Wine Sauces with Candy

It is that time of year when the kids are out and gathering candy to satisfy their sweet tooths. But there is one candy that lends its self to a wine sauce. Junior Mints. What? Yes, it is the chocolate and mint that when combined with a red wine, say a Tempranillo, that makes for a fun sauce. Think of it this way, the sauce, with a hint of spice, the earthiness of the wine coupled with the earthiness of chocolate is going to pair perfectly with lamb. A seared piece of lamb, with this sauce would be most unexpected.

Now washing this down with a nice Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain or maybe a fruiter version from California or Oregon might be just the thing. But if you do not have a Tempranillo handy, then uncork a Zinfandel, Syrah or even a Cote du Rhone. The goal is to find a wine with high acid and a spicy finish.

If you are searing the meat in a sauce pan, then deglaze. To deglaze is to capture the cooked bits or fond at the bottom of the pan. That is where most of the flavor is contained. And an added bonus is thet the pan becomes much easier to clean.

So do not be afraid to experiment. Uncork Happiness.



I know that you may never have heard of the term Vinspelunking. It is the idea that you are exploring your or others wine caves, looking for hidden treasure. In this case, hidden bottles. Forgotten treasures. It is a great way to relive some magical wine moments.

The tools needed to Vinspelunk are these: Corkscrew, wine glass(es) and maybe a candle. There are always a few cups and a cork screw or two in our wine cellar.

As someone who is in the business of selling wines, (California Taste Fine Wine, Laguna Niguel), I am often asked when is it time to drink a certain bottle. I too am asking myself this very question. I was recently rearranging things in the home cellar and came across a few bottles that I totally did not remember owning.

One of those was a bottle of Roussane from Reverie Winery on Diamond Mountain in Napa Valley. It is the 2005 vintage and now I am going to open it in the next few days and hope that it is okay. It seems a bit aged. It is a little dark, with hints of oxidation. Too bad it was not a screw top bottle. Screw top bottles can be stored or cellared in any position. I call that fool proof cellaring. The only concern is light, heat and vibration. The Rousanne was cellared, but not properly. It was standing up in a box. My bad.

It seems the concern is more about White Wine, Champagne and Rose. Finding an older red wine such as a Nebbiolo (Barolo, Barbaresco etc), Cabernet or Bordeaux is not so troublesome. Many of the reds have mellowed out and are drinking so well. Interestingly enough, a few of the white wines taste better with a little age on them. Especially the white Burgundies and Chablis from the 2002 vintage.

This experience has taught me that if you have a wine collection, you need to make at least two trips into the depths of the cellar a week. Vinspelunking can be a fun activity. It will be shocking what you might find. Uncork some of your own happiness.



International Reds

First, I have to start with the thought that there is a huge world of wine out there. There are so many variatals, it is impossible to name them all. Many wine enthusiats in California think only in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. It is funny when I ask people if they might like a Zinfandel. The typical response is,”I do not like sweet pink wines.”

But, as we all know, Zinfandel is a fantastic, deep rich red wine. Great with BBQ and strong cheeses.

 When it came to the International Reds Tasting at California Taste Fine Wine in Laguna Niguel, there were a few surprises in the group. The first were the large number of countries that are producing GSM blends. A GSM blend is Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. These grapes all go so well together and have a spicy finish. The combination of plum, cherry, blackberry, tar, tobacco and earthiness and spice make this genre of wine a natural with so many food types.

Sometimes this blendd is found in Cotes du Rhone or other Rhone blends. The traditional home for these grapes are the Rhone Valley in Southern France. Mourvedre or Monastrall as it is known in Spainit’s original home before it migrated east to France. At the tasting was a a Falcata Casa Gran from Valencia, Spain, Yangarra Cadenzia from Mclaren Vale in Australia and a Pic St. Loup from the Languedoc in the south of France. The blends where similar, but each wine was as different from the next as an orange is as different than an apple. I would drink any one of these wines at anytime.

Another wine in the tasting was a German wine from the Pfalz region of Germany. Made by Alfred Bonnet, the Cuvee Bonus was a Trocken, or dry red  comprised of  a blend of Dornfelder and Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir). The first bottle opened was shot and the second was okay. The wine had a very aged look to it, almost brown. But there was still fruit predominate and a lot of acid. Not a favorite at the tasting. And the little bit that was left in the bottle was totally done the next morning.

I have never been a fan of Carmenere or Chilean wines in general. They all seem to have a green taste, like a ripe bell pepper. This is from the grapes perhaps not reaching full ripeness or too much stem, leaves and other things making it into the fermentation vat. But the La Playa Carmenere changed my mind. No green. Just a rich, thick, dried prune, chocolate and cherry taste and nose backed with a hint of toasty oak. What a great wine. A steal at under $10.

Italy was represented with a wine from Sicily. Gulfi Nero D’avola. This is a grape that is getting more popular in United States. It is a high acid wine that plays so well with so many foods. My personal preference for Italian wines showed through with this wine. All I could think about was having this with a nice veal Cannaloni.

Then there was a Pinot Noir from Argentina that was made with Organic Grapes. The Santa Julia wine brand is very solid. The Bonarda is a real winner. The Pinot Noir is very packed with cherry, strawberry and cranberry. Maybe a dark horse for that tofurkey. Graham Beck is another brand to be aware of. This South African winery makes a number of wines including a nice sparkling wine. But this tasting featured the newest vinatge of the Cabernet Sauvignon. With red, sour and black cherry coupled with minerality, blackberry in the finish, this is a fun drinking wine. Glad it is back.

But what was really interesting again is how all of these wines tasted better after being open for a couple of days. I know I have said it before, but on any given night, open two bottles and then come back to each of them the next day or the day after. The reward will be tremendos and the wines smooth and very drinkable. I guess that is how you Uncork Happiness times two!

1979 Mouton Rothschild

I am a lucky person. Recently I was invited to a party in the lovely north San Diego County town of Julian. The party, in honor of friends mother’s birthday, was a blast. Too bad it was 98 degrees that day.

On the drive from Laguna Niguel to Julian, Kim and I discovered that there are 17 wineries in the Ramona Valley. Many of them are growing and producing good wine. The irony of the trip was that of the four tasting rooms visited, we did not like a single Cabernet Sauvignon. The star was Syrah and Merlot. More on this later.

Because of the unplanned tastings, we arrived at the party well after it had started. We barely had a chance to get a plate of food as the caterers were cleaning up.

We ate, visited and all of a sudden our hostess, Ida said, try this wine. “I know you are into wine, you might enjoy this.” Ida told us the story of how she and her husband had bought the wine celebrating their daughters birth year. They bought a case, which in 1981, when the wine was released, cost about $200. For a first growth Bordeaux from Pauillac, no less. The wine has been stored properly and Ida said that since her daughter is not going to get married, she might as well enjoy the wine. She has a few bottles left.

The wine was earthy. It had a nose of stewed fruit and figs. There were slight hints of cherry and definitely tar on the nose. The wine was just beginning to lose its red color as it slowly goes to a dark, brickish color. The tannins were very soft, but the experience was incredible. The acid, earth and lingering fruit stayed with you for quite a long time. It is interesting that lately, as we have opened older wines at California Taste Fine Wine, many customers say the older wines are flat. That they lack fruit. But that is what happens as a wine ages. The fruit does die down a bit and those secondary flavors and tastes come to the front. And we constantly get asked about how long this wine can be cellared.

When drinking a 31 year old wine,what you are left with is a very smooth, supple and delicate wine. Those french know how to make a long lasting wine. Something to remember and a big thanks to Ida.

Now that is Uncorking Happiness.

Tuscan Wine and Movie Night

It is rare to have a chance to drink some high quality Italian wine. But I was afford the opportunity this weekend. And what wines they were.

I have always felt that Italian wine is perfect for any meal. Sunday, at our friend’s house, we had some roasted tri-tip, a salad and brie and basil ravioli. So we had tow bottles to enjoy with the meal.

The first was the 2003 Altessimo Brunello. Brunello, a clone of Sangiovese, comes from a small town in Tuscany. Made in limited quantities, Brunello is often considered the queen of Italian wine. (People thing Barolo is the King of Italian Wines) This bottle was no exception. Bright cherry, black cherry, nutmeg and toasty oak greeted the nose. The wine was ultra smooth./ The tannins were muted. It went down so well. We decanted the wine in breathable glass decanter. We could not wait a few hours for the wine to soften. I kept thinking about my brief visit to Tuscany and the smell of the wine and the soil was taking me back there.

This bottle was a highly rated wine and top wine from the very hot vintage of 2003.

But then we opened bottle number two. A 2000 Tiganello. This is one of the top super Tuscans made. A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  These wines are now becoming the most valuable wines of Italy. This was a deep red, thick rich wine that when I think about french Bordeaux, this wine is truly got more going for it. I like Bordeaux, but when drinking something like this, the intensity is almost overwhelming. This wine had just about everything right going for it.

Made by Antinori, Tiganello is one of the classic examples of the art of blending non-Italian varietals that are grown in Italy. There are a number of Super Tuscans to look for. And they seem to age very well with proper cellaring.

We were only sad that we had the one bottle. But the experience was worth it. And the Cannolis and pot du creme was a nice way to end the night.

The whole night was themed around watching Angels and Demons. It was fun to see parts of Rome and remember the plazas, statues and fountains. So plan a theme a night with some food and wine. fun will be had by all. That is how we uncork happiness.

Raj Patel

This weekend, we are hosting at California Taste Fine Wine Raj Patel. He is the owner/creator of Patel wines. These are small, very limited production gems sources from some of the best sites in Napa.

Raj started out as a guy who loves wine. As he got more into it, he decided he wanted to make his own wine. So he contacted CrushPad in San Francisco and was soon on his way. His first effort was a 5o case experiment called Zinfandel. He figured he wanted to sell some of it and so he got the proper permits and was off on a grand adventure.

Now he has a number of red blends, Malbec and a few more things fermenting. He has even beaten out Duckhorn for a set of sought after grapes.

But what makes all of this so remarkable is that he is very meticulous  in his wine making efforts. He has an actual wine maker that he works with. They select only certain lots of grapes, the best barrels as well as mixing up the barrels. That means he uses a variety of barrel types for the juice. And time. They let things sit. And sit. And sit some more until they feel it is okay to bottle. Then the wine stays in the bottle for at least another year or more before being released.

That is why we are debuting the 2007 Cabernet. It has finally come of age. But I have said before that these wines are well made. You can open a bottle  and if you do not finish it, can just put the cork firmly back in it and finish at a later date. (Store in a cool, dark space) the wine tastes good seven to ten days later. No gas, no nothing. That is the hallmark of a very well made wine.

We are one of the only wine retail stores to have this wine. He made 112 cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon and only 50 cases of the Zinfandel.

So this Saturday, March 13, at 4pm, I will be excited to try these wines again in Laguna Niguel. Now I can really say that the Patel Wines are Uncorking Happiness.

Wine and Weight

A recent article on stated that fro women, a glass of wine a day helps keep down the weight. Now I ma one for acknowledging that wine in drinking in moderation has a few benefits, especially to the cardiovascular system.

But weight? A typical glass of wine has about 140 calories. That coupled with a nice meal and the calorie count jumps up pretty quickly. The study had this to say:

The study started out with nearly 20,000 trim middle-aged and older women. Over time, women who drank alcohol in moderation put on less weight and were less apt to become overweight compared to non-drinkers. This was true even after taking into account various lifestyle and dietary factors that might influence a woman’s weight.

Red wine seemed best at keeping weight in check, but white wine, beer and spirits also had some benefit.

“Our study results showed that middle-aged and older women who have normal body weight initially and consume light-to-moderate amount of alcohol could maintain their drinking habits without gaining more weight compared with similar women who did not drink any alcohol,” Dr. Lu Wang from the division of preventive medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, noted in an email to Reuters Health.

The new study, published in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, is the first to examine ties between alcohol consumption by a normal-weight individual and the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The women were all at least 39 years old when the study began. About 38 percent said they did not drink alcohol; 33 percent said they drank less than 5 grams daily (a standard drink has about 10 grams of alcohol); 20 percent drank 5 to less than 15 grams daily; 6 percent drank 15 to less than 30 grams daily; and 3 percent downed 30 grams of alcohol or more daily (about 2 to 3 drinks per day or more).

Over an average of about 13 years, the women generally gained weight. However, the teetotalers gained the most weight, with weight gain decreasing with increasing amount of alcohol consumed.

Women who did not drink gained an average of 3.63 kilograms (8 pounds) compared with 1.55 kilograms (3.4 pounds) for those who consumed 30 grams of alcohol or more each day.

During the 13 years the initially normal-weight women were followed, 41 percent became overweight or obese. Women who drank 15 to less than 30 grams per day had the lowest risk of becoming overweight or obese, which was 30 percent less than that of non-drinkers.

Put another way, Wang said an initially trim woman who did not drink alcohol had about a 43 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese over 13 years. Her risk fell to 33 percent if she drank 15 to 30 grams of alcohol a day.

Women who drank higher amounts of alcohol were generally more physically active, weighed slightly less at the outset and were more apt to be smokers, than other women. However, the association between drinking and less weight gain and risk of becoming obese.

So if you drink, the unfortunate fact is that you tend to gain a little. Wine drinking is part of a lifestyle that includes rich meals and shared experiences with friends. I tend to think that we are responsible for most of what we put in our bodies. I know that I have a few bad habits. and when you are with friends who drink, then things at times get a bit out f hand. Ad as we grow older, we do not metabolize things as rapidly. I know that I cannot drink as much as i used to, without suffering the effects the ext day.

So yes, I encourage people to enjoy wine in moderation and make it part of a healthy lifestyle. Wine should not be used as a tool for weight control. Just let it enhance your meal as you Uncork a Little Happiness.

Adam Carruth and Carruth Cellars

Adam Carruth is a nice, unassuming guy. He is that neighborhood friend you had growing up . But when you meet him and talk to him, he has one overriding passion: Wine. You would never guess that he owns a winery and makes 17 different wines.

Adam makes a large number of wines in his north San Diego facility at Solana Beach. He buys grapes from all over California and turns them into solid, good wines at very reasonable prices. At California Taste Fine Wine in Laguna Niguel, we just had a tasting with a few of his varietals. The place was packed and mood boisterous.

We started off with his 2007 Lake County red Hills Sauvignon Blanc. This is a lean, crisp wine packed with grapefruit, citrus and lots of acid. A food wine, this Sauvignon Blanc does not scream New Zealand. And that is a good thing. It reflects its California roots with the upfront fruit and the richness that many golden state-wide wines have. A smooth finish with this one.

Next up was the 2007 Barbera. This varietal, originally from Italy, grows well throughout California. This wine hails from Clear Lake and has a rich velvety mouthfeel with plenty of black and red fruit characteristics. Wen you are unsure what to serve with pasta and red sauce or the fully loaded pizza, this is a fun choice. And this wine is low in tannins.

Adam sometimes takes a bit of his wines and makes what he calls “Friends Blend.”  The 2007 blend has Zinfandel, Cabernet , Malbec and Petit Sirah. This is a perfect red table wine and it is another very smooth finishing wine.

Next was the Yolo County Tempranillo. It seems that this spicy finishing wine has become the favorite in the store. One of our employees likes this the day after Thanksgiving with a perfectly made turkey sandwich. As for me, I think the fruit and earthiness are a perfect match to a Chile Relleno. Many would prefer beer, but the red does not amplify the heat of the chili.

Adam goes to Dry Creek in Sonoma for his 2007 Zinfandel. This is not a big, heavy fruit bomb loaded with alcohol. rather it is nice example of a medium bodied wine that has a long finish with those tastes of blackberry and spice that are the hallmarks of a Zinfandel. This is a wine I like to pour at BBQs and with a steak.

Malbec is one of my favorite grapes. I feel I was ahead of the curve on this one, enjoying Malbecs twenty years ago, before most people realized it is grape often used in top Bordeaux. the 2007 Carruth Malbec has an intense fruit flavor and log finish. It is another wine to pair with BBQ or even a slow simmered pot roast. The grapes for his wine come from the St. Olaf vineyard in Lake County. This is the same vineyard that the Barbera comes from.

The 2007 Syrah is another Sonoma wine. Syrah is often overlooked  by wine buyers. This Syrah is big and plummy with a finish of black pepper. Syrah is one of those very food friendly wines, that once you have a good one, memories of Cabernet Sauvignon fade away. Syrah is the next big thing one the wine scene, or so I have been told. People need to get out and try a bottle of Syrah with their favorite meal. It will open the eyes to other possibilities.

The Red Hills of Lake County are covered in grape vines. Some of those are Cabernet Sauvignon, where Adam sources his grapes for his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines struggle in the volcanic soil and produce wines with blackberries, bing and sour cherry and tobacco/mocha notes. This is a full-bodied red with minimal tannins and a long, smooth finish. The acid and fruit is very well balanced, making this a definite go to Cabernet Sauvignon.

We finished the tasting with Carruth’s 2007 Paso Robles Petit Sirah. This is a rich,dark wine that is good with roasts and osso bucco as well as say a chocolate dessert. Made for the red wine drinker who enjoys a wine that stains the glass, this a big red.

Adam makes a number of other wines including a two different Ports, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Nebbiolo. He is also experimenting and vinifying the first ever Flor, a crossing grape from the University of Davis, California. Adam likes his wine., when people enjoy his wine, he says they are Uncorking happiness. Me, I just think they are opening a good bottle of wine.

When Not Drinking Helps Drinking

My parents were in Napa recently and sent me a few bottles of wine to try. I am looking forward to trying them. But my dad asked, “Why have you not tried them yet?” I replied that I had to take things slowly.

As I continue my studies towards becoming a Master Sommelier, I have found that I have a much sharper nose and tasting ability if I take a day or two ff per week from tasting. This is counter intuitive to the norm where you should try as much as possible. But not drinking seems to heighten my sense.

A few friends have said that I am bit different because root beer cleanses my palate. Many in the wine industry use beer to cleanse out the taste buds. But all of this is actually very important.

We know that taste is at least 70% in the nose. When evaluating  glass of wine, the firs t thing to do i to take in the bouquet or nose. That is where you get the cherries or lemon or whatever the wine has to offer. The same holds true for champagne. The mouth only gives us sweet, sour bitter, salt and Umami. Umami is the sensation of full or fattiness in the mouth. When someone says there is a great mouthfeel to the wine, then it is being experienced all over the mouth, Umami.

But by not drinking each day, it seems my sense are heightened and I get more out of each taste. The hard part is memorizing each wine and it’s smells and markers. I wish someone would send me a list of wines with accurate markers.  But when doing blind valuations, it is best to stick with classic wines from classic regions. Modern wine writers have influenced many wine makers to make big, extracted wines that to me often taste homogenous with other wines. Many of these wines are fine, but too many wine makers are losing a sense of terrior or place that makes that wine distinct. I look forward to always trying to taste the difference in most wines.

Because at California Taste Fine Wine, I taste a lot of wine, I suspect I am becoming a professional wine taster. I have definite opinions. Just do not get me going on Sauvignon Blanc. You know who you are.

So when you are Uncorking Happiness, it is often best to occasionally take a break from tasting and drinking for a few hours or a day or two. The following bottle will be just that much better.

Napa Reds the Next Day

It is not often that I say I love a certain wine tasting, but that was just the case this last Friday. We featured a few boutique wines from Napa and one solid Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap district. All of the wines were big reds. The few I got to sample the day after the tasting were even better.

Which brings me to a slight digression. I am finding more and more that the wines in our tastings typically taste better on day two than day one. At California Taste Fine Wine, we do not decant that often before a tasting. The thinking goes, that if we are going to sell a bottle of wine, we like to have it just as you would at home. You are going to open and then just pour yourself a glass. That is kind of how we want to do the tastings. We want to mimic the home experience.

But Friday, these wines were all so good. We started with the Cornerstone Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc. I wrote a bit about the wine earlier (See my Cabernet Franc Post). Suffice to say, this was an excellent wine to start a tasting with. Then came the 2006 Clos du Val Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. This is actually a blend of a few wines, much like a Bordeaux. The trick with Clos du Val is to let them age a few years. The rewards are immense. This is a solid bottle of wine, with lots of black and red fruit and a long finish. The idea is to stock up and put a few into the cellar. Go back to the older vintages while you wait. At least that is what I do. And I recently had a 1981 Clos du Val Cabernet that was drinking beautifully.

We also tasted the Boyd 2006 Big Ranch Cuvee. This is a blend of 40% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and  15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Syrah. This is a big, luscious red blend that lingers. Aged in oak, they only made 325 cases. So this is one to collect.

We opened the Modis Operandi 2007 Vicarious Red. The tasters really liked this wine and this is another sudo Bordeaux blend were one of the grapes is Syrah. This is one of those wines that lingering in the head and on the tongue. Big fruit and a long finish. Again one of those low production wines. Only 12 barrels produced.

Hope and Grace 2006 Napa Cabernet was at first just okay. But on day two, it was absolutely incredible. The wine unwound to a lush nose of violets and Cassis, coupled with Oak and blackberry. Wow! Totally unexpected and quite a treat. And so smooth.

The JR 2005 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon was yet another sleeper. The first night, the wine should the dark fruit and a hint of the famous Rutherford dust. Rutherford dust is a special earthiness that wines get in a special are of Napa. There is an alluvial fan of dirt, dust, stone and gravel that spread out eastward from Mt. St. Helena after an eruption many thousands of years ago. Wines grown in this region have a very distinct taste. There are a few areas in Chile that are similar, but a Rutherford Cabernet is a very tasty thing. On day two, this wine was in full swing. If you like Napa Cabernets, this wine would be at the top of your list.

We finished the tasting with the Cornerstone 2005 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 500 cases were produced of this black beauty. It is a very concentrated wine with plum, cherry and mocha. This was a very smooth wine and on day two, it was absolutely spectacular.

I have often thought that there are amazing values in the $30-$60 range of wines out of Napa. These wines certainly prove that point. But what I am really discovering is that so many wines are tasting better the second day. So now I think I need to open two bottles at once. I need to enjoy half of each and wait for the rewards that come with drinking the wines on day two.

And yes, this is indeed happening with a number of whites as well. You will have to experiment for yourself, but the journey is well worth it. Ask your local retailer for help in finding these boutique wines. Great reds from premier wine areas such as Napa do not have to cost $100 or more. Value is what tastes good and delivers. These wines did just that.

So think like me and open two at once. Swirl them around your mouth and enjoy as they go down like silk. Then cork them as you save save some of each for the next day. Let me know if I am not absolutely correct.  If you cannot wait, decant or use breathable glass. So now you are Uncorking Happiness, times two.

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