Just Say No — to Bad Wine

Travel and being on the road can be tedious at times. While many hotels do their best to be hip and even provide wine tasting hours, many fall short. It can be a real challenge to get a good glass of wine while traveling and staying in hotels. Ordering wine by the glass in the restaurant can be frustrating as well. Recently, I have had some experiences that have taxed my taste buds.

Just recently, I was staying at a hotel in Los Angeles, and their steak house had a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. I was by myself and ordered a glass of wine off the wine list. The list touted a Washington wine from a very good vintage, and I was excited to try it. They had good crystal on the table, so I expected a great glass. Upon arrival, the wine had no aromatics; the taste was flaccid and bitter. This was unacceptable.

What do you do in the situation? You let the server know that the wine is bad and ask for a fresh glass – which I did. The server brought the new bottle — a vintage two years later than indicated on the wine list — and and opened it at the table. Aha! There was some fruit in the wine, yet it was very tight. It was a 2012, and the wine list stated it was a 2010. The waiter said that the wine list needed to be updated. Well, at least there was flavor in the second glass.

Please do not accept wine that is old and has been open for days. Feel free to ask the server how long the bottle has been open. Feel confident and comfortable to send back wine that is past its prime. Be aware that wine lists – even those with Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence (there are 3 levels of Excellence) — are not always representative of what they are pouring and you should inquire as to the year. All this to say, if you do not like the wine because it is spoiled, do not accept it. It is your money, your palate, and your pleasure.

Another challenge on the road, besides wine that has sat open too long, is the overly generous server. I had the occasion in another hotel recently to get the bonanza pour. The server only wanted to be of service and take good care of a customer, yet it was almost undrinkable. As you can see in the picture, the server filled the glass (a water glass) all the way to the brim. Swirling was not allowed on this day! This is a more delicate situation to deal with. Here is someone trying to do you a favor and be generous with a pour, but it makes the wine hard to enjoy. This time, I did not send it back or make a comment. She meant well.


So, here is the message and the encouragement. Do not accept wine that has seen its prime – days before you got there. It is important to ask questions and be confident that you know something is off if it’s not pleasant. It is okay to send it back and ask for a fresh glass.


P.S. We did experience some technical difficulties with the last blog. The email notifications did not go out, yet there was a blog posted. Check it out!

Hot Summer — Cool, Refreshing White Wine!

The forecast for the West Coast is hotter than usual.  By now, that is no surprise for many who live here.  The thermometer has been over 100 degrees in Sacramento several days this summer, and it is only July.  Hot daytime temperatures make us all a little thirsty.  A great, refreshing white to “pound on down on the patio” is Pinot Grigio, as the Italians call it.  It is also known as Pinot Gris in other parts of the world.  In fact, this little grape is produced all around the world and has many different titles depending on whether you are in France, Germany, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, or Australia.  This is a lovely white wine that hails from around the world.

The Pinot Grigio I’d like to tell you about today is grown in Napa.  It’s lightly honeyed, with a hint of spice and minerality.  It’s darn good and refreshing!  It is the perfect apéritif to start the evening and set up the palate for dinner or simply to enjoy in the afternoon with no food at all.  I unfortunately have drunk all that we bought and must go back for more.

The winery that produced this lovely white is Gargiulo.  Located on the Oakville Cross Road in Oakville, CA, it is a winery that had flown under my radar.  This is an appointment-only property and again well worth the time to visit.  While I am sharing about the Pinot Grigio, they produce big reds that are delicious.  Their barrel offering for the Napa Valley Auction was one of the top ten wines in terms of the total bids that were placed for it.  It is no doubt that red wine is the staple of the winery; and, as you can tell by the name, Italian in influence.

The winery setting is rustic and surrounded by beautiful vineyards.  Garett was our host on the day we visited and was a real pleasure.  He was born and raised in Napa and was well informed about wine and the exploration of what is in the glass.  He readily shared information about the family who owns the winery and their process.  The tasting was relaxed and quite pleasurable in a lovely setting.  I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit and the wine. 




Just in the “Nick” of Time…

One of the beauties of wine is that the landscape is ever-changing. While great wineries are like the old standards of music, there are new iterations and ideas always finding their way into the refrain. New winemakers and new views are a part of the evolution of the wine scene. Being able to discover an “up and coming” winery and watch it grow into the market is part of the fun of the journey of wine.

One such winery that is on the rise is Nicora in Paso Robles. The winemaker and principal is Nick Elliott. Upon our last visit to Paso Robles, we were able to taste with Nick and learn  about him, the winery and his wines. This is an appointment-only setting. The location for the tasting room is industrial, yet the setting inside is pleasant with comfortable seating around a large table. This is a great experience to sit, chat and taste through the wines with the gentleman who handcrafted each bottle. This was truly a pleasurable and refreshing journey.

Nicora is the blend of two names. The first, Nick, is the owner and winemaker; and the second, Ora, is that of his great-grandfather. His great-grandfather was an inspiration to him and provided a vision for his own entrepreneurial spirit. That spirit lives on in the namesake of the winery.

The wines of Nicora are Rhone varietals, and the first release was the 2009 vintage. Initially, Nick made two wines — Euphoric and Buxom. Both are Syrah-Grenache blends, with Euphoric predominantly Grenache and Buxom primarily Syrah. These two wines were met in the marketplace with great reviews from the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. I found the winery from an article in the Wine Spectator, where Nick was highlighted as someone to watch.

Our tasting started with his first white titled “The Undisclosed.” It is a 50/50 blend of Viognier and Roussanne. It’s a refreshing combination that yielded tropical and stone fruit flavors – a white with layers of flavor. The fruit aromas and flavors range from tropical fruit to stone fruit. We then tried the Rhone varietals (“Euphoric,” “GSM,” “Buxom,” and “Law Vineyard”), which were all deep, rich and full bodied.

The only wine still available to purchase and bring home was the “Law Vineyard,” a blend of 53% Grenache and 47% Syrah. This will drink well for several years to come, yet we could not wait! The wine is juicy, with mouth-coating fruit and a great nose. It was an excellent wine. The only regret is the limited availability based on high demand and small production.

The wine sells out quickly, and I just recently received an email stating that the tasting room was closed until the next release which will be the 2012. There are a couple of ways to secure the wine. One way is to join the mailing list by going to the website. Another option is to visit. Next time you head to Paso Robles, I wholeheartedly recommend this option. Call in advance, tastings again are by appointment. You will get Nick himself and there are very few opportunities to sit with the winemakers themselves and taste their wines.

For more information, check out the Nicora website.


And It Won’t Break the Bank!

Have you been looking for some good wines that won’t break the bank?

One of the benefits of reading Wine Spectator Magazine is that I routinely get early notice of wines coming into the market that are likely well-crafted. To reiterate, ratings are not the most important aspect of reviews, yet they do give you some help on what bottles to try that are most likely to be well-balanced wines.  Remember — the ultimate test of a wine is if it “calls you back for another sip.”

The old adage is that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince or princess. Well, Wine Spectator does taste hundreds of wines; and, at least this way, you have a better chance of making a good investment.

Here are some recently reviewed wines that will likely provide pleasure, are modest in price, can be drunk now, and may likely be available in your area:


  • Amavi, Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2011  -$29
  • Fowles, Shiraz Victoria Are You Game? 2012 – $17
  • Mulderbosch, Faithful Hound Stellenbosch 2011 – $25 (red blend)
  • Antinori, Toscana Villa Antinori Red 2011 – $20
  • Peter Lehmann, Clancy’s Barossa 2011 – $15 (red blend)
  • Bodegas Y Viñedos Luminis, Malbec Uco Valley Allamand 2012 – $13
  • Penfolds, Shiraz-Cabernet South Australia Koonunga Hill 2012 – $10
  • Rosemount, Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Diamond Label 2012 – $9

Pinot Noir

  • Cherry Pie, Pinot Noir Sonoma-Monterey-Santa Barbara Counties Cherry Tart  2012 – $25
  • Castle Rock, Pinot Noir Mendocino County 2012 – $13


  • Jacob’s Creek, Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Reserve 2013 – $13
  • Viña Quintay, Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley Clava Coastal Reserve 2013 – $12


  • Domaine, Montrose Côtes de Thongue Rosé 2013 – $13

My only disclaimer here is that I have not tasted these wines; yet the fun is, at this price point, you can enjoy the exploration without much of an investment!


“100 Barrels of Wine…”

The barrel tasting at Auction Napa Valley, hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, is a special opportunity to taste many remarkable wines, all while supporting many great charitable organizations. Last week, I wrote about the auction and promised to follow-up with a post about some of the specific wines. Here we go…

Each of the participating wineries donates 10 cases of wine — one for each of the 10 highest bidders on this day, for delivery in the future. There are 100 barrels to taste from and make a bid on for a case (12 bottles). The proceeds from the barrel auction go to charities in Napa Valley.

“100 barrels,” you say. “How can one taste all that in only four hours?” There is no doubt about it, in this setting, it is important to spit so as to not be affected by the alcohol. You can imagine that, after the sixth barrel (or so), everything would taste very similar and make it difficult to discern what is especially pleasing to your palate. In addition, it is very helpful to plan strategically what wines to taste. Previous to the event, I had mapped out wines that were favorites and many new ones to explore based on reputation, AVA, winemaker, and/or availability to taste. (Some of the offered wines do not have tasting rooms and may be highly allocated, so the auction provides a nice opportunity to try these). I had a list of 20+ identified wines and executed the plan flawlessly. :)

The predominate varietal being tasted was cabernet, and the predominate vintage was 2012. As you will recall, this was said to be one of the best growing years in recent history – producing quality crops and abundant yields. This made the challenge even bigger to really identify what to bid on – there was too much great wine to choose from. Keep in mind, there is also no guarantee that your bid will remain on the board. You have to monitor your bids as the event comes to a close to ensure you get a case, if that is what you want.

Luckily for me, I bid on three wines and ended up being among the 10 high bidders for all three cases. All will be coming home in the future, but not for a while — the release date for most of the wines at the barrel tasting is fall of 2015.

The first wine I secured is Gallica Cabernet. This is the wine of Rosemary Cakebread, a truly accomplished winemaker (look for a post on this winemaker in the future). The wine had great depth of flavor, big fruit, and loamy tannins which all combined for a soft, round mouth feel. This is an excellent wine to bring home and enjoy for many years to come – seeing how each bottle unfolds as it evolves over time. This is a wine that will age gracefully and provide pleasure with every bottle.

The next wine I secured is O’Shaughnessy Cabernet from Mt Veeder. O’Shaughnessy is crafted by the deft hand of Sean Capiaux. This is big, bold, mountain fruit with big tannins that are round and soft, adding to the structure and complexity of the wine. There were big flavors of blue and black fruit with a hint of clove. This is also a wine that is not readily available and usually highly allocated from the winery. This time, though – it will be resting quietly in my cellar – there at my beck and call.

Lastly, I was a successful bidder for a case of Mi Sueño, made by owner and winemaker Rolando Herrera. The name translates to “My Dream.” This is a rich wine with black cherry and black currant flavors along with toast notes. It has a big mouth feel and coats the palate with big, seductive fruit. Again, this is an excellent wine that will age and yield different nuances over time.

I am excited for all three wines to grace my cellar. Please be on the look-out for all of these wines coming to a store near you.