Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Core 2007 Elevation Sensation, Alta Mesa Vineyard, Santa Barbara County

Core Elevation SensationWhen the icy blasts of winter chill you to the bone, it is time to reach for a powerful red wine. Here we uncork an aged beauty from Santa Barbara County.

The California Wine Destination You Should Know

No one needs to tell you about Napa or Sonoma. Any wine lover worth his or her salt is familiar with California’s most famous wine regions. What if I could tell you about a California wine destination that isn’t overrun by tourists and shuttle buses and is producing outrageously great wine? That location is Santa Barbara County.

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Located about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara has long been a hideaway for movie stars. It’s also the home to incredible wine, some highlighted in the 2004 movie, Sideways. Pinot Noir and great Chardonnay are certainly front and center in Santa Barbara County, and Ballard Canyon is making a name for bold, expressive Syrah. There are more than 200 wineries in Santa Barbara County and we love the stunning beauty of the area and the friendly, slower-paced vibe.

Uncorking Some Aged Goodness

We’ve visited Santa Barbara County twice and at our last visit we were poured some wine from Core Winery. We were impressed and later bought two bottles of their 2007 Core Elevation Sensation through an online site. I’ve gotten into the habit of buying multiple bottles so that one can be enjoyed immediately (which we did) and the other can be laid down for aging. It was time to take the pulse of the second bottle.

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In North Carolina, we don’t get the harsh sub-zero temperatures we used to experience up north. However, a 30 degree day here can seem mighty cold – and really, we don’t need much of an excuse to open a bottle of big, bold red wine. So we did.

Tower Of Power

When we opened the first bottle four years ago, we were rocked by the sheer force of the wine. Big flavors and at 15.1% ABV, it was a bit on the “hot side.”

The 2007 version of Elevation Sensation is a 62% Grenache, 38% Mourvedre blend. There were 600 cases produced. The vines were planted in decomposed granite soil in the Alta Mesa Vineyard, which sits at 3,200 feet perched above the Cuyama Valley.

Mountain-grown vines tend to have grapes with more concentrated flavors. The wind and soils mean the vines struggle and yield fewer grapes – but each packed with intense flavors. Perhaps it is just mental imagery, but I can taste the breeze and intense sunlight in the glass.

Twelve years on from the vintage date, we can report that the Elevation Sensation is still going strong. Some wines become a mere shadow of their former self with a decade or so of aging. Not so with this offering from Core.

I had expected Core Elevation to be meeker and milder, but it wasn’t. It is still a rambunctious sensation and needs some time to settle down in the glass. The wait is worth it. It is a big wine with briary, blueberry flavors mixed with dark fruit. There is a bit of tartness and a silky finish. This wine could benefit from 45 minutes to an hour of decanting.

The current vintage is 2012 and I see that the blend has changed with the addition of Carignan and Syrah. The cost is $35 and well worth the purchase. In fact, we recommend two!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: January 11, 2019

Benjamin Benschneider © 2018 Tacoma Art Museum

Tacoma Art Museum's New Benaroya Wing Opens January 19

The newest addition to the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) is the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Wing, a 6,595-square-foot expansion to showcase the Benaroya Collection gift, which opens to the public on January 19. Led by architects Tom Kundig and Kirsten R. Murray the design of the Benaroya Wing balances opacity and transparency providing symmetry with recent TAM addition of the Haub Family Galleries, also designed by Olson Kundig.

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The addition strengthens the visual connection between TAM and the city by activating the north end of the museum, offering a new platform for visitors to observe the urban context from the galleries. "With the Benaroya Wing, I'm most excited about the opportunity to break down traditional thresholds between the museum and the public. The new vista gallery is designed to entice people inside to view the Benaroya Collection by offering a look into what's happening inside the museum," says Kundig.

Col Vetoraz

Col Vetoraz joins The Grand Wine Tour Association

Col Vetoraz, a winery situated right next to the Mont di Cartizze in S. Stefano di Valdobbiadene, a municipality in Italy’s Veneto region, has joined the Grand Wine Tour Association. The Grand Wine Tour is an Association of top wineries across seven regions of Italy, offering exclusive wine tastings, boutique hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants & unique activities dedicated to a luxury clientele.

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In 1993, Francesco Miotto, Paolo De Bortoli, and Loris Dall’Aqua founded the winery and planted vineyards that today give rise to the most prestigious wine in the Valdobbiadene DOCG: Valdobbiadene Cartizze Superiore. This style of Prosecco is highly exclusive as there are only 106 hectares of vineyards that fall under the appellation.

Monterey County Tourism Focuses On Destination Sustainability

The Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau (MCCVB) has joined two initiatives that will further its goal of ensuring Monterey County is one of the world’s leading sustainable destinations by both setting ambitious goals and measuring long term impacts.

The first is with Positive Impact, a global not for profit which exists to provide education and collaboration opportunities to create a sustainable event industry – and a vision to address the role of plastics in this industry. MCCVB is the exclusive destination partner for Positive Impact on this project which has already included collaboration with a number of United Nations bodies.

Measuring success is also critical to MCCVB’s mission. The organization joined the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) initiative. The GDS-Index measures sustainability strategies, policies and performance of participating destinations and by sharing best practices from around the world. Monterey County recently scored 52% on the sustainability index just behind Geneva and ahead of U.S. cities like Washington, D.C. and Houston. The scoring allows MCCVB to set a benchmark and improve in the coming years.


New Details and Activities Revealed for NBA Experience at Disney Springs

Walt Disney World Resort is giving guests and basketball fans a glimpse of the exciting action coming to the new NBA Experience at Disney Springs in summer 2019. This one-of-a-kind destination – developed by Walt Disney Imagineering in collaboration with the NBA – will feature hands-on activities that immerse guests into the world of professional basketball. The new NBA Experience is set to open at Disney Springs in summer 2019.

"Developed with the NBA, and inspired by the league's 29 arenas around the country, NBA Experience will highlight the heart-pounding action and excitement of the NBA world," said Stan Dodd, Executive Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering. "From training simulations and clock-racing competitions to fan-favorite NBA moments – we're bringing new experiences and thrilling games to life to make fans truly feel like a star player."

NBA Experience will feature something for everyone. Visitors will get a glimpse into the atmosphere at the NBA Draft, participate in their own scouting reports, go through pregame preparations, and step onto the court to make clutch shots and highlight reel-worthy slam dunks. The attraction will feature a dozen unique and innovative activities.

Organic Wine Now Part Of Meal Subscription Plan

Good Company Wines has announced a strategic partnership with San Francisco-based subscription meal delivery service, Sun Basket. Following up on a successful launch in the initial markets, the plan is to expand the organic wine subscription service to a national audience.

The Sun Basket subscription is focused on "cleaner glass" wine selections. Biodynamic, organic and sustainably farmed wines, the program is built on Good Company Wines’ global wine network and Sonoma-based operations. Designed to pair with Sun Basket's core offering, the monthly rotating selection of wines showcases new pioneers, special heirloom vineyards, and a high quality/price ratio.

AIDAnova_LNG_bunkeringAIDA Cruises Ship Makes Maiden Call in the Canary Islands as World's First Cruise Vessel Powered by LNG

Carnival Corporation and its AIDA Cruises brand celebrated the start of its operation of the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Cruise Terminal in the Canary Islands with the maiden call of AIDAnova, the world's first cruise vessel to be powered at sea and in port by liquefied natural gas (LNG), the world's cleanest burning fossil fuel.

In total, following AIDAnova, Carnival Corporation has an additional 10 next-generation "green" cruise ships on order that will be powered by LNG in port and at sea, with expected delivery dates between 2019 and 2025, leading the cruise industry's use of LNG to power cruise ships.

AIDAnova welcomed its inaugural guests in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, for the first seven-day holiday cruise around the Canary Islands and Madeira in December.

New Organic Wine Producer's U.S. Marketing Strategy Recognized by Chilean Government

St. Stephen Vineyards organic wine St. Stephen Vineyards, has been named named winner of the Chilean government's 2018 CORFO Regional Program of Support for Entrepreneurship for marketing innovation. St. Stephen wines are high quality, certified organic, harvested by hand, and artisanally produced in small batches. Proceeds used to support environmental causes.

The objective of the competition is to support entrepreneurs with high growth potential and international scope. The competition is open to startups, and winners are evaluated on innovation in technology and in marketing. St. Stephen Organic Vineyards submitted a detailed project outlining work to investigate, identify, and test both conventional and alternative marketing channels for small and medium sized Chilean vineyards to enter the US Market.

"This honor validates our work to define and test alternative distribution channels in the United States for organic wine and is a first step to opening the door to roughly 80% of Chile's vineyards who are currently shut out of the US market," said St. Stephen Organic Vineyards President, Tim Edwards. St. Stephen Organic Vineyards wine became available in the US in September 2018.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

WIYG–A Round-Up Of Wines We Love

Whew. With guests and special events over the last few weeks, we’ve popped open a lovely assortment of wines. Here’s a look at what we’ve been sipping. What about you? WIYG? (What’s In Your Glass?)


Shadow Ranch 2015 Grenache, El Dorado

Shadow Ranch is a small family owned winery in California’s Sierra Foothills. Built in 1888, the buildings have a Gold Rush era feel. They specialize in small batch, single vineyard wines from high elevation sites in El Dorado County.

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Enjoyed this in on Christmas Eve. Has swirling flavors of strawberry and cherry.

IMG_20181229_193915Honoro Vera Blanco 2017 Rueda

This Spanish wine is made primarily from Verdejo grapes blended with Viura and Sauvignon Blanc. We love it because of the stunning label and it proved a good match for our shrimp and pasta dish. The wine has a nice crispness, but also nice fruit and some herbaciousness.

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Magic Box 2017 Red Blend, Spain

This bottle was a $7 pick-up at Total Wines. It overdelivered on value. It is 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache and 100% fun. Bold fruit flavors and medium plus body belies its low price tag.

IMG_20190104_185534Candoni Elviana 2015 Red Blend, Veneto

We enjoyed this bottle with friends during dinner at Garibaldi's in Fuquay-Varina. For our Italian dishes we selected from their outstanding wine list and chose this blend from the Veneto region in northeast Italy. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. This bottle is soft and silky and paired nicely with four very different dishes ranging from chicken parmesan to my cavatelli in garlic sauce.

IMG_20181225_150444Via Romano 2015 Primitivo

This is another bottle from El Dorado County and is a fresh take on Primitivo – the grape also known as Zinfandel. The wine has raspberry flavors and cooking spice and it was a perfect accompaniment to our beef tenderloin meal. Primitivo is an ancient European grape with deep roots in Italy. It can shine  as shown in this wonderful bottle.

Raats 2014 Red Jasper, StellenboschIMG_20190105_174419

Yes, we love South African wines! We brought this red blend from Stellenbosch to a neighborhood wine tasting. It is a Cabernet Franc based blend (60%) with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec. This is flowing with black cherry and blackberry flavors. It is a full-bodied beauty with solid tannins and notes of dark chocolate.

This is an example of why we love the superb winemaking of South Africa.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Right Now Canned Wine Takes Aim At Millennial Wine Market

Can creative cans capture wine consumer consideration?Right Now Canned Wine

Canned Wine Growth Explodes

Canned wine is no longer a fad. In fact, it is a $45 million segment of the wine and spirits industry. In the period of June 2017 to June 2018, the sales of canned wine increased 43%. One group with whom wine in cans is resonating is Millennials, who like the single serve and the environmentally friendly aspects of the packaging.

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All told, there are approximately 370 billion aluminum cans used for beverages annually. In the not too distant past, beer drinkers would avoid aluminum cans in favor of bottles to avoid the metallic taste. Those days are long gone with the advent of interior can liners, typically made of plastic. In craft beer crazy North Carolina, most of the beer is being packaged in cans.

We recently received a quartet of canned wine from Right Now. Right Now is the brainchild of winemaker Olga Crawford, a Master of Wine.

Should You Drink This Beer “Right Now?”

Canned wine is really all about the setting. If you are sitting at a candlelit dinner celebrating your wedding anniversary, I wouldn’t suggest opening two cans of wine. However, if you are filling the cooler for a camping trip, tailgate party or a picnic – by all means, these are ideal.

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We sampled four Right Now wines: Alpine Stream White, Red No. 8, Shimmer and Dry Rosé. The cans are attractively designed, with bold botanical graphics.

  • Alpine Stream White is a Rhône inspired white with a blend of 85% Pinot Gris, 10% Viognier, 3% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Vermentino. It is 12.5% alcohol and tasted pleasant but not memorable. On a hot patio in July, it might be just the ticket.
  • The Right Now Rosé is a California blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Barbera. This is a nice, light rosé and packaged perfectly to pack for your next outing. With an ABV of less than 12%, it should pair well with light picnic foods.
  • Red No. 8 is a blend based on Lodi Zinfandel with 63% Zinfandel, 25%Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, 3% Petite Sirah. This is a nice mix of grapes with a fruit forward flavor and minimal tannins.
  • Shimmer is a frizzante style rosé from a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and other assorted grapes. This was the sweetest of the wines we tried and not a good match for our palates. We can see this being quite popular out in the boat this summer.
  • Right Now also offers Red No. 6, which is 100% Dolcetto. That sounds like an interesting wine.

Enjoy Whenever And Wherever

To be upfront about it. I prefer drinking bottled wine. The whole process of uncorking (or yes, unscrewing) a bottle and pouring it into a nice glass appeals to me. I also like the visual aspect of wine – something that you miss gazing at an opaque can. If you are drinking out of a can, you can’t enjoy the bouquet of the wine.

When I worked at my first newspaper, my boss wrote a column called The Old Curmudgeon. I have to be careful not to become one myself. Right Now wines aren’t targeted to the tuxedo and crystal goblet crowd, their professed goal is to “make sure that you can have great wine whenever and wherever you want it.”

At about $24 per four-pack of 12 oz. cans, Right Now makes it easy to venture to locations where glass bottles are a no-no. Right Now is a good pick to explore the trending phenomenon of canned wine.

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Old Vine Zinfandel

Kicking The New Year Off Right!

There was quite a bit of commotion around the house for the holidays. Starting right before Christmas we had a steady stream of family house guests. Our ensemble included three dogs – one of our own plus two guest pooches.

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New Year’s Eve featured a soirée with guitars blazing, munchies being munched and a score of party-goers ringing in 2019. Plenty of sparkling and white wine was consumed, but only one red wine was featured: Dry Creek Vineyard’s 2016 Old Vine Zinfandel.

It was a sterling selection! Not only is Dry Creek Vineyard an outstanding producer of Old Vine Zinfandel, they actually coined the term “old vine” back in 1987. The Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma produces some of the best Zin in California.

An old vine vineyard is one that has vines more than 50 years old. In the case of the Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zin, the vines are all 95 years or older, some nearly 130 years old! The older the vine, the fewer grapes produced – but each grape has concentrated flavors sought for the very best bottles of wine.

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The OVZ from Dry Creek is a delight. Adding to the complexity of the wine is 19% Petite Sirah and 3% Carignane. The flavors are lush black cherry and dark chocolate with just the right nip of baking spice. This is a new release, but it features rounded tannins and a rapturous finish that goes on and on.

The SRP for this bottle is $35 – a nice value for such a flavorful experience. We rate this bottle highly. It was nice to sip in the party’s aftermath as we reflected on a year that seemed to go by so quickly and looked forward to a new year. Cheers to you. We wish you many delicious experiences in 2019.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Top Wines Of 2018: An Exclusive Vino-Sphere List

Here it is – our annual listing of the best bottles of the year. Uncork a bottle and enjoy as you check out the favorites we reviewed in 2018.

Top Wines of 2018We hope you have enjoyed 2018 as much as we have. We’ve tasted hundreds of wines and visited dozens of wineries. Our travels included a foray to sample the great wines of Washington State and a couple of jaunts to the wine country of North Carolina. After sorting through our tasting notes and piles of empty bottles and corks, we’ve compiled our anticipated 2018 Top Wines list.

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We present the list in alphabetical order. An asterisk indicates exceptional quality.

Ad Lucem 2014 Elaina Red, Columbia Valley

Adorada 2016 Rosé, California

Altipiano 2016 Estate Sangiovese Reserve, San Diego County*

Balletto 2014 BCD Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

Becker Family 2012 Pinot Noir, Pfalz

Bedell Cellars 2017 Taste Rosé, Long Island

Bollina Corte Medicea 2015 'Cletus' Toscana IGT, Tuscany

Bonterra 2015 The Roost Blue Heron Vineyard Chardonnay, Mendocino County

Breathless Brut Magnum, North Coast

Brut Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble

Ca’Marcanda 2013, Bolgheri*

Clos du Bois 2008 Marlstone, Alexander Valley

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Corona de Aragon 2017 Garnacha Blanca

Cremisan Wine Estate 2014 Star of Bethlehem Baladi, West Bank

Domaine Artefact 2017 Rincon del Diablo, San Diego County

Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Meritage, Dry Creek Valley

Duckhorn Vineyards 2015 Napa Valley Merlot Three Palms Vineyards*

Geil 2015 Bechtheimer Scheurebe Kabinett, Rheinhessen

Hanna 2014 Bismark Moon Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon*

Hanna 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley

Hightower Cellars 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain*

Il Poggione 2016 Rosso di Montalcino

Jezreel 2016 Levanim, Jezreel Valley*

Kenwood 2013 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma*

Lambert Bridge 2013 Crane Creek Cuvée, Dry Creek Valley*

LAN 2011 Rioja Reserva

Left Coast Cellars 2017 “The Orchard” Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley*

Lorenzi Estate 2009 Zinfandel Signature Series Reserve Temecula*

Montefioralle Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2014

Muscardini Cellars 2013 Rancho Salina, Moon Mountain

Papapietro Perry 2014 Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

Parducci 2005 True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County

Raffaldini 2014 Sangiovese Classico, Swan Creek

Santa Ema 2013 Amplus Old Vine Carignan, Maule

Shadow Springs Vineyard 2014 Petit Verdot, Swan Creek

Sterling 2014 Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley*

Terra Bella 2008 Estate Syrah, Paso Robles

Three Rivers Winery 2015 Svelte, Walla Walla Valley*

Vignobles Mayard 2009 La Crau de ma Mère, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Villa Maria 2015 Taylors Pass Pinot Noir, Marlborough*

Villa Maria 2016 Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

Weingut Wittmann Westhofener 2014 Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

LAN Delivers Rioja Excellence In Spanish Duo

Rioja is the most famous red wine of Spain and undoubtedly one of its best. We pop the cork on two releases from famed Rioja producer Bodegas LAN.

LAN Reserva and D-12

Richness of Rioja

Winemaking in Spain’s Rioja region got a huge boost from Bordeaux winemakers who settled there in the 19th century. The French eventually departed, but left behind improved winemaking techniques, including the use of oak barrels for aging.

The earthy flavors of oak and leather have long been hallmarks of wine made in the Rioja region. We recently opened a pair of Rioja wines from Bodegas LAN, one the regions top producers.

Winemaker’s Choice

The LAN D-12 2015 Rioja is 98% Tempranillo and 2% Mazuelo (also known as Carignan). The moniker is a reference to Deposit 12, the stainless steel tank that holds the most outstanding wine from each vintage. The grapes are hand selected from two plots in Haro and two in Laguardia. The wine gets 12 months in French and American oak and another year of bottle aging before release.

LAN D-D-12 RiojaD-12 is a deep ruby in the glass. On the palate, there are nicely structured tannins with a rounded texture. The flavor is intense with tart red fruit, a touch of spice and a flavor of malted chocolate.

You can find the D-12 for about $18, and it is a rich, rewarding wine. Rioja can be tannic, but this was smooth and supple after we let it open up for a few minutes.

Stepping Up To Reserva

LAN’s Reserva gets an extra measure of aging, for 16 month in hybrid barrels with American oak staves and French oak heads. Afterward, there is another 24 months of aging in the bottle.

LAN Rioja Reserva 2011The 2011 Rioja Reserva is a delightful wine. It is 92% Tempranillo and 8% Graciano coming from selected 20- to 25-year-old vines. In the glass it is an inviting deep garnet color.

Although it’s ready to drink now, it could easily age for another five years. This is a savory wine with notes of baking spice and ripe cherries. The flavor is intense and the finish is long lingering. It’s a fine wine experience for about $20. It’s perfect for stews or marinated meat dishes.

LAN represents Rioja in three letters. The name is an acronym based on the initials of each of the three provinces that form the D.O.Ca. Rioja: Logroño (currently part of La Rioja), Alava and Navarra. LAN is a sure bet when you are seeking a flavorful Rioja wine at an excellent price point. The 2011 Reserva and 2015 D-12 are great choices for wintertime sipping.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Online Auctions Offer Thrill Of The Hunt, Chance To Build Wine Collection

Think wine auctions are stodgy affairs reserved for the filthy rich? The reality may surprise you.

1959 Chateau LatourAuctions For All Levels Of Wine Enthusiasts

Wine auctions of decades past were often exclusive, stuffy events geared to the top echelon of consumer. That’s far afield from today, according to Samantha Compono, director of operations for Acker Merrall & Condit. The firm has conducted fine and rare wine auctions since 1820. 

Today’s wine auctions are inclusive, fun and interactive celebrations of food and wine catering to all walks of wine lover. Compono was recently featured on the Wine Studio education program and was interviewed by Vino-Sphere.

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The advent of the digital age means that participation in wine auctions is no longer limited by geography. Anyone with access to a website or an app can participate. You may be someone ready to jump into an online wine auction if you are interested in expanding your cellar, exploring older vintages or simply enhancing your palate.

While some lots can range into the tens of thousands, web auctions  feature many lots under $100, said Compono. You can taste great producers without committing to a case or half case. Mixed lots are appealing to cost-conscious buyers and feature great finds and great values. It’s a way to get diversity into your cellar quickly.

Acker, Merrall & Condit 1

The Thrill Of The Hunt

First time auction participants should know that there is no entrance fee to participate. Acker Merrall applies a 24% fee to the winning bid price to offset the auction house cost of conducting the auction. Getting started is as simple as filling out a registration form  with basic information and a valid credit card to hold your bids. If you are itching to experience an online wine auction, Acker Merrall’s next online auction starts January 1, 2019, and runs through January 13.

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A wine auction might be just the ticket if you are on the hunt for something special - a coveted vintage, a bottle of a newly discovered producer you’ve been clamoring to try, or finally finding that perfect bottle to complete a vertical you’ve been working on. While seeking elusive vintages or filling in weak spots in a wine collection are all motivations, there is more.

“Wine auctions are fun,” said Compono. “From a practical perspective, participating in wine auctions is the best way to access vintages long gone on average retail shelves and finding and winning a lot at auction can feel like uncovering lost treasure. Plus, there is the thrill of the hunt. It always feels great to win!”

Lots from Bordeaux and Burgundy are the real superstars and those coveted wines can be very costly. Aged Champagne, Rhones, and wines from Italy, Spain and California all frequent the auction catalogs.

Live Auction Pdl 829First Timer Tips And Ensuring Quality

If you are bidding on a Burgundy from the 1990s, how do you know the bottles aren’t spoiled? In the case of Acker Merrall, are wines are carefully examined to ensure they have been stored properly and are, in fact the wine represented. Acker Merrall subjects all wine to robust inspection procedures and also use a third party to inspect the bottles. Frequently the bottles are opened and sampled to taste for provenance. A limited guarantee is provided by Acker Merrall if they are notified of problems in a timely way.

First timers needn't be hesitant. Acker Merrall offers a “fine wine concierge” who is available at any time to help with questions on bidding. Bidders can also connect with one of the company’s experts to hone in strategies on focus for each sale.

Here are some tips for first time online wine auction participants:

  1. Do your research. Whether a single bottle or a case or cases from a specific producer, search through open auction inventory via digital or hard copy catalogs. You can search specific auction house latest results to ensure low and high estimate ranges are accurate, and that you place a proper competitive bid.
  2. Check your increments. Most auction houses will tell you if you place a bid off-increment, but in case they don’t put yourself in the best position to win by checking and ensuring you place your bid properly, within bidding parameters for the house.
  3. Know your limit, and place it. Always go into an auction with an idea of your max spend, keeping in mind auction premium and any tax that may apply. If you’re bidding digitally, utilize the ‘max bid’ feature to have the system bid immediately for you up to your limit so you aren’t outbid at the end of a heated auction. If you’re willing to pay more than your initial bid, you’ll still have the greatest chance of being the winner up to your maximum price and not miss your chance with a manual click.
  4. Don’t underestimate the value of a great mixed lot. Big time collectors seek out original cases of 6 or 12 bottles, but there are great values to be had when exploring mixed lots that can cross country, vintage and style, and the estimates typically reflect that.
  5. Never let geography define your role in bidding. You can bid from any mobile device or tablet, submit auto-bids and watch a sale as it happens in real time, anywhere in the world. If you don’t need your purchases right away, return shipping via temperature-controlled shipping container is typically affordable, if not complimentary.
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Monday, December 10, 2018

Bistecca alla Florentina and Il Poggione 2016 Rosso di Montalcino

Rosso di Montalcino and Bistecca alla FlorentinaSangiovese and a juicy steak is a marriage made in heaven. So with an uncorked bottle we fire up the grill to cook a famous Italian dish.

Bistecca alla Florentina

Bistecca alla Florentina is an Italian dish with English roots. In the early 19th Century, the English settled in and around Florence and introduced new cuts of beef, including the T-bone and porter house steaks. Bistecca alla Florentina, or Florentine steak, was born.

The cut is a porterhouse of T-bone with as large a fillet (tenderloin) as possible. Most of the Bistecca alla florentina sold in Florence is Spanish Beef. The meat should be kept at room temperature for 10 hours or so before grilling. Traditionally, the thickness should be “three fingers.” We ordered our 1 1/2 inch-thick bone-in porterhouse (about 3.5 pounds) from Pat LaFreida online. The meat was cut and shipped in an ice-gel pack and never frozen.

Bistecca alla Florentina

Trial By Fire

The traditional Tuscan Bistecca alla Florentina recipe calls for cooking over charcoal, preferably hardwood. Since I have a natural gas grill, that wasn’t an option.

I cranked the grill up as hot as it has ever been, in the neighborhood of 650 degrees. We were going on faith in the recipe, since I’ve never cooked a large steak like this before.

Bistecca a la FlorentineAfter about 7 minutes I flipped it to the other side using tongs, as opposed to a fork, which would release that precious juice. On the seared side I poured some Il Poggione olive oil and Tuscan sea salt.

When the other side was done, I flipped the steak on end for a few more minutes before entering into the house triumphantly. It was a monolithic masterpiece!

2016 Il Poggione Rosso di MontalcinoWine Pairing Perfection!

We’ve enjoyed some superlative wine pairing dinners over the years, but the pairing of the Il Poggione 2016 Rosso di Montalcino and the bistecca was off the charts. The meat was smoky and the charred crust and juicy meat exploded with flavor. “That chef was truly amazing.”

Our meal was accompanied with roasted broccoli and potatoes. We had a nice loaf of crusty Italian bread with an olive oil dipping sauce.

Rosso di Montalcino is sometimes called a “baby Brunello” after the highly regarded Brunello di Montalcino. The Il Poggione Rosso is 100% Brunello (the local name for Sangiovese). The wine is matured for 12 months in large oak barrels before undergoing bottle aging.

This is a silky wine with flowing flavors of red berries and sour cherry. The oak aging provides a welcome structure. To have a bite of steak in your mouth and sip in the Rosso di Montalcino was euphoric.

The Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino has an SRP of $27. When you can enjoy it with a beautiful steak it is priceless!

Full disclosure: We received the wine as a marketing sample and the steak was provided gratis.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Exitus 2016 Red Wine, California

Exitus Red Wine 2016There’s a new entry in the Bourbon-barrel aged beverage market. We uncork Exitus to test the merits of the new offering.

Something Old, Something New

There is a buzz – in more ways than one – about Bourbon-barrel aged beverages these days. There are a multitude of Bourbon-barrel aged craft beers. Aging reds in Bourbon barrels has also launched several successful wines.

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We’ve also seen white wines aged in Bourbon barrels. Some whiskey makers have also flipped the tables by aging their spirits in old wine barrels. It seems like the latest trend – but it isn’t exactly.

The cost of oak wine barrels can run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 or more depending on the producer and whether it is American or French oak. It’s easy to see that oak barrel aging can be quite expensive. Decades ago, some small wine producers would buy much cheaper used Bourbon barrels to age their wine. Score one for Mrs. Alba, my 6th grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, whose favorite saying was, “There is nothing new under the sun!”

What is new, though, is that winemakers are now using Bourbon barrels to introduce new flavors into wine specifically blended to marry with the dark smoky notes that BBA (Bourbon barrel aging) brings. Exitus is a case in point.

To Exitus With Tradition

Exitus is a Zinfandel-based red blend that includes Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is produced by O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, one of the largest wine and brandy producers in California. It’s portfolio includes Robert Hall and Austerity  wines, among others.

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The marketing theme of Exitus is, “To Hell With Tradition.” Its bottle certainly breaks with wine packaging norms. It is clear glass, unlike the dark greens and ambers typically used for red wine to limit exposure to light. There is no foil capsule on the top of the bottle. Instead, there is a seal-like sticker like you might find on a bourbon bottle.

Below the main label is a rectangular one listing the “batch” number, year and noting that the wine is aged for three months. Again, this label is a nod to what your might find on a small batch bourbon. The main Exitus label is gold lettered on a dark brown background and brings to mind a craft beverage.

It’s a very cool package and we were anxious to uncork.

Imbibing The Bourbon Barrel Blend

Raise your hand if this has happened to you. You uncork a wine that from all outside appearances should be world-changing, only to disappointed by what was inside.Would that be the case with Exitus?

Exitus considers itself a “badass” wine. We agree. Unlike other BBA wines we’ve had that proffer a smidgeon of Bourbon taste, Exitus is a wine for Bourbon lovers. From the first sip, the Bourbon flavor is out front.

Even without the Bourbon barrel aging, this is a big wine. It weighs in with 15.9% alcohol. I don’t recall drinking an unfortified wine with more alcohol content. That being said, it sill has some great dark berry flavor with touches of earth and spice. The BBA adds caramel, smoke and toasted oak to the party. It’s a tasty value at about $20.

This isn’t a wine for wimps. It is perfect for those seeking adventure in their wine drinking. Chances are if you serve this at your next party, guests will be headed to the Exitus, not the exits. 

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.