Bonus Content: Three Guest Posts Published Elsewhere

Just a heads-up on three pieces I wrote for other publications recently:

  1. How will the MA Alcohol Tax Repeal Affect Sales Long-term?
    This piece is a call to Massachusetts wholesalers and distributors to look at their assortment of wines and the fully loaded cost of the wines they sell to compete favorably nationally.  I shouldn’t be able to find French and Italian wines in California for 25% less than in Massachusetts.
  2. 2008 Liberte Cabernet Sauvignon Review on Jason’s Wine Blog
    If you like shopping for wine at Trader Joe’s, Jason’s Wine Blog is a must-read.  I shared my thoughts on the a $9.99 Paso Robles Cab I tried recently – check out the action in the comments.
  3. How Taste Tribes are Actually Formed
    A few months back there was some talk online about “badges” being a new/better way to rate wines than the 100 point scale.  Out of that, a discussion around “taste tribes” formed.  I shared my thoughts on this subject in a new multi-contributor online publication called Smart Tastes.

Reminder: After today prices go up for tickets to the 2011 Boston Wine Expo.  Here’s a link to a prior post with a couple angles for discount tickets.

Have a great weekend!


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Listicles: The March issue of Bon Appetit…


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Hangover Observations : Scenes From Jamie Oliver’s Weekend Cooking Competition


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Event Report: Urban Grape Quintessa Wine Dinner at The Capital Grille

Wine retailer The Urban Grape recently teamed up with The Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill, MA to kick off a series of winemaker dinners in 2011.  The first, this past Thursday January 27th, featured wines from Quintessa and winemaker Charles Thomas.

Quintessa is owned by Augustin Huneeus whose Huneeus Vintners controls a growing stable of wine brands.  Quintessa is a top-flight Bordeaux blend from Napa Valley that retails for around $135.  Faust is a more approachable Napa Cab that sells for around $50.  Illumination is a $45 Napa Sauvignon Blanc.

Beyond these Napa wines, Huneeus Vintners has added a number of prominent brands to their portfolio.  In California these include Flowers and Orin Swift (who makes the bold QPR-favorite The Prisoner).  In Chile there’s Veramonte and Ritual.  Quite a list of wines.

My affinity for The Capital Grill is well-documented at this point.  Here’s a review I wrote last year about their Master Wine Tasting Event in June.  I’m a huge fan of their style of service, the quality of food across the entire menu, and the way their wine selections focus on guiding us to delicious wines in categories that expand our wine knowledge.

The evening started out with a reception featuring the Chilean Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc.  I thought it was a fruit-forward and friendly way to start the evening.  I had a nice time chatting up Urban Grape owners TJ and Hadley Douglas.  TJ told me he loves wine dinners tracing back to his days with (wine distributor) Ruby Wines when he regularly did wine dinners.

If you’re familiar with The Capital Grille’s Chestnut Hill location, the dinner occurred in the private room in the back-left of the restaurant.  The event was absolutely sold out and the room was filled to capacity.  In talking to the people seated around me, there was a mix of big-time Capital Grille fans and Urban Grape clients as well.  Everyone was excited to try the wines.

As the first course was served (a Winter Salad of Mesclun Greens and Endive Tossed with a Grapefruit Vinaigrette, Clementine, Poached Pear and Postachio) winemaker Charles Thomas greeted us, told us about the history of the Quintessa, and introduced the first wine: The 2009 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc.

Charles has been winemaker at Quintessa since 2007.  His past experience includes Robert Mondavi Winery, Domaine Chandon, Cardinale and Rudd as well as being involved with the inception and creation of Opus One.

Augustin Huneeus’s experience in the wine business started with Concha y Toro in Chile.  Then a small winery, he built it up before coming to the US in the 1970s.  He worked with a variety of brands then built up Franciscan in the 1980s.  His efforts are now focused on Quintessa and related brands in his portfolio.

Charles described his approach with Illumination as being “careful with the oak”.  I noted light lime aromas in a soft wine that hinted at New Zealand but chose not to go for the pungency and zest.  Not too overly fruity, especially for Napa, and especially compared to the Veramonte that proceeded it.  Around $45 – I’d rate it 86 points.

The second course featured Alaskan Yukon Gold Salmon Caviar and American Sturgeon Caviar paired with the 2008 Ritual Pinot Noir.

Like other Chilean Pinot Noirs I’ve tried it was a bold wine featuring spicy notes.  I thought it was racy, if a little rough and tannic compared to what I see in Pinot Noirs produced in other regions.  A little rough and tumble.  Paul Hobbs was a consulting winemaker on this one.  Around $38 – I’d rate it 87 points.

Next up was the 2007 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Rosemary Lamb with Swiss Chard, Baby Carrots Glazed with Balsamic.  One of my favorite dishes at the Capital Grille is the Double Cut Lamb Rib Chops – this was a slightly different preparation with the balsamic treatment and less crunch on the outside.  It paired nicely with the Faust.

Charles described how the Faust came into being.  They felt they could produce a great wine from the grapes they were selling to other wineries that weren’t making their way into the flagship Quintessa wine.  Faust provides an affordable taste of what they do, but stylistically it’s a very different wine than Quintessa.

Faust is classic Napa Cab with big dark fruit up front and palate-flooding flavor.  I found the back end of the palate a little limited and the finish a touch short.  Still, it’s a crowd pleaser.  I’d rate it 89 points – about $50.

Then, it was time for the big show.  The one we’d all been waiting for: The 2007 Quintessa.  Before trying the wine, I asked Charles which other wines Quintessa is stylistically similar to.  He paused a moment – perhaps thinking about how to position the wine compared to other elite wines, perhaps thinking about whether he wanted to pre-dispose our perception of the wine in a certain way before we tried it.  He said some compare it to Opus One, Robert Mondavi Reserve, and Phelps Insignia.

After trying the wine, I thought Opus One was the most relevant comparison.  It’s definitely a new world spin on a Bordeaux blend – and a very good one.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere come together to form a wine that is slightly closed aromatically at this point (as you’d expect – the wine is very young) with tar, red fruit and just a hint of mocha.  The wine distinguished itself with it’s laser-beam of intense flavors on the palate, through the back end, and with a very long finish.  I hear the thing you’re looking for when assessing wines like this in their youth is length of finish so this bodes very well for this wine’s future.  I’d rate it 92 points – around $135.

It was paired with a Sesame Encrusted Tuna Served over Seaweed Salad Garnished with Pickled Ginger, Honey Wasabi, and White Soy.  Perhaps an unconventional pairing (some opted to have steak snuck out from the kitchen) but I thought it worked very well.  The sinus-clearing nature of the wasabi was tempered with honey and the salt from the soy came together with the rich fruit of the bold red wine beautifully.  I’m not much of a fish guy and I devoured the dish.

Dessert was a Coconut Creme Brulee with a Sandeman 10 Year Old Tawny Port.  Loved the creme brulee – one of my favorite desserts at The Capital Grille, but I’m not much of a Port guy.


  • The group seated next to me was a fun bunch.  They said they come to the Capital Grille at least once a week and always sit with our lead server for the night David Bresner.  His approach typifies the Capital Grille experience – refined yet comfortable and down to earth.
  • The groups said when they went to The Capital Grille’s Las Vegas location the restaurant was aware of their dining preferences from their past dining at Massachusetts Capital Grille locations – they didn’t even have to tell them how like liked their steaks prepared.  I asked them how often they mis-cook their steaks: “Almost never.”  I thought this was particularly impressive given that one of them likes their steaks well done and the other likes them rare.
  • They also recommended Carmaleno’s Pushcart in Saugus – duly noted.

Conclusions and Next Steps:

I’m always impressed with how well The Capital Grille serves a meal, especially to a large group like this.  The Urban Grape’s style pairs well here and they’re not kidding when they say space is limited for these events.  If you want to attend future events be sure to get your reservation in early.

The next dinner in the series is Thursday, March 3, 2011 featuring wines from Vias Imports – red wines from Piedmont: Barbaresco and Barolo!  More info on The Urban Grape’s Event’s page.

I attended as a guest of The Urban Grape. 

Check ’em out:


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A Mixed Case Sampler:  The Wines from Rex Pickett?s Vertical

After earnest (albeit sporadic) reading since early December, I finished Vertical, Rex Pickett’s book sequel to Sideways, this past week. To say it’s a wine-soaked Bacchanalian romp is an understatement akin to saying Screaming Eagle wine is “kind of” expensive. 

While I won’t review the book formally because I don’t possess the bona fides to critique fiction, suffice to say that “ambivalence” is how I would describe my feelings about it.  However, in that ambivalence I should note that I’m going to read it again – I’m just persnickety enough that I can’t invest time in something without walking away with a definitive opinion.  A re-read on my part should give the impression that my initial take is leaning towards, “Glass half full.”

Vertical leaves a couple of doors open for a third book to round out a trilogy, and like other sequels that try to capture lightening in a bottle (no pun intended) a second time, the story does amp up Miles and Jack’s hijinks AND the wine references.


There are A LOT of wine references…

As Pickett says on his Author’s Note page, “No winery or winemaker or anyone in the wine trade (in) any capacity influenced the wines or wineries that appear in Vertical.  As part of my research for Vertical I held several large tastings with non-wine professionals and solicited their opinions.  The wines that appear are a result of those and other efforts, and were picked as appropriate for the characters and the story.  Please celebrate the hard work and achievements of all vignerons in the spirit of the Vertical journey.”

Given the impact Sideways has had on the wine world I thought it would be fun to point out the wines that Miles, Jack and others drink in the book.  This is not a comprehensive list; many other wines were mentioned, but only glancingly.  The wines I’ve listed below all figure into Vertical as name-checked plot detail from Miles.  The links for each wine go to either the winery or retail where the wines can be purchased and I’ve added the retail price for those scanning.

A nearly complete list of wines from the book Vertical

2009 David Family Pinot Noir | $70

2007 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir | $50

2008 St. Innocent Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc | $20

2008 Witness Tree Vintage Select Pinot Noir | $40

2007 Witness Tree Claim 51 Pinot Noir | $48

2007 Sokol Blosser Goosepen Block Pinot Noir | $70

2008 Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir | $78

Alma Rosa Chardonnay (No vintage mentioned) | $19 – $28

2008 Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard Chardonnay | $32

2008 Foxen Bien Nacido Chardonnay | $32

Justin Vineyards and Winery Isoceles (No vintage mentioned) | $62

2002 Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, Grand Cru, Echézeauz | $256

2008 Hilliard Bruce Pinot Noir | $80

1999 Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut | $24.99

Steele Chardonnay Dupratt Vineyard (No vintage mentioned) | $26

2008 Ayoub Pinot Noir | $52

2009 Harper Voit Strandline Pinot Noir | Price N/A

2008 Van Duzer Estate Pinot Noir | $30

Soter Sparkling Brut Rosé (No vintage mentioned) | $48

Amity Vineyards Late Harvest Gewurztraminer (No vintage mentioned) | $15

WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Gris (No vintage mentioned) | $19.99

Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir (No vintage mentioned) | $35

Anne Amie Pinot Noir (No vintage mentioned) | $35

1996 Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru Clos de Bèze | $155 avg. / auction

2004 Arnoux Romanée St. Vivant | $296

2008 St. Innocent White Rose Vineyard Pinot Noir | $60


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A (major) change in the weather for Paso Robles


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Holidays Wine Gifts ? A Very Cool Wine Book to Consider

Here is idea for someone who enjoys wine and is perhaps not easy to please. It is a wine book: ?The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels.? I know it sounds a bit boring but once you open the book to any page describing a label, it is very fun and interesting Continue reading


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