Saturday, May 5, 2012

Easy Breezy

Being in the shop 5-7 days a week means I get to mingle with a lot of our customers. New customers, established customers, people who think we are the AT&T store..."Oh, you are looking for a phone plan with unlimited texting and rollover minutes? Let me show you this lovely 2008 Viognier, it has Facebook access..."

Wanna know the most uttered phrase by new customers?

"I'm not a wine connoisseur or anything."

Really? You're looking at that bottle of Merlot like you're confused about where babies come from. Yeah, I'd say you're no connoisseur, and that's fine by me.

Newsflash, I'm not a wine connoisseur either. I just love wine, and I'm assuming you do too? Yes? Good. That's all that matters.

(Side bar: As I write this, a person just came in looking for AT&T, good grief.)

Where was I? Right, wine connoisseur and how neither of us are one. I don't expect you to walk in here knowing everything about wine. I mean how rude would that be of you, walking in here in your shirt and saying "I am a wine connoisseur. Show me to your finest something or other." So pompous.

I guess what I'm getting at is, don't say that you aren't a wine connoisseur. Just tell us that you love wine, specific things you hate and specific things you love. That's what matters.

Don't drink and drive. Don't drink bad wine.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anatomy of a Tasting

If you are like me, you probably think it's a pretty cool gig to work at a wine shop. I will tell you, "managing" a wine shop is a lot different than just "working" at a wine shop. I'm sure you already knew that though. I don't need to split hairs with you on those kinds of things, you are super smart and have great table manners.

One of the perks of living working at a wine store is tasting new wines. We have to taste for a variety of reasons: selecting wine for buying for the store, re-tasting ones we haven't had in awhile, just for funsies.

Recently we had to taste wines for an order we are making. We had 15 wines to taste and not much time. Compared to the guys I'm a newbie at tasting wine professionally. I love wine. I love all of the entricacies of the flavor and the smell and the everything. When tasting I typically have less adjectives to use - my typical response is "this wine is good". Not very poetic. Since tasting "professionally" my vocabulary has grown, my "nose" has gotten better and I can pick out flavors that I couldn't before. That being said, it still takes some time for me to form the words - I need to swirl, smell and sip a few times before I can really gather my thoughts. When tasting so many wines in a group with such a small time frame you don't have time to linger on one wine or another, you've got to be quick.

I'm not quick.

I will now give you a little peek into my life and show you my notes from the tasting. You will also see that they deteriorate as the tasting goes on...I tasting 15 wines! What did you expect? Coherency? Don't be silly.

I've put my own comments on my tasting notes below each one, italicized because I'm fancy.

Fiddlehead Cellars - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
"Great acidity, crispy."
That makes sense. Good job for me.

Grey Wolf Cellars/Barton - 2010 The River
"Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc. Wow. Great white. We need a bigger boat."
One wine in and I'm already throwing in cinema references. I yam what I yam.

Locatelli Vineyards & Winery - 2008 Cabernet Franc
Starts smooth, ends with a bang. Forest floor, moss on the nose."
Wow. That's an amazing tasting note. *pats on back*

Fiddlehead Cellars - 2008 Seven Twenty Eight
"Smells like a hot summer day, smokey, little spice, smooth finish."
"like a hot summer day"...the truest note ever. It did you guys, totally did.

Grey Wolf Cellars - 2009 Alpha Cab
"New car smell. Tannic bastard. Beautiful."
I wax poetic. *finger snaps*

Grey Wolf Cellars - 2010 Big Bad Wolf

Grey Wolf Cellars/Innuendo - 2010 Candyman the Chancellor of Zin
"Sweet, tart. Cough Syrup. Love it. Inky, octopus blood."
I'm back. Inky, octopus blood? I got that one from Jack.

Grey Wolf Cellars - 2010 Jackal
"Like a spoon of grape jelly, long finish."
I'm still holding strong I surprise myself.

Locatelli Vineyards & Winery - 2007 Luna Piena
"Long smokey finish, sweet in the front."
"Sweet in the front, party in the back." I kid.

Kenneth Volk - NV Old Vine Red
"Smooooth, angel sweat, huge flavor profile, dry."
Here I go, adding a million vowels to words and bodily fluids of angels.

Locatelli Vineyards & Winery - 2008 Petit Verdot
Clearly I've given up.

Zenaida Cellars - 2009 Zephyr
"Syrah, Zin, Viognier. Huuuuuge. Big flavor. Finish lasts for hours."
And I'm back again. Lots of vowels added.

Zenaida Cellars - 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
"Fruity, lovely tannins."
Still making sense after all these years.

Kenneth Volk - 2009 Zinfandel
"Sweeet. Short finish, but not in a bad way."
"but not in a bad way" is the "it's not you, it's me" of wine tasting

Locatelli Vineyards & Winery - 2011 Muscat Canelli
"So sweet. Good God. Glass of sugar."
"glass of sugar" better than "glass of dia-beet-us"

Don't drink and drive. Don't drink bad wine.


Amber is the manager of UnWINEd - a boutique wine shoppe. She works there all of the time...unless it's her day off. She loves to give advice on things that you don't care about but should. For that she says, "You're welcome."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Of Mice and Zin.

That's a horrible title for this post, but it's the first one that came to mind. Deal with it.

Sometimes we have a wine that just sits on the shelf, ignored by everyone and bullied by its neighbors. I would like to introduce you to one of those wines today and tell you about it from my perspective in complete and utter "plain" language. No fancy speak here, just me.

The suspect:
Christian Lazo, 2008 Paso Zin - Paso Robles, California

This is the label, do you recognize it from the shoppe? 
From all the times that you ignored it, and its feelings?

I was lucky enough to have my sister-in-law visiting me when I tasted this, she takes her tasting very seriously.

As you can tell.

It's always a good idea to taste wine in a group, you may be able to pick out a characteristic that someone else didn't notice and vice versa.

This Zin is good. It's a good wine, it's interesting and flamboyant while not being complicated. It changes every few minutes. My tasting partner was surprised at how the taste varied from when we first poured to fifteen  minutes later. I told her that I wouldn't know because, who has wine left in their glass fifteen minutes later? Right?

The first thing I noticed about this Zin is that the tannins were so soft that they might as well not exist, full flavor when you first sip and then smooth from there on out. If I had to use one word to describe this black, inky Zinfandel from Paso it would be "enjoyable". At $20 a bottle, that's a pretty good thing. ($18 if you are a Cork Club member...which you are. Right?)

Plus, the label is basically graffiti so you get instant street cred.


Don't drink and drive. Don't drink bad wine.


Amber is the manager of UnWINEd - a boutique wine shoppe. She works there all of the time...unless it's her day off. She loves to give advice on things that you don't care about but should. For that she says, "You're welcome."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's All In The Label

How do you pick out a bottle of wine? Do you only go back to your old stand-by? Do you only drink Merlot? (Good God man!) Do you stand in the center of the store, close your eyes, point a finger and spin around? Do you pick a pretty label?

If you said pick a pretty label then you are pretty much like everyone else. Well, not EVERYONE, you know what I mean. I mean, you're like me...I do that. No shame.

I've been told that studies have been done in regards to wine sales based on bottle label and fanciness. I'm sure these studies are wonderful and informative. Honestly I just cannot read one more thing and therefore have no solid information for you here, except for what I'm about to tell you based on my own experience. That's what matters. Right? Yes. You are so kind.

My example will be using a wine that we carry right here at UnWINEd, Villicana Winery and Vineyard Estate Cabernet. First off, I LOVE a great Cabernet. Love love love love. YUM. Seriously. Love that stuff. We have several fantastic Cabs on our shelves, I always have a new love to share with my customers. Well, there sat the Villicana. I wasn't able to taste it when we brought it in and then it just sat on my "to drink" list. (Don't you guys wish that your job required you to have a "to drink" jealous.) There was just something about it though, I wasn't in the mood.

There it is. The label. It's nice...but not my favorite. I know you are probably thinking, "Geez. What a jerk. Not trying a wine because the label isn't her cup of tea...rude." But, seriously, give me a break. I had already tried all of these other Cabs that I loved and this label was just bleh.

I went one evening to visit one of the owners (also my step-dad, Jack) and of course we were enjoying wine. He brought a glass and said, "Try this Cab, you are going to fall in love with it, marry it and then divorce it because you think it's too perfect for you and it's giving you a complex."

You guys. It was lovely. Big when it needed to be big, smooth when it needed to be smooth. Flavors in all the right places if you know what I'm sayin'. "What is this heavenly beast?"

"Villicana." Gasp. Be still my beating heart. Delicious. Moral of the story is: don't always trust the label if you aren't attracted to it. Some good news though...they've changed the label.

Simple. Elegant. Lovely.

It's sexy. That label is one sexy beast, we are on our honeymoon right now and my complex is already developing.

Don't drink and drive. Don't drink bad wine.


Amber is the manager of UnWINEd - a boutique wine shoppe. She works there all of the time...unless it's her day off. She loves to give advice on things that you don't care about but should. For that she says, "You're welcome."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Often we ask a new customer,"So, what was the wine that did it for you?" and of course that means what was the first wine that you tried that not only tasted really good but got your attention. Well for me it was a Gamay Beaujolais at a small road side winery about 60 miles north of San Francisco.

It was a fall day in 1981 and I was driving my new Honda Accord from California to Alaska. I had passed a few wineries on the road but since I wasn't a wine drinker I didn't pay much attention, I really can't say why I stopped at a small little roadside winery except just curiosity. As I stepped into the tasting room it took my eyes a little time to adjust to the low light, once I could see I noticed that the tasting room was really a small building built at the entrance of a cave and the air temperature was cooler than the outside air. Against one side of the room was a long bar and standing behind it was a man smiling at me and obviously waiting for my eyes to get adjusted to the low light. After a minute or two he asked me what I would like to try and of course I told him that I didn't know the first thing about wine I just stopped out of curiosity, he said "I recommend starting with white wines", and promptly poured me a glass of a light amber colored wine that he called  Chardonnay, it was totally amazing and I started wondering why all the wines that my Dad drank for special occasions always tasted so terrible, anyway, he then said if you like that one you will probably like this also and he poured me a glass of red wine he called Gamay Beaujolais, it was a born again experience for me, from his big smiling face came the words "pretty good huh" I was speechless I just kept staring at the glass wondering how at 29 years old I had never tasted anything like this before, so I bought a couple of cases and a new wine drinker was born.

Now this is where the story gets interesting, 30 years later I decided to open a wine shoppe in Anchorage Alaska, and soon after a customer comes in and asks me if we can get her some Gamay Beaujolais for her father, it turns out that his favorite wine is California Gamay Beaujolais so I told her I would start looking for some. After asking my distributors (who have access to thousands of wines) for a California Gamay one by one they came back with nothing from California, but one of them located one from France. I couldn't believe that California doesn't produce one single Gamay so I started my own search and what I found was amazing. It turns out that according to Wikipedia in the 1930's Paul Masson brought some grape varieties from France one of which he believed to be the Gamay from the Beaujolais region, for his California winery. In the 1940's the University of California Davis researchers christened it "Gamay Beaujolais". In the 1960's the same University decided that the Gamay Beaujolais was actually a Pinot Noir, and that the California version was the "Napa Gamay" which was later found to not be a Gamay either but a varietal called Valdiguie. Since 2007 the name Gamay Beaujolais has been banned from all U.S. labels. So long story short, if you come across someone that really misses the great California Gamay Beaujolais's of the 70's and 80' find them a great California Pinot Noir and they will be happy campers................cheers Jack

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Have a Glass of Wine...Now What?

First of all, you have a glass of, you are living pretty nice right now. Are you now staring at this glass? Unsure of what's next? "Do I get a straw?" you ask yourself. "Do I spill it on my pants and then ring said pants out into a second glass and then drink from that new glass this delicious concoction of pants wine?" You mumble aloud while surveying this utterly ridiculous situation that you have put yourself in.

Get a hold of yourself man!

You are going to do the following this order
  1. Look. The color should be bright and beautiful, not foggy, cloudy or gross looking. 
  2. Swirl. Swirling the wine around in the glass releases the aromatics and makes it dizzy.
  3. Smell. Stick your nose deep into the glass and inhale. Try and decipher what you are smelling. Citrus, plum, wood, tobacco? Check to make sure there are no wood chips or cigarette butts in the glass before the next step.
  4. Taste. Finally. Drink it. Sip the wine and hold it in your mouth for a bit, roll it around, bring air in through your lips to release the aromas. If no specific tastes overwhelm you then this is a well-balanced wine with fantastic manners.
  5. Jump. For joy. Put down your glass first.
Congratulations, you have tasted your wine. If you are tasting several wines in a row it can be a wise idea to spit the wine out during the tasting...that's a waste of delicious wine but to each their own.

Don't drink and drive. Don't drink bad wine.


Amber is the manager of UnWINEd - a boutique wine shoppe. She works there all of the time...unless it's her day off. She loves to give advice on things that you don't care about but should. For that she says, "You're welcome."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

As Luck Would Have It

Many years ago while visiting a friend in Bakersfield, Calif. I stumbled across a little known wine region called Paso Robles. On my first visit I wasn't very impressed, it didn't look like your typical California wine country. As a matter of fact it looked more like cattle country, after driving around for a while I stopped at a small winery called Hearthstone Vinyard, after about an hour and many OMG'S I started to wonder if they knew how good their wines were. I walked away with a bottle of Pearl (Roussanne and Viognier blend). On my way I stopped at a store in Templeton and bought a small loaf of French bread and continued on down highway 41 towards Morro Bay, as I crested a small hill there directly in front of me was a scene that I will never forget. There before me stretched the Pacific ocean and the sun was starting to take its daily dip. It was truly an amazing sight and AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT on the left side of the road was a pull off which I took advantage of, and I knew then that the bottle of Pearl would never make it to the little seafood restaurant in Morro Bay.

Until next time, remember life is too short for bad shoes and bad wine.............cheers Jack

Jack Nims is part owner of UnWINEd - a boutique wine shoppe in Anchorage, Alaska. Check back here for more to come in a series about how he got his start in the loving wine business.