Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The Wine Century Club is for all adventurous wine lovers. If you've tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you're qualified to become a member (click here for more information). If you haven't tried 100 different grape varieties, but are interested in the concept, you're welcome to all of our events. 


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy 3rd Thursday of November (aka Beaujolais Nouveau day)

At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world.

By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, Concorde jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination.

It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a grower’s vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour. By French law, Beaujolais Nouveau is to be released no earlier than the third Thursday of November.

Gamay is the only grape permitted for Beaujolais. While certain California wineries may label their wine "Gamay Beaujolais" this is not the same grape variety as what is grown in France, and is quite different in taste and growing habits. All the grapes in the Beaujolais region must be picked by hand.

Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be drunk young-in average vintages it should be consumed by the following May after its release.

Serve Beaujolais Nouveau slightly cool, at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit-the wine is more refreshing and its forward fruit more apparent than if you serve it at room temperature.

Enjoy a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau tonight, but don’t blame me for the hangover in the morning.



Friday, November 12, 2010

Estate Wines.... there will soon be an 'official' definition

Last week's election will have consequences for the wine industry, but the most important change in government might have come from a tiny notice in the Federal Register the following day.

The TTB, the federal agency that oversees alcohol, is thinking about officially defining the word "estate."

If it happens, some wineries are going to have to change either their names or their entire business practices.

Here's an example. The Wente family owns a brand called Tamas Estates.* It's not a bad wine; the Pinot Grigio is good value for $10. But it's not what Europeans would think of as "estate wine." It's mass-produced from grapes purchased from a huge area -- California's "Central Coast," which stretches all the way from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.

This has never been a problem for the Wentes, because the TTB has no official definition for "Estate" or "Estates.

The TTB does, however, define "Estate bottled." A winery can use that on a label only if it made the wine entirely on its own property (including leased land). That includes growing the grapes, fermenting the wine and even barrel- and bottle-aging it.

Recently some unnamed winery approached the TTB about using "estate grown" on a label, arguing that it shouldn't have to meet the same standards as "estate bottled."

Rather than just roll over and say OK, the TTB opened it for public comment, asking 9 questions about how "estate" could or should be defined.

Question No. 1 ought to have wineries paying their lawyers to formulate a reply. It is: "Does the use of the term 'estate' or 'estates' as part of a name or otherwise on wine labels convey specific information about the product to the consumer and, if so, what information does it convey?"

And if that's not clear enough, question No. 2 is, "Should TTB propose to define the term 'Estate' in the regulations when not used in the expression 'Estate bottled'? If so, what should that definition be?"

Aw, let's beat a dead horse. Question 8 is, "Should TTB continue to permit the use of 'Estate(s) vineyard(s),' 'Vineyard estate(s),' or 'Estate(s) wines' or other similar terms, whether or not preceded by the winery name, on product labels when the wine does not meet the 'Estate bottled' standards in section 4.26? Why or why not?"

Look out, Tamas Estates. And Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. And ...

But it only takes one big angry winery to make a huge stink over laws like this. Korbel can still call its sparkling wine "Champagne" because it convinced the US government to go to trade war over our American right to be stubbornly uneducated.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Magnavino Cellars

I had a great night last night at Magnavino Cellars in Oxnard. Rob and Barbara held their first pick-up party for the first 100 wine club members. 


I find that totally amazing, they have been open only a few months and already have over 100 loyal customers! Awesome job you two! If you have not yet been to Magnavino, I urge you to check them out. 




I also had a very nice thing happen to me last night, a very nice couple came up to me and told me that I first introduced them to wine at the Magical Kitchen in Simi Valley, they at that time were not big wine drinkers, but I poured them a Spanish Cab/Syrah blend and they said their wine life changed forever.  They thanked me for taking the time with them and introducing the two of them to wine.  As a Sommelier, I believe that is the greatest compliment one could ever have. Made my night.





Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Opus One

Opus One

When you say Opus One to anyone, whether they are Vinophiles or not, they get an idea of an expensive California Napa Valley Wine. And they are right, at $200 a bottle for the current release, it is one of the most expensive bottles of wine in the Napa Valley.

Opus One Facts.
  • This was the brain child of Baron Rothschild and Robert Mondavi
  • The first vintage was in 1979
  • They make only wine per year.
  • It takes 3 years from harvest to bottle release.
  • The wine will be kept in New French barrels for 17 to 20 months.
  • The French oak barrels are only used once.
  • The grapes are all hand sorted
  • The fermentation tanks only hold a single varietal lot each season.
  • During aging each barrel is tested by the winemaker on a regular basis.
  • The winery design is a combination of old and new world design
  • Opus One produces about 25,000 cases of wine per year.
  • In 2004 Constellation Brands purchased Robert Mondavi Corporation and took 50% ownership of Opus One.

This past month, I was given the opportunity to take a tour of the Opus One winery.  This was my first visit to Opus One. What took me so long? I think the price, the attitude and the price…. Did I say price? The cost of the tour and tasting of one wine is $40 per person. Was it worth it? Will I do it again, absolutely.

Hand Sorting 20 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon
The tour was amazing, in my day job I work on satellites that go into space and I am always seeing the latest technology in my work place, at Opus One I felt at home. This season they began using an optical sorter to quickly sort out grapes, the good and the bad. This has allowed them to cut back on manpower in the hand sorting process. They still do an initial sorting, but they now use 12 employees to do this task when in the past it was done by 20 or more. 

Now if you balk at paying $200 for a bottle of Opus One wine, think about this, a 2005 Chateau Lefleur Pomerol is currently going for $2000 a bottle.

I have been focusing on small family run wineries most of my wine career, looking for those diamonds in the rough- this tour has reminded me however, not to ignore the big guys- there is a good reason they are the landmarks of the California wine industry.