Taking the Level 1 Sommelier Exam

“Tell us your name.”


We were made to stand up in groups of 5 and go through the tasting grid for a wine we were blind tasting.  I had already done the thing that all 3rd graders do when they are asked to read aloud, counting paragraphs to see which will be theirs and then furiously practicing.  So when the mic got passed to me I knew I had the palate portion of the tasting as my colleagues/victims before had already done sight and smell.  I wished, in keeping with 3rd grade rules, I could have just grabbed the mic and been like, “popcooorrrrnnnn….THAT GUY!”


The blind tastings are set up in more or less 5 parts.  First is sight: how bright the wine is, what the legs/tears are like, color, intensity, any evidence of bubbles or sediment.  Easy. 10 seconds.  Done.

Next is nose: cleanliness/flaws, fruit, non fruit, organic earth, inorganic earth, wood.  What fruit do you smell and what is the condition?  An overripe peach smells different than an underripe one.  A baked apple smells different than a fresh one.  Prunes smell different than plums.  White flowers or honey (non fruit), compost or mushrooms (organic earth), slate or chalk (inorganic earth), baking spice or vanilla (oak presence), all come in the latter categories.

Then my portion, palate.  Palate has two parts: taste and structure.  So I had to do double work.  First thing is confirming the nose.  Yes I smelled ripe peach and now I taste it.  I didn’t smell the slate minerality but I definitely taste it.  Next is the structure part.  I think Californians struggle with this the most because it’s hard to find a wine here that isn’t pushing 14% alcohol at least (if it’s a dry wine anyway).  But to a Master Somm, 14% is quite a lot of alcohol relative to the wine world as a whole.  So structure is about dryness, bitterness, acid, tannin, alcohol, body, texture, balance, length of finish, and complexity.  It’s a lot to work through but it comes more naturally than you might think.

To be honest though I got lucky.  I got the fun part, the drinking part.  Also, if you want to cheat you can just say, ‘palate confirms the nose’ and just say all the stuff the last person said.  I blurted out my one flavor note that I was sure of.  As I said, alcohol was hard for me.  If something was 12% I basically detected no alcohol heat, but my barometer is set on big CA wines.  Other than that, once you go through a few of these blind tastings with the guidance of Master Sommeliers, you get the hang of it.  At least I did.

The next 2 parts sort of go hand in hand.  They are the initial conclusion and then the final conclusion.  initial conclusion is sort of collecting all the things that you just tasted and smelled and saw and saying what you think about the wine based on that.  So you might say, this is from the old world (Europe, basically), a moderate to warm climate, maybe an Albariño, if I’m going to say that I will go ahead and say it’s from Spain, and it’s maybe 1-3 years old.
Then it’s crunch time.  The final conclusion.  You have commit and go for it.  This is an Albariño from Spain from the Riax Baixas region, 2014 vintage.

Never have you felt so unsure about anything.  It’s not easy.  Turns out that was correct though.  5 people including myself eventually muddled through it and landed at the right spot with the guidance of some Masters.

Blind tasting is a skill and it certainly has merit that I didn’t think it had until I took the course.  It can tell you a lot about a wine and it’s quality.  If you know that an area is a cool climate and produces higher acid wines, why is what I am drinking taste so alcoholic?  Well, either it’s not from the area you think it is, they added sugar to boost alcohol after fermentation (which is legal in some places), or it’s an unbalanced wine.  All of those things can give you an indication of quality or a sense of the wine’s place in the world.  It’s useful but I still maintain that it is ultimately a parlor trick.

Some of the blind tastes

Some of the blind tastes

The blind tasting, of which there were 18, were a small part of the class.  Most of it was lecture.  After lecture.  After lecture.  After extremely dense lecture.  They were all interesting but there is just so much information to pull out of them especially when you always have in the back of your mind, “is this going to be on the test?”

You sit through 2 days where from 8AM to 5:30PM you listen to people talk about wine, do blind tastings, and on breaks talk to your colleagues about, you guessed it, wine.  Then you get to go home and study for the next day.  By the end of day 2 you are totally fried.  And then it’s test time.  35 minutes to do 70 multiple choice questions that can be literally anything from the last two days…or not.  I know that there were a couple questions that they never covered.  There were also questions about other beverages like sake, beer, and aperitifs.

When I signed up I thought it would be a breeze.  Lots of info, but I knew I had enough knowledge going in to pass to the exam.  After taking the exam I was not so sure.  Sure I knew that burgundy was Pinot and all the low hanging fruit of wine knowledge (pun intended), but then I saw questions about soil types in Australia, and fortified wines from Spain and you start to second guess yourself.

The worst part is how they announce the people who passed.  Basically you turn in your exam and you will never see it again.  You will never know what you got right or wrong, or what the correct answers were.  You sit in a big room with everyone else that took the test and they just start calling names out.  You hear a couple Master Somms in the back pouring champagne for all the people who passed as you listen for your name.


My name was probably about the 20th name to be called.  Which was good because I could not have made it to 40th on the list.  I would have died of nervousness.  Is that possible?  Whatever, I am saying it is.  I was certain I would pass and even though I was worried after taking the test, I was almost sure I passed.  But each name that gets called that isn’t yours is one step close to it never being called.  If they don’t call your name, you didn’t pass.  Brutal.

But I made it.  For whatever that is worth.  Then you get to have a glass of bubbles and talk with everyone else about the big question, “When are you taking your level 2?”  Calm down, Crazy!  I just passed this test.  Let me enjoy it.

I learned a lot.  And it makes me want to learn more.  And as always, I can share with all of you.

There is hope for the future

Here’s the thing.  No one wants to hear another article about ‘Millennials are doing this’ or ‘Millennials are changing the way we blah blah blah.’  And If I can slander my own generation for a moment, being born in 1985 myself, we are mostly the worst generation of people ever.  As Louis CK said, “Everything is amazing and no one is happy.”  He’s right.  Life is incredible.  I have a device in my pocket that weighs just a few ounces and can access the entirety of human knowledge.  And what did my generation do with this great resource?  We sent pictures of our junk to people.  Well done, comrades.

But despite our shortcomings, us youngin’s do have tremendous influence on the world around us.  Especially when it comes to wine.  Like it or not, Millennials are changing the way wine is marketed, made, and consumed.  The reason for this is largely that we are the largest generation yet.  75 million strong.  Basically impossible to ignore, the wine industry has had to, at the very least, acknowledge our tastes and desires.

People can argue however they want about whether or not this generation is having a positive impact on the wine world, but the fact remains that there are lots of young people interested in wine and more and more of them are becoming of legal drinking age every day.  I started to wonder if, by extension, there are a lot of young winemakers entering the field as well.  Turns out there are.  So then I started looking around here in Monterey County.  And there was Miguel Lepe of Lepe Cellars, winning awards for his Chardonnay at the ripe old age of 28.

I caught up with Miguel and asked him a couple questions about wine and life and what he thought about being a young winemaker and how that influenced his wine making.  He said he thought it mainly had advantages.

“I’ve completed 7 harvests and worked for 6 wineries and experienced various winemaking techniques, reflecting New and Old World style wines. With those techniques being fresh in my mind, it gives me the excitement and eagerness to implement both towards my own wines. Being new to the game benefits me in a way that eliminates the ‘been there, done that’ mentality and I’m still at an age where I haven’t been sucked into the routine of life.”


And it’s true.  Globe-hopping can pack a ton of experience into a short time.  If you really hustle, you can hit 3 harvests a year by bouncing between northern and southern hemispheres.  I assumed that in his travels, Lepe had been a big wine taster as well.  He admitted that he had drank some really fantastic wines but, “With the incredible number of countries producing wines, I would say I’ve tasted very little in comparison”  he said.  I don’t think this is a bad thing.  We talked about how this is actually can be an advantage, not being locked into a taste profile that you are a fan of.  Lepe Cellars will be releasing his 2015 Riesling from the Arroyo Seco AVA soon and while this varietal comes with a lot of ideas from people about what it should taste like, it’s important for him not to get locked into any one profile.

“I seek to make wines that are approachable but still carry a complex character; that’s my way of utilizing the New and Old World techniques to try to bring the best of both worlds into your glass.  Also, it’s in my nature to experiment and try something new with each vintage. So I’m not necessarily creating the same wines year after year, but as long as my wines are consistently well made, then I will feel a sense of accomplishment.”

That’s exactly my point.  Millennials have an attitude that most 5 year olds have that we just forgot to grow out of.  “Who says?!?  You’re not the boss of me!!”  But when it comes to wine, ‘Who says?’ is proving to be a nice attitude.  Who says you can’t make wine that mixes Old World and New World?  Who says you can’t use malolactic fermentation on your stainless steel aged Chardonnay?  The SF Chronicle certainly didn’t seem to mind it when they awarded Lepe Cellars a Gold Medal for his unoaked 2014 Chardonnay.
Monterey County has great opportunity to change California wine more than it already has.  It’s a huge county with all kinds of different microclimates and it produces very high quality fruit.  Combine that with the fact that it is still an, for lack of a better term, ‘up-and-coming’ wine region,  the rules governing what you have to do with our local fruit and local wine market are almost non-existent.  The door is wide open for someone to bring a new brush to this canvas and Lepe Cellars is making itself a part of that conversation.


Look for Lepe Cellars on all the social media and order some wine on the website and if you are in Monterey County, you can find their wine in Star Market in Salinas and The Wharf Marketplace in Monterey.

A New Life


I just got a notification from WordPress telling me it had been 3 months since I last posted.  I feel like my last 10 posts have all started with some apology as to why I haven’t been posting more and the real, honest reason is that I got busy with work, but once you get out of a rhythm it is very hard to get back in.  I felt like the #MWWC23 was a perfect opportunity to make my Ali-like return to the ring of blogging and the theme of “New” I think can be spun into something that I have wanted to share with you all for quite some time.


I have a new life.  No, I am not going through some weird religious experience. I quit my job as a lettuce breeder.  Back in October actually.  I realized after almost 5 years of doing that job that I was tired, worn out, physically and emotionally depleted.  Also, I was traveling about 50% of the time.  I would come home on a Friday night just in time to tell my fiancé that I had to leave again on Monday.

It was, and still is to some extent, scary.  I had my whole life wrapped up in my job.  Company car, company phone, the whole shooting match.  When I quit I was literally left on a street corner with no car or phone in a city I didn’t live in.  It was an entirely unfamiliar feeling to interact with the world so directly without my shield of technology or my own personal bubble to drive down the road in. What do I do now?  I have put 7 years of education and 5 years of work into plant breeding just to decide I don’t want to do it anymore.  Who am I if not this?  What’s next?

Wine.  Wine is next.

As soon as I got over the new found joy of sitting around and doing nothing for the first time since undergrad, I immediately wanted to see where pursuing my love for wine would take me.  I didn’t know where it would lead but I knew that this was the perfect time to do it.  I am still young enough for people to shake their head and shrug their shoulders at my youthful irresponsibility, but I know that I am old enough to have made a good run at a career in science and have hated my life for the last 2 years.

I’ve been working in a tasting room and it is strange to have a job where I interact with humans again.  I haven’t had a job where I spoke to people in about 10 years.  Plants aren’t big conversationalists.  I love every second of it.  I’ve also been helping out at the winery not only to expand my knowledge about wine, but also to see if a cellar job might be something I would be interested in.  It is fun and interesting and I do like it but it has been a long while since I was “The New Guy.”  I forgot what that feels like.  Something new.


I try not to be in the way.  That is my goal, mostly.  Be useful and learn as much as I can.  Working in a cellar is interesting because you are always either fixing something or prepping for something.  The last couple weeks we had to pump everything out of barrels into tanks so that when we filter the wine everything is all in one big tank and it runs smoothly and that, in turn, makes bottling run smoothly.  It’s a pretty tedious process but there are enough clamps, and things to couple, and hoses to run, and valves to open that it keeps my brain focused.  All the hardware is fun in the same way an erector set is fun for a kid.  There is something strangely satisfying about clamping metal joints together and being able to look at a system and follow the path of the wine in your mind (or with your finger in my case) and see the course it will take as it is pumped around the winery.


But it’s certainly new to me.  I was a geneticist.  I always dealt with the unseen; the microscopic.  There was never a time someone could look over my shoulder and basically point out the exact moment that I fucked everything up.  Somehow this new experience is awakening primal feelings buried deep in me that I didn’t know I had.  Moving around metal tanks and attaching valves and hoses and pumps and filters makes me use my hands and my strength.  Something I rarely had to do as a scientist.  My brain was active, sure, but I’ve found that if my hands are working, my brain actually is more creative and awake.  Also, the fear that somewhere you didn’t close a valve you should have, or didn’t get the gasket set quite right between those two hoses and wine is going to leak everywhere, provides just enough fear to make me laser-focused.  The lack of trust I have in my own skills is a new experience.

I am a young man and I realize that I had only been a plant breeder for 5 years.  I certainly wasn’t as good at it as I was ever going to be, but I pretty much had it nailed.  Lettuce is an easy crop to work on and fortunately that is the one I fell into.  I always had a confidence that I knew what I was doing and I was good at it.  Working in a new industry has completely thrown that feeling out the window.  It’s freeing in a way that a measured, calculated person like me never thought I could enjoy.

Birth always looks like death from the other side.  You leave your safe, comfortable womb and go through this painful experience and on the other side is a whole life.  Maybe I have a new life starting now.  I still have yet to find a permanent gig in the wine industry but maybe I will make one for myself and finally open up that wine shop I have always talked about.  I don’t know what is happening or what the future holds, but new is good enough for now.


What Wine Should I Bring to Thanksgiving Dinner?

Ah yes.  The stress-filled holiday season is upon us.  Turkey day is tomorrow and I, shockingly, have been charged with bringing wine to dinner.  I feel like this happens a lot when you are about 30 years old.  You are old enough to sit at the adults table, and they trust you to bring something like wine, but no one really believes you have mastered the culinary Rubik’s cube that is the green bean casserole.  Wine is something safe that they can delegate to you knowing that even if you blow it, they can probably find a few dusty bottles around the house that will be better than whatever you bought.  It’s a 1 minute fix if you totally suck, as everyone expects you to.

For me, the bar is high.  People know that I love wine and I at least pretend to know a little bit about it.  I commonly get put in charge of vino when it comes to any gathering of people.  I usually love this task because it gives me an opportunity to hear what/why people like the wines that I think are interesting, or more importantly, why they don’t like them.  Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is generally a little more difficult.  First of all, you have the food.  Pairing something that will go as well with turkey as it does with salad and also with sweet potatoes with roasted marshmallows on top is close to impossible.  Second, you have the people.  Aunt Sally only drinks white, Dad only likes Zinfandel, Mom loves terrible $5 Merlot.  There are problems with all of these options.  Third, the issue is quantity.  I am spending my turkey day with my fiancés family.  I certainly would like to dazzle them with some gems from my, “cellar” (AKA box in the closet) but a bottle of wine doesn’t really get you very far when you have 15 people coming to dinner.

So what is the answer?  The short answer is that there is no answer.  At least none that I have worked out.  I don’t really want to stick with one wine and buy 5 bottles of it.  There is absolutely no fun in that.  So the formula I have worked out is this: Just do whatever the hell you want, but use your head.  There are general rules.  One big one is that you can use the measure of about half a bottle per person drinking, and I like to add in an insurance bottle.  If you have 8 drinkers, thats 4+1, so 5 bottles.  Another rule of thumb is given that you are eating turkey but also fat soaked sides, acid is key.  Turkey and Pinot Noir is a classic but I’d tend to lean for a Pinot from Sonoma Coast or Monterey county or a cooler, more coastal region of Santa Barbara.  The acid in these will cut through the butter in the mashed potatoes but still be light enough to have with the brussels sprouts.  I also wouldn’t go past a medium bodied wine.  Cab, Zin, Petite Sirah are all great but they aren’t going to get you a lot of compliments on pairing with Thanksgiving.  Syrah and Grenache are great options for Dad who likes a Zinfandel.  They should have enough body and spice to satisfy him but hopefully wont overwhelm the food.

The name of the game here, as always, is crowd pleasing.  That said, there is an opportunity to change minds.  Bring things that you have tasted and are comfortable with.  Explain to people what you like about it.  Don’t bring that really funky bottle that you have been saving for your friends who love wine.  Bring good quality stuff, but have it be pretty easy drinking.  Also, since people will probably be pretty sauced, you don’t really need to break the bank.  Make sure you know the stuff you are going to open first is the better stuff and wait until later to bring out the $10 bottle that you think is great because this snarky wine blogger called the Sybarite turned you on to it.  I will be bringing a variety of bottles at varying price points.  Some stuff is under $20 and some stuff is over $30 but nothing crazy.  I am not going to buy 5 $50 bottles to bring and serve it to people who drink wine a few times a year or let it get wasted on people who, “don’t drink white.”  Have fun with it.

Pro Tip:  Sparkling Rosé pairs really well with Turkey day food and makes people feel really fancy.  If you are going to splurge, get a good bottle of this and make sure everyone gets a little splash.  The acid will be great with the meal and the fresh, fruity flavors will make your drunk aunt smile.  Ask any good wine store for a good sparkling rosé with a “fine mousse.”  That just means, really tiny bubbles.  You can break that term out at the dinner table also and maybe you will finally impress Grandma.

Oh, and I guess you aren’t supposed to blog without a picture, so here’s a picture of my dog.





Costco Series #5: 2014 Chateau de Thauvenay Sancerre

You guys…I’m terrible.  I hardly ever write any more.  Don’t think it means I haven’t been drinking because boy have I.  But, with work being crazier than a rat in a tin shit house, I barely have time to come home, change clothes, shower, kiss my fiancé, repack my bag and leave again.  I hate it.  Also, wedding planning is in full swing.  7 months and 2 days to go before the big day and while my opinion on wedding details is largely ignored, I have managed to secure some really good wine for the event.  I am super excited to marry an amazing woman who always encourages me to have another glass of wine.  She’s a keeper.

Tonight was address the “save the dates” night.  This generally requires a lot of text messages to get addresses from friends and a lot of wine to make sure my cursive game is on point so the addressed postcards look “elegant but casual.”  Whatever the hell that means.  I don’t think I have written in cursive since grade 4 so it should be quite magical.


“Honey, we got a save the date from Aaron and Katie.  Who wrote this?  Did Aaron have a stroke that we don’t know about?”  “Probably.  I think he’s an alcoholic.”

Hey.  Fuck you, people that I just made up.  It’s not my fault that wedding invites and anthrax laden missives are the only things that people hand-address in this country anymore and my writing has gone to shit.  Deal with it.

This perfectly segues (it doesn’t) into my next wine in the Costco Series!  2014 Chateau de Thauvenay Sancerre.  Anyone who knows me, or my blog, well knows that I am a total sucker for Sancerre.  French wine a lot of times doesn’t really do it for me but for some reason Sancerre just gets my motor running.  As you may or may not know, France labels their wine by the region it was produced in and not by the grape varietal as we do here in America.  Some producers who export to the US have started to change the way they label their wine but for the most part, it’s still pretty goofy.  Sancerre is an appellation in France and produces really great white wine which is largely Sauvignon Blanc.  This bottle actually happens to be 100% Sauv Blanc.  Sometimes winemakers will add in a little bit of juice from other grape varietals to give the wine a certain profile, or to balance acidity, or round out a flavor, or to give it complexity, or blah blah blah.  The point is, not all Sancerres are created equal.


This one, I had high hopes for.  It was the right price ($15), Costco generally has ok stuff at that price, and it is one of my favorite white styles of wine to drink.  I won’t say that this wine failed, but it definitely isn’t a winner in my book.  I shan’t be buying it again.  I love the fruit that it puts out right up front.  Really bright citrus flavors with some pear and apple winning the academy award for best supporting actor.  However, as soon as your brain can process the thought of, “Oh this is quite nice—WHAM!”  You get hit with this overwhelming blast of acidity that makes the back of your cheeks pucker.  I love an acidic, tart white wine and hate when stuff falls into that butter, oaky nonsense.  But this stuff could strip paint off a Buick.  I keep wanting to like it and have drank 3/4 of the bottle at this point, but every time it sneaks up on me and then punches me in the face.  As it warms to cellar temp (around 55 degrees F for you non wine nerds) it certainly goes down a lot easier but jimmy christmas I am having a hard time putting this stuff down.  I am going to do it because I am dedicated to my craft and to my readers, but just know the struggle that I go through for all of you.  Maybe someone who is better at wine pairing could suggest something for me to eat with it and it might be better.  I will admit that I made salmon with a beurre blanc sauce and it did work nice to cut the fat of the butter in the sauce and the fat in the salmon, but it still was overkill for the amount of acid that the meal needed.  I will say in its defense that it isn’t that astringent type of acid.  Perhaps I am not making sense any longer but in my mind there are definitely different types of acidic flavor that exist in white wine.

My recommendation: Skip unless you like extremely acidic whites.  The price is right to cook with it if you want a nicer white to use in some kind of stew or sauce but for me, it’s a no-go for cracking open on its own.  Now that I think of it, it might be good with a really creamy, semi-firm cheese.  Who knows?  You guys can try it if you are feeling adventurous and let me know your thoughts!

I hope everyone is doing well and I miss you all.  Be good, kids.

COSTCO SERIES #4: 2013 Opolo Vineyards Summit Creek Zinfandel

I am pretty impressed I am actually writing on consecutive weeks!  I hope you all appreciate the hardship I endure to bring you blog posts this frequently.  I end up having to drink a bottle of wine sometimes 3 or 4 nights a week to do so.  It’s a rough job, but I do it all for my faithful readers.

This week I wanted to bring out another Costco wine.  I am not sure the spread of this one through all Costcos, but it is at least in the lower half of California.  The 2013 Opolo Vineyards Summit Creek Zinfandel cost me a hefty $10, if memory serves.  Let’s dig in.


Zinfandels are tough for me.  I have had good ones, but nothing that really ever changed my life.  The grape certainly produces quality wines, that is to say, there is nothing inherently wrong with the varietal itself.  Every time I have one I always find myself somewhat afraid of them.  I will drink and enjoy them but my time between sips i find myself racked with anxiety about my next sip knowing that it’s a powerful wine that is going to slap me across the face and call me Sally.  I am Private Joker and Zinfandels are Gunny Sergeant Hartman.  Call me whatever you want, but I don’t like scary movies, I don’t want to ride a motorcycle, I have no interest in skydiving, and I want drinking wine to be a relaxing experience and not a UFC in my mouth.

That being the case I thought I’d be safer with a larger production, inexpensive wine.  Generally, they aren’t nearly as bold as some producers that specialize in Zin.  This wine was shockingly full-bodied.  It is a pretty high alcohol percentage and also very young and because of this is was pretty hot to drink.  It had that burn in the mouth that only booze can give you; it hurts so good.  There was some of the spicy character that big reds possess, but not the rich dark fruit flavors to go along with it.  Perhaps it had them but they were completely overwhelmed by the spice and alcohol.  It also had this strange meaty, brown sugary taste at the end of it.  It’s possible that drinking this with the right cut of red meat might make it work, but as a stand alone flavor it is a bit odd. This is sounding like I hated the wine, which wasn’t the case.  I actually found it to be a drinkable wine but there wasn’t anything complex about it.  This wine is a total C student.  It might go to junior college so it’s parents will continue to pay it’s car insurance, but we all know it’s never quitting it’s job at Target.


Overall, I found it to be of better quality than I would have expected for the price tag.  If you are a Zinfandel fan, or just a big red drinker then I would say to give it a try.  Anymore, I lean toward the more delicate reds unless the meal absolutely calls for a heavy red.  I can’t really think of anything in this price range that I would recommend that has a similar style.  Because of this, I have to say it’s a good buy.  People have told me that they love this wine.  I can’t see ever loving this wine but I can see how people would really like it.  To sum up, I give it a solid vote of, “on the fence.”

Be well.

What I’ve been up to

First off, I have to extend my apologies for not writing for 3 months.  I am not sure where the time has went, but with a combination of being extremely busy at work and trying to spend what little free time I have with Ms. Sybarite, life gets a little hectic.  Actually, I am not even sure when my next post will be after this one.  Nothing seems to exhibit any signs of slowing down.  I miss writing.  I have realized in the months that I have been away that this blog is fun and light-hearted and blah blah blah, but it also makes me sit down and focus on really how lucky I am in life and how enjoyable it is.  It’s easy to get caught up in the shit and I am naturally prone to negativity.  In reality, though, I live in a beautiful place and have a fiancé that encourages me to drink and then write about it.  Thoroughly good.

Enough sentimental crappy pap.  I know you don’t come to this blog to hear my poetic musings on the beauty of human consciousness.  So let’s catch up on the drunken escapades I have had over the last few months.


The Lady and I finally tasted at Scheid.  Scheid is a huge producer here in Monterey county.  They sell a ton of their fruit on the bulk market, meaning wineries from other areas can now make and bottle a, “Monterey County Pinot Noir” even though they are not close to here.  Sometimes, they will want Monterey county fruit to blend into their own wines because being that this area is so much cooler, a lot of times you end with a much higher acidity in the fruit.  In warmer areas, they may need to balance their locally grown fruit with a different fruit profile in order to get a complex wine that has good balance of ripe fruit and acidity.  Anywhoozle, I had previously drank some of Scheid’s wine under their own label many moons ago and didn’t really think much of it.  I hoped that in the years since we had last met they had gotten better.  Negative.  They have a great tasting room in Carmel-By-The-Sea and really knowledgable and friendly staff, but most of their wine is foul.  If you decide to try some of this, stay far away from their whites.  God awful.  The reds definitely were better but still left a lot ot be desired.  We did run into a couple decent red blends they were pouring but my feeling is you seem to not do yourself many favors when your customers have to sift through the haystack to find the needle.  In their defense, they did pour us some very nice reserve wines they had and they were great.  Definitely not worth the $60+ price tag they had on them but still good in their own right.  Verdict: Skip.  It’s poo-poos.



It’s now summer (in California summer lasts from April to October).  Wedding season in upon us.  A friend of ours got married this May and had a fun little wedding out in the Santa Cruz mountain area.  They actually had some pretty decent wine available which is pretty rare for a wedding.  It was a small ceremony with great bbq and a great party.  I got decently hammered off of Acacia Chardonnay and decided it was time to invoke some artistic license with the bbq bibs that were provided.  Getting drunk and embarrassing my fiancé in front of her friends is probably my favorite hobby.

I'm Hilarious

I’m Hilarious


Summer also means it’s time to drink wine on the beach.  Figge Chard makes the beautiful Monterey Bay beaches that much more enjoyable.  Day drunk is the best kind of drunk.  Also, I bottled this wine.  I volunteered for Figge a couple of days and happened to be there for bottling day of the 2012 Chardonnays.  I am going to ride that fame until the end of the vintage.


Monterey Beer Festival


The Sybarites and the In-Laws went to the Monterey Beer Festival.  I think there was something like 70 different craft breweries there along with all the fried food your inner fat kid could ever want.  We had the chance to try some really interesting stuff like Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout with Chai Spice, and some old favorites like Lagunitas IPA.  There was actually even a beer from Spain there and it happened to be the beer that I bonded with while in Spain in 2013, Estrella Damm.  Such a fantastic beer for drinking outside.  Light but still full of flavor.  Another highlight was Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer.  Somewhere close to a beer in ABV%, it made me so happy to know that there is a ginger beer I can use for Kentucky Mules that will add some booze to the party.  I don’t know that I really had any beers from breweries I was totally unaware of or any beers that absolutely blew me away, but it was certainly nice to have all of the old favorites in one spot and get little sips of each one.  It was a great event but I have to say that the VIP ticket is totally worth the money because it got crowded toward the end.  Call me crazy, but I don’t really love waiting in line 20 minutes for 3 ounces of a beer I have had before.  At any rate, you can’t have a bad day when you are drinking beer in the sunshine.



Croquet Party


Another good friend turned the dreaded 3-0 this week and had her party at the croquet club in San Francisco.  We donned our best all-white douchewear and headed up to the city for a wicket good time.  She actually had some great rosé there for everyone to sip on while they played some lawn golf.  I wish I had written down the name because it was actually super tasty.  Lawn games and pink wine are the pinnacle of any caucasian’s summer.  Maybe it’s the rosé talking, but I am considering quitting my job to become a professional croquet player.


It has been a busy few months, but I have managed to sneak in some time to drink, of course.  Unfortunately, not enough time to drink and write.  I have so much more to write about on deck, I just need to find time to actually do it.  More from the Costco series, another Trader Joe’s review, and some generally yummy stuff.  Enjoy your summer!

It’s Almost Pink Wine Time

Spring is upon us.  I am not sure where you live but here we are having unseasonably warm weather.  When I say warm I mean that temperatures here on the beautiful Monterey Bay coast are reaching the mid 70’s!  We’re having a heatwaaaaaave, a tropical heatwaaaave.  For me, the sunshine and pleasant days mean one thing.  PINK WINE.

The sun was out, my mouth was ready, but when I reached in the fridge to grab that bottle of rosé I had in mind, I realized that my better half had taken it with her to Los Angeles to drink with a friend.  Thus, I can’t really show you the bottle I had in mind that inspired this whole post.


I have written about rosé wines in both the still and sparkling forms before, (I am not going to link you, grow up, baby birds.  I can’t spoon feed you forever) but, before late spring and summer really get rolling and everyone is rolling out their rosés for poolside drunkenness, I wanted to give a brief insight into how pink wines are made and the differences between the styles.

There are a few competing methods for producing rosé wine and some of them are considered an acceptable art form where others are scoffed at by the wine world at large.  But first, a little background.

The way things make sense to me when I think about rosé wine is that it is red grapes produced largely in a white winemaking style.  Saignée and Vin Gris are the most common methods but there are two others that are sometimes employed when making a pink wine.

Saignée is semi-simple.  Basically you bring in red wine fruit, whether its Pinot or Grenache or whatever, and then you start the red winemaking process as normal.  The grapes get crushed and the skins and juice go into a big tank and start to hang out and become wine.  But, a few days after the grapes are crushed, some juice is, “bled-off” (that’s what Saignée means in French) and that juice is treated in the same winemaking process you would treat a white wine.  The short time in contact with the skins produces the pale pink color.  The remaining juice and skins hang out together and continue on in the process to become a normal red wine.  This is a popular method given that it doesn’t require a different crush than a wine you are already making and can increase the intensity of the flavor of the red wine left behind.  Some years the grapes come in fat and happy and juicy, and in some cases that doesn’t make for bold, intense red wine that people expect from a bottle of red wine.  So, bleeding off some of the juice, which then makes the remaining juice have more contact with the skins, intensifies the flavor of your red wine and also leaves you a really yummy side product of rosé.


Another popular method is the Vin Gris method which in French means, “gray wine.”  Some people argue that this is the preferred method because essentially you bring in the grapes, crush them, let the juice rest with the skins for a very short time and then proceed with white winemaking processes.  This method leaves the juice to rest with skins sometimes only for a few hours.  The only skin contact the juice gets is basically the amount of time it takes to squeeze all the juice from the fruit.  Then white winemaking processes are used.  People argue that this preserves the delicate flavor and fresh fruit notes that a good rosé should have. They are usually barely pink or peach colored and are best when made to be dry or near dry (no remaining sugar from the juice).


If you are American, particularly Californian, and remember the 1990’s, you are probably familiar with White Zinfandel.  This is technically rosé.  Many of the White Zinfandel or Pink Merlot’s are harvested early when the fruit has much lower Brix (basically a measure of sugar content).  It is crushed and processed and fortified with sugar later to give it a semi-sweet taste.  It is awful.  It should never be consumed unless you are a high school boy trying to get your prom date liquored up enough to touch your goodies.  This is one of the rosé methods that the wine snobs cringe at.  DO NOT DRINK THIS SEWAGE.

The last common method is sort of a hybrid between Saignée, Vin Gris and being a total cheater.  Some folks may bleed off some juice after the crush has been in the tank for a while or just separate some juice right after crush as described above in the two main French methods, but then they put a different twist on it.  In the case of Saignée, when the rest of the wine goes on to become a full blown red wine, some winemakers will add some of that to the rosé that was made to add a little more color and body to the wine.  This method is also really popular when producing a rosé sparkling wine.  I will tell you that I don’t really have a problem with this method.  I think a lot of times it makes a drinkable, complex wine.  In most bottles I have had that are produced this way, the rosé retains all its fresh,berry and melon flavors that people love about rosé, but also has some more acid and darker flavors that can make it much more versatile.  Standard rosés I think, hot days, afternoons on the beach, lounging by a pool, summer picnic.  With rosés produced by this method I can see them at an evening party to be served with seafood appetizers or even with friends for an evening bonfire.

So now here I sit with an empty glass wishing that I had some rosé to fill it.  I guess for now I will have to drink some Chardonnay and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.  Cheers, folks.  I hope next time you see a bottle of pink wine you have a better understanding on how it’s made

COSTCO SERIES #3: 2013 Force of Nature

Ms Sybarite is in southern California for the weekend shopping for a wedding dress which means that it is just me, the dog, and an overflowing wine cabinet. I am not really even sure what I made for dinner to go with this wine. Whenever we get low on groceries it’s like my own personal game of Chopped. Tonight, I opened the cabinet and had a sweet potato, an onion, some chicken sausage, and some little new potatoes that were sort of sprouting. Throw that ish in a pan for a while and it definitely became edible but I wouldn’t call it gourmet. It’s clear that I make really poor choices when fiancé is gone.


I felt it was time to continue the Costco Series. I have really enjoyed this series so far and I feel like it is helpful to people. It makes me really happy when I can find an available, inexpensive bottle of wine that is enjoyable. This bottle is the 2013 Force of Nature. It’s a red blend table wine from the Paso Robles area here in California. A lot of the Paso Robles area is pretty warm so they can do really great Cabernet and even pretty fair Zinfandel. But, they also produce a fair amount of Syrah and even some Pinot. I guess Paso produces a little bit of everything and there is some really great stuff coming out of there.


This is a wine that is produced from sourced grapes. This means that the people who make it, don’t actually grow the grapes themselves and they aren’t from a particular vineyard. There is a trade of grapes on the bulk market. If you wanted to make your own wine and you lived in downtown Los Angeles, you could actually buy grapes, or in some cases even juice, from wherever and then continue the winemaking process from there. This is the way that a lot of producers make wine if their goal is just to make a drinkable table wine. In some cases, the grapes that end up on the bulk market can be of really high quality. Also, if you are a savvy winemaker, you can end up getting a collection of grape sources that you can blend to produce a product that tastes very consistent from year to year. There is a true art form to producing a decent table wine and blending several lots of grapes from different growers.

The 2013 Force of Nature is really a great example of someone who takes pride in making an everyday wine for a casual drinker. This bottle is actually pretty tasty and I have to say, I was really expecting it to be bad at least 3 separate times through this process. First, I bought this bottle because it has a beautiful label with a lot of color and interesting art and its even embossed in places. I thought I would definitely make an example of how these people spent all their money on the label and skimped on the grapes. While I’m sure the label choice they went with probably adds at least $1 to the price of each bottle, they certainly didn’t give up quality. Second, I saw the price of $10 and thought to myself, “This fancy label and heavy glass in a red blend, there can’t be any room for profit.” When I look at a bottle on the low end of the price spectrum, I look at the thickness of the glass and the label and things like that because it can sometimes be an indicator of quality. I know they have to leave room for profit and I also know that every different color you add to your label, it drives up the price. Embossing? Add a few more cents to that. Thick, heavy glass bottle? That certainly costs more than the lighter ones especially if you figure in the shipping costs of heavier cases of wine and such. All this stuff adds up and without digressing too much, it’s just something I keep in the back of my mind and sometimes unfairly judge budget wines as a businessman rather than as a Sybarite. Thirdly, when I poured the first glass it came out as a rich, purple color instead of a deep red. For some reason this always makes me think it will not taste good and I have no idea why. Let me dispel that myth right now, the color intensity between red and purple does NOT indicate quality. I have no idea where I got that in my head because I haven’t had a bad experience with purple wine that I can remember. Maybe I have just been drinking too much Pinot. I was wrong 3 times. They used a nice label and heavy glass because they are proud of it, as well they should be.


I would call this one a winner for sure. It is hard to beat this as a table wine for $10. It isn’t boozy, it isn’t overly spicy but it isn’t light bodied either. This just happens to be an extremely easy drinking wine that would be perfect for any picnic or campfire. I don’t think it would overpower a chicken dish and it would probably also hold up against family spaghetti night. It is cheap enough where you could marinade lamb in it but it is good enough to have a glass and read a book. Keep in mind, with the Costco Series purchases I am not looking to find the next wine of the year. All I want to do is show which ones are good buys and which ones are not worth it. $10 for this bottle is a fantastic buy. Save that bottle you spent $50 on for when your boss comes to dinner and you ask for that promotion. Break this out when you and your buddies are playing cards against humanity and you have already had 2 bottles of wine. They’ll be drunk enough to be impressed and you don’t have to waste anything expensive on your friend’s girlfriend that he won’t dump even though your entire group of friends hates her. Yes, Ashley, we mean you. We told Jeremy to dump you in 2013!

This went a little off the rails. Just go get some of this stuff and let me know what you think of it!

NV Blason de Bourgogne La Réserve Brut Rosé

Valentine’s day is always a heavy volume wine day in most restaurants and stores.  Everyone wants to be sure to bring home that special bottle that is sure to make their special someone’s clothes fall off.  February 14th seems to have 2 big categories, either people go for the bubbly or they go for a big bottle of Cab or some other rich, red wine.  There is definitely no silver bullet when it comes to having an enjoyable wine experience on Valentine’s day and I would always recommend the same thing as I would any other day: drink what you like. wpid-20150214_145653.jpg The soon-to-be-Mrs. Sybarite and I both happened to like a bottle of pink bubbles so that is what I decided to pick up while I was at Trader Joe’s.  I wasn’t, up until the last few years, a big fan of sparkling wines and found them rather boring.  I realize now the folly of my youth.  I still certainly don’t reach for them when I am in a “wine” mood (e.g. always) but they are definitely in the batting order of things I like to have once in a while.  I was faced with a conundrum while I stood in front of the somewhat limited options for rosé sparklers.  Do I get the Mumm which I know is satisfactory and play it safe or do I roll the dice on something I haven’t tried and hope for the best?  The problem also was my options for pink bubbles were Veuve Clicquot at around $60, Mumm at around $15, Blason de Bourgogne for $10, or some other swill for $5.  I immediately ruled out both the $60 and $5 options.  Then there were the aforementioned pair.  I gambled.  I gambled and I lost. wpid-20150214_145720.jpg The Blason de Bourgogne Rosé is a Crémant de Bourgogne, or basically sparkling wine from the Burgundy region in France.  Burgundy produces great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which are the two grapes traditionally involved in Crémant, Champagne and California sparklers.  I know little more than fuck all about French wine but my logic was simple: Burgundy grapes are some of the best in the world for Pinot and Chard.  Pinot and Chard go into sparkling.  Thus, Burgundy sparkling must have a chance at being decent.  I did have some hesitation that a $10 bottle might be garbage but I am aware that there are definitely sleepers out there when it comes to French imports that don’t have a ton of press already surrounding them.  Occasionally you can get some great stuff for under $15. wpid-20150214_151816.jpg This stuff was great if cherry flavor Robitussin is your thing.  I just didn’t get the freshness from it that I usually love about rosé bubbles.  It had this terrible astringent acidity and this medicinal fruit flavor that was just a total turn off to me.  Don’t get me wrong, we drank it.  Momma didn’t raise no fool that is going to waste $10.  But, if we hadn’t just sat in traffic for 2 and a half hours, we may have not needed to mainline some wine as much as we did when we opened this bottle.  After every sip we would glance at each other wincing and reaffirm, “this just really isn’t good.”  Good thing we had a solid selection of snacks to stuff our faces with and forget the pain of me ruining our first Valentine’s day as an engaged couple with this dreck. I don’t know what to say other than stay away from this bottle.  It is probably fine for a mimosa but to drink straight it leaves a lot to be desired.  I realize Trader Joe’s isn’t a store that is focused on wine per say, but I think they could add a couple more options in a few categories and perhaps drop some others that would round out their selection a lot.  I hope all of your Valentine’s day wine experiences were a lot better than mine.  Note to self: ditch the roses and buy the Veuve.