Tag Archives: wine tasting

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.

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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Wine


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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.

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


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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.

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Posted by on November 21, 2010 in Wine


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Want Great Wine at An Amazing Price? Try Flash Sales

This is the time to buy wine. The discounts on high-end wine are so incredible right now, you would be a fool to miss out on some of the great offerings out there. I’ve stocked up on some of my favorites (including Silvestrin — great little Napa producer).

Flash sales.

Flash sales work by advertising one product at a time with a great discount and selling out of that one product before moving on to the next one. You’ll typically have to subscribe to the vendor’s email blasts to get word of the flash sales, which can create clutter in your inbox, but it’s a small price to pay for such great deals.

A few words of advice when taking part in flash sales:

1. If you can, get free shipping. Shipping wine is expensive. Very expensive, particularly if it is being sent to you from far away. Take advantage of free shipping deals by partnering up with a friend if there is a minimum number of bottles required for purchase.

2. Although not always true, the general rule for the moment is that those wines that were over-hyped and over-priced tend to be the best deals right now. Think Napa Cabernet or high-end Champagne.

3. If you really like a particular wine, sign up for the mailing list from the winery’s website. Oftentimes the wineries themselves will offer special deals for their mailing list customers to “clean up a vintage,” i.e. clean the inventory and move on to the next vintage.

4. Ask if the retailer or winery has case discounts. Many do — about 10% — even if they don’t advertise it.

Where are some great places to take advantage of wine sales?

Wines Till Sold Out — a great place to find Opus One, Bordeaux favorites, and more affordable buys.

Gilt — although this site is generally for fashion, they’ve partnered up with to provide flash sales, mainly for well-known brands such as Cristal.

Accidental Wine Co. — this site sells wine bottles that may be stained or labels that may be discontinued at excellent prices.

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Posted by on March 3, 2010 in Wine


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Sigh, Yes, Scores Do Matter — Somewhat

In the wine industry, we always tell people that scores don’t matter. We tell people that they should simply listen to their palates and drink the wine they like, not the wine that Robert Parker or James Laube tells them to like.

But the truth is that in such a crowded wine market, consumers crave and love scores. Sure, if you drink wine on a regular basis and have access to new wines from a fabulous wine shop (where they let you taste wines regularly), you probably don’t need the scores, but most consumers really want to know: what should I spend my money on? Particularly now that the economy is not doing as well as we all wish it would, we all want to know whether what we’re buying is going to taste good.

At a recent Pinot Days event, I poured three wines: one which had gotten 96 points, one which had gotten 92, and one which had gotten 91 points. I personally prefer the middle wine, which had gotten 92 points, and don’t care too much for the 96-point one. It was fascinating to see how consumers rated these wines when they were told the scores, and when they weren’t. When they weren’t told what scores the wines had gotten, many liked the 91-point wine. When others were told the scores, they immediately declared the 96-point wine to be the best. I hadn’t even meant to perform this experiment — I simply pointed out the scores to some people and not to others by accident — but it revealed to me that people should really trust their palates.

What I would caution any consumer is not to let the scores influence your own palate. If you taste a 96 point wine, and it doesn’t taste like 96 points to you, don’t think you have a bad palate — you simply have a different one and you should respect what you think. After all, you’re going to be the one drinking the wine!

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Posted by on January 20, 2010 in Wine


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Which Wine to Drink With Spicy Food

I love spicy cuisines. Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese… I could go on. But I also love wine, which presents a connundrum. What to serve with spicy food? The problem, as many wine lovers know, is that spicy food brings out the alcohol in the wine, which can in turn make the food hotter and unpleasant. Spicy food can also accentuate oak, so you mask the subtle smokiness or tangy lime flavors of a dish with wood if you partake in even a slightly oaky wine. So what’s a wine lover to do?

The go-to wine is Reisling. I recently attended a fabulous Thai dinner at a little spot in Las Vegas called Lotus Siam where they had all sorts of reislings. Sweet, aged, clear and crisp. It was a wonderful way to sample all of the different flavors a reisling can bring to a meal.

But you need not be stuck with reisling. Bubbly wines also work well, as noted by Eric Asimov in his latest article in The New York Times. “Sparkling wine often complements spicy food for the same reason that beer often works: the bubbles scrub and refresh the palate,” he writes, which I think perfectly describes it. But I would add an additional caveat: look for wines with smaller bubbles, i.e. wines made using the methode Champenoise, where the secondary fermentation (which produces the carbon dioxide) occurs inside of the bottle. Smaller bubbles caress the palate, larger bubbles can irritate your already spiced-up taste buds even more.

I would also go with an unoaked Chardonnay, a Sancerre, maybe a light Gewurztramminer. I don’t tend to like sweet wines with food, as I feel they can overpower other flavors, so I skew toward leaner, drier wines.

When in doubt, experiment. Stay away from alcoholic wines and oak, and have some fun. That is, after all, what wine tasting is all about.

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Posted by on February 26, 2009 in Wine


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Wine and Cheese Pairing Tool

cheese_and_crackersWe’re doing a Sauvignon Blanc tasting today at our place, featuring wines from different parts of the world. We’ll be doing a blind tasting and having our guests guess from where the wines originate. We have a Sauv Blanc from Chile, one from South Africa, one from New Zealand and likely one from California.

I was thinking about what to serve with our wine tasting and came upon this site from Oregon. This cool wine-and-cheese pairing tool allows you to search by wine or search by cheese to come up with the perfect pairing.

For our Sauv Blanc tasting, this little guide came up with these pairings: sharp Cheddar, Gruyere, Provolone and Provolone. Perfect!

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Posted by on November 29, 2008 in Wine


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When Ignorance is Bliss

Can your taste buds really detect the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $100 or a $1,000 bottle of wine? I’ve had this conversation endless times with family and friends. Most people agree that there’s some difference between the cheapest bottle of wine on a menu and something a little better, but when you start getting into the stratospheric levels, it’s really not worth it, they say.

My take is that you can tell the difference. Good wine is silkier, less rough on the tongue, has more body, more complexity.

Turns out we’re both right. According to the publication “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” from the American Association of Wine Economists published in the Journal of Wine Economics, Vol. 3, No. 1, it depends on who is doing the tasting. Regular folks can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap wines. It’s really not worth it for them to blow $400 on a bottle of wine when a $40 or a $15 bottle would have done.

But the wine snobs, oh, they can tell. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Obviously it’s nice to be able to know that your tongue distinguishes between the best of the best and the cheap Two Buck Chuck.

Then again, you make for an expensive date.

I love this little essay in the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times about how Steven Levitt was always miffed that he was offered expensive wines when at Harvard’s Society of Fellows when just the cash would have sufficed. His advice:

No matter what, do not let yourself become a wine expert who can tell the difference between cheap and expensive wines. When it comes to your pocketbook and wine, ignorance is bliss.

The one thing Levitt missed is that neuroeconomics studies have found that people drinking expensive wine actually physiologically enjoy the pricey wine better (when they know the price, of course). In other words, your brain is actually tricked into thinking the expensive stuff is tastier and you can see it in the reward centers. So it’s not of much use if you’re doing a blind tasting, but if you’re treating yourself to a nice bottle of wine, you’ll at least enjoy it more, even if your pocketbook doesn’t.

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Posted by on July 17, 2008 in Uncategorized


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Learn and laugh as you watch this wine guy

Wine tasting, buying and collecting is considered by many to be stuffy, elitist and boring.

I wish they would watch Gary Vaynerchuk’s video podcasts (Wine Library TV).

You’ll laugh so hard out loud that people around you may wonder whether you’re insane. You’ll giggle at his facial expressions, chuckle at his descriptions of wine (he compared the smell of one wine to powdered lemonade) and tears will be coming out of your eyes by the time you’re finished with the show.

Oh, yeah, and you’ll learn about wine. He knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to share it with ya.

I just watched an episode where he compares Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio (which are made from the same grape — just in different styles) and found myself learning a thing or two. Plus, he rates the wines he tastes and talks you through the ratings, which helps you understand why a wine got a certain score (for example, an expensive wine with an “eh” taste rates lower than a cheaper wine that tastes the same).

If you’re on the path to wine snobdom, forget the stuffy wine mags, you’ve got to watch this guy.

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Posted by on May 20, 2008 in Wine


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Becoming a wine snob: step three

For those just joining the blog, check out steps one and two before reading on!

You’re the envy of your friends at the restaurant table when you knowingly pick the perfect Viogner, others look to you with awe as you describe the nose of a Malbec. Now it’s time to learn some vineyard, winery and tasting lingo. Throw these words around next time you go wine tasting with your friends in Napa and you’ll be the star of the tour:

Clone – No, not a science-fiction term, although grape clones do result from weird mutations. Wine grapes are known to spontaneously mutate in the vineyard. The result is a very, very close relative of the grape type (or varietal) called a clone. Some clones are given numbers (for instance, “777” is a clone of Pinot Noir) while others are given names based on their history (the “Swan” clone was taken from Joseph Swan’s vineyard) Many wines are a blend of a bunch of different clones. Many wineries are now offering “clonal tastings” where you can taste the clones before they are blended.

Finish – The lingering effect of wine in your mouth. The longer the length, the better. If the wine is acidic, you might describe the finish as “edgy,” while a creamy finish would be better described as “smooth,” or “silky.”

Malolactic Fermentation – This jargony term refers to a bacterial process that takes place in the wine. Yep, bacteria! These little guys turn the acetic acid in wine (which has an apple-y flavor) into lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). The result is that you get a creamy, rich wine when it has gone through malolactic or “ML” fermentation.

Punchdown – A technique during fermentation that mixes up the juice and skins. I spent a good chunk of the summer of 2007 doing punchdowns. Pinot Noir and Syrah have to be punched down three times a day. The winery where I worked had 20 tanks and each took anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. You do the math to determine the amount of manual labor this took!

Check out this cool video from that shows you how the punchdowns are done:

Brix – A measure for determining sugar levels in wine (specifically, the ratio of dissolved sugar to water).

Residual Sugars – Also known as “RS” (you’ll hear this term thrown around by really stuffy wine snobs), RS refers to unfermented grape sugar that remains in wine after the fermentation process.

Vertical Tasting – You’ll see these offered at some wineries. A vertical tasting refers to tasting several vintages of the same wine: you’ll taste the 2003, 2004 and 2005 vintages and compare.

For more wine lingo, check out this great glossary over at Fine Cooking that demystifies other wine terms. Learn them all and impress your friends.

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Posted by on April 17, 2008 in Wine


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