Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

Memoirs of a Malbec

malbecSometimes I feel like nobody really knows the real “me.” Ever since I moved to Argentina, I’ve been fitting in really well. In fact, I’m probably the most popular guy here. I’m having a great time laying out in the warm sun all day, enjoying the dry heat — I barely even have to worry about fungal disease these days! And at night, when it cools down, I can rest easy knowing that I’m ripening nice and evenly. When I’m at high altitude, it can be a bit of a challenge to get the nutrition that I need to thrive, but ultimately my hard work pays off as I develop more complexity. The laid-back, easygoing lifestyle here has made me soft and approachable, and I tend to get along with everyone I meet. But a part of me worries that I might soon forget where I came from.

You see, life wasn’t always so easy for me. I grew up in the drained swampland of Bordeaux, where I began life as a very small fish in a big pond. There, while constantly battling difficult weather conditions to avoid disease or death, I contributed color and tannin to local blends — but I was never the star of the show. It’s not so much that I need the attention — I’m just an outgoing guy. So after a devastating frost in 1956 during which I lost 75% of my crop, I decided to focus my energy on my second home in Cahors, just southwest of Bordeaux. There, I changed my name back to Côt, and alongside Merlot and Tannat, I began to shine, as I had been respectfully replanted by those who appreciated me. Meanwhile, back in Bordeaux, they decided they were better off without me, and these days you’ll rarely find me back in my former home town. I’m not bitter, I swear — really, I wish all the best to my old friends Petit Verdot, Merlot, and the brothers Cabernet. I know they talk behind my back about my susceptibility to coulure and downy mildew, and my lack of maturity in colder years — but if I have to be in a blend with them, I’ll be perfectly cordial.

I set down roots in Argentina back in 1868, when I was brought over by a French agricultural engineer who recognized my potential. Life was always comfortable there, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that I “went viral,” effectively becoming the national grape of my adopted homeland. I’m happiest living in Mendoza, but I’ve made my way throughout the entire country. Wherever I go, I am always well-received by locals and foreigners alike!

When I’m in my native France, my personality is rather different. I guess you could say I live a more “rustic” lifestyle there — I’m not afraid to get a little dirty, and my tannins are a bit tougher. Probably because of the thicker skin I tried (and failed) to develop amidst the bullying in Bordeaux. Sometimes I like to vacation in the Loire Valley, where I can relax and let my aromatic side come out. But nowadays most people never get to see that side of me. I don’t want to brag, but thanks to my success in Argentina, I’ve become a bit of a world traveler. Apart from France and Argentina, I’m now planted in Chile, California, Oregon, Washington, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and a few other countries. Everywhere I go, people ask, “hey, aren’t you that guy from Argentina?” I’m very proud of my recent success, so I smile and say yes, and occasionally I’ll pose for a picture. But with each encounter, I think back to my humble beginnings and consider saying, “if you like me in Argentina, you should see me in France.”

Niven Family Wine Estates Winery Focus

Niven with brands

Somm Things I Think About:
A Winery Focus

Niven Family Wine Estates
Recently Christian Roguenant, the famed winemaker of Niven Family Wine Estates, visited and led a Master Class on Albariño. Not only did I learn a lot about Albariño, I was humbled by the amount I didn’t know, and the differences in terroir and subregions within the larger Rias Baixas DO(Spanish wine region). He then compared his Albariño to the the Spanish styles to show that Tangent Edna Valley Albariño was a true balance between California fruit and Spanish soul.

Niven Family Wine Estates is a truly unique winery. They have several labels, each with a focus on purity. They use different labels, but not for lower quality, rather for differentiation. Most larger wineries have 2nd labels for lower price options for the grapes that don’t classify for their reserve or Grand Cru offerings. Niven Family Wine Estates currently has 6 labels, yet none are lesser than the others, they each have a unique offering and design, some even pay homage to the traditional homeland where the grape originates. Though price range differs, each label is special and unique for its own specific qualities, vineyard block, appellation or grape.

Niven Family Wine Estates started over 40 years ago by Jack Niven, who pioneered Chardonnay grape-growing n the Edna Valley at Paragon Vineyard. Now, the family boasts 6 appellation-specific wine labels and each with their own focus. Jack Niven unfortunately has passed away but the next generation has ensured that the Niven Family Estates will continue to be family run and even SIP certified sustainable, so that future generations can continue with their success. In the late 90’s they brought in world-renowned winemaker Christian Roguenant and gave him carte blanche to construct the winery of his dreams. With the family running the day to day operations, and a Burgundian winemaker in the cellar, they have started to set the world of wine on fire!

Here are all the offerings we currently carry, Enjoy!

True Myth
Representing a tightly focused modern option for the famous Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes, these wines celebrate the Central Coast. The Chardonnay fruit comes from the the Edna valley, the coolest wine region in the state, while the Cabernet comes the warmer Paso Robles region about 30 miles to the north. Both wines are rich and delicious, representative of each of their appellations, and show the diversity in San Luis Obispo County.

2014 True Myth Chardonnay – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $14.99

A classically styled Chardonnay from the Edna Valley showcasing aromas of pear, white peach, pineapple and wet stone. Flavors of beautiful tropical fruit with mineral undertones and textured creaminess are balanced with refreshing acidity, a hallmark of Paragon Vineyard, that keeps the wine lively and fresh from start to finish. All topped off with the perfect complement of vanilla bean and toasted oak.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles $19.99

Sourced from 20+ year old vines grown on calcareous soils in a region with the greatest temperature swing from day to night in California comes a bold and rich Cabernet, loaded with blackberry jam, cherry, black currant, exotic spices and cola, with notes of caramelized oak…classic, yet individual.

A true Chardonnay-free zone, this label focuses on alternative white grapes and Sauvignon Blanc, all grown in the cool Edna Valley. A project developed to be food driven, these clean, lively wines are fresh, crisp and vibrant. Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.

2014 Tangent Pinot Gris – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $16.99

Aromatics of orange blossom, pineapple, grapefruit and a hint of pepper are followed by concentrated flavors of ripe peaches, tangerine and green apple. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and a creamy mouth feel, it pairs well with a wide range of foods including seafood, pasta with light sauces, even grilled sausage.

2014 Tangent Albariño – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

90 Points “An excellent example of New World Albariño, the 2014 Tangent has keep the wine’s purity just as one would expect a first-class vintner would do. One can close their eyes and imagine themselves in Galicia while enjoy a glass this one. Medium straw in color; bright aromas of ripe citrus and a hint of mineral; medium bodied, smooth on the palate; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright citrus peel and core fruit flavors; medium finish, lively, smooth aftertaste. – Wilfred Wong of

2014 Tangent Sauvignon Blanc – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard$12.99

90 Points “Classic and yet distinctive in aromatics, this bottling from the Niven family’s cool-climate vineyard shows cut grass, wet cement and a touch of struck match on the narrowly focused nose. The palate intrigues, with fresh-cut thyme and oregano lifted by a white pepper element” – Wine Enthusiast

2013 Tangent Viognier – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

92 Points: “This wine has renewed my faith that California vintners can make a superior Viognier, the very exciting 2013 Tangent Viognier makes it way past most others as it gives the palate plenty of rewards; aromas and flavors of apple and peaches are joined with light flowers and mineral; finish with an almost pixy straw/lime citrus note. Since I am a big lover of
Vietnamese cuisine, I thought of The Slanted Door Charles Phan and his Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water?” – Wilfred Wong of

2012 Tangent Grenache Blanc – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

90 Points: “More juicy and fresh, with better acidity and overall integration, the 2012 Grenache Blanc is well done. Offering up big crushed stone-like minerality, green herbs and citrus aromas and flavors, it’s a medium-bodied, lively and pure white that’s perfect for a hot summer day. It’s also a superb value and should be purchased in multiple bottle lots.”
– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

In the late 70’s Catharine Niven, Jack’s wife, planted her own 3 acre vineyard on their home property in the Edna Valley, she dove head first into the male-dominated wine world. Named for a place that she met her husband. It produces cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are rich, complex, beautifully balanced and refined. 30 years later they have moved out of the project phase and has become the family’s legacy wines!

2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay – Edna Valley $20.99

90 Points: “A classic, rich San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay, the 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay is rich with tropical and core fruit flavors, nicely balanced with sweet French oak. Stays steady and cohesive with all of its elements creating a fine aromatic, textural and full experience. This wine stands up well with richly sauced seafood dishes.” Wilfred Wong of
90 Points: “Smooth and juicy with minerals, pineapple and rich pear; soft, lush and showing a core of crisp acidity; long and balanced. Sustainable.” – Tasting Panel

Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir 2013 – Edna Valley $22.99

91 Points: “The 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir drinks so well. Yes this is yum wine that is sure to please a wide range of wine drinkers (Old World-New World, wine aficionados and wine novices alike. Just grill some lamb and see how quickly the wine is imbibed. Medium to deep garnet in color; aromatic, red fruit aromas, light note of flower; medium bodied and nicely textured on the palate; medium acidity, fine balance; pleasing and delicate red fruit flavors; medium to long finish, supple aftertaste.” – Wilfred Wong of

92 Points: “Juicy and lush with bright, ripe cherry and tangy Burgundian style; round and fresh with sweet oak, balance and a long, elegant finish.” – Tasting Panel

90 Points: “The Niven family winemaker, Christian Roguenant, teases smoked meats, blackberry paste, dark slate, aromatic red cherries and concentrated hibiscus from the nose of this wine. The palate shows plenty of ripe, red fruit, but is made interesting by woody herbs, including oregano and marjoram” – Wine Enthusiast

It means the gambler in German and this label is one of their biggest gambles yet – but it payed off big! The Zocker label captures the central european wine styles with two very distinctive varieties; Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. This is just another example of how the Niven Family is breaking the molds and showing that they are up for a bit of a risk, or in this case, a gamble!

2014 Zocker Gruner Veltliner – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $21.99

Rich and round but with great acid structure, this wine is steely with pronounced minerality. It has a bit of an earthy characteristic, a strong white pepper note, and flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail.

2012 Zocker Riesling – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $19.99

90 Points: “A riesling with style and character, the well-defined 2012 Zocker Riesling exhibits a hint of fusel along with its green apple aromas and flavors; firm and well built on the palate, the wine sails nicely into a crisp and well defined finish. A generous riesling, a fine choice with shellfish, perhaps a bouillabaisse with a glass or two of this wine in your future! Yes, why not?” – Wilfred Wong of

91 Points: “This shows petrol, honey and brie cheese rind notes on the nose, and is quite creamy once sipped, yet the edges are punctuated with orange peel bitterness. The tartness ensures cellaring potential, so drink 2018–2025.” – Wine Enthusiast

90 Points: “Even better, with beautiful lychee, citrus blossom and floral notes, the 2012 Riesling is medium-bodied, balanced, fresh and clean, with a hard-to-resist quality that will have the glass empty before you know it. It’s worthy of a multi-bottle purchase and should drink nicely for a couple years.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

I hope you have a chance to explore the wines and visit their tasting room!
Niven Family Wines


South Africa: New Land of Vines

MeerlustOn a continent that typically brings to mind dry, hot deserts and rainforest jungles, it’s easy to forget that there is also wine. But on the very southern tip of South Africa, vineyards thrive and produce a wide variety of grapes. Though the wines were slow to market due to the embargo on South Africa during apartheid,  the country has managed to solidify its presence as a quality wine producer over the past few decades. As a huge fan of South African wines, I wanted to share a few tips on what to try!

Reds are smokey-meaty:
This is a good thing — fire up the grill! Something about the land in South Africa brings out a gamey character in red wines, like bacon fat or smoked meat, especially in Syrah. Of course, this has nothing to do with the wild game that runs about in the country, but it is a happy coincidence — South African red wines are some of our favorites for roasted meats, stews, dishes from the grill, or anything wrapped in bacon (and what is not amazing wrapped in bacon?!?!?).

Sauvignon Blanc rivals that of New Zealand:
Crisp, grassy, tropical, zingy — all words that perfectly describe this alternate Southern Hemisphere thirst quencher.

But Chenin Blanc should be your new go-to wine for summer:
Chenin Blanc (until recently, the most abundantly planted grape in South Africa) is made in a dry style here, and is quite different from its Loire Valley counterparts. It has crisp acidity, a mineral component, and a wonderful texture — in a blind tasting, someone once took one of these for a Macon-Villages (which is Burgundian Chardonnay).  So if you love refreshing whites with character at great values, stock up!

At least try Pinotage:
If you’ve heard of Pinotage, congratulations. If you love Pinotage, well… you’re in the minority! The “flagship” crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that was concocted in a laboratory in 1925 hardly made the wine world swoon when it was first introduced. But wait! There is plenty of high-quality, GOOD Pinotage, despite the general public opinion.  It’s certainly worth a try, especially the excellent example from Southern Right.

Bringing back an old friend: The Wines of Chile have reached a new level

16_02_01 1500 Master Class Chile@Wine.com_3180_Blog

Way back in the dark ages of wine retailing (circa: 1970s), fine wine shops had Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Chile was nowhere to be found and even California was an afterthought. As the years went by and California gained prominence with the Judgement of Paris, Chile got into the marketplace with its cheap Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots. Often found in sale bins, these became the drinking wines of budget conscious wine imbibers. I drank so much of these bargain basement wines that I ended up throwing the whole class into the “good value” category. As an active retailer in San Francisco in those days, the wines of Chile gave me something “to stack high and let them fly.”

This is no longer the case. While Chile took a back seat to Australian Shiraz and Argentine Malbec, producers started to find the right fit with varieties and vineyards, including Chile’s flagship variety, Carmenere. This wise move is still working its way into the hearts and minds of international wine consumers. More exciting is the work being done with cool climate Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca and mineral-like Chardonnays from Limarí, not to mention major statements being made with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and blends. While the country is still known for value wines, production over the past decade proves it shall be known for quality as well.

Jake Pippin, USA Market Manager for Wines of Chile, recently presented an array of a dozen top Chilean wines that would measure up with top wines from anywhere in the world. So while I cut my teeth on cheap Chilean Merlot in the 1970s, I know have been introduced to some of the world’s very top wines and they are Chilean. It is time for Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and yes, the Napa Valley to share the spotlight; the Chileans are making a huge statement. Isn’t great to revisit an old friend and see how they have evolved into something greater? Here is a trio of super fine Chilean wines that will bring you up to speed on where Chilean wines are today.

The 2014 Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay, – rich and creamy, but with a zippy layer of minerality to keep it fresh
The 2012 Calcu Cabernet Franc  – yes, Cabernet Franc can shine here, with earthy, peppery spice and dried fruit character
The 2012 Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – classic producer with a classic, quality Cabernet – it says Chile and Cabernet in a concise, easy-drinking way.