Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dear Winologist.....

Last month’s Thanksgiving write up brought the most reader response to date. Much of the feedback included additional questions and comments for celebrations occurring in December. Below I share my responses and while some may not include a wine recommendation, the information will be useful to anyone who follows this blog site. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Dear Winologist: At least once during the holiday season I wake up after a party and realize I opened a special bottle of wine that I shouldn’t have. It usually happens late into the night when my better judgment has been impaired. How can I break the cycle of this unfortunate holiday tradition? Signed, “Too Buzzed in Boston”

Dear “Too Buzzed”: The Winologist feels your pain as I have made this mistake more than once. I remember a few years ago at a Christmas party we were hosting cracking open a 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia at 2:00am for my guests thinking, “I was going to save this for a special occasion; maybe this party is it!” I could have cracked open a bottle of gasoline and nobody would have cared. This form of stupidity is actually a disease called RBP syndrome (Regrettable Bottle Pouring Syndrome) and it usually but not always effects people of Irish decent. It can be treated but not cured. The best idea I’ve heard to combat RBP comes from my friend Brady. Brady says to take red, yellow, and green rubber bands and attach them to the tops of your wine bottles. Green rubber bands can be pulled from the cellar at all times. Yellow rubber bands must be closely scrutinized and probably require the good sense of someone sober to say it should be opened. Wines that have red rubber bands are never to be touched after dinner. It sounds so simple but the Winologist thinks the idea is pure genius!

Dear Winologist: Can you recommend a nice bottle of Champagne that won’t give me a horrible headache and is affordable? Signed, “Loving the Bubbly”

Dear” Bubbly”: If you are looking for a sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France (which is technically the only place a sparkling wine can be labeled Champagne) then I would suggest a non vintage choice like Tattinger Brut Champagne La Francaise. This wine is usually available and for $40 a bottle, it’s an affordable product from that region. I have to admit, I’m not a frequent drinker of Champagne and I tend to favor sparkling wines from Napa or Sonoma only because of its accessibility and affordability. If you are looking for a solid sparkling wine for guests to either serve before dinner or toast in the New Year, I would go with the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige(about $17 dollars a bottle) or the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut which is at a similar price point. Both wineries carry a stellar reputation for putting out quality products and if you minimize your consumption, the headache won’t ruin your morning after.

Dear Winologist: This year’s holiday season has left my finances in shambles. Can you recommend something I can drink guilt free while I pay down the Visa? Signed, “Careless With Credit”

Dear “Careless”: The obvious choice would be to stop drinking wine. However, given all of the recent studies done on the health benefits of drinking wine, I’d hate to see you put your health at risk. It also appears that wine merchants are taking advantage of all of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday hype and offering specials of their own. Right now, my favorite holiday value drinking wine is Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot. My Uncle Jack turned me on to this and I picked up a case at Beverages and More for under $13 bucks a bottle. As noted in the latest issue of Wine Spectator, Washington State Wines offer incredible value and this wine was given a 90 point rating and picked as one of their “Smart Buys”. My other find while perusing the isles of BevMo was a 2007 Lake County Cabernet called Vigilance. Lake County is an up and coming region adjacent to Napa and the Vigilance has incredible depth and is surprisingly robust for a wine at that price. For an affordable white wine, I like the recent release of the Cameron Hughes Lot 215 Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Priced at $11.00(the sight is offering deals on shipping as well), it’s an incredible bargain for a wine from this Oregon region.

Dear Winologist: We have banned alcohol from our Festivus celebrations because it has become a catalyst for excessive violence. Can you suggest some alternative gifts that would be appreciated by a wine drinker? Signed, Making it Happen in Manhattan

Dear Making it: The Winologist always appreciates a good Seinfeld reference even though it shows his age! Right now my favorite oenophile gift is the Vinturi red wine aerator or as my buddy Crusty Old Mick calls it, “The Wizzinator” (yes it actually sounds like someone left the bathroom door open!). This simple contraption actually shoots air into the wine as you pour it into your glass. While some may consider this snobbish, I’m here to tell you it really makes wine taste better. Another idea that I think might be helpful is the Waterfall rotating wine chiller. I don’t own one(hint to Mrs. Winologist!) but I’ve always thought it would be nice to have for guests who pop in and want to have a chilled glass of white wine (I never have any cold because I just mostly drink red). Both gifts are not overly expensive and have a high probability of not being re-gifted.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


This time of year, journalist and bloggers always comment and debate about what wine to pair with a Thanksgiving meal. Do you go with a light bodied Russian River Pinot or do you play it safe with a white wine of your choice? The Winologist feels the proper answer is: Drink whatever you want! However, no one has covered pairing a wine with a Thanksgiving social setting. Whether you’ve been a Thanksgiving guest of people you barely know, or you are hosting this traditional American meal for in-laws you are trying to win over, picking the proper wine can be almost as stressful as preparing the food. Below are some helpful wine suggestions that just might provide a solution to your situation.

PROBLEM-My in-laws are giant wine snobs and they pretty much can’t stand me-
SOLUTION- Unfortunately, this will not be a cheap fix. For red wine drinkers, swing for the fences and go with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon. Although pricey (remember this is a special occasion and you are trying to be a complete “suck up”!), the Bergstrom 2008 Pinots are scoring mid 90’s in Wine Spectator and they are phenomenal. . Depending on the vineyard, prices run between $40 and $80 dollars. For an impressive white wine, go with the Donelan Family 2008 “Venus”. This Sonoma Valley Rhone Style blend is made up Roussanne and Viognier grapes and offers citrus and peach aromas. Showing up with this wine demonstrates you are aware of the trending ABC movement in California (Anything But Chardonnay) which any wine snob will appreciate. Again, not a cheap fix with the price in the high $40s. If these choices can’t at least win you some disingenuous praise, then you might as well give up, drink up, and give them a reason to not like you.

PROBLEM- My relatives think drinking wine costing more than $5 dollars a bottle is pretentious and a waste of money.
SOLUTION-The first step is to announce there has been a major recall of all antacid products and you have made sure everyone is safe by disposing all of the Tums, Rolaids, and Pepcid in the household. This will ensure no one will attempt to drink the gallon jug- screw top wine Uncle Fester insists on bringing every year. Next offer up some reasonably priced alternatives where antacids will not be needed. Given your audience, the Wineolgist feels you need to deviate from the Pinot playbook and try a Syrah where the grapes are grown in a cool climate. While many wine critics say California Syrah wines are too high in alcohol and are overpowering, cooler climate regions of California and Washington will produce very aromatic and spicy flavored Syrah yet still be food friendly. Also, it’s much easier to find a great tasting Syrah wine for under $20 than to find a Pinot Noir at that same price point. Smoking Loon offers a decent tasting Syrah for ~$8 dollars but I would spend a few extra bucks and spoil the family with the 2007 Bonterra Mendocino County Syrah for $16. If you feel Uncle Fester will be offended by your actions, you can resort to the “Hide and Sneak” tactic. Hide your great tasting wine under the bathroom sink cabinet and sneak off to the restroom when your glass is close to empty.

PROBLEM-My boss has invited me to Thanksgiving dinner and asked me to bring a white wine. He knows I only drink red and I feel he’s trying to broaden my horizons.
SOLUTION- This is the classic social double negative: You have to spend social time with someone who decides how much you make and you have to drink something you don’t care for and pretend to like it! The safe bet is to go with a Chardonnay that has a little depth too it. I like the Gary Farrell 2008 Carneros Selection. This is a full bodied Chardonnay that represents classic California style. Priced in the low $30’s , it is the perfect price point for saying,” Boss, I wanted to bring you something nice but at same time, not make you think you are paying me too much”. If you are trying to be more frugal, Wine Spectator chose the Sebastiani 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay for its smart buys this month at $13 dollars. While I have not tried this wine, I do think the Sebastiani winery has consistently put out good value wines. If you want to impress the boss and have some extra money, Try and get your hands on some of the Williams Selyem Russian River Chardonnay. Winemaker Bob Cabral is known for his Pinots but he is also making a name for himself with Chardonnay as well. Elegant and full bodied, they would be a great match for any Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, you need to be on a list to obtain Williams Selyem wines but given the state of the economy over the last few years, there is probably room for you on the list.

PROBLEM-My parents are first generation European immigrants and feel wine can only be properly made in the old country.
SOLUTION-If you are like me and know very little about Old World wines, you need to find someone who does. My go-to guy on Italian, French, Spanish or Portuguese wine is my good friend Brian in North Carolina. Brian is not only knowledgeable on this topic; he is a value shopper like me. Below are some of his choices. NOTE: the recommendations are only the Readers Digest version. Brian provided me with a fantastic write up on why he chose the wines below and if any reader has an interest in reading it in its entirety, please let me know and I’ll email it to you.

Valpolicella Ripasso – Dry Red Italian Wine – Ripasso means “repassed”. The unpressed grape skins from Amerone production are added to the already blended and fermented Valpolicella. This adds an incredible amount of body, character, and style to the typically simple wine.

Beaujolais Villages AOC – This is the intermediate level of Beaujolais between the basic Beaujolais and the top Cru Beaujolais. It is quite inexpensive and light to medium bodied with very little tannin and high acidity. Beaujolais is widely consumed throughout the world and considered to be the drink of choice in Burgundy while one waits for the Pinot Noir to age. Beaujolais is supposed to be consumed young and fresh within the first 2 years after the vintage date.

Pouilly Fuisse - Pouilly-Fuisse is a dry white wine made from
Chardonnay. White burgundy tends to show more minerality, acidity and
fresh fruit than chardonnay from the new world.

Cava - Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method
of the French sparkling wine, Champagne. The primary grape varieties
used in its production are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello. It tends to be more steely and acidic than sparkling wines produced from Chardonnay.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all-