Tag Archives: wineblog


In an article by Patrick Schmidt on The Drinks Business blog, Robert Parker talks about the rapid escalation in the price of high end wine. Parker notes that he is “part of the problem” as his high scores often help to inflate prices even higher. He says that there is a “caste system” developing because of wine prices.

From the article: “Parker told db, ‘I think this is a problem; it means a lot are shut out because basically we have a caste system of wine – at the really desirable high end, whether the wines are Burgundy or Bordeaux, or from California, they have become so expensive that people just can’t afford them, so they look elsewhere.’”

Wine prices seem to be expanding like the Universe – the farther apart they are, the more quickly they speed away from each other.


Wine - Bordeaux Beauties


On Friday, eleven of us made the short trek from the Conejo and Simi Valleys to the Oxnard/Port Hueneme area for a wine pairing dinner at the Waterside Restaurant (LINK), featuring Casa Barranca Wines (LINK). The dinner was set up in the back of the restaurant and included a table for 12 or so in a back room and a table for 16 in the front room.

I will speak to the food, the wine, and the execution of the concept. I want to begin by giving kudos to the owners of the Waterside Restaurant, who have created a very nice wine bar on a scenic marina in Oxnard. We had lunch there a while back and everything was good – the food, the wine, and the service. They hold a number of events during the week, and are working hard to bring a good wine experience to an area that has been generally lacking in good cuisine and good wine venues.

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As you can see, the menu was both ambitious and inventive. I should also note that some of the dishes were prepared differently for a member of our party who had allergies.The service was efficient and friendly.

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That said, there were some problems with the wine pairing event. The food was both inventive and beautifully presented, the chef used the paired wines in most of the courses. However, almost everything was served at a luke warm temperature at best. Part of this was due to the desire to have the chef explain each course after it was served AND having the winemaker describe the wine each time.This had to be done twice, as they could not be heard at both tables. They did finally alternate, with each speaking to a table then switching. I did taste a couple of courses as soon as they hit the table, and they were not hot. Something to think about for future events.

The Casa Barranca Wines are organically grown at a historic winery in Ojai, CA. The winery shares space with a spa retreat facility. Grapes are sources from Santa Ynez for the most part. Winemaker Samuel Tulberg, represented the winery at the dinner. He was very knowledgeable about the wines and their process, as you would expect.

The wines served were their 2013 Viognier, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Pinot Noir, 2013 Craftsman Red, and a 2011 Vino Noche Port. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Craftsman Red (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot – and just 12.5% alcohol) were quite good. The Pinot Noir was very average, and the Viognier and the Vino Noche were just not very good. The wines that I liked (and this was the general consensus at the table) were complex and somewhat elegant, with nice hints of fruit and terroir in there. The Viognier was anything but elegant, had a chemical nose, and simply was not a pleasing wine to drink. The Vino Noche Port was very harsh on the palate and hot with alcohol. It was better with the dessert – chocolate lava cake, but still . . .

I am sure that a visit to the Casa Barranca Winery is a fun outing, but I would not be going for the wines. Perhaps, over time, the wine making process will mature and even out.

As for the Waterside Restaurant, I encourage them to keep on trying and working on their presentation timing for food at events such as this.


The Wine Stalker (LINK) is a wine blog by Joey Casco, CSW, who writes some interesting and knowledgeable stuff. He recently did two posts on “Wine Formulas” – how wineries get their wines to present the way they want them to. The techniques range from blending different varietals in larger quantities than you might think, to adding a variety of additives to the wine during the wine making process, to using procedures to add oxygen or color.

The posts are very fair and objective – giving wine lovers access to information that is otherwise hard to come by, given the lack of wine labeling regulations.

I found it very interesting to see how some of my favorite wines are manipulated to get to that certain place where the scores, and therefore the sales, will peak.

Here are the links to parts one and two of this series.

The Magic Potions & Formulas of Wine – Part 1: Mass Appeal & Cover-ups (LINK)

The Magic Potions & Formulas of Wine – Part 2: Mega Purple and Enologix (LINK)



On Saturday, Dorianne had a late-morning appointment with her allergist, and it just happened to be in the same shopping center where the Sunland Vintage Winery Tasting Room (Link) is located in Thousand Oaks, CA. The proprietors, Michael and Debby Giovinazzo, were in when I peeked in the door at 11:00 am (the sign said they open at 1:00 pm). I asked if they were open and was invited in.

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The Tasting Room at Sunland Vintage Wines – shared with Alma Sol Wines.

I blogged about their Tantalizing Thursday Events (LINK), where they combine $5 per glass wine with a food truck in the parking lot two weeks ago. That event was so crowded, that I was unable to have a conversation with Mike or Debby, so I returned to do just that.

Mike and Debby have been in the wine business for five years. Their wines are produced in Lodi, CA, and sourced from all over the state. His goal, he said, was to bring Italian Varietals to Southern California, which his Giovinazzo Wines label does, and does very well. There is also a newer label, SVI Wines with more traditional varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, and Albarino. 

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Total production this year is 1350 cases, making Sunland Vintage Winery a small producer, but one with great variety. Mike told me that he just contracted for some Dolcetto fruit from Northern California growers that he is excited about. Mike and Debby clearly love being in and talking about, the wine business, and it looks like they have carved out a nice niche for themselves with their Italian Varietals and blends.

If you are in the area, check them out.


Here in the Thousand Oaks/Malibu, CA area, we are awash in wine – a good thing. There are over twenty wineries in the two Malibu AVA’s, and a lot of tasting rooms, wine bars, and wine-centric retailers in the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village area. The competition is growing as the area is developing into a wine destination. Last night, a groups of us joined a large crowd at Sunland Vintage Winery Tasting Room (Link) in Thousand Oaks. The proprietors, Michael and Debby Giovinazzo, held court in a bustling tasting room, pouring $5 glasses of wine for their Thursday evening promotion Tantalizing Thursday, featuring different food trucks each week. Last night it was Cousin’s Maine Lobster Truck (Link), featuring lobster rolls, chowder, tacos and more. 2015-02-05 18.20.29 2015-02-05 18.20.44

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Tip Jar on the Lobster Truck

We settled in at a large table (nine of us), and ordered some wine from the server, Merissa. We started with the Albarino, a nicely crafted white that was perfect with lobster. The line for the Lobster Truck was long, but convivial. Then we headed into the land of the reds. Sunland has two labels, Giovinazzo Wines – Italian varietals like Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Teroldego, and Barbera, and their SVI Brand – Premium Wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, the Albarino,  and Bordeaux Blends. 2015-02-05 18.52.05 2015-02-05 18.51.36 The wines are very well crafted. It is very unusual to have so many Italian varietals from a California winery, so you have to give Sunland credit for being ambitious. We did not taste all of the wines – the $5 per glass format of the evening precluded that, but we did have a sampling. On the Italian side, the Giovinazzo Wines label, we tasted the Dolcetto (harsh and very acidic, and I usually like Dolcettos); Montepulciano (very nice, smooth and balanced, best of the night); Malbec (also nicely balanced, but not very distinctive). From the SVI Wines label, we had the Albarino (very nice, smooth, fruity, grassy); Zinfandel (very sweet, big, ripe, almost a dessert wine); Cabernet Sauvignon (well-crafted, balanced, nice fruit/mineral balance). I plan to return to get some time to taste some of these wines again and to try some of the others. I also want to speak to Mike and Debby when it is less hectic. Sunland Winery is a great addition to the Thousand Oaks wine scene.


As we plan for the US Thanksgiving next week, the topic of what wines to drink is always a challenge. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Thanksgiving Dinner tends to last for hours of prep time, appetizers and snacking, football, the dinner itself, then desserts, etc. Eric Asimov of the NYTimes recommends going with wines that have less alcohol, given that you may be imbibing over a longer period of time.

Thanksgiving - Hitchcock
You never know who might show up for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Second, the kinds of foods served in many American homes runs a much wider gamut than on a normal day. I mean, how may other days do you serve sweet potatoes with marshmallows? So there are sweet and savory dishes on the table, plus whatever else has been laid out during the day. In Maryland, where I grew up, there was usually a bushel of fresh oysters in the garage or on the back porch from mid-morning on. By the time you get to the fruit and pumpkin pies, you have eaten a variety of foods.

So here are some ideas for wines – not specific wines, but varietals that will tend to serve you well with the chaos and wide variety of foods that you are likely to be served (or are serving). I also recommend less expensive wines for this day, unless you are having a relatively simple meal. Good wines can get lost in the mix of everything from those sweet potatoes to sauerkraut, to green bean casserole to well, whatever.

You will want red, white, and some bubbly for the day. Bubbly? Well, why not? Sparkling wines can be great for earlier in the day (like with those oysters) and for a toast to begin the main meal. Some of your guests may well prefer to have sparkling wine with dinner as well. I recommend Spanish Cava – very accessible both in terms of price and it’s flexibility to go with a variety of dishes. There are also some great California sparklers if you want to stick to American wines on this most American of holidays. Sparkling wine is great with dessert, as you do not want to add more sweetness to the end of a meal like this one!

As for whites, I think that this is a day for Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, and Albarino. All of these are light, low in alcohol, and versatile. There are dozens of Sauvignon Blancs from California, France, and New Zealand that will fit your budget. The New Zealand wines will tend more to citrus notes, while the French produce wines with more floral notes. The Americans can be either – so ask you wine merchant if you have a preference for one style or another. Chenin Blanc is a French gem that is also becoming more and more popular  with US growers up and down the west coast. Torrontes is the top white wine of Argentina, light and crisp and affordable. Albarino is a Spanish beauty that translates well with anything from fish to poultry. I think that you will be happy with any of these varietals on your holiday table.

Looking at reds, we want to keep the alcohol on the low side, which makes it tough to purchase most California wines that are in the affordable range (under $25 a bottle). You can find some Pinot Noirs and Merlots that fit the bill, but you may have to do some searching. Actually, I think that your best answers are France and Argentina or Chile. French Beaujolais is an excellent choice. The wines tend to be lighter, lower in alcohol, and there are a number of good wines in this category that are priced right. Malbec from Argentina can range from lighter to heavier; the lighter versions are great for the holiday table, as are some of the Malbecs being produced in California’s Central Coast reason. Chilean Merlot is a great bargain, just watch that alcohol level. I recommend a variety of reds and whites – let your guests explore.

I would figure a bottle per person, plus any other beverages that you will be serving. Of course, you can also have a similar approach for your Christmas Dinner, which in the US is often a repeat of Thanksgiving. If you are having a beef or pork roast, you may still want white and sparkling wines for earlier in the day or with dessert.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and let me know you Holiday wine recommendations.


After a Recent White Wine Tasting at Chateau Lockard.
A Recent Tasting

For those relatively new to wine enjoyment, you are likely to be confronted with the issue of how to reliably find good wines – that is, wines that you like. Is it a matter of price? Is it about where the wine is from, or the varietal?

I drink wine nearly every day. I drink mostly at home, but have a glass or a bottle in a restaurant one or two times per week. I enjoy wine, but I want to get a good value almost all of the time; the possible exception being a very special occasion, when I may splurge on a more expensive bottle. I don’t want the desire for a good value to keep me from getting wines that I like either, so I try to find a balance.

I like many kinds of wines, and drink reds, whites, rosés, as well as ports and dessert wines (although the last two much less often). I like to pair wines with food, but am not overly strict about it. I pay attention to the heaviness or lightness of the wine – say an Oregon Pinot Noir (light) versus a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (heavier). I would likely have the Pinot with salmon or a lighter chicken dish and the Cab with a steak or pork loin.

So the main wine factors are heaviness and lightness, spiciness or minerality vs. fruit-forward, acidity, and temperature (chilled vs. room temperature). Other factors are season and temperature (colder = heavier and unchilled; warmer = lighter and chilled). These are not hard and fast rules – I have Cabernet Sauvignon in the summer and Sauvignon Blanc in the winter (I live in Southern California, so winter is a relative term for me).

I prefer wines with some unique or distinctive qualities, even at lower price points. This means, that I tend to stay away from cheap, mass-produced wines. These wines are almost always made to be drinkable to a wide variety of people, so they are usually fruity, bland, and forgettable.

Another factor is price. Think everyday wines vs. that special night wines vs. really special occasion wines.

If you averaged out the cost per bottle of the wines I drink in the average week, it would probably land somewhere between $13 and $15. My go-to summer white this year is Portes de Bordeaux, a $6 French white from Trader Joe’s (which they will not likely have again next year). Our favorite rosé is by Chateau Nages, a Provençal wine that sells for $9.99 at Total Wines and Spirits (see earlier posts on Go-To Whites and Rosés for Summer. These and similar wines make up at least two thirds of our consumption. The other third is a mixture of more special wines, a Sancerre for $25 or a California Syrah for $28 that we have purchased either during our travels, at a winery, at local wine shops, or on-line. We purchased a case of Bordeaux wines on a trip last year and some of those are ready to drink, so we have had a couple bottles from that case (which would skew our average price up quite a bit).

To buy good wine (defined as wine that you like) on a budget, you have to know what you like. After that, it is a matter of learning what wines fit into that category. Ask the people who work at a local wine shop or two what wines are similar to what you like. For example, if you like Malbec, you will probably like Barbara; if you like Chenin Blanc, you will probably like Pinot Gris. Get six or eight bottles of wines that are similar and try them out. Then re-purchase the ones you really enjoy.

When you find those everyday wines that you really like, consider stocking up – get a case or two. If you are interested in aging wine or buying as an investment, you have a different set of standards. I will write about those in a future post.