Uncorking LA’s Corkbar

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 2 Comments


Almost overnight – kind of like those neighborhoods one passes while driving on the I-15 to Vegas – wine bars have popped up all over LA. Although this is merry news for those of the drinking persuasion, it’s understandable that many folks would prefer not to traipse around, all over Los Angeles, as they try to choose a favorite.

To this end, I have made it my solemn duty to try every single one and report back to you, dear reader, on the atmosphere, personality and quality of the menu at each of these watering holes for winos.

The sacrifices I make for my people…

First up – Corkbar!

My first visit to this California-centric “gastrobar” was through an invitation from Corkbar’s PR firm. Caleb Wines and John McGonigle, two of the four partners in this endeavor (the other two are Garry Muir and Chris Schiffman), hosted a small group of bloggers to sample their food and wine, and to talk about their brain child: They had been traveling California’s Central Coast, and really wanted to recreate a space that had a similar kind of laid back, friendly vibe, in LA. They looked for an “emerging neighborhood” and a list of wines/beer that anyone – inexperienced to expert – would find approachable, and – viola! – Corkbar was born.

Corkbar is situated in the southeast corner of the Evo building in downtown LA (403 W. 12th St.). Designed by Ana Henton and Gregory Williams of Los Angeles-based MASS Architecture and Design, the high ceilings, sparse wood/cork interior and mood lighting give Corkbar a decidedly urban/metro feel. This is balanced by a local-loving outdoor firepit and two patios that add familiar, cozy warmth to the entire place. Corkbar feels like the perfect spot for a first date or a night out for people who want to eat and drink well without spending unholy wads of cash; a dish of scallops, spinach, bacon and brown butter ($24) is the most expensive item on the fall menu (Corkbar offers a seasonal Farmers Market menu, as well as a list of permanent fare). But most dishes are under $15 (ranging from soups, salads and sandwiches to mussels, macaroni and cheese, and the undeniably delicious Root Beer Braised Short Ribs with Cheesy Polenta ($16)). Their extensive by-the-glass drink list includes several wines and beers priced under $10 each. For an even better deal, their Test Kitchen Tuesdays (TKT) serves up trial dishes by Chef Albert Aviles, priced at $2 each.

Corkbar currently offers about 50 wines by the bottle and 75 by the glass, mostly from California – although they do stock several champagnes and will sometimes offer international tasting flights. They describe their beer menu as “a flavorful list of drafts and bottles by breweries from San Diego to Sonoma,” with an emphasis on local and craft brews.

Is Corkbar the “Cheers” of downtown LA? Well…in a word…no – but only because it feels so swanky. With great descriptions on the menu and prices that run the gamut (I had a $25 glass of 2007 Shaffer Merlot; bottle prices range from about $34 to $650 (for a 2006 Bryant Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon)), Corkbar is “everyman’s wine bar” – if everyman is looking for an upscale/downtown kind of vibe, at very affordable prices.

By the Glass or Buy the Bottle? Ordering Wine in Restaurants

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

wine glass bottles

If you scan any bar or restaurant wine list, it’s immediately apparent that there is a huge discrepancy in price between wine by the glass and the same thing by the bottle. Because of this chasm, many people – especially value-minded individuals – tend to go the less expensive route: They buy by the glass.

But here’s the thing, wine by the glass isn’t a value at all. In fact, it’s an enormous waste of money.

“But it’s so much cheaper!” you might say. And, technically, you’d be correct. Is $10 cheaper than $30? Yes. But if that’s your argument, you’re missing the point – and several glasses of extra wine.

Typically – although not always – the cost by the glass is equal to the wholesale price of the bottle. Although that mark-up might seem a little extreme, it’s important to remember that once a bottle of wine is opened, there are only a few days before it becomes a lost asset. As such, a restaurant has to ensure that they aren’t losing money on that BV Coastal Chardonnay they opened just for you. As a general rule, the wines that lose their value fastest will have the highest mark-up (sparkling, etc.).

If glass prices are equivalent to the wholesale price of a full bottle, how much should someone expect to pay for the bottle at a restaurant? Although it varies significantly, the average markup is around 250 – 300%. The overage helps cover the weighty labor, food and overhead costs shouldered by the restaurant.

Doing the math – If a restaurant’s wholesale cost is $10 for a bottle of wine, you can expect to pay around $30 for it. In a store, you’re probably looking at around $15 or so for the same bottle – and $10 – $15 is probably what you’ll pay by the glass. There are approximately 5 glasses in a bottle of wine, so – using this example – you can spend $30 for five glasses of wine by the bottle, or $50 for the same amount of wine, if purchased by the glass.

Is wine by the glass less expensive? Yes. Is it a value? No. The best deal will almost always be by the bottle. If you’re worried about wasting leftover wine, ask the restaurant if you can bring the rest home; it varies by restaurant.

“But I only want one glass!” you say – and this is understandable. By the glass is still the best way to try something new. If you’re out for the night, you’ve already succumbed to the markup, anyway – so just do it. Either that, or buy a beer.

Great Wines for Halloween – Not so scary!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Theme Wines | 7 Comments
Casillero del Diablo Wines

Casillero del Diablo Wines

[Editor’s note: This Halloween post is an updated version of last year’s Halloween post]

It may seem early to be talking about Halloween, but if I had to guess, a fair number of you are planning your costumes already. If you’re planning your costume this far in advance, why not bring the perfect accoutrement to your Halloween parties this year?

Whether you’ll be a guest or a host(ess),  you can make a great impression by bringing Halloween-styled wines. Here’s a fun selection of wines for you to choose from to make your Halloween spookarific, and some information for the serious wine-drinkers, too.

Oh, and since this blog focuses on bringing you value in your wine, we suggest you order now to avoid paying Halloween premium mark-ups on these wineries and labels that are just begging to make an appearance at your Halloween party and fit right into your Halloween decor.

Vampire Wines

Vampires are all the rage right now and this winery’s name was either prescient, or they’re just really into it. Located in Paso Robles, California, this winery is bottling wines under three spooktacular labels. They’re producing a variety of wines including:

  • Vampire Merlot, $10.95 per bottle
    Tasting notes: Aged with a combination of both French and American oak, our Merlot develops graceful fruit flavors in the cellar, complemented by subtle shadings of vanilla and toast from the oak. At the completion of the aging process, this Merlot was carefully blended with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon for added depth and structure, as well as 8% Zinfandel, which adds a spicy note on the palate. Approachable now, Vampire Merlot is perfectly balanced for additional bottle aging.
  • Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon, $10.95 per bottle
    Tasting notes: Judiciously blended with small amounts of Merlot for softness, and Syrah for added structure, our Cabernet displays ripe flavor character and a lovely aroma that will continue to develop with additional time in bottle. Ideal for grilled steaks and chops, or with rich red pasta dishes, our Cabernet Sauvignon is well-suited for the table, and is a wonderful complement to any fine meal.
  • Vampire Pinot Noir, $10.95 per bottle Vin d’Pays DOC
  • Vampire Pinot Grigio, $9.95 per bottle
    Tasting notes: Its fresh lime fruit aroma leads into an easy-drinking lively wine full of youthful, refreshing acidity. This wine is well suited to a wide range of food, especially pasta dishes with white sauces, seafood, salads and Asian cuisine (such as Thai style chicken with coriander and lime). It is also wonderful on its own. Sip the Blood of the Vine and Enjoy!
  • Vampire Chardonnay, $9.95 per bottle
    Tasting notes: Crisp and refreshing, our Chardonnay is an ideal accompaniment to grilled seafood or poultry, and also complements mildly flavored cheeses. The wine’s rich texture, the result of regular stirring of the lees, further provides a big mouthfeel to this classically structured white wine.
  • Dracula Zinfandel, $19.99 per bottle Paso Robles, California
    Tasting notes: This is an elegant wine — a tour de force. This Zinfandel is big, rich and expressive! This wine is full of deep plum flavors that lead to cracked pepper & spices, with a refined texture and concentration. On the palate it is powerful and yet elegant, finishing with polished tannins.
  • Dracula Syrah, $17.99 per bottle
    Tasting notes: Reminiscent of the Master’s true love, this Syrah originates from the Rhone region in France, not far from his homeland. This Syrah has black cherry and dark chocolate flavors that launch into an intense, dark, rich and flavorful wine. Its perfect balance of spices sets up a silky texture and balanced, jammy finish.

And of course, for you drinkers who want the full Vampire experience, you can try this one:

  • TrueBlood Napa Valley Syrah, $30 per bottle
    Tasting notes: The inky black and blue color of the 2004 Trueblood Napa Valley Syrah is an indication of its power. This wine will bruise your soul with its palate crushing cherry, plum smoke and spice. Rich toasty oak and silky smooth tannins soften the blow enough for you take another sip. 220 cases produced.

PoiZin from Armida Winery – The Wine to Die for

This line started with a clever Zinfandel (one would assume) and now they’ve got Reserve wines that come packaged in an intricately adorned coffin! Choose from:

  • PoiZin, $25 per bottle
    Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma CaliforniaWinemaker’s notes: A little less deadly than our etched version of Poizin (not quite as light as a feather, though not as stiff as a board, either), this wine is blended to be soft, supple, and ready to enjoy NOW. The grapes come from Dry Creek Valley, the only real place to grow Zinfandel that’s worth anything. Bright fruit flavors are carried on a bed of soft tannins. Oooh, spooky.
  • Antidote, $12 per bottle
    Pinot Gris from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California.Tasting notes from PoiZin: The perfect summer wine, our Antidote is very crisp and clean, with flavors of pear and blossoms. In the mouth, the bright acidity is accompanied with more pear flavors as well as citrus, and honeysuckle. The finish is refreshing, leaving hints of tropical fruits to linger on the palate.

For lefties and other sorts of spooky deviants:

Owen Roe Sinister Hand

Owen Roe Sinister Hand

  • Owen Roe Sinister Hand, $20-25 per bottle
    Every year, this wine is an exuberant, lush, lively, juicy blend of Rhone varietals. This year it’s 52% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre, and 2% Counoise, all from Elerding Vineyard in Washington. The nose is appealingly bright and fresh, and the flavors are classic Rhone, with great lively, uplifting notes of red fruit. Flavors are of bright, red and black fruits, with lots of white pepper, good acidity and tannins and nothing out of place. Very well made and balanced. There’s lots of “back of the mouth” feel in the finish. The label shows the severed hand of Owen Roe O’Neil- the Irish patriot whose severed hand appears on the coat of arms of winemaker David O’Reilly’s family.

Evil & Pure Evil from R Wines

Evil Cabernet Sauvignon

Evil Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Evil Cabernet Sauvignon, $9-$12 per bottle
    100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Riverland, Australia
    Tasting Notes: A rich, opaque red-black color with a scarlet rim. Lifted nose of rich, jammy black currant with a smoky vanillin note. Complex palate of pickled black olive, smoky bacon, light pepper, red currants and hints of dark chocolate. Elegant, medium soft tannins.
  • Pure Evil Chardonnay, $9-$12 per bottle
    100% Chardonnay from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Riverland, Australia
    Vintage comments: A challenging vintage resulting in low yields of exceptional quality. Light winter rains (drought) and frost damage during the spring, followed by berry splitting (as a result of heavy rain over a two day period at a crucial stage of berry development) contributed to a yield almost half of that expected. In addition, the summer’s unusually high temperatures meant that the time between veraison and harvest was greatly reduced. These tough conditions resulted in the fruit’s concentrated flavors and beautifully structured wines. Tasting notes: Peach, melon, ripe tropical fruits and a hint of cashew. Creamy, luscious and lingering.

Casillero del Diablo by Concha y Toro (shop it)

Literally translates to Cellar of the Devil by Shell & Bull and comes from Chile

Line of Casillero del Diablo wines

Line of Casillero del Diablo wines

There’s an entertaining story of how these wines came to bear this label:
Casillero del Diablo offers wine lovers the very special opportunity to participate in the propagation of a century old legend known throughout the world. In the 19th century, the founder of Concha y Toro, Don Melchor, discovered that his vineyard workers were sampling his greatest wines. To discourage this action, Don Melchor spread the rumor that his deepest, darkest cellar was the Casillero del Diablo (Cellar of the Devil), so that no one would dare go in there. It worked, and a legend was born. Today, this mysterious and legendary cellar continues to hold the finest, estate grown wines of Casillero del Diablo.

  • Chardonnay, under $10 per bottle
    100% Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile
    Tasting notes: A medium bodied wine with a long, sweet finish. The wine has a lemon-yellow color. It is rich and appealing with heavy pineapple fruit, toasty oak and a creamy butter texture. It is an elegant, round and mouthfilling wine balanced by crisp acidity for a long and memorable finish. Excellent with seafood, poultry, medium-sauced pastas, as well as most cheeses. Serve slightly chilled.
  • Sauvignon Blanc, $10-12 per bottle
    100% Sauvignon Blanc, Central Valley, Chile
    Tasting notes: Gentle, round and mouthfilling with crisp acidity. Flaxen gold color. A fresh and crisp bouquet. On the palate, the wine is elegant, round and mouth filling balanced by crisp acidity. This Sauvignon Blanc is elegant, round and of great volume. A clean and bright wine of astounding quality, this wine is best when served chilled. Enjoy with ceviche, oysters, and sush or serve as an aperitif.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, under $10 per bottle
    90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Carménère from Maipo Valley, Chile
    Tasting notes: Medium bodied with smooth and friendly tannins. Hints of plums and cherries and a generous touch of toasted American oak. The wine is endowed with a remarkable bouquet, complex overtones and a lingering finish. It is well structured, perfectly balanced and boasts a satisfying and lingering finish. Dark and deep red color. Appealing red cherries and black plums with a touch of toasty oak. This classic, well structured, perfectly balanced Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with the heartiest cuisine, including roasts, game, stews, spicy pasta dishes and robust cheeses.
  • Merlot, under $10 per bottle
    90% Merlot, 10% Carménère from Central Valley, Chile
    Tasting notes: Smooth with great structure. Fruity taste and full body. Chocolate and herb accents add palate interest. Casillero del Diablo Merlot is big in volume and smooth, while exhibiting great structure. Dark and deep red color. Luscious fruit flavors: cherries, currants, berries and plums. On the palate, hints of mocha and herbs, generously framed by toasty American oak. It has a mouthfilling texture and is soft, but well structured. The wine is excellent with a variety of cheeses, meats and pasta dishes.
  • Carménère, $12-$14 per bottle
    85% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah from Rapel Valley, Chile
    Tasting notes: Notes of dark plums and spice, generously framed by toasty American oak with a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture. Dark red crimson color. Notes of plums, black fruit, chocolate and spice on the nose. It is a well-balanced, round wine with firm tannins. Casillero del Diablo Carménère is excellent with fresh light dishes based in meats, vegetables and fresh herbs. Also a good accompaniment to ripe cheeses such as Gouda, Gruyere or a dry goat cheese.
  • Riserva Privada, $13-$15 per bottle
    65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Syrah from Pirque, Maipo, Rucahue, and Rapel Valleys, Chile
    Tasting notes: Notes of dark plums and spice, generously framed by toasty American oak with a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture. Aged in French oak barrels for 14 months, this wine strikes the perfect balance between fruit and wood, yet retains vibrant acidity and supple tannins. Reserva Privada is the perfect match for finer recipes including grilled and roasted meats as well as for rich pasta dishes.

Don’t forget to buy spooky Halloween Wine Goblets!


Great New Wines Under $15 or $20!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in How to Buy Wine at Good Prices | 1 Comment

Hi there! Remember me? This summer was beyond the pale with too many balls in the air but I’m back! Since blogging had been set aside for a while, so had drinking all of the lovely wines I’d received over the last several months. I’ve been slowly working my way through the several cases of wine that had built up, with the help of my friends, and now I want to share with you what I’ve tasted and recommend (and what I don’t recommend). Enjoy!

Recommended Wines Under $15 – Courtesy of Gourmet Monthly Wine Clubs (Masters Series)

  • Stefano Massone Vigneto Masera Gavi 2008 – Italy – $10-12 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)
  • Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2006 – France – $8-11 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)
  • FAVORITE! Nine Vines South Australia Viognier 2008 – Australia – $11-12 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)

Recommended Wines Under $20 – Courtesy of Gold Medal Wine Club (Gold Series)

  • Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – Santa Ynez – (Release price: $23, Published price: $19, Member price: $17)
  • Adobe Road Winery Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – (Release price: $45, Published price: $29, Member price: $20)
  • Adobe Road Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2007 – Already sold out at Gold Medal Wine Club (it was delicious), $15-20 per bottle

More Recommended Wines – Courtesy of Zagat Wine Club and Barclay’s Wine Experience

  • Le Petit Pauvre Chardonnay 2007 – Monterey County, California – $17 per bottle
  • Granite Ridge Chenin Blanc 2009 – Stellenbosch, South Africa – $12.95 per bottle
  • Ines de Monclus White 2009 – Andalusia, Spain – $12.95 per bottle

Some Not-So-Recommended Wines

  • Home Grown Farms Family Harvest Red 2008 (California)
  • Rosenthal The Malibu Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
  • Monasterio de Santa Cruz 2007 (Monastrell from Tarragona)
  • Chateau les Tuileries 2009 (Bordeaux)
  • Carolena Merlot 2007 (California)

In case you didn’t know, I also review wine clubs. We comb through retail wines to make wine club recommendations and soon we’ll have new ways for you to find the perfect wine club for you or as a gift!


Rhone Rangers Ride into Santa Monica for Annual Wine Tasting

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 3 Comments

Rhone Rangers logo

The Rhône wine region is an AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee) in Southern France, probably best known in the US as the homeland of Châteauneuf-du-Pape—a popular wine that can contain as many as 18 different grape varietals (even white).

Not satisfied with letting the French have all the fun, in the 1980’s a group of winemakers from California’s Central Coast – John Alban (Alban Vineyards), Bob Lindquist (Qupe) and Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon Vineyards) – began planting Rhône varietals like Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. The vines took hold—and so did marketing efforts—and the Rhone Rangers was born, keeping Americans safe from the threat of drinking something boring.

Today, the Rhone Rangers include almost 200 member wineries, producing wine from any of the 22 different grapes sanctioned by the AOC for Rhône juice. Some wines are single variety, some are blends—and many can be tasted at Rhone Rangers tasting events, like the one which took place on Sunday, August 8, at Pier 59 Studios West, in Santa Monica.

Those who saddled up and trekked over had the chance to taste Marsanne-Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvedre and others, from the likes of Cline Cellars, Tablas Creek Vineyard (which is an offshoot of the actual Rhône winery Chateau Beaucastel), Koehler Winery, Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines, Qupe, Justin Winery and more. Schaffer’s Genuine Catering provided food for the day. When the event ended at 5, many of the wineries headed to Pourtal wine bar, where they poured their wines for kemo sabes old and new before riding off into the sunset.

If you missed the tasting but want to scout out these delicious juices [Ed note: Rhône varietals tend to be Jess and my favorites], many of them are surprisingly affordable and – like Grenache, in particular – are starting to gain in popularity. I’ve even seen some in the grocery store! Then, of course, there is always next year’s Rhone Rangers tasting…

Rhone Rangers Hi-Ho

Rhone Rangers Hi-Ho

The White Stuff: White Gazpacho Recipe and White Rioja

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

If you thumb through any magazine or surf most of the food/entertaining websites, you’ll find one idea after another for backyard barbeques and refreshing summer salads. But I have my own suggestion about something cool to cook this season: White gazpacho.

No doubt you’ve met white gazpacho’s scarlet cousin, red gazpacho. A cold, tomato-centered soup often brimming with summer vegetables. White gazpacho (ajo blanco) is equally refreshing but otherwise completely opposite. With a base of marcona almonds, white gazpacho is milkier, silkier and richer than red gazpacho. It’s also my favorite of the two.

For instructions on how to whip this soup together, I checked in with my friend Erika Kerekes of InErikasKitchen. This is her original recipe:

Green grapes and almonds in a cold, savory soup? Actually, yes. Don’t worry about getting the measurements below exactly right; they’re meant to suggest proportions. A little more or less won’t make a difference.

  • 1 cup baguette or similar white bread, stale or lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Splash of rosé wine [ed: Preferably 2008 A Donkey and Goat Grenache Rosé. Really. Try it]
  • 1/2 cup roasted Marcona almonds
  • 1/2 cup green grapes
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or more)
  • salt
  • ground white pepper

Put the bread and water in the container of a blender and let soak 5 minutes. Add

all other ingredients and blend on high until smooth and creamy. If necessary, add more olive oil to get the right consistency; the gazpacho should be thin but not runny, about the consistency of buttermilk. Season with salt and ground white pepper to taste. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.

Vina Tobia Blanco - white from "red"

Vina Tobia Blanco – white from “red”

And what to pair? Something Spanish, of course! Or, to sound more professional about it: If it grows together, it goes together.

Lately I’ve been enjoying a lovely 2009 white Rioja from Vina Tobia. If you remember from my last Rioja piece, the designation Rioja comes from the color of the region’s soil. White Rioja simply means a white wine from this red-tinted region.

Vina Tobia Rioja Blanco is comprised of 80% viura (macabeo) and 20% malvasia grapes. In the glass it presents a lovely nose of white flowers and peach and honeysuckle. In the mouth, this wine is crisp and nicely balanced and bursting with melon, mango and ripe peaches, with subtle notes of mineral, citrus and the faintest touch of raspberry.

¡Muy exquisito!

Happy Stands: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Becomes an Official AVA

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 4 Comments
Dierberg Star Lane Vineyards

Dierberg Star Lane Vineyards

On January 16, 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment (Amendment XVIII) and the Volstead Act went into effect in the United States. The ratification of these acts of Congress prohibited the consumption of “intoxicating liquors”, except for use in medicine, church rituals and up to 200 gallons per year of personal, home consumption. As one might expect, Prohibition was fairly controversial and not wholly embraced by the people.

The public’s demand for hooch led to speakeasies, bathtub gin and, in California alone, a 700% increase in vineyard plantings (to make “grape juice”). It also led people to a little region known as College Ranch, which was the location of the only spirits still in the north county of Santa Barbara. Because the area held the cure for what ailed ‘em, the locals lovingly nicknamed the spot “Happy Canyon.”



Some seventy-six years after the end of the Noble Experiment, canyon winemakers won a proposal to have the area registered as an official AVA: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, currently consisting of 23,941 acres, 492 of which are planted for six vineyards and three wineries, in the east end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

I had the great pleasure of learning all about Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara on a recent trip to Star Lane and Dierberg Vineyards. Vintners Mary and Jim Dierberg grow over 237 acres of vines on their Star Lane property (half the total acres planted across the entire valley), including all five of the red Bordeaux varietals and Sauvignon Blanc. On their cooler-climate Dierberg estate, 160 acres are planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah grapes to produce “Burgundy inspired” wines. The former dude ranch-turned-vineyard/winery sits at the highest elevation in the valley, with their Sauvignon Blanc vines reigning over all, high up the hills at 1500 feet.

To celebrate the diversity of Happy Canyon’s soil composition, climate, rainfall, topography, etc., the Dierbergs and winemaker Nick de Luca strive to produce terroirdriven wines, while also showcasing the individuality of the grapes, themselves. The vineyard has been farmed organically since 2006, they use ground cover under the vines, eschew tilling, and most of their wines are fermented using native yeasts. All wines are made with free-run juice and, whenever possible, they use natural gravity flow instead of pump systems. Even their caves were dug by hand – all 27,000 ft of them – a process that took over five years to complete. They like to call their philosophy “Old method winemaking using new technology.”

And the result? Incredible balance, amazing acidity. Deep, complex wines that can be enjoyed young or cellared for greater finesse. The differences and nuances from one vintage to the next are discernible in the way that the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara wines are noticeably different from the rest of the juice produced in Santa Ynez Valley.

Dierberg Star Lane wines

Dierberg Star Lane wines

In order for a region to qualify for its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation, petitioners must prove that the area is significantly different from the surrounding appellation in terms of mesoclimate and geography, thereby producing distinguishable fruit. Everything from rainfall to soil content, pH, drainage, topographical history, etc is documented, analyzed and contrasted with neighboring locations. If the differences are significant, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms can award the new AVA certification. Once approved, all wines with the AVA certification must contain at least 85% juice from the specified AVA.

What a happy requirement that is, in the case of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. Of the wines I’ve tried – especially those from Dierberg/Star Lane, these wines are dynamic, distinguished and delicious. It truly is a Happy Canyon, indeed.

Random Wine Statistics

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
Hot New Market! Paidsocialmediajobs.com – $75 New Aff Bonusvineyards_for_sale/pixley/synergis-capital/pixley-vineyard-winery-estate-for-sale/images/ca-vineyard-sale5.jpg” alt=”Photo credit: VineSmart.com – Grapevines in Tulare County” width=”445″ height=”297″ />

Photo credit: VineSmart.com – Grapevines in Tulare County

California exports relatively little wine (100 million gallons, half in bulk at just over $4 per gallon; sales in bottle average $11.60 per gallon.) Lapsley pointed out that low-cost wine is made from inexpensive grapes, most from the San Joaquin Valley. The districts south of the Delta grew 52% of all grapes crushed in 2009.Wines & Vines

Monday as I drove through the very flat, relentlessly hot, and not to mention smoggy San Joaquin Valley from CA-46 south, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of grapevines growing along I-5. I said to Mitch, “Maybe they’re for raisins and table grapes?” But they’re for wine?!

According to the Wine Institute, California supplied 61% of all wine sold in the U.S. (about 30% is imported). Wines retailing for less than $7/bottle represented 72% of the total, and fully 30% sold for less than $3 per bottle. Wines & Vines

When I think about how much wine we drink within California and how much of it is “premium” or even in the $10-15 range, this statistic makes me stop wondering why more people in the country don’t drink wine! All they’ve got access to is plonk!

Read the full article here

Maximize Your Wine Budget by Going META?

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in How to Buy Wine at Good Prices | 3 Comments


I’m a geek. I’m not the pencil-neck variety of yesteryear, but rather a modern geek. I dig numbers and analytics and I have an obsessive tendency to dive into the nitty gritty of topics I’m interested in until I have what appears to some to be encyclopedic knowledge of a topic. It’s fun for my friends for a while… until it’s not. Only the other geeks really get me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something useful to tell you as a result of my geekery.

Odds are good you have no idea what I’m talking about with that goofy title since you’re probably NOT a geek. Let me break it down for you:

META data is a way for us computer geeks (among others) to store additional information about an item. Let’s say that item is a song… We’ll stay on topic and use the song “Red Red Wine” as an example. The song itself has “common attributes” like Artist: UB40, Album: Labour of Love, and Year released: 1983. There are also many “hidden attributes” like Genre, Instruments used, Beats per minute, Track number, Composer, Lyricist, etc. We call this META data.

Wine has META data, too! Its common attributes are Year vinted, AVA, Varietal, and of course Winery. But its META data has a wealth of additional information about the wine that contributes to how the wine tastes.

A wine's META data

You may recognize some of these and not others but, here goes:

  • Percentage of each varietal
  • Age of vines
  • Type of oak used (if any)
  • Winemaking techniques
  • Alcohol percentage
  • Particular aromas/flavors
  • Brix level
  • pH
  • Clone
  • Winemaker
  • Importer
  • And don’t forget all the little mini-bits of information that make up “Terroir,” each of which could be its own piece of META data (was it planted on a slope? which way does the slope face? how many minutes of sunshine did each row of vines get that year? how much granite is in the soil? is the soil calcareous? and on and on.)

Lately I’ve been wondering how useful this META data might be in helping to select wines you’ll like. If it’s effective at choosing wines you’ll like, you might even be able to use the information to maximize your wine budget. Here’s a geeky little example:

  1. Assume that 100% of your wine budget is spent each month
  2. Assume a bell curve for your enjoyment of the wines you’ve purchased
    • 2% of the wines are totally amazing
    • 8% of the wines are really really good
    • 15% of the wines are good and you’d drink them again
    • 50% of the wines are average. You could take ’em or leave ’em.
    • 15% of the wines are not good and you’d prefer never to drink them again
    • 8% of the wines are so bad you don’t finish the bottle
    • 2% of the wines are corked and undrinkable
  3. Pretend that all adds up to an “enjoyment score” of 50.
  4. Now imagine based on hidden characteristics of the wines you buy, you can limit your buying to wines that are only in the first three categories. Suddenly your “enjoyment score” could jump to 80! And now you’re getting more value for your wine because you’re enjoying more of the wine you buy AND you’re getting more wines you are excited to be drinking!

There are a PILE of companies, wine writers, retailers, etc. out there who believe that they can tell you that if you like Wine A, you’re gonna love Wine B. When they’re making those statements, it’s often based on just a few characteristics of the wines or even worse, subjective statements/opinions about the wines.

A lot of geeks like me think that if you collect enough data about what people like and don’t like, they’ll be able to recommend wines even better than their competition in an objective way. Fundamentally though, I think computers are a LONG way from being able to make the subjective into something objective for purchasing recommendations.

Instead of relying on mountains of data and algorithms, or a “consistent palate” from a wine reviewer, what if the WINE could tell you if you’re gonna like it based on its META data? Could these methods be used to create groups of remarkably similar wines and then find the ones at the best prices within those groups?

It seems that I’m not alone in this line of thinking, this is a snippet of today’s WineAccess special deal:

The concept illustrated by WineAccess using the Old Wente Clone

The concept illustrated by WineAccess using the Old Wente Clone

To see more about this wine & deal, check it out at WineAccess.

Live Wine Blogging – White Wines #WBC10

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

White Wines – Speed-dating for Bloggers & Wineries!

We sat at a table for an hour while 12 wineries brought us 12 wines and shpieled us for 5 minutes each. Here’s the rundown… lots of goodies for white-wine lovers! (Updates coming later)

  • 2009 Neethlingshof Estate Unwooded Chardonnay (Worthwhile Wines)
    Winemaker notes: Fresh, vibrant with rich layers of fruit and a crisp and lingering aftertaste
    Jess’ notes: Mellow flavors, not too bright, good expression of Chardonnay. Would happily drink again.
    Arianna’s notes:
    Nose of bright lemon curd and grass. Fab mineral, great acid, and nice body. Really like it.
    Other notes:
    Importer of sustainable wines, classic example of chablis style
  • 2009 The Violinist Verdelho (Molly Dooker), $25
    Winemakers notes: Creamy texture, great acidity and long, persistent flavours of honeysuckle, pineapple, and citrus.
    Jess’ notes: Grapefruit & tropical fruit on the nose. Oaky, but not overly… needs food. Would drink again, not for $25.
    Arianna’s notes: Nose of blended citrus. Something stone fruit. Sweet sour. Would drink again.
  • 2008 House Wine by Charles Smith, $13
    Winemakers notes: 78% Chardonnay, 11% Riesling, 5% Muscat, 5% Gewurtztraminer, 1% Pinot Gris
    Jess’ notes: Pineapple, citrus, a little acidic but I’ve got heartburn right now. Bright and good. Interesting white for $13.
    Arianna’s notes: Nose of Pineapple, mineral, Citric acid smell. It’s okay.
  • 2009 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc, $12
    Winemakers notes:
    Jess’ notes:
    Great balance, nice clean mouthfeel. Mellow apples. Not sweet to me. Would much rather spend $12 on this one than $13 on the House Wine above.
    Arianna’s notes: Nose: Lemony grapefruit, chili pepper, grass, bruised peach. Palate: SWEET, with peachy peachiness.
  • 2008 L’Ecole No 41 Semillon, $15
    Winemaker notes: Melon, pear, honeysuckle, viscosity, fresh and floral.
    Jess’ notes: Love the fig & honeysuckle & nutty tones of Semillon and this is balanced and delicious. Coats the tongue in a good way. Would LOVE to drink again.
    Arianna’s notes: Nose of pie crust, peach cobbler, pear. Palate of almond, mineral, apple, straw.
  • 2008 Sustainable White (Parducci), Mendocino County, $11
    Winemaker notes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat
    Jess’ notes: Big fruity nose, acidic. I’m getting major earthy in the mouth. S’okay. I like that they’re continuing the project though since it’s good for the planet!
    Arianna’s notes: Nose: honey straw and petrol. Palate: something earthy-spicy and pineapple?
  • 2009 Pithy Little Wine Co. Sangiovese Rose, $22
    Winemaker notes: Simple wine notes, on the bottle … 2% Syrah
    Jess’ notes: Walnuts and cinnamon?? Blood orange and cherry. Light flavoring. Interesting… wouldn’t turn it away.
    Arianna’s notes: Jolly Rancher Red on the nose. And the palate. With notes of mineral.
  • 2007 Ortman Vineyards Edna Valley Chardonnay, Firepeak Vineyard, $25
    Winemaker notes: Clones 4, 76 and 96; Oak variety, yeast variety… CRAFTED wines.
    Jess’ notes: Big, full-bodied Chardonnay. Mature and oaked with a touch of butter. Should be accompanied by food.
    Arianna’s notes: Tropical nose, tropical palate. High acid. Man, I want some cheese. Take it or leave it.
  • Pepperwood Grove Chardonnay (NV) – Wine in a box! 4 bottle equiv. for $20
    Winemaker notes:
    Jess’ notes: Not bad. For approx $5/bottle this is a great value Chardonnay. It’s not sophisticated but it’s quality. Anise, pineapple, and grapefruit on the palate. Perfect for picnics and parties!
    Arianna’s notes: The whole thing is green and fresh (not like desert flora). Meh.
  • 2009 Desert Wind Viognier, Wahluke Slope, WA, $15
    Winemaker notes: Nose: peach, honeysuckle, and vanilla. Palate: rich and full, silky finish.
    Jess’ notes: Pineapple on the nose (not stone fruit to me). Drier finish than expected for how it hits the front of the mouth. I’m not a fan of Viognier, but this isn’t bad… seems like a good price, too.
    Arianna’s notes: Honey, baby! With some straw and white flowers. At this point I’m probably just making shit up.
  • 2009 Poet’s Leap Riesling, (Long Shadows Vintners), $20
    Winemaker notes: Armin Diel
    Jess’ notes: Really impressed with Washington Riesling, especially this one! Low residual sugar, picked at low Brix number. Bright, balanced, pineapple, great riesling. Would give it to my picky Mom and feel confident.
    Arianna’s notes: Soft floral nose, sweet, something slightly effervescent. Like!
    Other notes: Like Oriel Wines… partners with famous winemakers… but they bring them in to make wine from WA fruit!
  • 2009 Big House White from California (promoting Octavin Home Wine Bar), 4 bottles equiv for $22
    Winemaker notes: 51% Malvasia Bianca, 14% Muscat Canelli, 13% Viognier, 10% Gruner Veltiner, 5% Pinot Gris, 4% White Riesling
    Jess’ notes: Generic Cali white wine, has an earthy thing midpalate, but it’s balanced (so critical with inexpensive whites).
    Arianna’s notes: Lovely peach, something sharp at back of throat. Fun!
    Other notes: Guaranteed for a minimum of six weeks after opening