Archive | December, 2014

Sensorist: The One Cellar Tool You Need, Right Now

30 Dec

Many oenophiles have both short term and long term locations for wine storage. Some years ago I learned a hard lesson by allowing some bottles to “cook” during an unexpected heatwave in my short term storage. I immediately started researching custom wine cellars. After finding I could not afford what I really wanted (a turn-key, custom-built, highly finished wine room), I then compromised significantly and built a humble, short-term wine storage cellar in my basement that maintained a very constant temperature and humidity, or so I thought.

Enter the Sensorist Monitoring System. The $200-ish package includes a ‘gateway’ that plugs into your home internet line and wirelessly communicates with monitoring devices: two temperature & humidity sensors and one additional thermometer-like probe you insert into a wine bottle (see below). Don’t fret at the European power adaptor, they include the correct type based upon your ship-to address.




Out of the packaging and powered up, the items look like this:


photo 1-3

photo 2-2

I set up the system, installing batteries as directed and and syncing the sensors with the gateway. While I downloaded the Sensorist app to my phone, I took the sensors to the cellar and placed them amongst cases of wine in the cellar. I set some alerts as per the instructions and started paying attention to what was actually happening in my wine storage. I ended up learning much more than I expected!

Among the things I’ve learned in the time I have had the Sensorist system:

1) I had no idea how much I needed this system. I’d previously been using a single thermometer/hygrometer, only checking it when I went to pull a bottle or to do rearrangements or  inventory. The Sensorist app allows you to look at temperature and humidity currently, over the last last 24 hours, the last week, month, and year. It is a font of data I had no clue I needed. More importantly, it allows you to set alerts, to warn you when the temperature or humidity go above or below a range you set- which allows you to protect your wines, your investments, and your treasures.

2) Thanks to the data, I learned MUCH more than I expected. Not to anyone’s surprise, cellars are less consistent than you might think. Mine has areas that are consistent, some that vary, and like many homes, the temperatures increase vertically. I’ve ended up moving things around to protect the wines that need rest versus the ones I want to drink over the next few weeks.

Here’s some December data from the app; while it hovers around freezing outside, our home is 72° inside to keep my family toasty warm. In the warmest part of my cellar, it’s 60 degrees, and in the coolest part a humble 55 (measured from my old digital hygrometer/thermometer). The Probe is mid-way up my cellar, a good median measurement for me. These are taken two days apart:

photo 1




photo 2

3) Temperature probes are useful tools! Some cellar cooling systems use bottle probes to adjust their cooling mechanisms, and the data you get from inside the bottle is fascinating. There is less fluctuation inside the bottle than in air, but its important to weigh data from both the air and bottle. You can see that the probe’s temp is almost 4° cooler that the sensor it is attached to (which is at the highest point in my cellar), and in the image below, that the in-bottle probe stays very consistent while the air temp fluctuates during a weeklong period. This was a great thing for me to learn, to maintain the air temp but not to panic about minor fluctuation. It actually saved me in electrical costs by reducing the active cooling I do from fall to spring. You can also tell it’s the driest time of the year right now. I worry less about this because of the higher humidity I have ten months out of the year, and that I’m doing primarily short-term storage here.


4) The daunting cost simply isn’t. At first look, it felt pricey. Well, the actual cost of Sensorist is less than a great (or really good) bottle of wine, currently $199 plus shipping from Amazon or Wine Enthusiast, or €140 Euros plus VAT direct from Sensorist (approx $170 USD plus VAT and shipping). I find this a very small and reasonable investment when compared to the cost of tossing your favorite bottles. So it’s not about cost, it’s about value. Not only have I learned during the hottest part of summer and in the driest part of the winter how to protect my favorite treats and savory delights, but I have the alerts in place to insure that I know if anything goes awry.

5) Solid service. I experienced some unusual/spurious data in the use of my Sensorist monitoring system, so I reached out via email to the company. I received a prompt response, and new code was written to correct the anomaly. I felt that the company was concerned about and responsive to my needs, and committed to insuring that customers have a good experience with the product.


In conclusion, I didn’t know how much I needed this tool to maintain my wine storage until I had it. Now I know, and you do as well. Sensorist Wine Monitoring is a great tool for all-  those with top of the line wine storage, and for the rest of us with more modest resources. It will allow you peace of mind to insure your favorite bottles will stay preserved until you are ready to uncork and enjoy them. Isn’t that what wine is all about?

à votre santé!



Letters from Readers (I’m Not Drinking Merlot)

21 Dec

Today I got a note from a longtime reader, wine lover, and parent of three teenagers from Georgia.

“Searching for wine for an upcoming girls-only party that I am having next week. Can you give me some suggestions for good low/medium budget Merlot please?”- LS

It made me laugh, because few people identify themselves as merlot drinkers. Remember the character Miles in the film Sideways? Sure you do:

As a bordeaux lover, I’m constantly drinking merlot. But I rarely seem to write about it! Why does it get such a bad rap? Sure there’s lousy merlot out there, but when cared for and cultivated well, merlot can be stunning. It often shows a nose of herbs and forest, great purple coloring, and tasty plum-forward fruit.

I digress. So I answered LS quickly, because as a parent of two teens to a mother of three I can relate. Sometimes you really need that glass of wine, and can’t wait to have other adults to share a glass with!

I wanted to offer her a quick list off the top of my head within the $10-25 range from an array of producers and regions. So here we go:

First to mind was three Bordeaux wines are 65% or more merlot:
Roc de Segur, 2012 ($10)
Mouton Cadet Rouge 2012 ($10)
Chateau de Bellevue ($25)
Washington State was next due to great value:
14 Hands Merlot ($12)
Cht Ste Michelle Merlot Indian Wells ($14)
Columbia Crest H3 Merlot ($13)
California has a huge list, I wrote the first five that came to mind:
Bogle Vineyards Merlot ($12)
Beringer Napa Valley Merlot ($)
Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Merlot ($17)
Murphy-Goode (CA Merlot, $12, Alexander Valley Blend, $18)
Hogue Cellars Columbia Valley ($10, Hogue Reserve$25)
My list was obviously missing the other countries that are doing such great work at low prices! So to be fair, we have to at the very least include three countries whose merlot should be easy to find anywhere:  
Yalumba “Y” Merlot ($11)
Mollydooker, “The Scooter” Merlot ($25) or “Two Left Feet” Shiraz/Merlot/Cab Blend, ($25)
Santa Ema Merlot Maipo Valley Reserve ($12)
Montes (Classic Series, $11, “Alpha Merlot”, $19)
Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Merlot ($13)

Making this quick list just reminded me how much amazing merlot is out there for a song.

The next time someone tells you they aren’t drinking any merlot, smack them over the head and tell ’em “Relax, Miles!” and pour them a taste of one of these. 🙂
I hope this list helps when you go shopping, and let us know how your party goes!
So… who else plans to open up a merlot tonight?

à votre santé!


If Chile Had a Margaux, This Might Be It!

18 Dec

François Lurton’s Gran Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lolol Valley, Chile. 14.5% ABV, $35 list, currently $35-45 street.

I would never have tried this wine but it was suggested to me over and over from various vendors who know what I like, and that I prefer to buy wines in the under $20 for my readers but my personal preferences run higher. After the third time someone suggested this to me, one vendor finally put the bottle in my hands and said, “If you don’t like it, bring it back and I’ll exchange it.” For a perishable item like wine, that’s a sales pitch from someone who trusts his product!

The color is deep ruby, and the nose is surpassingly complex and aromatic w/ black plum, spice, forest floor, a little funk and menthol. A nose like a champion, almost worth the price of admission for the nose alone.

On the palate, tart cassis is the powerful first impression. Swirled around the mouth, the upper palate gets the heat plus red plum,  pepper, oak, some clay. The tongue continues with cassis and now adds plum and blackberry, while the back palate senses silt, darker notes like forest and potting soil, and now tannins creeping in, first slowly, then with full force. Acidity and tannin take a second place to the fruit and nose in this wine, but are in no way diminished. This is a well-made wine, worthy of the price tag. Great for roast meats, strong flavors- even though I enjoyed it with mediterranean fare.

It was crafted with care by masters of French classic wines, no doubt, because I have a hard time putting down the glass, or it keeps refilling itself.

If Chile had a Margaux, this might be it. I would love to taste this wine again in five and ten years. If you take the time to google this wine, you might find the series of awards it has won. Or you might just find what matters: a place to buy a bottle or two so you can enjoy. If only I had cellar space for a full case!

gran araucano


à votre santé!


#MWWC13- Serendipity, or Destiny?

9 Dec

Serendipity, or Destiny?


Is the joy in life simply destiny, or serendipity? You have to decide for yourself.

Some of my happiest moments have come from sharing time with friends. As we get older, often I find a bottle (or two, or three) of wine involved. For example. just sharing several bottles of wine at #WBC14 was pure bliss to me. Being able to discuss the things we liked, didn’t like, had in common or didn’t share- was incredibly fun.


One of many tasting tables at Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, CA.


Going back in time, I met my friend “Duckie” through mutual friends and we quickly became buddies. He’s more playwright than comedian, but everything is a laugh to him and we roared together from the first time we met. His wife Rachel and I also became fast friends in the middle of Central Park while partnering in a combat class where I helped her learn to do a lock and throw (throwing ME, that is), which the asian tourists gleefully snapped pictures from their carriage rides as they passed by.

Years have passed and my entire family are close with Duckie, Rachel and their two adorable, feisty kids, Tornado Daniel and  Amelia Danger (I told you he was a comedian!) So when I arrived at their beach house, we all expected lots of laughter and many bottles of wine, like the one below. Sun, sand, and wine. Yum.


What time is it? Beach House Wine Time! beach house
Morning coffee with some of my favorite wine-drinking buddies.  From left to right: Julia, Michael, Rachel, Jackson, Dante. 

Four good buddies from high school get together for an annual “mancation”, and the wine flows. Special occasions, special wines. No brainer.

Killington Boys copy

3 belles


No lightweight wines among this group.


4 bottles



Hosting wine tastings at my home with friends and neighbors. 16 wines were tasted,  a few of them very nice, top flight wines. But perhaps the biggest impressions were made by the 30 year old Glen Ord single malt, or the  Bottle of 1976 Hennesy XO.  That smile says it all: 

30 yr


After tasting 16 wines, Jimmy Lawlor and John Estep were ready for the vintage liquors!  


A good friend and business associate had a milestone birthday. I managed to bring a bottle of Chateau Margaux ’99 that we drank to celebrate.

HoovHoov hosts a party like no other. A class of his own, and a classic gentleman. 

At a conference in Fort Worth, Texas a few business associate buddies and I cracked open a couple of bottles for a little wine time, to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. I brought some old world and some new world classics, and Dave brought some of his favorites from the Pacific Northwest which I enjoyed thoroughly!



Traveling for work, sometimes you have perfect moments. Do they happen, or do we make them?

summerland a perfect moment with a delightful cab overlooking the pacific

More recently, I find myself with the opportunity to taste wines in the company of other erudite, intellectual oenophiles.


With my buddy Cara Rutherford, aka Buddha In Your Glass. Art critic/historian, oenophile, philosopher, and wine drinking buddy- posing for a pic while tasting a series of delightful, aromatic whiles from New Zealand.

Again, I ask you: Serendipity, or Destiny? I say serendipity. You notice the little delights in life when you are enjoying the big picture and not stressing the small stuff. If it were destiny, it would just be happenstance. Life in itself can offer pleasure and pain, sometimes a fluke. But choosing to make life a good experience by looking at the world with a positive outlook can improve anyones point of view, and open your eyes to see the brilliant, wonderful details we might have missed before.

To all of you, my friends, I toast your health:

à votre santé!

Four Vinho Verdes Not To Miss!

7 Dec

I love Vinho Verde, so I jumped at a recent chance to taste four wines that were new to me.


If you aren’t already a fan of this northwestern Portuguese wine, you should be. Vinho Verde is light & refreshing with citrus and nice acidity, sometimes with a hint of fizziness due to malolactic fermentation. Like Riesling, you can drink it as an aperitif, with just one course or through an entire meal. It leaves the palate refreshed and usually does so with a lower alcohol content.  It’s no big bold red wine, but it’s never meant to be. Vinho Verde stands firmly on its own, a coastal wine for coastal food, and my friends and neighbors have become accustomed to seeing it served at every wine gathering I host, alongside other wines that may change from season to season or moment to moment. Here are my tasting notes:

Tapada do Marquês 2013;  10% ABV, List $13. A blend of Loureiro, Alharinho and Trajadura grapes, a floral and fruity nose is matched on the palate with lime, passion fruit, and apricot with tart acidity.  A dry, lemony finish makes this wine ideal for pairing with seafood; I’d love to try it with my favorite grilled flounder recipe.


Quinto de Curvos Avesso 2013, 13% ABV, List $13/bottle. Delicate floral notes expand across the palate and evolve into a creamy, warming mixture of tropical fruit with hints from apple, pear, & white peach stone fruit. A hint of residual sugar, a note of granite and a funky back palate will allow this vinho verde a plethora of food pairing options.


Quinta de Santa Maria Arinto 2013. 12.5% ABV, List $15/bottle. 100% Arinto grapes make this delicate and crisp wine a joy to drink with a blossom and citrus nose, powerful lemon-lime initial palate, nice minerality, with a long finish. Leaving  a tart, crisp aftertaste on the tongue, this wine had me asking for more. A delightful single varietal, I’d love to serve this with a sunny brunch outdoors.


Quinta do Tamariz Loureiro Escolhua 2013. %11ABV, List $15/bottle. Fruit forward with lots of pineapple and white peach, moves from refreshing to mature to majestic in the mouth with a crisp finish. Made from 100% loureiro grapes by winemaker Mara Francisca. This wine could pair beautifully with  fish or chicken recipe made with herbs, cream, or vegetables.



Each of these four showed different nuances and strengths and could easily be a part of your wine repertoire. With low street prices they offer a lot of bang for the proverbial buck, so please advise if you find a great bargain on these in your neighborhood!

à votre santé!


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