Category Archives: Wine Tasting

Ontañón Spanish Wine Tasting

I had the privilege of tasting the Ontañón line up of Spanish wines at the lovely Jaleo restaurant.

It was a small group of people that were passionate about the pairing of food and wine along with the ambiance that was absolutely perfect. I had heard great things about Ontañón wines before so I was eager to try them. These Spanish wines did not disappoint, but what makes these wines so special?

Ontañón Table

Ontañón is the mountain valley that the Perez-Cuevas family has owned for generations in the Rioja Baja region of Spain.

The vineyards are located  about 762 meters (2500 feet) above sea level. The higher altitude exposes the grapes to lower temperatures and more solar radiation which in turn causes the grape skins to grow thicker and allows a richer extraction during skin soaking.  The mountain valley is also coated in iron rich clay soils and some calcareous deposits which gives the wine a rustic minerality.  Ontañón’s elevation, soil, Mediterranean climate with large temperature shifts from day to night, and the winemaking skills of Ruben Perez-Cuevas produce wines that exhibit bright acidity, rustic complexity, great balance, and amazing consistency.

We started our Spanish wine tasting with the Vetiver Blanco a wine made from Viura grapes.

Viura is a grape indigenous to Rioja and  has over 25 different names but is best known as Maccabeo to the rest of the world. Viura is usually the main grape of white Rioja and is often blended to make Cava. Ontañón’s Vetiver Blanco does not need any blending though and this one hundred percent Viura wine lets all of the varietal’s traits shine. This white wine is vibrant and lively. It has some white floral notes, good minerality, and a rich mouthfeel. This wine spent five months in oak barrels which gives it the rich mouthfeel and a beautiful golden color.

Ontañón Vetiver Blanco
Ontañón Vetiver Blanco
Vetiver Blanco
The Vetiver Blanco is so golden

Ontañón Vetiver Blanco was paired with a cheese, raw sheep’s milk manchego, Jamon, free range, acorn fed, black footed pig, and Pulpo ala Gallega, boiled octopus with potatoes, pementón and olive oil.

Raw Sheep Milk Manchego
Raw Sheep Milk Manchego
Pulpo a la Gallega
Pulpo a la Gallega

The next Spanish wine we tasted was Ontañón Crianza.

This wine is from forty year old vines on the slopes of the Sierra Yergas just south of the Ebro river in Rioja Baja. The warm sunny days here allow the grapes to ripen to full maturity and the cold nights help to increase the acidity levels. This wine is made from ninety percent Tempranillo and ten percent Garnacha. The Crianza is earthy has overtones of spice, dark fruit, black cherries, and a lovely rustic feel coupled with bright acidity. This wine was paired with shrimp, roasted sweet red peppers, and house made chorizo.

Ontañón Crianza
Ontañón Crianza
Jaleo's Home Made Chorizo
Jaleo’s Home Made Chorizo

Finally, we had the privilege of tasting the 2001 Ontañón Riserva.

This wine is only made during exceptional years from select vineyards on the slopes of the Sierra Yerga Mountains above Quel in Rioja Baja. The vines chosen are very old and impart deep full flavors. The Riserva is made from ninety five percent Tempranillo and five percent Graciano. It spends twenty four months in American and French oak barrels before spending another twelve months in the bottle.  All of this care leads to a wine that has layers of dark fruit with notes of chocolate and mocha. These flavors are then wrapped in a delicate yet acidic and earthy wine with luscious mouth feel.  This was paired with a delicious hanger steak. This is a wine I could drink every day.

Ontañón Riserva
Ontañón Riserva
Ontañón Riserva in Glass
Ontañón Riserva is so dark with a clear rim.

Overal, this was an excellent Spanish wine tasting.

The Ontañón wines I tasted exceeded their reputation and paired well with the food at Jaleo. I highly recommend trying these wines. The wines are distributed in 22 states, please contact your local retailer or visit Ontañón if you would like to purchase.

Spanish Wine Tasting
Everyone Loved the Tasting


Tips on Wine Tasting in Napa

Wine Tasting Outside in Napa

Wine tasting is one of my favorite things in life to do.  Being able to visit beautiful places with amazing scenery, listen to music of your choice, with great company, have the wind blowing in your hair with the top down, and getting to taste many different wines is my idea of heaven.  There are so many wonderful places to go since most states now have wineries.

I went wine Tasting in Napa a few days ago while riding on the back of a motorcycle.  I know it’s probably not the safest thing in the world but the driver wasn’t drinking so I really got to enjoy myself.  After going to Napa numerous times and almost always trying different wineries, I find it incredible that I still have not gone to all of them!  I have some favorites but there are so many mind blowing wineries in Napa it is hard to pick just a few.

When wine tasting in Napa, it is important to pick an area within Napa and stick with it.  Many people don’t realize how large Napa is from one end to the other.  It can take more than an hour to drive from Calistoga, the most northern point, to Los Carneros, the southernmost point.  If you decide to visit wineries all over the Napa at once, that leads to a lot of wasted time driving and a lot less tasting! There are a total of 13 sub AVA’s (American Viticulture Areas) in Napa.  AVA’s are the specific areas that wine comes from and the smaller the AVA, the more expensive the wine is going to be.  For example, a wine that is from Napa sounds more exclusive than a wine from California.  We can take this a step further, a wine from Rutherford (a region within Napa) is more exclusive than a wine from Napa since all the grapes have to come from the region that is identified on the label.  Depending on where you are coming from or staying, that would be a good way to pick the region to focus your tastings in.  If you are coming from San Francisco then stick with the southern part of Napa but if you are staying somewhere in Napa try and focus in the region you are staying in.

Time flies when you are having fun. I am always amazed when I go wine tasting that there is less time than I think!  Tasting rooms open at ten and almost all of them close at four; which is so early!  Who starts wine tasting at ten am?  Unless you are very dedicated to getting up early to get to the wineries, you already start losing out on those valuable tasting hours.  Each winery you visit takes at least a half hour and it takes time to get from one winery to another.  Designate the most detail orientated person in your group, who loves maps and scheduling, to come up with an efficient way to plan out your day to see the most amount of wineries with the least amount of driving.  Do not let this person have complete control of your day; wine tasting is meant to be fun after all. In Napa, there are so many wonderful wineries in such a concentrated area, you can focus on one small area such as Yountville, Los Carneros, Rutherford, St Helena or another, and save the other areas for a different day.  I would leave at least an hour in between appointments because the people running the tastings don’t appreciate you being late.  I would also highly recommend making appointments ahead of time as you will receive much better service.

Alexis Tasting at Silver Oak Cellars
Tasting at Silver Oak Cellars

After you have planned out your day, don’t forget to pick a lunch spot.  Drinking from start to finish without any food is the key to ending up as one hot mess.  Unless that is your goal, then I would either pack some snacks or pick a lunch spot.  I would actually pack an easy lunch like sandwiches or some bread and cheese and eat them at one of the wineries that allow food.  This saves time and money.  I am all about maximizing the time spent wine tasting so these are my pointers.

Hitting up big wineries with the famous names is always cool like Silver Oak, Opus One, Mondavi, Chateau Montelena etc. and I would aim for one of them because it’s fun to go somewhere famous.  However, I would really try to find out some of the smaller ones that are laid back, smaller production, less crowded and a different kind of experience.  It is so rewarding to discover a winery that you and your friends haven’t heard of or aren’t too familiar with and fall in love with it.  It feels more sentimental.

Have a wonderful time tasting in Napa and let me know if you have any questions with anything!


Manzoni Syrah – 2009 – Tasting Notes

I reviewed the excellent 2009 Manzoni Syrah from California.  It was delicious.


You can buy the wine direct from me if you are in Hong Kong at .

Sunday Wine Tasting With Zin Diva

So my friend Zin Diva came by to taste some wines today for an upcoming event.  Unfortunately, since I am in Hong Kong at the moment promoting our Hong Kong wine offerings for our company there Open 3 Wines, Cody stepped up to the plate to lead the tasting.  Here is what we tasted:

Corralillo – Sauvignon Blanc – 2010 

2013-01-27 11.49.49

This is a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and who doesn’t love Chilean Sauvignon Blancs?  When I first started drinking wine, I pretty much only drank red.  I didn’t care what it paired with, I just wanted a Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec and I was not open to much more.  Then I started drinking some whites that were either oaked Chardonnays or something on the sweeter side like a Riesling.  Living in San Francisco, where it’s almost never hot, there are few times where something crisp and refreshing was necessary.  It was not until my friends threw a picnic in Marin on a  hot day and people brought Sauvignon Blanc and Rose and I fell in love.  I have been drinking refreshing whites ever since.  This 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio Valley, a small wine region on the coast of Chile west of Santiago, is ready to drink now.  Because of the influence of the Pacific Ocean there is a cooling quality which gives the wine a wonderful acidity and produces very aromatic whites. In Chile and Argentina there are more Organic vineyards than other countries due to the high elevation and locations that naturally have fewer pests.  This wine is 100% organic sauvignon blanc grapes which gives it a very clean taste.  I taste tropical fruit, great acidity and it has a long elegant finish. This wine pairs will with fish, shellfish or a warm day or evening.

Gustave Lorentz – Cremant D’Alsace

Cremant DAlsace

I think bubbles are confusing for a lot of people. There are so many different types and so many different attitudes towards bubbles.  Some people just love anything with bubbles in it, whether it’s a Cava – bubbles from Spain, Prosecco – bubbles from Italy, Sparkling – bubbles from anywhere or Champagne – only bubbles from the region in France called Champagne.  Bubbles can be made in different methods resulting in different bubble sizes and amount of bubbles per glass and bottle.  They are typically made into white wines; however, there are sparkling Rose’s and even a few sparkling reds, think Lambrusco from Italy, a fun treat that Morgan Braxton Wine Society Members will have soon.  There are different quality levels of making bubbles: the traditional Champagne method, the Charmat/ Transfer method, and the Carbonation method  – in that order.  Essentially, the traditional Champagne method is just as it sounds and based on France’s elite sense of pride on everything.  This is the original way it is made, it’s the most costly, and arguably produces the best version of bubbles.  There is a whole system of how to make and blend wines in batches, only blending them later, have them ferment with yeast in the bottle versus a vat which gives wines made in this method a nuttiness or complexity not found when using the other methods, adding a “dosage” (blend of wine and sugar) later after the spent yeast is removed by hand and so on. It’s labor intensive even though today, machines mostly do this, but it still requires many more steps.  Next is the Charmat/ Transfer method, a more simple method where all of these steps are done in a vat and transferred to bottles later.  Last is carbonation, simply put the wine is carbonated.  Gustave Lorentz is from Alsace, a region in France that borders the upper Rhine region near Germany and Switzerland.  What does this mean?  It can get really cold in the winter! It has hot dry summers and cold dry winters creating a unique climate for wine.  Also this region has gone back and forth between France and Germany four times so it’s a complicated region, but since 1945 its has been a part of France.

This balanced, clean and zesty wine is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.  There is lemon rind on the nose and red fruit on the palate.  This wine is made in the traditional champagne method; so when you look at it and taste it, pay attention to the amount of bubbles and the size. Drink to start an evening, indulge at a party, or pair with soft cheese or shellfish.

Koyle Royale – Cab – 2009Koyle Royale

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Colchugua Valley, one of the three provinces of the central Chilean region.  Colchugua Valley is home to the ‘Huaso’ or the Chilean cowboy.  This region was also named the worlds best wine region in 2005 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.  It is  is a big red wine and you should decant it for 30 minutes prior to drinking.

Koyle Royal is dark purple with round and velvety tannins and a long finish.  There are underlying notes of dark chocolate, black pepper and an earthiness with some baking spices.  Cody drank this bottle with a steak and loved it.



La Tunella – Friulano 



Friulano is a less common varietal as well.  To clarify, La Tunella is the brand or producer and Friulano is the grape or varietal.  It comes from Colli Orientali DelFriuli up in the northeast part of Italy near Venice.  I know this does not mean much since Italy is the most complicated wine country in the world, with the most amount of wines and regions.   Adding to this, we haven’t heard of most of the varietals or the places they are from so it really seems like its in a different language.  A great fact to take from this is Colli Oriental del Friuli is a sub region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and is an important wine-producing region in Italy located near Venice.

La Tunella is all hand picked and pressed.  Yeast is added to the first fermentation process and then the wine spends time again on the yeast. When this happens its called “sur-lie” aging aka aging on yeast.  The wine is stirred to mix around the yeast,which is called “battonage”.  This process is similar to the Champagne method we discussed, which adds nuttiness and in this case you should smell and taste a little almond.  It’s a beautiful wine with a brilliant straw-yellow color.  On the nose there will be almond, pear and wild flowers.  The balance of floral and fruity characteristics with a smooth, velvety, moderately acidic, dry palate results in a well-structured, delicious wine, drinkable for many occasions.

Don Valentin Bianchi – Lacrado – 2010 Don Valentino

Lacrado is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from San Rafael, Mendoza in Argentina.   The Mendoza region is considered the heart of the wine making industry in Argentina, producing two-thirds of the all the wine made in Argentina. Mendoza is located in the Eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains spreading into San Rafael in the Southern region.  Don Valentin Bianchi Lacrado comes primarily from two estates situated at 2400-2500 feet above sea level, making it one of the coolest areas in San Rafael.  Enough geography, lets move onto the wine.


Lacrado has an intense color or ruby red, robust intensity and a perfume like nose.  Its velvety smooth, complex with an array of flavors and has a medium-long finish.  Pair it with meat, turkey, chicken and strong cheeses to fully enjoy everything this wine has to offer.



Luca Bosio – Barbera d’Asti D.O.C.G. – 2011 Luca Barbera

Barbera is the varietal produced in Asti, a region in Piedmont residing in the Northwest part of Italy.  The DOC and DOCG labeling means it passed another level of certification from the government so it is considered more exclusive and regulated.  There are acronyms all over Europe: the more letters the labeling has indicates increased importance.  In case you were wondering, D.O.C.G. stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and it just so happens to be the most important DOCG for Barbera D’Asti in Piedmont, which is where this wine comes from!  Barbera is the third most widely planted Italian red grape.   Some places in California are making Barbera as well, but its popularity has yet to blossom in the states.

Luca Bosio is 100% Barbera from vineyards located in Castagnole Lanze and Costigliole d’Asti, which are 200-330 ft. above sea level.  These grapes come from very specific regions and in this instance they happen to be in amazing locations.  This wine is a great representation of a typical Barbera from D’Asti.  When you figure out its subtle nuances, your palette should taste ample red fruit, cherry, tar, mild chocolate flavors.  Its silky tannins make it a smooth easy drinking red.


Real Compañía – Tempranillo – 2009 Real Campania Tempranillo

A lot of people have not heard of Tempranillo or don’t drink it much, and I think we should put an end to that nonsense.  Tempranillo is to Spain as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Napa, but you can stretch your dollar much further with this grape.  It is possible to spend a fortune, but for every day wines, this grape contains great value.  Tempranillo, coming from the word temprano, defined as “early” in Spanish.  It inherited its name because it ripens several weeks earlier than other Spanish grapes.  The varietal is native to Spain, considered the Nobel grape of the region, and is the main grape used in Rioja.

Real Compañía is from the Manchuela region located in mid-central Spain 2300 ft above sea level.  The area has cold winters, warm summers and the soil is red, calcareous and stony.  The vines range from 30-70 years old, harvested and hand selected.  This wine was made in stainless steal achieving an optimum aroma, color and tannin extraction.  You will get an intense red cherry color with bluish hints, vivid and very fruity aromas of blackberries, red currants, cherries and black licorice.

This Tempranillo has good structure, is well rounded, very fruity with a long finish.  Pair it with rice dishes, paella, pasta, meats, or enjoy it with light appetizers.

Valentín Bianchi – Malbec – 2010 Valentin Malbec

This winery is a 3rd generation, family owned winery originating in 1928.  It is notorious throughout Argentina for producing outstanding wines.  This grape also comes from Mendoza, which is located in the Eastern foothills of the Andes Mountain and San Rafael in the Southern part. Malbec originated in France and is one of the six blending grapes used in Bordeaux.  It is grown in regions other than Bordeaux, France, but with only a few exceptions is always blended in France.  Contrarily in Argentina, it stands alone and is their most famous grape to date.  It is a thin-skinned grape that requires more heat and sun than many other reds do in order to ripen properly.  Malbecs are usually an inky red or violet intense wine and pair well with food since they inhabit a big bold nature.

Valentín Bianchi is all estate grown coming from the Doña Elsa Estate in Ram Caída, San Rafael, Mendoza at 750 meters above sea level with sandy calcareous soil of alluvial origins.  The grapes were handpicked and fermented with the skins.  The juice was drained, pressed and went through auto clarifying racks and then spent 6 months in French and American Oak barrels.  The end product has a deep purple color with aromas of ripe plums, cherries, hints of vanilla and coffee.  The flavors simulate the aromas with a powerful yet elegant mouth feel followed by a long finish.  This wine has endless options for pairing, but make sure its something with a lot of flavor (think rich meats and cheeses).