All posts by Alma

Alma joined in 2008 as part of the buying team. A resident of San Francisco, Alma becomes grouchy if she misses a run in Golden Gate Park with her cattle dog or pays too much for a mediocre glass of wine. Her favorite appellations include Burgundy, Alsace and the Russian River and she credits Sancerre with sparking her interest in wine.

Does This Taste Jazzy to You?

Grab a buddy, a bottle of wine with a 90+ point review, a pad of paper and a pen. Taste it and take a few moments to jot down a few descriptors. Now compare notes and read the “expert” wine review. Ok, moment of truth, don’t lie, did all three wine reviews describe the pithy taste of lemon rind on a humid day with hints of tangelo against a backdrop of zippy acidity? Like winning the lottery, it’s possible, but unlikely. I theorize that behind more than a few professional reviews lie random word generators. Take heart in knowing that even the most sophisticated wine drinkers wonder what on earth the reviewer was *thinking*. Don’t feel stupid, feel liberated in knowing that one person’s cat pee is another’s gooseberry. Anything goes and everything’s relative.

Now I give you the ULTIMATE wine review using nothing but the most perplexing descriptors I could find from the nation’s leading wine experts. These were gleaned from real 90+ point reviews.

The 2011 Frankenwein field blend opens with “underbrush, and compost characteristics,” before revealing subtle notes of “tar and pebble.” This “bright and jazzy” wine is truly “dark and winey” and the “carnal nose” carries with it a “hint of air-dried beef,” I’d venture to call it “bloodily carnal.” In the mouth, “tannins as fine as Yunnan tea” support “hot brick” as well as “slate and lentil-like notes.” It’s hard to ignore the “sexy caramel oak” and the “tasty creamed apple.” An hour after decanting the wine evolves somewhat to reveal “fruity mushrooms” and “seaweed” all against a backdrop of “dusty blackness.” The finish is long and persistent, a full 60 seconds of “spring sap.”

I’m going to go brush my teeth now.

Moral of the story:  Join the community and add your own reviews. I have a feeling your reviews might be just as useful as some of the professional ones.

The Forgotten Wine

I’ve often heard stories of places, magical places, beyond San Francisco where temperatures rise above 70 degrees for extended periods of time, known as seasons. I once had relatives visit from Michigan who packed nothing but shorts to wear, ignoring our warnings that San Francisco is not a very warm place and the weather is usually a crapshoot.

So when I imagine myself in warmer places, what am I drinking? It’s complicated. I could choose a white or sparkling wine but that’s too obvious, deep down I really want a nice chilled Rosé – she’s that pretty girl that no one asks to the school dance despite her killer moves. I forget about Rosé myself and get annoyed when I realize it.  Rosé has all the great red fruit and floral aromas we love about red wine and the bright acidity we love about white wines. A good Rosé will pair well with meat (especially pork) and seafood (move over Sauvignon Blanc) and mop the floor with many pasta dishes and Mexican dishes.

I can’t think of a single place in the wine world that doesn’t make Rosé. It is usually made using whatever the dominant red variety of the region is, like Syrah for Rhone Rosés, etc.  Rosés are usually made by either “bleeding” juice off from fermenting red wine, a technique known as Saignée, or by allowing only brief skin contact .  Cheap Rosés are made by mixing red and white wine – skip those.

Long story short, don’t forget about Rosé – she likes to boogie.

Louis Roederer’s Cristal for 96% off?

Picture it:  You are shopping for a bit of sparkling wine for a weekend picnic with your peppy puggle, Hector, and a group of your best friends. All of a sudden you see a bottle of $7.99 Cava with 91 points from Wine and Spirits and a handful of great customer reviews. You look at the image and think, “OMG, I wonder if that $7.99 bottle of “Cristalino” Cava from Spain is actually Louis Roederer’s mind-blowing Cristal marked down from a $199 to just $7.99. Your picnic will be legendary and you, my friend, are awesome. Whether this has ever actually happened or not is irrelevant; what does matter is that you might confuse the two or think that Cristalino is related in some way to the legendary House of Louis Roederer.

The human race is both tragically and miraculously capable of anything and for that reason one of our favorite Cavas, Cristalino, was forced to change its label image from the gold label, to the futuristic, “beam me up Scotty,” label you see today. I bring this up because we have updated our website to include Cristalino‘s new label and don’t want Cristalino fans to think it’s no longer available.  This lovable Cava is one of’s most popular Cavas and Cristal is, well, simply one of the world’s finest Champagnes, so when this lawsuit made headlines we all kind of wondered if this was really necessary.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end, it’s just a curious footnote to that strange disclaimer on the label. It reads, I kid you not, “ JAUME SERRA CRISTALINO is not affiliated with, sponsored by, approved by, or in anyway connected to Louis Roederer’s CRISTAL® champagne or Louis Roederer.”

C’est la vie. Honestly, I’d happily have either one in my glass right now. Check out both wines or, better yet, try them.

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Shop Like a Pro!

It’s time to up your game and shop like a pro.  So here they are – a few tips to help you pick out the best of the best and, bottle by bottle, transform yourself into the oenophile your parents always suspected you’d become.

Tip #1 Old to New

This first tip has very little application outside the wine world.  In fact, I discourage it for most other life scenarios, especially when shopping for milk or meat.  Find the oldest one on the shelf!  I always sort the 90 under $20 wine list by “Vintage:  Old to New.”  These lonely bottles are forgotten once newer, shinier bottles make their way onto the site.  That’s a shame because these wines are exactly what makes wine unique, they improve with age!  A little mellower, a little more complex, a little more integrated – a lot more interesting.

Tip #2  What the heck is that!?

Txakolina? Try it, you’ll like it.  Lesser known varietals like Torrontes, Graciano, Godello, Txakolina, Falanghina and Mencia, may not be as popular as Chardonnay but, ounce for ounce, these wines are some of this category’s top performers.  Complex, affordable and, best of all, unlike anything you’ve tried before.  They are a great way to expand your palate and the breadth of descriptors you use to describe wine.  Do you want to see why people describe Torrontes as smelling like Juicy Fruit gum or experience what a truly high acid wine feels like?  Then try a bottle of Torrontes and Txakolina.  Best of all these wines will blow your world of wine pairings wide open.  So experiment.   After trying some of these you’ll be loath to plunk down twice as much money for a more popular varietal.

Tip #3  Swoop in for Savings

Sort by savings!  You can sort our 90 under $20 list by savings and order a few killer $30-$40 wines for under 20 bucks.  Not only will these wines give you the most for your money, but they typically also offer the most in terms of cellaring potential.  The higher price can be an indicator that, unlike a $10 bottle, it’s a keeper and the winemaker put an extra level of care into ensuring it will develop over the years. That $30 bottle of Pinot Noir with 93 points from PinotReport is good now, but will also be good in another 5 years and you got it for just $19.99!

I’ve shared some of my top picks and my best tips on finding wines, now I’m curious to know about your favorite 90 under $20 wines.

Wild Wines – Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting – March 27, San Francisco

You know it’s a good day when you manage to sample some of California’s cutting edge wines and eat some stomach charring Sonoma Jack Habanero Jack cheese in a single afternoon. Woo hoo!

The Rhone Rangers are a hardy band of intrepid domestic producers dedicated to promoting the Rhone’s 22 grape varieties, I challenge you to find friendlier bunch of vintners. Big names like Ridge, Pride and Tablas Creek showed off their smaller production gems and rising star Pax Mahle of Wind Gap, fresh off the cover of Wine and Spirits Magazine, showed off his cool climate Petaluma Gap Syrahs. I even got a chance to catch up with one of my favorite winemakers Gideon Bienstock, proprietor of the Sierra Foothills’ Clos Saron.

If there was a downside to the event, it was that many of these great wines aren’t widely distributed so I encourage all of you to take a trip out West and track some  of these vintners down. I give the reds (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Carignane) a solid “A” for restraint and complexity. In other words, the best producers traded overt black fruit flavors for more subtle earth, meat and pepper characteristics and maintained a mouthwatering acidity that would make a vegan toss a steak on the barbecue.

The whites were harder to pin down. Marsanne and Roussanne wines battled big alcohol and sometime lost. Qupe’s Roussanne was particularly great, as was Clos Saron’s Carte Blanche. From San Francisco, the Rhone Rangers tasting takes its show on the road and makes its way to Seattle and Washington. Visit for more information.

Take a look at some of the Rhone Ranger member wineries we offer. Boony Doon, Ridge, Tablas Creek, JC Cellars and Clos Saron.  Although not listed as a member winery, I also highly recommend Donkey and Goat’s Rhone varietal wines.

Salud – Alma Leon-Reveles 

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Clos Saron's Gideon Beinstock