Jeffs Blog

Posted June 05, 2018

Mark's Paso Trip

We headed out from the South Bay on a beautiful morning in search the perfect zinfandel. Instead of going someplace close like UncorkedI was headed up to Paso Robles to meet some friends for a weekend of wine tasting, in the town where I first learned to drink wine. Well, I already knew how to drink wine (btw, it’s pretty easy), but it’s the place I first started going after getting into wine, at my brothers behest.

Before going to our accommodations, we drove over to the west side (a mile down the 46 off the 101) to meet some friends who were members at Turley. Turleys long been known for their zins (although they make other wines) - one of the things I loved about Paso when I first started getting “serious” (can you ever really get serious about a hobby that involves drinking?) about wine.

 Larry (Turley) likes old vines. Real old vines (“Old Vine” is used as a marketing “phrase littéraire” which can mean…well nuthin). In fact two of his zins are from the Dusi and Pesenti vineyards, two of the oldest in Paso. I remember going to my aunts place (she had married some rich dude who owned a ranch on Peachy Canyon road that would be worth half a billion today) when I was a kid and there was pretty much one winery: Pesenti.

 The big deal was you bought a bottle of wine and it came with a little red sticker around the neck with your name on it. The quality of the wine was never really a consideration. Now that I’m all grown up (well…sort of) I’ve got my name plastered on many a bottle of crap Pinot Noir gracing the shelves of your local supermarket (check out the $7.99 Mark West Vineyards Pinot Noir next time youre at Pavilions). We tasted several Zins and a Petite sirah. Turleys are amongst the best (if not the best) zins in Paso in my humble opinion.

Next we headed north up Vineyard drive just a few miles to Oso Libre (Vines-Wines-Angus). In addition to wine, they are a traditional San Luis Obispo cattle ranch, and they raise organic, sustainable, solar powered cows, well… the last claim may not apply to the cows. But their philosophy about farming embraces organic, solar, all that good stuff you hear about. You can check out their website here.


It was heading towards evenening so we headed to our accomodations- a lovingly restored 4 (or 5?) bedroom house circa the 30’s I think. Looking at the outside I didn’t think much of it but once we got inside, as I said, it was lovingly restored, they had a huge kitchen where we made dinner, and there was a hot tub out back. It was a 10 minute bike ride from downtown. But you don’t need a bike when you hire….


… The next morning (well, 11ish, which is morning if you were drinking wine the afternoon and evening prior) our bus from Crown limos showed up. Our driver was awesome, full of fun stories, and amused when we all took advantage of the pole in the middle of the bus, demonstrating our pole dancing skills, or lack thereof. Note to self: guys do not in any way shape or form perform well on a pole.


 Anyway, we proceeded to our first stop: Halter Ranch. Fortunately one of our group was a member so we got the royal treatment. After the tour of the facility, we retired to the wine club tasting room for a “relaxed seated tasting” with windows overlooking bothe the vineyards, and the inner workings of the winery. We were served some nice appatizers to boot. We got to taste a vertical Cabernet tasting, among others. Halter Ranch is a beautiful state of the art facility on the west side of Paso-in case you don’t know, in general Paso is divided by the 101 and the different wineries are referred to as on the west side or east side (of the freeway).


After we left the wine club tasting room, we sipped a few whites at a little tasting bar they had set up outside and enjoyed the crisp weather, my pretentious wine banter (well, maybe not “enjoyed”) and waited for the party bus and a chance to redeem ourselves on the pole, now that we were a little more lubricated.


We headed over to Opolo for lunch. We sat outside in the crisp air (but still warm enough to, well, sit outside) and chose from the 3 courses they offered up. I picked the barbeque plate to help soak up the wine. It hit the spot. After lunch we went inside to their comfortable, casual tasting room and tried out their wines- they’re mostly known for their big Zins, Cabs, and Merlots. They didn’t disappoint, and we stumbled out to find our ride.  


The party bus moved on, the pole dancing was in high gear. Everyone gave it a shot, somehow no one broke a hip. After tending to our wounds and listening to an eclectic mix of hip hop and Neil Diamond on the sound system of the party bus, we arrived at Rotta in the afternoon. Christian Tietje is the winemaker here. He started Four Vines in his garage, sold it, and created Cypher where he’s also the winemaker.


Rotta has a small, intimate tasting room, stacked high with barrels. It’s got that wine soaked oak smell that lets you know you’re in for some fun. We were treated to a flight of mostly reds- Cab, a blend, a Zin, maybe a Malbec- the memory is a little fuzzy. After buying a few bottles we walked out into the bright sunlight and into the party bus, and headed to Penman Springs.


I have a soft spot in my heart for Penman Springs- they were one of the first wineries I visited in Paso. It was also a favorite of one of our group. Their small, non-ostentatious, craftsman style tasting room surrounded by vineyards is a beautiful spot to do a tasting, then slip outside, sip some wine, and take in the beautiful glow of the afternoon, and good friends.


Finally we headed over to La Vigne. I was looking forward to this place; research indicated there was a haunted train car parked aside the winery. Added bonus- the fabulous, sexy, pole dancing chick who coordinated our trip (thanks Katrina!) picked this place because they did cheese pairing- they have an attendant cheese monger.  We feasted on Irish sharp cheddar and a three milk blend from cow, sheep, and goat’s milk, amongst others. The wine was not an afterthought either. Nice and rich, kinda’ like how I like my women. Well, they don’t have to be nice.

I ran over to the train car but it was locked. I found out later it was kept locked to keep the homeless dudes out. Or was it to keep the ghosts in..??? By the time we had finished our tasting it was dark. Still no ghosts. So we headed back to our last stop, Pappy McGregor's Irish Pub for a beer. The place was crowded, we hunkered down and got some beers and a few Jack and Cokes, and took in the local color.


After not too long we caught our limo back to our place, said our goodbyes to our driver, and settled in for a little more wine, ordered in Chinese food, and enjoyed the hot tub out back, getting to know each other a little better. Life could be worse than sharing a fun weekend drinking wine in a beautiful place with people you love. 

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted May 29, 2018

A Short History of the Universe (of California Wines)

The Spanish were the first winemakers in California-they planted vineyards along with each mission they built. Well, I mean…you need wine for communion, right? For the most part they planted what has become known as the “mission grape”.

The Gold Rush (1849) brought an influx of winos and hence a new demand for wine; it was then that the industry took hold in Sonoma and Napa.

The first secular vineyard in CA was established in Los Angleles by a guy from Bordeaux. He was the first dude to import vines from France, around 1850.

In 1856 a Swiss immigrant planted grapes in the Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra Foothills, near where gold was first discovered.  

Buena Vista was the first commercial winery in CA, opened in 1857 (located in Sonoma).

2 years later the first winery in Napa was opened by a guy named John Patchett, who hired Charles Krug as his winemaker (known for mediocre jug wine in the ‘80’s). Krug was an innovator and could be termed the grandfather of California Wine. Subsequently, his winery was bought by Robert Mondavi.

In 1860 the first winery in the Sierra Foothills was established (D'Agostini Winery). 

Around this time several wineries that are still around to this day were established including Gundlach Bundschu, Inglenook, and Markham.

Chinese immigrants played a big part in establishing these wineries in the early years digging cellars, and harvesting grapes, planting vineyards. Now they’re buying up all the wine.

The first European Grapes (“vitis vinifera”- grapes that make most of the wines we know today) were actually planted in New Mexico (check out our Gruet Sparkling wine that hales from there).

In 1852 Almaden Vineyards was established, and became the first winery to focus on single varietals. They began growing Cab Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and others.

1861, Agoston Harazthy (“The Father of CA Viniculture”) travelled to Europe and purchased 100,000 vines of 200 different varieties and distributed them to growers at the behest of the state legislature.

The late 19th century saw the phylloxera epidemic (pale yellow sap-sucking insects, which feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines) in California which had destroyed much of Frances vineyards. Fortunately, Amerca had helped cure Frances’ epidemic (I don’t remember hearing a “thanks” for saving your arses, French people!) by grafting vines to resistant American rootstock, so the Californians quickly rebounded and used the opportunity to plant new varieties.

By 1900, over 300 varieties were being grown in CA

But then, the darkest hour: January 16, 1919. Prohibition. Last Call! By the time it was repealed, only 140 of the 800 or so wineries remained, and it took awhile to recover.

By the 60’s California was known for mostly crappy, sweet wines (sherry, port, burgundy) made by esteemed names such as Cribari, Gallo, Italian Swiss Colony, Paul Masson, Almaden, Boones Farm.

In 1956, Frank Schoonmaker (a wine merchant and author of “The Encyclopedia of Wine”) convinced Almaden to plant the largest single planting in history of varietal (chardonnay, merlot, Cabernet, etc) grapes. They started using the names of the grapes to identify the wines which gave consumers a better understanding of the wine they were purchasing, and the qualities it might have, which is how we identify wines to this day.

Today, California accounts for nearly 90 % of American wine production, and there are more than 1200 wineries in CA

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted September 02, 2016

Types of Sparkling Wine


Most champagne is blended, coming from several vineyards, and varying vintages. Champagnes are generally made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier. In my previous post, I described the types of champagne, and the names used to describe the relative sweetness/dryness of them. In general, champagnes can smell and taste of apple, pear, citrus, strawberry, cream and vanilla (typically on the finish). The limestone/chalk soil produces grapes that have a certain balance of acidity and richness that you don’t find in most other sparklers from other parts of the world. One of the main flavors that differentiate champagne (and other sparklers that utilize “methode champenoise”-secondary fermentation in bottle) is yeast and nutty flavors.



Essentially Champagne, these sparkling wines were named (cremant, or creamy) because they originally had a more creamy texture when compared to Champagnes. Cremants are made outside of the Champagne region, mainly in France, and must be aged for at least a year. Several more grapes are allowed (the French have their rules!) to be used in the production of Cremant, among them Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Cremant wines are made using the “methode champenoise”.



Cava is a white or pink sparkling wine from Spain and is made according to the “methode champenoise. Cava is typically made from a variety of grapes, some French (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir), some indigenous to Spain (Macabeu, Parellada). They also vary in sweetness from brut (extra dry) to seco (dry) to dulce (sweet).



The Portuguese version of sparkling wine is produced throughout Portugal, the best coming from Bairrada, just south of Vinho Verde one of Portugal’s best known wine producing regions. Spain has one regulating body (rules again!)- DOC Cava. Look for wine labeled “VEQPRD” if you’re looking for a quality Espumante (and you should be, you’re purchasing it for a celebration, right?) from Bairrada. These are made in the traditional method used in the Champagne region of France and will indicate the vintage.  


Asti, Lambrusco, Prosecco

These are three different sparkling wines, all from different regions in Italy. Asti is typically slightly sweet and made from the Moscato grape, near the town of Asti. Lambrusco is a slightly sparkling red wine usually from north/central Italy between Florence and Milan.  It varies in sweetness from secco (very dry) to amabile (off dry/sweet) to dolce (sweet). The wine is acidic and often tastes of berries and is usually made in the Charmat method, where the 2nd fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank. Prosecco is typically dry or extra-dry, and is made from the Glera grape, usually in northern Italy around Venice, and in the Friuli region. It’s often served up alone, or used as a less expensive option to champagne in spritzers and the like.


American sparkling wines

Sparklers made in the US can be made using either of the traditional French methods (method champenoise, or charmat). The first sparklers in the US came from Korbel, out of Sonoma Valley in the late 1800’s. Subsequently, some of Champagnes most noted wine makers have come to produce Champagne from California: Moet et Chandon Domaine Chandon, Louis Roederer’s, and Taittinger. US wine laws don’t regulate sugar levels/ sweetness of wines (not as many rules in the states!) but most producers follow European standards, with Brut wine being dry, and Doux, sweet. There are also no laws governing aging length, which can be as little as 8 months. A few interesting sparkling wine makers in the U.S: Winemakers in the Finger Lakes region (New York) are making interesting sparkling wine from Riesling, and Gruet (New Mexico) makes several nice sparkling wines (Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Brut, Extra Dry, Rose). 

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted April 08, 2016

Gamay (Beaujolais)


The Gamay grape reminds me of…well me. It’s been around awhile (since the 15th century). But, despite its mature station in the lineage of French grapes, it’s known for being youngish, fresh, and lively, mainly through the popularity of “Beaujolais nouveau”.OK, so I ripped off the idea of comparing me to Gamay from “Sideways” (when Miles compares himself to Pinot Noir):


Maya: "Why are you so in to Pinot? . . . I mean, it's like a thing with you."

Miles: "Uh, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and . . . ancient on the planet." 


Gamay is better known as Beaujolais, which is the region in France where most Gamay is grown, although I distinctly remember having a bottle in Reno (Reno? Well, my cousin is a wine rep there and she brought it to a restaurant where we sat down and downed a few bottles) which I think was from Italy. I also had a bottle from Cucamonga. Yes Cucamonga, before I was even into wine- Thomas Bros. winery- California’s oldest). In addition, some wineries in the Willamette Valley south of Portland (known for their Pinot’s so much that French dudes are buying up land there) are fiddling around with Gamay.  Wonder what those uber-hip, pseudo-haute Portlanders think of that?


It’s not meant to age, and should be consumed within a year or two after being bottled. In fact, Beaujolais Nouveau is made to be enjoyed as soon as a month or two after its release, between Late October and January. There’s a tradition in the U.S of being the first to taste the new wine and people will create an event around the release of the new vintage. I love hobbies that allow you to get hammered.  

Fancy-Pants French wines are designated Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and Village (if the Cru’s were actors they might be Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage, and Rob Snider. No Tom Crus jokes please). Often the designation refers to a particular vineyard.  Many of the Grand Cru and Premier Cru Vineyards have been around for centuries. Most of the Gamays’ (Beaujolais, if you will) are designated as Village (or Rob Snider). There are a  few Grand Cru designates from Beaujolais.



It can taste quite similar to Pinot Noir, falling more on the earthy side with flavors of cherry and banana. The banana flavor in Gamay is a result of carbonic maceration (a fancy French term for the process of fermenting whole grapes in a carbon dioxide rich environment). Gamays’ usually have a soft mouth-feel of moderate acidity and delicate tannins. Serving Temp: 54°F – 59°F - Slightly chilled.

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted February 26, 2015


Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. ‘Nuf said. Unless you’ve been under a rock or drinking Colt 45 since you were 12, you know these two grapes. They are the two main grapes of Burgundy (if you’re lookin’ at a bottle of French wine don’t be confused by the term “Bourgogne”-its’ just the French trying to complicate matters by using their fancy French language). In contrast to Bordeaux, Burgundy wines are generally not blends. Burgundy has many sub-regions (called “AOC’s”) and is home to some of the most expensive and fancy-pants wines known to man. From all the hype I’m guessing Burgundy is where Jesus turned water into wine during some of those missing years.


The reason for having many sub-regions is a question of Terroir (there go the French being fancy again). Terroir has an implicit effect on the taste and quality of the wine. One famous aspect of Burgundies Terroir is its Limestone soils. In 1522, some dude named Erasmus wrote: "O happy Burgundy which merits being called the mother of men since she furnishes from her mummeries such good milk". Wine and mummeries. Good stuff.


Terroir can be understood simply as a “sense of place”. Terroir is essentially at the foundation of the French system for classifying wines and is the model for designating appellations (specific geographic areas) and for wine laws around the world, so I guess we have to pay attention to the French (you’d think after being around for so long they’d have come up with some real culture. Like Football). Another way to look at Terroir is that wine is often described as having certain characteristics (flinty, cherry, aromatic, like licking asphalt). Those characteristics can be traced to the Terroir, which is the sum of the effect on the wine from the soil, climate, vineyard placement, grape, human interaction, etc.


Burgundy has 5 wine growing regions. Often it will appear on the label which will at least get you started with identifying French wines. These regions are:

  • Chablis
  • Côte de Nuits
  • Côte de Beaune
  • Côte Chalonnaise
  • Mâconnais


Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a light grape/wine which pairs with a lot of foods. It’s a fickle grape (see Miles from “Sideways” babble on about it, below) so the flavors can vary from year to year. In addition, the terroir (I hope you’ve been paying attention) has a great effect on the taste, evidenced by the variety of flavors from different regions. A few examples:


FRANCE:  brown paper bag full of mushrooms or wet leaves along with dirt, and maybe roses and cherries. Sounds kind of like my compost bin, late summer vintage.

CALIFORNIA: Bigger flavors than France in general. California Pinot Noirs are lush and more fruit-forward (as are many California wines when compared to their European counterparts). Look for flavors ranging from sweet black cherry to black raspberry to vanilla, clove, caramel, even coca-cola. Really? Maybe I’ll just have a rum and cherry coke instead.

OREGON: usually a little lighter in color and texture than California Pinot Noir, and typically more tart. Cranberry, bing cherry along with some earthy characteristics as well: truffle, mushrooms, etc. It’s probably gluten-free since everything in freakin' Oregon is.


Miles from “Sideways” waxing poetic about the Pinot Noir grape (and metaphorically, about himself): Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”



OK. It is a commune (town) in Burgundy, and is the birth place of the grape as far as those who give a s*#t can tell. To add to the confusion, Chablis is a region that’s Burgundy adjacent (sort of like Hawthorne being Manhattan Beach adjacent) and produces chardonnay (called Chablis). Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It’s pretty easy to grow and relatively neutral, usually taking on flavors coming from the Terroir (You frickin better know what Terroir means by now) or from oak (which we’ve come to know and love in California). A good example of Terroir: many Chardonnays (called white burgundies or Chablis in France) derive more flavors from the soil then the sun (due to it’s cool climate), hence they tend to be more flinty and steely. In addition, the majority of Chardonnays from France are unoaked, especially those from Chablis.


California chardonnays are a whole other deal. We usually taste more fruit (often due to warmer weather) and perhaps vanilla, butter, and a softer and sometimes thicker feel - winemaker influences coming from aging in oak, and a secondary fermentation known as malolactic fermentation. A turning point in the recognition of California wine was the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris blind tasting (see the movie Bottle Shock) where a 1973 Chateau Montelena (Napa Valley) was the big winner. Sorry French people. At least you still got your snails and frog legs. And let me know if you want me to send over a few packs of disposable Bics for the ladies. I’m just sayin…

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted February 08, 2015

Rhone Varietals

The Rhone Valley is in the south of France and divided into North and South and like Bordeaux, blends make up the majority of wines produced here. Also, like Bordeaux, a connection can be made between the main grapes grown there, and the major varietals we’ve come to know and love in the United States. Close to home, a lot of Santa Ynez (Santa Barbara’s wine growing region) winemakers specialize in producing wine from Rhone grapes. Blends from the northern Rhone tend to be Syrah-centric, while blends from the south are usually Grenache heavy. The most famous region in the (southern) Rhone valley is arguably Châteauneuf-du-Pape. One of the standard bearers of Rhone Varietals in California is Tablas Creek, in Paso Robles.



Don’t confuse it with Petite Syrah (a cross of Syrah and another grape too obscure to give a f#*k about). Yeah, they call it Shiraz in Australia. What do Australians know about wine anyway? I mean, they’re all descended from convicts, right? Anyway, Syrah is grown throughout the world and likes moderate climates such as the southern Rhone, Walla Walla region in Washington (don’t get me started! Who on god’s green earth came up with that name? Probably some Australian…) which will produce medium to full bodied wines (like my 3rd girlfriend). In hotter climates such as the Barossa Valley of Australia, the wine produced will be more full-bodied.  Besides California, Australia and France, Syrah is popping up in Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand, and Azerbaijan(next to Whatthefukistan) to name a few.



Pronounced Grin·aaach, it is one of the most widely planted grapes in the universe (I have it on good authority that it does well on Uranus. In actuality probably not. I just wanted to use the word “Uranus” in my blog). Grenache likes it to be hot and dry because it ripens late (kind of like my 5th girlfriend, hot but always late). Grenache is typically blended with other grapes (tempranillo for instance in Spain, Syrah in France). Don’t get all confused if you buy a Spanish wine (a great bang for the buck cause their economy sucks) and they call it Garnacha. Same Grape. Grenache is the lead wine in one of Americans favorite blends, called a GSM Blend: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (and you thought it stood for Gimmie Some More).



If you love Cab, you might want to try a Mourvèdre. In addtion to the Rhone Valley, Mourvèdre is grown in Spain, California, Washington State and South Australia. Mourvèdre is somewhat of a pain in the ass to grow, so I’m not sure why winemakers bother with it. It likes hot weather (listen up Temecula), lots of water, and is susceptible to mildew and other stuff that messes up vines. It often tastes like soft red fruit coupled with “farmy- barnyard-y notes. Like berries growing in a cow pie. Sounds like something Nebraskans might enjoy, although Saxum Vineyards in Paso Robles received a perfect 100 from Wine Guru Robert Parker (how can he not be hammered all the time?) for his 07 Red Blend that contained 30% Mourvèdre.




An “aromatic” (usually white wines where the aroma of the wine is that of the grape) wine, Viognier, like Chardonnay can be full bodied, lush, and soft (3rd wife). Since the 90’s it’s been planted more extensively around the world, notably in California, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, even Japan (Saki and Viognier blend anyone?). One legend surrounding the grape has it that the name is a bastardization of the ancient Roman pronunciation of via Gehennae, meaning Road of the Valley of Hell alluding to the difficulty in growing the grape. And I thought the Road of the Valley of Hell was the 405 north over the Sepulveda pass at rush hour. Silly me.



From the French word “roux” meaning “russet”. As in potato? OK, whatever. Rousanne is typically used for blending, and can be difficult to grow and so is sometimes referred to as “The Princess” (I prefer “The Bitch” but to each his own) and so is often passed over in favor of Marsanne (our next and final grape) which is not as, let’s just say “difficult” as Rousanne. Which begs the question: why even f*#k with it? Well, it is flexible, and forgiving once picked and turned into juice, it ages very well, and can turn into a beautiful, rich, complex wine. So, to extend the metaphor one more time- we’ve all known women like Rousanne- difficult at first but, with some tender loving care and patience, turns into a beautiful princess, worth the time and effort.



Another grape used primarily for blending, Marsanne, as noted above is relatively easy to grow, and is native to the Northern Rhone valley, although since the late 1800’s those crazy Australians have been loving them some Marsanne, and now grow about 80% of it world-wide. It’s typically minerally (it gets a lot of its flavors from its Terroir- another pretentious wine term we’ll delve into later), big and rich in the mouth, and gets nuttier with age. I will restrain from the obvious joke here for the sake of brevity. Thomas Jefferson, well known wino and president, thought Marsanne the “most epic grape ever, dude”. 

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted January 21, 2015

Wine Basics 2: Bordeaux

For the most part, in the United States we make wine out of grapes that originated in Europe. These grapes are of the species Vitis Vinifera (you may hear that term bandied about by your pretentious wine snob friends) and account for the majority of wines produced around the world. There are several native species of grapes in North America (vitis lambrusca, vitis riparia, vitis rotundifolia) but unfortunately most wines made from those grapes taste like ass. In fact Viking explorers called North America “Vinland” due to the profusion of grapes they found. The first wines produced in the United States by the French Huguenots were from the indigenous Scuppernong grape, but settlers didn’t like the wines made from native grapes as the flavors were unfamiliar to them. And then there was the name-would you rather be offering a glass of Scuppernong to that pretentious wine snob friend, or an elegant Pinot Noir? I’m just sayin…


The best way to understand California wine (and most wine in the United States) is to go back to the roots (no pun intended) and look into both the grapes, and regions of France where those grapes are grown. Typically, if you know what region in France a wine is from, you'll know what grape(s) that wine is made of. In an earlier post I pointed out that the main difference in identifying and comparing wines in California and Europe is a question of both grape varietal (i.e. - Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay) and region (Burgundy, Bordeaux). For the most part, Europe identifies its wines by the region it comes from, whereas we designate wine first by the varietal, and second by the region (Pinot Noir, Central Coast). A good place to start is by discussing the 5 primary Bordeaux grapes, and what grapes grow there.


Cabernet Sauvignon

The granddaddy of varietals in the US, Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet is often the primary grape in Bordeaux blends (the other being Merlot) and are often referred to as “left bank blends” due to being grown on the left bank of the Gironde estuary- see map above. Cabernet has a lot going for it- thick skins, the vines are hardy, and it buds late so as to avoid late spring frost. In addition, it’s resistant to many hazards such as insects and rot, and produces wines of consistent structure and flavor from year to year. Unfortunately it’s not resistant to mediocre wine makers. Some if its success has even been attributed to its name and the ease of its pronunciation (take note Scuppernong).



“I am NOT drinking any f*&king Merlot”- Miles (Paul Giamatti) in “Sideways”. Merlot is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux and one of the world’s most planted varietals. It’s the offspring of Cabernet Franc and an obscure, unnamed varietal. Merlot is dark blue in color, and is “soft and fleshy” (like my first girlfriend) and ripens earlier than Cabernet. It’s often blended (“right bank blend”) with Cabernet to soften the harsher tannins of the Cabernet grape. Merlot blends from Bordeaux tend to be medium bodied with fresh red fruit flavors (strawberry, raspberry). By the way, at the end of Sideways Miles drinks his prized wine, a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc from a Styrofoam coffee cup at a fast food restaurant. The varietal? A merlot/cab franc blend.


Cabernet Franc

The father of Cabernet Sauvignon (or maybe its mother!), “Cab Franc” is subtly fragrant, and diminutive compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, which typically has bigger body, tannin, color, and alcohol. Cab Franc ripens a week or two before Cabernet Sauvignon and is pale red in color. It’s used primarily as a blending grape in France, playing second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The United States has followed suit and will often make blends from the same varietals as in France. A blend of two or more Bordeaux grapes in the U.S. is often called a Meritage (some dudes got together and came up with the name and charge winemakers a buck a case to use the moniker). Recently, California has seen a rise in single varietal Cabernet Franc wines.



Similar to a Syrah in taste, Malbec has come to be known as an awesome, reasonably priced red wine from Argentina, although it got its start in France as a blending grape, much like Cabernet Franc. Malbec is a purple grape that needs more sun and heat than Cabernet, Merlot, and George Hamilton. It ripens earlier than both Cab and Merlot, and It’s deep color, big tannins, and plum-like flavor can add complexity to Bordeaux style blends. Malbecs from Argentina usually have a velvety mouth feel along with intense fruity flavors and a smoky finish, and aren’t as Tannic as their French counterparts. Malbec does well in Argentina because the vines love high elevation, along with hot days and cool nights. Mendoza, Argentina’s chief wine growing region averages 3000 feet in altitude. I’m thinking Malbec may do well in Palmdale.


Petit Verdot

Used in small amounts to add tannin, color, and flavor to blends, Petit Verdot ripens later than the other Bordeaux varietals, which makes it easier to grow in California due to the more consistent, warmer climate. Like Cabernet Franc, California winemakers are beginning to experiment with Petit Verdot as a single varietal. If you have a Bordeaux blend and you taste banana or pencil shavings, that may be the Petit Verdot talkin’. 

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted July 29, 2014

Santa Ynez R&D Trip

OK. The Kings won the Stanley Cup, San Antonio are NBA champs, the Deck just had its grand opening, and the World Series isn't until September. I guess I’ve got some time to write my first blog post. 

With summer here, a lot of you are considering a trip that involves some wine tasting. So, to help you out the crew from Uncorked took a quick trip to Santa Ynez, in the spirit of doing some research for you.                    


Before we left, we picked up some sandwiches from the newly reappointed Jackson Market/Green Store (the changes to this mainstay in north Hermosa are for the better.

After traveling 2.5 hours/135 miles (over the San Marcos pass and bypassing one of my favorite eateries- Cold Spring Tavern), we reached our first destination: Beckman Vineyards. Founded by Tom Beckman (a former farmer and founding father of the Roland Company-think Roland synthesizers), Beckman Vineyards specializes in Rhone Varietals. We were graciously treated to wines from their tasting list and then some, by Steve Beckman. Their Grenache Rose was especially refreshing sitting outside in the hot noon sun. 

Next, we headed north to Demetria Estate, one of the most beautiful wineries in the valley. We ate lunch at their outdoor seating area overlooking Foxen Canyon, while enjoying their wines. Owner John Zahoudanis was on hand to pour some special, off-list selections. We also met the winemaker Harry Waye, an affable Aussie. I picked up a few cases of their wine, which can be purchased at Uncorked, including the Grenache Rose and Pantheon Rhone blend

We left Demetria for Los Olivos, but made an unplanned stop at Koehler Winery along the way. Like Tom Beckman, The Koehler Winery is associated with some immense ;) contributions to American Culture: the original owner of the vineyards was a producer for The Love Boat, Dynasty, and Wonder Woman. Like Demitria, Koehler sits on Foxen Canyon Road, and boasts a beautiful setting. Most memorable of their wines were the 2010 Rebel (Cab/Syrah blend), and their 2010 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. Oh, and if you walk down the hill from the tasting room, there are a collection entertaining Emus. 

We finally got to Los Olivos at 5:30, just in time to stumble upon an industry event in a beautiful little courtyard behind the Kaena Wine Company. In attendance were representatives from several small wineries pouring their wines, winemakers, and a mobile pizza oven.  After stuffing myself with pizza, I snagged a few cases of Kaena wines (Kaena means “potential for greatness” and is the brainchild of (part) Hawaiian Mikale Sigouin who also makes wine at Beckman) which we’re featuring at The Deck.

As dusk settled on Los Olivos, we made our way to the Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground in Buellton, where we’d reserved a campground and 2 Airstreams for the night. By the time we set up camp it was too late to take advantage of the amenities- hot tub, swimming pool, outdoor lounge and fire pit, Friday barbeque (this isn’t really camping, but “glamping” - glamorous camping), so we cracked open a few bottles of wine, broke out some cheese and crackers, and traded stories with some neighbors, warmed by their raging fire.

Finally the next morning, before leaving for home, we walked over to Ellen’s Danish Pancake House, an institution in Buellton and next door to Flying Flags. Opened in 1947, the restaurant cooks authentic Danish recipes and is known for their killer breakfasts.

As I merged on to the 101 I thought about the wineries I’d been to, the people I had met, the friends I had traveled with, and the many people I’ve yet to meet, and wines yet to taste. I know I’ll be back. 

Posted in Jeffs Blog By uncorked