If my Lottery Picks were as prescient as my wine picks!

If my Lottery Picks were as prescient as my wine picks I’d be writing this from one of my homes overlooking a pristine beach.

What started my wistful thinking was the news in my inbox with the results of an interesting data analysis.  A Pinot producer that was one of my early “bets” turned out to be the top-rated Pinot Producer on CellarTracker, the world’s most extensive database of wine tasting notes and ratings from wine collectors around the globe.

Go ahead, guess who it was in the top spot… Kosta Browne?  Sea Smoke?  Kistler??  Peter Michael???  Au Bon Climat???  All good guesses.  But all would be wrong.

The top spot went to “Sojourn Cellars”.  

When I first discovered their wine, six years ago, I knew they had something special going on.  Owner Craig Haserot stood in my kitchen and poured six of their wines for me, and I selected their 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot for my “Pinot Selections” Wine Club.  Despite their relaxation-inspired logo, they had just burst onto the wine scene with great gusto, and if you’ve ever met Craig you know that’s the only way he approaches everything in life. If you squint a little bit and employ just a modicum of imagination, his size and demeanor might remind you of another Sonoma pioneer whose surname started with “H” – one A. Harazthy.

A. Harazthy, early CA Wine PioneerCraig Haserot, contemporary CA wine pioneer!

According to the data analysis of Cellar Tracker, Sojourn Cellars out-ranked all of the prestigious producers listed above.  And their favorable reviews are not limited to the online pinotphile, they’ve caught the attention of professional critics as well, rarely scoring less than 90 points from the likes of Wine Spectator, Pinot Report, Wine Advocate, et al.  

I’m proud to have supported them in their early days, and to have introduced them to you, my friends.  Congratulations to Craig Haserot and Erich Bradley.

(Note: I currently have a very small quantity of one Sojourn Cellars Pinot in stock.  I recommend it highly. The 2012 Russian River pinot from Wohler Vineyard ($48)

Why is this man smiling?  Good times are about to happen...
Why is this man smiling? Good times are close at hand…




Review of Dave the Wine Merchant’s “Pinot Selections” Wine Club

Some time ago, I came across a new site dedicated to reviewing wine clubs.  But all of the reviews I saw were for huge clubs, the big industrial sort that buy unknown wine for $50 a case and sell it for $12 a bottle (a very enjoyable 188% markup, if you’re counting).  So I wanted to see if they’d review a small personal club like we run.  They were more than happy to, as long as we sent them the samples.  Whatch what they had to say:


For more information on all of our wine clubs, click here.

 Cheers!  Dave the Wine Merchant


Featured Wines


Jean Milan Champagne Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blanc Grand Reserve “1864”, $89.99


Luxe, for sure. The very definition of a fine Champagne experience. Not to be confused with the lesser Jean Milan BdB (which is still delish, just not as special). Look for the special “1864” bottle (left).



Badel 2015 Grande Vignes “Intuition” St-Joseph, $47.99

From a reclaimed Roman vineyard (the coin on the label is one of many artifacts found when planting the vineyard), planted to Syrah with traces of Viognier vines – the classic combination in St. Joseph. Organically farmed. Unfined, unfiltered.

Top Wines – Wine Club Members Speak Out

Favorites from this week's wine club member tasting

This week we had a good turn out for our SF tasting, though we missed some of our regular attendees.  None of those in attendance were from our Pinot Selections club, and as a result I think the appreciation of this noble grape may have slipped a bit from past tastings.  That said, the affordable Banshee ($25) held its own.

We tasted through all 11 of the wines selected for my various wine clubs, and attendees had an opportunity to place an order that night and save 10%.  Here were the favorites:

  • Trinitas, 2008 Meritage, Oak Knoll AVA $55. A blend of four of the five classic Bordeaux varietals (all but Petite Verdot), led by Cabernet.  Trinitas Cellars just celebrated the grand opening of their new hospitality facility, which features a tasting room bored into the hillside where guests taste in a cave-like environment complete with a babbling brook (and free of bats, I presume, though I was sadly unable to attend the opening soiree to see for myself!)

  • Trinitas, 2009 Mysterium (Red Blend), $25.  A complex amalgam of five red grapes, led by Zinfandel and Carignane, this is fruity and spicy and full of yum, for those that enjoy wines that feature more fruit than earth.  Very California.  Very flirtatious.  Just nosed into second place by a bottle or two.

  • Diatom, 2011 Chardonnay “Hamon”, $42.  This is a big wine, from Winemaker Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton fame.  At 16.3% alcohol, it’s a white wine that’s definitely packin’ some heat, particularly on the finish.  But the wine is also big and complex and interesting enough to show more balance than I’ve ever seen in a wine over 15%.
  • Domaine Fontanel, 2010 Cotes Catalanes (Grenache/Syrah 70/30), $16.  This wine was voted the best value of the lot, for its relatively modest price tag and its less-than-modest demeanor, which is just an overly-wrought way of saying this is a lot of wine for the money.  From the Languedoc region in Southern France, you can almost smell the lavendar and dried sage brush and herbs next to the fruit and spice.  Nice stuff.

I thank all the Bay Area members and customer who could attend.  We’ll postpone this summer’s club shipment until after the heat has passed, but we’ll still be holding a summer tasting event – sign up on our email list or join Dave the Wine Merchant on Facebook to learn  the details.  Hint – it will feature six (at least) great summer wines from different parts of the word, allowing you to understand typical styles and determine your favorite.  A fun evening is assured, even if we have to pretend it’s a hot summer day in foggy San Francisco.



Recipe : Roasted Pork Belly on Kale Salad

Dave the Wine Merchant - Roasted Pork Belly on Kale Salad with aromatic white wines
14 people. 6lbs of pork belly. Gone in 60 minutes!

This recipe is a bit time consuming but well worth it!

I first tasted this dish at the Anderson Valley Alsace festival (now known as “White Wine Weekend”). It was prepared by Beau MacMillan, the Executive Chef at Arizona’s Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa.  I’ve adjusted some of the ingredients and procedures to make the recipe a little more home-friendly, for those of us who don’t benefit from a team of prep cooks. 

Pork belly is generally available through most good butchers these days, but you may want to call ahead just to be sure.

The preparation begins with the rub applied to the meat, which remains on for a brief 2 hours before the meat is seared and then slow-roasted.  The recipe is broken into three sections – one for the meat, one for the dressing, and one for the salad (photo, left).

Wine Pairing

Pair this with a rich and aromatic white wine or a good dry to off-dry rosé.  Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, unoaked/lightly oaked Chardonnay or Riesling would be among my top picks.  Rosé fans will like the way the wine plays off the sweet-tart nature of the ingredients, and how the fruit complements the pork.

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients – Pork Belly

  • 1-2 lb. Pork Belly (ask your butcher to remove the thin, tough skin on top of the fat)
  • ~1 Cup Salt
  • ~1.5 Cups Sugar (I use a mix of brown and baking sugar)
  • Zest from one orange, one lemon, and one lime
  • 2 Sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped from stems and chopped

Combine all ingredients, place half in a non-reactive pan, place pork top, meat-side up, and massage the remaining  rub into the top and sides.  Cure pork belly for ~2 hours. About 20 minutes before it’s done curing, pre-heat your oven to 475F.  Rinse the rub off the meat and place in a roasting pan, fat-side up.  Roast at 475F for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 250F and cook for another 30+ minutes – checking every five minutes after that, removing it from the oven when much of the fat is rendered and the meat is done but still a bit pink.  If the fatty top is not caramelized and bubbly, put it under the broiler for a minute or so – but watch it closely, and don’t take any phone calls from mom.

Ingredients – Soy Sesame Vinaigrette

Yield:  approx. 1 cup                                                                                       

  • 1-2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Ginger, chopped fine
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 Tbsp.   Green onion, chopped fine
  • 1 pinch   Red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup   Rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup   Mirin
  • 1/4 cup   Soy sauce – low-sodium highly recommended
  • 1/4 cup   Brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp.   Cornstarch (dissolved in 1/4 cup water)

Heat a saucepan over medium heat for couple of minutes. Add the oil, wait about 30 seconds, then add the garlic, ginger, green onion and chili flake. Sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds) and then add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer a couple of minutes until thickened.  Strain and cool (alternative – I liked the idea of a wilted salad, and although kale isn’t prone to wilting, I opted to heat the dressing and apply it to the kale salad just before serving.)

Kale Salad Ingredients

  • 1-2 bunches of Kale (1/2 – 1 pound)
  • 1 C Fresh blueberries or golden raisins
  • 1/2 C dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/2 C pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 1/3 C Sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 C Shredded carrots
  • 1 Tbsp Chopped mint

Wash kale, remove and discard stems, then chop.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, dress with the soy-sesame vinaigrette (hot, if you so choose) toss lightly and season with salt to taste.  Serve family style on a large platter, or on individual salad plates.  Top with pork belly cut into 1-inch slices.

Recipe originally from Beau MacMillan, Executive Chef.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa
5700 E. McDonald Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ  85253
480.607.2302| Main

“#1 Resort in the United States” – Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards
“#1 Resor in Arizona” – Travel + Leisure 500 Best Hotels in the World for 2012


Wine Club Tasting Panel – Results for 2012 Selections

Three of the brave volunteers identifying wine characteristics from a black glass. With no visual cues, even telling white from red is tough!

Though I enjoy the task of selecting wines for our wine club members and online customers, it’s always nice to get their direct feedback.  So on Tuesday night of this past week I hosted 20 of them to participate in this year’s tasting panel.  They dutifully sniffed and sipped more than 30 wines – wines that are likely candidates for next year’s wine club selections.  

The experience was great fun for everyone and very useful for me.  Each tasting panel participant was invited to post their real-time comments to Twitter as a convenient and public way to track their opinions.  See the complete results by searching on @sidewayswines #DTWM next time you’re in Twitter.  

Or just read through the highlights I’ve posted below, beginning with the hands-down favorites I call the “No Brainers”, followed by other wines with sufficient ratings to have earned their way into our rotating portfolio before being parsed into their relevant wine club shipment based on price and varietal.

Dave the Wine Merchant - candidates for 2012 selections

No Brainers!

  1. Drew Family, 2009 Pinot Noir, “Fog Eater” $44.  The top vote-getter of the night.
  2. Mary Elke, 2009 Pinot Noir “Boonville Barter”, $17.  “Tremendous value”
  3. Violet-Green, 2006 Bordeaux Blend “Ultra-Violet”, Alder Springs Vyrd.  $26 (now a December selection for the “Collectible Selections” members – join here)
  4. Phillips Hill, 2009 Pinot Noir, Wiley Vineyard.  $39
Secondary Selections
  1. Scarpetta, 2010 Pinot Grigio, $19.  “Perfect for a ‘Deck Vacation” on a hot summer evening”
  2. Kynsi, 2007 Syrah, Edna Valley,  $28.
  3. Obsidian Ridge, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Hills, $31.
  4. Violet-Green, 2006 Cabernet Franc, Alder Springs Vyrd.  $29.
  5. Kynsi, 2008 Pinot Noir, Edna Valley, $32.
  6. B. Kosuge, 2009 Pinot Noir, Manchester Ridge Vyrd, $44
  7. Lacuna, 2010 Syrah/Petite Sirah, $28 (A December selection for the “Red-Only Collectible Selections” members – join here).  “Needs time, but a serious wine”
  8. 3rd Ave, 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino, $15.  “Great Value!”
There were a number of other “Fence Sitters” that may be called into duty, as they tended to be divisive wines with no consensus that drove intense opinions on both sides – exactly the type of interesting wines I like to throw into the mix!  
I thank all participants in this most successful event – both the tasting panel and those who submitted their wines for consideration.  So, until next year…
Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

June, 2010 “Pinot Selections” – Wine notes

Increasing connectivity.  The richness of online media.  And your positive feedback.  All indicate it’s time to begin an electronic archive of my wine club notes.   Club members can now access my wine notes and recipes to answer your most frequently emailed questions, such as:

Q: “What’s the deal with that wine you featured in our club months ago?  We hid it under our bed and forgot about it.  Now we need to know what it cost, what to serve it with, and how to get more of it!”

A: Easy.  From my homepage (www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com), click the “Blog” link and select the category “wine”.  Then use the search box (look!  I’ts hanging out up there in the top left corner right now!) to find the wine you’re after.   Just type the vintage and the producer and you should find what you’re after (ex. “2006 Arcadian”).

Q: “I keep a notebook with all your notes and recipes from each shipment, but I can’t find the ones that go with (this wine). Before I pull the cork, what should I pair with it?  Is there an easy recipe for it?”

A: Another easy one!  From my homepage, click the “Recipe” link and use the search box to find my recommended pairing.

Q: I just found these great _(insert seasonal ingredient here!) at the farmer’s market!  What can I make with them and what wine should I pair with it?

A: Same as above – go to my recipe blog and use the search box to type in your ingredient, or the season, or just about anything you can think of.  Go ahead – give it a try!

Do you like this new format?  Hate it??  I look forward to your comments, below!



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My Two Pinot Selections

June, 2010 (Summary Listing)

  1. Staete Landt, 2007 Pinot Noir, New Zealand (Marlborough).  $32 (member price starts at $28.80) (Buy it/Rate it Here)
  2. Adelsheim, 2007 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley. $31 (member price starts at $27.90)  (Buy it/Rate it Here)

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My First Pinot Selection

for June, 2010 (Join Here)

Staete Landt, 2007 Pinot Noir, New Zealand (Marlborough)

Buy it/Rate it Here $32 (member price starts at $28.80)

Classic New Zealand pinot noir – strawberries, ripe black cherries, violets and earthy complexity!

When the Dutch Sea Captain Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand in 1642, he named it “Staete Landt”, which roughly means “Land discovered in honor of the Dutch Republic”. Today the name lends itself very nicely to this winery, founded and run by Netherland natives (and spouses) Ruud Maasdam and Dorien Vermaas.

I met Dorien at a large tasting, where her wines were among my favorites. I’ve brought two of their wines into my portfolio – their Sauvignon Blanc and their Pinot Noir – both of which were found to be classic examples of the New Zealand style and terroir.

If there was one way for me to describe this winery, I would have to say they are fanatics. Every element of winegrowing is considered, and the process selected depends entirely upon what is best for that particular combination of terroir, root stock, clone, the vintage conditions, and the separate picking. Each plot is harvested separately, then treated separately, from the yeast selection, to the de-stemming/crushing/pressing decisions, to the barrel/tank/cask selection… the number of decisions involved in the production of each wine are truly amazing, and frankly, I don’t know how these wines can be priced as low as they are!

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes
This Pinot Noir beautifully expresses the terroir of the clay-layered soils in the Staete Landt vineyard. It is elegant and multi-layered, complex with powerful, spicy, and fruit-driven tannins. Aromas of strawberries and ripe black cherries with violets and earthy complexity.

On the palate this is a full-bodied Pinot Noir with elegant tannins and a lingering spicy finish of cloves, bay leaves and game. This wine will repay cellaring for three to five years.

Buy it/Rate it Here$32 (member price starts at $28.80)

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My Final Pinot Selection

for June, 2010 (Join Here)

Adelsheim, 2007 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Buy it/Rate it Here $31 (member price starts at $27.90)

One of Oregon’s Best Pinots” ~ Wine Spectator

I am an unabashed fan of great pinot from Oregon.  But you see, that’s the problem, many of them fail to attain such heights.  And those that do tend to run into the $50 neighborhood.  But this wine provides luscious pinot pleasure at an amazingly affordable price.  I advise members of my sampler program to pop the cork tonight and if you like it, to check back soon – I don’t anticipate my inventory will last long!

Winery Comments – Our objective with this Pinot noir is to produce a classic, intense, and elegant wine that pairs well with the foods we like to eat. By blending the diverse flavors and textures of multiple vineyards, clones and elevations, we produce a rich, supple and focused wine that typifies what Pinot noir can achieve in the northern Willamette Valley.”

Tasting Notes – This was the first and the last wine I tasted during a recent tasting.  I marked it so highly the first time, I had to go back and check again to see whether I like it after tasting a roomful of other selections.  I did.  Look for aromas of black and red fruits (black cherries and raspberries, specifically), a touch of sweet pie spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice) and very subtle traces of black pepper.  The tannins are still firm, softening with each month it lies in wait for an unsuspecting cork screw.

Food Pairing – Hey, it’s pinot!  Pinot goes with everything, right?  Well, almost, but this wine’s modest 12.8% alcohol and friendly

Drinking well now, will improve for years.  The winemaker tells me he expects this wine to peak between 2015 and 2019, based on how it tastes now relative to past Adelsheim wines he’s traced through the years.  Optimal storage temperature is 55-60° F, and optimal serving temperature 60 – 65° F (about 30 – 45 minutes in the fridge will suffice if you’re lacking a cellar of your own).

The Adelsheim, 2007 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Buy it/Rate it Here $31 (member price starts at $27.90)

Many a Slip Twixt the Cup and the Lip…

Because when the wine merchant weighs 80 pounds less than the wine on the hand truck, the wine wins…

Fortunately, we lost only six of the 84 bottles that fell.  But as I watched the wine trickle down the storm drain, before I had the guts to assess the damage, I thought one of this month’s wine clubs might be postponed until I could get the funds for more wine!

Thank God for narrow escapes.  Club members can now count on successful delivery of their wine next week!


Wine Sales Continue Expanding!

Whew!  Some good news arrived over the weekend, in the form of a report stating U.S. wine consumption eked out another increase again in 2009, continuing our hitting streak into its sixteenth straight year.  If my memory serves correctly, this is the first time such sustained growth has occurred in our 233 year history as a nation.  So why was last year so painful for so many of us in the wine industry?

So before we break out the party hats and pop corks on bottles of bubbly, let’s put these findings in perspective. Here are some highlights from this weekend’s report:

— 2009 marked the 16th straight year of growth in wine sales, up 0.6% over 2008.

— Wine sales have shifted from on-premise (restaurant) to retail stores (especially grocery stores) as consumers increasingly choose to dine in, but still want wine.

Consumers are buying less expensive wine,  which will have a long-term effect on the market.  (emphasis is mine)

— Direct sales to consumers at tasting rooms, or through wine clubs and the Internet, are gaining in popularity.  (emphasis is mine)

First, let me calm the fears of anyone who might think America is becoming a nation of drunkards.  The average American adult consumes less than one case of wine every year – that’s less than a bottle of wine per month, for those who appreciate math subtitles.  That puts our population at #18 on the chart of per-capita wine consumption, in case you’re keeping track at home.

And while I’m pleased to hear  that wine drinkers are buying more from wine clubs (like mine!) and online stores (like mine!), my bet is that most wine club purchases are occurring directly from the winery, where club membership recruitment is far more effective than in most retail stores, despite the greater access to quality of the latter distribution channel.

In addition, the less expensive wines that enjoy an inordinate share of the consumption growth (1.1% for this sector vs. 0.6% overall) are the exclusive domain of large physical stores (Grocery, big box stores, discounters, etc.) , since shipping expenses run as much as the cost of the wine.  I believe this trend will develop in two ways.  First, one portion of those drinking less expensive wines will continue to do so for the rest of their drinking days.  But another, probably far smaller group, will find the aromas and flavors of inexpensive wines to be limited and predictable and far too similar.  This is the group that will grow into upscale wine drinkers in years to come.

Now, how do I get hold of those folks, begin a conversation, and stay in business until they see the light???  hmmmm.

Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
“WINE, n. Fermented grape-juice.  Known to the Women’s Christian Union as “liquor,” sometimes as “rum.” Wine, madam, is God’s next best gift to man.”
~ Ambrose Bierce, American Wag, Writer, and Journalist (1842-1914)

Mah Jong Wines – Sojourn Cellars, Molnar Family

I received a great email from friend and customer Seth Pariser, this morning, and thought I’d share it with you.  Not only does he give reviews of two wines from  past club shipments, but also a most helpful tip on how to cheat at Mah Jong.  Thanks Seth!

Cheers, Dave


Hi Dave,

Last night my wife Dani had her Mah Jong group of ladies over and nearly opened my newly purchased 2006 Kosta Browne Gary’s Vineyard SLH Pinot for them. Thank god I got home when I did to stop her and to explain they were not KB worthy as lovely as they were. Instead though, I opened up two bottles: 2006 Molnar Family Poseidon’s Vineyard, Carneros and the 2007 Sojourn’s Sonoma Coast.

They may not have been Kosta Browne’s, but they were very intriguing wines all on their own worthy of enjoying.

Molnar Family Label I popped the Molnar and I got a little heat initially but crisp fruit quickly opened up on the mid palate and some nice spices on the back. I even detected a touch of some barnyard funk. This was a fusion of Burgundy meeting Northern California. A very good mah jong wine. Although I did not play, I was governing the wine pours to make sure our guests were enjoying themselves.

Sonoma Coast LabelThen came the Sojourn. That’s when the game turned in my wife’s favor. This one was like drinking silk velvet from Lyon, France. Pure smooth delivery. The nose gave a little forest floor but an opulent delivery of bright raspberries mixed with subtle acidity exploded in my mouth that sang in perfect tune and harmony together.

This was the one that took their minds off of their games (except for my wife who remained focused). This was a perfect hustling wine for home court advantage. We were a great team together.

Thanks again for the wonderful selection of choices.

Seth Pariser

Note, I am not a fan of Kosta Browne – a pinot on steroids. Not all grape varietals were born to be body builders, though many enjoy that style. In fact, this week’s news indicates that MANY people disagree with my tasting notes on Kosta Browne – they just reported selling the winery to the Vincraft Group for $40 million.  That sales figure is many times the amount of successful, comparably sized wineries, so their wine style must appeal to a lot of people other than me.  But I say, try both styles and  Viva la difference!

Dave the Wine merchant