Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

About San Diego: Splash Wine Lounge

"In water one sees one's own face; but in wine, one beholds the heart of another." -An Old French Proverb

If you find yourself tooling around North Park looking for a place to get your wine on, then you'll want to come with to one of San Diego's newer concepts in the age of the wine-bar. 

What is it? It's a groovy little place called Splash and if you will excuse the pun, it's really making a quite a "splash" on the North Park wine scene. I really dig the concept of Splash and, I think you will as well. As far as the experience goes, I found it fresh and unique, like a newly bottled Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand

I really like the fact they call themselves a wine bar and I believe it fits the bill. The term "wine bar" has become a bit cliché and frankly a bit diluted. It has become something that far too many restaurants with a bar, uses to describe themselves, a bit misleading at times. 

I mean c'mon the mere presence of a wine menu does not make you a wine bar and vice-versa. In my opinion; Splash is the real-deal, a true wine bar and what some folks would call a wine lounge, as the comfy confines, can make lounging look like an art-form. In my mind the only thing keeping Splash from being a full fledged wine lounge is the absence of a blues-band [sigh].

The Splash Wine Lounge is all about the wine, but if you're feeling a bit peckish, they have a small but growing menu to accompany your tastings. According to Splash owner Traci Smith, regarding the use use of the Enotech, 
"It's technology which allows Splash customers to taste on average over 72 different wines from around the world". 
So we're not just talking about California wines? Oh-no, your experience could range anywhere from a Washington State Horse Heaven Hills Merlot to a fat, throaty Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, down-under.

The basic concept is that it's so nice to be able to swirl, sniff and sip through a few types of wine before choosing a bottle to sit down with for which the bottle pricing is pretty reasonable. 

For example, Splash had offered in the past, a 2007 Mount Rosa, Pinot Noir, Central Otago New Zealand for $30.00, which at the time tasted very lean and light, still showing very nice cola and raspberry notes, but the point is that you'll find that their pricing is competitive.

According the their website, "Splash is using the latest Italian technology and they offer on average over 72 different labels in the form of a one ounce pour [splash], a glass or a bottle. You can expect to pay anywhere from .95 cents to 10 dollars for a one ounce pour, depending on the wine you select. 

The enomatic wine machines have easily readable displays, declaring which wines are available for the consumer to "self-serve" a "splash" of wine with a prepaid debit like card. It is very similar to a Dave and Busters type experience. It allows the wine lover and novices alike to try many different wines before selecting a glass or bottle for which to sit and sip there or to take home for further enjoyment.
What I really like about Splash is the opportunity to taste many types and or styles of wine, everything from the sweet to the sophisticated. Their setup is a made to order serve yourself or you could just sit bar-side and have wine served by the glass [4-5 oz] or if you're the kind of person who loves to discover new flavors, and styles of wine and you don't mind the occasional bumping into other patrons, then Splash is definitely for you, give it a swirl.

Splash, definitely has a “chill” vibe, which is appealing part of the wine-scene there and part of the reason they are so popular. Where else can you plop down onto the comfy sofas with some wine and chat with friends? Another nice aspect of Splash, is that it offers the opportunity to try some wines which are not always in everyone's price range and or are of very limited production. One other thing, if you like to double your spending power on an evening out, check out their Two-Splash Tuesdays. If you do need assistance; like recommendations, the owner and or staff are more than willing to accommodate your requests and answer questions. 

On the other side of coin, while exploration is fun, it can also be quite expensive. If you do the math, while it may seem like quite a deal, that you're only paying a dollar or two for 1 oz. of wine, you can quickly rack up quite a tab. 

The other issue I've noticed; Splash have become a victim of its own popularity. Because of its small location, it can become very crowded, quite quickly. So, if you're think of going to splash with a large entourage, well that can be a little tricky. as the lounge chairs, couches and the bar seats are few in number and many times it's standing room only.

Recommendations: Splash is wonderful opportunity for the average vino-sapien looking to do some exploration. You'll find for the most part, there are no wine snobs looking over your shoulder telling you what you should be tasting. 

If you're one of those folks who is unsure whether you are Red or White wine fan, then here's a perfect place to take your palate out on a test drive. On the other hand if you are looking for more of a "bar-type" experience than you may want to save your money and try a different venue. Visiting mid week is great way to avoid the crowds and have unhurried experience. Until next folks, remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, April 23, 2012

San Luis Obispo Uncorked: Tolosa 2010 "No Oak" Chardonnay

"Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself." ~Leo Tolstoy

When it comes to change; many will flood into the streets with signs seeking it, wear T-shirts proclaiming the need for it, some will put bumper stickers on their cars to declare it, but few want to apply change to themselves.

For far too many folks, they see something they think is way over-the-top and want to respond in kind with a change strategy known as "knee-jerk" and will run as far and as fast as they can in the opposite direction of the perceived offense to make it so [ha].

Such is the case of many of my fellow vino-sapiens in the "No-Oak" movement and you know who you are. Folks, who from my observations have this same "knee-jerk" response to wines where some barrel regiments have become known for producing a Chateau Two-by-Four style of Chardonnay, aka the "classic" California Chardonnay.

While I'm no fan of that style, I think those wines are simply out of balance. But, rather than over react to it, I like to let the market place sort out issues like this and in most cases it does, it has and will continue to do so. But what are we really talking about, it's differences of style and like anything else in life, everyone has their own style. When it comes to wine; again every vino-sapien has their own style, which is great, because as we all know variety can be the spice of life. But do we really need to run around carry placards, decrying the use of oak? Of course not that is just silly.  
When it comes to wine, I say drink what you like, even if your only desire is to drink what I consider to be plonk. To me, as long as you're drinking wine, I'm very happy to see that and bid you a hardy welcome. And by the way, thank you at the same time, because that means there's less competition in acquiring the wines I want to drink. Oh, I may scoff a wee-bit to myself, seeing you happily slurping down a few bottles of two-buck chuck or other plonkish types or styles of wine. But we all start somewhere on our wine journey and if some folks are content to stay where they are, so be it. I won't publically condemn you, point and laugh, nor will I deride your choices. You also won't see me will start a movement; pontificating a message from my ivory wine tower [which is actually crimson] saying, "you should drink this and not that" or will you hear me nag producers to make a certain style of wine. And finally will you ever hear me say one should only drink this "juice" because it was produced locally. I say "think globally and drink globally".

Now that said, I've never been a fan of the "No-Oak" style of Chardonnay and typically I won't even be interested in giving it a cursory swirl, because I had of enough of these wines to know, it's just not my style. But when a wine is sent as a sample for the review process, I feel it's my duty, no I say my obligation to at the very least give it a swirl, just once. So it's in the case of the SIP Certified Tolosa "No-Oak" Chardonnay from San Luis Obispo, another Central Coast selection.

I was really surprised by the opulent mouth feel of this wine, I was caught off guard by its richness, its minerality and its honeyed rich core of bright vivid fruit [apples, pears] hanging nicely upon mouth watering acidity, inviting a just a sip at first and than a full gulp. Wow, this wine is nicely done, I complimented them openly on twitter already and I am very proud to recommend this wine to each and every one of my readers, this folks is how you make a wine of this style.

I believe, if more wineries were following Tolosa's lead, in regards to producing "no-oak" styles of Chardonnay, I think this "style" would and could gain more of a following. "No-Oak" Chardonnay does not have to be like the "prius" of the automotive world. I say that because as the winemaker [Larry Brooks] for Tolosa points out "In a wine as transparent stylistically as this is; any and every flaw will stick out.”. It's precisely those flaws, which I see in many "no-oak" styles today; making drinking those wines more like the reason most folks drive a "Prius" in the first place, they want to be seen, whether it's a good fit for them or not.

This wine is 100% Chardonnay and 100% No Oak. The grapes used to produce this wine broke down this way; 50% Tolosa Estate and 50% Santa Lucia Highlands, hanging on vines derived from a mix of Dijon and Heritage clones. Here’s I believe the secret to this wines great success, they keep the wine on its fine yeast lees for up to 10 months. I believe this method is known as Sur lie, but I'm not a winemaker, nor do I play one on TV. This brilliant and wonderfully refreshing wine sells for just under $20 most places; I scored this wine 91 points. Until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring Wine Picks on Kathy

Spring has sprung, the evidence of that is all around us, I know all those seedlings I've planted earlier this year have grown and have now sprung mightily into action, making the Mrs. very happy. As I've a garden full of herbs, many flowering, the bees are buzzing around the many flowers, popping up all over my backyard, the sun is shining and my grill has been getting a serious work-out these days.

But what about the wine, we can't forget about that important piece of the picture and with that in mind, I've been invited to give a couple of my favorite picks by Chef Andre, who works with Kathy Ireland. Him and I were chatting on Twitter the other day and he asked me if I had a couple of wine picks that I would like to share with his readers on

I asked him a couple questions for clarification, because of course I wanted give their many readers a chance to grab a few of the wines I recommended, without running into any issues with small production wines. Once he gave me the guide lines, I shot off a couple ideas and Chef Andre took it from there. One of the wineries is called Waterstone, located in Napa Valley and other is called Calcareous, one of my all time favorite producers in Paso Robles and a winery who recently won a "Best of Show" title at the San Diego International Wine Competition.

I received the first wine as a sample and the second was a wine I ran across in the tasting room recently. I hope you'll pop on over to their page and check out the wines I picked as well as the picks of their extraordinary Sommelier Bruce Barrett, so please feel invited to try some of their favorites wineries they’ve come to know and trust and possibly a couple of new favorites of wineries I know are making some outstanding juice. I hope you'll hop on over there, give those selections a swirl for yourself and let me know what you think, until next time continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Spoonful of Social Media

“You can buy attention [advertising]. You can beg for attention from the media [PR] or you can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales). Or you can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free.” David Meerman Scott, Best-Selling Author & Speaker
It was just about two months ago in downtown Paso Robles, that Mrs. Cuvee and I were visiting the area, which we try to do as often as possible. We love to hit the wine trail nice and early, but before we head out for the day, we make it a point to have a big breakfast. Since we were staying at the Paso Robles Inn, we thought we'd have breakfast there at least once, the food was tasty, the service was great and the coffee was hot.
Just one thing was missing that morning, there were no spoons, yes you heard me right, not even a single spoon anywhere to stir cream and sugar into my coffee. We looked on the tables behind us, nothing, we looked into the server station, the slot where the spoons normally would go, was bone dry. It was a spoon shortage of epic proportions [oh-my] and I was afraid to ask what happened to the spoons, perhaps they had to sell off the spoons to pay a bad gambling debt or some other addiction.

So as I stirred the coffee with the fork, I pulled my smart phone from my pocket, checked in via Four Square for Android and jokingly commented; "I'd give up to half of my kingdom for a spoon". Not more than a minute later, did I get a tweet back from @TravelPaso [City Hall] asking if I would like them to bring me a spoon, from their office across the street from the Paso Robles Inn? I tweeted back, "Nah, I'll get along fine without a spoon" [@cuvee_corner].
The reply came back, "oh-no that won't do; we are having a spoon brought to you now" I shared this exchange with Mrs. Cuvee, who could see me laughing as the conversation via Social Media ensued and she marveled at what was transpiring over a spoon. A few moments later, an elderly woman, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Are you Bill?" why yes I replied and she said, "Here’s your spoon." I said, "thank you very much" and as she walked away, I looked at my wife and started to laugh so hard, I could not believe what had just happened, moments later I was stirring my coffee with that spoon.
That folks, is a small demonstration about the potential power of social media. If I, as a garden-variety wine blogger with modest following can leverage that kind of service for a simple thing like a spoon, hand delivered to my table, then imagine what a business could do with a dedicated Social Media presence. Building your brand through social media channels is not and should not be an option today. The power to change and shapes folks minds is not being done these days through slick marketing campaigns, girls in bikinis holding puppies, or fast talking spokes-holes. Oh no my friends, if you want to swing the power of direct marketing [known as Social Media] to the masses, you had better get on the social media band wagon before it leaves you in the dust.

Many folks today question the value of social media and its impact upon the bottom line. Is it really driving customer to buy the products being talked about, these are fair points to make, but I think when it comes to wine it's entirely different story.
Still think, I don't know what I'm talking about? Well consider this example for a moment; I wrote an article about a winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands, a winery I only became aware of during a tasting at the annual event called, "Pinot Days" because their juice rocked and still does. The winery in this example, is called Paraiso Vineyards, they're winery producing world class Pinot Noir, in the reasonable range of the price scale.
Especially when compared to many of their counterparts other AVA's like the Russian River Valley or even the smoky [foggy] points of the Central Coast, known for their long "waiting" list. They were surprised by how much my review lit up their website according to their owner [who I later met at the SLH tasting in LA], after my Pinot Days Top-Ten list came out. After that, they had put my notes into PDF form on their site for everyone to find. It was a proud day for my blog and a firm stamp of approval on the value of Social Media.
I picked up a few quotes I found from a gentlemen on Twitter who made the following observations, about the impact social media has upon the wine business. “Wine in itself is the most social product together with food. Consumers hate to buy wine as if it were a jar of peanut butter” ~Emilio Saez van Eerd
He went on to give some further ground rules about how wineries and or wine related businesses should use or consider using Social Media to engage their customers. By the way, many wineries are successfully using Social Media and reaping the benefits. But for those still apprehensive about taking the dive into the deep end of the pool, here are a few more tips about the possible course action you may want to take if you do decide to jump in.
1. Give the people want they want, engage, meet them where they are in Technology Land and like the Marines say, adapt, change and overcome.
2. Reward your customer’s eagerness to share your wine with their friends, incentivize their efforts and reap the rewards. [The "how" is up to you]
3. Answer consumer questions in a timely manner, be friendly, open up and be your product or service and above all be genuine. [By the way, "I don't know", "I'll get back to you on that" is a perfectly acceptable answer as well.]
One other thing I wanted share with you about the proper role of Social Media, is advice which comes from a company we all know and most of us respect. It comes from the CEO of a business, as iconic as Apple, it's Starbucks. Perhaps you've heard of them before. Their CEO, Howard Schultz commented on the role of social media in their business and I think it's very good advice for wineries and or wine related businesses newly seeking to use Social Media to build or bolster their brand. If his words don’t get your attention nothing will.
The mistake firms make is using these channels to try to sell stuff.” And went on to clarify that point more by saying; “They [social media channels] are not designed for that but to add value and build trust. We understood that from day one.
Can bringing someone a spoon really change anything, maybe not, but I’ll tell you one thing, I will never forget that story and now neither will you. So I hope the story I shared above was in some way instructive and perhaps someone who's consider employing social-media to build their brand found the information here helpful. For me this story fully illustrates just how powerful social media networking can actually be in the hands of the right person, with the correct motivations. Until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cotes du Roussillon Uncorked: Domaine Gardiès "Le Clos des Vignes" 2008

A timely article written by regular guest contributor, Helen Fortin, a passionate foodie and wine connoisseur; she is a certified wine-geek, and a frequent shopper of the SAQ in her hometown.

"To live in harmony with natures rough and wild side, to understand that everything comes from the soil and from the permanent attention that this brings to wine in your glass", this is Jean Gardies guiding philosophy.

I truly enjoy when I can get a good bottle of wine for a reasonable price, like many people, I hate throwing money down the drain. It’s frustrating, sometimes when I taste a bottle I just purchased and it’s just average or not that good, it feels like a waste of money. But on the other hand, when I do get a bottle I truly enjoy, I do believe “its money well spent” regardless of the price.

With that thought in mind, I want to tell you about this amazing blend I uncorked just last night, we had a great dinner with good friends; who we shared a very nice bottle of chilled, vintage, Dom Pérignon to start the evening off just right. Later that evening, we dialed in a Domaine Gardiès "Le Clos des Vignes" 2008 a substantial change in the price point, but what it lacked in price, it more than made up for it in quality. Once we got this wine uncorked, we were all overwhelmed by the beautiful aromatics flooding out the top of the glass, a bright and full bodied powerful nose, and lots of fruit dark fruit cassis tickling my nose. Honestly it smelled just blackberry jam, lots of dark fruits, hints of black berries, ripe blueberries, wow a really delicious tease and somewhat reminded me of a black licorice candy.

As my guests and I had our first few sips, were all were really taken back by this wines quality, its substance and delightful flavor profile. It had me thinking about picking blackberries and raspberry-fruit, this wine seemed to effortlessly intermingles the rich fruit, with leafs of fresh tobacco, forest floor, and sweet balsamic notes; while its silky texture seduced us with each sip, exciting us with its excellent minerality, and a fantastic overall structure

When it came to pairing; I love how it was able to stand up to my yummy Duck Rillettes Duck Rillettes; which basically is duck meat prepared in duck fat and it's oh-so tasty. In fact, I loved it so much, I had the “leftovers” for lunch on crackers with French brie cheese on top of the duck Rillettes. This wine, made for a perfect pairing companion to the duck, a match made in heaven or in France I should say [ha]. Seeing that both items are technically and delightfully a French creation. I get my duck-rillettes locally here Quebec where I live, oh-boy it was such a delicious paring; my mouth is still salivating just from thinking about it.

Good thing I still have a few more bottles of “Gardies” left in my cellar, and at a 15% abv, this is not a wine for the faint of heart. I did enjoy it very much and cannot wait until I will open another. I found this bottle of wine here in Québec selling for $32 in our local SAQ and although it sells for less in the states, I still thought it was worth every penny.

The blend is made predominantly made with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre grapes and has some Carignan grapes thrown in for good measure. A grape used to give the blend a distinctive trait; distinguishing itself nicely from the more widely used GSM blend.

I thought the wine itself is ready to drink and is drinking nicely, but it could be left and forgotten in the cellar or in a basement for a few more years. Again this wine is delightfully full bodied, strong, and very seductive. Please join me in raising a glass to your health and enjoy cheers! For those of you that don’t have a liquor store near by, you may want get out there, and find a few bottles, don’t walk–run [ha].

Because for the price this will be the some of the best $30 you’ve ever spent, trust me. Lucky for you folks in the states, because I know this wine can be found in the U.S  for under $30; again I can’t overstate this enough, this wine really is great choice, makes for a great companion for duck, steak or anything off the grill, I enjoyed it so much, I'm sure you will as well, cheers!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2010 Riverbench Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Maria Valley

"A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children." -John James Audubon

It looks like the last of April's showers have come and gone, just in time for May's flowers. It's also time for many wineries, distributor and retailers to promote the newest selections from 2010 and what better way to promote the "newest" vintage than the upcoming "Earth-day" celebration this coming weekend.

Yes folks, Earth Day Food & Wine Festival is nearly here, this coming Saturday in fact. It's a great place to bring the kids, while the adult slurp on adult grape juice. It's also a great opportunity to meet more than 200 purveyors of sustainably produced foods and wine who will be on hand to captivate you with a taste of the sustainable; for a truly unique event.

Although no tie-dyes are required, feel free to hob-nob with the greenest folks on the planet, meet SIP certified growers, vintners and have fun interacting with other like-minded vino-sapiens. If you'd like to find out more about what's going on this weekend for Earth Day, please click here and you can find out what kind of person brings an Owl to a wine tasting.

In today's Wine of the Week feature; SIP Certified Riverbench Pinot Noir, a winery located on the historic Foxen Canyon Road, in the Santa Maria Valley, relatively a stones throw from downtown Los Olivos. Where if you've seen the movie, you may recall Miles [Sideways] had his meltdown about not wanting to drink any F-ing Merlot just outside the Los Olivos Cafe. If you have never been to this area, folks you're seriously missing the boat, in so many ways. Especially so for you Orange County folks, c'mon Temecula is a waste of time, get yourself on up to Solvang where you're just minutes from some of the best wine in California, once there grab a few dozen of those tasty Ebelskiver's from the sidewalk window and then hit the wine trail.

Back to the wine in today's review spotlight; the 2010 Riverbench Estate Pinot Noir, produced exclusively from Santa Maria Valley fruit.  An area planted primarily to Pommard, Martini, and Dijon clones, it is everything you're looking for and more. That's if you like fruit forward wines that taste more like the grapes that grew on the vine, than the dirt they were grown in or the barrels they were in aged in. In the glass you'll find a very bright cranberry colored core, very light and lean in color. The nose is chalk full of very expressive scents of bright cherry, summer fresh raspberry, a newly opened coke and a hint of smokiness.

On the palate, or after the initial splash down, boat loads of bright strawberry, raspberry spread over a freshly toasted English muffin, with a spot of tea. The tremendous weight of the fruit is amply supported by the wines bright and vivid acidity, the finish just goes on and on. I had not finished the wine on first day, so I resorted to the vacu-vin, and the wine held up nicely to the second day after being uncorked. This is the kind of wine that will play nicely with many different dishes, aka very food-friendly. This is the kind of wine for folks who like to taste a bit of the fruit, surprisingly from which the wine was derived from in the first place. But for those of you who are not flattered by the kiss of rich red fruit, who dig the taste of thrice used barrels, stems and twigs, well you'd better look away, before it's too late, this wine is California Pinot Noir all the way.

This wine is made in a drink now and drink often style, it sells for a SRP of $28 and I gave it a score of 90 points, it's highly recommended. That's all for today folks, I hope you can make to this weekend's Earth Fair celebration at the SIP Certified Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery in Templeton. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Navarra Uncorked: Bodega Otazu Crianza 2006

“You need to take pleasure in life's daily little treasures. It is the most important thing in measuring success.” ~Denis Waitley

Many folks today are looking for the pot of gold, seeking the buried treasure or hoping to get rich quick by hitting the mega-millions jackpot, understandable in today's economy that desire is even more amplified. But in that pursuit it's far too easy to run by the many treasures which lies easily within our reach.

The every-day treasures, like getting every green light on the way home from work, getting off work early before a big weekend, a well made meal waiting on the table as you walk in the door after a long day or perhaps even a great bottle of wine. To me it's those little things, that can be a real game changer. In my experience, a great bottle of wine; is like a work of art or a thought provoking book, one that helps me shine a big-bright-light, to find a way out of the mundane.

It was just last year in July uhh, I mean September, that I and a team of wine-writers from the states, had an amazing opportunity to visit one of very best wine regions in the world and in my opinion some world-class wineries. An area known as the Kingdom of Navarra; a region that for many is simply and sadly flying under the radar. I think that's especially so for the average vino sapien, walking the aisles of their local wine store thirsting for wines with a soul. If you were to take a small poll and ask ten random vino-sapiens to name a winery from that region, that they would be hard pressed to come up with answer to the question, let alone even know where Navarra is located on a map [sad to say].

Now you've most likely read those words before, "wines with a soul" but what does this mean? The idea came about during conversation with a good friend, a fellow wine-geek and blogger, known to many as the Wandering-Wino. It's a phrase I will directly attribute to him and give him full credit for the concept. It's that idea or concept which I mention in my posts time to time in relation to a few wines which remind me of that phrase.

In today's review of the 2006 Bodega Otazu Crianza I’m again reminded of that concept of wines with “soul”. For me the concept is simple; it means you can see, smell and taste that a wine came from a place, it doesn't have that manufactured look and feel, there's no slimy residue, something I find in many bulk-wine facility producers, where "efficiencies of scale" are their claim to fame [you know who they are]. In my opinion those wines seem as though they have been formulated in the chemistry lab and honestly who wants to drink wine that is better suited for the sippy-cup than a nice stem. 
So in keeping with the theme of today's review, of finding everyday treasures of life, I present to you a wine I brought all the way home from Spain last year, although you can actually find it here in relative quantity, I loved this wine so much I just scored another half case of this beauty for under a Benjamin with shipping and that folks is quite a deal. Because dollar for dollar, the quality of this juice beats the snot out of so many other wines, even in higher price points. So yes, we are talking some serious QPR here, as this wine sells for under $15 most places, making this wine an everyday luxury, one that helps take a large bite out of the hum·drum

Even after the last drop had been slurped down, delicate, yet abundant aromas still swirling about in the glass afterward, very nice. It's most likely the same experience we all have, as we get a whiff of fresh baked bread in the morning breeze, it's hard to get enough of that tantalizing aromas. In the glass a dark cherry red with bright garnet tones. Elegant aromas flood the nose; tea leaves, dark plum, florals and a bit of under-brush. After the first splash down, ripe plum, black-cherry fruit, sweet spices [a dusting of clove] delicate hints of cedar nuances, neatly tucked in with the fruit, making for optimum balance between fruit and the seemingly nearly neutral oak presence.

Wow, how a wine in this price point achieved such complexity is just amazing to me. The approach on this wine from beginning to end is very pleasant, a silky entrance with no fuss and no muss, I didn’t even decant it, just let it warm up to room temperature after removing from the cellar in the morning. If you like freshly evenly balanced wine, this wine has it in spades. The Bodega Otazu Crianz is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I gave it a score of 91 points and highly recommend you giving it a swirl, sometime soon. Until next folks, please continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tuscany Uncorked: 2008 Gaja Ca' Marcanda Promis

"Our desires always disappoint us; for though we meet with something that gives us satisfaction, yet it never thoroughly answers our expectation. ~ Elbert Hubbard

The sting of unmet expectations have and continue to cause a labyrinth of inner and outer turmoil, furthering the cause of frustration, thoroughly illustrating what we all know as the human condition. It's with that idea in mind that I enter into this review about a wine, that for me, had built my expectations to a high and lofty place, but after uncorking the bottle, decanting, waiting, a swirl here, a slurp there, uggh, the big let down. The 2006 was amazing in 2008, when I first encountered it in Italy and still amazing today. I'm so glad I still have a few of them left to savor, but the 2008 vintage, while as Mrs. Cuvee described it as "good", for me it lacked that "wow-factor".

I'm all about two things as a self-proclaimed reviewer of wine; one is finding great wines for a reasonable price and the second is finding wines with what I call the "wow-factor". I say, "what I call", because I'm pretty sure I'm the one the few describing wines in that context. That said, the 2008 Ca' Marcanda did not live up to my expectations, I spent $35 on this wine and from past experiences I was really expecting so-much more, I was thinking, "hmmm, I'll grab a half case to cellar, if it turns out be the stellar juice it had been in the past. [I've sampled this wine twice, two bottle purchase, one six months ago and one recently].

But nope, I won't be going back to that well anytime soon, and to you wonderful folks that read my blog and take my recommendations to heart, this wine is one to skip, it's not worth the price of admission. I had a conversation with Mrs. Cuvee, about this wine that she proclaimed as "good" which for her is way above "okay", but I asked her the all important question, is it $35 good? She shrugged her shoulders, and gave no reply. See, I had my answer, yes it was good, but like I say it's not worth the price of admission, there was zero "wow" factor. And just incase you were wondering aloud, "would more time in the cellar help"? Sorry to say I don't believe so, time does not heal all things, it's what it's now, there's no room for improvement. By the way, someone should let the buyers office from Costco know, that the may just want to cut their losses on this wine, it does not appear to be selling as is, better to mark it down and move on, then let it continue take up valuable box-seat space.

Okay so about the wine; a light colored ruby core shimmering nicely in the glass, dried plums, violet floral aromas and cherries. After the first splash down; a bowl of cherries, you’ll find this wine to be very soft, smattering of inexpressive flavors: dried blackberry and plum notes, a pleasant earthiness, red unsweetened licorice, vanilla, and a dusting of baker’s chocolate playing on the back porch, the tannins soft, supple and simple, the brisk finish has me wondering what happened? This is a good wine, one I wouldn’t mind buying again, but only for a much lower price, something like $11.99, but the current price tag will keep me away from this vintage. My score is at the very bottom of my very good scale; so it gets 85 points, nearly reaching toward "oh-no I think I lost your number territory, oh-my.

If you are looking for a pairing recommendation; here’s a great recipe, which I found at It's one I’ve used before; Mozzarella-Stuffed Grilled Portobellos, you'll find that the earthy character of the wine, plays nicely with the rustic flavors of the [which I get from Sprouts] mushrooms; add a splash of balsamic vinegar for a touch of sweetness, give it a swirl.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wine of the Week: Dona Paula Malbec Seleccion de Bodega 2006

"Those who have succeeded at anything and don't mention luck are kidding themselves." ~Larry King

It's not everyday you happen upon a large stash of bottles, which you know, are not priced correctly. But I guess it was my lucky day or something like that; because I scored a half-case of the Dona Paula Malbec Seleccion de Bodega 2006 from Costco for $19 each.

As checked my smart-phone, I found out that most places are selling this same wine for $40. I was so surprised, to see this wine so marked down, but none-the-less I quietly said to myself, score. 

By the way, you can still get your hands on this wine, if you like, just click on the link above. Unfortunately you won't find it for the great price I got [sorry]. I was a bit tardy in my reporting; as it was last year in the summer that I discovered this treasure trove [which I socked away in the cellar] and have just now popped the cork on the very last one, so sad, so sad indeed.

It's funny to note, not only was this Malbec one I uncorked just the other night; but it was also the very last Malbec I purchased. Ugh, it was also the very last one in my cellar, sorry to see it go [sigh]. I'm not sure when it happened, but I think like many folks I speak with who say Malbec has seen its peak and, it's one which has come and gone. I agree to some extent, at least it has for me. 

That's not to say; if I had some über well-priced Malbec fell into my lap once more that I would hesitate for a moment, from scooping up the remaining bottles, to be squirreled away in my cellar. So maybe it's just me, as my palate has me exploring other places at the moment, checking out other regions, and through exploration, a majority of my buying decisions are made [within reason].

So why, I'm not gravitating to these wines a much as I use to? I'm not really sure. Perhaps one reason is that I'm not seeing the once lofty shelf presence or perhaps that is just my narrow observation.  Other possibilities  maybe Malbec isn't what it use to be or my interests for other grapes have driven me away. All questions to ponder.

It's even more interesting to note; that within the US Market, the average vino-sapien is drinking more imported wines than ever before, but I'm seeing far-less of presence of the once mighty Malbec. 

But what I do continue to see is the everyday "normal" profile; you know the one's I'm talking about. They have boat-loads of of low-hanging fruit, the occasional vanilla and toasty nuances from new oak, yawn. 

In other words the perfectly accessible, simple, fruit forward wines made for the wine-swirling masses at-large and the types of wines made to please the garden variety vino-sapien. All of which has me thinking, please come back Malbec-Man we need you again.

So what does that mean? Good question, I’d really like to see Malbec-Man save the day once more, how, I’d like to see more Malbec like the one I uncorked the other night, which has great structure, lush dark fruit, elegant texture, higher than usual acidity, giving way to real poise and polish and a unforgettable finish and all wrapped up in a reasonable price. 

Is that too much to ask for on a regular basis? I'm afraid of the answer. Perhaps another reason why my [wine-budget] dollars are currently going elsewhere. However, I've been stocking on on 2009 Bordeaux, more about that later.

Mean while back at the review, in the glass the Dona Paula Seleccion de Bodegas, throws a glass staining, opaque garnet core at you,making my eyes very happy. Then ticking a snout in the glass, a brilliant bouquet of freshly ripe dark plums, alluring spice and floral notes inviting the first sip. 

I knew right away, I was in for a treat, this wine had aged gracefully in my small Avanti cellar. Okay, now for the first slurp, wow, yum a rush of wild-ripe blueberries, a dark blackberry, black unsweetened licorice, a dusting of mocha bacon-fat and earthy minerals and the right touch of spicy oak, the tannins were polished. This wine was elegant, but at the same time boasting of power and structure and finishes oh-so nicely.

By the way folks, there's still some of this very tasty Malbec available at, even at the price they're asking it's well worth the price of admission. I scored this wine a whopping 91 points and heartily recommend grabbing a few for yourself, this wine is in the sweet spot right now. That's all I've got for you today, until next time sip long and prosper!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cava Uncorked: How I met my first Cava

As summer approaches on the west coast especially, folks start to think about chilled bottles of friendly bubbly to accompany their out-door activities, talking about hanging pool side on warm summer days, flute in one hand and a bag of truffle oil coated popcorn in the other.

That said, I've got a timely article written by guest contributor; Kim Johnson the author of D'Vine Wine Time Communications a blog known for bringing "affordable California wines; to meet everyday people”. Also be sure to follow her on Twitter where you can also catch her snarky one-liners and delightful wine-chatter most Wednesday evenings, where she's a frequent participate in the lively conversations around what has become the vino water-cooler.

So Kim when did you first develop interest in Cava? When I noticed the schedule listing "Cava" for #winechat [and Cuvee Corner hosting] well, I knew I could not miss it. My only pitfall was I did not know the first thing about Cava, therefore did not buy anything to partake in that particular night, but learned SO MUCH that evening and that's where Bill at Cuvee Corner stepped up to help teach me more"

In my twenty plus years of drinking & enjoying wines, I have not had the opportunity, nor knowledge to try the beautiful Spanish Sparklers known as Cava. My friend here at Cuvee Corner recently encouraged me to give it a try for the first time.

Running with Bill's wonderful Cava recommendations, I picked up a bottle of Segura Viudas Aria Brut and a bottle of Berberana Gran Tradicion Brut Rose Cava, one a blanc from blanc and the other a Rose, allowing for a fun little comparison.

First out was the Segura Viudas Aria Brut. It poured with strong bubbles and a beautiful straw pale yellow color. After the bubbles settled a bit, the nose on this wine was a wonderful apple with slight melon. My first sip was impressive! It was citrus; apples and pears with a finish that had herbal/mineral notes. It was full bodied; crisp with balanced acidity and a long finish. I could not ask for more out of a dry bubbly! I had done a little reading on this Cava before trying it so I could make a feeble attempt of making something from scratch to pair with it. I concluded that apples and cheese would be a worthy try and successfully paired this Segura Viudas Aria Brut Cava with a Apple/Brie Tart. It was a fabulous pairing, a real crowd-pleaser for very little "Cha-Ching".

After the first Cava, I was hooked and being reeled in, I could not wait to try the Berberana Gran Tradicion Brut Rose and the next day did not come soon enough. The Berberana Rose Cava was a a "Girl's Pink" [you know, like Victoria's Secret in a bottle]. This Cava is a blend of 70% Monastrell and 30% Pinot Noir, so it's obvious where the wonderful color comes from. The nose on this one was fruit forward with pears and berries with a slight floral note in the background. Again the fruit was also forward on the palate with raspberries and pears. It was much bigger on the acidity and tartness than the Segura Viudas Aria Brut with a medium body and a long finish. This sparkling Rose was "winetastic", I knew right away that it would be so much fun to enjoy with Sushi, but did not get that opportunity. Instead I paired it up with a appetizer of Prosciutto Wrapped Roasted Asparagus Spears. In a word DELISH, the acidity in the wine and bubbles matched up great with the saltiness of the Prosciutto, made for a most wonderful Cava and a exceptional value.

So, which did I like best? Hmmm...really a tough choice. Both were so exceptional - but if I were to only pick one; I'd say for me the Segura Viudas Aria Brut. I really thought I'd love the Rose more but the white brut surprised me a bit and was truly a Cava delight. Both were truly awesome and you would not be steered wrong either way - the price points on both are under $10 which to me is an amazing value.

I'm so very thankful to Bill at Cuvee Corner for his encouragement and recommends on trying Cava. It took this California wine drinker to Spain and back through a bottle of bubbles for this first time (and not the last time) as a Cava drinker. It also brought me to my other "first time experience" to be able to share my tasting experience as a guest post on Cuvee's been an honor....Thank You Cuvee Corner readers and a "Cava Cheers" to you all!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter Treat: Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour

"Champagne is the only wine a woman can drink and remain beautiful." ~ Madame de Pompadour [the great courtesan and mistress of Louis XV]

Spring has officially sprung, it's no more apparent than here in San Diego, with our morning clouds, warm afternoon sunshine and crisp chill in the air hours after sunset. The kids are home from school, the big Easter Weekend is upon us all, Peter Cotton Tail is busy coloring eggs and readying himself for a full night of delivering baskets full of teeth-trashing treasure's to beleaguered parents, who themselves are scrambling about the vinous landscape looking for the best wine or wines to pair with their Easter dinner.

So put down those Easter baskets, throw aside the search for the perfect Sunday morning bonnet and c'mon spit out those jelly beans. Why, because the great folks at Domaine Carneros want to help you with the one thing on your to-do-list today, so put a check mark next to, "find the perfect bottle of vino" for Easter Sunday. Why, because the Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour, a blend of 62% Pinot Noir and 38% Chardonnay, will have you and your guest hopping up and down for joy as you sip, slurp and splash glass after glass of this wonderful bubbly, you'll think you've found the "golden-ticket" in the hidden Easter egg, and may find yourself running down the street in your Sunday "best" shouting or maybe even shrieking, "I've found-it", "I've found-it".

Before we jump, hop or spring into how wonderful this bottle of bubbly tastes, I think you should take a peek behind the purple-stained curtain just a wee-bit. I want to talk about the winemaker; you know the one who orchestrates all the magic that transpires to what's in the bottle. Her name is Eileen Crane, and has often been referred to as America's Doyenne of Sparkling Wine; she has been and remains the face of Domaine Carneros. She is one of a handful of women who are now recognized as leading the way in California’s wine industry, she was also recently recognized as one of the 75 "Most Influential Women in Business" by the San Francisco Business Times.

She was also selected personally by Claude Taittinger for the position of company President and also the winemaker of Domaine Carneros, a winery located in the heart of the California wine-scene, at the crossroads between Napa and Sonoma, a winery dedicated to producing world-class sparkling and still wines. The bubbly from Domaine Carneros, although it cannot be called Champagne; it’s made in the French tradition [méthode champenoise] from famed Carneros region grapes.

Now about the real treat for this Sunday's Easter meal and sorry kids but this time tricks [and neither are treats] are not for kids, the Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour has aromas, that will bounce and pounce on you like a bright spring day. A bouquet of bright floral notes, a freshly sliced Anjou pear, rose petals, spices and dried strawberries. After the first splash-down from the flute, rich lush apple and pear fruit, a tart cherry, a dusting of those dried strawberries, a bite of ripe summer peaches, all touched by wet smooth river-stone minerality, finishing in a mouth coating creaminess. Everything you want in a mouth-watering bubbly and more.

This wine delivers over and over and best of all falls into the reasonable price category, with a $34 SRP. I gave this bottle of bubbly a solid score of 90 points and highly recommend it for the upcoming holiday or anytime, so hop on over to your favorite wine shop and grab a few bottles. Here's to a great Easter weekend, be safe, have fun and above all continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Taste of Tuscany: 2007 Brancaia "Ilatraia" IGT Rosso di Toscano

“Condiments are like old friends -- highly thought of, but often taken for granted.” ~ Marilyn Kaytor

Another gorgeous sunny in San Diego day is underway, it's great living here and even better when we have back to back days of warm sunshine beaming down on as we work, play and at the end of a long day, grab that next bottle of wine from the cellar for a fun-filled evening with friends. It's even better when you uncover a bottle you’ve been sitting on, forgetting about, finding and then waiting to open at the right moment; that moment the weekend, Italian fare on the menu, great friends and a Tuscan treasure to share. 

The bottle in today’s review spotlight is the 2007 Brancaia "Ilatraia" IGT Rosso di Toscano, which I ordered after coming home from my first amazing trip to Tuscany back in 2008. Mrs. Cuvee and I had many adventures while jaunting about in the Italian country side; visiting many of the villages of the Chianti region, at times freelancing and the other appointments which blew our hair back. One night, after a very long day out-and-about, we discovered a wonderful little place to dine just outside of Castellini in Chianti. It was there, dining alfresco, ordering from the amazing wine menu of Locanda di Pietracupa [San Donato in Poggio (FI) Via Madonna di Pietracupa] where I first discovered Ilatraia Rosso from the brilliant Tuscan producer Brancaia.

Once I pulled the cork on this bad-boy I knew we were all in for a real treat, I decanted the wine an hour or so before dinner, enjoyed some bubbly during the appetizer portion of the evening and then hovering over the top of the decanter, peering into inky opaque darkness, whoa a bouquet of ripe blackberries, dark rich plums, and a burnt tobacco leaf, leap to my nose like a frog in hot-water.

Once we all got a splash in our glasses, whoa heads snapped back and the expression on everyone’s face said; “wow”.  I don’t thing I was prepared for how good this wine was going to be; Mrs. Cuvee took charge of the bottle preventing me from doing any unintended bogarting on my part. On the first slurp; a boat load of dark rich fruit, a blackberry compote tart, rich earth, tar, a dusting of mocha and ripe plums dancing around the firm, well integrated tannins, which play nicely into the long palate coating finish.

I scored this wonderful blend [a blend that changes year to year] of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot, the fruit drawn from vineyards in Maremma, which spent 18 months in French oak an amazing 95 points. This folks is rock-star juice and the sad part is that was my last bottle, this wine could have easily gone many more years in the bottle, as it’s just now beginning to peek. Honestly, I would dare you to find a better value than this; I scored this wine for $50 back in 2008 from JJ Buckley.

I highly recommend you seeking out Ilatraia for yourself, whether it’s this vintage or even their current offering. The last time I received samples [this was not one] from the great folks at the Hess Collection [Update: Brancaia is now imported by Gallo] who are currently the importer of Brancaia Wines here in the states, I had an opportunity to sample their Chianti, and it was pretty fab as well. Until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Taste of Italy: 2001 "Ubiqua" Cà del Vént Chardonnay

It's an popular notion to succumb to in our day and age; "out with the old and in with the new", those thoughts are even more on our minds now that we are into April, and winters bite is now a distant memory and spring has really been sprung.

We all start to think about planting our gardens, vintners are seeing bud break in the vineyards and kids are home on Spring Break, driving their parents crazy. I know for many of and myself included; we vino-sapiens seem to be hard-wired if you will, or some would say we are just plain pre-disposed to the youthful, the fresh or ripest apple in the tree. You know the the one; it appeals to our most basic desires to have the newest vintage, it's understandable we've all been there before.

But hold on just a minute, before you run off down the rabbit hole, chasing that shiny new [what?] doo-dad you've been after or even the latest and greatest new vintage of your favorite Chardonnay. I'd like you to slow-your-roll for just a moment and take a look at this brilliant older vintage wine from a great producer just north of town of Brescia, Cellatica found at the top of the boot in northern Italy. That producer is Cà del Vént; a small boutique producer of fine wines, imported by a new, very smart group, called Wine Passionate. I received a sample of this wine just a few weeks back; I've finally had a chance to give it a swirl just the other day. This Chardonnay was paired with a wonderful recipe; which I came across on my last to trip to Campania.

Pasta and Potatoes Primavera [of sorts]: This recipe makes enough for four people: What you will need; 2 dark potatoes, generous EVOO splashes 1/4 cup of chopped and browned onion, a handful of garlic, 1/2lb of Pancetta, a half-bag of mixed pasta, a box of vegetable broth, some anchovy drippings, 1 fillet of anchovy [go easy] and your choice of pecorino cheese.

How to prepare the base: In large saucepan heat oil with onion, mashed garlic, pig and tomatoes. Then Cook for about 3 minutes on high. Add chopped potatoes and let them brown for a few minutes. Add vegetable soup and let it dry. Continue cooking the potatoes until they’re fork tender. Add spoonfuls of soup & let the pasta cook in it for seven to eight minutes stirring continuously. Then plate and add a few generous handfuls of grated pecorino cheese. A delicious pairing which worked out so nicely, I'd recommend giving it a swirl. You can found out more about this recipe provided by with just a quick click of the mouse, to read the amazing story behind it.

About the Ubiqua, definitely a very different Chardonnay, than most you will ever encounter, a wine of substance, it's has great structure and many unique flavors. The Terre di Franciacorta, Ubiqua, gets its name from the beautiful and symbolic piece of sculpture by Mario Diacono, who designed it especially for the art-filled vineyard grounds. In the glass; are 18 months, then aged in bottle for 36 months of clearly oxidized wine, showing shades of wet hay or the hue of uncooked pasta. Wildly different aromas escaping easily from the class once poured; complex floral and herbs, blending with very savory buttery nut note inviting the first sip. After the first splash down plenty of creamy, nuttiness, vanilla spice notes, complex minerality and interesting roasted nut flavor running front to back.

Don't drink this wine too cold, because the oak seems to be a bit dominate. If you take it out of the cellar, just before getting dinner started you are sure to hit this wine right in it's flavor stride and like all four corners of the art that appears on the label, you'll taste the vivid richness, tantalizing vibrance, the appealing viscosity and bringing it all together the right touch of acidity. My Score: 89 points. Prepared with the right food and this wine can really hit the high-notes, at $46 it's what I would call an "occasion" wine or perhaps just a great way to brighten your weekend.  If you're interested in giving this wine a swirl for yourself, then it can be found at Wine Passionate a local San Diego online wine shop. I hope you will give this wine a swirl soon, let me know what you think, I look forward to your feedback. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

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