Frog at Willows Lodge. A few favorite wineries, I'd put on your list DiStefano, Betz, Baer, and DeLille, just to name a few are not to be missed [real wines, real soul]. Need more recommendations? Email me!

8. Santa Cruz Mountains:Matthew Kramer longtime writer for the Wine Spectator commenting on the Santa Cruz Mountains wine scene is quoted to have said, “It remains one of California’s all-time underrated wine districts!”If the only criteria you have for traveling to a wine-destination is how much they tickle yourfancy,then this may not be a region you'd enjoy exploring. But that said, this is a great alternative for folks who live in the bay-area to explore a wine region which doesn't have either Napa or Sonoma on the label. Key Varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

If you're a bit more on the adventurous side and don't mind winding roads to the top to find great wineries like Ridge pictured above, then it's time to pack those picnic-baskets. Besides the fantastic views from this world-class winery, you'll also find a great place hang-out, uncork a bottle or two to share with friends and family. I've only been to this area once, but it was an unforgettable. Amazing views, great wine abounds and again if cycling is your thing, a visit to this area is not to be missed.

9.Walla Walla, Washington: Good friends, Good Wine, Good Times. I was so glad to see this one on this list, a city so nice they named it twice. Mrs. Cuvee and I had an opportunity to visit this great town back in 2010 and it was unforgettable. The hospitality, and the spirit of generosity flow as easily as newly uncorked bottle of wine. If you'd like to get the complete 411 on this amazing wine-destination, please click on this linkhere.

And for a complete list of the wineries feel free to click through this e-zinehere.The B&B's in-town are amazingly comfortable, you may never want to leave. Now for a few recommendations winery-wise, L'Ecole [wowsers] Dunham Cellars and Waterbrook are not to be missed. Again if you want the complete list of recommendations, feel-free to email me.

Okay last and not the least by any stretch, number ten will be revealed here [next Travel Tuesday] once I get back from my next wine-travel-adventure. Until next time folks, enjoy your FOJ celebration with friends and family and as always remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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Winemaker Profile: Alison Crowe, Garnet Vineyards [Part One]

Date: Mon, Jul 1, 2013 Wine Tasting

"I believe in respecting the fruit and letting the vineyards speak their particular truths. Sometimes all I have to do is get out of the way." ~Alison Crowe

I love meeting and talking with winemakers, the movers and shakers of the wine-world. They always have some of the most compelling tales to tell, but not all of them want to share those thoughts or stories with just anyone. But being in the public-eye as they're, it is somewhat expected, so some spill-it-all while others keep some of the information a bit closer the vest. I want to thank Alison [grab her bio here]for taking a moment to talk with me via this Q&A interview, I really appreciate her candor and willingness to share her keen insights about the business of wine.

I've not met Alison in person, butI'vegotten to know her so much better over the course of the last few weeks preparing via her appearance on #WineChat and even before that via a lively conversation on her FB page, regardingwine-blogs. In the process I've come to respect her greatly, even tho we don't agree on everything. She has an amazing energy and passion for the wine-biz, one you'll see in her answers below.

Frankly, I expect to see big things from her in the future, her passion for life reminds me of the quote fromPaul Brandt who is quoted to having said, "Don't tell me theskies the limitwhen there are footprints on the moon.”Without anyfurther ado, let's jump right into the conversation enjoy.

Cuvee Corner: Why is the term vegan-wine not on the label?

Alison Crowe:Wedon'tput “vegan” on the label because we never saw it as a major selling point.We get asked the “vegan wine question” maybe once or twice a year, and since most wine made in the world is vegan anyway, we thought it would be a bit of a silly selling point.

Like, hey, buy our water, it’s wet and will quench your thirst! If we put “vegan wine” on the label we would probably get called out by our colleagues, and rightly so. Because most wine is vegan already, labeling Garnet wines as “vegan” would smack ofgreenwashingto me, or trying to distinguish ourselves from the pack undeservedly.ButI'mhappy to talk about it if people are curious.

CC: You take to social-media like a duck-to-water, but many folks wonder about the ROI, what are your thoughts?

AC: Like a duck, I just jumped in and got wet! I’ll be the first to admit that I am learning all the time and have to swim in these crazy waters every day to keep on top of all the changes and developments that happen in the social technology sphere. I encourage other winemakers to jump into the fray because it’s an amazing way to directly touch your audience and the people who are out there enjoying your wines.

I'venever known any other way to so quickly get directly in touch with folks;I'vebeen able to develop relationships with customers, buyers, bloggers, suppliers and journalists thatwould'vebeen difficult if not impossible to achieve otherwise. This is a relationship business and ifyou'rebuilding relationships,you'rebuilding ROI. Effectively utilizing social media can be tough as a winemaker if youdon'thave the freedom to be yourself.I'mlucky because as a small independent winery, I do have that freedom, and am very thankful for it.

CC: Do you have any tips on how to manage the work/life equation?

AC: I have two small sons, a two and a half year old and a three month old and the work-life balance is something I’m figuring out every day. I couldn’t do what I do without my great Assistant Winemaker Barbara, a supportive and flexible husband, photographer and wine educator Chris Purdy, and our “support team” of preschool teachers, great daycare and our nanny, Emily.

For all you aspiring super-parents out there, never be too proud to order a pre-cut up veggie tray for the party, do a boxed cake mix or heck, even buy the cupcakes.

Ask for help and accept it. Adjust your lifestyle standards as necessary to get by but hold on to what’s important to you. My husband works in winery hospitality and wine education so we only get one day together every weekend as a family. That’s our day and it’s precious to us; we used to get a lot done on the weekends but we do more on weekday evenings when the kids are asleep so we can just play and hang out together on Sundays.

CC: What music if any plays in the crush pad during harvest?

AC:Los Straitjackets were playing yesterday in the cellar. I also am a huge classical music fan, something I picked up from my old boss the late, great Monterey County Pinot Noir pioneer Don Blackburn.

CC: Bucket List Question: If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?

AC: Paris and Grasse (home to the agricultural side of France’s perfume industry-where all the roses and jasmine are grown), France.

CC: Why did you choose the stelvin closure [screw-caps] instead of cork?

AC: This will be a major ongoing topic on my blog, Girl and the Grape, I’m sure, but let me briefly address why I use twist-offs (AKA screw-caps, etc) for Garnet Monterey Pinot Noir ($14) Carneros Pinot ($20) and Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($17). First of all, Garnet Carneros has always been in a screw cap.

Especially since I’ve been experienced using Stelvins since my days at Bonny Doon when Randall staged “The Death of the Cork” and so am very comfortable with the closure and know how it affects wine and aging wine. Stelvins and VinPerfect (which I’d like to do some trials on, they were recently developed by an MBA colleague of mine from UC Davis) closures are simply more consistent than corks and plastic cork-type closures. They let in a predictable amount of oxygen and of coursewon'tcontribute to TCA “corked” defects, which is so much better for the wine and the wine-enjoyer!

They cost about the same as corks, so its’ not like they provide any cost savings. Rodger’s Creek, our single vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot which retails for $30 is bottled under cork; I make a few hundred cases of that soI'mless worried about it going out to the mass market and having a major rejection of cork quality.

Because I can do tight QC on that small number of corks (I make a combined ~17,000 cases of the other wines) and because, as a new small SKU wedidn'twant to develop a customscrew-capfor that very small number of cases, we went with cork there. If that SKU grows, we would go to screw cap there too.

As far as consumer and winery acceptance, it’s skyrocketing even though we are way behind the curve compared to Australia and New Zealand, where just about every wine is bottled under twist-off. In the US, 38% of wineries use screw caps on their wines, which is up from about 5% in 2004. For more on this issue, I can do no better than to point everyone to one of the very best pieces of wine journalism that really gets into the issue: the chapter on corks and screwcaps in Jamie Goode’sThe Science of Wine.

CC: When it comes to Pinot Noir, where do you derive your inspiration in the winemaking process?

AC: Foremost from the vineyards and then secondly pure from hedonism. I am all about pleasure. First you have to channel the vineyard and respect the fruit. You have to let the fruit tell you what it can or can’t do, you can’t force it. But once the lots have been aging separately for at least eight months, you can start to blend based solely on the pleasure principle.

I have my favorite barrels and oak types but I don’t have “rules” as to what does or doesn’t go with something else, like “Francois Frres can never be blended with a Tonnellerie Quintessence barrel,” for example. I am simply trying to make the most delicious bottle of wine possible. I do a lot of trial and error and blind tasting, and I am constantly surprising myself. It’s great to let your experience be your guide but it’s important to keep challenging your assumptions.

Okay folks here's where part one ends, but please come back next Monday for the 2nd half of the interview, as it already hot-off-the-presses and ready to go, so you can readily count the next slice being served-up next Monday. This will be the next to last post until after I come back from Monterey. I'm sure I'll have boat-load of perspectives to share with you from the Santa Lucia Highlands and more than a few images. Once again big-time thanks to Alison for sharing her insights with the entire wine-community. Okay folks that is it, have a fun, yet safe Fourth of July celebration and until next remember life is short so sip long and prosper cheers!

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The U.S. Uncorked: Top 10 Wine-Travel Destinations [Part One]

Date: Sun, Jun 30, 2013 Wine Tasting

"Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life's most civilized pleasures." - Michael Broadbent

Seeing anotherlistrecently featuring what readers [sometravelers] believed were the top destinations here in the U.S for wine loving vino-sapiens, I was inspired to write my own. Especially in light of the fact, that two of them had me wondering where and a third closer to where I live had me wondering why?

Please don't get me wrong, I'm in complete agreement with seven of the ten and I've been to all but three of those listed in that article. But I think the criteria for making the selections seen on that "list" were made from an entirely different perspective than the list I'll be compiling below. And yes, unlike many otherwritersI've been to each one of these areas, more than once.

My main criteria is going to be related to wine-regions which Ibelieveare making some serious juice [wines with soul] and no not the wines you'll typically find crowding the shelves of your local grocery store aisle either.

Slow your roll. The numerical order below has zerocorrelationto any idea of which region I think is the best or not the best and is purely coincidental. Forpurelypracticalpurposes the numbering is useful for maintaining orderly article. So, without any further ado, let me jump right into it.

1. Red Mountain: Benton County, WA: I've been to this area more than a few times, the wines here are more than exceptional, they're a true testament to following your dreams and the desire to make wines with soul. I've never had a bottle from this area, where I thought "ewww" I never want to try that again. I still have bottles of Red Mountain tucked-away in my cellar. To this day, I still purchase [for myself] and recommend this region at my day-job.

You'll find getting there; is quite simple really, via a quick flight from Seattle.White Earth.Blue Skies.Red Mountain. On the list below is many of my favorite vineyard sites. But if you want great value, please see my friends at Terra Blanca who make everything from the pop-and-pour Tuesday evening wine, to the more sophisticated wines to lay-down and enjoy later.Key Varietals:Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

2.Paso Robles, California: For those living in either San Diego and or Los Angeles, Paso is a very easy wine-destination to access. Staying downtown is my preferred and recommend option. There are many delicious off-the-beaten-path white wines [Rhone Zone] and rock-star red wines, based on Syrah [plus others] andCabernet Sauvignon.

Staying downtown, [which I recommend] you have walking-distance access to world-class restaurants and other more affordable but equally good dining choices. From downtown you can be in the vineyards within 10 to 15 minutes or feel free to access many of great choices for tasting via the plethora of tasting room there. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone Zone faves.

3. McMinnville, OR: Some of you may be wondering why I chose what is known as the sub-appellation of the greater Willamette Valley AVA. The answer is simple, because for me it makes a great jumping off spot to visit a majority of the other sub-appellation in the area. Once you land at the airport in Portland, it’s a quick hour to drive the 40 miles to McMinnville. It’s a city that rocks a small-town vibe, but still has plenty of upscale restaurants to tempt you. And with an abundance of B&B’s in the area finding a comfy place to stay is all too easy. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris.

4.Sonoma County, California: In Sonoma, you'll find a less hurried pace, than in the neighboring Napa Valley. I don't look at one being better the other, only different. Both offer the thirsty vino-sapien vastly different wine experiences, while there make sure you make the drive out to coast. The scenery is gorgeous, you can follow the Russian River, if the adventurous type, maybe even bust-out the kayak.

Either way do yourself a favor and get out to see all you can of Sonoma, it's far more than just a grape wine-destination. If you fancy yourself a cycling enthusiast, then this is definitely the place for you. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

5. The Napa Valley:Now some folks generically think of Napa, as just being about one thing or another like big-brawny Cabernet Sauvignon. And while there's more than a grain of truth to that notion, from my many experiences Napa is so much more than big-gun Cabernets. Napa has so many different characteristics to-it via its many sub-appellations, it can be a little like trying to catch the wind.

So slow, take your timeand remember the road to exploration can be found beyond highway 29, the corridor which runs length and breadth of the valley floor. I like to take my tasting adventures appellation-by-appellation. If it has been some-time since you've been here, don't forget to check-out the newly revived downtown Napa, it has nicely re-developed, re-energized and has a great vibe. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir via Los Carneros.

5.Santa Barbara County: How in world was this amazing wine producing area left off the list in favor of moreobscureplaces is really perplexing, to say the least. A sad-fact which still has me scratchingmy head inamazement.But that said; hey Los Angeles and San Diego this wine-travel destinationis even closer than a trip to Paso and there's even aquaintDanish Villagelike a step out of time to explore, great-golf, an abundance of amazing wineries to visit; like Foxen,Melville,Stolpman Vineyards,Rusackand more. If you need my complete recommendation list, just email me.

Remember folks this is the same wine producing region where Miles and Jack gotSidewaysin more ways than one. If you plan to visit this region, I'd recommend staying in Solvang, instead of the city of SantaBarbara itself. Solvang in my opinion makes for the perfect jumping-off spot to hit a majority of the wineries and, with amazing Los Olivos, where great dining and many tasting-bars abound. It's sonearbyyou'll wonder why you've not made the trek before. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Rhone Zone Whites and Reds.

Check back here on Travel Tuesday for the complete updated list via Part Two.

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The Rise of Commodity Wines?

Date: Wed, Jun 26, 2013 Wine Tasting

"We needed to recognize that convenience is an important factor in the fast turn-around bottled [wine] segment."~ Carlos de Jesus

Convenience is one of the biggest factors driving many consumers to make the choices they do each day. Whether it's wine or cheese, convenience will be part of the equation. Think aboutAmerican cheese for a moment, aswe'vecome to iconically understand it, bright yellow, and often comes wrapped in an odd type of cellophane.

While it may conveniently lie across a freshly grilled burger or a sandwich, neat, no-fuss and no-muss. However, if you want to dial-it-up a finer cheese experience,to serve guest, then you're probably not thinking of convenience or commodity cheese.

It's a safe-bet that fromagefraiswill be on the shopping list. Many commodity wines also fit nicely into the convenience category; they're simple, ordinary, monolithic and sadly formulaic.

Many of you know Jamie Goode [who pronounced the death of wine-blogs] writing for theWine Anorak, has introduced a new multi-part series tracing "The Rise of the Wine Brands" oh-my another vast red-wine conspiracy.

He states; "There aretwo genresof wine. On the one hand we have wine as a commodity: grapes are grown, crushed and made into wine, which is then sold cheaply andconsumed uncritically. In this case, theconsumerviews wine in much the same way as they would treat flour, milk, fruit juice or instant coffee."and on the other handRead More:

A sad but true commentary on what makes up the largest segment of the wine industry, commodity wines.When attempting to understand the difference betweencommoditywines andfinewines; the following answer to awine-searcher.comQ & A makes the point in spades.
"Several years ago, when I was very young, I was in theU.S.and pouring wines in a wine shop. One guy came up to me and said, 'Is your wine better thanLambrusco?' I said, 'I hope so.' He tasted the wine and before he was leaving he said: 'Believe me,Lambruscois better.'
~ Marilisa Allegrini is a sixth-generation member of top Valpolicella wine producer Allegrini Estates"

While it may be useful to remember that the vast majority of wine drinkers here in states are drinking bulk juice or commodity wines, it's also important to understand that those same folks arenotreading wine-blogs or any other wine related publication for the most part. They don't know or care who Robert Parker is and they only have a slight understanding of the 100 point scale.

As you read through some of the articles, you can kind-of start to see a dividing-line. On one hand you have the "bulk-wine [commodity/value] drinkers and the other side of the equationthe "interest" or "terrior" drinkers" [Mr. Goode]
Here's another article [via the Drinks Business] confirming the desire of many to consume commodity/value styles of wine.Read More:
“Americans can't get enough ofmoscato, and there’s a rosé renaissance is in full flow, and the red blends boom is big news in 2013, according to the latest U.S. sales analysis.”And yet the highly homogenized styles of Chardonnay is still riding a growing wave of consumer demand.
A report compiled from a 2011 Top Ten [value] Wine Brands [even tho two years old, the only thing that may have changed is the position of the pieces on the chess-board] confirms that's there is definitely a rise in the preference forcommodity wines.

So did you think commodity wines are done pushing the limits of absurdity? Nope, it appears they're just getting started, so move-over beer in a can and wine-bag in a box, here comes Winestar. The place where commodity wines meet vending machine convenience.
“We are targeting a specific market and season: young French consumers who are bypassing wine shelves and instead plucking off cans of fizzy drinks and juices to wash down their picnic meals.”wine-searcher.com
But so what?Honestly, for me personally I'm not really panicked or even remotely worried by these trends. Like some sporting tight-fitting tin-foil hats who see a vast red-wine conspiracy to limit the choices of the average vino-sapien on the vinous super-highway. To that notion, I say balderdash! From what I've seen [with eyes wide open] there are so many choices out there for the adventurous vino-sapien, it would take a lifetime or more to explore them all.

It's my contention that good food and good wine should not be the rare commodity, but rather it should be a model which we strive to live-by. Sadly tho, very few vino-sapiens, will ever want or desire to live their life that way.And I'm perfectly fine with that, please by all means "drink what you like" but expect a bit of [unbeknownst] friendly mockery in regards to your choice to consume jug-wines.

While many wine drinkers/consumers like you [dear reader] and I are the exception, yet I still don't see my choices for discovering wines with soul being limited in anyway. No instead, I actually continue to discover new and exciting regions which produce amazingly affordable wines, which are not produced like a cheap commodity, but are still wonderfully convenient to purchase.So again remember life is short, live well and drink well. Until next time sit back, relax and continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

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