I was talking with a friend today, and he had received his club shipment from Melville Winery Estate. In the shipment were three different bottles of Pinot Noir. Each was made with a different clone. You don't know how tempted I was to name this weeks' blog "Clone Wars", but my better sense helped me to hold back.

So what is a clone, and why should it make any difference in the wine you drink?

First, the definition of a "clone" is (Hartman, et. al., 1990 from Ed Hellman, Texas A&M): a genetically uniform group of individuals derived originally from a single individual by asexual propagation (cuttings, grafting, etc). What that means in layman terms is that a new plant is created in the exact image (biologically identical) of another superior grape vine, without the use of a seed. The clone is created from clippings (bud or shoot) from the "mother vine". In this way, the grape grower can populate his/her vineyard with those grapevines that produce the best grapes. The superior grapevine will demonstrate attributes and characteristics that the winemaker finds desirable. However, most vineyards will have a mix of different clones, so that the livelihood of the vineyard is not dependent on a single clone. Also the winemaker may blend the different clones to create a more complex quality wine.

Some of the characteristics that make clones distinct include berry and cluster size, yield, fruit color, phenolics, flavor and aroma, time of budbreak and amount of time to ripen, vine and canopy vigor, cold/heat hardiness, and disease resistance. Obviously, all of these are critical to grape quality, and the eventual wine produced.

When we hear about clones, it is usually in reference to Pinot Noir, but any grape variety can be cloned. It just happens that Pinot Noir is an old variety, and is very susceptible to mutation. Some of Pinot Noirs' "relatives": Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier. Each differs from the parent grape. If we just look at Pinot Noir, the French have identified over 1000 different clones of Pinot Noir.

Photo care of Langetwin Winery
California is a perfect example of how clonal selection affects the wine produced. The early history of Pinot Noir in California was the story of smuggled "suitcase" clippings from Burgundy. For example, cuttings taken from Romanée-Conti (considered the world’s most distinguished Pinot Noir vineyard) were planted, and some had outstanding results, while others didn't do so well. After 1987, Dijon clones began to arrive. All of these clones were identified by a French scientist named Raymond Bernard. He identified individual vines that had different characteristics, propagated them, then assigned numbers to each. Now, clonal selections are registered by the University of California Davis (UCD) and certified by ENTAV (Etablissment National Technique pour l’Amélioration de la Viticulture) in southern France. These registered cloned vines are then named or numbered and propagated on site and cuttings made available to nurseries. There are only four nurseries in North America authorized to propagate and sell ENTAV clones.

So the next time you try Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Sangiovese (the grape varieties you'll most likely encounter clones), keep track of which clones are present. Each will have different expressions of the grape variety. Knowing what you like, may help influence your tasting decisions in the future. Form your own opinions and experiment.  Just remember that the clone alone, will not affect the final wine....vineyard site, growing practices, and cellar processes will affect the final product.

Thanksgiving wines

Where did the year go? It's Thanksgiving already, and time to figure out what wines I want to share at our Thanksgiving dinner. A year ago, I wrote about the difficulty in doing a "perfect pairing" with the dinner. There are so many components, and different family traditions that it would be impossible for me to give you the perfect wine to pair with your meal. This year, I'm going to break my own rules, and actually offer up some wines that I think work with all types of Thanksgiving meals.

Remember out basic "rules" for wine pairing: consider the most prominent flavors in your meal; the weight of the meal; and finally, what wines will your guests enjoy.

There are a number of white wines that work with Turkey, and all the trimmings. Probably the most common would be Chardonnay. I find that those that are heavy on the oak, detract from the meal, so look for stainless steel fermentation, or lightly oaked. Personally, I like to serve something a little out of the ordinary, rather than Chardonnay. My first choice would be a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. On the lighter side, a Pinot Gris (Grigio) might be something to look at. For those that like Chardonnay...try a Viognier instead. If you are really daring, I love Italian Falanghina. All of these are getting easier to find in your local wine shop.

Some of my favorites:
Dragonette Cellars Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (The best Sauvignon Blanc in California).
Dr Hermann 2008 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett (the best value in German Riesling I have found)
Trimbach Riesling
Cantina Del Taburno 2010 Falanghina
Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2009 (from Alsace, France)

Red wine is a little harder to pair with Turkey, but when you add cranberries, nuts, and sausage stuffing, red might just be the go to wine. Most people might run right to the Merlot (and a fruitier version might work), but I think Pinot Noir would be a better choice, as would Zinfandel. Want to try something different? How about an Italian Barbera, or a French Beaujolais? You do know that the Beaujolais Nouveau came out last week, don't you? I'm not a big fan of the nouveau version, but a Beaujolais Village (Morgon, or Moulin-a-vent) would be a great addition.

Some of my favorites:
Duboeuf 2009 Jean Descombes Morgon (Gamay from France)
Dragonette Cellars Cargassachi Jalama Pinot Noir 2008
Ampelos Rho Pinot Noir 2008
Windward Monopole Pinot Noir 2008
Palmina Barbera
Tobin James Zinfandel (I like Fat Boy, or Dusi Vineyards)
Kunde Old Vine Zinfandel

Of course, if you can't decide between red or white, go with Rose or even a Sparkling wine. I love the roses' that are coming out now. They are dry, and full of fruit (not like your parents' white zinfandel). Sparkling wine doesn't have to be an expensive Champagne...look for a Spanish Cava, or (surprise) a New Mexico sparkler from Gruet (believe me, you'll be surprised). For rose, I love the wines coming out of Southern France. If you can find it, try the Domaine Tempier. If you want to stay state-side, check out Dragonette Cellars Rose of Pinot Noir (stunning), or Foley Rose.

I asked my friend, Brandon Sparks-Gillis (winemaker at Dragonette Cellars) what wines he would serve. Here is his response, "I love Rose w/ Thanksgiving because it works so well w/ anything on the table. Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc ('09 or '10) has the body to pair remarkably well w/ turkey, and pretty much everything else. Our Pinots...ditto...I'd go for the 08's if you have any, or decant the 09 Fiddlestix for an hour or so. The surprise might be the 09 Grenache. It's got earth and spice that complement the fall flavors, and it's killer w/ cranberries and pumpkin pie. Have a great Thanksgiving, and let us know what pairings you find!"

Jim Newcomb & Brandon Sparks-Gillis
I hope that whatever wine you choose, you don't fret over it. It is more important to share time with your family and friends, than to worry about the wine. Have some fun. Experiment. Try something new, and share your best pairings, by adding your comments below. I am thankful for those of you who have been following this blog, and sharing it with your friends. I am thankful for those that keep voting for my blog (see the vote here link at the upper right of the page),,,you have moved my blog into the top 130 wine blogs in the country. Keep it going, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Photo credit to Jim Mills from
With apologies to U-2, I had to title this weeks blog this way. It all started with weekend trips to Del Mar, to stay at a friend’s condo on the beach. We now have a Sunday ritual. We would walk down Highway 101, into the town of Solana Beach, and stop in for breakfast at T’s Café, but no breakfast was complete without one of their Bloody Marys. So on those weekends that we were not down in Del Mar (most weekends) we started walking around different areas of Lake Arrowhead, then returned to the alternating hosts’ house for breakfast and Bloody Marys. 

So what is the history of the Bloody Mary? It all started when Louis Perrin first served tomato juice as a beverage around 1917 (apparently he ran out of orange juice and needed a substitute). Tomato juice was considered a hangover cure in the early part of the 20th century. You drank tomato juice when you had a hangover, and it was good for you. This was right at the beginning of canned tomato juice (do I sense some marketing scheme?). Seems that works well on a Sunday morning, after a Saturday night of wine tasting (or drinking).

Fernand Petiot
The story goes that Fernand "Pete" Petiot, a French bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris (Harry’s New York Bar, originally was located in New York City then dismantled and rebuilt in Paris in 1911), invented the Bloody Mary in 1921 by mixing equal parts tomato juice and vodka. According to the legend, one of the bar's patrons came up with the name after noting that the drink reminded him of the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, and a girl there named Mary. After Prohibition, the drink travelled to Manhattan, along with Petiot, who got a job at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel.

Another story claims that actor George Jessel invented the drink around 1939, which is when Lucius Beebe first made reference to it in his popular gossip column "This New York" - the earliest known mention of the drink by that name in the United States. This account is further confused by reports that Fernand Petiot reinvented the Bloody Mary as the "Red Snapper" at the St. Regis Hotel in 1934. According to mixology lore, in 1934 the Russian Prince, Serge Obolensky, ordered a Bloody Mary at the King Cole Bar but requested that bartender, Fernand Petiot, spice up the drink a little. Petiot named the new creation a “Red Snapper”. The drink’s previous name, Bloody Mary, was dropped because it was deemed too vulgar for a bar located in one of the City’s most elegant hotels. This change never really took hold and even the King Cole Bar reverted back to using the drink’s original name.

King Cole Bar
Petiot’s original “reinvented” recipe: “Cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour”.

Now back to our Sunday Breakfast group. We’ve been working on creating the perfect Bloody Mary recipe. The first step was to find the right Vodka. We did a blind tasting, and the number one choice was Grey Goose, but number two was Kirkland brand (from Costco).  For the money, Kirkland has become our go to Vodka for Bloody Marys. No need to buy a high-end vodka, when you are going to mix in so many other flavors. Here is a rough recipe for our drink (we do like them spicy):

·                    1 ½ to 2 oz vodka in a highball glass filled with ice.
·                    1 dash of garlic powder
·                    1 dash celery seed
·                    1 dash fresh ground black pepper
·                    1-3 dashes Tabasco sauce (depending on how spicy you like it)
·                    2-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
·                    1/8 tsp. horseradish (again depends on your spice level)
·                    Fill glass with Mr & Mrs T’s  Bold & Spicy Bloody Mary Mix

Garnish with celery stalk.

A Bloody Mary is the perfect drink for a Sunday brunch, and it works great with certain breakfast dishes. A couple weeks ago, I decided to go Spanish with the breakfast, and made a Tortilla Espanola served with sofrito, avocado and sour cream. Add to that, some breakfast sausage, and homemade scones, and you’ve got a meal that goes with Bloody Marys.

Tortilla Espanola Ingredients
  • 6 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/8 thick on a mandolin
  • 1 whole yellow onion – chopped into ¼” pieces
  • 9 large eggs
  • 2-3 cups of peanut oil for frying
  • Salt to taste (I like gray salt)
  • 1-2 cups diced ham
  • Olive oil
Sofrito Ingredients:
  • 1 – 16oz can of diced peeled seedless tomato
  • 1 whole yellow onion – chopped into ¼” pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper finely chopped
  •  2 garlic cloves chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
Scones, Tortilla Espanola, Sausage
Put potatoes and onions into a bowl and mix them together. Salt the mixture.

In a large, heavy, deep stock pot, heat the peanut oil on medium high heat. Carefully place the potato and onion mixture into the pot. The oil should almost cover the potatoes. You may need to turn down the heat slightly, so the potatoes do not burn – you are not making potato chips.

Leave in pot until the potatoes are cooked. If you can poke a piece of potato with a spatula and it easily breaks in two, your potatoes are done. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and allow oil to drain. After cooling, you can put in a container in the refrigerator, then bring back to room temperature for easy assembly in the morning. 

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat. Pour in the potato onion mixture, and add ham. Mix together until everything is covered with egg. Pour 2 Tbsp of olive oil into a 12" non-stick frying pan and heat on medium heat. Be careful not to get the pan too hot. When hot, pour the mixture into the pan and spread out evenly. Allow the egg to cook around the edges. Then carefully lift up one side of the omelet to check if the egg has slightly browned. The inside of the mixture will not be completely cooked and the egg will still be runny.

When the mixture has browned on the bottom, you are ready to turn it over to cook the other side.  Place a large dinner plate (at least 12”) upside down over the frying pan, quickly turn the frying pan over and the omelet will “fall” onto the plate. Place the frying pan back on the range and put just enough oil to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Now slide the omelet into the frying pan. Use the spatula to reshape the sides of the omelet. Let the omelet cook for 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the tortilla sit in the pan for 2 minutes.

Tortilla Espanola

Slide the omelet onto a plate to serve with Sofrito.

To make the Sofrito, cook the onion in olive oil until translucent, then add the garlic and cook until soft. Add the bell pepper, and cook long and slow until the mixture almost turns to a mush, add the tomatoes and cook until all the liquid evaporates. This entire process is low and slow, and can cook for about 2 hours total
(so you may want to make this ahead of time and just reheat for breakfast).

We're always looking for new breakfast ideas, so if you have a favorite recipe, please feel free to share it here.

Wine Bottles, Stoppers and trips

A year ago, I wrote my first wine blog. A number of friends had encouraged me to share my thoughts on wine, beer and spirits. I had just finished reading Gary Vaynerchuk's book, "Crush It". The book dealt with finding your passion and following that passion. Much of the book talked about how to take advantage of the internet. At that time, I had heard about a website called, and joined that site. I have since become one of the "answer people" for wine related questions on that website. Some of my blog ideas come from the questions that others have posed, and many of my subjects come from you the readers, as well as members of my wine club.

In the Agave Fields of Mexico
Over the last year, I've written on numerous subjects. We've explored the techniques for evaluating a wine, and looked at the lowly Agave plant and the wonderful Tequila it produces. What I find interesting is who is reading this blog. Behind the scenes, there is a stats page, that I can evaluate the website. As expected, the majority of readers are from the United States, coming in at 65%. I'm actually surprised it is that low. Germany, The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Russia and Australia make up another 15% of the readers.

Wine Bottles
I've seen the readership grow by ten times over the last year, and it seems the most read article was the one about wine bottles. It goes to show that you never know what people will want to read about. I didn't think the article would be of too much interest, but wrote it after getting some questions about why wine bottles are a certain color. The second most popular article wasn't much of a surprise: wine stoppers. There is an ongoing argument about whether cork or screwcap is the way to go. I thought this might spark some conversation. Matter of fact, this article had the second most comments posted. The article with the most comments was my blog about wine pairing. I still find this a challenging subject, as taste and pairing are somewhat subjective. I do feel that the guidelines I outlined lay a good groundwork for helping the everyday wine drinker feel more comfortable about their choices.

So, where do we go from here? I am always looking for ideas to share and answer. I continue to learn. My latest reading involves Biodynamic, organic and natural wines. When I visit with winemakers and growers, my questions now lean towards how they treat the grapes in the vineyard and the winery. Can we, as wine lovers, really taste the difference? I think so.

I am expanding my knowledge base, and hope to share some other experiences with you. My restaurant background is limited. I have always been more involved in the education side of being a Sommelier, rather than the service side. That being said, I enjoy cooking, and pairing wines. Or, should I say, drinking wines, and making the foods that I think will go best with them. Spanish, French and Italian cuisine have been a focus of late. Learning their cooking techniques and use of ingredients has been eye-opening, and I hope to share some of these "discoveries" over the coming months. For those of you on Facebook, please join my page there: On the Facebook page, I share daily articles pulled from the news pages, that concern wine and the wine industry.

Grapes on the vine
I hope you have enjoyed the articles over the last year, and will continue to visit this site, and share your comments, and questions. Additionally, I hope you will share this site with your friends, and we will grow together in our wine knowledge, and experiences. The one thing about wine, beer and spirits...they are changing all the time. New technologies, new ideas, and new vintages.

Thank you for the past year, and I look forward to sharing with you for another year to come, and don't forget to vote for this site on, by going to, and clicking on the "Vote for this Blog" button.

Wine Glasses

You have probably heard that a glass or two of wine a day might actually be good for your health. There has been a funny photo circulating the internet of a person with a huge glass, with the caption, “one glass of wine a day – doctors’ orders”. It got me thinking about how the wine glass you use affects the wine.
A couple years ago, I attended a Riedel tasting. I was a skeptic about a wine glass making any kind of difference in the enjoyment of wine. The first thing I learned was the Riedel is pronounced like it rhymes with “needle, not ‘Rid-el”, as I had always said it.

Windward Vineyard Photo
Let’s look at the basics of a wine glass. It is usually made up of three parts: the bowl, the stem, and the foot. The highest quality wine glasses are made of lead crystal. Why leaded crystal? It’s claimed that lead crystal has a higher light refraction index, allowing for better observation of the wine in your glass. Secondly, leaded crystal (on a microscopic level) has a rougher surface area, allowing the wine to open up more when swirled, creating a better environment for evaluating the aromas of the wine.

According to the Riedel representative, conducting the tasting, the selection of the wine glass for a wine style is important, as the glass shape can influence its’ perception.

The wine glass affects the interaction of the wine with air. Taste is largely impacted by the smell of the wine. So, the glass should affect flavor. For example, the wider the bowl, the more "breathing" the wine might experience. This is why red wine glasses are bigger than white wine glasses. The larger bowl lets you aerate red wine more, softening the tannins.

Stemless Glass
The shape and size of the rim of the glass also plays an important role in the ultimate wine experience. According to the Riedel people, the rim helps determine where the wine is directed into your mouth. For example, some shapes direct the wine flow to the center of the tongue, while others focus on the tip of the tongue. Each spot of your tongue is thought to sense certain flavors differently (see my blog on taste). Through trial and error, the makers of fine glassware were able to direct the wine flow to help accentuate the key components of the wine.

Another consideration is having a stem on the glass or not. This allows you hold the glass without affecting the serving temperature of the wine. It also lets you see the color of the wine without your hand getting in the way. The newest trend seems to be stemless glassware (mainly because if anything is going to break…it’s going to be the stem). I still have trouble with these. I like to swirl and observe the wine in the glass, and find these difficult to work with. When it comes to breaking the stems…the best advice I heard was, “don’t drink and dry”. Most wine glasses are broken while cleaning and drying the glass. I always put a little water in the glass (to avoid a wine stain), then clean them in the morning.

Sommelier Glass w/ Scarecrow
Speaking of cleaning – never use soap on your wine glasses (particularly champagne flutes). The soap residue will affect the flavor of your wine, and, in the case of sparkling wines, creates a film on the glass, that smoothes out the surface of the glass. Remember those microscopic rough surfaces, created by leaded crystal? They help release the carbon dioxide gas trapped inside the sparkling wine. Soap film will dramatically reduce this affect. So, always just wash with very warm water, and allow to dry. If there are stubborn lipstick stains, you can always steam the area in front of a tea pot, or boiling water. If placed on a shelf, the glasses should be stored with the bowl facing up. Yes, they might collect dust (unless you are like me, and use your glasses quite often). If they are stored rim side down, they can absorb the aromas in your shelf.

I said I was skeptical in the beginning. No longer. I am a firm believer in the affects your stemware has on the ultimate wine experience. If you have not been to a Riedel tasting, I encourage you to try it.