Why It's Fun to Taste Wine Blind

Too many people are concerned with what wine should taste like.

That’s really nonsense. The only way to do it is to trust your taste buds. Focus on color, smell, and taste. If you like it, it’s good. 

Blind tasting is a great way to strip away the noise. Your preconceptions can’t influence your perceptions. It’s just you and the wine.

Our friends Alisa and Ken hosted a Syrah blind tasting last night. There were four wines served. The wines were a variety of vintages and each came from a different region. And, they all sold for different prices.

Based on these factors, which wine do you think would be the best?


  • 2005
  • 2009 (2 wines)
  • 2012


  • Languedoc-Roussillon (France)
  • Napa (CA)
  • Ramona (CA)
  • Santa Ynez (CA)


  • $8
  • $28
  • $36
  • $40

So, which wine was the winner?

You might be tempted to guess the winner was a 2005 Syrah that came from France and cost $40. You’d be wrong. 

The French wine actually cost $8. It was a 2012. And, it was the group’s least favorite. (Although, everyone enjoyed all the wines to varying degrees.)

The winner? A 2009 Syrah from Ramona that cost $28!

Here’s the line-up:

Sorry it's blurry. The camera had downed a few glasses when it took the picture.

Sorry it's blurry. The camera had downed a few glasses when it took the picture.

Left to right:

  1. 2005 Mayo Family Winery Page-Nord Vineyard Syrah ($40)
  2. 2009 Andrew Murray McGinley Vineyard Syrah ($36)
  3. 2012 Level Syrah ($8)
  4. 2009 Edwards Ramona Valley Syrah ($28)

The Edwards Syrah was a clear winner. The Andrew Murray and Mayo Family Winery were tied for second while the Leval was a clear fourth place pick. 

One fun surprise for Sally and I -- we were familiar with two of the wines. We visited Edwards on our inaugural trip to Ramona. We'd been to Andrew Murray twice, including one funny experience when we unexpectedly ran into Alisa and Ken in the tasting room!

The night proved that blind tasting can be a lot of fun. And, you never know how you’ll feel about a wine until you taste it!

Posted on July 12, 2015 and filed under Tasting Experiences.

Wine Maker Dinner: Niner Wine Estates

One of our favorite ways to explore and share new wine is at special tastings.  On this occasion, our favorite local spot, Antica Trattoria, was hosting a wine maker dinner with Niner Wine Estates.  We first discovered Niner on our first trip to Paso Robles in 2011.  We have enjoyed a number of their wines, and love everything Chef puts together at Antica, so sounded like a perfect event for... Girl's Night Out!  

First Course - favorite wine of the night

the food: Duck Mousse Crostini (seasonal jams + figs + roasted pistachios)

the wine: 2014 Albarino, Edna Valley 

the notes: crisp, with light citrus and lemon finish. Very refreshing, good on own, and better with food (especially salty)

Second Course 

the food: Calamarata Pasta (dungeness crab + sea urchin + leeks)

the wine: 2013 Grenache Rose, Paso Robles

the notes: flavors of bright strawberry throughout, with a dry finish. 

Third Course - favorite pairing of the night

the food: Veal Loin (roasted fennel + aujus)

the wine: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

the notes: caramel and dark berries on nose and at first sip, gave way to darker fruits and a little touch of smoke on the finish, medium tannins

Dessert - favorite dish of the night

the food: Chocolate Budino (wine broule + almond crema + crumble amaretto)

the wine: 2011 Port, Dolce Nove, Paso Robles

the notes: tawny style port, with a little sweetness

Posted on July 2, 2015 .

Fun With Friends: Zinfandel Blind Tasting Party

Wine can be a lot of fun when you abandon all pretenses and trust your taste buds.

One thing we enjoy is blind tasting wine with friends. We like to pick a particular varietal to explore and serve several bottles to our friends without telling them the year, region, or winery. The only way to judge the wine is by is color, smell, and taste.

Examples of past parties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Sirah.

We recently hosted a dinner party to share some bottles of Zinfandel we had acquired along the way. The wine was served blind and paired with a meal selected to go with the wine.


The Wines

The evening started with a bottle of 2013 Zorzon Sauvignon Blanc. We discovered this Italian white wine at a wine dinner hosted by Antica Trattoria, our favorite Italian restaurant.

Next, we moved to our lineup of three Zinfandels.

  • Robert Biale 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel
  • Cuvaison 2010 Brandlin Zinfandel
  • Sextant 2011 Holystone Zinfandel

The Biale and Cuvaison were single vineyard Zinfandels from Napa Valley. The Sextant was a blend from several vineyards in Paso Robles.

We finished the evening with a Rutherford Hill 2010 Zinfandel Port.


The Meal

Sally created a menu that was perfect to enjoy with the Zinfandel.

First Course: Prosciutto, arugula,  ricotta, and dried apricot bites

Second Course: Three cheeses. Creamy Gorgonzola, Feta, and Syrah Tuscany

Third Course: Baked chicken with apples & onions, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, and mixed greens salad

Dessert: Blackberry pie and fudge

The Winner

All of the wines were excellent and our guests enjoyed them. 

It’s interesting how each one stood out in different ways. The Robert Biale and Cuvaison both had a subtle mix of pepper and fruit while the Sextant was much more jammy. Of the three, the Biale had the biggest difference from the first bottle to the second bottle, getting even better as it went along.

One wine remained the favorite throughout and was crowned our winner: Cuvaison 2010 Brandlin Zinfandel.

This was an impressive third blind tasting win for Cuvaison. They’ve previously won our Pinot Noir and Syrah blind tastings.

Posted on February 5, 2015 and filed under Tasting Experiences.

Ben Franklin Beer Myth Busted

By all accounts, Benjamin Franklin was a very social guy.

He enjoyed spending time with friends. He preached temperance but couldn't seem to lay off the Claret. It's even rumored that he had quite a good time while serving as the first U.S. ambassador to France.

Like so many party-animals, the myth has outgrown the man. Here's one piece of Franklin lore that is seemingly everywhere:

It's on signs...

Source: Flickr,  Jim G

Source: Flickr, Jim G

Pint glasses...

Source: Flickr,  Reclamation Revolution

Source: Flickr, Reclamation Revolution

And even t-shirts...

Source: Flickr,  Rhys A .

Source: Flickr, Rhys A.

The truth is Franklin never said this. Some enterprising sign/pint glass/t-shirt salesperson slapped the quote on a few tchotchkes and pulled the wool over the eyes of beer drinkers everywhere.

So, what did Franklin really say?

Here's the original quote, taken from a 1779 letter to his friend Andre Morellet:

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!

Yep. Franklin was really talking about wine.

On the next rainy day, open a nice bottle of wine and raise a glass to Ben Franklin: inventor, statesman, and wine lover.

Posted on December 18, 2014 and filed under Wine Discoveries.

Thanksgiving Wines for Sharing

sharing a bottle of Wattle Creek Sparkling Shiraz, Thanksgiving 2013

sharing a bottle of Wattle Creek Sparkling Shiraz, Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to share a few bottles with friends and family.  With such a variety of food during the sometimes day-long feast, it can be a challenge picking something that pairs well across the board... so why not share a few!  

Selecting a variety of wines will aid in pairing with the several components of a traditional turkey dinner, as well as cater to a variety of guests’ palates.  Hosting dinner or joining a party?  Here are a few tips for selecting wines for your Thanksgiving Day festivities, as well as a list of affordable favorites to look for as you shop!  All are available at BevMo, Total Wine, and Specs, and many are available at national grocery stores as well. 

White Wine ~ pick one that is refreshing and slightly fruity, nothing with too much butter, or too much citrus.  Well balanced, and fairly neutral is best.  You want one that will compliment from turkey to pie. 

Affordable Favorites:

  • Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier ($12)
  • Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc ($11-$15)
  • St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc ($15-$20)
  • Cuvaison Chardonnay ($20-$25)

Sparkling ~ One of the most forgotten wines for serving on Thanksgiving.  Choose brut. Dry sparkling wines pair nicely with turkey and all that comes with it. Adventurous?  Try a Sparkling Shiraz!  

Affordable Favorites:

Red Wine ~ The trick with reds is to select one that is not too tart or high in tannin.  Fruit forward, medium bodied ~ solid, neutral food wines are best when going with reds.  

Affordable Favorites:

Check out some of our other Thanksgiving favorites:

Thanksgiving Wines Under $20

More Perfect Thanksgiving Wines Under $20

How the Drought Might Bring us More Good Wine

The severe drought that San Diego and much of California is experiencing might have a happy side effect: more good wine.

How we’ll get there takes a bit of a detour through our local farmlands. Here are some fun facts from the San Diego County Farm Bureau:

  • Farming is a $5.1 billion industry
  • It’s the 12th largest county for agriculture in the US
  • San Diego County has more farms than any other county in the US
  • The county is the #1 producer of nursery crops
  • The county is the #1 producer of avocados

That last number is feeling the heat so to speak from a lack of water. 

Avocados are a very water-intensive crop. It takes 74 gallons of water to grow a pound of avocados. Faced with water shortages, many farmers have fallowed or replaced their avocado groves. The 2013 San Diego County crop report shows a 21 percent decline in avocado acreage in just five years. 

So, how does all this lead to wine?

Some farmers are planting grape vines in place of avocados. A few, like Chris Broomell, are dry farming their grapes, which means they aren’t using any irrigation at all.

We read this article in UT San Diego about how Broomell and his wife, Alysha Stehly, were helping to adapt their family farms to the drought by growing grapes. Then, we read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how they were winemakers to watch in 2014. 

We had to pay their Vesper Vineyards winery a visit.

Their urban tasting room is located in Escondido, just north of San Diego. We arrived shortly after they opened on a Sunday morning and were lucky enough to have Alysha Stehly as our host. 

It quickly became apparent that Alysha and her husband are mad scientists at Vesper Vineyards. They sell wine in refillable growlers. They use acacia casks to ferment some of their wine. They make California wine with minimal manipulation.

It also turns out to be some pretty good wine. We are currently on a strict no wine purchases embargo due to some space limitations (that’s an entirely different story), but we still wound up buying a few bottles.

Posted on November 18, 2014 and filed under Tasting Experiences, Wine Discoveries.

Great Wine Event for a Great Cause


This past weekend, thousands gathered in Balboa Park, San Diego for the 18th Annual Komen Race for the Cure. Organizers say about $1.3 million was raised during Sunday's race, helping to provide mammograms and services for those who can not afford it.  In support of this great cause, our friends at Antica Trattoria held a Wine Dinner, raising over $2000.  Chef Francesco Basile, once again, put together an incredible dinner paired with some pretty tasty wines! 

First Course

The Dish:

Tatara di Pesce Spada - local swordfish+lemon +EVOO+Capers Mousse+Micro Greens+Pistachio

The Wine:

2013 Zorzon, Collio Sauvignon, Puglia Italia

course 1a.JPG

Second Course

The Dish: 

Triangoli di Margo - homemade osso bucco ravioli+crispy local vegetables+trufle cream sauce (our favorite dish of the night!)

The Wine:

2009 Muralia, Babone, Super Tuscan, Maremma Toscano Italia (65% Sangiovese 35% Syrah)

Third Course

The Dish: 

Quaglie - boneless Sonoma roasted quail+bitter dark chocolate aglianico wine sauce

The Wine:

2012 Conte Calevi, Aglianico, Campania Italia (our favorite wine of the night!)


The Dish: 

Pumkin Savaione and mixed fresh berries - roasted oragen pumkin+wild berries+spiced pumkin mousse (what's not to love about this!)

The Wine:

2013 Moscato D' Asti, SIFASOL, Piemonte Italia 

All the wines were less than $20 a bottle ~ affordable and tasty!  We look forward to sharing a few with friends.  So glad we could be a part of this fun evening ~ truly a great event, for an even greater cause! 

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under Under $20, Tasting Experiences.

Total Wine is Totally Awesome!

We often reference Total Wine in this blog, but until recently neither of us had ever been.

I had a chance to visit the Total Wine in Dallas, Texas while on a recent business trip. My first thought was this place is awesome! My second thought was I wish we had one in San Diego.

Total Wine is a wine, beer, and liquor super store. It’s very similar to BevMo and Specs. They are predominantly located in the South, but do have a few stores in California. We frequently refer to them when they carry wines we recommend on this blog because we know many of our friends have a Total Wine nearby.

The visit to Total Wine resulted in sharing a few bottles which made it perfect.

My brother-in-law Mark and his family live in Dallas. I was heading over to their place for dinner and drinks and wanted to bring a bottle of wine to share. As luck would have it, Total Wine was on the way to their home.

The funny part came when I was shopping and I got a call from Mark.

“Are you on your way over?”

“Yes, but I made a stop,” I said a little evasively, not wanting to reveal I was buying wine to bring to the house.

“I was thinking of stopping by Total Wine to pick up half a case and could use your help.”

Ooops, cover blown! 

We had a good laugh when I told him I was already there. Mark arrived a few minutes later and we wandered the aisles like kids in a candy store.

They have great selection, a huge inventory, and outstanding prices. In fact, Total Wine usually has lower prices than BevMo and Specs, as evidenced by a post on sparkling wine recommendations for your Oscar party.

The wine was sectioned off by varietal and country of origin. I could get lost in their French section alone. That's section as in area of the store, not section of one aisle. It was huge.

Their domestic Pinot Noir section took up both sides of one aisle with bottles from outstanding Pinot Noir regions such as the Willamette Valley, Russian River, and Carneros. They even had a few bottles from Santa Barbara County, including this bottle of Au Bon Climat that I picked up to bring to the house. 

Sally and I had recently shared this bottle with her Mom in Chicago, so it was nice to share it with other family members too.

Total Wine also had a comprehensive selection of beer and liquor. Mark, being related to Sally, is naturally a fan of whiskey. We had fun exploring this section too and Mark picked up a bottle of Aberfeldy Scotch to add to his liquor cabinet.

We could have spent even more time exploring if it wouldn’t have made us late for dinner. BevMo better watch out — as soon as Total Wine opens a San Diego location we’ll be there!

Posted on October 18, 2014 and filed under Wine Discoveries.

Holy Hot Wine, Temecula!

There’s a reason you won’t find much written about Temecula on this blog.

The wine generally isn’t great. It’s crawling with limos and party buses full of bachelorette parties and tipsy tourists.

So many people treat Temecula like a bar that many tasting rooms hand you a stack of tokens or a punch card so they can carefully control your pours.

And then there’s Foot Path Winery.

We visited on a hot, dry summer day where temperatures hovered in the high 90s. They pour their wine in their wine making facility, which is essentially a large shed. It’s doors were wide open that day and the thermometer inside read 82 degrees.

That’s when we realized this is also where Foot Path stores their wine barrels.

This told us that all of Foot Path’s wine was probably ruined.

UC Davis's wine barrel storage guidelines call for a room that’s optimally 55 degrees and never over 60. 

Hotter temperatures speed up the aging process. Wine starts to cook when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. 

Prolonged exposure to these temperatures permanently damages the wine. The delicious fruit characteristics disappear, replaced by raisin flavors. The wine changes color too. 

A 2010 Merlot shouldn't look like this:

None of their wine tasted good to us. It all tasted cooked.

We’ve said before that the only rule in wine is if you like it, it’s good.  There was another couple in the tasting room who seemed to be enjoying the wine and even bought a couple of bottles. Foot Path has decent ratings on Trip Advisor. They’ve been making wine for 13 years, so there must be some market for their wine. 

Just not in our house.

Posted on August 23, 2014 and filed under Tasting Experiences.