Tag Archives: sommelier

Coravin Product Review

The Wifey purchased a Coravin as a gift for Christmas. Wow… gadget and wine, all in one. For those of you who are not sure of what this is, here is a photo:


Here is the link to the manufacturer’s website: http://www.coravin.com/.

Why Use a Coravin?

Well frankly, I was initially struggling with this idea and did not open the box right away. After a few days, I popped the box open to assemble it and make sure it worked properly. All good… assembles easily, few moving parts. Reminded me a little of those argon gas pumps they came out with several years ago to preserve open wine.

Gave it a try initially on an inexpensive bottle. Didn’t require instructions and very simple to use. The cork self-seals tight, right behind removing the needle. So, the question became: what situation would be right to break-out the device? You hard-core wine-o’s will appreciate my first official use…

New Year’s Eve party at our house. One of my wife’s friends was going on and on about how she hated merlot. Finally, I couldn’t handle it any longer and told her: she just hadn’t tried good merlot yet. Now, you have to understand, here in the USA, 75% of the merlot we produce is some of the worst plonk on the planet. It kills me to think of all the U.S. consumers that think this is what merlot should be (personal campaign of mine)… so, I pulled a 2001 Pride Mountain Merlot out of my cellar and dragged out my Coravin. I challenged her to try it. I served her up a 2 oz. pour of the Pride and rocked her world! Pow! Another merlot hater converted again! AND, I didn’t have to trash an entire $75 bottle of wine in the process!

Science Behind Coravin

Once you pierce the cork (can only be used on cork closures), the lever introduces argon gas under pressure. Then via a two-way valve of some sort, the pressure is maintained, while the wine is forced out of the hollow needle into the glass. Works pretty slick… So, only two potential drawbacks I can envision:

1. If the cork is too dry on an older bottle, either the seal may be lost due to loss of integrity of the cork, or the cork may not show enough resilience to self-seal upon removal. IMO, this possibility does not seem to be very worrisome.

2. My other concern is not serious, but rather more interesting. Once the device replaces the air in the capsule with argon gas, the wine is served and then the bottle is returned to the cellar. Without further oxygen to draw from, the typical wine aging process would have to be significantly slowed, if not stopped. Since argon is heavier than air, the wine may be sealed off from air for the balance of the life of the wine. How does wine age in such an environment? I don’t think there is any research on this??

Coravin Conclusion

A very cool device! If you would like to pour a glass while alone, knowing you will be unable to polish off a bottle… PERFECT! The balance of the bottle will be perfectly stored, for the next time you decide to draw a glass, or pop the bottle. I may start drinking more expensive wine, when alone – with no concern for wasting the bottle. If you have a $100 bottle of 20 year old Bordeaux and intend to pour a glass and put it back in the cellar, you may want to think twice. I have no idea how an argon environment will effect the continued natural aging process of high-quality wines in storage.

Science again solves a challenging problem facing our world, preventing the waste of good wine! Next up: reliable hangover relief!

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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

2007 Geyser Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Walking Tree Vineyard


Geyser Peak Winery

California, Alexander Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

Powerful aromatic nose of black fruit, spice and vanilla. Fruit forward palate of blackberry, red plum and black currant. High acidity with medium tannins. Tasted this last year. Still the same big fruit, but the tannins are beginning to soften and it is developing some texture. Needed a little time for the alcohol to blow off. The complexity is improving with the addition of more bitter chocolate in the mid-palate and a short finish with some graphite coming through. The tannins are starting to moderate and I like a red wine with some backbone, so I am going to say this wine is in its optimum drinking window. Drink now and the next couple of years, at most. At $18/btl, this wine has my vote for the best value cab sauv in California. I would expect a wine of this caliber to be in the $30-35 range in Sonoma County. I prefer not to put a number to wines if I can, but in this case I will put that aside and give it an 89. It needs more minerality, the mid-palate and finish could be stronger and the texture wasn’t there to be rated higher, but for that kind of price… this is impressive!

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Filed under Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can Wine Education be Fun and Interesting?

I hold consumer wine education programs, typically at wine bars and restaurants. The classes are intended to draw additional traffic to the venues to build a clientele and drive paired food revenue… but ultimately, consumers are drawn by the desire for wine knowledge.

What Consumers Want to Know

Through a few years of experience I have found what works and what doesn’t.  You can put people to sleep with the information that interested me in my formal training… history of wine production and regions, impact of terroir on flavors, impact of wine making techniques on the wine, etc.  What do people enjoy learning about?

Wine – Food Flavor Pairings

Learning how different food flavors impact the perception of the white, red, sweet wines, etc.  Setting up paired tastings to reinforce the concept.  Most are very surprised how food impacts wine.  It is rare to find casual wine drinkers that have explored this.

What are Those Flavors I am Tasting in Cabernet, or Merlot?

People want help learning standard varietal profiles.  Take them through the blind tasting process and how to create wine tasting notes.  They want to know how to talk about wine with others.  Blind taste a few for the wow factor.

How Do I Describe What I Enjoy to Wine Attendants?

Teach them how to describe their wine preferences to assist in wine selection at restaurants and wine bars.

How Do I Select Wines to Purchase Based on My Preferences?

Walk through a wine selection process based on that description, without tasting the wine.

Would I Enjoy Exploring the Diversity in Wine?

Introduce people to the diversity of flavors in wine and provide specific examples.

Would I Enjoy Wine Travel?

Discuss wine travel and destinations – relate stories of individual wineries, their beauty and ambiance.


When I first began presenting these programs, I was disappointed people were not interested in the academic side.  Took a few to understand, they don’t want to talk about bottle aging, cellaring strategies, AOC & DOC labeling laws…  People just want to learn how to facilitate buying wine they enjoy and how to enhance their shared wine experience with friends.

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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

How Do You Perceive Value in Wine?

I find this topic very interesting, when the discussion includes someone from the supply side of the wine biz… I think there is a heavy dose of cynicism that the industry tends to develop regarding the consumer’s view of value. I work in only a part-time ancillary role to the industry and perhaps because of this, I see the irony… In my experience, the people truly passionate about wine are usually the consumers!

Wine and Brand Loyalty

Perhaps my view has been colored by 20 years of wine travel, meeting small winery owners and hearing their stories. I feel very connected to their life’s mission and can relate to their journey in some small way. Maybe, it is even envy for that kind of passion… to produce something exceptional. I can justify premium wine costs in my mind, based on the additional steps to quality many smaller wineries employ. I am also willing to spend my wine dollars based on a sliding scale associated with my enjoyment of the product.

I know bulk wine and mass distribution can introduce you to the least appealing side of the industry. This post is the direct result of a conversation regarding a vehement inability to find the value in wine over $40/btl. I have had a different experience, with winery visits, wine dinners, wine collectors groups, education programs and interaction with wine enthusiasts that have all been fun, built friendships and perhaps even romanticized the industry a bit for me. Perhaps, THAT is where the real value in wine lies. Early in my wine years, I would derive great pride in finding the lowest priced wine of the best quality to fill my cellar. Today, I think more about the wine I can enjoy best with my friends. Heck, I buy wine for my wife that I would never drink by myself, let alone pay top dollar for. I admit it, sometimes I buy wine just because I am fascinated by the winemaker’s passion for the trade.

Today, so much premium wine is sold without an understanding of who and why the consumer buys the product. Building brand loyalty at the upper end of the market demands an understanding of your customers and why they buy…

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Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

2010 Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec

Norton 274088

2010 Bodega Norton

Argentina, Lujan de Cuyo

Wine Tasting Note:

Lots of alcohol on the nose with black fruits. The most noticeable aspect is the texture. This a very soft, silky wine. The palate is not fruit forward. A bitter tar-like, smoky dark chocolate hits you first, then hints of vanilla and a brambly mid-palate. Not much finish. If there is fruit, perhaps black currant. Good acidity, with a minimum of tannins. A little disjointed. More tannins would add some balance and the virtual lack of fruit is a bit disconcerting. Drinkable and interesting, but not my preference for a daily drinker.

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Filed under Malbec, Mendoza, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2008 Tenute Folonari Cabreo Il Borgo Toscana IGT


Tenute Folonari

Italy, Tuscany

Wine Tasting Note:

Black cherry, blackberry, with a bit of vanilla and earthiness on the nose. Black fruit with a touch of prune on the palate initially, softening to a mid-palate of vanilla and a slightly bitter medium length chocolate finish. Good acidity with medium tannins. Nice silky texture initially, that turned a bit chewy after a few hours. Complex enough to make it interesting, but I really wish some of that earth on the nose would have come through on the palate. I enjoyed this wine… would be a good aperitif, or food wine paired with red meat, or red tomato sauce dishes.

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Filed under Chianti IGT, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can You Buy Wine from Tasting Notes?

“I say old chap, is that a bit of Creme Brulee I taste in that Chardonnay?”

Whether it is creme brulee, fresh cream, tapioca, or whatever it is you think you taste in that chardonnay… it is likely to NOT be what I will taste. We all perceive flavors and aromas differently. One size does not fit all. So, when you read wine tasting notes with descriptors like “candied persimmon”, or “cigar box”, what does that mean to you? Frankly, most consumers probably couldn’t care less. Even with a trained palate, you wouldn’t put much credence into notes this specific.

How to Read Tasting Notes

There are very few specific flavors and aromas that deserve much attention. Tasting notes will be more relevant, if you can develop a level of comfort with much broader categories. These are the categories that are generally recognized.

Fruit & Floral Aromas / Flavors

When I read blackberry or plum, I think “black fruit”. When I read cherry, or raspberry, I think “red fruit”. When I read lemon, or grapefruit, I think “citrus”.  When I read pineapple, or mango, I think “tropical fruit”. When I read peach, or apricot, I think “tree or stone fruit”. When I read prunes, or raisins, I think dried fruit. When I read red rose, or honeysuckle, I think “floral”.

Herbal & Vegetal Aromas / Flavors

When I read straw, or grassy, I think “plant”. When I read sage, or mint, I think “herbal”. When I read green bell pepper, or asparagus, I think “vegetal”.

Mineral Aromas / Flavors

When I read flint, or wet rocks, I think “minerality”.  When I read mushroom, or forest floor, I think “earthy”.

Wood & Spice Aromas / Flavors

When I read cedar, or oak, I think “woody”. When I read pepper, or clove, I think “spicy”. When I  read toasted oak,  or bacon, I think “Smokey”. When I read cocoa, or mocha, I think “chocolate”.

Chemical & Bio Aromas / Flavors

When I read toast, or yeast, I think “bread”. When I read butterscotch, or stewed prune, I think “oxidized”. When I read barnyard, or cat pee, I think “bio odors” – stinky! When I read diesel, or burnt match, I think “chemical”.  When I read, butter, or cream, I think “rich dairy”.

Why Separating Flavors / Aromas into Categories Makes Sense

Broader descriptions of flavors tend to be recognized more successfully by the average person. Most people can easily relate to a “black fruit” description, versus a specific taste like “black currant”. Just translate these specific flavors into the more easily recognized broader categories and wine tasting notes start to make more sense. Then, you determine which general categories you prefer. Now, you are set to relate the flavor experience with the written wine description… and the realization grows that you MIGHT be able to use these notes to match your palate and buy wine. Obviously, it is better to taste wine before purchasing bottles, but this other process may allow you to step out on that limb and purchase a few unfamiliar wines to try.

Judging Wine CAN be Objective

There ARE wine descriptions you can take literally. These are characteristics that are quantifiable and much less subjective. These include:


How much or how little?


How much or how little?


Integrated, or too obvious?


Does the wine have a backbone? Does the wine have a mid-palate and/or a lingering finish.


Does the wine come together, without an individual aspect overpowering the other?


Does the wine coat the mouth? Is it silky, or velvetty?

Bottom Line

Yes, you can filter useful information from tasting notes. Can you count on this process for major purchases? – Definitely not! But… you can review tasting notes from trusted sources and single out wines you may want to experiment with. So, start reading those tasting notes again from a different perspective and give it a try. See if you start running into wines that rock your world and begin your exploration of the world of wine!

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Filed under Sommelier, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting

California Clear Lake AVA – Up and Coming Cool-Climate Region

Tasting the Wines

I have recently tasted a few wines from this region: Ceago Merlot and Chacewater Malbec. While not yet having reached the status of other cool-climate growing regions such as Mendocino Ridge,  or Santa Barbara AVA’s, I was quite impressed with the improvement in the wines since my last taste through this area. Better structure and balance than in the past and the wines seem to be finding the cool-climate complexity that I have come to really appreciate.

The Future of Clear Lake AVA Wines

For a continental climate, the area has an extreme moderating factor – the largest freshwater lake in California in its midst. The climate is much cooler than the nearby North Napa Valley area, due to its elevation. The growing season seems to drop just cool enough to add character and acidity, but stays warm enough during the day to allow ripening of red varieties such as: cab sauv, merlot, syrah, petit sirah and malbec. It is time for me to visit the wine trail in this area again and talk with the winemakers. At prices in the $15-$30 range, the QPR (quality to price ratio) of these wines is good… but my hope is, the quality will continue to improve and I will have another area seriously contending for my wine dollars.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Can We Make Heads or Tails Out of Wine Labels?

I am often flabbergasted at the “wine-speak” on so many labels. This is not a complete listing, just a shot over the bow at the most misused. Here is a go at cutting through the B.S.

American Wine Descriptors


So, just what exactly are they reserving? Many wineries have you thinking this is the winemaker’s personal stash. Real meaning: this is the stuff we charge you more for, just because we can. Wineries are famous for including additional descriptors on this one, like “select reserve”, “private reserve”, or “premium reserve”.

Vintner Select

OK, would you really believe this one, if you saw it on a bottle? I have tasted wine from only one winery that uses this designation and fulfills the expectation: Pride Mountain Vineyards.

Estate Bottled

This is roughly what it says. The winery makes this wine from vineyards they own and control. The thought process here is, if the winemaker cares about the quality of the wine, he/she will watch over and tend to the quality of the fruit. While many of these wineries do produce very high quality wines, don’t count on it. There is a huge difference between a knowledgeable vineyard manager vs. a savvy winemaker.

Single Vineyard

All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one specific named vineyard. This CAN be a tool in selecting quality wines. If you track where the fruit originates in the wines you drink and you notice you consistently enjoy wines made from a specific vineyard… you just hit the veritable wine-o jackpot.

Single Block

All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one row, or section of one specific named vineyard. See Single Vineyard.

AVA – American Viticultural Area

This is the point of origin, such as the Napa Valley, Dry Creek, or Paso Robles (etc.) designation you see on the label. So guess what, only 85% of the fruit must come from that area to be referenced on the label. Here is another good one… by law in the U.S., if it says Cabernet Sauvignon on the label – only 75% of the wine must be made from that variety. The only restriction for the balance is, it must come from the same AVA. The possibilities stagger the mind.


This applies when somebody paid the Meritage Association to use the name. For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality.

Bordeaux Blend

For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality. Geez, does that sound familiar? See Meritage.

European Wine Descriptors


A vineyard of notable quality, or specific terroir. Nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Single Cru – see Single Vineyard above.

Grand Cru

A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit. Has a more specific meaning in the Burgundy region in France. See reference Beaune Committee of 1861, then forget you read it. You just have to ask yourself, who exactly is deciding this stuff? Also, just because the fruit is of high quality does not mean the wine is.

Premier Cru / 1er Cru

A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit, just not as good as the Grand Cru. What? See reference Beaune Committee of 1861 and then forget it again.

1st Growth

Oh boy, here we go… best, most prestigious wineries in Bordeaux France. In reality, these were just the most expensive wineries at the time this classification was established – 1855. See Bordeaux Classification of 1855.

Be Skeptical of Wine-Speak and Make Your Own Evaluation

My guess is, at this point you have already lost interest, but for those of indomitable spirit… we trudge on with a few final comments.

By now you have probably figured out, what is on a wine label is so full of marketing gibberish, it is hard to distinguish what is of real relevance. Good luck on that one. In the U.S. vs. Europe, it is particularly a serious concern. In many parts of Europe, individual wine producing areas actually enforce practices to improve the quality of the wine from that area, unlike the U.S. with no such requirements.

I hear more and more from the industry that consumers are relying on their own tastes and making fewer buy decisions based on professional wine critics’ recommendations. In the same vein, it would be smart not to trust the wineries own professional claims printed on wine labels too! If you would like to share additional suspicious verbiage seen on a wine label, please email them to me at winedocg@cox.net.

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Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Wine: The New Breakfast Drink?

World Wine Culture

Consumption patterns across the world are so different it can be startling. Here in the U.S., the largest share of the wine market is Chardonnay as an aperitif. Last year I was in Alba, Italy and was lucky enough to witness a few local winemakers having a discussion about the proper wine to pair with breakfast! They settled on a Dolcetto table wine at 10% ABV

Wine, its place with cuisine and its socially acceptable consumption is perceived very differently from country to country. I was in Germany earlier that year at a wine festival in Stuttgart and there must have been 100 producers there, with a 1000+ Germans very happily drinking sweet Riesling and Spatburgunder with their schnitzel & spatzele (very little dry wine). What an awful wine-food pairing, based on the U.S. palate. To a large extent, wine demand represents local preference, i.e. the weak market for import wines in California.

Breakfast of Champions, or NOT

So, could a wine producer develop a market in the U.S. for a very light, low alcohol red wine with a minimum of fruit, like the breakfast Dolcetto in Italy? Doubtful… but it sure has me thinking about the lifestyle associated with that kind of demand. I may be living in a shack on the beach in Italy soon! Wait, it would never work. My wine cellar would never fit!

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Filed under German Wine, Italian Wine, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel