Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanks for...

Thanks for

Ahlgren Vineyards Livermore Valley Zinfandel
Burrell School House Valedictorian
Clos LaChance Estate Cabernet Franc
Cosentino The Zin
Duckhorn Merlot
Easton Amador County Zinfandel
Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Hahn Estates Cabernet Franc
The Hess Collection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Renwood Grandmere Zinfandel
Ridge Mataro
Rombauer Estates Zinfandel
Rubicon Estate Cuvee
St. Francis Winery and Vineyards Nuns Canyon Merlot
Swanson Alexis
Turley Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard
Young’s Vineyard Barbera
Wellington Zinfandel Meek’s Vineyard
Zahtila Vineyards Estate Zinfandel

Santa, I’ve been good, no more Two Buck…

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Sage Rocks Young’s Vineyard

Our annual pilgrimage to the Young’s Vineyard release party in the Shenandoah region of Amador county is a wonderful experience for lovers of big, bold red wine. Young’s Vineyards serves blockbuster Barbera (my favorite), Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Shiraz and Zinfandel, all characteristic of the style of Amador Valley. All are hauntingly tannic, have mouthfuls of flavor and are fueled by high octane alcohol. I have never sought to confirm the rumor that they also sell Roussanne.

Young’s release party is a major event that regularly sells out – not just the tickets to the event but in past years the vintage itself. The release party is held on their property that includes beautiful gardens and picnic areas surrounding a picturesque lake and vineyard. The event includes wine, art showings, local cuisine, music and, most recently, a pleasant surprise.

While we were happily sipping wine, our friend and regular photo contributor Frank Anzalone enthusiastically said “Come listen to this!” The band had just gone on break, and now blasting from the speakers was the music of Sage, San Jose’s finest rock n roll outfit and past winner of KFOX’s Last Band Standing contest. Formed by Frank and his brother Russel way back in 1969, Sage has been a fixture in the Bay Area music scene for decades. For me, it was kind of like going to a museum and finding a friend’s artwork hanging on display.

When we approached to say hello, the guy running the sound board enthusiastically said “Sage Rocks!” I couldn’t agree more.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

One Bear Remains (Heart's Fire)

One of the joys of not being very smart is that you forget things (intentionally or otherwise) once in a while. Per my Thursday posting, I dropped out of most wine club memberships due to the economic times. As The Wife reminded, I forgot my club membership with Heart's Fire Winery. Yahoo! Keeping that one too...
Best, Joe Plonk

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bulls Ruin the Party

November 18, 2008 was my personal Black Tuesday. Bulls have stomped through Wall Street and onto Aptos Main Street. Want to know how a recession in the wine industry happens? Joe Plonk buys beer.

I have unwillingly (and temporarily, I hope) cancelled my memberships in wine clubs at Silverado, St. Francis, Clos LaChance and Ridge – saving only Rubicon Estate and JLohr. I will get a paper route, raid my kid’s college fund, or simply go down with the ship before exiting the wine club at Rubicon, and JLohr is a plonker’s paradise.

Will taste wine for food.

Worst, Joe Plonk

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Drink No Wine Before It’s Time, Except…

In the 1970s, Orson Wells stated “we will sell no wine before its time” in the famous advertisement by Paul Masson Vineyards.

For me, this phrase symbolizes the nearly impossible challenge of determining when best to drink a bottle of wine -- when is "its time"? The only way to truly gage whether a wine is at its peak is to try it, and unless you’ve purchased a case of a particular bottle and keep notes as you open bottles, you can do little more than guess. While some wineries suggest ageability of the wine, those recommendations assume that your taste for aged wine is similar to theirs. I’ve had 4 year-old zinfandel that was well past its prime, even though the back label said best when aged 3 to 5 years.

I enjoy wine when it’s fresh and frisky, with vibrant colors and flavors. Not necessarily “nouveau”, but younger and more lively. At the same time, some wines are best after time in the bottle to allow flavors to evolve and mature. While every wine needs to be analyzed on its own, here are some non-scientific rules of thumb that I use:

- For wines under $20, in order to avoid bottle-shock and to round out the edges, I try to hold these for 6 to 12 months. Wines in this price category are made to be consumed right away, so aging won’t improve the result.

- For wines between $20 and $40, I try to hold these for 6 to 18 months. Rarely have I experienced a wine in this price category that passed its peak at 18 months. To me, this is the right time window to allow for some character development without risk of the wine turning bad.

- For wines above $40 (with few very exceptions), I recommend holding for no more than 5 years. Some wineries claim their wines will last for 10 years or more. Perhaps true, but why risk wasting an expensive bottle when you know it will be good at 5 years. Wine on the downside of its peak is a waste in my book. Nobody likes drinking from the catbox.

Keep it happy, keep it snappy, keep it …

Best, Joe Plonk

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Than Just Auto Parts: The Napa Experience

There are lots of reasons to avoid Napa – cars, congestion, attitude and expense. But, at the same time, Napa has deservedly developed its reputation as the premiere wine destination in California. Distinct, flavorful chardonnay and world-class cabernet sauvignon are the stars, but many varietals excel in this diverse growing region. 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong – and the visiting masses are not wrong here. My suggestions to making your visit enjoyable:

- Call ahead. Many wineries have special tours and behind-the-scenes tastings that require reservations. Don’t just show up and expect a barrel sample of their reserve wines with the winemaker.

- Highway 29 early; Silverado Trail late. Traffic congestion in the afternoon makes Highway 29 a nightmare after about 1 pm, so visit those wineries first. The Silverado Trail makes for an enjoyable drive any time of the day. Start early and drive to the northern end of the valley, then head south. Everyone else will be heading in the opposite direction.

- Avoid tour bus destinations. If the sign out front says “Tour Bus Welcome,” odds are that you won’t be getting the personal attention that makes wine tasting special. If your friend from out-of-town loves Mondavi, by all means take your friend to Mondavi – just set your expectations accordingly.

- Avoid festival weekends. If you want to go to a festival, Napa has lots of them. Personally, I avoid festival weekends since I’m more interested in tasting wine than playing second fiddle to the Napa intelligencia which tend to dominate these events. Since my last name is Plonk, and not [insert fancy winery name here], odds are that I’ll be seated somewhere in back.

- Plan your meals; bring water. Have a few restaurants identified ahead of time, so that you won’t be scavenging for food. I try to identify restaurants near some of the wineries we plan to visit, so that we can remain flexible but keep food within reach. I always bring bottled water and Vanilla wafers (the best palette cleanser ever) for a snack between wineries. Mustards Grill in Yountville has fantastic mid-priced food; the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil is my favorite for fine dining but can be whoa expensive. Reservations for both are recommended.

- Say “Yes” to Tasting Room Fees. [No, Joe Plonk did not get a lobotomy. Read on.] Over the last few years, fees to taste wine at the top wineries have skyrocketed. What used to be $5 per tasting can now be in the $25 to $30 range and more. After my initial outrage, I realized the happy byproduct of these ridiculous fees were that (i) you got to taste the best wines, (ii) more than 2 ounces of wine were typically poured, (iii) fewer tasting room patrons means a more enjoyable experience, and (iv) they didn’t try and hustle you out the door. I typically splurge on one “expensive” winery per trip where we really relax, spend extra time and enjoy ourselves.

- Pace Yourself. Napa is about the journey. Experience new places and things. Say hello. Turn down the occasional unexplored path, but respect the locals. People do live here. Plan your visit but leave room for spontaneity. If you have one day in Napa, and several wineries that you must visit, drink only reds or whites. You don’t have to try everything they pour, or finish everything poured in your glass. Nobody will be offended if you politely pour out what you don’t want.

And, of course, make sure that you have a designated driver. Napa has rightfully earned its reputation as California’s premiere wine destination. You’ll see.

Happy (Silverado) Trails!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Hey You!

It was a sign from the wine gods, directed to me personally. “Delicious and Cheap!” cried the placard sitting above several varietals of red wine from a California Central Coast winery. This Fish was on the hook, and two bottles of each magically jumped into my shopping cart. With its bright orange and purple squiggle label (and the silhouette of a bear), it was a classic impulse buy on my part – no reading of reviews, and no prior experience with the winery. Nothing more than some marketing person who knew that I’m a sucker for … well, just a sucker in this case. My sad experience is a reminder that checking Drink Plonk ( can help avoiding negative wine experiences.

Anybody want a good deal on two bottles with a fancy label?

Best, Joe Plonk

Friday, November 7, 2008

Signs of intelligent life in Stillwater, Minnesota

Stillwater ( is a city in Washington County, Minnesota, and a part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. It is located directly across the St. Croix River from the state of Wisconsin. Although founded as a lumber town, it is now better known for its beautiful historic downtown which includes several antiquarian book stores. In my humble opinion, however, the clearest sign of intelligent life in this mid-western town is its devotion to wine.

Hidden amongst the book shops and antiquities are the Northern Vineyards Winery (, the Marx wine bar and grill (, and the Luna Rossa wine bar and trattoria ( Luna Rossa gets IQ bonus points for its conversion of beer brewing caves into wine storage caves, along with its brief but well-thought-out Italian-centric wine list – many of which are served by the glass.

The outside patio at Northern Vineyards Winery (see photo above) also provides a convenient location from which Minnesotans can fire cannons across the St. Croix. So, if you hear cork popping sounds, you can be sure they’re celebrating with Northern Vineyards Winery 2007 Minnesota grown Edelweiss or defending against invading cheese-heads.

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over…

Today marks the birthday of the world’s greatest gal, Ms. Joe Plonk (known as “TheWife” on Drink Plonk). She is the grand cru of mothers, the DOCG of wives, and the first-growth of best friends. She holds the records for longest champagne cork blast, loudest toasting clink, and fastest glass refill.

My life with her truly overflows.

Best, Joe Plonk

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vino Novello!!!

November 3, 2008 marked the annual premier presentation of Vino Novello, which is the Italian cousin of the French Beaujolais Nouveau. The presentation of Vino Novello will take place this year at the Verona fair grounds after twenty years of being held in Vicenza. Hosted by the Italian Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia, this years presentation is aptly named “Anteprima Novello”. Vino Novello is first available during the first week in November, just prior to Beaujolais Nouveau which cannot be opened until the third Thursday of November. Vino Novello is an early bottling intended to preview the vintage, and spark interest in future purchases of that year’s releases.

Italian law requires that Novello be bottled within a year of the harvest. Like Beaujolais Nouveau, it is typically bottled just a few weeks before shipment. The wine is typically light and fruity (sometimes served chilled), primarily due to the juice not being left on the grape skins for an extended exposure to tannin. Primary differences between Novello and Beaujolais are that (1) Novello can be made with different blended varietals from different regions in Italy whereas Beaujolais is from the Gamay grape solely from the Beaujolais region, and (2) Novello typically retains some carbonation used to speed up fermentation whereas Beaujolais is typically flat.

Vino Novello or Beaujolais Nouveau? Whatever your favorite, vive le difference!

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, November 3, 2008

Home is where the heart is…

Everyone has their favorite wine region. My favorite is the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, and more specifically the wineries in my home town of Aptos, California (,_California). In my seaside town you’ll find an eclectic mix of farmers, firefighters, educators, poets, skateboarders and surfers; technology companies and antique shops; golf courses and tennis clubs – but most of all you’ll find people who will greet you with a smile on their face. Our wineries are warm and welcoming, family run operations where they will pull up a chair at the table and make you part of their family. No pomp and circumstance or false pretenses here.

Aptos wineries primarily grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, as is typical for the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, mostly in the Pleasant Valley area. In addition, our wineries produce many different varietals from different regions. Aptos wineries include:

Anderson Vineyards (
Aptos Creek Vineyards (
Nicholson Vineyards (
Pleasant Valley Vineyards (
Salamandre Wine Cellars (
Trout Gulch Vineyards (
Windy Oaks Estate ( *

* Yes, technically, Windy Oaks is located in Corralitos. However, any list of great local wineries that did not include the Schultze family would be incomplete.

I encourage you to visit these wineries, or to participate in a Corralitos Wine trail event ( or a Passport Weekend ( Most are open for wine event weekends or by appointment. Both your heart and your taste buds will be glad you did.

Best, Joe Plonk