Sunday, December 30, 2012

I'm Dreaming of a Malbec Christmas

While attempting to purchase all the wines I could find and afford on Wine Spectator 2012 most interesting wine list, I purchased the #10: 2010 Achaval Ferrer, Finca Bella Vista, Malbec. This inspired me to put a blind tasting together after a long hiatus.

Since the limited selection at K&L were mostly below $20, we threw out the $20 limit, though this wasn't necessarily clear to everyone. After the Cab Franc fiasco I also said the bottle had to state Malbec as well, in an attempt to remove blends. I later stated the bottle had to be designated Malbec, but some argued I was being too strict. I stopped lawyering and hoped.

The doors opened at 6, with the plan to start tasting at 6:30. Bob and Cj were the first to arrive, followed by Michel. Park helped direct the participants to remove the foil, uncork, replace the cork, and bag all the wines. While waiting we enjoyed a chilled Picchetti White Pavone with cheese,  meats, and shrimp. Lili and Jose arrived with sausages and bread with chimichurri sauce. We began when Paul and Jennifer arrived. We tasted, noted, and compared, while enjoying each other's company.


Top to Bottom from Left to Right

C - 2010 Picchetti, Shoemaker Vineyard, Paso Robles came in first place with an average of 3.84. It cost $27 (club case price). Sue and I brought this. We are members of this local winery. I thought it would be fun to throw it in. I was incredibly shocked when it came in first. Truthfully I've always enjoyed it, but never thought it incredible.

A - 2009 Altocedro, Gran Reserva, La Consulta, Medonza came in second place with an average of 3.39. It cost $50. Michel brought this. He found it at BevMo, where the placard pronounced it a game changer and gave it 100 points!

F - 2009 Catena Alta, Estate Rows tied for third with an average of 3.33. It cost $60. Paul and Jennifer brought this. Jennifer found it on a list of great Malbecs.

B - 2011 Urban Uco, Malbec-Tempranillo, Mendoza tied for third with an average of 3.33. It cost $10. Bob and CJ found this at K&L. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave it a 91 and it was cheap too. I was uncertain this qualified as a Malbec, given it's 50/50 Malbec/Tempranillo but Bob consistently insisted no one knew what it meant for a bottle to be designated as a Malbec. I let it go.

H - 2009 Puerto Viejo, Mendoza, Reserve, Estate Bottled came in fifth place with an average of 3.29. It cost $10. Lili brought this. A friend gave it to her.

E - 2010 Achaval Ferrer, Finca Bella Vista, Mendoza came in sixth place with an average of 3.28. It cost $90 from K&L. This wine was #10 on the Wine Spectator 2012 most interesting wine list.

I - 2011 Achaval Ferrer, Malbec, Mendoza came in seventh place with an average of 2.93. It cost $20. Jose brought this. Jose knew I was bringing the Finca Bella Vista and wanted to see how the less expensive bottle compared.

D - 2008 Catena Zapata, Adrianna Vineyard, Mendoza came in eighth place with an average of 2.86. It cost $110. Sue and I brought this. I looked up the most well known Malbec label and then found the best vintage of it I could. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this a 97.

G - 2011 Elsa Bianchi, Mendoza came in last place with an average of 2.61. It cost $8. Bob and CJ also found this at K&L. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave it a 90 and it was cheap too.


Red meat was the recommended paring for Malbec. Sue grilled us up some humongous steaks. When she brought the plate of 11 of of these jaws dropped. Bob still can't get over it.

In addition to the bone in New York strip steaks, we enjoyed coleslaw, potatoes, and butternut squash gratin.

After feasting we enjoyed a blueberry cream pie Bob and CJ had brought.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Laboring Over Some Cab Franc

After hemming and hawing, we finally decided to have a small BBQ over the long weekend. We threw in a tasting to add to the entertainment.

It was a beautiful Sunday. We set up outback, under the giant fruit tree, risking the wrath of falling grapefruit. This was Sue's idea, which I was wary of, but it worked nicely.

Ready, Waiting, to Drop on Unexpected Guests

I had been saving five Cab Francs for such an occasion, acquired mostly from our frequent visits to local wineries. My plan was to put them all out, providing all of the wines for the tasting, but Jose insisted on bringing a bottle, which opened the door for Bob to bring one as well. Five bottles seemed like a good amount all things considered. I chose the two that I thought would be the best and eeni meenie miney mo'd one out of the remaining three, which I thought were equally less likely to win.

I opened a 2011 Olivia's Reserve Soquel Chard to start us off while we enjoyed quite the spread. Lili brought a scrumptous Spanish Tortilla she had whipped up, containing potatoes, sausage, onion, eggs, and fresh zucchini from her garden. Bob and CJ brought eight types of cheese, crab dip, and crackers; this after I asked Bob not to go overboard when he volunteered to bring cheese. Bob's definition of overboard must be different than mine. We put out a plate of five types of Italian meats with fresh bread. The chard was light and refreshing, the food plentiful, and the company warm.

Everyone was pleased to see Paul, Jennifer, and especially their twins. The boys entertained themselves under their parent's watchful eyes by drawing with chalk, playing with trains, and gathering fruit, when not being smothered by the ladies.

Park and Sue randomized the bottles into decanters, and we put them out for people to enjoy and rate at their leisure.

While tasting, Jose protested the "non controversial" Netflix rating system, once again, in favor of his own:
  1. I couldn't finish a glass of it
  2. I could drink a glass of it
  3. I could drink a bottle of it
  4. I would buy a bottle
  5. I would buy a case
It was noted that Jose had never given a 5 to any wine. Or was it that he'd never bought a case? We tallied up the ratings and ripped open the bags.


Top to Bottom from Left to Right

C - 2009 Justin, Justification, Paso Robles came in first place with an average of 3.08. It cost $35. Jose and Lili brought this, picking it up at K&L.

E - 2009 Hunter Hill, Silvaspoons Vineyards, Lodi came in second place with an average of 3.07. It cost $20. We picked this up at the winery last weekend.

B - 2005 Thomas Fogarty, Gist Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains came in third place with an average of 3.01. It cost $45. I picked this up at the winery when Mark was in town.

A - 2009 Bernard Baudry, Chinon came in fourth place with an average of 2.96. It cost $37. Bob and CJ brought this, also picking it up at K&L.

D - 2007 Lang & Reed, Two-Fourteen, Napa Valley came in last place with an average of 2.84. It cost $40. Ted and Shannon gave us this. It received 91 points from Wine Spectator.


After reviewing the bottles, I noticed that the winner wasn't labeled as a Cabernet Franc. Studying the label showed it only contained 67% Cab Franc. Wiki states "In the USA, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations specify a minimum variety content of 75% of the labeled grape." Jose can have this win, but we'll have to clarify what the rules are for future tastings.


When the wives started putting on coats and shawls, we moved inside. Sue had whipped up a batch of brownies, which Lili volunteered to cut after seeing me butcher the first line. Lili continued the butchering, and proclaimed that she didn't get brownies. We all had a good laugh and enjoyed chocolate mess.

Lili Poses as a Murderer of the Brownies

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can I Get that Merlot in a Box?

Bordeaux in a Box made me think I should explore boxed wine. I googled for lists of the best boxed wine, found the varietal intersection at the local Safeway, Merlot, and planned a tasting.

The weekend before the tasting we had headed to Jose's for a block party picnic. Sue had picked up two cakes at La Patisserie before I told her Lili had picked up a flan. Instead of bringing over both cakes, which we thought would be too much, we decided to just bring the fruit torte, leaving us with a gorgeous chocolate decadence, described as, a chocolate cake, truffle filling, iced with chocolate fudge, in the refrigerator. Not wanting to let the cake go bad inspired us. We invited some friends over, threw in a tasting, and a dinner to boot.

Everyone arrived to enjoy a splash of Silvertip's Rose of Syrah accompanied by plenty of meats and cheeses. I've really taken a shine to the Italian meats and tend to go overboard on the varieties, which is definitely a splurge.

To mix it up, I added two bottled Merlots to the 3 boxed. The boxes made it hard to anonymously randomize, since I couldn't bag them. I poured everything into decanters, hoping no one would notice the differences in volume. I knew what wine was poured into what decanter, but figured if I thought it was affecting me, I would scrub my scores.

We tried the wines one by one, sharing our thoughts, and enjoying each other's company. After the first one, which I knew at the time was boxed, I pretty much forgot what everything else was.

We totalled the ratings and unveiled the wines.


Top to Bottom from Left to Right
A - 2010 Black Box, California came in first place with an average of 3.24. It cost $20 at Safeway. It was smooth and nice, though not incredible. This was the only one of the boxed wines that was finished after the results were revealed.

C - 2009 Selene, Napa Valley, Frediani Vineyard came in close second with an average of 3.21. It cost $36 from KnL. This was the highest Wine Advocate rated Merlot from California in the $25-$50 range. Jose really liked this wine.

Jose takes a picture of his favorite bottle

B - 2010 Bota Box, California came in third place with an average of 2.49. It cost $17 at Safeway.

D - 2006 Burrell School, Magna Cum Laude, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains came in fourth place, though really close to last, with an average of 1.86. It cost $43.55. I threw this in thinking it was an awesome bottle that I thought would be recognized. I have no idea why I gave this a 2; I normally love this wine. Even Shannon commented that this wine smelled like pond water. I can't explain it.

E - Le Bordeaux came in last place with an average of 1.83. It cost $30. When I picked this up at KnL originally, the clerk said it was better than a lot of wine; next time I'll recommend he try Black Box or Bota.

Amazingly a $20 boxed wine had the highest rating. We'll have to try this one again. $5 a bottle and lasts a month sounds like a pretty good deal. I might have to put the Pinot aside and drink some @#$!ing Merlot.


Sue made chicken, beef, shrimp, and veggi kabobs with cheesy potatoes and tomato salad for dinner. Yum! For dessert we had the incredibly rich and delicious cake. Thankfully, it had not gone bad.


Given the information I had, one can argue I was tainted and this invalidated the tasting. I won't disagree, since the lack of information is why we blind taste. I can't be certain that it would have changed the results and I don't really want to do the tasting again, given so many other wines to try. However, I will try to improve the process in future tastings by disclosing any oddities in the usual double blind randomization before a tasting starts, and first pouring any boxed wines into bottles, so a true double blind can occur.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Great Deal! - Burrell 07 Pinot $299 a Case

I'm not certain how long the deal is on, they typically last a month, but at ~$25 a bottle, it's the cheapest I've ever seen one of my favorite bottles. It retails for $528 case/$44 bottle, though you can normally get 20 to 30% off a case, making the usual price $422.50 case/$35.2 bottle to $369 case/$30.80 bottle. If your local Whole Foods stock it, you can also usually get it at $30.40 a bottle, if you purchase 6.

It's never going to make the Reverse Wine Snob's list, but it's an excellent wine!

Even Better

These days they are selling it for 50% off.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Reverse Wine Snob's #1 Syrah Put to the Test

Sue wanted to make a pot of chili. I told her we could have a couple of people over to enjoy it and do a little tasting at the same time. She was all for it.

Bob and Carolyn, Jose, and even John joined us for chili and a Syrah blind tasting featuring the #1 and #9 wines from The Reverse Wine Snob's May 2012 Top 10 Red list. To give us something to contrast them against I threw in the Syrah we recently picked up from Silvertip Vineyards, and a highly rated unknown wine I found via K&L's website.

We randomized everything and put the wine in decanters in anticipation of our guests' arrival. The group was small enough to supply 4 glasses per person, which is always nice.

All Dressed Up and Waiting to Go

John arrived early, so Park entertained him with Fruit Ninja and Spelunky on the Xbox 360. We couldn't convince him to give it a try. Sue carved up John's gift of warm bread and set it out to be enjoyed with the cheese, crackers, and dried meats. The warm bread and brie tasted great! These held my growing hunger at bay, for a while.

Both Bob and Carolyn, and Jose were running late, so my "starvation" lead me to change the normal order and eat a couple of bowls of delicious chili before we began the tasting. When the others arrived, they caught up quickly enough with John and I. Sue topped her great chili with some warm corn bread.
Carolyn through the Haze

They May be Buying it, but CJ's Not!

No Wine in Hand Makes Sue Mischievous

We tried each of the wines a couple of times, sharing and comparing notes, all the while enjoying each other's company. We tallied the ratings and ripped the bags open.
The Tasting Notes of a Mad Man?

Top to Bottom from Left to Right

A - 2008 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Pousseur, Central Coast came in first place with an average of 2.49. It cost $16 and used a screw top. This was #9 on RWS' May 2012 Top 10 Red list. This was velvety and tasted of chocolate. We brought some of this home when we visited Bonny Doon a couple years ago.

D - 2008 Big Basin Vineyards, Mandala came in second place with an average of 2.49. It cost $39. I found this via the K&L website, searching for highly rated Syrahs. The last Syrah blind tasting we had, the Rattlesnake Rock from Big Basin Vineyards came in first.

C - 2008 Silvertip VINEYARDS, Santa Cruz Mountains came in third place with an average of 2.49. It cost $25. Sue and I picked this up on our recent trip to the vineyard. I remember it tasting very different at the vineyard.

B - 2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Tous Les Jours, Central Coast came in last place with an average of 2.08. It cost $14 and also used a screw top. This was #1 on RWS' May 2012 Top 10 Red list. This tasted very rough to me. 

None of the ratings were very high. Out of the 24 ratings, only 4 were
I Liked It(3) or better. I don't know what to make of this. I usually like Syrah, but this tasted mostly bitter. Surprisingly Jose's notes indicated all of the wines were drinkable, though he gave half of them less than 3.

The RWS' choices were a mixed bag, coming in first and last, but a good reason to have a blind tasting.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Check Out Vinobo

The first serious wine tasting class we took was from Bruce Cass Wine Lab. Bruce was an incredibly knowledgeable and enjoyable teacher. Bruce is taking a break from teaching to get involved in software. Check out the interesting website he's now working on:

MJA Vineyards

We found our third stop, MJA Vineyards, nestled in a grove of trees just off of Summit.

As we opened the door, we were greeted with a big Aloha. I inquired about the Hawaiian theme and the staff told us about how the owner grows coffee in Hawaii and that they have a big roasting every Tuesday. Had I been thinking, I would have bought some of their Kona Coffee for Kyonghee to evaluate.

The tasting room was warmly decorated inside with comfy couches and chairs around the sides. There were shaded picnic tables and a fire-pit outside. Tasters can either snug up to the bar, where 2 or 3 groups can fit comfortably, choose a comfy spot indoors, or sit down outside. We chose to taste at the bar, along side another group that was clearing enjoying themselves.

Claudy greeted us and offered us two tastings: The first consisted of 3 whites and 2 reds for $5, and the second consisted of 7 reds for $8. Tasting fees were refunded with the purchase of a bottle. We all chose to go with the red tasting, which consisted of a Pinot, a Merlot, and 5 Cabs. The Pinot and Merlot were made from Santa Cruz Mountains grapes, while the Cabs were from Napa grapes. The Cabs were all different vintages usually blends of a couple of regions, and were referred to as easy, complexity, chewy, nosy, and moody. Easy was a blend of Malbec and Cab, but all the others were Bordeaux style blends. Moody was Michel and my favorite.

I asked Claudy how she found herself in America and she told us the story. When she was a little girl in France she pointed at a passing airplane and told her parents that one day she would ride an airplane to California, where she would live. She rode that plane to California 20 years ago and has been enjoying it ever since.

As we tasted a couple and their self-described "driver/bodyguard" came in. The male taster said they were playing a game at the wineries. This sounded plausible, as the Summit wineries were doing a scavenger hunt a couple of weeks ago when we did some tasting with Mark, though we had not seen any evidence of a game that day. Claudy went into the back, brought out an envelope, handed it to him, and told him he was lucky, it was their last one. The couple then went outside to do their tasting. After the couple had set down outside, Claudy leaned over and whispered that he was going to propose. I asked how she knew, and she explained that he had been in the day before, leaving the envelope containing the ring. How romantic! Once the two groups inside heard this, the woman would occasionally look out and guess what was going on. We'll never know if she said yes because we finished the tasting, and picnic'd outside with a bottle of moody before leaving. How ever it went down, we wish them happiness.

We headed home with lots of great wine and fond memories of the day.

MJA is open Thursday to Sunday, 12 to 6. In addition to being located off of Summit road in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you can also find an MJA tasting room at Surf City Vintners in Santa Cruz.

Winery Details


We headed up the hill to our first stop: Byington Vineyard & Winery. Instead of taking the usual Bear Creek, which is slow and winding to the point of inducing motion sickness in the weaker of us, we followed 17 to the top, and headed up Summit. Ted insists this way is much faster. It seemed equally slow to me, but I imagine it could be faster if Ted was behind the wheel. We arrived shortly after opening.

After exiting the car, we realized we were in for a treat. The grounds were gorgeous!

The tasting room was nicely decorated, though somewhat disappointing after seeing outside. It had plenty of room at the long bar with windows opening to the operations of the winery. Byington was busy. A tour was organizing out back and a tasting class was starting soon. That said, we were the first of the day in the tasting room. We paid the $8 tasting fee, 5 of which is refunded if you purchase a bottle. The friendly and knowledgeable Richard McCaw poured for us and answered our questions. He started us off with a couple of whites, followed by two Pinots, the only grape grown on the estate, and finishing with a couple of cabs. Sue really liked the Rose. I favored the Block 4 Pinot, which was very good, but expensive at $50 a bottle.

The tasting room was nice, but outside was where Byington truly shined. There were plenty of tables to enjoy a bottle or simply relax at. Out back we found more picnic tables with great views of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

We headed up Wedding Hill. It was a wonderful area bordered by vines and another view of the mountains. Sue took in the view from ever angle and dreamed aloud of being remarried there. She wants to renew our vows for our 25th or 30th anniversary, the first of which is only 3 years away. Renewing vows aren't at the top of my list, but I can't see refusing her.

Wedding Hill

On the way to the car we noticed the bocce court.

We enjoyed one last look and headed on to our next stop.

Byington is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 to 5.

Winery Details

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


We drove a mile down the winding Upper Zayante Road to our second stop: The primary winery, Silvertip VINEYARDS.

We were pleased to see Michel had made it. Ted had warned the traffic on 17 was horrible and I figured Michel might be late, but it wasn't the case.

Paul Stroth, Winemaker

The tasting was free, and took place right outside the production building. We were the first to arrive of the day, the second time they had ever been open. The winemaker, Paul Stroth, poured, passionately talking about the wine, and answering any questions we had. We had seen Paul earlier in the year, when he spoke on the panel at Pinot Paradise.

Paul told us how the winery got its name. The family owned property used to be Nelson’s Christmas Tree Farm. In 1999 they moved 9 acres to Pinot and Syrah and looked no further than the most prized Christmas trees, Silvertips, for their name. Today they grow 20% Chardonnay, 40% Syrah, and 40% Pinot. They produce 320 cases a year, but could ramp up to 800 to 900 cases.

Paul was a great host. I thought he looked a little young to be a winemaker. He thanked me, saying he was 39, and told us his history in the wine world. He started off volunteering at Kathryn Kennedy, and later interned at David Bruce. I'm going to have to check my age-o-meter.

The location was beautiful, smack dab in the middle of the vineyard. On the hill you could see the grandfather's ranch. It was gorgeous.

Paul started us off with a nice Chard, followed by a Rose of Syrah. Next we tasted two very scrumptious Pinots: The first being the Petite Street Cuvee, and the second being the Silvertip, produced from the best barrels. Finally, he finished with a incredibly flavorful Syrah. All of the wine tasted very good.

The wine was reasonable for a boutique winery: Chardonnay $25, Rose $10, Petite Street Pinot Cuvee $25, Silvertip Pinot $35, and Syrah $25. They had good discounts as well, 10% off 6 bottles, 20% off mixed case, and 25% of a solid case. We combined orders with Michel to get the mixed case discount, though fortuitously they accidently gave us the solid case discount. We let them know, but they were fine with it. $18.75 for the Cuvee and $26.25 for the Silvertip. That's a pretty good deal for some great Pinot!

We thanked them and headed off to our third stop.

Silvertip is open rarely, by invitation only, so you'll need to get your name on their email list by sending a request to

Winery Details

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bordeaux in a Box

As I waited for my order to be found in the back of KnL, I spied something interesting: A purple box of wine titled Le Bordeaux. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was any good, and he said it was better than most American wine; thinking about this now, I probably should have been insulted, but who knows what he meant. Bordeaux in a Box sounded funny to me, and at $29.99 for 3 liters (4 bottles) of 100% Merlot, I figured I'd give it a try.

When I brought it home I noticed the sticker on the box, stating Robert Parker's Wine Advocate had given it a 88.

It's was a little rough, though drinkable, but unfortunately, nothing special.

I was such a noob when it came to boxed wine that I assumed it had to be put in the refrigerator. My wife questioned this, since it's red, and we had to wait for it to warm up. A quick google showed only if the box says chill does it need to be refrigerated. For maximum survival, refrigeration may be the best plan.

This has inspired me to blind taste a couple of the supposedly better boxes of wine. Expect a post soon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Planning a Wine Tasting Trip in Action - Silvertip VINEYARDS

Using my blog on How to Plan a Wine Tasting Trip, I thought I'd show an example.

Identify a Primary Winery

Silvertip VINEYARDS sent us an email that they will be open this Saturday, July 14th, 2012 from 12:00pm to 4:00pm. We tasted their Pinot at Pinot Paradise earlier in the year and would love to check them out. If you're going to go to a winery, what better day than the opening (at least I assume this is their opening). I'll plan a trip around them.

Search for Nearby Wineries
  1. I bring up my winery finding tool,

  2. I paste Silvertip VINEYARDS' address, 16644 Upper Zayante Road, Los Gatos, CA 95033, into the address text field, select 10 miles from the distance drop down, and click the Look Up button.

  3. I click the Open Weekly check box to get rid of wineries that are open only at odd times likes the third weekend of every month

  4. I click around on the wineries, looking for something that looks interesting

  5. I decide on Byington Winery & Vineyard and MJA Vineyards because I want to make a blog on the Summit Road wineries and I don't have any pictures of these places. I don't even remember what Byington was like, it's been so long, but I remember it was beautiful.
Make an Itinerary

Since Silvertip VINEYARDS doesn't open until 12, I put Byington Winery & Vineyard first.

11:00 AM - Byington Winery & Vineyard
21850 Bear Creek Rd.
Los Gatos, CA 95033

12:00 - leave, Travel Time - 9 mins

12:15- Silvertip VINEYARDS
16644 Upper Zayante Road,
Los Gatos, CA 95033

1:15 leave, Travel Time - 20 mins

1:35 - Grab lunch at Summit Store or bring a lunch, your choice

1:40 - MJA Vineyards
24900 Highland Way
Los Gatos 95033

Lunch before or after tasting

Verify the Wineries are Open, Make Reservations, if Necessary

I sent Byington and MJA a message to make certain they were open.

Be Aware of Event Days

Summer Passport is July 21st, so it will not interfere.

The Wine Tasting

How to Go Wine Tasting

After planning your wine tasting trip there are some things to keep in mind.

What to Wear

You can wear pretty much anything to most wineries. I try to dress a little nicer than I normally do, but that's only because my normal attire is a t-shirt and shorts. I typically spruce it up, with a short sleeved button down shirt and shorts. If you're really lucky, I wear my wine tasting shirt that Bob and Carolyn bought for me at David Bruce. You can see why "they" call me a wine snob.
Me in My Wine Tasting Shirt

What Not to Wear

Make certain not to wear any cologne, perfume, or odorous body cremes. These will interfere with the wine tasting by over powering the subtle smells and tastes of the wine. You'll also annoy other patrons.

Eat Breakfast

It's important to have a full stomach at the start of the tasting. You might hit two wineries before you get some lunch. You'll be hungry, and the alcohol will go to your head much more quickly if you didn't eat breakfast. Sue usually makes us a two egg, sausage, and cheese sandwich for breakfast. It always hits the spot.

Don't Forget a Designated Driver

Depending on how many wineries you are visiting, you will probably need a designated driver.