Single Vineyard Wines; Clarified (Exposed)

California Pinot NoirWhen at a tasting room, you might overhear the good people generously pouring your California Pinot Noir expounding that what you have in your glass is the “Holy Grail” of the varietal; a “Single Vineyard” (or SV) wine. There is a contingency of Pinot enthusiasts that prefer only SV Pinots.

We’ll dig a little deeper into what an SV is and shed a little light from the depths of the cellar, if you will.

With SV, the illusion that comes to mind is of purity and simplicity in the lack of blending; the exact replication of each vine and grape, and that grape being from that single vineyard.  You are probably imagining all the grapes coming from the same row, all the leaves lining up facing the sun together. That angels actually hand pick the grapes, and by prolonged consumption of these SV gems, you only become better looking. (I tried, but it obviously didn’t work for me).

The winemaker might say “estate grown SV” on the label, when in reality the “estate” might be a plane ride’s distance between parcels and might be planted with a completely different  varietal.

The TTB** regulations cite that a 95% minimum sourcing is to be from the vineyard so designated on the SV label. This allows the winemaker  an exorbitant latitude to blend with grapes from a completely different source or even completely different varietals (the type of wine grape), all without saying so on the label. That 5% seems to be a whole lot of potential voodoo that could interfere with a wine that before, was so virtuous. But you say “come on its only 5%”. Try pouring 5% of Petit Verdot in your glass and see if you taste anything different.  Of course this is extreme, but…

The “Golden Holy Grail” lookith to show o’ bit of “pewter” beneath.

… this is not a bad thing. As long as the winery stands behind that they are using 100% Pinot grapes, a little blending has proven to be “Holy” beneficial, while tossing out the Grail. Some of the best winemakers in the world have worked for decades to refine the art of blending different “clones” (in French meaning “graphing twig”) to increase the complexity, caricature, nose and so on.

Let’s keep in mind that even though, in the best of circumstances, the SV grapes that are taken from the same vineyard can come from different levels on the slope, row orientation, different drainages, soil types, exposure to the sun, micro climate conditions, etc. So what you end up with is different tasting grapes, and many times different clones besides, just to adapt to the diversity in the vine locales on the plot.

The words that come to mind are “self induced homogenization”. But if the winemaker limits his or herself to small lots (blocks), then this could be a close representation of American “terrior”, as I have defined before as ‘its sense of place’ -encompasses both the exact location and the soil.”

In closing, there is a movement to have TTB change the ruling on SV to limit the wineries to 100% Single Vineyard wine production if the winemaker/winery states SV on the label, because some of the purists felt a bit jilted when they became aware of this little known fact about the 5%.

For me, as long as I know what is in the bottle I’m drinking, then blend away; just make sure I am able to “become aware – of what is there.”

Patrick Hurley is a wine merchant and has a varietal specific Pinot Noir website



**Alcohol & Tobacco. Tax & Trade Bureau


by Patrick Hurley

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Wine During The Fall | Pick Your Perfect California Pinot

As summer is coming to an end and fall is fast approaching, what better way to pair your next warm and hearty meal than with a delicious California Pinot Noir. Coupling wine with your meal can add depth to the flavors, giving your taste buds and entirely new experience.

California Pinot Noirs are the perfect match for this season’s food. From blueberries and black berries to carrots, beets, tomatoes, and artichokes, you’re bound to always have the perfect food for your wine. Pinot Noirs make an excellent dinner wine and can easily be paired with a variety of foods.


As we mentioned earlier California Pinot Noirs are the perfect wine for fall fruits. With apples under a thin slice of light cheese as an appetizer, blackber
ries, blueberries, figs, plums, pears, and so much more readily available at your local super market, you won’t be able to think of an excuse not to drink some wine.


Unless you want to spend an absurd amount of money on artichokes, pumpkins, or squash you only have a limited amount of time to eat these seasonal vegetables. Pair these seasonal vegetables with a Pinot Noir to bring the richness and sweetness of these seasonal vegetables. Other vegetables that go well with Pinot Noir and are currently in their seasonal prime are bell peppers, carrots, onions, green beans, and broccoli, and try something intriguing like pan sheared whole beets.


Wine and cheese, cheese and wine…This inevitable pairing, although not seasonal, is a terrific snack for parties or even just a relaxing night in. Pinot Noir can be served with a variety of cheeses (Cheddar, Camembert, Swiss, etc.) and is a great go-to appetizer for any occasion.


Pinot Noir can be paired with a vast variety of meats. The best lean meats to pair with Pinot Noirs are chicken, turkey, veal, and Cornish hens, but don’t forget fish like Salmon and even Tuna Sashimi . Duck makes a sublime partner with a great California Pinot Noir, and if you’re in the mood for smoked or barbecued meet, pair your Pinot Noir with heartier meats like beef brisket, lamb, and pork.

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Burgundy vs. Pinot Noir; Differences and Similarities Between

There are many die-hard Pinot Noir enthusiasts that will swear the two are the same wines, just grown in different locals. My purpose of this article is let the reader prove or disprove (or thoroughly confuse) for themselves this idea with the following facts and hyperbole.

It is true that French Burgundy and Californian Pinot Noir grapevines (and everywhere else in the world for that matter) are so intermixed with the cross graphing and cloning that has been going on for decades- that for the most part, they are so interconnected as to be from the same (clones) plants, ok?  I’m glad I got that part out of the way! But from here on it starts to get a little bit more fuzzy.

We know that Burgundies (Burgundies are both White Chardonnay and Red Pinot Noir grapes, but we will discuss only the Pinot here) are produced in a very localized section of France, from just south of Dijon and to the northwest of Lyon. The wine-growing section of this area in the heart of Burgundy is only 40 kilometres (25 mi) long, and in most places less than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) wide. The famous Côte d’Or areas are just south of Dijon and are where 95% of the top Grand Cru’s vineyards originate from. In a simplistic description of classes or appellations , they are: Grand Cru (the top grade and usually located on the highest sections of the vineyard due to the best soil conditions for the vines and drainage, 1.4% of the total Burgundy produced), Premier Cru (next in line as per grade and usually mid-way up the vineyard slope, 11% of total), then Village (located on the lowest section of the slope or valley, 35.6% of total) then regional appellations (these relate to the many other appellations [over 100] and other types of wines from the larger area, 52% of total). Instead of the region being the appellation name, the “individual vineyard” is, and is listed on the wine bottle predominately; i.e. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, or Domaine Leflaive.

The much talked about terroir, which is interpreted as “its sense of place” encompasses both the exact location and the soil. Both of these are thought to be very unique in Burgundy France, so much so that the Benedictine Monks spent decades charting the different soil types that create “wines of a specific character” in the area; to the tune of a mind boggling 400 distinct soil classifications, and more than 120 appellations! A map maker’s nightmare I’m sure, but there are differences staked out from large plots to those the size of a postage stamp, literally a few grapevines on a row, and these are split up many times over with ownerships- families that have owned these plots for centuries. Many of the family wineries have been making their wines in the same, or close to the same way for generations. Thus the word “tradition” that comes to play here and is a key part of Burgundy: the area and the wine.

We already know that Pinot Noir is the most difficult wine to produce in the world – no matter what part of the world it grows in. But true Burgundy is grown in Burgundy and only in Burgundy. Say you lived in France and you found a location 300 miles from Burgundy and you wanted to grow your Pinot Noir and call it Burgundy; well it’s not going to happen-it won’t be allowed to happen in France. That, thank God, is not the case in the rest of the world. You can grow a Pinot Noir wherever you want, you just can’t call it Burgundy.

What about the many vineyards and their wineries in (we’ll just stick to California because of the familiarity of soil types) similar climatic growing conditions as Burgundy; cool nights, teased with some fog, warm afternoons, semi tortured limestone or Mari soil, etc; the partial recipe for a quality Pinot Noir, oui? This has been debated constantly as to the ability of duplication.

Enter the winemaker. Arguably (notice I capitalized Arguably), a quality Pinot Noir consists of 50% growing the grape up to the delivery to the winery and 50% the winemaker’s skills, nuances and fortitude. When I have sampled a wine that is touted to be “Burgundian in style” what the winemaker is trying to instill is that it is not a high alcohol heavy fruit bomb, less Sirah-like with more subtle complexities. For the most part “Old World” Burgundies are lower in alcohol than their brethren a few thousand miles to the west (12-14.2%) and not quite as bold compared with New World flavors, which are becoming more favored by many of the critics in the US….but then again, ….not always.

French Burgundy is known for predominate earth and mineral notes and is a bit less fruit forward than most California Pinots….but then….I have quite a few California and Oregon Pinots in my cellar that are mineral forward and have lower than the average  alcohol content within them; very complex with high acid levels that take an exorbitant amount of “cellaring” to come to their peak drinkability. Very much the mantra of the winemakers in Burgundy.

Through the years many, many documented blind and semi blind tastings (this is where the wines were listed but covered when poured) have been performed to allow the patrons to come up with their own ideas of what tasted better, who could find the nuances in that particular wine over the others and “where were they from”. You could probably guess that the results have been all over the place, and even the experts have been hoodwinked into claiming without a doubt where this or that particular wine came from, only to be woefully incorrect.

So it really isn’t fair. There is a whole lot of earth out there and some extremely smart, eccentric and gifted growers and winemakers that will come up with amazing Pinots that will stand up to any wines on this earth, period!  There can be similarities….but…..

Usually this conversation with Pinot lovers finds its way around to the cost or prices of Burgundies. Are they expensive? Are you kidding me, Hell yes! Back to tradition again, with very limited quantities, some “Domains” or Burgundy wineries (the word Chateau is usually associated with the wineries in Bordeaux)  going back hundreds of years with a loyal if not very elite fanatical customer base. It can be a challenge to order from the menu and get a fine Grand Cru Burgundy without making sure you’ve already covered your mortgage payment that month! But what amazes most wine lovers is the long waiting lists just to become a member for some of the elite Grand Cru’s. I have sampled quite a few Premier Cru’s and have been extremely happy with many of them, but like any wine, you have to do the homework or find a reputable restaurant that specializes in French wines. One thing that you will find is that one year’s golden goose is another year’s lesser duckling and still can be priced like the former; Grand or Premier Cru .  We have found that there is more consistency year to year within places in the world that get their more stable influences from the ocean, places like Central Coast California.

So in summary, it is great to be a nose in the air Pinot Enthusiast, and you might just have the most spectacular Pinot Noir collection from the Americas sitting in your cellar. But do delve into the exotic, if not confusing regal realm of where this great wine originally came from, and maybe taste a bit of the terroir of Bourgogne.

Winegrower Blair Pethel so elegantly put these final thoughts of terroir into words;

Burgundy wines hold a unique place in the world. There is no other wine-making region where the grape variety serves simply as the vehicle for the most important element in the bottle: Burgundy’s land, or terroir. Thus, when you open a bottle of Burgundy, you don’t drink a chardonnay or a pinot noir; you drink a specific place, with its topsoil, subsoil, weather, sunshine, geographical orientation.
It’s the winegrower’s job — my job — to assure that all my wines respect and represent their birthplace, in order to give the consumer the impression of being there: in the vines, with the sun on his shoulders. After all, in Burgundy the grape is simply the blank canvas on which the soil paints its colours.*

*quote taken courtesy of Blair Pethel’s website

Patrick Hurley is a wine merchant and has a varietal specific Pinot Noir website


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To Decant or Not to Decant, That is the Question

Ok, you’re excited about going wine tasting in one of the hundreds of quality wineries in California. You arrive and you’re ready to sample some fine Pinot Noir or Cabs, but you are rather surprised to find that they’re pouring wines “2 years new”.

What’s this, you ask? You didn’t just fall off the vine! What happened to the “I will not touch wine before it’s time” mantra? You can blame it on the banks, tight small business loans these days, or the need for the wineries to produce more than just “fruit produce” – cash flow that is. It does cost a small fortune to efficiently run a winery, so you can’t put all the blame on them for the fact that wineries and their marketing gurus are releasing their wines too early. But there are ways that you can rectify these oversights.

But first, let’s reflect a moment and talk about the wines. When I finally acquired a taste for good wines, it was like really looking at a diamond in all its fiery perfection for the first time and understanding it’s much more than overpriced bling a person would size you up by.  What a good bottle of wine can do is just as inspiring, in that it brings out the subtle flavors of your favorite dishes while enhancing the wine at the same time. You start to pick out the “other flavors”; the nuances that make a real difference between an everyday table wine and a really good wine. There is a knack to choosing the right wine to complement your entree. I won’t get into the high and low acid/tannin levels here, but it’s fun stuff you should maybe research.

Now, let’s get back to the young wine dilemma. Let’s say you had a blast diligently tasting and selecting what you and your friends think where home-run wines at the wineries and you’re lugging back a couple cases, cringing when you  realize just how much all of this just cost you. All the while the good people at the wineries were telling you that you really ought to “lay these bad boys down” for a couple more years. Right- hurry up and wait for 2 years? This could be done if you are lucky enough to have a cooled cellar or wine refrigerator (which I adamantly recommend). If you don’t, you should find a place that represents the coolest and darkest part of your house.

But still, waiting a couple years? The thought of just “checking in on your new babies” for this duration is going to drive you to drinking poor quality wines – and we can’t have any of that! There is a way to speed up the process of aging a bottle of wine; to soften the harsh tannins and smooth a wine more toward its potential: decant! The second you open a bottle of wine, you start the process of oxidization. We can accelerate the process by simply pouring the wine into a wide glass decanter. By exposing the young wine to an abundant amount of oxygen, you are speeding up the natural process and aging it right there. It is debated that one hour in a decanter equals one year of cellaring, two hours equals two years. Be careful not to let it stand for too long, as you could actually over-age your wine. If you are lucky to have a wine that has aged to its best potential already, then decant and pour right away. Remember not to use a decanter or “wine venturi” on old or peaked wines, as this will actually make them go flat.

Now after you pour from the decanter, swirling your wine in your glass will expose it to even more oxidation principles and let loose the vapors or “nose” in the process. A decanter not only helps unleash the hounds, but it is an outstanding presentation for your wine. Nothing is more enticing than the anticipation of watching a fine wine being poured into a beautiful hour glass shaped decanter. By the way, you can find many shapes and style decanters in any wine shop.

So there you go, a way of cheating the waiting game.

Patrick Hurley is a Wine Wholesaler and is president of the Pinot Noir Specific website “”

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How To Select the Proper Wine Online For The Occasion


When buying wine online you can enjoy the benefits of special, exclusive prices and the comfort of purchasing wine from the leisure of your home. Of course, while you’re enjoying the luxury of browsing through fabulous wine choices, it’s important to be aware of a few things when shopping for wine online. Here are a few tips:Wine-Making

Know Who You’re Buying From

Does the winery you’re purchasing from have a long history of wine-making? Are there any reviews written online from past customers? If so, do a bit of research to find out about the winery. This way you’ll be able to determine the caliber of their wine based off of their experience with wine-making and the recommendations of other customers. From there you’ll also be able to see if there is a specific variety that is a customer favorite, or if there’s a recommendation for first-time customers.

Knowing the history of the winery you’re buying from will also help you avoid settling for so-so wine, as wineries with acclaimed, reputable histories are more likely to produce top-quality wine.

Buy A Case…Or Two!

Rather than buying a single bottle, buying a case will often save you money since most wineries offer a discount when you buy in bulk online. This is a great idea if you’re selecting wine online for a party or a special occasion. Having friends over for dinner and wine? Buy a case that will last a whole night and save you time and money. That way you can relax and mingle, rather than have to worry about running out of drinks and having to make a late-night run.

Cheap Wine Does Not Equal Good Wine

Speaking of online specials… As you search the web for the right wine, beware of cheap wine. Often times merchants will lower prices in hopes of attracting customers scouting out a good deal, yet that wine you buy at a steal may not live up to your expectations. Tread with caution – this is why it’s imperative to do your research before buying wine online. While a great deal can quite possibly also be a delicious wine purchase, make sure you read other customer reviews of the particular discounted wine you’re eyeing. The few minutes it takes to quickly Google search a Cabernet or Riesling on sale can make a significant difference and help ensure that you’re getting the wine best fit for you.

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