Pop A Cork and Share, Because You Make Me Smile! #MWWC28

24 Oct

Better late than never, I’m submitting this post as my entry for #MWWC28 for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Thanks go out to Beth aka Traveling Wine Chick for the fun theme and Jeff aka  The Drunken Cyclist for the MWWC that provides wine writers a warm, friendly, mildly competitive community to enjoy each other’s work!



The theme for this month is SMILE. I love this theme. When someone smiles at me, I can’t help but smile back. And when I smile at them, they usually smile back. It’s like sharing an amazing wine with friends.


One of the things I adore about wine is finding a wine I like and sharing it. When I pour a taste of a wine for someone for the first time and watch them enjoy it, that in turn gives me great joy. This is one of the reasons why I hold wine tastings for friends and neighbors.

It’s also why I bring a few special bottles to wine conferences. We don’t really need more wine at a tasting. There is usually plenty! Sometimes it is simply a great deal of wine. But I like to bring wines I like, so that others can enjoy them as well. I had such fun sharing bottles at WBC. “Here, have a taste!” with wines from areas these people know well, just sometimes haven’t ever tried before. SO. MUCH. FUN! Tons of smiles!  It’s even more fun because adept tasters like Anatoli (Talk-A-Vino) have such passionate, emotional, declarative responses to wine, much like art, and you get to hear them wax poetic in person, without deliberate editing into a blog post. It’s so HUMAN. It’s brilliantly fun!

Most importantly, it just makes people smile.

Look at the smile on these faces. Real people, mostly real smiles. Some people look slightly pained in posing for a picture, but all of these folks were having a good time. We’re people who are passionate about wine- enjoying it, making it, selling it, sharing it. We get together and taste it, and make each other smile, then we laugh!

Together, we make the world a better place. I’m excited to read your blog posts, to see your photographs, to hear your tasting notes. And when I see you in person, I’m so excited to hear what you have to say, because being your friend makes my life richer.

We make each other smile. And that is a beautiful gift.


















Christine Gladstone
















30 yr









jvb barrel




Hey! Give me  your glass- I want you taste this. Just a taste.


à votre santé!


2015 Nativo by Markus Wine Co, Lodi CA

22 Oct

2015 Nativo Lodi White Wine, Markus Wine Company, Borra Vineyards. Lodi California. 13.2% ABV. MSRP$18.99/bottle.


Pale straw in color; featuring a delicate nose with hints of lychee, gardenia and honeysuckle. On the palate, restrained white peach, lemon-lime zest, starfruit and gorgeous acidity with rigid chalk and stone on the finish. Such a subtle balance of flavors and responses without any of the oppressive heat I’ve found in great kerner wines from Europe, Markus Niggli’s white wine blend will smack you over the head with beauty, convince your mouth it is enjoying a brilliant expression of a $50+ Austrian wine, and make you open your wallet to order a case of this to enjoy whenever you simply want a really well made wine that goes with almost anything. I like this wine even more now that I first did when tasting in the vineyard in Lodi, both times I approached with low expectations and had an eye-opening experience. You will, too. Thank me later- I’m finishing this glass first. Fermented in stainless steel, using only native yeast and no malolactic fermentation, it is a blend of 52% Kerner, 29% Riesling, 15% Bacchus, 4% Gewürztraminer all grown in Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.








à votre santé!



Halloween’s Best Bottle: Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2011

14 Oct

Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2011. Douro Valley, Portugal. ABV 20%. MSRP $24/bottle. Sample by Calhoun and Company.


Complementing the candy distributed on All Hallow’s Eve is the perfect excuse to open a bottle of port. The haunted holiday offers an ideal pairing, but if you already love port, then there is no excuse needed! Late Bottled Vintage is a port made only in the finest years from each region. So it’s time to talk about Dow’s LBV 2011.


Purple edges with a deep hued center, almost black in color. Nose of licorice, blackberry, and eucalyptus. On the palate there is rich, triumphant acidity, muted sweetness on top of black fruit, tart tannin, and a long, juicy finish. Perfect to match the chill in the air and the leftover Halloween Candy, but my favorite sweet pairing with this port would either be Black Forest cake or M&M cookies- with but a sip of Dow’s LBV port, the chocolate is balanced, the sweetness celebrated then muted, and the flavor profile heightened by the pairing. An excellent complement to dessert, the change in seasons, and the evolution of thought. For someone who is fond of fennel but not licorice, the hint and placement of anise in this port wine is so delightful and so perfect in character, I simple can’t imagine not having it.


People fall in love with port at various times in their lives. I have always had a soft spot for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and his relationship with port wine. In Kerouac’s writing, Port seems to be a constant source of salvation, but in reality port is no a literary device: it’s an often-forgotten delight, a window to the other side of the world, and a wonderful palate cleanser. Dow’s LBV 2011 is an example of a wonderful port that is all of these things and more- a deeply rooted, full-bodied celebration wine for the memorial to our departed loved ones, or a simple change of scenery, a new opportunity, a sunrise, and a perfect ending that brings on tomorrow and the birth of a new day.


Opus One: America’s Luxury Wine Brand

8 Oct

En route to Lodi, I asked a fellow, trusted oenophile for advice: “If you had ONE winery to visit in Napa Valley, what would it be? The answer was one I’d hoped for, but never expected to hear. “Opus One,” was the reply. Seeing it was on the top of my list, I made my reservation, then used my New Yorker’s attitude on myself and insisted I would clear my mind; assume nothing, have zero preconceived notions, and let the experience wash over me like any other tasting.

In hindsight, I was right to do so. But in reality, I have to admit, it was a fool’s errand.

This is simply NOT just any other tasting.

The experience is geared toward the One Percent. Gorgeous lines, limited access, muted colors, hushed voices. I was unfazed. Even after tasting the wine, I kept my composure. I took my glass to the roof and wrote my tasting notes, which is when my restraint began to unravel.


The 2010 Opus One. Napa Valley Re Blend. Napa, CA.  14.5% ABV. 



Deep ruby in color. The nose offers black plum, blueberries, mocha, dark chocolate and green pepper. In the mouth, an exquisite balance. Forward in the palate are blackberry, cassis, rose petals. Secondary notes of earth, clay, and vanilla. Overall response is a beautiful proportion of black fruit atop a bedrock of acidity and mature tannin. Larger than life, expressive, and with a long, delightful finish.  




When does an American modern wine drink like a classic Old World Chateau? When it is the ideal marriage of old and new world.



One of the few masterworks commercially available, Opus One is the premier luxury brand in American wine. There are more expensive brands, more exclusive brands, but this, without a doubt, is the Rolls-Royce of American wine. It merges the ideal of classic and historic French grapes and winemaking with American innovation, modern farming, and production.




After inhaling the aroma of the wine for almost half an hour, I had to imbibe.

With a classic Opus One, these is no need for a spittoon. 

à votre santé!

David Phinney & Locations Wine E4

2 Oct

If you don’t know Dave Phinney by name, you surely know his work. Phinney’s red giant of a wine star The Prisoner red blend is found in steakhouses around the world, and is also the headliner of The Prisoner Wine Company  that Phinney sold to Huneeus Vintners a few years back. Just this past June, Phinney’s Orin Swift Cellars series (featuring popular wines like Papillon and Abstract) was purchased by E&J Gallo as an addition to their luxury brand portfolio. Talk about the secret to wine success!

Phinney’s current project is taking his style of winemaking abroad while keeping it affordable. Locations Wine allows Phinney to blend across regions and AVAs, without boundaries or compromise, with MSRPs under $20/bottle.


Locations Wine E4 Spanish Red Wine; 14.5%ABV, MSRP $18.99. Sample provided by Balzac Communications.
A mix of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, a Cariñena grapes were sourced from the famed Spanish wine regions of Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero and blended to make E4 sing a story of old vines, low yield, quality grapes than any household can afford. Barrel aged ten months prior to release.

Color is deep purple. Nose of black plum and cassis, with hints of rosemary and oregano. On the palate, juicy ripe and concentrated blackberry & black plum are dominant, followed by with green herbs, spice, wood, vegetation and lasting minerality, all deftly placed in this tasty blend. The mid and rear palate are as delightful as the initial rush. The lengthy finish has notes of potting soil, cedar, bitter herb, oregano, and wet stone. Overall impression is a well-balanced wine of obvious Spanish heritage, with spicy upfront fruit matched by a series of notes and flavors, marrying bold flavors with intense heat, powerful acidity and strong tannins.

I enjoyed tasting the E4 by itself, for starters. When I paired the E4 with food, I stopped thinking about the specific notes and depth of flavors, and suddenly just enjoyed the experience. To have that transcendence is what wine and food pairing is really about– a seamless boost in pleasure, elevating the relationship of food and wine, making the individual elements better by the complement and combination of flavors.




And what about the ability to create wines that make people enjoy themselves and forget why they were tasting a wine in the first place? That is why Dave Phinney is such a tremendous winemaker. Trust me, if you aren’t a fan already, you will be soon enough.





This E4 is such a delightful wine, it makes me excited to taste the AR5 (from Argentina) and F5 (from France). Reviews on JvB UnCorked will be coming soon!

à votre santé!


Three Garnachas Not To Miss!

23 Sep

I had a blast on #GarnachaDay, and if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might have seen the carnage! (You still can if you hit these sites and search for “#garnachaday jvbuncorked” . An early afternoon master class in Garnacha was followed by tapas and 25 more Garnacha wines. Only hours later, I joined a live, Online Snooth Garnacha Tasting with two very smart, highly respected sommeliers, Laura Maniec and Christy Canterbury, both accredited Masters of Wine.

What a day of wine tasting! Of the featured wines, all were great, solid, and terrific values, many under $15/bottle. Two wines have great potential but would be better with age. Three of the ten wines from these tastings really grabbed me personally.  So here they are, my gold medal winners:




La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2013. 13.5% ABV, Available locally and online for as little as $8/bottle! 

Pale straw in color, with a nose of herbs, freshly cut grass, lychee and banana. On the palate, a lovely balance of citrus, savory melon, and a matching acidity that pushes the flavors from the side and rear palate up to the top. Notes of herbs du Provence, spice and vanilla bean on the finish. The decadence in this wine makes me want to serve it to my fellow chardonnay lovers to remind them how stunning the rest of the world’s wines are. At this price point, it is mind-blowingly good, and stayed delicious for a week in the fridge so I could dole myself out a half ounce each night to see if I still really loved this wine. I did.



Coto De Hayas Garnacha Centenaria, 2014. 14% ABV, I found this wine locally for $12/bottle and online as low as $10/bottle.

Color is deep ruby and the nose shows fresh, lively red fruit. On the palate it starts simply but grows in complexity. Like a concerto, gentle and delightful red cherries begin. Slowly they are joined by allspice, black pepper, stone and clay. With a triumphant swirl into the apex of the movement, notes of rose bush, red pepper, leather, and spice box emerge. Medium long finish, high satisfaction. Very nice by itself, but terrific with food. A crowd-pleasing wine.



Last but not least, Particular Garnacha 2012 Viñas Centenarias de San Valero. 14.5% ABV, MSRP $26, found online for $18/bottle. 

This wine shows historic Burgundian winemaking features, so it is of no surprise it won me over. Deep maroon in color,  delicate, perfumed nose and flavors. Blue fruit on the palate; balanced, gentle, and reserved, with a luxurious mouthfeel. A beautifully feminine wine. Age-worthy and concentrated, with a long, ethereal finish.  This is Garnacha via Coco Chanel and Harry Winston: Classic style and elegance.



I hope you spend the time to find these or other garnacha wines to taste. They offer quality and value beyond the price tag. As we like to say, the proof is in the glass!

à votre santé!


Markus Joey 2015 Insieme

22 Sep

Markus Joey 2015 Insieme, Markus Wine Company. 13% ABV, $19/bottle. Available from Borra Vineyards


What happens when two winemakers are friends and decide to partner on a wine? Sometimes you get a beautiful result, and here is a great one! Markus Joey Insieme is the blend of 95% Lodi, California Torrontes grapes (winemaker Markus Niggli)with 5% Lewisville, North Carolina Traminette grapes (winemaker Joey Medaloni). If you look closely at the label, you’ll see both winemakers, Markus facing West to Lodi, Joey facing East to Lewisville. But just wait until you taste what they made in the middle!


The color is pale straw, while the nose offers faint peach, gardenias and a hint of pineapple. On the palate: beautiful citrus, honeydew melon, and a white floral bouquet are met with a moderate body, focused minerality and strong acidity. The flavors are gentle but they linger, tantalize your palate, and challenge you to drink more.




This wine is what you want to serve your oenophile and sommelier friends, because they won’t guess what it is, unless they’ve already been fooled by it. So hold on to a bottle if you can, but I can’t. It’s too delicious to cellar! I found myself reaching for the bottle of Insieme in the late afternoon and pouring myself a tiny bit to sit in the late day sun, sniff, sip, and admire. I’d love to buy a case of this but I doubt it would ever make it past the first floor of my home.

I paired a bottle of Insieme (which is Italian for “together”) over a two week tasting period with a cheese platter, Mexican food, Chinese food, and a Julia Childs-style braised chicken breast with new potatoes. The supple flavors, beautiful mouthfeel and delightful acidity make this sing like one of the stunning, gratuitously expensive wines from the Bavarian alps, but this wine is pure American made fruit. Its complexity allows you to enjoy it with many pairings, but I ended up preferring it all by itself, it’s just that much of a pleasure to drink and focus on. And even over two weeks(!) it stayed fresh and consistent in my fridge, thanks to the screw cap and high acidity that keep the blend in check.



If I had to put this wine partnership into a mental image, I’d offer it up as Wassily Kandinsky/Jackson Pollock mesh of art styles. But trust me, you white wine lovers, you’d rather put this in your mouth and savor the flavors of partnership. This bottle offers incredible value with a reasonable price for exceptional drinking pleasure, and that’s all the reason you need to keep some on hand.


à votre santé!

Book Review: “A Perfect Score” by Craig & Kathryn Hall

18 Sep

A PERFECT SCORE: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery by Craig and Kathryn Hall. 224 pages w/16 page photo insert. Published Sept 13, 2016 by Center Street Books. Hardcover MSRP $26, ISBN 978-1-4555-3576-7; eBook $13.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-3678-1. http://www.HachetteBookGroup.com

I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But sometimes a great story will propel you to take a look from another perspective.

This was my case in agreeing to review “A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery”. I did not know Hall or Walt wines, and I had a blank slate (or palate) to experience this story.

Whether or not  you are a fan of the Hall Wines and Walt Wines brands respectively is immaterial to this text. I found myself carried away on a journey of two adults (and a few co-conspirators and day players) with a mutual passion for wine and life. A Perfect Score looks back and traces the twenty years of the authors’ journey together, starting with their separate, successful, adult business lives in Dallas and their meeting in 1991.

Girl meets boy and introduces him to the beauty of California, and along the way we observe Kathryn’s career as a U.S. Ambassador to Austria to their first joint venture in wine making, to their more recent and current lives owning and overseeing two wineries with multiple vineyards in the Napa Valley. Many trials and tribulations are involved, from losing two entire seasons of their winemaking to a warehouse fire, to the fiscal damage of 2008’s recession. Today, both wineries are successful and highly praised in RP wine scores, and the culmination of the book resounds in accomplishing a lifelong goal and career-making 100 point award for Hall’s2010  Exzellenz Cabernet Sauvignon.


As I enjoyed this book over several weeks and an accompaniment of wine (while reading, you also will stop mid-chapter to pour a glass. It’s inevitable!) I found this “Dynasty-meets Bottle Shock” story great fun. Would I expect that a re-telling of business challenges, personal struggles, and the conundrums of operations and tough decisions in farming and winemaking to be a compelling story? It is. The stories move along with flashforwards and flashbacks, delving into specific of winemaking and their business evolution, finally giving way to a relatively quick finish of the “holy smokes, all this hard work paid off” ending with their perfect Robert Parker wine score.


Craig Hall and Kathryn Hall

As with daily life and storytelling, you will sometimes find a bump or two in the road. The prologue is insightful and endearing but fails to re-connect back with the reader later in the story, while the first chapter suffers from rapidly shifting perspective. The lengthy third-person narratives are interspersed with first person accounts by Craig and Kathryn, sometimes switching again over to a third person point of view or even to a “joint” but ambiguous couple’s perspective. These inconsistencies, however, are a small price to pay for sections of the book I enjoyed the most: the struggles the authors face in their personal lives and winemaking. The first-person accounts of the challenges they surmounted down to the tiniest details, and the real effort that goes into farming, tending, harvesting, pressing, and the intricate choices made in the winemaking, operational, branding, and distribution processes kept my interest piqued.


The Hall Wine Cellar

From the title, the reader already knows that A Perfect Score finishes up with a win, but the struggles in the story are both dramatic and real. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But my favorite chapters, as an oenophile, are the exacting details of winemaking, harvest fears, the 7am barrel notes sessions, the dedication spent on the Sacrashe vineyards, and their expansion into pinot noir. I love the stories about re-designing their facilities and incorporating LEED certification, and their passion for art and beauty: building a gorgeous barrel cave, designing architecture and art for the Napa public to enjoy. Devouring this book made me want to visit Hall Wines, to see their vineyards and the Hall art collection, and taste their fruit and wine. It made for a lovely read, and a great trek to the property’s St Helena vineyard off Highway 29 in the Napa Valley. While the photos above came from Hall with approval, the photos below are my own from my visit to their Napa property & tasting room.













Carefully tended vines in the St. Helena Vineyard


Bunny Foo Foo Sculpture, St. Helena Vineyard, Napa

img_2590Tasting ripe fruit from the St. Helena Vineyard


Beautiful fruit, almost ready for harvest!


Processed with Snapseed.

Perfect pairing: a Napa Cab and A Perfect Score! 


I expect A Perfect Score will inspire wine lovers, vintners, and those who dream of opening their own wineries for decades to come, in tasting their wines and visiting Napa Valley, to falling in love with a piece of land and tending young vines in hopes and dreams of another great accomplishment.


à vôtre santé!



Moscato d’Asti: The Sweetest Pairing

15 Sep

Why don’t we drink moscato d’asti all summer long? It’s a good question. We should!

On a brutally hot day, sometimes the best thing you can do is pop open a bottle of Moscato d’Asti. The gentle effervescence and delicate fruit provides a lovely respite from the hot sun. In the past I mistakenly  viewed moscato d’asti as a dessert wine, but a recent Master Class tasting clearly demonstrated to me where the strength lies with these delightful, low alcohol, and inexpensive wines.

Here’s the thing about moscato d’asti  it offers light acidity, low alcohol, and crisp, clean ripe fruit flavors with floral and herbal aromas. Because fermentation is halted early, sugars that would normally convert into alcohol are left behind in the juice (literally). So the wine is a touch sweeter than a dry riesling, for example, but also has the benefit of being bubbly, another natural occurrence from the fermentation in closed steel tanks.


I have to admit, I made a mistake in seeing Moscato d’Asti as a dessert wine. At this tasting, I noticed the best pairing came from the wine’s natural complement to savory flavors of cheese, quiche, bread, and mortadella. It left the mouth fresh, lively, renewed. When paired with petit fours, the experience was simply too much sugar at once. But against a savory bite? Perfection! And on a hot day, these wines were refreshing and delightful on the palate, a good way to escape the midday sun.


Gorgeous setting, but a sweet bite was not the finest pairing for Moscato d’Asti. I preferred savory!




A lovely lineup of six Moscato D’Asti wines, all quality, well-made wines from 2015, under $20.

Tasting Notes:

Saracco Moscato D’Asti DOP 2015: ABV 5.5%,  WS Average $15. 

Color is very pale with hints of straw. The nose shows apricot, white pear, and orange peel. On the palate a medium effervescence is met by tangerine and ripe peach.  Sugars are direct and upfront.


La Caudrina Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2015: ABV 5.5%,  WS Average $15. 

Color is pale straw, nose is decidedly floral with a hint of herbs. On the palate, crisp pear, honeysuckle,  and orange peel are evident. Sugars are back palate.



Vignaioli Di Santo Stefano- Ceretto Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2015: ABV 5,5%, WS Average $17.

Medium straw/goldenrod in color. The nose is subtle with herbs & fruit. Sage, lavender, and white peach. On the palate, light effervescence, dried apricot, golden delicious apple. Sugars are in the mid & side palates. Impressive balance.


Coppo SRL Moncalvina Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2015: ABV 4.65%, WS Average $15.

Color is pale straw with a green tinge, the nose is sweet with wildflowers, peach and apricot. In the mouth, baked peach, ripe apple and orange blossoms up front. Sugars are direct and forward in the mouth. This wine fits right into middle, as the median of the six wines tasted.


Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2015: ABV 5%, WS Average $20.

Color is pale straw, the nose shows citrus, honeyed apricot, and distinct notes of sage and thyme. Light effervescence with tiny bubbles. Fruit is quite delicate in the mouth. A less sweet approach, with gentle apricot and peach, sugars faded to the side palate. Very nice.


Marenco Vini Scrapona Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2015; ABV 5.5%, WS Average $19.

Pale yellow in color. Nose is most delicate of the wines today: lightly herbaceous with orange blossom. Delicate flavor profile of orange, lime, apricot and peach. Sugars and citrus are firmly in the back palate.



I enjoyed all of these wines, but personally my favorites were wines #3 and #5 in our tasting (from left to right in the pictures of the glasses): the Vignaioli Di Santo Stefano-Ceretto (the bottle with the elongated neck) and the Michele Chiarlo “Nivole”, both of which had distinct fruit, floral and herbal notes, and sugars that were less noticeable, placed on the side palate.

If you aren’t already a fan, I suggest you try Moscato d’Asti soon, and enjoy it in the afternoon as a refreshing complement to a savory bite. You will be pleasantly surprised how well it pairs with meat or  cheese, how beautifully it blends with creamy flavors, and how the herbs in the wine will pop in harmony with arugula or fresh herbs in a dish.

Let me know what you try!


à votre santé!



Old Vine Barbera 2013, Borra Vineyards, Lodi

9 Sep

Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera 2013; Mokelumne River, Lodi, CA. 15.2%ABV, MSRP $25, available direct.


Color is deep ruby, while the nose offers blackberry, raspberry, red plum, and fresh cut bell pepper. The first sip and my mouth swears this is a wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. No, the label says Lodi, California. Holy smokes!

Soaring acidity matches the red and black fruit up front, a swallow renders my mouth fresh and ready for the next sip but the top and rear palate are still rejoicing in the fruit that is mature, full, and delightfully larger-than-life. A note of heat on the finish along with sand and clay. I’d swear this was a classic northern Italian wine with a decade plus age on it costing $60 or more. Your mouth will agree.




I paired this over a couple of meals with Grandmother Pizza, caprese salad with balsamic reduction, and meatballs- and was in heaven with the pairing each time. Now I need to pick up a case for my friends who prefer Italian wines, for a blind tasting that will make their heads spin!

à vôtre santé!

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