Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


I hate to sound like a broken record, but there is just something about the wines of France that have kept me spellbound for years. With almost every new producer, new region, or new grape I encounter, it’s like experiencing a great work of art for the first time. Each bottle is the result of hundreds if not thousands of years of agricultural work and knowledge combined with the labor of a winemaker, or often several generations of winemakers from the same family.

It’s that generational approach to winemaking that we’re celebrating with this month’s wines. As you enjoy them, keep in mind that these aren’t just examples of their respective vintages, but the result of one man’s decision hundreds of years ago to plant a vine and see what happened. In that way, you’re not only drinking history but one man and one family’s legacy.

2016 Daniel Chotard Sancerre

Though his family had been farming grapes and making wine in Sancerre for 200 years, the family profession didn’t always appeal to Daniel Chotard. Daniel worked for several years as a high school teacher before fulfilling his winemaking destiny.

Sancerre is generally considered one of the best places in the world to grow Sauvignon Blanc, and in the hands of Daniel, the grapes show a unique character unlike those grown even just down the road. The uniqueness of Daniel’s wines stems from two key steps in the winemaking process: the harvest date and lees aging.

Daniel chooses to harvest his grapes later than most other growers in the region, an action that results in less acidity than one might expect from typical Sancerres. After fermentation, he ages the wine on its lees until bottling, resulting in a rounder feeling on the palate.

The final wine is a softer, more svelte Sauvignon Blanc than you might be expecting. Aromas of white peach, quince, and gooseberry are obvious upon uncorking; on the palate, the flavors skew towards the savory: thyme, anise, chervil, and lime peel.

Most resources will tell you to pair this with salads and shrimp, but I think a wine like this can handle and even deserves a more substantial pairing. Try herb roasted chicken or some herb crusted fish. This is a wine that wants to play with all of the most rarely used options in your spice rack. If all else fails, just grab some crackers and some goat cheese and live your best life.

2012 Château Coutet St. Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux

It’s hard to find a château with a longer winemaking history than that of Château Coutet, where Roman artifacts are still regularly uncovered during vineyard plowings. The château as we know it today was founded at some point in the 1400’s (even today, no one is quite sure exactly when) by Sir François Coutet. Over the next several centuries, the château changed hands several times before eventually becoming the property of the Beaulieu family for the last 400 years.

Currently, three generations of the family live and work at the château doing everything from managing the vineyards and making the wine to marketing and hosting visitors. The château is also unique in that chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides have never been used on the property at any point in its history, a rarity in Bordeaux where demand for wine has often lead growers to inundate their crops with harmful chemicals. Instead, the Beaulieu fertilize their vineyards the same way they have been for hundreds of years: a team of plow horses that live on the property.

The wine itself, like all red wines from Bordeaux, is a blend. The base of the blend is Merlot (the vines of which are over 100 years old), with Cabernet Franc adding in wonderful floral aromas, Malbec giving the wine its dark color, and a small dose of Cabernet Sauvignon to give the wine its backbone of tannin. The result is classic Bordeaux: red fruits like cherry and raspberry swathed in vanilla, oak, and clove. The wine is soft and almost velvety in texture, yet still broad and soaring on the palate with a tannic structure that obviously has many years left should you choose to age it. Pair this with pork, lamb, or beef. Duck would also be a wonderful option, and if you hunt, I can’t think of anything better to pair with venison.

Want to join Shamrock Selections? There’s still time to subscribe in order to get next month’s selections. Use the link below to subscribe!


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


 

2013 Spann Vineyards Smoke Vineyard Syrah

Spann Vineyards might be familiar to many of you. We’ve carried many of their wines over the years and, when possible, have tastings with Peter Spann, the winery’s owner when time allows. This month’s offering, his 2013 Syrah is typically only available at the winery, but through a little string pulling (and some begging and pleading), we managed to secure a few cases for you all.

Like so many of Peter’s wines, this is actually a blend, in this case of Syrah and Viognier (95/5%) in the style of the great wines from France’s Cote Rotie region of the Rhone river valley. The Viognier, a white wine, here actually adds color and body to the wine. How does a white wine make red wine darker? When the two grapes are fermented together the white grapes pull more color out of the red resulting in more color and flavor extraction.

I recently asked Peter about his propensity for blends, and why he makes them almost exclusively. “We started our winery during the 2001/2002 recession,” he said.  “The dot-com bust happened, followed by the 9-11 attacks and wine consumption dropped dramatically…Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots [were selling] at half price so we decided it would be foolish to make the same wines that the market already had too much of. Betsy and I grew up on French wines, most of which were blends so we simply made the style of wines we knew and enjoyed.”

(you can check out my full interview with Pete here) 

I highly recommend decanting this bottle for several hours. It’ll bring out the wonderful gamey and earthy aromas that make it so special. When I first began drinking this wine, I was overwhelmed by the “rustic” aromas that came to me: desiccated summer grasses and dried earth. Once it had time to open up it showed the most intriguing aromas of smoke, truffle, and ripe blackberry. For being a Californian wine, the fruit here is decidedly subtle, a fact that makes this stand out among Peter’s other wines.

This is an ideal wine for the grill – I feel like I’ve said that about most of the wines we’ve shared with you this summer, but I think there is no better wine that goes with grilled meat better than Syrah.
If, after you try your bottle, you think you’d like some more for aging (and this could easily age a decade), please let us know. We’ll have a few extra bottles that weren’t allocated to Shamrock Selections, but they won’t last long.

2012 Notre Vin Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon

We just couldn’t let summer end without another rosé. This one, like the Spann Syrah, is a limited release that we’re happy to be able to share with you. A rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, this bottling comes entirely from vineyards on Howell Mountain, one of the most prized growing sites in Napa Valley. It’s rare to see fruit from a site of this renowned being used for rose (with many Howell Mountain Cabernet running north of $100/blt, it’s understandable why many winemakers would choose to focus solely on their red offerings). But not Denis ‘Denny’ Malbec.

Denny grew up with wine. His grandfather was the winemaker at Bordeaux’s famous Chateau Latour and his father was the winery’s, Cellar Master. Eventually, after stints in Bordeaux and Champagne, Denny began making wine in northern California. As a shop, we’ve been carrying his wines for quite a while, most notably his Alienor Syrah and the beautiful Alienor Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Unfortunately, Denny passed away in April of 2016, leaving many vintages of unreleased wines. These wines allow Denny’s spirit to stay with us as we enjoy the fruits of his final years of winemaking.

This rosé is unlike almost any other rosé I’ve tried. It’s age and fruit quality give a depth of flavor that is so different from the Provencal style of rosé that most people are used to. Though the wine is completely dry, I immediately picked up the strong candy-like aroma of cotton candy. On the palate, it reminded me of the milk left over from a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal. It’s okay to serve this chilled, but you don’t want it too cold. An ice bath would dull the intense fruit flavors (though we fully support drinking this in the bath…). Pair this with food a little heavier than you otherwise would for rosé. Mushroom risotto or pasta come to mind.

Want to join Shamrock Selections? There’s still time to subscribe in order to get next month’s selections. Use the link below to subscribe!


The truth is that for most people, wine can be pretty confusing. It’s our job, of course, to change that and to show people just how amazing the world of wine can be.

‘Ask a Somm’ is your chance to ask all of the alcohol related questions that you’ve always wondered about. Have a question? Ask it using the form at the bottom of the page. 

What's the actual difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? - Mary P.

Well, the simplest is “there isn’t one,” but let’s dig in a little deeper than that. The words “grigio” and “gris” and Italian and French, respectively, for gray. Naturally, wines from Italy will be labeled with “Grigio,” while those from France as labeled “Gris.” Wines from the U.S. are most often labeled with “Gris,” but this is entirely up to the winemaker or, more often, the winery’s marketing team.

Now, name aside, is there is any difference between the grapes themselves? No. On a genetic level, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same. In fact, Pinot Gris/Grigio is actually a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grapes’ color is determined by a gene called anthocyanin. When this gene is active, it gives the grapes a deep purple color resulting in Pinot Noir. When this gene is dormant, the grapes are colorless and the resulting wine is called Pinot Blanc. Pinot Gris/Grigio comes from an in between coloring in which Pinot Noir skins cover Pinot Blanc grapes, resulting in fruit that isn’t quite white but also into quite red. Hence the name “gray.”

My husband doesn’t drink white wines - only reds. I know you’re not supposed to drink red wines with fish, but we eat salmon at least once a week in our house. Is there any red wine that I can serve that pairs well with fish? - Susan M.

Well, first of all, it’s disappointing that your husband is ruling out so many amazing wines. White wines, when given the chance, can be every bit as good as red wines, and I wish more people would be as adventurous with whites as they were with reds. That being said, I’m a believer that red wine and fish isn’t the ‘no-no’ common practice has lead us to believe. Conventional wisdom tells us that the delicate flavors of fish are too subtle to handle the power of a red wine. I can certainly think of times when this is true (sushi and Napa Cabernet, ugh), but in your case, especially with salmon which is quite flavorful on its own, I think there are a few options that work perfectly.

The first thing to come to mind is Pinot Noir, especially one from France or Oregon. These wines will have enough body to satisfy your husband’s taste without being so robust as to overpower the fish.

My other recommendation is a little less common than Pinot but every bit as good! Have you ever heard of the grape Gamay? Most people’s experience with the grape is from Beaujolais Nouveau, a mass marketed wine that’s released each year just before the Thanksgiving holiday. Though quality varies by producer, most examples of Beaujolais Nouveau aren’t that good, but please don’t let that spoil Gamay for you. Gamay produces a light to medium-bodied red wine that’s high in ripe fruit flavors; think strawberry, raspberry, and plum. It’s one of my favorite reds to drink in the summer largely because of how good it is when chilled. Pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes before you drink it and it becomes the perfect patio red!

I’m someone who doesn’t like to rock the boat...I have my go-to wines both red and white and I don’t venture from them often. This isn’t because I don’t want to try new things. It’s more that I don’t know how to find the wine that comes next. How am I supposed to know what else I might like? - David P.

This is something I see all the time. Trust me, you’re not the only person feeling this way. For a lot of people, wine can be confusing. That’s where people like me come in. It’s literally my job to help customers find a wine that they’ll love. I do this by asking questions and the first question I always ask is ‘what do you like?’ It’s a pretty simple question but knowing what you enjoy is the easiest way for me to pick out something new for you. The second question I like to ask is what you don’t like. Knowing you like Chardonnay is helpful, but knowing you dislike oaky, buttery Chardonnays is even better! Lastly, I’ll always ask how much you’re looking to spend. The worst answer to this question is a non-answer like “not too much” or “a medium price.” Everyone’s budget is different and there’s no harm at all with wanting to spend a specific amount on a bottle. Giving me that information not only helps me choose a better wine. There’s nothing wrong with having a go-to wine, but the beauty of wine is how different every bottle can be. If you’re not exploring even a tiny bit, you’re limiting your palate and your enjoyment in a major way.


Let’s be honest: as much as we’d all like to drink a $100 bottle of wine each night, for most of us, that isn’t an option. So, what’s a wine lover to do?

 

Well, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best wines in our shop – all under $20. Each of these wines represents a great value and have been our favorites for a long time. Now, we want to share them with you! If you see something you like, you can now buy it online and pick it up in store! 

Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Coming it at just under $20, this Alexander Valley Cabernet is a stunner for its price. Lots of plum, blackcurrant, and raspberry flavors give this wine all the body it needs to pair with everything from grilled pork to steak! For those looking for a Napa Cabernet without the Napa price tag, you’ll be hard pressed to look for a better value than this.

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon

South America produces some excellent wines, and just as importantly, those wines are often great values. The Los Vascos Cabernet is bursting with ripe fruit flavors and firm tannins that make it the perfect everyday-drinker. We like pairing it with BBQ, grilled meats, and roasted veggies.

Calera Central Coast Chardonnay

Balance is the name of the game with Chardonnay, and it can be tricky to find a wine at a lower price point that walks the fine like of ripe fruit and oak barrel aging. This Central Coast Chardonnay from Calera does exactly that with ripe apple and lemon flavors and a subtle hint of vanilla and toast flavors from the time it spent in oak.

Juan Gil Silver Label

Wine made from lesser known grapes can also be a great place to look for hidden gems and high-value wines. This Spanish wine is made of 100% Monestrell (known as Mourvedre in France), and we’re in love with its blackberry and violet aroma. It’s perfect for cooking out or enjoying by itself during a night in.

Broadbent Vinho Verde

It’s hard to beat a $8.99 bottle of wine, right? Vinho Verde is a young, slightly spritzy white wine from northern Portugal that’s loaded with citrus flavors and crisp acidity. This has become our go-to wine for warm afternoons in the summer.

Lago Rosé

Yes-way rosé! It’s high rosé season and whether you’ve been drinking pink for yours or have yet to have a sip, this is a rosé full of ripe raspberry and strawberry flavors. It’s perfect for sipping out by the pool with friends. This might just be our wine of the summer!

Check back next week for part 2!


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


I haven’t done any official research on the topic, but I’d be willing to wager that after December, May is the second busiest month of the year. Everyone is graduating or going to events or on their first bit of vacation. With all of that in mind, we wanted to give you some wines that you could slow down and relax with as this month’s Selections.

How many times have Keegan and I told you that we’re always looking for unusual wines and unheard of grapes? Well, this month, in the two blends we’ve collected, there are 7 different grapes used with 6 of them being (to our count) completely new to Shamrock Selections.

So, sit back and relax and enjoy these wines. They’re superstars on their own, but in tandem, as part of a meal, they really shine.

 

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro 2013

Who knew they made wine in Portugal that wasn’t Port? Well, you probably did, but have you actually had any of it? If not, you’re in for a treat.

This month’s wine is an interesting blend of 4 grapes: 59% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 5.5% Tinta Roriz, and 5.5% Tinta Barroca. The blend really hangs its hat on Touriga Nacional (tor-REE-ga na-see-o-NAL). This is the grape most commonly used in Port production, but here it’s presented in a dry style. The result is big, bold wine with lots of grip and tannin. There are lots of violet, date, and plum notes with a strong hint of blueberry pie crust on the finish.

The second most prominent grape in the blend, Touriga Franca, is where this wine gets is ink-like color. This is definitely a wine that will leave your lips a shade or two darker. On its own, Touriga Franca can best be compared to Zinfandel with its dark color and milder tannins. Here it delivers a very strong note of black cherry.

The remaining two grapes are popular blending grapes for Portuguese wines, both dry and fortified. Tinta Roriz is the Portuguese name for the Spanish grape Tempranillo which you got to experience in your January selection.

If you’re like me and you’ve been finding excuses to use your backyard grill, this is the wine for you. It’s big and bold enough to handle almost anything you might want to pair with it, from steak to brats. This wine is cravings a hearty meal and company.

Lightning CDP Blanc 2015

CDP stands for “Chateauneuf du Pape,” a wine-growing region along France’s Rhone river. Châteauneuf du Pape is generally known for its red wines, but they also produce a rich white wine that I absolutely love. This isn’t that. But it’s close and it’s delicious!

This is the same blend that you’d find in France, but produced in Napa Valley. The blend here is 55% Grenache Blanc, 30% Piquepoul Blanc, 15% Marsanne.

Piquepoul Blanc is light-bodied grape common in southern France. In many ways, it’s quite similar to Pinot Gris, but with a more herbal character. For me, it’s the two full-bodied grapes in the blend that make this wine so interesting.

As the name suggests, Grenache Blanc is the white version of the red grape Grenache. Here it adds the wine’s tropical notes; papaya, pineapple, guava. Marsanne, on the other hand, gives the wine its unique texture, a subtle viciousness that makes the wine seem heavier or more mouth-coating than many others.

We recommend serving this wine only slightly chilled as many of its herbal aromas are so light that they’ll be easily hidden by a colder temperature. The high acidity of the wine means that it will pair nicely with most foods. I imagine it going well with salads and fish. The herbal notes in the wine would go especially well with a herb roasted chicken.

As always, we hope you enjoy this month’s wines. We’ve already started hunting for June’s selections and we think we’ve found something you’ll love.

Want to join Shamrock Selections? There’s still time to subscribe in order to get next month’s selections. Use the link below to subscribe!


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


Some months, choosing the wines for Shamrock is one of best parts of our jobs here at O’Looney’s. We get to dig deep into the portfolios of our distributors and find the hidden gems that no one else has found. It’s really fun to imagine your reactions to what we hope will always be a new and, at the very least, interesting bottle of wine.

Unfortunately, April wasn’t one of those months. This time, finding the wines was like pulling teeth. As is common when people discuss things they’re passionate about, some disagreements can arise, and we had a lot of…passionate deliberations about this month’s selections. We didn’t like the idea of a third bottle of Chardonnay in a row. And though we agreed that it would be an interesting selection, we couldn’t find a distributor who carried any of the Listan Blanco wines grown on the Canary Islands. We briefly toyed with a few ideas from Washington state and New Zealand, but we eventually found inspiration in our own recent trip to Napa.

 

2014 Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

As I mentioned in last month’s Shamrock blog, Keegan and I recently spent a week in California drinking all the wine we could find. We’d both tell you that one of the highlights of our trip was our visit to and lunch at Round Pond Estate. Located in the heart of Rutherford, Round Pond is almost in the exact center of Napa Valley.

The Estate has been growing grapes for decades and has long been one of the most sought after producers of fruit on the valley floor, but it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that the MacDonnell family, owners since the 1980’s, decided to start making their own wine.

You may have had “Kith & Kin,” their entry level wine, as it’s one we all try to recommend to clients because of its excellent value, but this is their estate wine (hence the photo of the eponymous round pond on the label). Made entirely of fruit grown right on the winery grounds, this is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot.

While you might think that 12% isn’t much, it’s that small percentage of Petit Verdot (PV) that makes this wine so special. PV originated in southwestern France, near Bordeaux during the time of the ancient Romans. It was planted in Bordeaux long before Cabernet Sauvignon, and up into the mid-1700’s, was a leading grape in most of the region’s wines. Today, PV is most commonly used as a blending grape, with usually less than 10% making its way into the finished product. PV is added to wines for any of three main reasons: to add a deep purple, almost black color, to increase tannins, and to add its uniquely spicy yet floral flavors to the blend.

As you’ll see in your wine this month, the PV is doing all of those things and more. PV is one of most tannic wines in the world, and those tannins, especially when combined with the solid tannins coming from the Cabernet Sauvignon, provide a huge springboard for the wine’s fruit flavors while also creating a solid backbone that will allow this wine to age for years. Don’t worry if you don’t get around to cracking this one open anytime soon. I’d say you’ve got until the early 2030’s before this one even starts to head downhill.

Now, I’ve talked a lot about the PV, but I don’t want to ignore the Cab, here. It is, after all, the real star of the wine and that’s because the quality of the individual berries that went into this wine is just so ridiculously high. Of all the parts of Napa Valley, there may not be a region that produces Cab as well as Rutherford. Most people will say it’s a product of the “Rutherford dust,” the red, dusty soil the area is known for. What does that actually mean? Well, on the palate, you’ll notice key notes of cocoa powder, eucalyptus, and mint, while the tannins are a bit more subdued, more rounded, more “dusty” than the “kick in the face” tannins you’ll find in other parts of the valley. In fact, it’s these dusty tannins that the PV’s brash tannins hold up over the many years of aging.

When you open this wine, you’re going to first notice how deep and dark the color is, so purple it’s almost black. That comes from the PV, though if you age this bottle for a long time, you’ll notice a significant color change. You’ll also pick up the aromas of ripe blackberries, black currant, cassis, and just the faintest hint of lavender (another telltale sign of PV). On the palate, black cherry and raspberry are most noticeable, with notes of pepper, coffee, and dark chocolate on the finish.

For a wine like this, you’re going to need a meal that can stand its ground against such a powerful wine. I had this wine with steak recently for my birthday and it was perfect. If you’re doing beef, I recommend a cut with a bit more fat like filet mignon, hanger, or New York strip.

Also, please do the world a favor and decant this. Thirty minutes will do wonders but ninety will make your life better, I promise.

Lago Cerqueira Vinho Verde Rosé

So, I know what you’re probably thinking: “How you have a rosé from a “green” wine?”

Well, to explain, we have to delve into one of the many misnomers in the wine world. Portugues Vinho Verde isn’t actually green, well, at least not really green. Though literally translated as “green wine,” the more correct meaning is “young wine.” Also, Vinho Verde is not a specific grape, but a large growing region in northwestern Portugal along the Atlantic coast. In Portugal, it’s quite common to see the Vinho Verde label on wines that are either red, white, or pink, though white Vinho Verde is most commonly imported into the US. And yes, depending upon which white grape the wine is made from, there can be a slightly green tint to the juice.

Your rosé this month is made from the grape Vinhão (veen-HOW), a rare grape outside of Portugal where it’s typically made into red Vinho Verde. The interesting thing about Vinhão is that it’s a teinturier or a red grape whose flesh is also red. This is actually quite rare among red grape varieties, and it’s the factor that produces such a vivid hue in this wine. While the juice of many red wines is left in contact with the grape skins for several days or weeks in order to impart a deep red color, this rose’s color was imparted straight from the juice, as the skins were removed from the juice immediately after pressing. To give you an idea of the color of a true Vinhão wine, look for a bottle of Port. Vinhão is often added to Port wine blends to add an inky purple color.

Color aside, this wine is bright with fruit notes of strawberries, watermelon, and cherry. It just tastes pink! We recommend pairing it with a light salad or an afternoon spent outside. This is a no-frills wine meant for enjoying on the beautiful weekends we’ve been having.

Want to join Shamrock Selections? There’s still time to subscribe in order to get next month’s selections. Use the link below to subscribe!



 

While attending college in New Orleans in the early 1970s, Peter took a job as a waiter in a French restaurant and became infatuated with classic French wines and food. His wines of preference were those from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. He pursued a career in the restaurant industry and served as manager and wine buyer at several restaurants before realizing that he belonged solely in the wine business. He ventured into wine retail, then into wholesale distribution, and then started a wine marketing and sales company. These pursuits took Peter to his favorite wine regions of Europe to learn what the best properties did to make their wines special. These also led him to California during the wine renaissance of the late 1970s to meet the new small, artisan producers. After working crush at two different wineries, Peter decided that he wanted his own small winery to make unique wines to add to the wine world. In 2000, he finally moved to northern California to take a position with a wine importing company and the temptation was too great. He bought his vineyard in Glen Ellen and Spann Vineyards was born.

 


Most people in this industry can trace their love of wine to a specific wine that ignited their passion. Do you have a wine like that? If not, how did you get interested in the industry?

I started college with no idea what I would do for a career and took a summer job waiting tables at a French restaurant with an aggressive wine program. This was my first exposure to fine wine and food and it transformed my life. It fascinated and intrigued me and at age 19 I decided I would spend the rest of my life involved with wine and food.

 

 

The hardest thing about owning your own winery is…

Taking time off. My wife and I are the only employees and we enjoy every aspect from farming to crushing to blending, bottling, branding and selling so we tend to work seven days a week.

 

 

What’s it like running the winery as a husband and wife team? Do you think that gives you an advantage that other winery teams may not have?

We know each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and tolerances very well so it’s easy to divide up responsibilities and to know when the other person needs help and when to leave them on their own.

 

 

What’s been the most rewarding thing about your career?

Bringing joy to other people through something we created.

 

 

Who are the people in your industry that your most admire?

For the wines they’ve made and the things they’ve taught me: André Tchelistcheff, former winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards, and Gary Andrus, founder/winemaker at Pine Ridge Winery. I also admire wine shop owners and restaurateurs who seek out lesser-known great wines to offer their customers rather than rely on wine writer’s recommendations and ratings.

 

 

If you weren’t making wine, what career would you have?

I would love to be a sculptor because I admire people who can take what seems like nothing and create something beautiful out of it that people could enjoy for hundreds or thousands of years. Unfortunately, I have no talent in this regard so I had to settle for winemaking for my artistic expression.

 

 

What advice would you give to people who wanted to get into the industry?

Surround yourself with people who know a lot more than you do about whatever aspect of the business you want to be part of. I managed to do that at an early age and it served me well.

 

 

When hand selling your wines, we’ve been able to introduce our customers to grape varieties they aren’t used to seeing (like Viognier, Semillon, Cinsault). Overall, you’ve come up with some unique blends. Was it your original goal to focus on blends? If not, how did that come about?

We started our winery during the 2001/2002 recession. The dot-com bust happened, followed by the 9-11 attacks and wine consumption dropped dramatically. Many highly regarded wineries were closing out Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots at half price so we decided it would be foolish to make the same wines that the market already had too much of. Betsy and I grew up on French wines, most of which were blends so we simply made the style of wines we knew and enjoyed.

 

 

If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one drink (not your own brand), what would it be?

Chateau Latour, preferably between 20 and 40 years old and hopefully many bottles of it.

 

 

Where do you see yourself and your brand in 5 years?

Currently, we sell our wines in 19 states. I’d like to maintain our current volume but reduce the number of states by one-third to one-half. This would simplify my life, allow me to focus on the markets where we have the best response to our efforts and spend more time in these markets. Arkansas will definitely be one of those.

Want to try some of Kristin's wines? You can now buy them online and pick them up in store!



 

While attending UC Davis, Kristin Belair serendipitously stumbled upon an answer to a daunting career puzzle – for someone unable to choose between a multitude of disciplines, winemaking was an elegant solution.

In 1981, degree in Enology in hand, Kristin began her first of two California harvests, as an intern at Trefethen. It was there that she perfected forklift driving, cleaning tanks, and topping barrels while learning a lot about small winery operations. A southern hemisphere harvest experience in Australia taught her even more. Kristin’s first full winemaking position began in 1985, making Cabernet and Chardonnay at Johnson-Turnbull (which later became Turnbull Wine Cellars). In 1998, after working at one facility for nearly 13 years, she joined Honig as Winemaker. Kristin says that “being able to craft award-winning, nationally recognized Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon and being part of the dynamic Honig team has been nothing but rewarding. For me, what is most satisfying is knowing that I play a part in creating something that people are enjoying in many different settings, with family and friends. Wine has an extraordinary way of connecting together people, places, and experiences.”

When she’s not feeding her passion for winemaking and growing grapes, Kristin can generally be found engaging in some kind of outdoor activity. Her current favorites are skiing, running, mountain biking, and climbing.

 


Most people in this industry can trace their love of wine to a specific wine that ignited their passion. Do you have a wine like that? If not, how did you get interested in the industry?

I don’t have a particular wine that got me interested in the wine industry. It was rather a synchronous crossing paths with a classmate at UC Davis, who had just switched his major to Winemaking. I was in biochem at the time and contemplating how on earth I would pass a year of upper division physical chemistry. His enthusiasm inspired me to investigate the winemaking path and the rest is history.

 

The hardest thing about winemaking is…

Bottling! While it mostly goes smoothly it can get tedious and be fraught with complications, even with lots of prior planning.

 

What’s the most rewarding thing about your career?

The people I work with and the places I work in. Early mornings in a vineyard are so beautiful. And, the stories people share about the wine they enjoyed.

 

 

What advice would you give to people who wanted to get into the industry?

Patience, persistence, passion.

 

As a winemaker, have you ever made a mistake in a vintage?

There are new things to learn from every vintage. What we initially may think of as a mistake becomes a window to refining our methods.

 

What your most listened to Spotify/Pandora/Sirius station?

Usually, some form of rock, but I’ll switch it up to jazz or classical pretty regularly.

 

If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one drink (not your own brand), what would it be?

Beer! A nice hoppy IPA.

Want to try some of Kristin's wines? You can now buy them online and pick them up in store!


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


2011 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Chardonnay

With March being Women’s History Month, we thought it appropriate to highlight a wine by one of California’s greatest female winemakers: Merry Edwards. Merry has been inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame and has won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States, just the fourth woman to do so.

Merry began making wine in 1973, a time when female winemakers were still a rarity. Pinot noir was her first love, but her Chardonnays are every bit as good. The Olivet Lane vineyard sits about 3 miles northwest of Santa Rosa in the heart of the Russian River valley, and from it, Merry makes of one the most regal Sonoma Chardonnays I’ve ever had. It’s very much a Lady. Refined but sassy, it reminds me of Maggie Smith’s character from “Downton Abby.”

Whereas last month’s Chardonnay (from Chablis, France) was sleek and racy, this one takes its time. Less a race than a procession. But what a procession it is! A parade of aromas greets you from the glass: apricot, ripe yellow apples, honey, creme brulee. It’s really just so decadent. The texture here, again comparing it to last month’s light bodied example, is thick and mouth coating, almost like drinking creme fraiche. That’s a result of what’s called malolactic fermentation, a process that takes place after the wine’s actual fermentation in which crisp malic acid is converted into the more lush and creamy lactic acid.

I just can’t get over how good this Chardonnay is. It’s the polar opposite of last month’s example, but the differing styles show what I love most about the grape: that it can act almost like a blank canvas, allowing the drinker to get a better sense of who the winemaker is as a craftsman through the finished product.

As far as food pairings, I honestly don’t think one is needed. This wine more than stands on its own, but if you want to enjoy it with food, I’d recommend something light but filling, like grilled salmon. Merry herself recommends bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken breast, which sounds equally perfect.

2010 Beneventano Aglianico

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of the grape Aglianico (al-leON-a-co).

No one?

Yep, that’s about what I expected. Aglianico originated in Greece but was brought to southern Italy about 2,500 years ago. Known for their distinctly black color, Aglianico grapes are thick-skinned and hold up well in the heat. Interestingly enough, this trait has led to it becoming one of the more widely planted grapes in Texas.

As a wine, Aglianico is known for its high tannin and acidity, two qualities that make it ideal for aging. Stylistically, it can seem similar to Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and is often blended with those grapes. In most cases, Aglianico is best aged for a few years in the bottle before drinking. Thankfully, you’re getting the 2010 vintage which is perfect for drinking.

This Aglianico hails from the region of Campania, and specifically the vineyards surrounding the city of Benevento, just a few miles inland from Naples. The rich volcanic soils of the area make for an ideal vineyard site and, year after year, they produce grapes of excellent quality.

The wine is still a deep russet color, with a slight fading of the color at the glasses edges, a tell tale sign of age. On the nose, there’s a hint of spiced plum and the smoke from a campfire. The plum is evident on the palate, as well, where it’s joined by black cherry and white pepper notes.

Aglianico is such a great wine for food. You could almost pair anything with it, but I think it’s best for BBQ and other grilled meats. I’m a huge brisket fan, and I can only imagine how well this would be with beef that’s been cooking all day. For a lighter pairing, I think a dish centered around mushrooms or eggplant would be superb. Likewise, any hard Italian cheese (Asiago, Provolone, Pecorino, Grana Padano, etc.) would be ideal.

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We love Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley! We love discovering all the ways winemakers showcase their wines. We often get asked if we have a favorite…well, “all of them” isn’t a good answer, so we tried to narrowed it down. Here are the Napa wineries that anyone who loves Cabernet Sauvignon should be drinking. Trust us, we think you’re going to find something on this list you’ll like!

Chappellet

When the Chappellet family settled on the rocky slopes of Napa’s Pritchard Hill, they became the first winery to plant vineyards exclusively on high-elevation hillsides. From these Pritchard Hill vineyards, the Chappellets have been crafting extraordinary, age-worthy wines since 1967. Pritchard Hill’s rugged terroir has become legendary for producing wines with great intensity and depth—qualities that define the world’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons. As a result, Chappellet wines have consistently received the highest praise from critics, and are sought after by the world’s premier collectors. Today, a second generation of the family has joined their parents in embracing the romance of Pritchard Hill.

Round Pond Estate

Owned and operated by the McDonald family, Round Pond Estate made a name for itself by selling fruit to other wineries. Once the family decided to begin to make their own wines, it didn’t take long for the rest of Napa Valley to take notice! Located in the heart of Napa’s famous Rutherford AVA, the winery produced several different Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Kith & Kin is a lively and complex wine with deep berry flavors and a hint of spice. Their Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep and brooding wine, with plum, dark chocolate, and raspberry flavors.

Honig

In 1964, Louis Honig purchased a 68-acre ranch in Rutherford, in the heart of the Napa Valley. The vineyard was planted with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which he sold to neighboring wineries. Louis worked to create a family gathering place at the ranch, for his children and grandchildren, while he dreamed of the day he could retire from his San Francisco advertising agency and make wine from his vineyard. In 1984, at the age of 22, grandson Michael Honig took over management of the vineyard and winery. The Honig family are leaders in sustainability, both in the vineyard and the winery, and what began as a small “garage” winery has today become a successful family enterprise, with everyone working collaboratively to run an inspiring and socially responsible business.

Faust

Dark and brooding like its namesake, Faust Cabernet Sauvignon was founded by Augusten Huneeus to showcase the beauty of Napa Valley fruit. We love this wine for powerful blackberry, plum, and cassis. One of our go-to wine for steak night, it’s now in near constant rotation around our dinner table.

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Hourglass Estate

Named for the hourglass shape of its primary vineyard, Hourglass Estate has established itself as a powerhouse producer of intensely structured Cabernet, Merlot, and blends.

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