Tag Archives: Napa Valley

Napa Valley Cabernet, too high in alcohol?

Thanks to my father-in-law for emailing me this article in the Chronicle about Napa Valley Cabernet and it’s ascend to very high alcohol levels in recent years.

It’s no secret (as this article also states) that higher alcohol wines generally bring higher score from the critics. But if you’ve been following this blog, I’m pretty blasĂ© about wine ratings and critics. Why should anyone tell me what to drink based on their own evaluation? And why should I put effort into following what they have to say when their ‘high scores’ just lead to me and you paying a higher price for that now coveted bottle of fermented juice?

I’ve long said the only place ratings should come into play is when you have a specific wine in mind and specific price point and you are standing on the wine aisle. Ratings can help you decide between one wine and another. If the price point is the same, go with the higher rating, right? But I live in one of California’s areas for great wine and generally drink wine from these regions and can decide for myself what I like and don’t like.

Anyway, let me step down from my soap box for a moment (because I could go on for a long time about the above topic and that’s not what I specifically set out to write about, although I’m having fun!).

This article brings up so many topics, it’s almost impossible to cover with just one post. For starters, I love that Randy Dunn has stuck to his core values of making a certain style of wine. So many wineries change what they are doing based on consumer polls and data and swings in purchasing. How can we ever know what to expect in the bottle if the winery changes style and direction with every new trend? We can’t. There are many wineries I have grown to love because I know what to expect from them. Some of them have specific wines that I really like and others that I don’t. I just buy the ones I like. But when I get a wine from a trusted source and it has changed to suit what some marketing person decided was better for their customers that’s where I draw the line.

But see for the general wine drinking public (who by the way is only 14% of Americans on a regular basis) they often times don’t know that the winery changed direction or can’t tell for whatever reason. Or maybe they just don’t care. There are a lot of wine drinkers that just want a ‘glass of red’ and never really think about the wine. So this trend will continue. You can count on it.

I just love this quote from Randy Dunn:

“I’ve been in many conversations with people that have been selling their wines for $150 a bottle for 15 years, and I was at $65 or something. They go, ‘What are you doing? You’re making us look like fools,’….And I said, ‘You know, I’m quite profitable at this level.’ Here’s a concept called greed.”

Interesting, he’s making them look like fools. I’m all for capitalism though. If they can sell it at that price (and trust me $150 is starting price for many Cabernet wines in Napa Valley) good for them, but they are certainly past the price range I’m comfortable in. At that price I’ll buy a nice Irish Whiskey or Scotch and drink it over an entire year. I have heard people say, “What’s the difference between a $150 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle of wine? ….$100.”

There’s also this concept in here about how the higher alcohol levels have led to the wines all tasting the same. I think I’ll have to do some research to further discover the real answer on this, but it used to be that you could easily distinguish the different growing areas of Napa Valley – mountains vs. floor, east facing regions vs. west, Rutherford Dust comes to mind. I guess I could see how the higher alcohol could mask some of these unique characteristics by making it all about the alcohol and less about the sense of place. That terroir is so important to me. I want to taste, smell and hear (you mean you don’t listen to your wine?) and feel where the wine and grapes came from.

I’m very curious (and will keep following this story) what the research Mr. Dunn is doing will suggest about how to taste wines of lower and higher alcohol. It makes sense that if you taste a higher alcohol wine first, the lower one will taste watery, or at least lighter. If that is the case, if his wines are tasted alongside the higher alcohol versions from Napa Valley then he never will see those higher ratings. Either way, I look forward to tasting his commitment to a standard and ability to not conform with the ever-changing wants of the general public.


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Filed under Alcohol Content, Napa, Napa Valley, Wine, Wine Study, Wine Tasting, Winemaking

Paso Robles Wine Country

Thanks to my in-laws a couple of weeks ago my wife and I managed a weekend away and decided to make the trek to Pismo Beach. Thanks to a friend we stayed at Pismo Lighthouse Suites, a well-appointed hotel right on the beach. Great place to stay and an excellent view….







With only one full day down there, of course we went wine tasting! I had heard about good wines from Paso Robles, but I think most people would label the region as still ‘up and coming’. With the five wineries we visited, I would venture to say that the area is no longer up and coming, but rather has hit full stride! At each stop there wasn’t one wine that I would have labeled as ‘not good’. There were certainly a few that weren’t my style, but all the wines I tasted were of high quality.

Our first stop…







Peachy Canyon was our first stop. We know the area is known for Zinfandel and we are huge Zin fans. This winery was listed as one that offered multiple Zinfandels. They had three on the list, but 6 more available just for wine club members. All were tasty. They also offer live music on Saturdays during the summer and have a huge picnic area and lawn. Cool stuff.

Second up was Turley Wine Cellars….











Turley traces its roots back to St. Helena in the Napa Valley and I recognized the name. We tasted 4 wines and all were very good, so they were packed into the cooler. Turley offered a more upscale experience with a large bar, many staff members and a retail shop as well.

After that a short trip to Zin Alley where we tasted wine along with the owner and winemaker. A very cool experience tasting right in their cellar, right up my alley….







Not much to look at, but the wines were very good. We actually ended up going home with a Syrah blend. Funny since Zin is in their name.

Right down the hill from Zin Alley, was our favorite stop on the trip, Cypher Winery. I was a little skeptical as some of their wines seemed gimmicky…











With names like Anarchy, Heretic and Zin Bitch I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was blown away with quality, elegance and power of these wines. We just drank the Heretic and I was equally impressed while drinking it at home. Which brings up another topic that I’ll have to write about. Many tourists get caught up in the romance of wine country and dream up that the wines are better than they really are. Then upon returning home they are disappointed in the wine they purchased. Sorry for the tangent, back to the wine. We also picked up the Chardonnay even though it was un-oaked. I’m usually a fan of some oak on my Chard, but this one really stood out.

Our last stop was Lone Madrone. We were drawn to it because of its Celtic logo…









There are any number of things that attract tourists (and locals) to wineries. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a logo or bottle design. This one looked like a symbol we had seen while traveling through Ireland a few years back. The symbol dated back more than 5000 years. The wines were as good as any we had on the trip. The Chenin Blanc was a highlight as was the Hard Apple Cider they produce.

All in all it was a fantastic introduction to the wine country in and around Paso Robles. We can’t wait to return and discover some new favorites.


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Filed under Visiting Wineries, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

Napa Valley (the most popular post ever)

My most viewed post of all time is this one: Napa Valley – A New Adventure

I find this extremely interesting, yet not too surprising. Interesting because my blog name is Sonoma Cork Dork. Not surprising because of many reasons including the most sought after wine valley to visit is still Napa Valley.

I can’t tell you how many visitors and tourists mix up Napa and Sonoma and never really know where they are. The often say things like, “This is my first time to Napa Valley” or “I love tasting wines in Napa”. I don’t take offense to it because I believe that they really don’t know where they are. I also don’t look at this as a bad thing. After all, the more visitors to the area the better, right?

It’s just clear to me that when people are looking for wine related information on the web they often type in Napa before any other wine region. And this is where I think Sonoma may be behind the times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sonoma is often talked about as more laid back, country, and a place you are likely to meet and talk with the winemakers. By contrast, Napa is often described as an adult-Disneyland. Both regions offer great wine, beautiful vineyards and big and small wineries.

Napa really started marketing itself as a wine destination in the 60’s when Mondavi opened up his winery. He realized the potential of direct to consumer sales and used to drive his car slow on highway 29 then turn left even slower into his driveway to bring people to the winery. Maybe not the most effective marketing, but it was a start. Before long Napa was really booming and visitors started to flock to the area.

Sleepier Sonoma has been playing catch-up ever since. We hear a lot of visitors say they really enjoy Sonoma for it’s quieter tasting rooms, smaller tasting fees and friendly staff. So, why then, do we see less visitors every year? It’s a mystery.

Sonoma also makes about three times as much wine as Napa. That has everything to do with geography. Sonoma County is a much larger area (about 60 miles north / south and 25 miles east / west), compared to Napa (about 20 miles long by 1-5 miles wide) – a huge difference. You would think at some point that Sonoma would overtake Napa with visitors, just from the amount of wine that is distributed from the area, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. And I’m okay with that.

As I said before, the more visitors to the area the better. I truly believe that. Visitors will see our marketing efforts and discover this great region I call home. After all, I’m still discovering it. There are over 350 wineries in Sonoma and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to all of them, but I’m going to try and I’m going to write about it every step of the way.


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Filed under Napa, Sonoma