19th Hole 2007 Merlot

Type: Dry Red
Made with: Merlot
Plays well with: Stroganoff, pasta in cream sauces, nuts

See what happens when you’re helpful?  While at the Family Winemakers Association event in Pasadena a couple months back, we were chatting with PGA golfer turned winemaker Kris Moe at his winery’s table as the event shut down.  So we offered to help him carrying his boxes and display out to his car and he gave us the merlot as a thank you.

The wine needed twenty minutes to open up before serving. The dark ruby color had a combination of earth, blackberry and a hint of French oak on the nose. The first taste highlighted a streak of acidity in the mid-palate. The mouthfeel was a medium in terms of weightiness. Tannins were slightly drying at the back of the mouth. A return after another half-hour also revealed some blueberry in the nose as well.

This was a great food wine to accompany a stroganoff. Acids cut through the fat of the sour cream and the flavors of the wine held up very well. This is a wine better suited for food than by itself. Alcohol was a manageable fourteen and a half percent.

You can find 19th Hole Wines at the website, www.19thholewine.com.

Vergari 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Type: Dry red
Made with: Pinot Noir
Plays well with: Strong cheeses, red meats

The Vergari 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a premium example of a California pinot noir.  Which is not to say that it is a copy of a Burgundian wine. The California style generally has riper fruit which can sometimes be a problem in France.  Actually, it can be a problem with Californis wines, too.  Riper fruit can translate into jammier characters and higher alcohol – qualities not becoming for a food friendly grape like pinot noir.

Not so with the Vergari.  It’s a crafted wine that pays attention to the details and doesn’t let the fruit get smothered by alcohol, oak or residual sugars. The color is the dark ruby typical of a California pinot. The nose is full of berries, cherries and a cola character which seems unique to pinot. The first taste shows good acidity and even some spice – a characteristic that often gets buried in the fruitier pinots. The weight in the mouth is substantive but not heavy or too thin. A good finish rounds out this excellent dry wine that cries out for food. Stronger cheeses, roasted beast of almost any type and level of doneness would be mandatory. Alcohol is a modest 14.2 percent – well, modest by California standards.

Vergari 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Type: Dry red

Made with: Cabernet sauvignon

Plays well with: Meat, meat and more meat


Please don’t think we’ve sold out the OBG mission of highlighting lesser known varieties. We also promise to highlight smaller producers who we believe deserve attention. So, that means a Napa cabernet is bound to turn up in these posts once in a while, especially since with Vergari Wines, there is no winery to find or visit. And, thanks again to winemaker David Vergari for finding us.

The Vergari 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows the same attention to detail that Mr. Vergari brings to his pinot noir, including the same deep ruby color from good fruit. The nose is a combination of cherries, berries and rose petals. Michael found himself taking several deep sniffs to get all these aromas because they were almost as good as the flavor.


The first taste showed good acidity and a lush mouthfeel, with a lingering finish that displayed well-balanced tannins that didn’t dry out the mouth. The concentration of fruit and the light use of oak as a spice makes this a decent cocktail wine, if you’re so inclined to drink it by itself.

We’re not so inclined.  The wine was so nice and rich we think it would be wasted by itself. Pair it with prime rib, steaks or stews. The alcohol, at a slightly high but acceptable 14.5 percent, will not interfere with the enjoyment of your meal.


Vergari Wines

It happened a few months ago, but one day, Michael gets an email in his personal box inviting him and a guest to a tasting at a local contractor’s store near us.  Huh?  It was from David Vergari – a winemaker who lives in Sierra Madre in Southern California, but makes a collection of red wines out of a custom crush facility in Sebastopol, California.  They’re mostly cabs and pinots – varieties we don’t usually focus on here at OddBallGrape.

But what makes Vergari’s operation a little more up our alley is how he’s selling his wines – through a series of open houses that he uses to build his wine club list.  Such as the one we attended.  The contractor specialized in high-end kitchens, so among the counter top samples and tile books, there was a small jazz combo.  The caterer was using the contractor’s demo kitchen to heat hors d’oeuvres and chill the couple whites Vergari had purchased for those who like whites.

Vergari told us that he likes to make his cabernet sauvignons with a “pinot sensibility.”  Either way, his wines feature excellent acids and good balance.

“I’m not in an arms race,” he said when we asked him about the lower alcohol levels in his wines.  “I like acids.”

And we liked his wines.  You can get them via his website, VergariWines.com

What we still can’t explain is how Vergari got Michael’s email address. We think it happened through Facebook.

In Praise of Table Wine

If you think wine is only for special occasions – for having with dinner when you go out to eat, for example, then read this now.  If you think that the only wine worth drinking costs over $10, read up immediately.

In Europe, they have something called table wine.  You sometimes see it on a label: vin de table or vino di tavolo, in French and Italian, respectively.  If you’re in France or Italy or Belgium, you can go to the local bistro or restaurant for your lunch and order the house wine and get it in a little pitcher or flask for two or however many are at your table and it’s good, tasty stuff.  Not the transcendence of, say, first growth Bordeaux or a spectacular Santa Rita Hills pinot noir.  But it’s a basic tasty wine meant to be part of the everyday experience.  And it’s pretty darned cheap.

So why do we Americans still seem mostly convinced that wine is only for special occasions or that it has to cost over $10 to taste good?  We think it has to do with the way many of us grew up with wine.  Thanks to the influence of our ancestors from the British Isles and Germany, Americans have largely drunk beer and spirits.  Wine was French or Italian and, therefore, unusual for the average person.  Unless you happened to be of Italian ancestry.  The only other people who drank wine with any regularity at all were the rich and they drank it with formal dinners, and it was imported and expensive.

Until the cheap California jug wines of the 1950s and 60s.  And let’s face it, that stuff was pretty grim.  As the wine industry in California grew, particularly in the 1970s, good California wine made by boutique wineries became available, though not plentiful, so we’re back to an expensive, special occasion drink.  In short, good wine in our country has always been associated with wealth and elitism and bad wine has been associated with being cheap and for high school kids and drunks on the street.

A couple years ago, when the Charles Shaw chardonnay won a double gold medal at the California State Fair, tons of people blasted it and poo-pooed the idea that a wine that retails for $2 a bottle (in California) could be that good.  And we have to say that Two-Buck Chuck (as it is familiarly known) is that good and it isn’t.  No, that’s not a comment on its inconsistency (and we frequently find the quality of the reds to be largely inconsistent).  It’s just not great wine.  It’s good wine – basic, tasty, everyday stuff.  It’s a table wine.  It doesn’t need to be anything else.

Turn up your nose, if you will, but we think it’s time we Americans got back to the idea of table wine.  If we demand good, basic wine at everyday prices, the market will supply it.  Winemakers aren’t fools and they want to make money.  And $10 is too much to pay for wine with dinner every night for many of us.

Wine with dinner is a good thing, when not abused.  It slows us down and reminds us of what’s really important – not the wine, but the people we love and care about, like our children and partners.  Wine with dinner reminds us that our family table is important and needs to be a priority in our lives because that’s how we connect with others.  Think about it.  In both the Jewish and Christian traditions, our main practice of worship revolves around a meal, the Pesach Seder and Shabbas, the Christian rite of Communion.  And for all we know, other religions do, as well.  We, as human beings, connect around food and wine and always have.

So let’s bring back the concept of the humble table wine and appreciate it for what it is.  It does get better than that, but it doesn’t have to.  Not every day, it doesn’t.