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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Plan a Wine Tasting Trip

If you're going to go wine tasting, it's best to make a plan.

Identify a Primary Winery

I usually start with one winery that I want to visit for whatever reason. A wine from there may have won a blind tasting, or made a good showing. Perhaps a friend recommended it, or I read something about it. Maybe I've just never been there before. Something usually drives me to want to visit the place.

If you can't find a reason to go anywhere, shoot me an email and I'll give you one.

Search for Nearby Wineries

Sure there's one winery you want to make certain you hit, but to make a trip you typically want to visit 2 or 3 wineries. I use my winery web site,, but google maps can work as well to search for wineries nearby.

Make an Itinerary

Start Early

Always arrive at the first winery when it opens. You'll get the most attention and the best service if you are the only ones there. Later in the day you will have to contend with crowds. This will also maximize the amount of time you have while the wineries are open. Wineries are typically open 11 - 5. If you have to travel an hour to the first one, you'd rather have this travel time not take away from the 6 hours of possible winery time.

Plan on an Hour per Winery

When laying out the schedule, plan on at least an hour for each winery.

Include Travel Time

It's easy to forgot about travel time if you don't include it. Don't make this mistake. Use Google maps, or whatever you prefer, to compute the travel time.

Plan Lunch

After your first or second stop, work in a lunch. Just like skipping breakfast is a bad idea, so too is skipping lunch.

Add an Audible or Two

Add one or two audibles to the list, just in case people are in the mood for more.

Verify the Wineries are Open, Make Reservations, if Necessary

Winery websites are notorious for containing out of date information. Call or email the wineries ahead of time to verify your plan works.

Some wineries require reservations or a heads up, depending on the amount of people in your party. When you call or email them, let them know how many are coming.

Be Aware of Event Days

Wine regions have all sorts of special occasions to try and get as many people as they can out tasting. These occasions can be really fun or really annoying depending on what you are looking for. Be aware of what is going on, and participate or avoid them depending on your liking.


Yes you made a plan, but don't get all uptight about it. If you spend longer than an hour at some great winery, then so be it. Enjoy the tasting!

Monday, July 9, 2012

SuperBowl Pinot Tasting

Earlier this year we had some friends over for the Super Bowl. I put out a blind tasting of Pinots from highly rated bottles I had selected from K&L. The wines were tasted and discussed at everyone's leisure. At half time we tallied the ratings and ripped open the bags.


Top to Bottom from Left to Right

A - 2010 Failla, Sonoma Coast came in first place with an average of 3.60. It cost $35.

D - 2007 Marimar Estate, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley came in second place with an average of 2.84.  It cost $43.

C - 2008 Dierberg, Sta. Rita Hills, Drum Canyon Vineyard came in third place with an average of 2.80, so close to second place. It cost $40.

B - 2009 melville, Estate - Sta. Rita Hills came in last place with an average of 2.55. It cost $28.

There was some discussion about all of Carolyn's 1s. The thought was that this affected the outcome, but I ran the numbers and while it lowered the average ratings, it did not change the order.

Ratings Minus Carolyn

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gifts for a Wine Snob : The Wine Breather

Sangmok and Kyonghee gave me the Wine Breather for my last birthday. It's a unique decanter that I had never heard of before.

It's pretty interesting the way it works.

You start by placing the wine breather, minus the lid, in the decanter.

Open the bottle and place it on a table. Press the decanter into it; the wine breather piece will insert into the opening.

Using both hands flip the bottle and decanter.

The wine will decoratively pour into the decanter along its sides. It looks pretty cool.

One downside to this method is that you cannot avoid transferring the sediment from the bottle into the decanter, since the entire bottle is poured in. Also, I've used this decanter twice, and unfortunately, both times a little wine spilled out while the wine was transferring either way. It wasn't a large amount, but enough to make me wary of where I'm using it.

It has has a lid you can place on the decanter, which is a nice touch. Fruit flies always seem to find a way to decanted wine, and I usually place a wad of paper towel at the top. This is much more aesthetically pleasing.

Alternatively and uniquely, you can also poor the wine back into a bottle.

Overall a fun gift. It's a little pricey at $50, but is unique, and more interactive than other decanters.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gifts for a Wine Snob : A Slate Cheese Tray

When enjoying wine with others, we typically have some cheese. For serving the cheese, I have fallen in love with a J.K. Adams slate cheese board my wife gave me last Christmas. It's a reasonable gift, costing $20 to $30, depending on where you get it (BevMo was cheaper than Amazon when I looked).

It looks really cool, has an interesting texture, and is hefty, but not too hefty. The back is covered in felt, so there are no worries about scratching things.

16 x 12 Slate Cheese Tray

To top it off, you can write on it with chalk, indicating what cheese is where, and easily erase it to correct mistakes.

Slate Cheese Tray in Action

Add some cool cheese knives and you have a powerful presentation of your cheese, enhancing your wine drinking experience.

If you're looking for the perfect gift for a wine snob that enjoys cheese, check this out. Of all the wine accessories I have received in the last couple of years, this ranks near the top.