Conversation with Amanda Part II of starting a Wine Cellar…

Here’s the post from Sontes’ Editor Amanda Vail, enjoy it here, but even better visit to enjoy all their great posts! And, if you have not voted for Sontes in the Mission Small Business contest for 12 local businesses to participate in Chase Bank and the US Chamber of Commerce $3,000,000 grant program for small businesses, please do! Just click here to go to the voting page. All votes must be in by June 30, 2012 and all small businesses will be ranked on the grant application’s criteria and having received a minimum of 250 votes from their supporters.

Many thanks ~ P2P

Starting a Wine Library (Part Two)

by Sontes

Welcome to the second installment about starting a wine library! For the first half, click on over to the beginning of the conversation here. As a quick recap, I’m looking to start a wine library, but I have no idea where to begin! Söntés on-the-floor wine steward,Barbara Pitcher, has kindly agreed to give me some advice. What follows is our conversation; my questions are marked AV and Barbara’s responses are marked BP. Hope this is as helpful to you as it has been to me! Let’s check in a few years from now to find out how successful I’ve been…


Barbara Pitcher

BP: So Amanda, we’ve established that you like earthy reds and whites with good minerality, and we know you like French wines in particular, as well as those from the Pacific Northwest. You’d also like to budget about $15 per bottle. Now, French wines are hard NOT to love, and in addition to being delicious, they teach us to recognize the fundamentals of a well-crafted wine and a wealth of wine history. So let’s start there. Every wine library should have at a minimum two red wines from each of these regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone. In addition, you’ll need a white from each of these regions: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Loire, and Rhone. Who knew these 15 bottles could offer the building block varietals and top blending grapes of most of the World’s best wines? In these bottles, you will taste either individually or a blend of:

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Carignan 
  • Carmenere
  • Chardonnay
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Cinsault
  • Gamay
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Mourvèdre
  • Muscat
  • Petit Verdot
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sémillion
  • Syrah/Shiraz

The point of starting with France is learning the varietals and the amazing variations that happen with the addition of miniscule amounts of other grapes to create a blend. In general French wines are available for every palate and budget. Here are a few to start you off:

  • Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre (Loire; Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Chateau Simard (Bordeaux; Merlot, Cab Franc)
  • Guigal Croze Hermitage (Rhone; Rhones are “Kitchen Sink Blends” there are about 20 wines that are traditionally known as Rhone grapes and blended make amazing wines. Some of the most frequently used are Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cinsault &/or Carignan)
  • Domaine Droughin Pouilly-Fuisse (Burgundy; Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Nicolas Feuillatte (Champagne; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier)


Amanda Vail

AV: That definitely gives me a good place to start!

BP: One last tip for French wine! Get to know the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, as it offers great value wines made from typical regional blends. If you are looking for a bargain as you are learning about French wines, these are an easy start because most are deliberately labeled for the American market—meaning that beyond giving you region and appellation, they state what grapes went into the wine. It’s helpful to know not only what wine your palate prefers, but what grapes create that nose and taste.

AV: Now, are there any clues that will help me when I’m browsing in the wine store? How do I know if that attractive bottle of wine on the shelf is a good candidate for aging?

BP: In general, there are 5 things to look for on a label. They are:

  1. Grape Variety (New World Bottle) or Appellation (Old World Bottle)
  2. Region, which gives an idea of style, intensity & flavor. For instance, wines from Bordeaux are more tannic, which allows them to age better given the terroir.
  3. Producer/Vineyard tells you most about the quality and anticipated consistency of wine from vintage to vintage.
  4. Alcohol level, which gives you hints about the body and sweetness of the wine. For example, wines above 13.5% are likely more tannic and full-bodied; those below 11% are sweeter, lighter-bodied wines.
  5. Vintage, which gives an idea of best time to drink the wine and/or its ability to age well.

AV: How old should the wine be when I buy the bottle? Some have already been aged for a number of years.

BP: This depends greatly on whether it is an Old World or New World wine. For instance most California white wines are released 9 – 18 months after harvest; red wines 18 – 36 months after harvest. However, many Old World wines are released 36 – 48 months after harvest. So if you are looking to build a cellar to enjoy regularly now, New World red wine purchases should be vintages from 1 – 5 years prior and Old World in the 3 – 8 years prior. For white wines from New World producers, purchase something 9 – 24 months old; Old World, 18 – 26 months old.

AV: What’s your number one recommendation for a newbie who is starting a wine library?

BP: One of most important tips is to go to all kinds of tastings, both the casual ones at vineyards and those in a class setting like the series coming to Söntés in July. Learn to taste deliberately so flavors rise to a conscious level. Then you will begin to know what you really like, as well as what foods you really like with your favorites (because the more you taste, the more favorites you will find!). And my number one recommendation for a new wine library? Fill it with wine you like!


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Saturday’s Tasting Group

Daily the generosity of the wine community humbles P2P. And our bi-monthly Skype Tastings with Lori of d.Vine Fine Wines is a great example of the best of the wine community! Lori is such a fun, encouraging leader and shares her great group with ours via Skype… and this past Saturday, we gathered as five folks from the Rochester wine community via Skype to share some wines and discussion with about ten folks from the metro Detroit wine community. We tasted and discussed four varietals from South Africa, played Jeopardy, talked about regions and laughed, alot.

Here are some photos of the bottles we poured in the Rochester half of the Skype group… Will post the Michigan photos if possible later this week. Our Rochester “team”  also had the benefit of Sommelier Steve Shanahan from Apollo Northwest helping us. Steve is a talented Sommelier whose aim is to help each person on their path to fully appreciating wine; he is generous and welcoming. Please follow our various paths to higher sommelier certifications. Ask questions, or offer suggestions in our comment section… laugh with us as we learn!

2009 Man Vintners Chenin Blanc

By the way, do you know what common varietal is known as Steen in South Africa? You should!

2004 Rijk's Chardonnay

Salut! P2P

2007 Landskroon Pinotage

2005 Guardian Peak Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Merlot Blend

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Carneros Opened a Welcoming Door

CD and P2P pulled out of the driveway at 5:20AM ET, zipped over to Detroit Metro, boarded a comfortably full (not quite full) flight to Denver, and totally full connection to San Francisco, where we picked up a rental car and drove straight to Boon Fly Cafe for an outstanding lunch with Dave Graves of Saintsbury.                                                

Over lunches of club sandwiches, fish tacos and warm arugula salad, we did what this trio loves to do, we brainstormed ways to keep charity wine auctions such as A Night for Sight fresh, worthwhile, beneficial. Conversation moved to Saintsbury and what’s new for them, how the harvest is going. Then we discussed Pairing to Perfection, a new concept for assisting restaurants and country clubs with wine pairings “designed to showcase your food with your wines.” Every year CD and P2P come out to Napa and Sonoma, we make sure to have a lunch with Dave because of the treasure trove of ideas that come up during the course of a leisurely lunch. Dave is a great friend and we are huge fans of Saintsbury wines… especially their Brown Ranch Pinot Noir.

After lunch we went to Acacia where we met two delightful ladies – whose titles right on their cards were “Princess of Pinot” and “Queen of Conviviality”… what a great afternoon we learned especially about their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays as well as their Winery Lake Tour to see the di Rosa art collection on the grounds of the vineyard with a tour & tasting of the Winery Lake Pinot Noir and Chardonnay followed by a picnic lunch.

We ended the day with early light dinner at Sizzling Tandori in Healdsburg. Great dinner to complete a great day.                                                                               best, P2P

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Packed Bags by the Door

Well at 5:30 am tomorrow morning, P2P will slip quietly out the front door with borading passes printed, one gigantic suitcase, one well stuffed briefcase and one beloved old tapestry satchel to join CD for our flight to SFO. We’ll get the rental car, load it and head for Carneros.

It is starting to rain in Napa and Sonoma tonight and many friends are working quick-time to get the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in before the rain damages them. All the talent, care and work in the world cannot prevail against life-giving, grape pounding rain. We are holding great hope for each of the wonderful wineries we are so looking forward to seeing that all their hard work will be rewarded with a wonderful harvest and beautiful ’11 vintage when they are released.

More updates tomorrow night from Healdsburg!                     best always, P2P


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Wine as Art

Mitsuko & Jan happy & healthy (undated photo)

Jan & Mitsuko Shrem, founders of Clos Pegase Winery, are two people who have helped educate me about wine. They enjoyed a long love affair. Sadly, Mitsuko passed away in the Spring of 2010. During their “affair” they wove together a beautiful life living on three Continents, a joyful marriage, two sons, traveling the world. And they gave us an appreciation for art and wine graciously shared with the world by creating Clos Pegase Winery. Jan remains a valued mentor and friend.

Clos Pegase Applebone Vineyard

Today I’m working on expanding the website, my first proposal for a meeting next week, asking a precious, patient friend a million questions, and more excited over the way this is new venture is coming together than in years! Still, in this economy starting a new venture is scary, yet rather than caution me not to try, here is the encouragement Jan sent to me this afternoon~

Barbara, BRAVO!!!

I wish I had your energy; we need more people like you.


Jan Shrem, Founder/Proprietor
Clos Pegase Winery
P. O. Box 305, Calistoga, CA 94515

Jan fills life with beauty - art, wine, family & friends

Can I pick a mentor or what?!

Enjoy these few photos from Clos Pegase that demonstrate Jan’s love of wine as art. Do not gyp yourself – make plans to go to Calistoga soon and spend the afternoon at Clos Pegase – take home some of their lovely wines, especially Mitsuko’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Hommage Artists’ Series Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon… your favorite Clos Pegase wine is fine too; I’m just sharing my favorites with you.


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Barbara Claire Pitcher