Category Archives: Wine

Affordable wines that will tickle your palate

The SF Chronicle put out its list of 100 “Top Wines” a few days ago. I’m always a bit wary of these types of lists… after all, can you really pick 100 wines that are the absolute best of the year? And doesn’t it depend what you’ll be eating and on which occasion? I’d prefer to see wine lists that are more specific… such as ”
The best 10 wines to pair with lamb” or “The top 5 wines to drink without food.” After all, you could have a stunning Cab, but without the proper meal, it will just turn into a stunning tannic monster.

I did like their list of affordable wines… at least that allows us normal people to try some of these “amazing” wines without breaking the bank. Schramsberg, Copain, Qupe, Domaine Chandon and Tablas Creek are all good bets.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , ,

James Suckling to Launch Wine Website

Via The Passionate Foodie


Respected journalist and critic James Suckling teams with Hollywood veteran James Orr to create a groundbreaking website that gives the public a new look at wine, vintners, and vineyards around the world

(November 30, 2010; Los Angeles, CA)—James Suckling, the respected journalist and wine critic who spent close to 30 years as Wine Spectator’s European bureau chief, partners with Hollywood producer, director, and writer James Orr to launch, an all-access pass to the wine world. The newly launched site focuses on delivering wine information in a cutting-edge style—relying on high-quality video, with Suckling giving subscribers a visual guide to wine tasting that goes beyond simple ratings to include tasting notes, vintner interviews, and rare access to wineries around the world.

With Orr behind the camera, Host James Suckling’s extraordinary zeal and wine knowledge is brought to life in exclusive video content, bringing viewers a firsthand account on all aspects of the wine industry. The focus of the website is to report on many of the best wines of the world through tastings in vineyards and in cellars with winemakers, vintners, and owners, which allows viewers to see through their own eyes the place, the people, and the rating process. The site will deliver viewers a new video every day of the year.

“The launch of fills a niche that has been missing in the wine media landscape—merging new media with Suckling’s extensive wine knowledge and industry contacts into an approachable format so subscribers can gain access to wine information like never before,” Orr says. “The site focuses entirely on outstanding quality wines, regardless of price or origin.”

The site is a combination of free and paid content, with both subscribers and non-subscribers having access to written and video posts. Subscribers will have the ability to view premium videos, including exclusive wine ratings, tastings, interviews, and retail and winery visits. Subscriptions to the site are $14.99 per month or $143.90 per year. The site will air at least one new video everyday, 365 days a year. Non-subscribers will be able to read blogs, join discussions on the forum, and watch a selection of videos.

About is the brainchild of journalist and wine critic James Suckling and Hollywood producer, director, and writer James Orr. The focus of the website is to report on many of the best wines of the world through tastings in vineyards and in cellars with winemakers, vintners, and owners, which allows viewers to see through their own eyes the place, the people, and the rating process. The site brings a fresh, new approach to the way consumers receive their wine news and information. Please visit to learn more or to subscribe.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 30, 2010 in Food Reads, Wine


Tags: , , , , ,

The Rundown: SF Vintner's Market

It was tough to tell whether there was more sloshing around inside or outside. Under clouds of sopping, pouring rain, winemakers poured glasses of wine at the SF Vintner’s Market this last weekend. The event, which allows people to buy wine at the actual event, was held at the cavernous Fort Mason exhibition hall and was chock full of Napa and Sonoma wineries. Cabs and Zinfandels dominated the event — rich, dark, ripe wines dripping with sunshine and caramel-chocolate notes. The crowd was snappy and very young — it was hard to find a soul over 40 in the large hall, which made for a loud and boozy crowd.

But let’s talk about what really matters, the wine:

Fogline Vineyards, which is sourcing from Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Sonoma Coast (near the Petaluma Gap) was pouring their 2009 Fogline Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which at $35/bottle, is a great deal. The wine effuses delicate florals, particularly violet notes, has a bright, zingy acidity and a long balanced finish. Really great deal, particularly since the fruit seems to be of high-quality. The winery is still in its infancy — the total production for the Pinot is only 145 cases — but there’s lots of promise. Their 2009 Fogline Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel also showed the kind of restraint I like — there was more delicate fruit and less chocolate/cocoa. Again, at $24, it’s a steal.

Boisset Family Wines had a lavish display and was pouring from their various wineries (from France and Napa). The winner of the table was a 2003 Savigny-les-Beaune Pinot Noir ($47). The wine had aged very well — it didn’t have the shiny, new fruit flavors of a younger wine, but there was still some nice gentle fruit, along with nice juicy tannins and some leathery notes on the finish. It was the kind of wine you really want to pour on a rainy winter night — it doesn’t shock your system with ripeness and fruit, but rather soothes you into the evening. Also from the Boisset family was a nice 2009 Raymond Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley($28). They blended in10% semillon grapes, giving it a more lush, rich texture and honeyed character, and aged it in oak. The result is a wine with creamy strawberry and tropical fruits on the nose, but sweet, rich, caramel and honeysuckle notes on the palate. Deliciously long finish.

A nice little gem I found from the Sierra foothills of Yuba County was a 2005 “Heart of Stone” Syrah-Viognier blend from Clos Saron ($35). Slightly richer than its Northern Rhone cousins, this blend still exhibited those lovely dark brooding blackberry, tobacco, blueberry and leather notes, but had some light floral notes for balance.

Heidi Barrett and her daughter Remi were pouring the La Sirena wines over in the “Reserve Corner.” For those not-in-the-know, Heidi Barrett is the acclaimed winemaker of Screaming Eagle wines and now has her own label. The 2006 Barrett Vineyard Syrah ($80) was my favorite of the table. Dark and earthy, with ripe, juicy blackberry notes and a long sensual finish, this is a wine I’d like at my Thanksgiving table. Also pretty damn amazing was the 2007 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon ($150) — velvety, balanced, brimming with dried cherries and cranberries — this is the wine that Heidi Barrett is famous for.

In their inaugural year of production, Beltrane Ranch, which supplies fruit to Cakebread, poured their 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. With a honey-lemon nose, the wine displayed a rich but crisp texture and was dominated by citrus on the palate — it is definitely what I would call a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

The stars of the Cabernet Sauvignon show, however, were a couple of winemakers tucked in a corner of Demuth Kemos. Up in the “True Sonoma Coast,” their vineyards sit above the fogline (1700 ft. of elevation), making for windy, windy days and warmer nights. These guys are still young: their first vintage was in 2004, but they are making some stellar wines. Their 2008 Demuth Kemos Bei Ranch Syrah was definitely less inky and intense than those I’d tried earlier, but exhibited a true sense of terroir. This wine was no tannic monster; instead red berries balanced out the typical Syrah notes of blackberry and blueberry in a lighter-style wine. My favorite Cab of the night was their 2007 Demuth Kemos Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). Unlike many overripe Napa-style Cabs popular today, this wine had nice bright notes sparkling with acidity; bright, clean fruit; and light but noticeable tannins. This is the kind of wine that can really withstand some aging without getting flabby. Also stellar was their 2007 Demuth Kemos Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), a blend of two blocks. It’s a little bit on the riper style, but the acidity was still high, there were some lovely plum and raspberry notes on the palate and some noticeable florals. These guys aren’t messing around with their terroir: their fermentation is 100% native.

On a final note, I also found a nice 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley coming out of Delgadillo Cellars up in the Calistoga area. The wine had crisp, bright notes and lots of juicy fruit — impressive for a wine that had aged nearly 10 years. Lots of cherry, dark plum and tobacco on the palate.

So that’s what you missed! For those attending next year — get there early. The crowds were a bit thick and the pours were generous, making for some raucousness at this event, which is a bit of a turnoff if you’re there to actually taste the wine and not just drink. As we were leaving, several guys threw their wine glasses on the floor to make a scene. Sigh… seems like not everyone comes to savor the wines — some come to gulp ’em down. But the wines represented were definitely of very high quality, so certainly a worthwhile weekend event.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 21, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Go ahead, pour yourself that second glass, girl

Great news from the field of medicine! From the WSJ:

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard University used data from the landmark Nurses’ Health Study which started in 1976 and involves more than 200,000 women to look at how alcohol consumption influenced women’s health.

“The new research, presented Monday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, suggests women might not have to limit themselves to the one-drink-a-day guideline. A drink is defined as a 12-ounce beer, one ounce of hard alcohol, or five ounces of wine, which is often less than the typical serving in a wine goblet.

“Qi Sun, a Harvard medical instructor, looked at nearly 14,000 women who had survived to age 70. Dr. Sun said he found that 1,499 of the women were free of major diseases like cancer and heart disease and had no physical impairments or memory problems. He looked at the amount of drinking these women had done at midlife, or about age 58 on average. Women who reported having one to two drinks most days of the week had a 28% increase in the chance of “successfully surviving” to at least age 70 compared with non-drinkers. Like other studies, Dr. Sun found women drinking most days of the week were more likely to be healthier than women who drank one or two days a week.”

1 Comment

Posted by on November 17, 2010 in Food Reads, Wine


iPads in Restaurants: Hot and Trendy, and Apparently Very Effective

iPad wine lists are the hot new thing in the wine/restaurant world right now. A recent New York Times article focuses on several restaurants that allow diners to select their wines from an iPad. I recently took a couple of friends to Barbacco in San Francisco, and lo and behold, we got to select our wine from the iPads. Since none of us are iPad owners, we were particularly delighted to play with the fabulous, sleek tablets. And yes, we ordered wine.

My friends wondered if it was really cost effective for restaurants to offer wine lists on iPads. After all, tipsy people, liquid and electronics usually don’t mix. But according to this little article in Gizmodo, people are wowed by the gadgets and are more likely to order. But it’s not the fancy technology, they assert: they’re more likely to splurge because they have a chance to read reviews:

In just two weeks, Bone’s – Atlanta’s most famous steakhouse – sold 11 per cent more wine than in the three weeks previous to the iPad introduction. Like Bone’s, many restaurants around the world are having the same experience. Everyone using iPad wine lists are having big sales jumps. It’s not the novelty factor, owners and clients say. The reason is simple and logical: reviews.

I don’t always agree with wine reviewers, but when you don’t have much information about a wine, the truth is that you’re probably going to rely on something that can help you choose a wine. So you find a great Robert Parker or James Laube review, and bam, you’re sold.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Restaurant Buzz, Wine


Ninth Circuit Court sides with wine wholesalers; consumers lose

The Ninth Circuit court decided yesterday that an Arizona law allowing only wineries that make fewer than 20,000 cases to ship directly to consumers and retailers was not unconstitutional. The result is that wineries who make 20,001 or more cases must go through the infamous three-tier system, adding layers of middlemen and making it more difficult for consumers to get their hands on wines that distributors don’t want to represent.

Why is this so bad? After all, distributors often help wineries sell their product around a state and do the bear’s share of the sales and marketing work for the winery, according to most distributors you talk to.

Or do they? when I worked for a small winery, I cannot tell you how difficult it was to get the attention of the large distributors. We would schedule a market trip to let’s say, Palm Beach, and I would go around with three or four separate sales reps selling the wine at different restaurants and retailers. In Florida, we were working with Southern Wine & Spirits, the behemoth of distributors. While some sales reps were great, I worked with some people who basically had me doing all the work. Oh, and they were getting an extra commission if I sold the wine. The moment I left, the distributor’s sales reps forgot all about our winery. We couldn’t give them the attention (read: incentives) that giant companies like Diageo and Constellation could give them.

Would our tiny winery have been better off selling to consumers and retailers directly? Definitely. We could have courted small specialty shops and focused on shipping directly to them, without having to go through the giant distributor, who didn’t really care about us because we were small.

Even better, consumers who came out to Sonoma to visit us could have signed up for our wine club and had wine shipped directly to their home. But under certain state laws, wineries cannot ship directly to consumers.

And in this economy, distributors simply do not want to take on new brands, big or small. So it makes it tough for someone launching a new wine brand to get representation, no matter how many cases you produce.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesales of America applauded the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision. Of course they were thrilled. Check out this statement put out by the WSWA:

“It is important that courts understand that the three-tier system was specifically designed to address critical state concerns regarding the distribution of alcohol to consumers. The adoption of the 21st Amendment reflected recognition by both Congress and the states that the difficult problem of regulating alcohol, a socially sensitive product that can be misused and thereby can give rise to numerous problems for local communities, justified delegating to the states maximum authority to develop solutions tailored to each state’s citizenry.”

Oh please. The three-tier system has one main goal: to make sure that distributors stay in control and in business. They don’t care about “regulating alcohol” because they care about your health or that of your kids. In fact, the large distributors are the ones who represent the major liquor brands.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is truly disappointing. It is still unbelievable to me that we are in 2010 and that a consumer in Pennsylvania or Arizona can’t just go online and buy wine from a merchant in California or New York. The WSWA pours money into the hands of lawmakers to make sure that they continue to receive protection under the law — are the courts tainted, too?

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , ,

More than 10 million liters of Italian wines found to be adulterated

A news report published today states that more than 10 million liters of “Chianti, Toscana IGT, Brunello di Montalcino, and Rosso di Montalcino have been “cut,” i.e., blended, with wines of inferior quality,” according to VinoWire.

Fortunately, the wine was confiscated by officials before it made it into the U.S., but I’m sure that there is PLENTY of adulterated Italian wine on the market.

Who gets hurt when the Italian winemakers/companies do something like this?

The Italian winemakers and companies.

In the wine industry, brands and trust are everything. When Italian wine gets tagged as potentially fake, wary consumers who are already watching their dollars are more likely to turn elsewhere. I had a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG the other day, and although it had the characteristic sour red fruits and medium tannins, the high acidity and dusty notes, I’m now wary of what in the world was in my glass… Not good, not good. Italians, take note.

Photo credit:

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , , , ,

To WSJ's New Wine Columnists: Not everyone drinks $820 bottles of wine

Like many wine aficionados, I turned to the newest wine column, On Wine, at the Wall Street Journal with interest when I read the paper Saturday morning. The newest column will feature the writing of Jay McInerney and Lettie Teague (formerly of Food + Wine magazine — I love Lettie and was sad when she was laid off from the magazine).

The very first column featured McInerney’s love of pink champagne. I enjoyed how he started the piece, taking us back to the day when he first fell in love with pink sparkling wine on a date with a young woman.

Good start, no problem there, although I did dislike the phrase, “I eventually learned to turn up my nose at Cold Duck….” Why? I’ve never had Cold Duck, and I’m sure it isn’t great wine, but it makes McInerney sound arrogant and quickly alienates any reader who is just starting to get into wine. The role of a wine writer is to entice the reader into enjoying wine and learning more about it. A writer who claims his superiority in the first paragraph isn’t going to win over any wine newbies.

The other part I disliked in his column was his explanation for the price of the 1990 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé. “I’m not going to pretend that either the 2000 or the 1990 Œnothèque is inexpensive, but look at it this way: The former costs about the same as the tasting menu at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas; the latter the same as the tasting menu for two.”

That is probably the least useful information I’ve yet to read in a wine column. I can guess what the tasting menu costs at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, but sorry, I don’t regularly dine there (and probably neither do most people), so I don’t know the exact cost. Moreover, people who are going to plunk down however much it costs to savor the tasting menu at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas very likely have no problem paying $820 for a bottle of wine (or $360, if you opt for the “cheaper” 2000 vintage).

Why not put the cost of the bottle into terms people can understand a little better?

Here are some ideas, Jay. A bottle of the 1990 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé costs about as much as:

4 New Apple 3GS iPhones or

1 50″ Plasma HDTV or

328 Starbucks Short Lattes or

12 All-Day Lift Tickets at Park City, Utah

Now, if you were to put it on those terms and asked a variety of people, would you rather drink 1 bottle of wine or drink a Starbucks Latte for nearly every day this year, or would you rather have one bottle of pink champagne or ski at Park City 12 times, which would you choose?

This puts things into perspective. There are those who would rather have their daily Starbucks treat than enjoy one fabulous wine. Or those who like wine, but like skiing better.

Everyone has their priorities. I happen to love wine. My boyfriend recently expressed shock that I had paid $140 for a bottle of wine (a 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir, if you would like to know). But I know he would MUCH rather get the flat-screen TV or the 12 lift tickets than pay for the Dom rose.

So, my advice for the On Wine column: rather than just speak to the wine lover, who probably has at least 20 books on wine, reads the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast religiously, speak to the wine newbie. I always loved Dottie and John’s Tasting column at the WSJ. I thought it made wines fun, approachable, and they often touted affordable buys. Let’s follow in their excellent example and stay away from $820 bottles of wine.


Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Could the end of Two Buck Chuck be near?

A couple of California lawmakers want to raise the taxes on beer, wine and spirits in the Golden State. The proposed taxes would:

“Raise the excise tax on a 750 ml bottle of wine from 4 cents to $5.11, push the tax on a six-pack of beer from 11¢ to $6.08, and raise the total tax on a 750 ml bottle of distilled spirits from 65 cents to $17.57.” (Sonoma Valley Sun)

Who are we, Norway? Alcohol is so extremely regulated there that you have to go to a state-sponsored store to buy your wine — and you can’t touch the product before buying it. You’re only allowed to rummage through a catalog before making your selection.

This comes at a fatal time for the California wine industry and it is unbelievable that California lawmakers would even propose such a tax. The lawmakers argue that alcohol is responsible for a slew of accidents and costs taxpayers thousands in accidents, etc. The arguments are similar to those made by lawmakers who aimed their guns at cigarette companies.

But wine doesn’t cause cancer like cigarettes do — in fact, it may help PREVENT heart disease! Additionally, there is no responsible cigarette; each puff blows toxic air into your lungs and the lungs of others. There is, however, responsible drinking. A nice glass of wine with a meal, a lovely cocktail shared with friends.

We already have a plethora of laws to curb drunk driving, and I am all for more enforcement.

But please, don’t add a regressive tax to our wines. A $2 bottle would have a 250% tax. A $10 bottle of wine would have a 50% tax — does that make ANY sense?

Don’t make Two Buck Chuck a Seven Buck Chuck.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 2, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , ,

Does Labeling Wines as "Eco-Friendly" Hurt Wineries?

Consumers generally flock to “organic” and “eco-friendly” products, but when it comes to wines, “eco-friendly” and “organic” wines fare worse than wines that do not put these types of green labels on the bottle.

A study published in the journal Business and Society found that wines priced over $25 with an eco-friendly label commanded lower prices than similarly rated wines without “green” labels. Check out this US News & World Report story by Meg Sullivan for complete details about the study.

Why would this be?

Consumers are still wary about “organic” wines because for a long time, wines that were labeled as “green,” “eco-friendly” or “organic” were thought to be produced by hippies who didn’t focus on quality. The majority of consumers who are purchasing wines over $25 are still more conservative folks who are primarily interested in one thing when purchasing a bottle that is expensive: quality. They may be wary of a product that is “eco-friendly” because they may think that quality may have fallen by the wayside.

Excellent producers who have always been organic, such as Sanford Wines, keep their organic practices mum. I applaud them for helping out the environment without greenwashing, but I do wish that more consumers would reward environmentally friendly wineries.

One interesting place where this is also the case is in bottle selection. In general, more expensive bottles of wine tend to have thicker glass and be heavier, giving the consumer the impression that they are worth more. But heavier bottles also require more fuel to ship, and are therefore less eco-friendly.

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 10, 2010 in Wine


Tags: , , , ,