All posts by Gregg

Gregg Stephenson has been the Fine Wine Specialist/Collector Concierge at since 2009. In total he has been in Fine Wine sales for over 5 years. Initially drawn to wine by his passion for food, cooking, and entertaining, Gregg parlayed his new hobby to a profession. He has his Sommelier Certification with The Court of Master Sommeliers and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) with The Society of Wine Educators. An avid collector since the mid-nineties, his home cellar boasts 1,800+ bottles from wines around the world, of which roughly 75% are from the Old World (France, Italy, Spain, and Germany). Gregg tries to taste as often as possible and LOVES the open minded wine enthusiasts!!!

Wine and Heat – Eternal Enemies

Heat is to wine like water is to oil…they just don’t mix. In fact, once the juice is in the bottle there is nothing one can do that is more detrimental to the long term health of the wine, than expose it to extended periods of long heat. When a wine is exposed to high temperatures in transit or storage, the liquid expands and several things may happen. It may force the cork from the neck of the bottle, pushing it up under the capsule. This is called a “pushed” or “raised” cork. Or the wine may expand and leak around the cork. This is called a “leaker.”

In either case, when the liquid cools it will contract, and this may result in air seeping in around the cork leading to a further problem, oxidation. Cooked wines won’t have any freshness to the fruit aromas or flavors – instead you’ll get a stewed, prune-like profile. If you’re getting blackcurrants and fresh summer fruits, for example, then you haven’t got a cooked wine. On the palate, a cooked wine often seems thin, lacking body and character.

As an internet wine retailer, is extremely cognizant of the perils of summer shipping, and we are doing our best to get you your wine to arrive in as pristine condition as possible. Here are a few safeguards to help keep your wine protected from the summer heat when ordering wine online from, and after the wine has been delivered.

  • Be aware of the pending weather forecast in your region.
  • If the temperatures are going to be in excess of 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time, consider expediting your shipment from ground delivery to overnight or 2-day, or “hold until safe” at final review. For “hold until safe” we will store your wine at no additional charge in our temperature controlled warehouse and ship it when the weather cools. You can also choose a delivery date up to six months out and we’ll store your wine free of charge until then. Think about the inside of your car at these elevated temperatures…that is what your wine is being exposed to in the back of a UPS/FedEx truck.
  • Once you’ve received your shipment it’s best to store your wine on its side, so the cork stays moist, in a cool dark place. If wine is kept too hot, or exposed to strong sunlight, it RAPIDLY deteriorates.
  • For bottles stored more than a few weeks at a time, the primary concern is to keep them from strong direct light, and to ensure that they do not reach extended periods of time at temperatures in excess of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the wine may be spoilt and forever afterwards taste cooked.

Does the Proper Wine Glass Matter?

YES IT DOES!!! I was very fortunate to be included in a private San Francisco Riedel Wine Glass tasting this week, which was led by 10th generation family member GEORG JOSEF RIEDEL.  I have always been a believer of drinking my wine out of proper glassware, but had never put the theory to test.  

There were about 75-100 of us participating, seated at long tables with three different sized/shaped empty wine glasses (Pinot – Hermitage – Cabernet/Bordeaux).  In front of each wine glass was a clear plastic 8oz glass, called a “joker,” each filled with 6 ounces of red wine.  There was also a bottle of still mineral water.  We began the tasting by pouring equal amounts of the water into each of the wine glasses.  Georg instructed us to drink the water out of glasses 1 – 3, and then asked us by a show of hands if we had a preference to any of the glasses with the water. 

Glass #1: Riedel Vinum XL (Pinot Noir)
Glass #2: Riedel Vinum XL (Syrah/Hermitage)
Glass #3: Riedel Vinum XL (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux)

I was surprised, and in total agreement with the majority, that the clear-cut favorite out of the 3 for drinking water was glass #3.  

Now it was on to the main event.  Georg instructed us to pour the wine from the plastic “joker” glass directly in front of glass #1 equally into glasses 1-3.  We were then instructed to twirl, smell, and taste the wine from glass #1, and repeat the same for the remaining 2 glasses.  Again, we were asked by a show of hands which glass was preferred for that particular wine.  Glass #1, the Riedel Vinum XL (Pinot Noir) was the overwhelming choice by a landslide.  The wine was revealed, and it was the beautiful 2008 Domain Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir.  

Again we were asked to pour the contents of the “joker” glass in front of glass #2, equally into each of the three freshly rinsed wine glasses.  We repeated the exercise of twirling, smelling, and tasting.  The majority of the hands were raised for glass #2 Riedel Vinum XL (Syrah/Hermitage), with a small percentage for #1.  The second wine was revealed and it was the 2007 Neyers Syrah Hudson Vineyard.  The third wine poured was the 2008 Dominus Estate, and again by overwhelming majority glass #3 Riedel Vinum XL (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux) was selected as the favorite.  

Throughout the tasting Georg Riedel kept referring to the Cabernet glass, which is their top selling red wine glass by far, as a “troublemaker” and that the glass had “zero tolerance” for any wines other than those made with Bordeaux varietals.  This was made abundantly clear when tasting the 2007 Neyers Syrah Hudson Vineyard out of the Cabernet glass.  The beauty of the wine was completely lost in the Cabernet glass, and an extraordinary wine was made to taste very ordinary.  If you’re going to choose just 1 red wine glass…make it a Syrah/Hermitage glass, as this is the very best vessel compromise for all red wines. Why Shape Matters: 

  • Grape varietal specific stemware features finely-tuned glass bowls consisting of 3 variables:  shape, size, and rim diameter.
  • Grape varietal specific stemware has to translate the “message” of wine to the human senses.  There are 4 sensations of wine.   

Bouquet: Grape varietal specific stemware is responsible for wine aroma (quality and intensity)
Texture: Grape varietal specific stemware highlights the exciting variable mouth feel of wine (watery, creamy, silky, velvety).
Flavor:  Grape varietal specific stemware creates balanced interaction between fruit, minerality, acidity and bitter components.
Finish:  Grape varietal specific stemware offers a pleasant, seamless, harmonious, long lasting aftertaste.   

My  Riedel Wine Glass tasting takeaway: 

  • One glass is not ideal for all styles of wines, and wine’s bouquet, taste, balance and finish are all affected by the glass it is consumed from.
  • The same wine will display completely different characteristics when served in different glasses.
  • These differences can be so great, that even experienced wine connoisseurs believe that they are tasting as many different wines as there are glasses.
  • RIEDEL has created shapes that specifically enhance a wine’s harmony and highlight its unique characteristics.
  • Grape varietals carry unmistakable flavor profiles in their DNA, which add to the importance of selecting the appropriate glass.

Diner’s Ransom

How many times have you been out to dinner and not ordered from the wine list because the markups were outrageously high? How many times have you ordered wine by the glass and paid the same for that glass as the entire bottle would cost at retail? Well that happens to me more frequently than I would like. It’s not that I’m cheap or don’t have the money to afford the wine, or that I feel restaurants aren’t entitled to make money through their wine program, because they are – it’s that I don’t like the feeling of being gouged, and I assume you don’t either. I’m obviously not the only person with restaurant wine pricing on the mind, based on the 100+ responses to James Laube’s blog post “Help Wanted: What’s Fair with Restaurant Wine Pricing” on Wine Spectator online. Restaurants today routinely do themselves a huge disservice by charging too high of a margin per bottle, when they could easily make up the difference in volume with lower margins. They just don’t get it. 

Luckily I live in California where there is the option to bring your own wine to restaurants and pay a corkage fee. Savvy wine people here can do their homework, look at the wine list and menu prior to dining out, and decide whether or not to bring their own wines to the restaurant. This isn’t a luxury that most states allow, so the typical diner is held hostage by the restaurant’s wine list and exorbitant markups. Neither alternative is optimal in my opinion. In most cases, if the wine list is interesting and varied, I would much prefer to sample the restaurant’s offerings, than to bring my own. Furthermore, I would be much more inclined to order a second bottle if the price was reasonable (not more the 2 to 2-1/2 times retail). Dining out is one of life’s great loves for me, and in most cases I prefer the accompanying beverage to be wine – not a beer or cocktail…but steep markups are taking that fun away from me. 

Here are a few names of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area that have great, eclectic wine lists at very reasonable markups: Plumpjack, A16, NOPA, and Park Chow.

Impressions from Bordeaux

I recently returned from a glorious week in Bordeaux, touring the different appellations and tasting through the 2010s of each district’s wines. Some of these tastings were held privately at the Chateau, where only the wines from their specific property were tasted. Some were organized communal tastings at a Chateau, where several dozen producers from specific appellations, i.e. the Medoc (St. Estephe, Pauillac, Margaux, St Julien), were pouring their wines with throngs of people tasting and spitting in a choreographed dance together.

This week long event, which is billed as En Primeur, is attended by the wine trade and press from around the world. I didn’t run into Robert Parker…but did see both Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) on my last days private tasting at Lafite Rothschild, where we tasted the 2010 Lafite Rothschild, 2010 Duhart Milon, and the 2010 Carruades de Lafite. The main purpose of the event is to get a general sense of what the vintage has to offer, and to drum up enthusiasm in anticipation of the 2010 Futures Offerings.

The overall mood for the vintage is very high. Initial scores seem to mirror the optimism. The wines from the 2010 vintage that I tasted were fantastic and I’m excited to have the opportunity to offer them to you in the very near future.

Until then, has three very special older vintage wines from Bordeaux (2 Right Bank & 1 Left Bank). Both Chateau Branon and Chateau Valandraud are considered to be “garagistes”… innovative winemakers in the Bordeaux region producing “Vins de garage” or “Garage wine.” Few exemplify the garagiste idiom more than Jean-Luc Thunevin and wife Murielle Andraud of St-Emilion’s Chateau Valandraud. Elevated to cult status thanks to a string of high ratings from influential American critic Robert Parker, Valandraud – literally operating out of a garage – had in guts what Medoc powerhouses had in budget. Founded in 1989 on a 1 hectare plot in Saint-Emilion, with limited funds for equipment, much work was done primitively by hands and feet in their garage, with high detail labor resulting in low output yields defining the methods of the model.

Helene Garcin, owner of Chateau Branon, is also the owner of the third wine in this offer, 2001 Clos L’Eglise Pomerol. We spent an afternoon at another of her wineries (life is rough!), Barde-Haut in St. Emilion, tasting vintages 2008, 2009, 2010 of her properties’ wines (Chateau Branon, Haut-Bergey, Clos L’Elise, Barde-Haut).

What a treat!!! All three of these wines are perfectly aged to drink now! My buying team secured excellent pricing on each of these wines, which allows me to offer them out at the lowest published price in the nation.

The only way to order these wines is by clicking onto the wine names below.  You’ll be directed to the shopping cart. From there, enter the number of bottles you wish to secure (repeat to add additional bottles), proceed to checkout, enter your account details, and you’re off to the races.

2001 Chateau Valandraud – $129.00 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher which shows the national price range = $167.00 – $376.00 per bottle (Average price $238.00)

St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France
“As hard as it may be to believe, Valandraud’s 2001 is better than their 2000. One of the great efforts from proprietors Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin, the 2001 Valandraud boasts a saturated plum/purple color as well as a sumptuously sweet nose of Varhona chocolate intertwined with espresso roast, blackberries, cherry jam, and currants. Full-bodied, opulent, voluptuously textured, pure, rich, and seriously endowed, this is a brilliant effort from Bordeaux’s leading revolutionary. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2020.”
94 Points
The Wine Advocate

2005 Chateau Branon – $99.99 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher shows the national price range = $102.00 – $149.00 per bottle (Average price $116.00)

Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
“The vineyard, which is planted with equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is beautifully situated near Haut-Bailly and Malartic-Lagraviere. The gorgeous 2005 exhibits a classic Graves nose of graphite, charcoal, chocolate, scorched earth, blackberries, cassis, and hints of creosote and earth. The wine is opulent and full-bodied with a sensational texture as well as sweet tannin. This compelling Pessac-Leognan is more forward than the tannic Medoc cuvees. It will offer good drinking in 5-10 years, and should last for 2-3 decades.”
96 Points
The Wine Advocate

2001 Clos L’Eglise Pomerol – $92.99 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher which shows the national price range = $153.00 – $161.00 per bottle (Average price $157.00)

Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
“The 2001 offers a huge spectrum of aromas, including notes of smoke, mocha, chocolate, coffee, and loads of blackberry, cherry, and currant fruit. The superb aromatics are followed by an elegant, medium-bodied, deliciously supple-textured, expansive, fleshy, beautifully pure, well-delineated Pomerol. It is a brilliant effort as well as one of the candidates for the wine of the appellation in 2001. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2014.”
95 Points
The Wine Advocate