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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leap Year Wine

Well, it's only once every four years we get to have an extra day. And this year it's a Wednesday so does that mean an extra day of work?  Ugh.

So how to celebrate leap year wine-wise?

The two most obvious choices might be something from Stag's Leap or Frog's Leap in Napa Valley. There are a few other "leap" wineries out there, too.  Heck, there's even Weener's Leap. Check out one of their wiener dog wines. Gotta love it!
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another reason to drink wine!

As though there weren't enough news stories about the good effects of red wine with antioxidants for cholesterol regulation and resveratrol to help prevent cancer not to mention aiding in the digestion of meals... there's another reason to have a glass or two a night.

The latest discovery makes some sense as alcohol relaxes you anyway. Melatonin is a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Turns out Melatonin is in some red wines. It is also sold as a supplement to help with insomnia, seasonal affective disorder, and even to help people who work the night shift. Turns out as you get older your body produces less. Seems like every Baby Boomer owes it to themselves to have a glass of Cabernet every night.  To your heath!

or this way?

Would you rather take it this way...

Story here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spring 2012 (March, April, May) events in Sonoma County

Springtime in the Wine Country!

Following is a listing of the bigger events for Spring 2012.


2-4  Barrel Tasting along the wine roads of northern Sonoma County. A very popular event. Look for some of the smaller wineries that may be new to you. And try to avoid the crowds of Dry Creek and Westside Roads on Saturday afternoon.  Info

9-11 Barrel Tasting second weekend. It's so popular they gave it two weekends.  Info

17-18  Savor Sonoma Valley. Their own version of a Barrel Tasting weekend. It's more expensive,but there's food and wine pairing and it's not quite so crazy as the Barrel Tasting on the previous weekends.  Info

23-24  Pigs and Pinot. Put on by Charlie Palmer's restaurant in Healdsburg so there will be lots of great food to go with great Pinot Noir. Winemaker dinners and seminars. Guy Fieri will be there this year--I bet you can't wait!  Info

25 Symphony of Food, Wine and Art. A benefit for the Santa Rosa Symphony. Info


8  Easter. Some wineries are closed, some open. 

14  Taste of Olivet. Open house for Olivet Road wineries in Russian River Valley. Info

14  Pick of the Vine. An annual benefit tasting in Santa Rosa. This is an evening event so you can go to the Taste of Olivet during the day then this one later!  Info

21-22  April in Carneros. Annual open house for wineries at the south end of Napa and Sonoma. These folks specialize in sparkling wines, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.  Info

28-29  Passport to Dry Creek Valley. Open house weekend with wine, food, music. Expensive, but a very nice event.  Info


18-20  Taste Alexander Valley. Wine, food, entertainment. Similar to the Dry Creek Passport weekend, but less well known and less expensive.  Info

Some non-wine events
Since you can't drink wine all the time, can you?

March 9-11 Santa Rosa Custom Auto Show. Info

March 23-25 Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma. There will be some local beers and wines to go with the cheese dishes. Info

March 31 Battle of the Brews beer tasting. Info

April 26-29 Ferrari Challenge at Infineon Raceway. Lots of red cars with music coming from their exhaust pipes. Info

May 13 Amgen Tour of California bicycle race begins in Santa Rosa. Info There are several local events leading up to the race. Note: Several roads in the county will be closed during the race.  Info

May 19  Luther Burbank Rose Parade. This parade started in the late 19th century and is still held annually in downtown Santa Rosa. Especially popular with with kids.  Info
1908 Rose Queen
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Wells Fargo Center for the Arts hosts several concerts during March, April and May including Foreigner, Lily Tomlin, Lisa Lampanelli, Howie Mandel, and Kenny Rogers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18th--National Drink Wine Day

It's National Drink Wine Day--just what we needed!

There's an "official" day for everything so why not drinking wine? Luckily, it falls on a weekend, too!

Maybe some wine shop, wine bar, or restaurant is running a special on wine to help you celebrate. Might as well use this as an excuse to pop something good.

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This is also National Battery Day, but I can't come up with a tie-in unless you use one of those electric bottle openers.

The 19th is National Chocolate Mint Day so maybe try a flight of wines with chocolate mints to see which pairs best. I have no idea so let me know what you find out.

Feb 13-19 is International Flirting Week. Feb 14-21 is National Condom Week. Hmm. If you're hungry after all this Feb 19-25 is National Pancake Week. Off to IHOP! Followed by National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from Feb 26 thru Mar 3.

You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Future wine sales prediction

Global wine consumption is set for a substantial increase through at least 2015 according to International Wine and Spirit Research, a UK-based consulting firm.

In 2011 the U.S. passed Italy and France to become the largest wine consumers by volume (but not per capita). Between 2010 and 2015 IWSR projects a two billion bottle increase in consumption worldwide. In 2010 it's estimated nearly 32 billions bottles were consumed.

The U.S. will grow by ten percent between 2010 and 2015. China's consumption grew by 33% in 2010 alone and is expected to grow another 55% by 2015.  Their per capita consumption is quite low, but, of course, there are lots of potential customers in China.
Pallets of wine heading out
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The U.S. is growing both in consumption and production of wine. This is all good news for those in the biz. For the consumer it means there will be more of you drinking wine and more choices. States such as Michigan, New York, Texas and Virginia are seeing rapid growth in their wine industries. And the big boys keep adding, too. Washington state adds about 50 new wineries a year with California growing by at least a couple hundred a year, even during the recession. U.S. wine exports had its best year in 2011.

Read the full article.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Sonoma Coast Appellation. Here's a problem.

The Sonoma Coast wine grape growing area is popular with growers and consumers for it's cool climate wine grape production, especially Pinot Noir.  So Pinot is all the rage and to a lesser extent the Sonoma Coast appellation is too.
Area to be cut
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So what's the problem?  Currently Artesa Winery of Napa, owned by Cordoniu of Spain, has over 300 acres of prime land in this area near the small town of Annapolis in Sonoma County. They are about to get approval to clear-cut over 150 acres of second-growth trees. This area was heavily logged in the 19th century for its prized Redwoods.

A few locals in the sparsely populated area and several environmental groups are gearing up for a court battle.

Press Democrat news article.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine's Day Wine

What should you have with your sweetie? Well, it should be pink and it should have bubbles.

Pink? Yes, a drier style sparkling rosé is just what you need for Valentine's Day.
Some suggestions:
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About $10
Korbel Brut Rosé

Under $30
Roederer Estate NV Brut Rosé
Schramsberg Mirabelle NV Brut Rosé
("NV" means Non Vintage, that is not dated with a vintage year)

Over $30
Gloria Ferrer 2007 Brut Rosé
Schramsberg 2007 Brut Rosé

Okay, what if don't have a sweetheart and you're by yourself or with you buds this Valentine's Day?  Well, in the words of the poet George Thorogood, "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Some Wine Fallacies

Some widely held opinions about wine aren't necessarily true. I suppose this sort of thing happens with many consumer goods where certain "truths" rise up from some marketing-types or via Internet chat.

The higher the price the better the wine

Many people profess to knowing price doesn't guarantee quality, but still buy according to price.  For instance, you're shopping for a bottle to impress dinner guests and one Cabernet sells for $20 and the other $40. You're more likely to go for the $40 one "just to be sure" you're getting a good wine. Often price and quality do go hand-in-hand, but not always.

Single vineyard wines are better than those labeled with a larger growing region

It's about assuming, for example, a wine labeled Maple Vineyard is better than one labeled Sonoma County. This particular fallacy has gained a lot of ground in the last few years when the whole terroir mystique took off. Just because the grapes are from one vineyard rather than several is no guarantee of quality. Usually it's only a guarantee of a higher price.
I covered this topic on Oct 21, 2011.

Wines from a small, locally owned winery are better than those from corporate-owned operations

Some people would rather support a small, family operation and that's great. But you can't assume a bottle from some small winery you're never heard of is better than the one from Kendall-Jackson.

Reds with lots of tannins will age better

Well, they'll need some time to get rid of the tannins but then what will you have left? Wines need good acid to age or better yet what you call good structure. Structure is a bit hard to define but I usually know it when I taste it. It's sort of when acids, tannins, fruit and alcohol levels all seem in balance.

Wines that will age for many years are better than those that won't age well

A very tiny percent of all wines will be fantastic ten, twenty, or more years from now--if aged properly. With most wines it's a crap shoot as to whether they'll be better many years from now and exactly when this will happen.  Just because a wine needs to age doesn't mean it's superior to one that doesn't have to age.

Red wines age; whites don't

Acid is a key to aging wine.  A quality Chardonnay aged properly can be very nice ten or more years down the road. But yes, in general, big reds such as Cabernet are more likely to age better than most white wines.

Wine has to be aged at 55 degrees

Before refrigeration storage was underground where the earth's temperature is about 55-58 degrees. This was he only way to store wine at one time so 55 degrees became the standard. What's really important is a constant temp, moderate humidity, no vibration and no light.

White wines should be served cold, red served warm

The colder a wine the less flavor you'll get from it. Usually you want to serve wine like Sauvignon Blanc and rosés at a cooler temperature than Chardonnay, but any should be warmer than the typical refrigerator temp.  So SB, rosé, and sparkling wines are usually best around 50 degrees, Chard in the upper 50s. Reds generally are best at what's described as a cool room temperature, the low 60s.

Dry wines are better than sweet

I don't mean dessert wines, but wines that are intentionally left with a bit of residual sugar to make them easier to drink for a large part of the wine consuming public. This doesn't make them bad wine just maybe not the best wines to have with a meal, but they may be quite pleasant as a "patio pounder" on a summer afternoon.

Wines that win a gold medal (or get 90-some points) are better

There are lots of data-points to use to buy an unknown wine off of a store shelf: a friend's recommendation, a store clerk's recommendation, Internet ratings from other amateurs like us, and professional scores from judged events and wine magazine ratings. No single one is better or should necessarily be used as the only reason to buy a wine.

Gold medals can only be given to wines that are entered in a competition, and there are lots of different wine competitions. Some wines never get entered anywhere, others may get entered everywhere.

Box wine is cheap crap

Well, some is, but not all of it anymore.

Rosé wine is cheap crap

Well, some is, but not all of it anymore. Pink American wine used to mean it was made sweet and from cheap grapes. Now there are many dry ones made from quality grapes. Even some sparkling rosés. Pink wine isn't just for college girls anymore!

Organic and Biodynamic-grown wines are better

Better for the land long-term, yes.  Better wines, no. There's no proof that Biodynamics is anything but a hoax (the organic side of BD is fine, the spiritual side is the hoax). Many growers use sustainable farming practices, but haven't gone the full organic growing route. Still, none of this is a guarantee of quality.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Some Wine Truths

Don't buy wine to age

If you don't have the proper storage the wine will be worse in a couple years, not better. You cannot stick a bottle in a dining room wine rack then expect to pull it out in five years and enjoy it. Somewhere that's dark with a constant cool temperature is required to age wine.

99.9% of all wine is best within five years

Okay, I don't know exact percentage, but I can say most wine is not meant to age very long, whether it's white or red. Plus most folks don't have a proper place to age it or have the patience to wait.

98% of all wine is best within a few months

No, I still don't know the exact percentages, but almost all wine is best close to purchase date. Plan on consuming whites and rosés within a year of purchase.

Aging wine is an education

Having said all that previously one of the best ways to learn about wine is to buy several bottles of something you really like and open a bottle at intervals--such as a bottle every year to see how it changes. It's often amazing the difference even a few months make in a wine.

Wine hates vibration

Wine can get travel shocked. If you're having wine shipped to you it's best to let it settle down for a couple weeks even though you may be anxious to try out your latest purchases. Same if you're taking a bottle to your relatives house for dinner that's several hours drive away. Not only do you want to keep the bottle cool, but you don't want it bouncing around.

Wine makes food better

A glass of wine with a meal is almost always better than one without. Okay, I'm not including breakfast in this. :)  Exactly which wine is the best match with the particular meal isn't nearly as important--just have something you like.

Drink what you like

You should drink what you enjoy and can afford, not what some wine expert else tells you to drink. It's kind of like art appreciation--it's very personal. Your smell and taste senses are yours alone.

Good wine glasses make a difference

If you don't think so try the same wine side-by-side in a cheap-o glass and in a Riedel or similar glass.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The budget wine education

How can you learn about wine and not spend a fortune buying a variety of expensive bottles to see what you like?   This doesn't mean it won't eventually get expensive because if you really get into wine, well, it's a hobby,and all hobbies are expensive by definition (it's not just old cars, rare coins, and model airplanes).

Two things will help control the costs while you're learning:  Reading and sampling off someone else's bottles.

Educate yourself about wine

Read up on various wines, what they taste like, and what kinds of foods go with them.

There's lots of info online including wine forums.  There are lots of books. There are several wine magazines.

Do you know any wine geeks?  Pick their brain not so much about what they like buy why they like certain varieties, styles, or wineries. In the end it's about what you like, not your wine drinking buddy or some wine writer. It's your money so buy what you like and pay what you think is reasonable for a bottle.

Tasting Wines

You can try many different wines by going to a wine appreciation class, joining a wine tasting group, going to wine bars, or wineries.

Wine classes - Community colleges or maybe a local wine shop may put on wine tasting classes.

Wine tasting groups - This is just a bunch of amateurs like yourself who want to learn about wine.  Maybe you can organize a few people at work who would like to explore wines also. This way you share the costs.

Wine bars - You can try glasses of wines without buying a whole bottle. They may also sell a flight--a smaller sampling of several different wines. Some wine retail shops put on wine tastings. Restaurants serving wine by the glass gives you a great opportunity to experiment with pairing wine with food.

Wineries - Nothing like a trip to the wine country to really get immersed in wine. This is your chance to try wines from places so small you've never heard of their wine and to sample different wines.

Keep yourself open to wines.  Just because you had a bad experience with one Cabernet shouldn't mean you don't like dry red wine. Don't go to a wine tasting thinking, "I don't like Chardonnay" when it's a chance to experiment for little or no cost to you. Wines come in different styles so if you've decided you don't like oaky Chardonnay doesn't necessarily mean you don't like Chardonnay at all, but just when it's in that style.

If price is an issue (and it probably is unless you're in the 1%) then try some other varietals besides Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon as these tend to be the most expensive.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Buying wine by the amount of alcohol

People buy wine based on many things

Maybe you're looking for a white or a red under ten bucks.  Maybe you want a Chardonnay from the Carneros area or a Cabernet from Mondavi Winery. Some buy a wine because they like the label or there's a note next to the wine in the store (a shelf talker) saying it got 90 points somewhere or another.

Do people buy based on the percent of alcohol in a bottle?  There's some controversy with New World wines being overripe and therefore high in alcohol compared to Old World wines.  Many will say it's just different so one's not bad and the other good.  There is some truth to this, but only to a point.

Personal experience with California wine has shown me that some have way too much alcohol. How do I know? The easy way to see this is in tasting as many of these wines will actually taste hot going down--like a shot of hard alcohol. Sometimes it's more subtle: the wine is too "soft," or too simple (tastes like cherry cola, for instance).
People love Biale Zinfandels!
They're usually pushing 16% alc

High alcohol wines are usually a poor choice for aging

A problem with these wines is ageability and I don't mean being able to lay down a bottle for ten years, but just a year or two. Overripe grapes and the resulting high alcohol also mean low acids in a wine.  In my experience these wines are at best, unpredictable for aging, and at worst turn to "crap in a bottle."   I've had high alcohol Zinfandel, Barbera, and others that were only a few years past vintage date and should have still been fine, but were poured down the drain instead.

High alcohol wines are usually a poor choice for food pairing

Mostly it's the softness (the lower acids) that don't stand up to a meal. It's like drinking a Pepsi with a shot of vodka in it with your dinner. Sound appetizing? Not to me. Not saying no one has ever had a Rum and Coke with their meal, but it's a whole different experience from having a proper table wine that matches the meal.

There's no need for any table wine to be over 14.5%  

So what is too high alcohol for a wine? As you approach 14.5% it's getting too high. I've noticed a number of Pinots with the telltale hot finish of alcohol as they get to 14.5% and higher. Heavier reds, especially Zinfandels, are often over 15%.

So why do so many winemakers produce high alcohol wines?  Because they are soft (low acid) and fruity and that sells.

One of the more food-friendly Zins
13.6% alcohol
Image from
Some, like whites and Pinot Noir, are best at 14% and lower. You can sometimes get away with a bit more than 14.5% in some big wines like Zinfandel, but it doesn't seem necessary. Once a wine approaches 15% it's no longer a table wine and can best be described as just an alcoholic beverage, like a cocktail.

To me, a red wine at, say, 13.8% alcohol seems better balanced than one at 15%.

Wine shopping

I find myself looking at the percentage of alcohol on a bottle when wine tasting or shopping.  I've had enough bad experiences with the higher alcohol wines to know this should be one of my wine buying criteria.