Thursday, February 23, 2017

Temecula Part IV

As is becoming our tradition Mrs. Wine Guy and I celebrated Valentines in Temecula California to do some wine tasting and relax.  This was our third consecutive Valentines, our fourth trip overall.

As we did last year we stayed at the Inn at Europa Village  The inn is a 10 room bed and breakfast run by Chef Dean Thomas and his wife Nicole.  The rooms are what you would expect from a B & B, the breakfasts are amazing, and the views are fantastic.  Chef Dean also prepared our amazing Valentines day dinner served in the cave room of the adjacent Europa Village Winery. You can click on a link of Chef Dean describing one of his breakfasts here, and describing his Valentine dinner here.

As far as wine tasting goes our overall impression is that wines from Temecula are overpriced, they plant vines as much if not more so that couples can get married at a vineyard than to produce great wine, the white wines are better than the red wines, and that the reds use lots of oak to cover up ordinary or perhaps flaws in the wine.  That said we keep going back because the area is reasonably close to home, the scenery is fantastic, it is easy to get around, most of the tasting rooms are pretty incredible, and the restaurants are wonderful

As far as winery visits go we visited our old friends at Weines Family Cellars, SC Cellars, and of course Europa Village. Our impressions of those places has not changed much from our prior visits so you can find out about those places by clicking on one of the following: Temecula Part IIITemecula the Sequel,  or Wine Tasting Trip to Temecula (you will notice my opinion of whites being better than the reds evolved).

Our discovery of the trip was Peltzer Family Cellars .  The tasting room, open for less than a year, was inviting and unpretentious, the staff friendly and accommodating,and the wine was really very good. There was nothing that we tasted that we did not enjoy but the stars of the show for us were the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($28), and especially the 2015 Barbara ($42).  As fate would have the grapes for both these wines come from places other than Temecula.  The Sauvignon Blanc uses grapes from the Central Coast and the Barbara uses fruit from Conta Costa County.

Our most unique wine tasting experience was at Briar Rose Winery. The tasting room is located in the former home of Brendon Fields an associate of Walt Disney who helped design many of the buildings at Disneyland.  The home was designed to be a replica of Snow White's cottage. The current owners, Les and Dorian Linkogle purchased the home and surrounding land in the 1990's and planted their vines.  They are by appointment only, have pretty strict rules about what you can or can't bring on the property. The grounds are beautiful, and they sit you down at tables outside to taste,  You don't have to worry about drinking and driving because the pours they provide are anemic.  They produce really good $20-$40 wine but to complete the Disney experience they charge between $52-$120 for them.  Because of their insane pricing, even by Temecula standards,  I can't recommend any of the wines but I think the tasting room is worth visiting at least once.

One place we can recommend is South Coast Winery. We had stayed away from it because it looks like a large resort and did not seem to provide much charm.  Some friends encouraged us to try it and I'm glad we did.  The wines we tried were all very good, and by Temecula standards, reasonably priced.  We especially liked the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($16), and the 2014 Mourvedre ($18).

A great place to visit for the view is Miramonte Winery.  The tasting room is high on a hill overlooking the valley.  The wine was good but because the reds, priced $35 and up, and the whites, priced $25 and up, are not worth the price being charged I can't recommend any of them.    

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Least Favorite Wines of 2016

I published my 10 best a few weeks ago and I was asked what my lest favorite wines I tasted in 2016 were.  I guess the good news was there were very few wines I truly hated but 3 of them really stood out.  Just to let you know I only included wines that tried to be good not mass market wines like Barefoot, Apothic, and Menage a Trois.  In descending order of terrible:

#3:  2014 Anakena Chardonnay (Chile)


Very little fruit, soapy tasting, overly acidic and a bitter finish. 72 Points. $10.

#2: 2013 Petals Riesling (Germany)

Cat Pee, Barn Yard and rotten fruit. If I made this wine I would get out of the business. Not good. 70 Points.  $9.  

#1 2013 Pillsbury Symphony Goddess (Arizona)

Ever buy a bottle of wine and say to your self "what was I thinking". This stuff has notes of rotting grass and soap suds. Unpleasant nose, unpleasant finish. Could be the worst bottle of wine I have ever had in my life (and yes I have had MD 20/20). 60 Points. $25.   

What are some of your wines that you try to avoid?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Top 10 Wines of 2016

Here is the list of my ten favorite wines I tasted in 2016

1)  2010 Binomio Montepulcian d'Abruzzo Riserva  $52 - 93 Points

Rich, silky, dark, plum, cherry, smooth tannin with the perfect fruit intensity. Wonderful with my veal chop

2) 2012 Ayoub Pinot Noir Thistle Vineyard $45 - 92 Points

Wonderful!! The perfect combination of cherry and earth. Very smooth with an outstanding finish. Wow!

3) 2011 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino $38 - 91 Points

Smooth and Lush, blueberry, dark stone fruit, and leather. Wonderful balance. Paired wonderfully with marinara sauce and Italian sausage.

4) 2012 Ayoub Pinot Noir Memoirs $45 - 91 Points 

Fruity but not jammy, smooth, medium body. Cherry with a hint of pepper at the finish. Nice!

5) 2013 Joesph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards $44 - 91 Points 

Outstanding wine that starts out a bit muted buy builds to an amazing finish. Red cherry, with a bit of leather and mushroom. Elegant and refined. Loved it.

6) 2013 Demetria Syrah Santa Ynez Valley $34  - 91 Points 

Luscious black fruit, smoke, gentile tannin, fantastic wine.

7) 2014 Amici Cellars Chardonnay Sonoma Coast $21  - 91 Points 

A hint of butter, a hint of oak. Balanced acidity to go with a variety of meals. Pineapple, lemon, and peach. Wow this is nice. Outstanding value at $21.

8) 2012 Fratelli Perata Bambino Grande (Sangiovese Blend) $29 - 91 Points

Black Cherry, Cola, controlled tannin, nice acidity,vanilla, smooth finish. Great with tomato sauce based dishes.

9) 2013 Robert Renzoni Sonata (Red Blend) $42.00 - 90 Points

Absolutely wonderful. Deep rick black cherry, oak, controlled tannin.. Proof that it is possible to make some great wine in Temecula.

10) 2013 Januik Red Wine $18.00 - 90 Points

Well balanced Blackberry, cherry, and oak with strong tannin that soften when you let it open up a bit. Very Nice and very tasty.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Does Cost = Quality?

A lot of the questions I get asked are about the cost of a bottle of wine.  What makes a $40 wine worth $40?  Is a $50 wine twice as good as a $25 of wine?  How come two buck chuck is so cheap?  

Let me first talk about the cost of wine.  A lot goes into the cost of a bottle of wine.   

Chateau Margaux - One of the most expensive wines in the world.
First off the land that the grapes grow on impacts the price.  Using California as an example, an acre of land in Napa will cost several times what an acre of land in Livermore County costs.  The taxes on that land are also much greater.  That additional cost works it's way into the price of the wine.   

The cost of the grapes works its way into the price of a bottle of wine.  Because they are considered some of the best grapes in the world grapes grown in Napa are some of the most expensive grapes in the world.  Because they don't have much of a reputation grapes from Livermore county cost much lessReally cheap wines like "Two Buck Chuck" buy bulk grapes or overstocked grapes from anywhere they can find them to make their wine and that is why they cost less.   

How the grapes are picked impacts the price.  Wines made from grapes that are harvested by automated machines that are not selective about the grapes that are picked cost less.  It is more expensive to hand pick grapes and use only the best ones. Obviously that makes a bottle of wine cost more.  Wines like "Two Buck Chuck" are not hand picked and they are not very selective in the grapes that they use.   

Where the wine is aged and how long it is aged adds to the price of a bottle of wine. A lot of wine has traditionally been aged in oak barrels before the wine goes into the bottle.  As a general rule wines that are aged in oak barrels, particularly new oak, cost more than wines aged in stainless steel or cement.  In order to recover the cost of a new oak Barrel you need to add at least $5 to the cost of a bottle of wine.   Oak is desirable because it adds a smoothness as well as vanilla and spice flavors to the wine.  How is it that you can get a bottle of wine with that oakey taste for $5 or less?  By not aging it in oak barrels but by adding oak flavoring or making up a huge teabag with a mixture of glued together oak sawdust that floats in the stainless steel tanks with the wine prior to bottling.   If that bottle costs $10-$20 chances are it was not aged in a barrel but they added wood chips or  barrel staves (one of the strips of wood that makes up the barrel) to the wine as it ages in a stainless steel tank.  If a wine costs more than $20 chances are it was aged in an oak barrel.   

And that is where all logic and reason ends when it comes to wine pricing.   

The rest of wine pricing has to do with less tangible factors like the reputation of the area.  Since Napa has a better reputation than Livermore they charge more and people are willing to pay more.  Marketing.  A winemaker that heavily advertises their wines has to charge more for the wine to recover the marketing costs and since people are more willing to pay for a wine they have heard of (because of the marketing) they are willing to pay it.  Scarcity.  People are willing to pay more for something when it is hard to find or there is not much of it so small boutique wineries, or small production wines from large wineries, command a higher price.  There are also several other factors such as the reputation of the winemaker, wine ratings, celebrities associated with or endorsing the wine, and other factors that impact the price of a bottle of wine.   

"Two Buck Chuck" - one of the least expensive wines in the world.
All of this brings us to answering the question is a $50 wine twice as good a $25 bottle of wine?  I'm going to answer that question with the official "Gasper The Wine Guy" rule of wine pricing and quality.  This is based on my experience drinking wine and my work as a Wine Guy and as far as I know these are my thoughts and my thoughts alone.   The rule is this: A $10 bottle of wine is 50% better than a $5 wine.  A $20 bottle of wine is 25% better than a $10 bottle of wine.  A $40 bottle is 12.5% better than a $20 bottle.  An $80 bottle is 6.25% better than a $40 bottle.  As you can see way the rule works is that every time the price of a bottle of wine doubles the incremental quality difference in the price of the wine does not keep pace.  If I had continued the example above a couple more iterations you would have seen virtually no quality difference.  (If I can get a mathematician out there to draw me up a formula for this it would be most appreciated).

So why do people pay hundreds even thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine when there may not be a huge difference in quality?  A lot of the less tangible factors outlined above play into it.  People want the thrill of drinking a wine that few other people will ever have the opportunity to drink or that was produced by a rock star winemaker Because they can.  People like to celebrate their success by drinking wines other people can't afford.  It’s the same reason people by Maserati's and Bentley's, it makes them feel good and they can show everyone around them that they have made it.  It is a hobby.  Just like people are fascinated by collecting coins, collecting art, or collecting cars, people collect wines.  They may may not ever drink the wine but they get a great deal of pleasure out of going into their wine cellar and knowing that they possess a  particular unique, rare, and expensive bottle of wine.  It is an investment.  Like the stock market, flipping houses, or buying rare collectibles investors buy wines in hopes of the price of those wines appreciating in the future so they can then sell the wine at a profit.     

This is just scratching the surface but I hope it helps you better understand why a bottle of wine costs what it does and how to make a better decision on how much you want to pay.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Yes Virginia They Do Make Great Wine Outside of Napa and Sonoma

One of my favorite things about being a wine guy is making new discoveries and sharing those discoveries with others.   In order to make those discoveries I often need to get out of my comfort zone and drink wines I have never heard of from places I am not familiar with.   There is some risk associated with trying new things, I often taste wines that I do not like at all (a wine variety from Arizona called "Symphony" comes to mind), but finding new wines that I would have not otherwise enjoyed more than makes up for any bad experiences.   

Most of the time when I go out to dinner with friends, because the majority of our friends are not wine guys, they ask me to pick the wine.  Most of them only drink a few brands from California or play it safe by always ordering wine from Napa or Sonoma.  I can see the look of fear and bewilderment in their face when I end up ordering a white wine from Spain or a red wine from Washington State.  Napa and Sonoma make wonderful wines but what my dinner mates can't comprehend is that they don't make the only wonderful wines.  They approach the first glass of this non Napa/Sonoma wine as if someone had just put a glass of pickle juice in front of them to drink.  It used to bother me (like "how dare they doubt the wine guy!!!") but I learned to wait for the payoff, the "boy this stuff doesn't suck, it is actually pretty good" look on their faces after they take a sip.  When they take a picture of the label or pick up the bottle to read the label I know I did my job, and did it well.  

Because in all likelihood we will not be going to out to dinner together and because what I have mentioned above has sparked an adventurous spirit in you I am going to give you some suggestions on how to step out of your Napa/Sonoma comfort zone.    

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon: Try one from Argentina of Chile or Washington State.   They are every bit as good, often better, at a fraction of the price.  If you want to burn some extra cash try a French Bordeaux, or a Barolo, Barbaresco, or Amarone from Italy.  They are big and complex like the top Cabernet Sauvingnon's are, complement the same foods, but will take you places you have never gone before.    

If you like Chardonnay: Try one from Oregon.  As a rule they are less buttery or oaky but are bursting with fruit flavor.  From France you might want to try a White Burgundy (rich and smooth) or a Chablis (fruity and crisp).  To step out even more try a Riesling from Alsace region of France.  They are bone dry but have a lot of amazing fruit flavors.   You may also enjoy Viognier as it provides a lot of the fruityness of Chardonnay with a bit more earthiness.   

If you like Merlot: Try one from Washington State.  Again the quality is amazing at a fraction of the cost. To step out even further try a Shiraz from Australia.  It has the same smoothness with even more of the dark stone fruit you love about Merlot.   

If you like Pinot Noir: Try one from Oregon.  Often more complex than Sonoma Pinots they are among the best in the world.  You might also try a Red Burgundy.  Burgundy France is the birthplace of Pinot Noir and if you are willing to pay for the experience you will be rewarded with some of the most amazing wines you will ever taste.  If you want to try something completely different you might try a Gamay or a Crus Beaujolais from France or a Pinotage from South Africa.  Both are light and approachable red wines similar to Pinot Noir.   

If you like Zinfandel: Try a Primitivo from Italy or a Malbec from South America.   They are big, rich, and zesty like the best Zinfandels but will provide you with a different experience.  You might also try Cotes du Rhone  from France, or any number of red wines from Spain.  Many of them have the richness and spiciness people love about Zinfandel  and offer a unique mouthwatering experience.  

If you like Sauvignon Blanc: Try Albarino or other white wine from Spain or a San Gimignano white from Italy.  They give you the same crisp green apple/citrus that you get from California Sauvignon Blanc but throws in a number of flavors and characteristics unique to their wines.  You might also try a White Bordeaux wine that combines Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon  producing a crisp, smooth, fruity wine. You may have noted I did not recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (Kim Crawford may come to mind).   In my mind pickle juice is preferable to New Zealand Sauvignon blanc and may be a greater threat to mankind then global warming or the zika virus.  Because of that I did not recommend it as an alternative but because many other wine guys disagree with me you may want to give that one of those a try as well.  

There you have it my field guide for stepping out of your comfort zone. Please let me know your experience trying any of these suggestions or if you have any questions or comments.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Temecula Part III

For Mrs. Wine Guy and I Temecula is sort of the Seven Eleven of wine regions. It is overpriced, the quality is mediocre, but since iis so darn convenient (only about 6 hours from home) we keep going back.  This was our third trip to the area if you want to find out about our first two trips you can click one of the following links:  Trip1, Trip2.

As convenient as it is for us it is only an hour or two from LA or San Diego so it is only a day trip for those folks.  Add to that the fact that most of the tasting rooms range from very nice to spectacular, there are great restaurants, the views are magnificent, and that many of the tasting rooms feature music and other entertainment, it is no wonder it is a lot of fun even if the wine is so so.

This trip  we visited Ponte, Baily, Robert Renzoni, and Oak Mountain for the first time, and revisited Wiens, SC Cellars, and Europa Village.  While we were not impressed with most of the wines there were a few standouts.    

Our first stop driving into town before checking in at our Bed And Breakfast (The Inn at Europa Village...Fantastic!!!) was Wiens.  We have enjoyed some of their wines in the past and because they can’t ship to Arizona they made us “virtual” members” because of our past purchases.  They have a spacious contemporary tasting room that was able to accommodate the crowd that had gathered to taste. One of the perks of membership is that they give you 8 free pours each and throw in a couple of more for the fun of it.  Because of that it was our one and only stop of the day.  Most of their wines were undistinguished but we were impressed with their Sangiovese.  It was rich and flavorful and was a welcome relief from the bland wines that preceded it.  Their Alberino was also quite nice and their Ruby Port would pair nicely with chocolate or a cigar.  

Our first stop the next day was Ponte.  Their spacious tasting room was packed wall to wall with people paying an extra ordinary $20 to taste very ordinary wine. Their restaurant had a two hour wait. People love it. I don’t get it. None of what we tasted was worth half the $35 a bottle or more they charged for any of their wines.  Nothing we tasted was worth recommending. We walked away empty handed.  

We then went to Baily.  They are Temecula wine pioneers and based on some friends recommendations, their impressive castle like tasting room, and generally good online reviews we had high hopes.  Our hopes were dashed once we tasted the wine.  There was probably something wrong with us but it would be kind to say their wines were mediocre.  They tasted oxidized and were borderline undrinkable.   Again we walked away empty handed. On a positive note they have a casual dining restaurant on site that made one of the best Ruben sandwiches I have ever had.

After those two less than pleasant experiences, and the fact we had only one more stop left in us,  we needed to find a sure thing.  We did that with our visit to our old friends at SC Cellars.  Run by Scott and Colleen Kline, SC Cellars is a small winery that produces about 400 cases per year.  Carol is an artist (she hosts art and wine sessions on occasion) and has designed wine labels for some of her neighboring wineries. They are only open on weekends and then only for a few hours.   We enjoyed all of the wines we tasted there and walked away with their crisp 2013 Chardonnay and their 2011  Cellars Tapestry.  

The next day turned out to be much better.  Our first stop was Robert Renzoni.  Very modern well appointed tasting room with a large on site restaurant. They also had a ridiculous $20 tasting fee but at least the wine was good. We particularly enjoyed the 2014 Cantata a blend of Pinot Grigio and Viognier and their Sonata, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Our next stop was Oak Mountain . The $15 tasting fee seemed like a bargain after a couple of other places  Nice tasting room that I would describe as contemporary rustic. Friendly service.  Most of the wines were nice and we walked away with a bottle of their  2012 Temecula Hills GSM blend.  It was complex,  flavorful, and would go well with any spicier beef dish.   

Our last stop was Europa Village.  It is called Europa Village because it has distinct brands for their French, Italian, and Spanish varietals (C’est La Vie, Vienza, and Bolero).  It’s tasting room is about to be demolished and replaced with three tasting rooms, one for each of the brands and that's probably a good thing as their current tasting room is hard to navigate when crowded.  They have one of the largest tasting menus in the area, and most of the wines if not great are pretty good especially when you compare them to much of the local competition.  Our favorites were their 2015 C’est La Vie En Vie Viognier, their 2013 C’est La Vie En Vie Rhone Blend, the 2013 Bolero Libito Rojha blend.  

Will there be a 4th visit?  Probably.  The place is a lot of fun and tasting mediocre wine is better than tasting no wine at all.