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Thursday, December 27, 2012

California sparkling wine under $30

It's almost New Years Eve as this gets posted and many of you are thinking about getting a sparkling wine for the celebration. What to get without spending a bunch of money? Oh yeah, and it should be a good bubbly.

If you're willing to spend about $20 to $30 you can get a very enjoyable wine. Here's some ones I turn to:

Chandon in Napa Valley has a line of what they call classic sparklers, but also have a reserve line of Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé all retailing at $30.

Domaine Carneros Brut is a vintage-dated sparkler, 2008 is the current release, that retails for $28.
Best for the money
Image from

Gloria Ferrer non-vintage Blanc de Noirs is a great deal at $22.

Korbel organic Brut is not the same as their regular Brut you see in every wine shop and grocery store in America. The organic Brut is a nice wine for $16 and is a very worthwhile step up from the $10 junk you'll find in the store.

Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut. This non-vintage wine retails for $23 and is definitely a best buy at this price. This is one I can always trust to give me bang-for-the-buck.

Schramsberg Mirabelle. A non-vintage Brut retailing for $25 from the folks in Napa Valley that make the best bubbly in California.

If you're willing to spend a bit more try Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee for $38, a Blanc de Noirs. If you want to go cheaper find the Spanish sparkler, Freixenet, that goes for under $10.

Your prices and availability will vary depending on where you reside.

So what are all these weird terms you find when shopping for a sparkling wine? I blame the French. :)

Brut Dry (less sweet). Typically a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. By the way, Extra Dry is actually sweeter than Brut. See what the French have done?

Blanc de Blancs means "White from white." It's made from white wine grapes, usually Chardonnay.

Blanc de Noir "White from dark." Made primarily from red wine grapes, usually Pinot Noir.

Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. American producers used to call their sparklers Champagne, but we now have an agreement with the French not to do that. Some American producers were grandfathered in and still label their bubblies as American Champagne.

Cuvee A blend of wines for Champagne, oops I mean sparkling wine.

Methode Champenoise Sparkling wine has a secondary fermentation. That is, after the grape sugars are fermented to alcohol there's a second one to create the bubbles. If this is done individually in each bottle it can be called Methode Champenoise. These are the only ones I'll drink. The "bulk method" processed sparklers give me a headache. You've been warned!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Leaving wine for Santa

It's traditional to leave cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and maybe some carrots for the reindeer. You know, I bet ol' Saint Nick gets pretty tired of cookies after the first thousand or so.

Leave him a glass of wine instead.

So what kind of wine should you leave for him? When trying to decide what to open you should think about the people who will be drinking it and the situation. The situation being: Is it hot out? Cold? Is this for dinner? And what are we eating? Is for for an afternoon social?  Etc.

Santa is spending the night going up and down chimneys so he's out in the cold then into the warm homes.  Two wines come to mind on cold nights. One, a heavy red like a Cabernet. Two, a Port. After all, snow and fireplaces are made for Port! If you're going to leave out some Port I'd suggest matching it with a chocolate chip cookie.

Of course, he may get tired of wine during the night so as an alternative maybe a nice American Black IPA. These are kind of a new trend in wintertime brews.

Take care of Santa and he'll take care of you!

Santa was spotted last January at this tropical bar.
It's believed there was rum involved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cab -> Merlot -> Pinot Noir -> Grenache?

  There are always "in" wines such as Pinot Grigio seems to be now. This changes every few years. At one time in California it was Chardonnay or Cabernet and that was about it. Sure, there were other things planted like Chenin Blanc and French Colombard, and some Zinfandel mostly for the locals, but the big guys in the market were Chard and Cab.

  Along came The French Paradox on 60 Minutes and all of a sudden it was Merlot as everyone needed a red wine that was drinkable on the day they bought it (not like the Cabs of the time). Merlot rode that wave for about 15 years. Then it was Pinot Noir. Some say because of the movie Sideways that praised Pinot and derided Merlot.

  Pinot has been riding that popularity wave right into the $50 a bottle range. There's a lot of Pinot being produced now. Is its price sustainable? My guess is no. Not that I'm even close to being an expert on it, but I've been a CA wine drinker for a long time and seen the trends come and go. 

  I've noticed interest moving towards Rhone varietals and specifically Grenache. It can be a good food wine, Grenache is a wine you can just sip on or have with a meal, and most importantly it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. The Next Big Thing in red wines was going to be Syrah, but that was a bit of a bust. Why? Well, it's usually a good food wine, but not so good for sipping (it's tannic) and not necessarily cheap--except for the Australian Shiraz style. 

  Grenache seems to grow well in a lot of different locations in California from coastal to the interior Sierra foothills. Yeah, you can find a $40 one if you look hard, but most are around $20. The best ones are often blends of Grenache with Syrah and a lesser known grape Mourvedre--and maybe even Petite Sirah and Carignane. The blends are interesting and very drinkable and if the prices stay low they may even become popular!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ingredient labeling on wine bottles

A topic that comes up now and again is, should wineries have full disclosure of what goes into the bottle? It's just grapes, right? Well, no.

I suppose it starts will the bins of grapes coming into the wine making facility with the bees, earwigs, and spiders plus additional Material Other than Grapes. But no, that's not what we're talking about here. The folks kicking around the idea of full disclosure on wine labels are in favor of things like added acid, water, sulfur, tannins, whether egg whites are used to fine the wine, other chemicals added, maybe even yeasts and oak chips, etc.
There's a bit more to winemaking than this
Image from

This doesn't get much support. Why? For one, the winemakers (or any other business person) would just as soon keep the government out of their business as much as possible. For another, I believe certain wineries could be a bit embarrassed and maybe think they'll lose business if they actually list everything that went into their wine.

In fact per American law for a wine to be called by a certain varietal name, like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, it must contain 75% of that particular grape. It doesn't matter what grapes make up the other 25%. Your Pinot Noir might be 80% Pinot, 15% Petite Sirah, and 5% Chenin Blanc. Not that anyone has ever done that, but it's not illegal.

Then you get into processes, rather than ingredients, like removing alcohol. Do you add that to the label? The wineries definitely don't want to see this. How about any chemicals used to spray the grapes? Nobody else does this so grape growers won't, but then there's things like organically grown, organic wine, and sustainably farmed. What exactly is the difference?

The biggest embarrassment is probably the addition of water to the wine. This is a fairly new process. It started with the ripe fruit style of wines that's become so popular in the last decade or so. The grapes are picked later (riper) to get that bold fruit. After fermentation there is more alcohol from the higher sugar levels so the popular method of reducing this is to just add water to dilute the wine. This process doesn't get talked about much by wineries because they believe it to be a negative with the consumer.

There can be a lot of chemistry especially when the fruit isn't particularly good. But do we need to know all this? We probably don't need to know it as there's no public danger, but more and more Americans want to know what goes into their body.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What sells wine on a store shelf?

The marketing experts can, of course, give you mountains of data about this or that marketing strategy and branding efforts until you want to scream. This is just an amateur guess at what sells. But then marketing is as much of a guessing game as weather prediction.

Shelf Talkers
That's those little tags under the wine saying "93 points!" or "Great with steak!" When you're looking over a selection of 20 Cabernets in your price range you are going to take the one getting 94 points over the one that only got 89, right?
Look at all the awards! This stuff must be good!

Wineries anguish over going with the simple, and cheaper, two color label vs. bright colors with nice pictures. People will admit to buying by the label all the time. Some folks have a reputation and don't require a fancy label. There are lots of European labels that are dull, colorless, and crowded with script.
Someone that doesn't need to stand out on the shelf
Image from
Zarb Champagne. Someone that, um, wants to stand out
Image from

Winery Name
Give it a made up fancy hard to pronounce name that sounds Italian, German, or better yet, French and you can sell it for more dollars than you can something called Sassy Bitch or Happy Bitch (both real labels). With names like that they had better be cheap. No one is going to spend $30 for a bottle of Fat Bastard Shiraz.
Just not really an appealing name, you know?
Image from

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bill Foley -- Collector

Some of us buy wine and maybe even a few extra bottles to build up a collection. Some billionaires collect wineries.

Bill Foley, owner of the Foley Wine Group, made his money in the financial sector and got into wine late. I suppose it's sort of a hobby. He owns numerous wineries, but has really been on a tear this year as he's bought three wineries and a vineyard. His Sonoma County holdings include Sebastiani and Chalk Hill Wineries. According to his own website he now has about a dozen wineries in California plus one each in Washington and New Zealand. His most recent is in nearby Lake County--the 23,000 acre Langtry Winery that also has the Guenoc label.

A lot of this has been just in the last month. Maybe he needs a tax write-off for 2012. Or maybe the prices are right as some wineries are probably getting a bit stressed financially by the recession and a few years of small grape harvests. With three years of short harvests the word is when the economy, and wine buying, picks up there will be a grape shortage in California. So those with the cash are buying up vineyard property.

I will guess ol' Bill's not done yet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Winter 2012-13 wine events in Sonoma County

Major Wine-Related Events for 
December 2012 and January / February 2013

This is the off-season in the wine country and it's a great time to visit. What to expect:
  • There won't be any crowds (except on major event weekends). If you go on a weekday you could be the only people some wineries see all day!
  • At smaller wineries you have a chance to chat with the owner or winemaker.
  • Small crowds also means not much traffic, it's easy to find hotel rooms and get dinner reservations.
  • The weather can be 70 and sunny or 48 and raining so check the forecast.

There are various holiday events, crab feeds, etc. besides these few major events listed below. Yes, winter is crab season in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's also the time to see the gray whale migration at the coast.

From Lytton Springs Winery in January

December 2012

Many wineries have their own holiday open house events on the weekends leading up to Christmas. Check with your favorites and see if they have anything going on.

Almost all wineries are closed on Christmas Day; some will close early, or all day, on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. If you plan on visiting at the holidays call in advance to be sure they will be open.

January 2013

Most wineries are closed on New Years Day.

19-20 Winter Wineland. It's the 21st year for this open house of wine, food, and art at over a hundred wineries in northern Sonoma County. This is the big wine event for the winter. Info


For Valentine's Day several wineries put on chocolate and wine pairings or even host a lunch or dinner. Check with your favorites to see if they have anything going on.

1-14 Russian River Brewery. No, nothing to do with wine, but this has become a big event. The annual release of Pliny the Younger, a 100 point double-IPA that beer nerds come in from all over to sample. The lines form at the pub every morning during these two weeks. Hint: Don't show up on Superbowl Sunday.

15  VinOlivo. Wine is the #1 ag crop in Sonoma County, but olives are #2. This event celebrates both. Info

15-18 Cloverdale Citrus Fair includes a wine competition. Info

23  Eighth Street Wineries Open House. Several small producers in a warehouse area of Sonoma open up for visitors. Info

23 Mr. Healdsburg Pagent. No, I don't get it, but the women really enjoy this. And, of course, they serve wine. Info
Local fireman hoping to be crowned Mr. Healdsburg
Image from


1-3 and 8-10 The first two weekends of March are the Barrel Tasting weekends. Open house at over 100 wineries. The greatest concentration of wineries and over-imbibers is in Healdsburg and on Dry Creek Road. If you want to party then that's the place to be; if you don't then stay in Russian River Valley or Alexander Valley.  Info

January in the Russian River Valley

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cocktail Wines

Lots of folks go on about the complexities in wine, the proper food matches, their age-worthiness, etc. Others just want an enjoyable glass of wine after work or at a party while talking with friends. You know, a cocktail. These wines go down easy and don't require a lot of thought. "Go down easy" usually means low acid, low tannins, with "inoffensive" often being the best descriptor. "Don't require thought" means not very complex.
A popular cocktail wine
Image from

The original cocktail wine were the oaky, buttery Chardonnays popularized by Kendall-Jackson. When red wine became fashionable after the "French Paradox" on 60 Minutes then nondescript Merlots were in. Over the last decade many of the cool kids went for the big Zinfandels.

Big Zins are the ultimate cocktail wine. They're fruity, soft, and have enough alcohol so one glass can give you a buzz just like that Rum and Coke you used to (or maybe still do) drink. These Zins are enjoyable when they hit the palate and are certainly inoffensive if the heat of the high alcohol doesn't show. And it goes down easy.

The best cocktail Zinfandels come from places like Wilson Winery or Hartford Court whereas the food Zins can be from Lytton Springs, Storybook Mountain, and the like. Actually, the two wineries mentioned here for the cocktail Zins are fairly expensive (and high quality), but often the less expensive Zins will fall into the cocktail wine category also, especially those from the Lodi area.

Wine as a food beverage is in a different style and may not be as enjoyable in the cocktail setting. These are the wines that have higher acid, maybe some tannin, some spices and other complexities. The cocktail wines don't usually match well with food and don't belong in a wine cellar as they probably won't improve with age.

So when you buy decide on the likely setting for the wine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

History and Future of Buena Vista Winery

Buena Vista Winery hasn't gotten much press related to their wines in many years. The focus always seemed to be on corporate profits rather than the wine. For the last couple decades of the 20th century Buena Vista was owned by a German wine distributor. In this century it's been owned by Allied Domecq of Britain, Constellation Brands out of NY and others. Maybe some stability is there now with the purchase and renovation by Jean-Charles Boisset who has been making a name for himself in Sonoma County.

Signs telling the history along the walk to the winery

The town of Sonoma recently celebrated the 200th birthday of the founder of Buena Vista Winery, Hungarian Agoston Haraszthy, considered the originator of California viticulture. He founded Buena Vista Winery in 1857. In 1861 he brought back cuttings from European vineyards. He started a viticultural society, wrote a book on the subject, dug out the first wine caves, and was the first to use redwood barrels for wine (a practice that was popular until the 1970s). Buena Vista Winery is a California state historical landmark.

The winery closed in the late 19th century then was bought by the Bartholemews in the 1940s. They consulted with California's most famous mid-20th century winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff. The winery was quite successful for a number of years. The Bartholemews sold in 1968 and that began the succession of mostly remote ownership.

The new entrance--still under construction

In 2011 Boisset purchased Buena Vista and has been renovating the place. Boisset is a bit of a flamboyant type just as the original owner, Haraszthy, was. Haraszthy called himself a Count because it was a cool title back then. Boisset married into California royalty when he married the granddaughter of Julio Gallo.

The very dapper Boisset
Image from

Under Boisset there is a lot of work done recently and still proceeding on the winery site. Next will be the wines, hopefully. A sampling of the current offerings (made before Boisset's influence) shows well-made wines without any real flaws, but too much vanilla oak for my liking. The prices are fairly reasonable for premium wines.

Very old casks in the cellar

New casks--French oak--very expensive

 We'll see what the future brings for Buena Vista Winery. It looks like, at least, it will be a more interesting place to visit.

The Ultimate Tchotchke
It's a Count Haraszthy bobblehead available in the gift shop!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Amazon's wine shop opens

Amazon has wanted to get back in the wine sales business since a previous failed attempt several years ago.

Previous post on Amazon. 

The store is up and running with mostly from California and Washington state wines. There are quite a few small producers. When I first looked there were about 500 wines. Within a short time the list grew substantially so more is being added as I write this. There are many thousands of more wines available from around the world on external sites meaning Amazon just directs you to another online store.

The prices are standard winery retail so if the wines are available elsewhere you can probably find them cheaper. I put together a test order of three bottles each from two different California wineries with a CA shipping address and the shipping cost was only $20 and that's pretty cheap. I expect if I ordered the wines directly from the two wineries I'd probably pay about $50 total for the shipping.

I did another order for one bottle each from three different CA wineries and the total shipping was $30. I would pay more than that if I'd bought each bottle separately from each of the three wineries--at least $45.

Currently Amazon can ship to a dozen states. More will be added as they get licensing.

There are annoyances with Amazon as you get hit up to buy lots of other stuff and after you visit your cart you can't get directly back to shopping for wine again. The main wine shop page says the store is still in beta test phase. They also promise their standard 3-5 business days shipping, but I don't know how these small wineries can process the orders and ship them out that quickly.

So is it worth using the Amazon store to buy wines? I'd say if you're buying a few bottles from multiple small producers then yes. If you want to buy in larger quantities from a single winery then search for a better price online plus check the winery's web site to find the best deal.

It's good to have another choice for buying and trying new wines.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Russian River Valley Photos

Nov 6, 2012. A vineyard along Olivet Road.
You can click on the photos to enlarge

Sunday, November 4, 2012

2012: Vintage of the Year!

Perhaps you've already heard about 2012 being one of the best wine grape harvests in California in a long time. Especially after a string of three so-so years it's great to have a lot of high quality grapes this season.

Various wine mags like to proclaim certain vintages as being the best since ____ (fill in the blank). This is a long standing tradition started in France (along with starting wars they can't finish). California has more consistent weather than Europe so wine vintages don't have quite the same highs and lows, but that doesn't stop wine experts from declaring great vintages. This is different from wine marketers that declare every vintage a great one.

The tradition of proclaiming top vintages in CA got its kick start with the turn of the new century. 2001 was the first California wine vintage to be declared The Vintage of the Century, along with 2005 and especially 2007.

Let me be the first to tell you that 2012 will be the Vintage of the Year for California wine.

Buy these wines now! Okay, you can't quite buy them yet as they're still in tanks and barrels, but buy up all the 2010s and 2011s now so we can get to the 2012s before they're all gone! 


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wacky Wine Descriptions

No wonder some folks don't like wine! A wine writer might come up with something like, "a subtle undercurrent of sexy layers." That's fine, I can drink that. Here's a few things I don't want in my wine:

Band-Aids -From the flaw, Brettanomyces or Brett, that once it gets into a winery is almost impossible to get rid of. It's found more in older European wine making facilities so they like to call it part of the wine's character. All I know is I ain't drinkin' no wine where some smelly cellar dude lost his Band-Aid in the juice.

Barnyard - It smells like, you know, poop. Another Brett smell. Mostly French and the occasional Italian wine.Thirty years ago when Mondavi and Rothschild made a big splash with their joint venture, Opus One, supposedly they introduced Brett into the cellar to get that European flavor. Just goes to show that even smart, successful people don't always make good decisions.

Tellin' it like it is
Cat Pee - Classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. There was such a demand for NZ Sauv Blanc they had to up their production by having cats pee in the tanks! Their Sauv Blanc also is described as smelling like gooseberries. I have no idea what a gooseberry is or what it tastes like, but if it's anything like cat pee I know why gooseberries don't get imported.

Horse blanket, horsey - Brett again. Probably better than a Band-Aid or poo, but not by much.

Tar or Asphalt - Certain parts of southern Europe do an especially good job of having wines that smell like a freshly paved road. I don't know why they do, but they should try to fix that.

Wet Cardboard, Wet Dog, or Musty - From corked wines. Get a screw cap!

Yeah, it's bad. This is all stuff my mother taught me to never put in my mouth.

So what would the worst wine ever smell like? Imagine a horse galloping down a hot, newly paved road with an old feral cat riding on top and peeing on the horse. The sweaty horse returns to the barn where it all drips down on the old Band-Aid on your big toe right before the hose takes a dump. What a visual!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 Grape Harvest in Sonoma

The 2012 harvest has just about wrapped up. That is, as far as grapes coming in from the vines to be crushed. There's still lots of work for the cellar folks.

After three years of some weather related disappointments 2012 looks like an excellent harvest. Excellent in quality and quantity. The weather was as good as you can expect from Mother Nature. The amount of fruit coming in surprised most people. Tank space and barrels are at a premium in the wine cellars. Early guesses are quantity is up 20% over last year.

Getting top quality wine along with high yields is a grower's and winemaker's dream. Or at least it will be now that the 80 hour weeks are behind them. They are hopeful at having a market for all this juice as much of Europe had a very bad harvest with low production hitting France and Italy. Overall it's estimated worldwide wine production will be at a nearly four decade low this year.

So there's good quality, high yields, and demand. People are smiling--once they get caught up on sleep.

Processing Pinot Noir earlier in October:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Late October in Alexander Valley (photos)

October 26, 2012 in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley
Click on any photo to enlarge

Unpicked red grapes (maybe Mourvedre) at Alexander Valley Vineyards

From Hanna Winery

From Hanna Winery

From Hanna Winery

From Sausal Winery

From Sausal Winery

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour of Lagunitas Brewery

I got in with a tour group from Rosso's Pizzeria (the best pizza in town) to visit Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. They've become a huge, successful operation and are in the process of expanding to Chicago to cover demand in the eastern U.S. Lagunitas IPA is the #1 selling IPA in California.
Here's a photographic tour of their production facility.
Click on any photo to enlarge

There's a LOT of stainless in Sonoma County!
That's our tour guide in the lower left of the picture

Bags of ingredients stored everywhere

Love the etching on the lid to the tank

This was a large spaceship-looking contraption

Fermentation tank

Bottling line

A sad story. A new tank was on its way from Germany via a ship
when it ran into a hurricane near Panama

Lots of automation in the plant and lots of equipment that's there it speed up processing as they try to keep up with demand. A nice problem to have!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sonoma County--The #1 Wine Destination

So says TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award for The Top Ten Wine Destinations in the U.S.

#1 Sonoma County is called "laid-back and unpretentious" while #2 Napa Valley is "legendary, amazing and sophisticated." You choose your style. By the way #3 is Willamette Valley in Oregon. 

For some reason #10 Plymouth, CA and, I assume the rest of the Sierra Foothills, is behind places like Colorado and Long Island. No offense to them, but the Sierra Foothills is a great place to wine taste if you haven't been there. I expect their wines are better, too, as they've been growing wine grapes around Plymouth for almost 150 years. I guess they're still fairly unknown.

Worldwide Tuscany in Italy was #1 with Sonoma County #2. Nice to have the recognition, but we'd like Napa to keep the traffic!

 Who would you rather chat about wines with?

Duff Bevill, a Sonoma County grape grower
Napa Valley winery owners (Far Niente)

Images from and

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mid-October in Sonoma Valley (photos)

October 17, 2012 in Sonoma Valley
as the autumn colors are just starting to show in the vineyards.
Click on photos to enlarge

From Deerflield Ranch Winery looking across the valley
From Kenwood Vineyards looking towards the Kunde ranch

Near Kenwood Vineyards

Along Madrone Road

From Madrone Road

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Hearty Welcome to Sonoma County's Newest AVA

And I do mean hearty because living in this remote area isn't exactly for those who like warm, calm weather and nearby shopping!

The Fort Ross-Seaview American Viticultural Area is just a few months old. It's just inland from the northern Sonoma coast an 85 mile drive north from San Francisco. It's a sub-appellation of the much larger Sonoma Coast AVA of 27,000 rugged acres, but has only 500 acres of vineyards with a handful of growers and just one tasting room, Ft. Ross Vineyards. I don't imagine they get many visitors most days. The nearest towns are the seaside village of Jenner, pop. 135, and Cazedero, pop. 350, known for having the second highest rainfall in the state.

Meyers Grade Road, the "main drag" through Ft Ross-Seaview

Ft. Ross was an actual Russian settlement 200 years ago; Seaview is a small coastal cluster of homes.
What makes Fort Ross-Seaview unique? The Sonoma Coast is usually cool and cloudy during the grape growing season. A typical summer day is damp and overcast during the morning with a few hours of cool sunshine in the afternoon with temperatures usually in the 60s. Not a good place to grow grapes. However, the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA is just a bit inland and at an elevation above the fog (900 to 1,800 feet) so there's lots of sun but with fairly cool temperatures. It's a pretty good place for grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Wineries within Fort Ross-Seaview are the already mentioned Ft. Ross Vineyards plus Flowers, Hirsch, Peay, and Wild Hog.

So what are the wines like? The growing season is different than the warmer, lower elevation, inland areas. Pinots tend to be dark, spicy, firm, maybe a bit tannic; Chardonnays show acid and minerality. Acid in the wines is usually one of the things to expect from a cool region like this.

Part of Ft. Ross Vineyards
Image from

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marketing Jug Wine

Somebody in wine marketing should steal this idea from a spirits maker.

The bigger wine conglomerates with the marketing staffs are always looking for something new, something to attract a wine-buying segment of the market. One of those segments is wines aimed at guys. For instance, some genius came up with Big House Wines featuring cartoonish pictures of prisoners on the labels.

A German spirits company, G-Spirits, claims all of its booze was "poured over the breasts of a certified model" before bottling. Booze over boobs article.

Using this for wine could lead to a very popular and probably the most expensive "jug" wine ever! It could even be for a good cause as October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Someone out there should get on this! And if you need an official photographer to record the event give me a call.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2012

The 2012 Sonoma County Harvest Fair annual tasting of gold medal winners was October 5-7. I made it all three days. Whew! I didn't attempt any real rankings or much in the way of notes as it's really difficult to attempt at a crowded event like this (or maybe I'm just lazy). The wines are listed below by the category as judged by the fair. The fair breaks many of these down by price range (such as Cabernet under $30), but I just lumped them all together. Within each of these I did a rudimentary ranking where I've split the wines  tasted into four color-coded categories:

Top Wines of the fair 
Excellent Wines - the other standouts
Very Good Wines - I'd buy these if they're cheap enough
Not So Good - I can't figure why these got Gold Medals or maybe I just don't know anything about wine

So, wines in bold type are my top ones, blue excellent, red pretty decent, light pink not so good. The Harvest Fair gives out medals that are better than a "regular" Gold Medal: Double Gold (unanimous choice from the judges for a gold medal), Best of Class (the best of all the gold medal winners), and Sweepstakes winner (best of the best).

Note that I'm a red wine drinker. There were hundreds being poured so I only got to a fraction of them. Often I went for wineries I've never heard of or at least haven't had their wines before.

These are all Gold Medal winners unless otherwise stated below. As always, it's just my opinion. Your results may vary.

Grape Stomp Competition

Bordeaux Blends 

Alexander Valley Vyds 2007 Cyrus Alexander Vly, $60
Clos du Bois 2009 Marlstone Alexander Vly, $50. Best of Class (needs time!)
Dry Creek Vyd 2008 The Mariner Dry Creek Vly, $40
Ehret 2008 Bella's Blend Knights Vly, $40(very tannic)
Estate 1856 2009 Cab/Petite Verdot/Malbec Dry Creek Vly, $36
Forchini 2009 BeauSierra Dry Creek Vly, $22
Muscardini 2010 Rancho Salina Sonoma Vly, $49
Page Hill 2009 Alexander Vly Bordeaux, $25. Best of Class

Bordeaux Varietals 

Wattle Creek 2010 Malbec Alexander Vly, $38. Best of Class
Windsor Oaks Malbec Block 35 Chalk Hill, $35

Cabernet Franc
(No, I don't know why Malbec is judged as Bordeaux Varietals and Cab Franc has its own category)

Christopher Creek 2009 Kelly's Block 7 Dry Creek Vly, $55
Wilson Winery 2009 Dry Creek Vly, $35 (spicy, no varietal characteristics)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Deering 2009 Nelligan Road Sonoma Vly, $45. Best of Class
de Lorimier 2009 Reserve Preston Ranch Alexander Vly, $52
Dry Creek Vyd 2007 Endeavour Vyd Dry Creek Vly
Francis Coppola 2008 Sonoma County, $58
Geyser Peak 2008 Block Collection Alexander Vly, $47
Hauck 2009 Sonoma County, $34. Best of Class
Medlock Ames 2008 Alexander Vly, $52
Roth 2009 Alexander Vly, $28
Williamson 2009 Dry Creek Vly, $57


Williamson 2011 Dry Creek Vly, $45 Double Gold (oaky, flat)


St. Francis 2009 Behler Vyd Sonoma Vly, $45. Best of Class
Selby 2008 Sonoma County, $20. Best of Class

Petite Sirah

Gustafson 2009 East Ridge Block Dry Creek Vly, $28
Shippey 2008 Flaming J Vyd Dry Creek Vly, $28. (too drying; maybe in 2025!)

Pinot Noir

Bennett Valley Cellars 2011 Bin 6410 Carneros, $24 (not ready yet) 
Davis Family 2009 Soul Patch Russian Rvr Vly, $42
Davis Family 2010 Soul Patch Russian Rvr Vly, $42 (not ready yet)
Davis Family 2009 Russian Rvr Vly, $40 
James Family 2010 Stony Point Vyds Sonoma Coast, $35. Best of Class 
Richard Berridge 2009 Sonoma Coast, $45 (nice flavors, but a bit hot)
Rodney Strong 2009 Barrel Reserve Russian Rvr Vly, $40 (nice spice, bit overripe)
Woodenhead 2009 Buena Tierra Russian Rvr Vly, $65. Best of Class


Loxton 2010 Sonoma Vly, $28 (alcoholic)
Pedroncelli 2007 Dry Creek Vly, $19. Best of Class 

Rhones (varietals and blends)

Mayo Family 2008 Carignane Stone Ranch Alexander Vly, $35. Best of Class
Wellington 2009 Grenache Estate Sonoma Vly, $25 (100 year old vines) 


de Lorimier 2010 Keeper Vyd Alexander Vly, $32. Best of Class (maybe in a couple years)

Sparkling Wines
(Pretty much a one horse show on the bubbles. Only 11 entries in this Category)

Gloria Ferrer 2007 Brut Rosé Carneros, $42. Best of Class
Gloria Ferrer 2007 Blanc de Blancs Carneros, $28. Double Gold
Gloria Ferrer 2000 Carneros Cuvée Carneros, $50
Gloria Ferrer 2004 Royal Cuvée Carneros, $32 


Deerfield 2008 Estate Sonoma Vly, $30. Best of Class
Ehret Family 2007 Estate Knights Vly, $32
Loxton 2009 Rossi Ranch Sonoma Vly, $35. (big and tannic) 

Other Reds

Benziger 2010 Estate Red Joaquin's Fire Sonoma Mtn, $60
Hauck 2010 Game Day Red Sonoma County, $28 


Fogline 2010 Grist Vyd Dry Creek Vly, $35
Fritz 2009 Estate Reserve Dry Creek Vly, $50. Double Gold
Gordian Knot 2011 The Buzz Dry Creek Vly, $28 (classic DCV pepper) 
J Keverson 2010 Buck Hill Sonoma County, $30
Keating 2010 Montecillo Sonoma Vly, $28 (bit hot, otherwise very good)
Mayo 2010 Ricci Vyd Russian Rvr Vly, $40
Mayo 2010 Ricci Vyd Reserve Russian Rvr Vly, $50
Mazzocco 2010 Serracino Reserve Dry Creek Vly, $52
Meadowcroft 2010 Sonoma County, $34 
Pezzi King 2010 Estate Old Vine Dry Creek Vly $28. Best of Class
Pezzi King 2010 Harris Kratka Vyd Alexander Vly $42
Pezzi King 2010 Pezzi King Vyd Row 26 Dry Creek Vly $50. Sweepstakes
Puccioni 2009 Old Vine Dry Creek Vly, $28 
Rock Wall 2010 Harris Kratka Vyd Alexander Vly, $35 (port-ish)

Favorite Wines

Clos du Bois 2009 Marlstone
de Lorimier 2009 Preston Ranch Cabernet
Dry Creek Vyd 2008 The Mariner
Gloria Ferrer 2000 Carneros Cuvée
Gustafson 2009 East Ridge Block Petite Sirah
Wellington 2009 Estate Grenache

This year no Pinots or Zins were any of my overall favorite wines. But my favorite Pinot Noir would be the James Family 2010 partly because it's "only" $35--a good price for a good Pinot. Favorite Zinfandels would be from Fritz and Fogline.

Best Deals

Wellington 2009 Grenache at $25
Pedroncelli 2007 Port at $19


The wine tasting at the fair this year:
Attendance at the Friday night $60 tasting was good. Saturday's crowd was okay; Sunday's small. Maybe because there were so many other events going on this weekend or maybe because it's now $10 to get in the fair and $2.50 per taste. For example, a couple going in and tasting ten wines each would cost $75. (Parking, entry, glasses, extra taste tickets).

The wines:
Too many of the Pinot Noirs taste the same--red cherries with a hint of alcohol. Too many Zinfandels are overripe. As I said in past few years I've usually found Pinot and Zinfandel to be my favorite wines, but not this year. Maybe it's time for a new wine category for Zinfandel Under 15% Alcohol? I loved the Cabernet blends, sparkling wines, and would love to see more Rhone-style wines.

Now I need a few days to detox the liver!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Amazon gets into the wine business

The word is that Amazon will soon be selling wine. This means you can go to their website to download the latest Coldplay, pick up some new hiking shoes, and buy an assorted six pack of Zinfandel!

The not very secret word on the street is that Amazon recently hosted an event in Napa attended by over 100 wineries to pitch the service. They want to be up and running for the holiday season.
Mmm, a cart full of Cabernet!

One question is how will they do this? It appears that it will be a "marketplace" where you go to deal with each winery individually. This is better for Amazon legally (they would not be selling alcohol directly), but not so convenient for the consumer who wants to shop variety. Someone (Amazon, a third-party, or each winery) has to handle the confusing array of state shipping laws. Plus they don't want to ship in hot weather, they'll need return policies for bad wine, etc. It appears the method taken by Amazon will be in basically supplying links to individual winery "stores."  So if you want to buy two bottles each from three different wineries does this mean three separate purchases and three separate shipping charges? It appears so.

The bigger question is how much of an impact will this have on brick-and-mortar wine shops? Like any other retailer it has to do with ease of purchase, price, and selection. Amazon has the easy purchasing part figured out and I expect will have the power to get good prices and selection, including the shipping costs. Large retailers like Costco have had an impact on smaller wine shops. Will a large online retailer have an impact on Costco and all the other walk-in stores?

We'll see how this works.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pity the poor office admin person at Pezzi King Winery

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the big wine awards event in the area. Sometimes I think it might be more just for the local folks, but certain things will get noticed--like this year.

The judges hand out the usual gold medals and best of class awards like most judgings. This event is different in that they have had a Sweepstakes wine. The one wine that the judges thought was the best overall. I'm not sure how they could do this with so many different kinds of wines. It got to be such great PR for the Sweepstakes winning winery that the fair introduced two awards--one for the best white and one for the best red. Still, not everyone was happy apparently so in recent years they added a "best specialty wine" award for sparkling, rosé, and desert wines, I believe. So now there are three Sweepstakes wines every year.

The winners of the 2012 Harvest Fair awards were just announced. and Pezzi King Winery won the red sweeps for a $50 Zinfandel and the specialty category for a $50 late harvest. Wholesalers, retailers, and consumers will be calling in Monday to get their share. The phones will be ringing all day; the voicemail box will probably be full. I'm guessing there won't be enough of these wines to go around. I guess that's a good problem to have.

Just a few months ago The Wilson Family Wineries purchased Pezzi King. Wilson Winery is no stranger to winning big at the Harvest Fair--having won the sweeps in the past. Congrats to Pezzi King. I'm looking forward to sampling the wines next weekend at the Harvest Fair.

NBC News just named the Sonoma County Harvest Fair as one of the best harvest festivals in the country.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's National Drink Beer Day!

And this is a wine blog for cripes sake! But it's about Sonoma County and Sonoma happens to be home to some of the best brewpubs anywhere. Yes, places like Portland and San Diego have more pubs and are famous for their breweries, but Sonoma has good quality stuff.

Lunch at "The Bear" in Healdsburg, CA

Heading up El Camino Real for beer (U.S. 101) from San Francisco your first stop is in Petaluma for Lagunitas Brewing. They are well known for having the top selling IPA in California. You also want to try the "sumpin" series: Little Sumpin' Sumpin' and Little Sumpin' Wild, their Fusion series beers, and Hop Stoopid. Their pub has indoor and outdoor seating and often has live music.

Next stop to the north is Santa Rosa where you'll find the beer geeks mecca, Russian River Brewery, rated as one of the top brewpubs in the country and home to a seasonal triple IPA that got a perfect 100 points score. When that beer is released there's a line down the street every day and and some folks actually fly in from far away locales for this beer. That's hard core! But if you miss that one its little brother, Pliny the Elder double IPA, also has a perfect 100 score. The pub is usually crowded. The salads and pizzas are good. The beer list always has several IPAs, a bunch of Belgian styles, plus several others. 
Check out the line during the Pliny the Younger release

Next stop up is Healdsburg, home to the Bear Republic Brewery. Their best known brews are Racer 5 and Red Rocket, but don't miss the Peter Brown Tribute and Hop Rod Rye. They have a big restaurant with some outdoor seating. The burgers are top-notch.

Other stops in Sonoma County: Dempsey's, Moonlight Brewing (no pub, just a brewery), Ruth McGowan's, Third Street Aleworks, Sonoma Springs, and Stumptown. The newest is Old Redwood Brewing. I don't know anything about them except their Facebook page says, "Due to overwhelming demand their tasting room is temporarily closed as everything is sold out."

Other breweries in adjacent counties: Anderson Brewing, Calistoga Inn, Marin, Moylan's, Napa-Smith, North Coast, Silverado Brewing, and Mendocino Brewing.

Image from

Celebrate and drink up! I plan on it.