Pour it on me!

Chronicling my transition from wine novice to oenophile (sort of).

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Review: Craftwork 2012 Pinot Grigio

It smelled like honeydew when I stuck my nose into my first glass of Craftwork’s 2012 Pinot Grigio, but when I drank it, I forgot about that alluring scent. I expected a fruity concoction, but was distracted by the alcohol burn. The bottle says it’s 13.5%, but it tasted like more. I feel like this wine, because of the bite, would do well in a white sangria.

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I’m usually a fan of Pinot Grigio, but I don’t think I’d pick this one up again. It’s not a bad, but it wasn’t for me. Unfortunately, I picked up two bottles at the most recent Bevmo 5 cent wine sale. I was hunting for Pinot Grigio and this one had 91 points, so I snagged it. Lesson learned: points can be deceiving.

Have you ever disliked a highly rated wine? Tell me about it.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Craftwork
  • Type: Pinot Grigio
  • Origin: Monterey
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $15.95, but I got one for 5 cents
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: If you’re making a white sangria, I think this wine would go well with a few shots of clear liquors in your cabinet, peaches, raspberries and a splash of bubbly.

What Millenials Want

Did you know 29% of the 39 million regular wine drinkers in the U.S. are under 34?

Wine insiders have been saying for the past few years that Millenials–those 21-34 year-olds like myself– are shaking up the wine industry and smart wineries should take note.

So what should wineries do to please this fickle demographic?

1) Get online, duh.


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In Napa, where a quarter of vineyard visitors are 24-35, the some wineries are leaning on social media to tap folks like me. The Napa Valley Vintners Assn. hosts Taste and Tweet events that attract a younger crowd, said Patsy McGaughy. It’s true, I do find out a lot about wine through Twitter, and the internet in general, so I can see this working. The Association also encouraged visitors this summer to share their photos on Instagram with a pre-defined hashtag to win a prize. I’d also recommend posting on reddit, a Q & A style forum where users can “upvote” the best posts. I see a lot of wine enthusiasts on there, but few actual wine brands joining into the community.

2) Study says: Millenials are shallow


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Yes, many of us care about labels. We probably shouldn’t, but sorry that’s not going to change.

We’re the generation that doesn’t just pay attention to other brands, we brand ourselves. We curate our lives on Facebook and Instagram (#mylifeisperfect), so we tend to pick up a bottle of wine if it looks cool, especially since we’re probably going to bring it to a party.

According to a 2012 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo study, Millenials prefer wine labels that are “brightly colored, less traditional and more graphically focused.”

But trying to cater to us can go wrong. I would never buy TXT Cellars’ OMG!!! Chardonnay or WTF!!! Pinot Noir. It’s trying too hard. They’re wines my dad would buy me–if he bought me wine, which he doesn’t– because it would be something he thinks I would think is cool. It’s like seeing your parents on Facebook. If looks weird.

3) Be different


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According to the Wine Market Council, 89% of 26 to 34 year-olds frequently purchase wine from an unknown brand. That’s because many of us, including myself, like to try new things.

“Millennials have reached legal drinking age at a time when more wines from more countries are available than ever before. So it’s not surprising that their tastes are adventurous as they explore and form their own preferences,” said David McIntyre, in a Washington Post food column this week about a 27-year-old and a 25-year-old who set up a pop-up wine bar in a parking lot in DC. 

Peter Eastlake at Vintage Berkeley is benefitting from that trend at his wine store near University of California Berkeley. He’s been buying and selling wine for a long time and he’s noticed that rather than going for the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, his customers want something different. They’re willing to explore, he said.

For example, I bought a fizzy wine from Slovenia described as weird, but great, at his store.

Blends are good, too. I picked two up at Area 5.1 Winery when I was in Santa Barbara because they were delicious and unique and I knew I’d never find them again unless I went back.

4) $$$$$


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Price matters.

When I was in college it was $2 buck chuck all the time. Now, I try to mostly keep my wine purchases under $20. Many of my friends though won’t buy a bottle of wine over $10.  If I’m at a boutique winery, I bump it up to around $20-$25 because I know I’m paying for the small-scale production, the experience of being at the winery, etc.

Wineries take note: I cringe when I see $15 tastings. Even with $10 tastings, my friends and I will share a glass to split the price. Drop your tastings to $5 and you’ll make up for the reduction in price with an increase in traffic. And if you can’t drop your tasting price all the time, make it an event, a happy hour of sorts, and reduce it during certain times. 

Wine Jelly

As soon as I saw we were out of Penman Springs wine jelly, I looked like this:

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When I found out that I could make my own wine jelly, perhaps one that could rival that of Penman Springs, I turned that frown upside down:

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You see, I first discovered wine jelly at Penman Springs while wine tasting in Paso Robles during Valentine’s Day weekend. Penman Springs is a country-style winery, fit with rolling hills, a white farm house and delicious, warm baguettes and house-made wine jelly ready for you when you come in for a tasting.

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That cute little farm house is where Penman Springs does their tastings

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That’s me hanging out in the vineyard at Penman Springs

I liked the wine jelly so much, I bought four jars of it. The jelly lasted me almost nine months, but when making almond butter (the best) and wine jelly (also, the best) sandwiches the other day for lunch, we reached the end of the last jar.

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Turns out, though, it’s not too hard to make wine jelly at home. Here’s the recipe I plan to use from allrecipes.com.

This makes 5 half-pint jars:

  • 3 1/2 cups wine
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 ounce package dry pectin (a jelling ingredient made from apple and citrus fruits)
  • 4 1/2 cups white sugar

In a large pot, bring the wine, lemon juice and pectin to a boil. Stir frequently. Add/dissolve sugar. Turn the heat back up and bring to a rolling boil for one minute, while stirring. Remove from stove and skim the foam off the top. Put the hot jelly into sterilized mason jars with 1/2 inch of space near the top. Close up the jar and put bathe them in boiling water for five minutes.

Do you have a better wine jelly recipe? Let me know!

Old Vine Zinfandel vs. Zinfandel

If I was blindfolded and you put an Old Vine Zinfandel in front of me and a non-Old Vine Zinfandel, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

So I started asking around: what separates the two, flavor-wise?

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I had this Zin in my wine collection

Ondine Chattan, winemaker at XYZin Wines told me Old Vine Zinfandels tend to brighten the characteristics of the Zinfandel grape: producing a jammy and spicy wine. They’re “typically full-bodied, spicy, fruit-driven and accented by oak with robust alcohol,” she said.

Chris Smith, winemaking director of Bogle Winery, said Old Vine Zinfandels can have a superior quality of taste because the older grapevines are, the less vigor they have, which means they produce fewer grapes. Fewer grapes=more flavor.

“The Sex Appeal of Old Vine Zinfandel can be distilled down to smaller yields and more intensity of flavor. In general but not always true,” he pointed out.

There are different types of Zinfandel grapes and some old vines can’t be duplicated elsewhere, Chris said, leading to a unique wine taste.

So that’s that on the flavor profiles, but how old is old?

It depends who you ask. There’s no regulatory definition of “old vine.”

A winemaker can slap an old vine label on their bottles, even if their vines are only five years old and be “breaking no laws,” Chris said. Conversely, a winemaker with 100-year-old vines doesn’t have to define her Zinfandel as old vine on the bottle.

“So a consumer may frequently be drinking wines from Old Vines without any indication or may enjoy a wine from a blend of younger and older vines,” Ondine remarked adding that some consider 25-year-old vines old.

Ondine Chattan; credit xyzin.com

Ondine Chattan; credit xyzin.com

Not Chris. For him, more than 40 is old.

While other grape vines make it to around 25 years old with quality reducing as they age, Zinfandels have longer lifespans and increasing quality. One hundred year old Zinfandel vines are few and far between, but 60 to 70-year-old ones are common, Chris said.

Chris Smith; credit boglewinery.com

Chris Smith; credit boglewinery.com

If you want to get overwhelmed by Zinfandel info, check out this resource guide by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers.

Review: Arrogant Frog Syrah Rose

Twist off!

I am a cork lover through and through, but I’ve been seeing more screw caps as I browse wine store shelves and honestly, they have their benefits. Think of all those times you headed to a picnic with a beautiful bottle of wine only to get there and uh-oh, you forgot the cork screw! This has happened to me many times and I have tried to life hack, unsuccessfully…more on that in another post.

I was scavenging for a rose at BevMo the other day during their 5 cent wine sale. They don’t have a lot of Roses covered by the discount, but Arrogant Frog Syrah Rose fit the bill.

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I unscrewed the bright pink cap earlier this week and poured the translucent pink liquid into a glass. The bottle calls it “Lily Pad Pink”–how cute! I was busy shooting off emails and picking out new glasses as I sipped. The wine smelled like cherry blossoms and tasted like them too, at least what I think they’d taste like. Very flowery; the taste of candied fruit lingered on my tongue.

It reminded me of cherry blossom season in DC, my favorite time of year when I used to live in the capitol. Look how pretty the trees are! I have this first picture hanging in my living room.

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I tried the Syrah Rose again a couple of days later at dinner and it got tarter with time, but for me, that was a good thing.

It’s creator, Jean-Claude Mas, is known as the “humble winemaker” and he harvests grapes from the five main valleys in the South of France: Aude, Orb, Herault, Peyne and Uzes valleys. How fun are those names!

I’d buy this again for a picnic or as a gift to a floral wine lover, but I probably wouldn’t get it again to keep around the house.

Nuts and Bolts

courtesy of food.com

courtesy of food.com

Review: Area 5.1 White Light

I trotted through the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara after a friend suggested the route when I told her my boyfriend and I were celebrating our anniversary on the American Riviera. While on the trail–which has the feel of a bar hop swapping cocktails for wine–the lovely people at Oreana Winery suggested we check out Area 5.1 across the street.

It’s a small tasting room, tucked into what seems like a business plaza, much different than other wineries on the trail that actually make wine on the premises. Rather than looking like a traditional tasting room, the winery felt like a classy sports bar. Football was playing on TV–which I usually dislike in wine tasting rooms, but it went with the vibe– and a large scoreboard-like marquee noted who made what wine and who was on duty.

Area 5.1 is owned by two Australian guys who decided to play off their resident alien statuses. All their wines are blends and cheeky takes on secret government investigations of the other worldly.

I bought two bottles of wine from them, a white blend called White Light and a red blend called Majestic 12, although they were over my typical price limit. I was on vacation! It was my anniversary! I was getting tipsy!

This review is about the White Light. I’ll tell you about the Majestic 12 another time.

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White Light was crisp and refreshing, fruity–think tropical tastes– without being sticky on the tongue. I uncorked it at a dinner party we had with some friends. We made shrimp strifry, cookies made from the spent grain left over after we home brewed pumpkin beer, and toasted with glasses of White Light.

I would definitely drink it again!

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Area 5.1
  • Type: Blend of Savignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Semillon
  • Origin: Santa Ynez
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $22
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: At a bachelorette party dinner, before the shots.

 

Shop: Vintage Berkeley

While I didn’t have time to head to Sonoma this weekend while I was visiting a friend in Berkeley, I did stumble across a gem of a wine shop. After having lunch on Monday at Gregoire, a cute-as-a-button French takeout spot, I mean check out this quiche and blood orange French soda:

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my friend, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, had to head to class and I had an hour to kill. Lucky for me, there was a wine shop nearby that my friend recommended I check out.

From the outside, Vintage Berkeley doesn’t look like a wine shop. It doesn’t look like a store at all. It’s housed in a former water pumping station built in 1930. The station operated until the 1980s, but it sat vacant until nine years ago when Vintage Berkeley moved into the city landmark. 

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While the exterior remains the same, the owner made some tweaks to the interior and rather than pumping water, the site now pumps out wines from labels you’ve most likely have never heard of. And here comes the selling point: most of them are under $25.

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Vintage Berkeley throws the age-old point system out the window and instead offers descriptions of the wines written by staff. It reminded me of the staff picks at Skylight Books, my favorite book store in Los Angeles. When I told Ryan, who started working at the shop after being a frequent visitor at tastings during his time at Cal, that I’m on a kick to try wine types I’ve never had before, he pointed out wines from Slovenia, the Basque region of Spain, Corsica, and other exotic locales.

He sold me on the Slovenian number, a blend of dry muscat and riesling that came topped with a bottle cap. It’s a 2012 Crnko Jarenincan.

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I also picked up two others–a red and a white–from Portugal. The white is another dry muscat, 2012 Herdade de Gambia, and the red is a 2011 HMR Varal Tinto. All were $15 or less. As soon as I get my package in the mail and can uncork (uncap for the Slovenian wine) those suckers, you’ll be sure to see some reviews.

If you’re in the Berkeley area, check out their free tastings on the weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

It’s very beautiful right now, as the fall leaves come in and crisp breezes bookend the days.

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Slurpees and wine?

A sure sign the culture of wine is shifting: 7-Eleven plans to sell “ultra-premium” wines, some running as high as $54.99.

Now you can get your slurpees, Red Bulls, cash back with that pack of gum and wine all in one trip!

7-Eleven marketing folks told USA Today the change is partially about attracting upscale millennials. But I thought millenials didn’t care about the price of wine? The marketing folks must have done some focus groups that told them otherwise.

About 700 stores in 16 states now have “Fine Wine” displays with under $19.99 bottles, but the prices are eventually going to also range from $19.99 to $54.99. Wineries represented include Stag’s Leap, La Crema, Louis Martini and Wild Horse.

Would you buy your wine at 7-Eleven? I can see this a plus for urban dwellers who don’t have grocery or liquor stores nearby.

Review: Laya Garnacha Tintorera/Monastrell

I was picking up dinner at Whole Foods and right before I hit the check I saw a Spanish wine for $8.99 and my heart fluttered.

I have a soft spot in my heart since I studied abroad in Spain while in college, although I have to admit–get ready to cringe–I drank a lot of calimocho when I was there. That’s a drink made from red wine, coke and grenadine. I grimace now, but six years ago, in a sweaty club blaring David Guetta, that was the thing to drink in Spain. Despite the calimocho and the cheap sparkling wine, I did squeeze in a nice Rioja every now and then.

Back to Whole Foods and the Garnacha. I picked up a bottle and tried it immediately when I got home.

As soon as I popped it open, I got a whiff of alcohol–this wine was strong. The alcoholic smell and taste makes sense with the Monastrell grapes, which tend to amp up the alcohol level and add a dryness to a wine.

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It’s the type of wine that makes you pucker. Super bold, super chewy, it warms up your tongue. It’s a deep purple, and yes that purple showed up mixed with my toothpaste in my bathroom sink later that night. The deep color probably comes from the Garnacha Tintorera grapes, which have red skin and red pulp, different from other grapes that have red exteriors and white interiors. 

I had it again two days later while catching up on Homeland and it’s punchiness resided slightly, but just barely.

According to the bottle, the grapes were grown “between 700 and 1000 meters above sea level, within the region of Almansa, we selected those [grapes] who can design a unique wine that combines complexity, structure and intense color with the explosion of fruit and ease of consumption…”

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Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Laya
  • Type: 70% Garnacha Tintorera/30% Monastrell
  • Origin: Almansa region of Spain
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $8.99
  • Alcohol content: 14.5%
  • When to drink: After coming off the slopes in Big Bear, warming up in your cabin.

 

 

Wine boom!

The number of wineries in California has more than doubled since 2000. Check out this visual I made using government data that hits home the point:

And California wine is a $61.5 billion industry. That’s billion with a B.

Yet, at the same time, California’s share of the U.S. wine market is slipping, down to 61% from 77% in 2000, according to winebusiness.com.

David Freed, chairman of a vineyard investment firm called Silverado Group, told industry insiders iand winebusiness.com in September that he thinks on top of the tumbling market share, there won’t be much new planting in California as Sonoma County is built out, Santa Barbara has regulatory issues, the Central Coast is sputtering, etc.

What do you think of the situation? Has the California wine industry reached its limits or is there still room to grow?