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Pinot & Peach: A Chat With Wine Expert Aleah James

We sat down with ILTG's newest contributor, Georgia's own Aleah James, to learn about the overlap of bourbon and wine, and why Portugal needs your attention ASAP. 

Take us back to your earliest experience with wine - where were you, who did you drink it with, what was going on? 

The earliest wine memory I can recall is when I was studying abroad in Spain junior year of college. I can remember sitting at an Italian restaurant, La Tagliatella, across from Santiago Bernabeu (the football stadium) with some of my classmates as we ordered a bottle of red wine to share...because why not? The restaurant was mostly empty at the time and we had a wonderful time just being together, in Spain!

When did you realize you wanted to make a career in wine? 

This is a relatively new realization for me. I took some "Introduction to Wine" classes at the Atlanta Wine School two years ago, and enjoyed them so much that I picked up a side hustle selling and performing in-home tastings for ONEHOPE wine. I enjoyed that so much, I decided to pursue my WSET Level II certification. Once that was achieved, I started to consider where to go from there. 

My professional background is in corporate learning, and I love encouraging people to learn new things. A career in wine education seemed like the perfect blend of skill and passion!

What about the wine world gets you excited in the morning?  

There is something for everyone. I believe that 100%! And you don't need to "know" everything about wine to enjoy it - I'm constantly discovering new grapes, wineries, wine regions I knew nothing about. The wine world is vast and dynamic, growing and changing. Opportunities and new wines to try are endless!

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Most underrated wine region?

Portugal in general has a lot to offer that I feel we rarely hear anything about, particularly in contrast to its neighbors Spain and France. Vinho Verdes are so refreshing and usually wildly affordable, it's a wonder more people aren't talking about them. 

What do you see as the next trend among wine drinkers?

I'd personally love to see more cross collaboration with whiskey/bourbon distilleries to yield more whiskey/bourbon-barrel aged wines - bring the spirit drinkers into the wine space, and vice versa. I know a local brewery that is making a pinot noir barrel-aged belgian tripel, so cross collaborations with craft breweries seems quite likely too. 

That, and I want to see more sparkling red wine!! I've never tried it and I'm so intrigued. Who doesn't love a good bubble?

What's your favorite type of wine experience? A certain kind of meal, visiting a winery, etc.?

I love visiting wineries (the tastings! the learning! the views!), but truly any experience where a bottle is shared among friends and/or family is beautiful to me. 

Your top 3 wine related books and/or blogs and why?

“What to Drink with What you Eat” - Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

Particularly for those who are just learning to pair food with wine (or beer or spirits for that matter!), this is a great guide to have on-hand. There is a section organized by beverage, as well as a section organized by food, so no matter what you're building your meal around you have a guide to help you pair the perfect food or beverage with it. I love that it's helpful for wine-o's and foodies alike. 

“The World Atlas of Wine” - Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

My husband gave me the 7th edition of this incredible encyclopedia a few Christmases ago. For the true wine enthusiast, this atlas is a great way to familiarize yourself with the wine regions of the world including current maps, geographical information, native varietals, and more. 

Wine Spectator Magazine & Online 

I received this magazine subscription as a gift, and I follow WS on social media as well. My favorite aspect of what they offer (and they offer a LOT) is actually the bi-weekly "What Am I Tasting?" wine quiz on the Learn Wine section of their website. These quizzes are a fun way to test your knowledge to identify a wine's varietal, country of origin, age, and appellation solely based off of the tasting notes. 

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Let’s play a quick game. We’ll give you 3 actors/actresses. You tell us the grape they match with: 

- Kristen Wiig - Chardonnay - The most versatile white wine for the lady that could play probably any character.

- Tom Hardy - Syrah - Broody, tannic and formidable. A Cote Rotie Syrah could include flavors of smoked meat, tar, and leather...which basically describes Fury Road, so...

- Jennifer Lawrence - Brut Rose - Bright and quirky with dry sass and sarcasm, but also may be elegant when the situation calls for it. 

How Trefethen Stays Cool After 50 Years of Napa Winemaking

Trefethen Family Vineyards, one of Napa’s most venerable labels, is marking its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, they’ve been throwing some swanky parties, and I was lucky enough to be invited to one earlier this month at the Pelican Grill.

The highlight of the four-course lunch was the wine, of course. Chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, Trefethen’s flagship varieties, some of them ancient enough to be pulled from the winery’s library. How did they taste, you ask? More on that later.

Trefethen is one of Napa’s modern-era pioneers. It began as a retirement project when Kaiser Industries executive Eugene Trefethen got his gold watch and moved to Napa Valley. In 1968 he purchased six small farms and a tumbledown 19th-century winery, Eshcol, creating a 600-acre wine estate. At the time, there were fewer than 20 wineries in Napa Valley.

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Eugene’s plan was to sell all his grapes to winemakers, but his son John had other ideas. While studying at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, John started experimenting in the basement of his parents’ Napa home.  

After several failures as a winemaker, John improved, and he and his wife Janet produced Trefethen Vineyards’ first commercial wine in 1973. Only a few years later, Trefethen’s 1976 Chardonnay earned the Best Chardonnay in the World honor at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. After that, Trefethen was part of the wine world’s upper echelons.

During the pre-meal mingle I chatted with John and his son Lorenzo, who has become an eloquent spokesman for Trefethen and did most of the public speaking that day. A graduate of Stanford University, Lorenzo joined the family business in 2007 and has spent several summers learning the trade, including a harvest at Bordeaux’s Chateau Petrus. Lorenzo works with the marketing and sales departments, focusing on direct and export sales.

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Here are some excerpts from Lorenzo’s talk:

As an estate winery, how do you keep pace with consumers’ changing tastes?

There has been an expansion in the interests of the consumer. Certainly with my generation there’s more experimentation in terms of what they’re trying: other countries, orange wine. 

While there are certain big trends, for example rosé at the moment, the wines that do really well over time are the ones that have that built-in street cred. 

So your plan is to stick to what you know and avoid reinventing yourself in a big way. 

That’s always been our approach. As an estate producer we can’t turn the vineyard over and chase any kind of trend. We’ve always made what was, by our judgment, the best wine of its kind in the area. Being an estate winery, for many years that may have hampered us. But it’s certainly one of our great traits right now. 

We sort of bridged the gap from upstart, when Napa was new, to established name. Now we’re a classic: a brand that is getting more recognition for how true we’ve been to the principles that we laid down at the very beginning, which are the principles of great winemaking.

How do you communicate the wisdom of that logical if unsexy approach to today’s consumer? How do you explain, for example, the advantages of estate wine?

That’s something that I’m thinking about right now. The word “estate” … consumers often have no idea what that means. It sounds a little pretentious. There’s also an inherent dignity in the term. We just need to be better at communicating. 

“Estate” is like a well-kept secret. Some consumers would love to know more about it. I think there’s a really strong story there that starts with, “Did you know most wineries buy fruit from other people?”

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What’s your stand on organic farming and biodynamic farming?

We like the core tenets of both, which are really about creating a farm that sustains itself. And so we are, at our core, both organic and biodynamic; we like to actually say that we’re beyond organic and biodynamic. We’re a couple of months away from our organic certification, but we decided actually not to pursue it because we discovered some ironies in the system – we could do it greener if we worked outside the system. 

Organic farming has been around now for 50 years. We did things 50 years ago that are considered groundbreaking now, such as the installation of reservoirs and a wastewater treatment facility. 

How does the rest of the valley compare to Trefethen in that regard?

Napa in general is getting greener and greener. The growers historically have been the biggest advocates for organic farming and environmental protection. 

The Napa Green program (a comprehensive environmental certification program for vineyards and wineries in the Napa Valley) is doing very well. Just over 90 percent of the county’s acreage is under some form of protection from development. 

What makes your winery unique?

We are more sustainable than many of our neighbors because of who we are – a family-owned, multi-generational company. We’ve always worked to improve the land and pass something on to the next generation. 

That has evolved slowly over time – our understanding of what is sustainable. The thinking that we have now has been developing from good practices we started 50 years ago. 

The Trefethen wines we sampled:

1988 Chardonnay: Sherry-like, raisin-y and deeply honeyed, but still has that characteristic Trefethen chardonnay fruit taste.

1996 Chardonnay: Beautifully perfumed, balanced, light in viscosity. A wonderful, quite dry finish.

2001 Chardonnay: Large in the nose. Slightly over-ripe. A bit sweeter than the 1996, with lots of fruit.

2016 Chardonnay: Full-bodied, balanced, good acidity, not too much oak. Finish is quite long.

1991 Cabernet Sauvignon (8 percent merlot): Notes of cocoa and chocolate. Dry, slightly bitter finish.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon (10 percent merlot): Lots of fruit promised in the nose. Smooth, balanced, with definite spice box notes.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (8 percent merlot, 1 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent petit verdot): Violets and floral perfume in the nose. Big, full mouth feel. Lightly oaked, hint of black olive. Finish isn’t huge.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (6 percent petit verdot, 5 percent merlot, 4 percent malbec): A bit closed and ascetic. Not ready yet.


Acting Chops & Grape Fluency: Meet Sommelier Sasha DeJaynes

Recently, Sasha DeJaynes lended rich insight on choosing Old World vs. New World vino. She's got a special penchant for helping amateurs and experts alike choose a grape flavor akin to their palate preference.

So we wanted to get some more background on Sasha - including the kinds of questions she gets at LCA Wine, and the role Franzia plays in her appreciation for fine wine.

I ain't lying about that last part. Check it out:

Take us back to your earliest experience with wine, where were you, who did you drink it with, what was going on? 

I definitely come from a family that enjoys imbibing, so there has always been wine and beer in my world. Looking back now specifically with wine, the earliest memory I have from when I was 5 or 6 is of my parents' boxed Franzia in my Grandmother's fridge. We would always have BBQs and get togethers at their house, and there was always Franzia. 

My parents were never shy about letting us try stuff, and as a kid you usually hate the taste of alcohol anyway, but I remember not hating it because it was pretty sweet. Still didn't really like it though. Fortunately now both my and my parents' palates have matured to enjoy some more complex stuff, but seeing boxes of Franzia always makes me nostalgic.

What were you doing professionally before you got into the wine world? 

I was an actor and performer in Chicago, doing mostly fantastic storefront theatre. I was also part of the burlesque revival and used to perform and compete all over the world. I loved every minute of it, but unfortunately none of it was particularly lucrative, so as many actors before me I also waited tables and bartended.  

Through that I had exposure to some pretty spectacular wines and the art of craft cocktailing, which peaked my interest and made me want to learn more. Of course, when you scratch the surface of wine you uncover this huge and majestic universe of endless pursuit, and I fell in head first and happy about it.

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What about the wine world gets you excited in the morning?  

The discovery of new flavors, places and people. There's always so much that you don't know, so the world of wine gives you endless opportunities to learn new things and have remarkable sensory experiences wherever you are.  

We have tastings almost every day at the shop with distributors and producers, and every wine is a unique experience with a different story. I love the endless discovery.

What are some questions you get at the wine shop over and over again? 

I get a lot of questions about structure, people trying to understand what tannins are, or what acid is, what minerality is, terms they hear thrown around a lot but are still confused about. Understanding those elements are key to picking out the wines that you like, so answering those questions is a win for everyone. 

We are also pretty geeky at the wine shop, so our regular customers enjoy asking us about more technical things like soils, climate, winemaking techniques, stuff like that.

What do think about this canned wine movement? 

As someone who enjoys camping and hiking I am all for it, as long as the product within is quality. Packaging-wise it is convenient, easily transportable, secure and is great for storing wine in the short term. I would never age wine in a can, obviously, but for fresh, clean drink now wines I think it is great. It's also half a bottle of wine, which I think most people don't realize. 

The greatest hurdle is consumer perception; for most people canned wine = cheap wine, and they can balk at the price of higher quality wines packaged in aluminum. But I think the trend overall is bringing people around.

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The last 3 wines you drank (outside of work) and why, how were they?

Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Vin de France "Clos de la Bretonniere" 2015: my selection for a sunset duffy cruise, absolutely delicious and one of my favorite wines to drink right now and ever. Technically dry Vouvray by Jacky Blot, but since his facility is on the other side of the river has to be bottled as Vin de France. Outstanding.

Guado al Tasso by Marchesi Antinori, DOC 2016 Vermentino: best by the bottle option for an impromptu afternoon snack at an OK seafood joint. Delivered exactly as expected: fresh, clean and quaffable.

De Toren Z 2012: surprise take home from work to have with dinner. Elegant and rich right bank style Bordeaux blend from Stellenbosch. Complex and nuanced with ripe tannins and smooth texture. Really lovely.

Let’s play a quick game, we’ll give you 3 actors and you tell us a wine that pairs with their personality: 

Samuel L. Jackson: Triton Tinto de Toro 2016; rich, bold, dark and smooth with spicy bite.

Lucille Ball: Sommariva Prosecco Superiore Brut; bubbly, light, fun & classic.  Great anytime.

Margot Robbie: Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2016; tart, sharp, striking and Australian. Love it or hate it (but probably love it).

Tales From Week One of Wine Harvest

Happy harvest everyone!

For those who don’t know, we're smack in the middle of the 2018 grape harvest here at the winery. For winemakers, the grape harvest is really the reason we do this job. We wait and wait all year long watching the vines grow, pushing leaves and popping grapes. That, along with steaming barrels and cleaning tanks in preparation to make the next vintage better than the last's. 

In reality, winemaking is quite easy. You put some grapes in a bucket, add some yeast and wait a few weeks, press the grapes and voilà…God's gift to mankind has been created. However, making higher-end wines with balanced flavor, acidity and mouth-feel takes a little finesse. 

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The next few months will bring us many highs, many lows, sticky hands, tired feet and hopefully lots of cold beer! So how does one make wine? Well, please allow me to show you…

Week 1: Grape Samples, Cleaning and Picking!

Before we can just start pressing grapes, we have to pick some sample berries from the vines we think are almost ready. On the farm we have over 30 individual vineyards planted with over 13 varietals. So we we’re looking at Sugar, PH and Acid to determine if grapes are ready to pick. (Winemaker note: Sugar converts to alcohol, pH protects the wine and Acid helps the brightness and balance). 

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The team is also prepping for the grapes to come in, which means an outrageous amount of cleaning. They said winemaking is 90% cleaning and 10% drinking beer! Just cleaning out tanks and pulling out the harvest equipment took about an entire day. 

Earlier in the week we received nine, open-top fermenters from Napa to ferment our red wines. This makes sanitation a priority - not to mention painting the bottoms blue to match our current tanks. A sexy set of Burgundy barrels from France sailed in as well. Most importantly, the first round of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling wine…all within 48 hours.

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Stay tuned for updates on our progress!

Meet Italy's Most Promising, Young Sommelier

His Instagram is enough to make you drop everything and move to Capri. His job will make you sigh with jealousy. His Italian wine knowledge will make you look like an uninformed chump.

Andrea Zigrossi is an Italian sommelier that is living many of our daydreams. He selects wine for the lucky patrons of L'Olivio - a 2 Michelin star restaurant on the ridiculously gorgeous island of Capri.  

Showy and ambitious, a bit by nature and a bit for fun, the 26 year old has experienced a strong trajectory in the wine biz. Growing up and attending school in Rome, his initial step was in the world of catering via a stint in London. A year later he moved back to Rome and started working for some of the finest restaurants in the city, including the esteemed 3 Michelin star La Pergola

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Now, following educational adventures in Franciacorta and Venice, Andrea has landed in Capri, the unofficial ambassador of that Italian sommelier life through his Trotterwine posts. We wanted to get a bit more insight on Andrea's life and knowledge:

How did you choose the career path of a sommelier and why?

It is a world that has always fascinated me, but let's say that it was more this job that chose me. I started from the bottom, working as a dishwasher in London. But I wanted to get more involved with interacting and communicating with customers. 

So, once I returned to Rome, I had an interview with (the Roman restaurant) Antica Pesa, who's wine list was managed by Alessia Meli - once voted Italy's best sommelier. Although I knew nothing of this work at the time, I was hired as Assistant Sommelier only for my charisma.

You've had experiences in different places. What's the best memory?

I left my heart in Venice: a beautiful city, and the restaurant where I worked was fantastic. It is called Il Ridotto by Gianni Bonaccorsi and has 1 Michelin star. There was not the usual tension found in many Michelin starred restaurants, and the environment was very familiar. An amazing restaurant that I suggest everyone try if you visit Venice.

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You get asked this all the time. But I'll ask it yet again! What is your favorite wine?

Difficult question. There are many that I love and cherish very much. But the wine that I will always keep in my heart is Fontalloro, a Tuscan Sangiovese from the Felsinà winery, the first wine I sold in my career.

So what's next?

Travel, travel and travel. I love moving between cities and always working in different restaurants - to study the local culture, work techniques, know local wines, meet new colleagues and friends. In December I'm planning a move to Switzerland but it is not yet secure. I will let you know!

The Battle of Old World versus New World Wine

People often come into our shop and, after explaining they are looking for a nice bottle, immediately offer up the caveat “But I don’t really know anything about wine!” These are some of my very favorite people to help. The vast and endlessly complex world of wine is as yet unknown to them, yet the possibilities are still endless.

“I just want something I like,” they tell me. Here, here.

This can of course be a tricky thing to determine for someone else, and even for yourself. Where to begin? How to describe and define those elusive elements of enjoyment that you get from a bottle of wine that you like? Palate and structure analysis and even common flavor descriptors may not be helpful in this situation without a baseline reference, but hey, we’ve got to start somewhere.

I often like to begin with one of my favorite elemental distinctions: Old World vs. New World. While this concept is rudimentary for anyone in the industry, its meaning is not self-explanatory. It is a relatively unknown concept to many general consumers, even some that have a decent amount of basic knowledge. 

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Living in California is both a blessing and a curse; we have a plethora of world class winemakers in our backyard. Yet for many California residents, this is all they know. However, this simple distinction between Old World and New World helps to define in a very broad sense two particular styles of wine.

This is where it becomes exciting - at least for a geek like me. I'll use this distinction to help my customer find a unique and exciting bottle of wine they will enjoy at any price point.

Geographically, the Old World refers to Europe and the Mediterranean basin. The New World refers to everywhere else they make wine. Stylistically, Old World wines tend to have higher acidity, lower relative alcohol, and - most significantly - more minerality and earthy components on the nose and palate.

New World wines tend to have more generous fruit, slightly acidity and generally more alcohol. My straightforward explanation is: stick your nose in the glass. If you smell fruit first it’s probably New World. If you smell dirt or rocks or other funk, it’s probably Old World.

Of course, these days, with so much progress in both the technological and philosophical sectors of wine making, we are starting to see more crossover in these two styles from a geographical standpoint. Yet the styles themselves still maintain their original distinction.

So, what makes Old World wines old world? A lot of it has to do with the climate. European wine-growing regions often have a cooler climate and a slightly shorter growing season. This means grapes grown in these regions will naturally retain more acidity and produce less sugar – which also leads to lower alcohol levels – than grapes grown in warmer regions.

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The old world also has history. Grapevines have been cultivated for the purpose of making wine since the Roman era, on the oldest soils of our planet. This ‘terroir’ is something that is unique to the Old World and cannot be replicated or faked. And, of course, with all that history comes an awful lot of regulation. Old world countries have some of the strictest laws out there regarding how a producer can make his or her wine. These laws help to identify and regulate quality and expectations, and also create a huge headache for the consumer who doesn’t know how to interpret them.

Overall, if you like to taste in your wines a bit of tartness, leafy forest floor or wet rock minerality, then Old World wines are probably right up your alley.

Given all that, the New World seems like a pretty big place…and it is! So-named for the fact that all these areas were initially colonized by the Europeans, and thus christened as nouveau. This is also an important fact to consider because the species of vine we make wine from is indigenous to Europe, meaning that these colonizers had to transport the vines to their new outposts in order to continue their vinous enjoyment.

So, New World winemakers got a later start to the game. Specifically in where they chose to plant their vines, discovering the best areas that produce the highest quality grapes, and attempting to use European techniques that maybe didn’t work as well with their new environment.

The New World has indeed evolved into an entrepreneur’s paradise! Free of the traditions of Old World winemaking, producers can explore, experiment and define their own style of wine with their entirely unique geographical situation. Much of the New World tends to have a warmer climate, resulting in naturally riper grapes that yield higher levels of sugar, and therefore higher potential alcohol as well.

One often defining through-line of New World wines is an identifiable purity of, and focus on, fruit. Pure fruit on the nose and pure fruit on the palate. It is a point of pride to many New World winemakers to protect this expression of fruit quality in their wines. New Zealand is an excellent example of a New World country as a whole that often seeks the purest expression possible of their fruit.

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There are also a lot of New World wines that experiment in other ways through enhancements available on the market, such as additives, shortcuts and fancy gadgets – options not available in most of those regulated Old World areas. This, combined with the fact that these such “experiments” are usually not required to be disclosed to the consumer, can lead to extreme variation of quality from any given New World region.

However, if you tend to enjoy fruit forward, easy drinking wines that are lush on the palate, then New World is likely your style.

Does that mean one style is better than the other? Absolutely not! When it comes down to the nitty gritty, drinking what makes you happy is the right thing to drink. Yet, it’s always great to branch out and try something new every once in a while. You will likely be surprised. This is an easy assignment for newbies to wine, but an even better challenge for consummate wine professionals stuck in their ways.

If you are a die-hard white Burgundy fan, grab a bottle of Margaret River Chardonnay one night just to test it out. Big, bold Napa Cab drinker all the way? Head over to Rioja and check out a Gran Reserva. Or look around for the grape you have never heard of from the country you didn’t know made wine and have that bottle with dinner tonight. Even ask your local wine shop attendant, they’ll likely be chomping at the bit to offer you several new options.

The world of wine is vast and fabulous; our job is to enjoy as much of it as possible while we can.

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Top 10 Wine Bargains for Summer 2018

Summer is almost upon us. It’s time to start stocking warm-weather wines for the patio, picnic and poolside.

I’ve been diving into a flood of whites and rosés over the last few weeks, and I’ve selected from that gushing inventory 10 summer wines that are worth trying. Some are special-occasion beauties; others show well for the price and could easily be your seasonal backyard wine, since buying a case won’t break the bank. Prices are best available from the usual local sources such as Hi-Time, Costco and Total Wine & More.

Amelia Brut Rosé Crémant de Bordeaux  ($19): Made from hand-harvested red grapes grown in the acclaimed Bordeaux region, this blend of 90 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc is a summer charmer. Amelia ages en tirage (on the lees) for 18 months, double the nine months required by law, giving it aromatic and textural complexity. You’ll also notice nuanced fruit components with a touch of toasty brioche.

Anaba 2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($36): This harvest’s low yield produced concentrated, bright fruit. You’ll get a bewitching duet of orange blossom and lemon custard on the nose. A strong acidic backbone combines with ripe fruit, lemon cream and sweet herb in a balanced finish. A great cool-climate California chardonnay from one of my favorite regions.

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Bodega de Edgar 2017 Albariño: ($24): This 100 percent Albariño from Paso Ono Vineyard, off Creston Road, in Paso Robles, is one of the area’s most coveted summer sippers. It’s fermented and aged in 100 percent stainless steel, and the result is a Spanish grape with a California accent: honey suckle, zesty lemon, honey and white floral notes. From one of Paso’s best smaller wineries, this beauty sells out quickly every year.


Editor's Note: Try this gold medal-winning limited production Cava from Spain. Can't buy in stores, rare to find online. Limited production, limited edition Antoni Gaudi print. Recommended by Our Somms. We're working directly with the producer to offer this to you via our partner Argaux Wine Club from Laguna Beach. http://bit.ly/Cava4pk Perfect for summer BBQs or for taking to a friend's house. 4 bottles $65! 

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The Calling Dutton Ranch 2016 Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($30): Intensely aromatic with notes of honeysuckle, sweet lemon and delicate rose. Crisp acidity is balanced with the vanilla signature of French oak on the palate. The lingering finish offers spicy toastiness that complements the fruit.

Daou 2016 Chardonnay ($15): A riot of flavors includes pear, lemon, passion fruit pineapple and banana. Even the nose is aggressive: honeysuckle, nutmeg, almond. But Daou’s Chardonnay isn’t just a frat party in a glass. It has a sumptuously silky texture and welcome acidity on the finish, and leaves a full, plush impression. Quite a talker for the price (you can sometimes find it for $11 at Costco). A great introductory wine from Paso’s flamboyant Bordeaux kings, the Daou brothers.

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Fleur de Mer Provence Rosé Vintage 2017 ($18): This pale pink beauty balances ripe fruit, bracing acidity and dry mineral finish. Red cherry, raspberry, white peach, lavender, grapefruit and warm-weather herbs, with a touch of salinity. The very definition of an elegant Provencal rosé. Also available in magnum size for $40 – a showy way to kick off a summer party.

Robert Mondavi 2016 Napa Valley Fume Blanc ($20): OK, so Robert Mondavi made up the name “Fume Blanc” to help goose the popularity of his dry-style Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is worthy of representing his legacy. Pithy, with grapefruit and lemon peel flavors, it’s deceptively crisp and light on the nose, offering a wealth of body and lushness on the palate, accented with nutmeg and peach. It includes 4 percent Sémillon, partly from the legendary To Kalon vineyard.

Rodney Strong 2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($25): Normally I shy away from variations on rosé’s Provencal standards, but this rose of pinot noir pulled me in with its electrifying color. The enchantment continues with strawberry, white peach and jasmine on the nose and the palate. The finish is long and luxuriant. Sharply focused acidity but light of body, and it surprises you with a zesty lemon finish.

Saint Clair Family Estate 2017 Origin Series Sauvignon Blanc ($28): This worthy New Zealand winery has produced a persuasive example of the sauvignon blanc style from the little land Down Under. Origin Series introduces itself with a mysteriously bready nose, then opens up to rich hits of pineapple and guava with a grassy undertone. There’s a hint of saltiness riding on the long, lively finish.  And yes, there’s a bit of gooseberry, that distinctive New Zealand flavor.

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Smith Madrone 2015 Estate Grown Riesling ($30): An epic riesling from one of Napa’s best producers of this grape; Smith-Madrone has been growing riesling in the Spring Mountain District since 1971. Unlike the 2014 vintage, which was lush, deep and round, the 2015 is the very definition of racy. It is bright, clean and delicious with a solid core of minerality surrounded by grace notes of citrus fruit and honeysuckle.

Wine on Tap

An Illogical Argument Against Wine From the Tap. 

Keg wine served through bar-top taps has never caught on in the U.S., and I think I know the reason: romance.

Wine is surrounded by traditions, some of them indefensible. Is cork inherently better as a stopper than synthetic corks or twist-off tops? Of course not – but we still prefer it. We’re creatures of habit. That’s why we like that sleek bottle in front of us, reflecting the candlelight as talk turns intimate and the hour gets late.

In Europe, the wine-tap system has been around for decades; I remember seeing them everywhere during trips there in the 1980s. On a visit years ago to a bar in southern France, the local Beaujolais was served to me directly from a big wooden keg sitting right on the bar.

But for some reason, wine taps have never been widely accepted here, despite attempts to make them trendy in the 1970s and ’80s. I’ve seen them in only a handful of Orange County (California) bars over the last 18 months or so.

But What About the Taste of Keg Wine?

Many in the industry claim that wine stored in kegs is better, on average, than the same product in a bottle. Corks can carry impurities which undermine the taste of a wine. So can oxidation, which happens when a wine bottle is opened and the unfinished portion is exposed to air. When a keg is tapped, the void space inside instantly becomes pressurized by an inert gas, which prevents oxygen from coming in contact with the wine.

There’s the nagging perception that wine from a keg is plonk. But respected wineries such as Au Bon Climat and Qupé are getting into the practice, so that argument doesn’t really hold.

True, not all wine benefits from keg storage. Many require bottle aging. But for wine that’s meant to be consumed when it’s young, kegs are ideal.

Still, where is the romance? I know, I know, it’s not a logical argument. But to me, part of the pleasure of wine drinking involves observing its traditions and rituals – even the ones that make no sense.


The Badass Rebel History of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Like so many French wine regions, it’s fun to say out loud – tres sexy, n’est-ce pas? – yet the average American has absolutely no clue about where it is or what its wine tastes like.

Let’s lift the veil of mystery.

First of all, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an ancient town in the southern Rhône Valley. If you were to travel north, up the river from its silt-filled mouth at the Mediterranean Sea, you’d pass Arles and Avignon. Just before you hit Orange, there it is on a high bank about three clicks east of the riverbank: an ancient town of 2,000 people, dominated by the remains of a castle.

How ancient, you ask? Well, the Romans colonized the region two millennia ago, when the mouth of the Rhône was several miles north of its present location. The ruins of their public buildings can be found all over this part of the valley, including a kickass amphitheater near Orange.

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PC:Jean-Jacques Gelbart

The Romans planted wine grapes here, too, and it was a great spot for it: rocks, stone, sand, limestone and clay soil and a warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The village probably dates from the 10th century, but it comes by its name because Pope Clement, who was French, transferred the papacy from Rome to Avignon in 1309. He spent a lot of time at Châteauneuf-du-Pape over the next few years and died nearby in 1314.

Editors note: for a beautiful, quality representation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, give the Domaine de la Vieille Julienne 2010 a taste. This legendary estate produces some of the world's best juice and the 2010 is no exception. Drinking young, big and full of grippy tannins, this drop packs a haymaker of dark fruits. Drink now or age it for a few more years.

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Subsequent French popes also favored the place. Pope John XXII built a large summer residence in town in 1333, the ruins of which still dominate the skyline today. Hence the name: Châteauneuf-du-Pape means “the new castle of the pope.”

Though the papacy moved back to Rome in the late 1300's and the castle fell into ruin, the already well-established winemaking tradition continued. By the late 1700’s, Châteauneuf-du-Pape had earned kudos for the quality of its wines, which reportedly combined the best qualities of the Languedoc and Bordeaux.

Like the rest of Europe, the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape were destroyed by Phylloxera. In fact, the destructive pest struck here first in 1866 and laid waste to almost everything. By 1880, only 200 hectares of vines remained in the entire appellation.

Growers who had prospered for generations went bankrupt. Vineyards were abandoned. It took decades for the area to recover, partly because the wine was being sold at low prices and it wasn’t considered worth the effort to replant. From about 1900-1920, negociants used Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine mainly to add color and backbone to more desirable wines from Burgundy.

Editor's note: the Domaine Roger Sabon 2015 is all tart-fruit raspberry on the front and minerality on the back. A charismatic yet elegant take on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this is an excellent version for both experts and novices alike. The softer tannins won't leave your mouth cottony yet finishes with enough pleasant brute force where laying it down for a few more years will serve you well. 

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In 1924, Châteauneuf-du-Pape applied for official appellation status. It took 12 years for the fussy French wine brain trust to grant it. That sense of being dissed by the wine establishment has persisted over the decades, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape once had a reputation for being a bit of a rustic bad boy.

Its red wines (about 95 percent of total production) were considered full-bodied but rough around the edges, and its three dominant varieties – Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre – were traditionally not as valued as the characteristic grapes of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

In recent decades, though, the area has joined France’s big-boy ranks, with high scores from many judges and rising prices to match. Other nearby regions, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, are well regarded, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is universally acknowledged to be the best wine region in the southern Rhône.

The reds share certain traits: red and black cherries, strawberry, kirsch, black pepper, ripe raspberry and garrigue (the quality of the herbs found locally). Its textures can be luscious, big and fruit-forward when young; two or three more years in the bottle gives them silkiness and finesse. Some can be left in the cellar for 8 to 12 years.

Editor's note: throw this Domaine Giraud 2015 in your cellar (or wherever you keep the good shit). This fancy fruit and herbal drop has some power behind it. Although totally drinkable now, let it calm down for a few years to soften up the biting finish. Otherwise a great show-off wine to represent the region. 

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The appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 3,231 hectares in size. It’s about 8.5 miles long and 5 miles wide, delineated by the city of Orange with its Roman ruins in the north, the town of Sorgues to the south, the Rhône River to the west and the A7, a major highway, to the east. About 13,750,000 bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are produced every year, most by small, family-owned estates.

Of Riesling. And Cabernet. And Pumpkin Spice.

Just to clarify, people, we hardly mean the infamous latte here. Even if the title does seem to scream, “it’s autumn!”.

However, as it is officially October, the lovers of summer begrudgingly pull out the sweaters and boots in preparation for the colder months ahead. Those devoted to the fall season rejoice...alongside the marketing geniuses over at Starbucks.

Might we suggest a winery to accompany your seasonal transition, whether is be positive or filled with dread? Ladies and Gents, we present to you a couple drops from Smith-Madrone.

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The name of this winery, sitting in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, found its origin from the brothers who started the establishment - Stuart and Charles Smith circa 1971 - as well as the beloved Madrone tree that has a prominent location on the grounds.

Although they have a beautiful Chardonnay and reserve wine in their lineup, today we’re going to take a look at the Smith-Madrone dry Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The juice

Now for those of you in denial of summer’s end, this Riesling is a fine solace for your woes. The honeysuckle and lemon peel aromas will certainly remind you of warmer weather.

The slight, yet distinctive petrol aromas, orange blossom notes and smooth mouthfeel will finish bone-dry. It seems to usher you right into the drier, savory months of autumn.

Similar to this varietal’s old world versions, Smith-Madrone grows their Riesling along the steep mountain slopes that assist beautifully to their ripening process and crisp, refreshing notes.

Whether paired with crab or seasoned pork loin with root vegetables, surely this wine is truly fit to consume no matter what time of year.

For those of you celebrating fall’s arrival one pumpkin recipe at a time, wait no longer than to pop open Smith-Madrone’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. This 100% estate fruit Cabernet sings with an aromatic nose of black cherry, dried herbs and hints of perfume. The mouthfeel continues via flavors consistent with the initial aromas, plus additional flavors of star anise, oak and black cherry skin.


A velvety and layered palate bleeds seamlessly into the long, enjoyable finish that extends a warming sensation. In other words, this wine is a flawless pairing for the cooling weather outside.


Fair warning: this Cabernet comes with a slightly higher-than-average alcohol level. So take caution with serving at room temperature and instead shoot for a few degrees cooler to get the best expression and balance out of the wine. With this lovely drop, try a pairing of roasted vegetables with parmesan polenta, or skirt steak with rosemary butter.


All in all, we say, “so long” to summer and “greetings” to autumn. We hope you enjoy these mountain-bred wines and the seasonal pairings that accompany them so well!

sam_somm.jpg#asset:1912Sam Stowell

Samantha Stowell began her adventure with wine 4 years ago after quitting her corporate life as an interior designer. After completing the Advanced Level 3 WSET course, she traveled to McLaren Vale, Australia to work for Mollydooker wines on the cellar floor, in the tasting room and, ultimately, their marketing department.  Since returning, she has been the resident sommelier of two Southern California establishments, where she focused on developing their wine programs until deciding to retire from the floor and begin her own wine education and recommendation business, Sam(the)Somm.

Fall Is Here. Time To Crack Some Chardonnay.

If you believe rosé was the wine for summer, then Chardonnay will definitely be the juice for fall.

This versatile grape can be found almost everywhere wine is grown. It comes in a wide range of flavors and textures, from crisp-apple versions that are housed in stainless steel, to buttery-rich drops soaked in oak.

As we stare autumn in the face, here are a couple of fantastic Chardonnays to get you rolling:

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Foxen, Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard Block UU” 2015 - Santa Maria Valley, CA

Want to get weird? Try this Chardonnay from two dudes named Dick and Bill over in northern Santa Barbara. This wine is crazy cool just for the sheer fact it was grafted onto Riesling vines back in the day. Which, oddly enough, gives the wine some tropical notes of pears, peaches, great acidity and tons of balance.

It's an ideal mix of sprightly, lighter wines and the heftier taste you'd expert from a Chard. Awesome for the smooth transition from summer into fall.

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Jules Taylor, Chardonnay 2013 - Marlborough, New Zealand

New Zealand (aka Kiwi Land) isn’t just Sauvignon Blanc and sheep. It’s also home to some of the best Chardonnay out there! Jules is a sweet lady with a strong passion for winemaking - and an even stronger liver. She pumps out hand crafted classics every year that gain a lot of attention.

This wine has tons of texture. It's packed with layers of complex aromas such as ripe yellow apples, lemon, white peach and a kiss of oak.

Nic-Duc.jpg#asset:1560Nicholas Ducos

Nicholas Ducos is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a Certified Sommelier. He's worked in many prestigious restaurants in Miami, Florida. As a chef and as a sommelier, he is dedicated to creating a memorable dining experience and making wine relatable to others in a witty yet refined style. Nicholas is currently the Assistant Winemaker at Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Follow his latest adventures through his website and Instagram.

The Next Rosé? That Would Be Frosé

And just when I thought the rosé bubble was about to burst, along came...frosé.

The French upstart was showing many of the signs that it was about to jump the shark. Albertson’s and other garden-variety supermarkets were featuring huge rosé displays near checkout counters.

The price of Miraval, suavely marketed in happier times by its owners, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, was creeping ever skyward. Neighborhood restaurants were offering more than one rosé by the glass, often charging the same prices for this throwaway wine as they would for good-quality chardonnay.

But then some wiseguy/girl mixologist tried freezing it, mixing it with a tasty liqueur, and viola! A new summertime concoction was born. Frosé first appeared last summer. This summer, it’s everywhere.

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At Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne in Manhattan last month, we tried an elegant variation of the drink, and we noticed it at many Manhattan bars. Orange County, California mixologist Gabrielle Dion has come up with a version for the bar menu at Broadway, a popular Laguna restaurant that features the cuisine of Top Chef finalist Amar Santana. Dion combines two ounces of Blackbird Rosé with Cappelletti Aperitivo, strawberry-rhubarb jam, lemon and grapefruit oils. Many recipes I found online recommend puréed strawberries and a little sugar to sweeten everything.

Another frequent point of advice is to use a stronger, darker rosé. “This is NOT a moment for that nearly clear, Whispering Angel kind of rosé. Look for Pinot Noir or Merlot rosés,” Bon Appetit advises. A couple of recipes even call for a little vodka to strengthen the concoction.

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We recently tried Bon Appetit’s frosé recipe and found it hassle-free and tasty:

  • 1 750 ml bottle hearty, bold rosé (such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot rosé)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 ounces strawberries, hulled, quartered
  • 2½ ounces fresh lemon juice
  • Pour rosé into a 13" x 19" pan and freeze until almost solid (it won't completely solidify due to the alcohol), at least 6 hours
  • Meanwhile, bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add strawberries, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes to infuse syrup with strawberry flavor. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl (do not press on solids); cover and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
  • Scrape rosé into a blender. Add lemon juice, 3½ ounces strawberry syrup, and 1 cup crushed ice and purée until smooth. Transfer blender jar to freezer and freeze until frosé is thickened (aim for milkshake consistency), 25–35 minutes. Blend again until frosé is slushy. Divide among glasses.

Bon Appetit says that frosé can be kept fresh for a week. It would never last that long in my icebox...

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From the Garden of France Comes Cabernet Franc

2010 DOMAINE CHARLES JOGUET CHINON LES VARENNES DU GRAND CLOS

Winemaking styles of America (‘new world’) and Europe (‘old world’) are different. Each is unique in the types of grapes used, if/how they blend, flavor profiles and even labeling. When found at a dinner with American and European wine drinkers order this bottle; flavors will appeal to both sensibilities, snobs at the table will appreciate the choice and waiters will give you the nod of respect. It’s 100% cab franc; dark purple fruit, long earthy/spice finish with feel of polished winemaking. $30

EXPLORE:
2010 Domaine Charles Joguet les Varennes Du Grand Clos Chinon

Chinon is a town in the Loire Valley in central France. The Loire Valley is known as the 'garden of France' because of the vast number of vineyards, fruit orchards, and fields of vegetables like artichokes and asparagus. Red wines from this region are made using the Cabernet Franc grape, and about 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon is allowed. The wines are usually medium bodied and dry with dark fruit and minerals. Great food wines because of their structure. Not the wine to take to a swigs of between sets playing beach volleyball! It'll be tough to find the 2010, but you probably aren't going wrong with picking up a 2014 or many other producers from Chinon. Give Chinon wines a try. 

Bonus:

Check out this short read on French wine regions for beginners. I've read it and I'll usually go back to it now and again as a quick reference guide. Decoding French Wine

From Sommelier to Winemaker Meet Nicholas Ducos

Nicholas Ducos has been providing joy to our readers with articles on variety of wine topics from his certified sommelier point of view - but over the last year Ducos has expanded his dominance in the game by becoming a winemaker for a William Heritage Winery in New Jersey (yes, Jersey!). He's doing  experimental winemaking as well as bringing back some traditional techniques. We caught up with our dude to reintroduce him to our audience. Enjoy!

Take us back to your earliest experience with wine, where were you, who did you drink it with, what was going on? 

It’s embarrassing but here it goes. I went to The Culinary Institute of America for college. As you know, CIA is where some of the most iconic chefs learned how to cook and build the fundamentals to be really great in the Food and Booze industry. Icons like Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Palmer and just about every freaking Celebrity Chef on T.V. is an alumni. They required us to take a mandatory wine class with three weeks of tasting the finest wines from Burgundy, Germany, Napa Valley, and more. 

While I was busy throwing back Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux, poppin' bubbles like it’s my birthday and chasing tail across the room, wine quizzes were being thrown my way once a week and I thought I was nailing them. Actually I knew I was! Turns out… I wasn’t and failed my 1st college course. However, $4,000 later and a spit bucket by my side I passed with an A- and never looked back. This was the beginning of my journey in wine. 

There is so much to do in the wine industry, what do you do? 

I love this question. I am the Assistant Winemaker at William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill, NJ. Now before you ask…yes we make wine in New Jersey and yes it is quite delicious. My day to day changes greatly. Some days I am running around the vineyards like a mad man collecting grapes to evaluate the Brix (sugar) and PH (Acidity). Other times I spend hours cleaning barrels, filtering wine and doing lab work.

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What gets your excited in the morning to go to work? 

I think the thing that really kicks me into high gear is my commute. I live in Philadelphia (The Most Underrated City in America) but I work on a farm so as I drive over the river and through the woods. You magically go from the hustle and bustle of city living into a very green lush farmland with cows, produce and, most importantly, vineyards. You would never expect it!

Your top 3 favorite wine regions

Easy question…

- Marlbrough, New Zealand. So much more than just Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of great Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer.

- Long Island, New York. World class Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon being grown. Same latitude as Bordeaux but with nicer beaches!

- Bouzeron, France. A little commune in Burgundy that produces minerality-driven wines from the grape Aligoté. The stuff is just sexy winemaking, man. And at a fraction of the cost of high-end burgundy.

What do think about this canned wine movement? 

How can you hate it? It’s booze on the go. I love it so much that we decided to make it here in NJ. We’re the 1st winery in New Jersey to make a canned wine! Obviously... it was Rosé.

What’s the most memorable meal you and your girlfriend had recently, and what wine did you pair with it?

My girlfriend is Italian and there is this amazing old school tradition where every Sunday you invite all your friends and family over to eat tons of food and drink bottles and bottles of wine until you can’t tell the difference between your uncle Giuseppe's left leg and the dog. 

Ironically this event is called “Sunday Gravy”. That being said, we held this grand tradition at the house last week and it surely was a rager! Five courses of pasta, meatballs and cheese followed by some homemade wine I made in a garage with a few old school Italian guys in their 60’s. We only make magnums because no one ever drinks just one bottle of wine in this circle.

Let’s play a quick game, we’ll give you 3 celebrities and you tell us a wine that matches their personality

Beyonce: Cava! She’s got that mystery to her that is very powerful yet under the radar. 

Kylie Jenner:  Is she even allowed to drink yet? She can be a bottle of Barefoot bubbly…..DO I NEED TO EXPLAIN? I hate Barefoot… 

President Trump: A warm can of PBR…

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Follow Nicholas on Instagram @somm_ist

Interview with Oscar Seaton Jr. of Seatpocket Wines

Wine mingles with musical talent. We've seen the likes of Slayer, Metallica, John Legend, The Rolling Stones, E40, Dave Mathews, etc. They've all succumbed to the powers that are wine. Now, here's a name we don't hear often: Oscar Seaton Jr. 

Who is he? Well, you've definitely heard his rhythm before. He's an amazing drummer with an exceptional lineup of artists and movies he's been involved with in his professional career.

Now you're about to experience some of his influence in wine:

Hello Oscar! We know very little about Seatpocket Wine. What can you tell us about its origins? 

Of course! It really is a simple story! It actually started as a conversation with my good friend, April Richmond, a few years ago when I asked if she thought having my own wine would be a good idea. After looking at the pro's and con's, I decided to go for it! 

Our initial focus, aside from costs and logistics, was the brand and how we could create a complete experience that intertwined music and wine. We settled on using my nickname as a drummer, "Seatpocket", and decided that each wine would have a music pairing and would be unique in style and varietal.


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Professionally, you’re now entering another playing field. Is there a significant move that brought you closer to the wine world that we should know more about?

YES! I've always loved wine and knew I wanted to do something in that industry, but I had no idea what or how to start. 

April started a wine business several years ago. Watching her success and talking to her about the industry over the years led me to take the leap with her. I probably wouldn't be doing any of this if it weren't for her. She brings the experience, background and knowledge along with being our Sommelier and winemaker.


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Music and wine are something we talk a lot about and you’re truly bringing both universes into a bottle. We want to know what fuels your passion for music and wine.

I think passion can come and go, I have more of a love for music and wine than a passion. Love is continuous. My love for both is what keeps me really excited about them everyday. They're both so similar in terms of the emotions they evoke and how we use both to celebrate, relax, get hyped up, etc.

Where did the main sources of grapes come from?

We sourced grapes from 3 different California regions. The Merlot grapes are from Santa Barbara county, the Chenin Blanc grapes are from Lodi, and the Rosé uses Grenache grapes from the Central Coast. 


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What processes went into making Seatpocket Wine?  

We didn't do anything outside of the normal wine making processes. We did use Eastern European oak for the Merlot which has helped maintain a full body that doesn't feel heavy on the palate. The Chenin Blanc has slightly riper grapes that gives it the beautiful aromatics we were specifically going for, without the heavy sweetness. Our Rosé is all old school Saignee method using Grenache grapes.


What was the most important factor in making the Merlot? In other words, what did you have to taste in the Merlot to say, “YES. This is me.”

I really wanted a Pinot Noir at first, but the Merlot won me over. I wanted something that was dry, dark, smooth, rich but still somewhat light and easy to drink. Not an easy order. 


Your #Rhythmandwine tag will be buzzing real soon, where do you expect to find your bottles traveling to?

We'll be on the road with our Rhythm & Wine events throughout California this summer. We will also be pouring at a few other events across the country and we're working on distribution in Illinois and Georgia! 


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Be sure to visit the Seatpocket Wines site where you can find their 2015 Chenin Blanc and 2014 Merlot!

First Time Drinking Wine - Wine Mom & the Critic Tell All

Everyone has their first time. For some it’s magical, but for many it’s something not to be repeated. A popular question from viewers of our Wine Mom & the Critic show is “When was the first time you drank wine, and what was the first wine you ever bought?” 

Wine Mom Eva Chavez and the Critic Paul Hodgins reveal their first times. 

Wine Mom’s First Time

So don't judge me! I just turned 21 and knew nothing about wine. One random weeknight, this guy I was dating (he also knew nothing about wine, but wanted to act ‘sophisticated’) tells me "Come in my jacuzzi. Let's go have a great night. I got us some wine, I'm going to talk dirty…” blah blah blah. I go over and he does a big reveal of his bottle. It was smaller than regular wine bottles which I thought was strange. He then pours the wine into a Solo cup. A red Solo cup. 

I drink it and I think, "Wow, this is so sweet, it’s amazing." We’re in the jacuzzi, it’s getting hot, and the next thing I know I'm pounding the wine. You know what it was? Port.

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He gave me Port, for my first wine. As you know, Port is fortified with a spirit, is very sweet (a dessert wine), high in alcohol, and drunk in tiny cups, not 8oz Solo cups. So I'm in the jacuzzi drinking Port wine thinking I'm fancy as f*** and saying, "Oh, this is amazing. I love it, it's fruity, it's delicious, it's swe. .,” -  I threw up all over his jacuzzi mid-sentence. Needless to say we broke up. Tiny bottle dude had to go.

The first wine I ever bought for myself was a magnum of Woodbridge Merlot. Ballin’ at $5.99. Drank it with my sister and a friend. The friend threw up. 

The Critics’s First Time

It was the 70s, I was home from college. On a day I was alone, and had the munchies so I raided my uncle’s fridge. In it was a bottle of wine. The wine was in a basket. I thought, “I’m an older, smarter, and distinguished freshman, I should be drinking classy shit.” 

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It was a bottle of Ruffino, a very popular wine in the 70’s. It was sort of an oblong oddly shaped wine that came in a little basket. People that drank Ruffino were the modern equivalent to cat-ladies. They drank it because afterwards the basket could be used as a candle holder you could put on the window to light the way for spirits or moths. So there I was. I, a ‘distinguished’ freshman chugging Ruffino at my uncle’s house. Alone. The only thing missing was a quart of ice cream and a Sandra Bullock rom-com. 

The first wine I bought for myself was something called Lonesome Charlie. Their slogan was "Lookin' for a friend?" It was pink, bubbly, and it came in a four pack. I thought it was terrible. My girlfriend loved it. I moved on - from her and Charlie in search of better friends.


Follow Eva Chavez on Instagram 

Follow Paul's wine adventures 


Sommelier Alex Anderson Tells Us About Okanagan Valley Riesling

The Okanagan is an exciting up-and-coming region in the province of British Columbia in Canada. The terroir screams diversity and tension - which is understandable given the fact that it teeters right on the 50th parallel.

One of the promising grapes of the region is Riesling. It shows best in the Northernmost sub regions of the Okanagan Valley and is often found basking in the sun on sloped sites overlooking Lake Okanagan. Riesling grapes thrive in the Okanagan because of the vast diurnal swings and cool moderating breezes that are created by the Lake; ensuring the grapes reach sugar ripeness while still attaining lively acidity. 

The Okanagan also boasts some of the longest sunshine hours during the growing season in the world due to its Northern latitude. Let's take a look at some of the best Riesling it has to offer:

Tantalus’ Old Vines Riesling

A winner for all Riesling lovers. The vines that grow this wine were planted in 1978 on a promising slope in Kelowna, British Columbia. The Tantalus Riesling guarantees a deep and concentrated experience — mouthwatering to say the least! Wet stone and slatey flavours balanced by floral tones, a limey spine and ripe apple flavours that are sure you want to pour more. One of my favourites in the whole province.

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Synchromesh Winery’s Bob Hancock Riesling

Synchromesh winery maintains a well respected commitment to minimal intervention with their wines. All their wine growing and making practices are done with utmost integrity to the planet and to showcase the fruit in its truest (and inherently tasty) state. It’s easy to agree with winemaker Alan Dickinson’s philosophy when the resulting wines are this tasty! The grapes from the Bob Hancock vineyard are grown on the northern tip of of the Naramata Bench overlooking  breathtaking views of Lake Okanagan and the city of Penticton. This wine is bright with puckering lime, fresh apricot and a touch of RS that makes you crave another sip. 

Quail’s Gate BMV Riesling

This off-dry beauty is the perfect companion to South East Asian food that has a little kick of spice and deserves a wine that can kick it right back. The Bouchrie Mountain Vineyard (BMV) in Kelowna has grown this fruit to speak to the terroir of British Columbia and proves its ability to age. This is a wine that has the delicate floral tones and bright acidity we all crave in Riesling. A wine to enjoy now and stock up on for later!


Alex Anderson is a Vancouverite with a passion for wine, communication and design. She is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, holds a WSET Advanced certificate with distinction, and was the runner up in the 2018 Aspiring Sommelier BC competition. You can connect and follow her vibrant and insightful wine endeavours on Instagram @wine.with.alexx 

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Barolo: Northern Italy's Sexiest Wine?

There’s something intoxicating about a piece of music that baits you with one chord, and then leads you like an aroused schoolgirl into something completely unexpected. 

The likes of Coltrane & Zeppelin come to mind when thinking of music that keeps you on your toes, zig-zagging you around until you’re dizzy with melodious ecstasy. The most primal of pleasures lend to that kind of experience; music, sex, and the most hedonistic pleasure of them all, wine. While many have a hard time verbalizing that journey, a bottle of wine of that caliber is hard to forget.

Barolo is a region in northeastern Italy synonymous with the grape Nebbiolo, as it is the only red grape the region grows & (like Burgundian Pinot Noir) is never blended. It is a wine that evokes a kind of existential ebb & flow. It reels you in with notes of rose petal, lilac & tar. 15 minutes later, it’s dried mulberries, fresh tobacco leaf & dusty leather boots. 


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It is equal parts sensual & barbaric. Like a woman who knows how to direct her lover, Barolo evolves more every time you lift the glass. As if the bouquet wasn’t enough to entice, the sheer mindfuck of the palate redirects your senses.

While Nebbiolo’s thin skin doesn’t cause it to act as controlling (read: unsexy) as your self-conscious fucktard ex, it does cause it to create a wine as pale in color as Pinot, yet packs the tannic punch of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Verdot. (Tannin creates the effect of dryness on the palate, sucking all the moisture from it like that sixth cup of black coffee you had this morning.) 

Most wines with high tannin come from thick-skinned grapes as that’s where tannin is primarily found. There is tannin present in seeds & stems, but high-quality wines are de-stemmed since their tannin is much harsher than grape skin tannin. Anthocyanins are the chemical component that dictates a wine’s color intensity, and thin-skinned grapes have low anthocyathnin’s, just like they (usually) have low tannin.


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When blind tasting, you first analyze a wine’s color & opacity before even smelling it. Seeing a pale colored wine sets your brain on a path. (Imagine hearing the Black Keys first couple, very blues driven albums...) You’re already racing towards Pinot Noir/Gamay/Cab Franc/Grenache, then you get hit hard with that mouth-draining tannin. (And then hearing the Brothers album & Dan Auerbach’s falsetto...) MINDFUCK. 

A young Nebbiolo reminds me of my brother's garage punk band when they started out; each instrument competing with the other, none able to stand on their own or come together in cohesion. An aged Nebbiolo, on the other hand, can be orchestral; every individual aspect of the wine coalescing together in unison like Amy Winehouse’s voice enveloping your ear canals. Pure fucking magic. 

And thus, the love affair with Barolo continues...