Monday, December 29, 2008

Soquel Vineyards Party Like No Other

Psst. There is a party that combines fabulous food, people, scenery and wine. The Soquel Vineyards release party is the not-to-be-missed event in the Santa Cruz mountains. Soquel Vineyards is owned by fun loving brothers Peter and Paul Bargetto and their friend Jon Morgan, who operate the winery high up in a beautiful mountain setting overlooking the pacific ocean. It’s an ideal growing region for world-class pinot noir, and they round out their line of wine with pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernet with grapes purchased from selected sites around the state.

More than just another barrel tasting (which, yes, you do get to sample), they treat you with lunch they prepare at the Kennolyn retreat. Just up the mountain from the Soquel Vineyards winery, Kennolyn provides an ideal location to enjoy food and their fabulous wine. The Bargetto’s share an equal passion for food and wine, and their madcap ways set a tone of merriment for all those attending.

While standing in line for my second helping of tri-tip, the guy in front of me asked one of the Bargetto brothers whether he could have a larger helping. Bargetto’s response was “I am not the meat police. Help yourself.” Indeed, we did.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Best, The Wife and Joe Plonk

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Your Future Holds...

I had a glass of wine last week, and last month, and last year. And, guess what, it doesn’t take Carnac the Magnificent, Nostradamus or Madame Leota to prognosticate that my future includes the occasional glass of red wine. So, savvy wine buyer, what should you be doing now?

Futures! The future is in Futures, I say. Many wineries offer programs where you can buy wine that is still in the barrel at a steep discount to the bottle price charged in the future. Practiced primarily by French first-growth producers, the sale of futures has slowly made its way to the US. This is a win for the winery which gets its money now, and is a win for the consumer who locks in deeply discounted prices before bottled wine hits the market. Over the last few years, purchasing futures has been a great hedge against skyrocketing wine prices and against vintages selling out early.

Most US wineries who offer this type of program also offer the chance to taste the wines beforehand, so that you’ll know what to expect. For me, I’ve tasted a few wines out of the barrel, and I’m not sure if I could tell what’s going to be good and what isn’t. Perhaps I’m overly trusting, or just simply naïve, but most wineries are fairly consistent over the years. If the winery has a top 10% winemaker (and good vineyard sources), the resulting wine will likely be in the top 10% for a particular vintage. So, if the 2008 vintage is dud, well, at least you’ll be getting a top 10% bottle from that vintage. There you hear that 2008 is looking bad, just pass on buying early that year.

Yes, there is some risk in paying for something to be delivered a year from now, but we’re hopefully not talking about your life savings either. The biggest risk is probably forgetting which wineries have your money. [Hmmm. I wonder who that might have happened to.] Wineries currently holding deposits for the Plonk family are Caffaro Winery (one of California’s pioneers through their Crazy Back to the Futures Program) and Periscope Cellars (run by Caffaro protégé Brendan Eliason).

You can bet that I’ll be enjoying a glass of wine next year – only mine will be cheaper because I purchased early.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cleveland Rocks!

Being in Cleveland in December gives the lyric “Cleveland Rocks” a whole new meaning.  Joe Plonk feels like he is being served on ice, and the staccato beat you’re hearing is courtesy of my chattering teeth. Worse, my downtown hotel offers a bottle of 2006 Ravenswood California Zinfandel (est. $9 retail at the supermarket) at the record setting price of $42 per bottle.  That’s quite a premium in any town, no matter how rockin’. 

Dinner one night was at a restaurant owned by a recent Iron Chef competition winner.  The wine list was incredible (especially so considering the location), including numerous difficult to find California Cabernet, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.  Interestingly, the least expensive Zinfandel on the wine list was $50, making me wonder how good was the wine list really if you out-price somebody who loves wine as much as me?  Cleveland is a great town -- Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the Browns, LeBron, and many fabulous people, but come ready to enjoy the beer from Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, December 15, 2008

The 12 Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve Dunns for drinking,
Eleven Ponzi pinots,
Ten Frog’s a-Leaping,
Nine Bulls Dancing,
Eight Mums a-popping,
Seven Zins a-zinning,
Six Goose a-Crossing,
Five Chateau St. Jean,
Four Renwood birds,
Three French vins,
Two Duckhorns,
And a Merlot from Bob Mondavi!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Cheer in Santa Cruz

Travel and Leisure magazine recently named the city of Santa Cruz as one of the world’s top destination spots for the Christmas holiday season. If you visit, my favorite holiday wine sipping locations are:

Soif Wine Bar & Restaurant – European and California centric wine shop attached to a tappas style restaurant. Food is local, healthy and organic. Located in downtown Santa Cruz. One great thing about this restaurant is that you can buy a bottle in the wine shop, and they will not charge a corkage fee in the restaurant

Cava Wine Bar – Located in the heart of the Capitola village, this stylish yet casual wine bar focuses on the Santa Cruz mountain wineries, but also draws from other California and European destinations. Located next to the fabulous Carusos Tuscan Cuisine, about 50 feet from the sand. Also, within a short walk is the Armida Winery tasting room.

Taste of Monterey – The one place to try the majority of wines from Monterey county, and Carmel and Salinas valleys. Located upstairs on the wharf in Monterey, it has magnificent views of the Pacific ocean. It’s about an hour drive from Santa Cruz, but one location worth the drive if you’re planning a day long event.

Vino Prima Wine Bar – Located at the end of the Santa Cruz pier, above Marini’s candy factory. Includes a variety of California wines and cheese. It has a wonderful view of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and pacific ocean. Also, looking in the opposite direction, it has a view of prime surf locations Steamer Lane, Indicators and Cowells.

Additionally, there are many fabulous wineries and wine related events that can be enjoyed year round. One that deserves mention is the “Art In the Cellar” holiday party at Soquel’s venerable Bargetto’s Winery. Do stop by if you are in the neighborhood.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, December 8, 2008

And now, dancing the Mambo…

Joe Plonk would be more likely to get “Gonged” than receive a positive score for dancing the Mambo. But, if you’re talking about “Hey Mambo,” the fabulous Cal-Italia red wine from Sebastiani and Sons, you’ll be doing Forward and Backward Basic Movements with Cheryl Burke in the winner’s circle.

Hey Mambo is an unpretentious joy of a wine. No fuss, no hassle – just a raspberry and spice blend of fruit-forward Italiany goodness. Aptly billed as a “bistro style sultry red,” you have to go to the winery’s web page to see that the wine is made from California grown Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Alicante Bouchet grapes. It’s the wine equivalent of ordering a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs at your favorite local family run Italian restaurant. I’m not sure DOCG purists would approve, but it neither seeks nor needs that type of attention. Like a plate of spaghetti, it’s inexpensive, it’s fulfilling and it tastes great. A special note of kudos to the Sebastiani boys (fellow Bronco alums) for their uses of easy to remove, recyclable corks.

Now get out there and “Two Three Kick-Turn, Turn Turn Kick-Turn, One Two Three Kick-Turn!”

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Negociants welcome here…

I’ve completely changed my thinking around wine negociants (the French term for a merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers, then sells the resulting product under its own name instead of the original grower producer). They’ve been around for centuries buying everything from grapes to fruit juice to finished wine. I had a somewhat elitist view that a winery should grow and harvest its own grapes, manage the winemaking process, and complete bottling and distribution. Wines that met those criteria had a regal provenance in my view, and were somehow better. Shady sellers who merely opportunistically blended together someone else’s scraps somehow made an inferior product.

The first changes in my thinking arose as I enjoyed wonderful wines made with grapes grown elsewhere. Bill Joy’s law applied to winemaking. Ravenswood San Giacomo Zinfandel, Ahlgren Livermore Valley Zinfandel, and Zahtila Beckstoffer Vineyards Zinfandel are a few examples. Farmers grow grapes here to sell to winemakers there. How could I complain about such wonderful wines? I love the Ravenswood line-up of Zinfandel from Amador, Lodi, Sonoma and Napa. This is the perfect way to sample and compare characteristics of these distinct growing areas. Must I return those because Ravenswood Winery is physically located in Sonoma? Then, I started to sample a number of marvelous handcrafted wines from crushpads located around California, and it was time to change my way of thinking.

Historically, negociants dominated the market because they had access to buyers through their distribution channels, it was too expensive for small farmers to purchase manufacturing and bottling equipment, and because large buyers had pricing advantages over small producers. Most wine drinkers are familiar with European negociants such as Bouchard, Pere et Fils, Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf, but there are many US producers who fall into this category that also deserve praise. A few of my favorite good value wines are below:

Red Guitar Navarra Old Vine
Ten Mile Red Blend
Pere et Fils Chateauneuf du Pape
Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon

As I’ve said before, what matters is what goes in the consumers’ glass. Not who grew it, vinted it, or bottled it.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Vinturi Aerator: The Perfect Christmas Gift

I have two or three of every wine gadget known to man – cork pulls, cork stoppers, foil pours, t-shirts, bibs, bags, bottle carriers, coolers, napkin rings, bottle neck trinkets, tasting journals, books, etc. Opening my wine cupboard is like Sherman and Mr. Peabody opening their closet. Some gadgets are useful, most are cute for a use or two.

The one gift that I use over and over with great results, however, is the Vinturi Aerator. Pouring wine from the bottle into this four inch gizmo sends it through an instant aeration process. As wine swirls through the Aerator, it makes a gurgling sound as if you were blowing bubbles in the wine through a straw. In seconds the wine is aerated as if it sat in a decanter for 20 minutes. It doesn’t magically turn Barefoot into Château Lafite (pun intended), but it does make the Barefoot you want to drink now into the better Barefoot that you let breathe for a while.

I first discovered this product in a tasting room. They poured wine directly from the bottle, and through the Aerator.  To my surprise, the same wine poured through the Aerator was dramatically better. Saves time. Makes wine better. If only all gadgets were this good.