When All Else Fails

20 Feb

I’ve been harboring an old-vine, classic burgundy and waiting for a good pairing. Finally the night arrives, I prepare a meal that will pair beautifully and I open the wine and let it breathe. Color is great, nose has promise. First taste… needs air. After air, it’s improved, but slightly. There’s fruit, acidity, tannin- yet the wine is still decidedly closed and not yet ready for prime time. This is a wine I know- I have tasted and adored two years ago, and I’m shocked. Is this bottle going through a ‘dumb’ or ‘closed’ phase? Or have a opened an off bottle? 

off bottle

Really, the problem is more with me than anything else. I had high expectations, a previous experience of quality and it could be an off bottle, TCA, or a plethora of other things. The best thing to do would be to open another bottle of something else, and move along. But the meal is under way, the wine is doing a job- cleansing the palate, just without joy, class, or sustain. It’s so meh I could just scream.

I live to drink for another day.  Not every day is a WOW, a stunner. It happens more often than we might admit- but usually I have the time to find something else that rocks my palate that I can champion and send off to the readers of JvB UnCorked.

For today, we settle for a bottle of C+ mediocrity, and high hopes for next time. Whether this 2007 burgundy failed me or whether I should have waited three more years, we’ll never know.

Every bottle is a gift, but not all bottles are ones you want, or ones that should be opened. 

There’s a quote from Argentinian poet Antonio Porchia that can easily be adapted to a wine analogy: “I know what I have given you.  I do not know what you have received.” Comforting words in this moment.

I take a breath, stand up, and do what I sometimes do when all else fails: I pull a 375ml bottle of sauternes from the stash and pour a half ounce. I inhale, savor, and sip until the smile has returned to my face. This moment is bliss, and tomorrow is another day. 

à votre santé!

Saturday Night Cellar

8 Feb

I’m in the middle of a huge sports show, working crazy hours but thankfully at least, sleeping in my own bed. Since this project started, however, I’ve been too busy for wine. Tonight at last I got an opportunity to hit the cellar and look for something to enjoy. I’ve recently been enjoying some vintage Italian red wines, but tonight I saw a white burgundy that I couldn’t resist. Then, because I love dessert, I pulled out a half bottle of 2010 Sauternes I’ve been wanting to taste. Here we go:

Louis Latour Montagny “La Grande Roche” Premiere Cru, 2011. Cote Challonaise, Beaune, France. Sourced locally at $24/bottle, available online around $21. ABV 14%.

Pale straw in color with a nose of apricot, pear, and honey. Smooth in the mouth and very savory, the fruit sits back along with reduced acidity on this rich, round wine. Notes of marzipan, almond paste, chalky limestone and buttery oak. Shows best with food; a basic roast chicken paired beautifully but a spicy sauce with lots of garlic was too much. No regrets in this price range.


Château Peillon-Claveries DuBourg Sauternes 2010; $9/375ml Bottle from Empire Liquor in Forest Hills NY; 14% ABV.

I saw this in the local store gave it a shot. Pale gold in color and nose of rich, sweet apricot. In the mouth, delightfully rich and sweet fruit with nice acidity and good structure. I think it’s the first sauternes I’ve had of the 2010 vintage, and I have high hopes for the top producers. Certainly worth the money for a dessert wine, fun, nicely made, well placed and a good bang for the dessert wine buck. I’m quite likely to pick up more.

What’s in your glass tonight?

Peillon-Claveries Dubourg

à votre santé!



My Superbowl 2015 Picks (in Wine)

2 Feb

For the Superbowl, I tend to go with what I know: Bordeaux! This year however, I changed up my game plan. I made a pile of bruschetta and picked these three bottles, two from Tuscany and one from Piedmont:

Pian dell’Orino Rosso di Montalcino 2011 (found online $30-40/bottle, 14%ABV)

Roagna Langhe Rosso Nebbiolo 2006 (Crush Wine $30/bottle, 13.4%ABV)

Brunello di Montalcino “Il Marroneto” 2000 ($40-70 online; 14% ABV)


italian bowl


Needless to say, both the bruschetta and all three wines were hits! I decanted the Tuscan 2000 Brunello sangiovese and although it showed a hint of browning on the edges this wine is a stunner with plenty of life left to go. It has the most muted fruit and was the most subtle of the three, but those who drank it raved and championed its delicacy, depth and balance. The in between wine is the Pian dell’Orini Rosso di Montalcino, which is a sangiovese from Tuscany with delicate color, vibrant nose and fruit, and good balance of acidity. Rosso di Montalcino is the baby brother to Brunello, and even in a listed off-year, shows magnificent value. This wine compares well to Burgundy pinot noir, not shocking given that both Tuscany and Burgundy are on the 43rd parallel with similar topography.

The Langhe Rosso, a delightful nebbiolo from Piedmont, had the darkest color, fullest nose, and the most body of the three wines. While they all were made by different producers,  many guests who tasted the range suspected a vertical and either a name-changing winery, or neighboring vineyards.

Nope, these three wines demonstrate wonderful Italian winemaking, plain and simple. They worked wonders with the vegetarian chili as well as pizza, baked ziti, and the various appetizers that were served. For the wine drinkers, the choices were an obvious Super Bowl win.

What did you drink for the Superbowl this year?

à votre santé!

Drinking Your Birth Year? (Rant)

29 Jan

Clue me in, please. Dig deep for a second, and help out a fellow oenophile.

My question for the group: What is with the fascination of drinking one’s birth year?

Drinking your birth year. I don’t understand it, but I have it. I have this primal urge, evidently like many others. When Brad Dixon, Sommelier at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa offered me my birth year in wine I stopped cold for a moment, and considered it seriously, against the other wines I was salivating to taste. (I declined and chose something else.) When I receive an email that offers fine wines from my birth year (evidently a lousy year for wine in Bordeaux but decent in Piedmont) I get excited, just by seeing the vintage, without caring who the winemaker is, without knowing the grape, or the region. I consider spending high (nearly silly) dollar amounts for wines I have zero interest in except that they are from a time in my life when my concerns were quite few.

So far, I have yet to succumb to this urge. 

What is it about drinking your birth year? Perhaps knowing that the winemaker was creating, parenting the grapes and crafting something precious, in the very same way we imagine our parents spoke to us in utero, prepared cribs and onesies, and tried to lay groundwork for a good aging process?

Some of the older wines I’ve tasted have been stunning. A few have been total disasters. My birth year would be older than most wines I have enjoyed, and as a questionable vintage, it could be a real disaster. Yet this mystery remains…why is it so compelling?

Share your thoughts- I’d love to know what you think about drinking one’s birth year.


If you’ve ever had the pleasure, can you share your experience? 



à votre santé!

To Hell With Tradition!

27 Jan

Wine drinkers don’t really care about tradition. To hell with the traditions we’ve followed. Uncorking. Sabering champagne. “Clinking” your glasses in a toast. Red with meat and white with fish. Bah! Humbug!  To hell with tradition! And that irritatingly catchy tune from Fiddler on the Roof  gets in your head and won’t leave for months, like a heroin junkie squatting in your garden shed.

Freak Out



Except for one, simple, singular thing.

The entire process of making wine is based in tradition


(Taking a deep breath)

Nearly five thousand years ago the Phoenicians kept records of their travel for trade, their products including wines, grapes, and vines themselves. The Greeks improved demand in their economic trade by developing a superior finished product (i.e., better wine), while the Roman Empire’s mass expansion increased worldwide plantings, development, and local interest. “Hey, Jacobus, this stuff’s pretty good!”

La Tour Haut-Brion

The creation of good wine is a tradition of passion. It takes a plan, a huge amount of passion, immense dedication, and a ton of hard work to even TRY to make wine, let alone GOOD wine.


A winemaker preps soil and trellises, then plants vines in that specific soil, growing a specific grape. Protecting the fruit from bugs, birds and other predators, he or she grows the grapes to maturity. Then the winemaker picks the ripe fruit, clipping clusters from the vines, sorting, inspecting and de-stemming, choosing the best fruit. Then comes pressing and straining the juice, then fermenting, measuring acidity, sugars (in Brix), while mixing, punching down and tweaking the mixtures alcohol and sulfite levels among other key features, and racking the wines again and again to leave the sediment behind. Finally bottling, then allowing the mixture to sit, then recover from the shock of the bottling process, before finally opening a bottle of this elixer to drink and enjoy, not just to taste and judge.


This process is no easy thing. Imagine going through this entire process to taste your product and find it wanting. Worse, imagine suffering the process to find your product useless and undrinkable. Imagine that the final product -many barrels of it- simply stinks! It takes a huge amount of time to grow, cultivate, harvest, press, tweak, and bottle. The commitment to make wine is no small task.

It is a tradition and an art thousands of years old. It is a tradition that takes copious attention, time, dedication, serious knowledge, along with the willingness to fail miserably and the experience gained by trial and error, before someone with no knowledge can judge it (or simply imbibe it).


This tradition is noble and serving, for it allows us to to stand back, simply choose a bottle amongst hundreds and thousands, then pop the cork, and taste it with no involvement in the risk beyond a few dollars and a moment of our time. Or we can take the time to taste the moment, appreciate all the steps and parts in the development and growth of this living, evolving liquid, and begin the final step in wine’s evolutionary process.


To the winemakers, the farmers, the hands in the fields, the harvesters, all who stress and strain and suffer to make a luscious wine- I bow my head, bend my knee and tip my hat in honest thanks and gratitude to your passion, which serves my passion!

So after all this, how do I come full circle, having the stones to stand up and say “to hell with tradition”?


Just get that song out of my head. “Let it go, let it gooooooo….” yes, that might do the trick, and let’s open another bottle of wine. CHEERS! (clink!)

à votre santé!



Crazy Like a Blair Fox

25 Jan

Blair Fox Cellar 2011 Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, CA. $42/bottle, purchased from Vineyard. 14.3%ABV.

Color is opaque violet with purple edging. The nose shows cassis and blackberry, with hints of forest floor and truffle. In the mouth, delightful black fruit parries moderate acidity and strong tannins, giving way to a moderate finish that shows black and green peppercorn, leather, and notes of toasted oak.

I paired this with a handmade, artisan cows milk cheese and would love to drink it with grilled beef or a rustic european meal.

blair fox

Last summer I visited Santa Barbara County as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference. This is where I first tasted Blair Fox’s wines, and I was duly impressed with both the recent and their older (historic?) vintages. It was incredibly popular at a winery dinner where vendors showed their finest wares, and all were stunning. Yet, people would quietly say, “try the Blair Fox before it’s gone!” and that stayed with me.

Pricey? Sure. For a California, hand pressed, small batch wine (3 barrels)? Not really. Worth it? Well, my only concern is that I bought wine to lay down…but it hasn’t made it to my cellar, and won’t at this rate. Yes, worth it in my book.

à votre santé!

Baby It’s Cold Outside! Tasting Light White Wines

9 Jan

Sometimes when I browse a wine store I make mental notes of wines I want to try. Even though we have sub-zero temperatures outside, I’m jonesing for chilled white wines at the moment and know how my readers love wines in the $12 and under range! My cellar is full of reds and pricier whites, so it was time to hit the stores!

J. Lohr has been on my list to taste since a reader pointed it out to me here. I found two from Monterey and thought it was about time to try them! I spied a nearby Columbia Valley riesling for under $10 and thought I’d give it a taste as well. Here are my findings. What do YOU like in $12 and under? Enjoy!


J. Lohr “Riverstone” Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay 2013. San Jose, CA. $12/bottle from Empire Liquor, 13.5% ABV.

Light straw color; the nose shows tropical fruit, vanilla, and toasted oak. Very soft fruit on the palate: bosc pear, golden delicious apple, lychee. Creamy finish with a touch of flint and stone. A savory, oaky wine that shows best with food, wood dominates the fruit in this instance. Paired well with both a turkey cutlet and poached sea bass over two evenings.


Lohr Chardonnay



Columbia Winery, 2011 Cellarmaster’s Riesling, Columbia Valley WA. Empire Liquor, $8/bottle. 10% ABV.

Pale yellow in color with an aromatic nose of apricot and honeysuckle. Gentle sweetness blends with acidity; paired together with ripe white stone fruit makes for a smooth, straightforward and easygoing wine. Possibly best served as an aperitif or après-meal, perfect on a sunny afternoon/evening. With the forward sweetness, I enjoyed this most as a dessert wine but it also paired beautifully with light and medium strength cheeses.

Cellarmasters Riesling



J. Lohr “Bay Mist” Monterey County White Riesling 2012. San Jose, CA. Empire Liquor, $10/bottle. 12% ABV.

The color is pale straw with a green tinge, the nose shows clementine, lemon, lavender and steel. On the palate, effervescent stone fruit and young apple match medium acidity, medium dryness and a touch sweetness. A hint of metal and some limestone show on the finish, this wine would pair best with spicy dishes, middle-eastern dishes or seafood.

Lohr Riesling


Any of these is a solid buy in $12 and under range, and useful for your meal pairing.

à votre santé!



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