Visiting Napa Valley; Reserve the “Heck” out of It Before You Step Foot On Ground

Reserve the “Heck” Out of Your Napa Valley Visit

I have been to Napa Valley more times than I can count.  I have always enjoyed my experience and love being there. The early visiting days were much more magical and romantic than they are today unfortunately.

I do hope the bedside manners of Napa Valley improves in due course; it is off putting to be ignored or to have an okay experience.  Specifically, I had called a winery (and, of course, got voice mail) and I also emailed the winery east of Silverado Trail in the hills and did not even receive the courtesy of a returned email or call.  It is perfectly fine to say you are busy.

I think I made more discoveries in the ‘come as you are days’ than I do today.  I remember that you could visit many (not all wineries) and no appointment was needed even in the ‘reservation required’ wineries.  Not everyone has a completely open-to-the-public winery and I am not sure in Napa’s current mood if that even matters anymore. Go to a winery that is “open” with no reservation needed and you will be asked “do you have a reservation?” which is code for “you must have a reservation.”

The days of $25 basic tasting and $40 reserve tastings can now only be seen in the rear view mirror.  Pricing of tasting and wines have easily outpaced inflation for the past generation.  But it is not just the price of tastings and pricing of bottles; it is that reservation are required everywhere you go and whatever you do (I dare not say post-pandemic era) but the pandemic has changed things in Napa Valley once more and I do think it is permanent.

Visiting Napa and Sonoma Valley during the early days of the pandemic was not enjoyable at all but it was not enjoyable anywhere to be fair.  I remember dialing up a winery while I was in Napa and food purchases were required and wine tasting limited which wineries were allowed to be open; it was a clustered mess. I scratch my head and wonder why food purchases were required at all.

While when it was easier to visit a generation ago there were fewer producers and fewer wines at each producer than today.  But today there are many wines and many producers and it is more difficult to get a reservation to visit now than ever before.  Also, there are no good times of the year to visit and that too is a change; there is no off-season any longer.

On a recent visit to Napa Valley, I spoke with a tasting room manager and he was glad that there were changes in Napa Valley to keep those that are not “serious about wine.”  I said that accessibility should not be rarified and the long mission should be as welcoming as possible to all those who have an interest in visiting.

On a recent visit, a friend wanted me to arrange our Napa Valley visit and I suggested that I make a reservation at Domaine Chandon. I thought it would be a nice start of the day with a glass of bubbly.  My friend said that a reservation was not necessary. I did say Napa has changed and I do think a Napa visit needs a reservation everywhere you go.  I was anticipating and couldn’t wait for a glass of bubbly to start the day.  But it was not meant to be.  And, of course, when we got there we were told we got there too early; we arrived at 11:00 am to see if we could walk-in.  And it was not just me and my friend but many other people who arrived too “early” experienced the surprise as well.  We all walked away disappointed…. The hosts were not terribly friendly or even apologetic.   We then went to Yountville for a quick lunch.  The idea was tossed to not go back after an early lunch because we had an appointment at 1:00 pm at another winery.  I do suspect that if we went back we still would not have been able to have a glass of bubbly.

The excitement of the early days was where tasting rooms were not well appointed or spacious as they are today–the access was open and fun.  It was open for exploration. The friendliness was there–it is still here today but it is not as abundant.

I remember in the recent past;  a nearly comical experience by visiting a winery on upper Highway 29 close to Calistoga and when me and another friend were “greeted” at the car to confirm if we had a reservation or not.  We had not but I also explained that we kept calling and left a voicemail and tried again hoping to talk with a person to see if there was availability.  We couldn’t leave the car and it was like a moment from Pretty Woman in the “Please Leave” Scene.

Napa Valley’s bedside manners needs to improve–sure busyness is a good thing for business but it can be off putting as well.  While a winery might have to deliver a message of being completely booked there is always a good, better and best way of conveying the message in a tactful and professional manner.  After all, might those that are turned away be future guests? 

“We have some availability tomorrow afternoon”

“How about later today?”

”Let me take your number in case we have a cancellation…. “

You get the idea.

Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal published on Saturday 23, April 2022 Who Can Afford Napa Now? Not This Wine Columnist about the extremely expensive costs of hotel stays.  She mentioned that a hotel above a garage station was where she could reliably stay but today it is different and exorbitant.  The cost of an entry level tasting is $50 and now for a reserve tasting is $75 to $100 or more per tasting; meanwhile in other wine countries it is still $15-$20 dollars.  

The question is how long will prices increase above inflation for both wine prices, wine tasting and hotels?  This may be happening for a while but I do think there is a limit and we have not seen that line crossed yet.  The visitor infrastructure is strong for Napa as well as the closeness of producers to each other than any other wine country in the US; I don’t think another wine country in the US will catch up to Napa’s infrastructure.

But whatever the price points; expect sticker shock even in our days of high inflation Napa will be above that.  The only spots for normalized pricing is the cost of eating at Napa Valley restaurants which are on par with San Francisco and which I do think is higher than the national average but not terribly north of there. I do expect prices here too will increase well above the national average soon.

Whatever you do before you put foot on ground in Napa is to reserve everything–cars, hotels, restaurants and especially tastings.  Do not expect to be too lucky to just happen to find a winery while driving along a roadside in Napa to pull into and have a tasting—those days are gone forever. 

Reserve the “Heck” out of Napa Valley and do it Way Before You Arrive

© 2022 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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James the Wine Guy First Quarter 2022 Wine Reviews

This quarterly wine review has been so hard to put together not because of any technicals of tasting or even formatting this page. But because of the loss of my mother in January of this year. The loss was profound and I found writing or even creating videos so difficult to do. I was in mourning and for the most part almost posted nothing on social media – one of out of respect for my mother and a time out to reflect and recall and keep a remembrance ongoing.

Here begins this list of tastings that I have completed and for the first time ever is a 99 point ranking. I know some reviewers give out 99 and 100 points so routinely that they have muted the bell curve distribution. I have for the most part from my previous reviews of my score distribution have a more classic bell curve. Monkey is such a memorable experience that tasting is compelling and identifiable as Monkey. Also, Monkey 47 never gets lost in a mix–it boldly and confidently stands up in any mix. This is a product that is undeniably a product of outstanding excellence. A 99 Point Score might be my 100 Point but I do shy away from a 100 Point Score as I do believe it tends to stand for something that is perfect. I do not believe in perfect anything and if we had a “perfect” object would we recognize perfection? I do think for those who feel the need to issue a lot of 100 Points it does make for a number of questions and does dilute the perfect scores–it could be argued that not everything is perfect….

Aquilini 10000 Hours Red Mountain Red Wine

This wine is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec 4% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc

15% ABV; 20 months in 40% new French oak, $35.00 SRP, 1,600 cases produced

Nose: blackberry, sanded cedar, underbrush, dried flowers and bay leaf

Black fruit, pepper, thyme clove, and spices

Chasing Rain Red Mountain Red Blend 2019

This wine: 14.5% ABV, 2,700 cases produced, $25 SRP

Nose: Fresh red bramble, forest floor, suede, and freshly ground spices

Palate: Red fruit, thyme, pepper and clove

Chasing Rain Red Mountain Merlot 2019

This wine: 4,600 cases produced, $25.00 SRP

Nose: pomegranate, red chery, spice, violet and lavender

Palate: black cherry, clove, tarragon and white pepper 

Chasing Rain Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

This wine is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot, 14.5% ABV, $25.00 SRP, 2,900 cases produced; 19 months in new 20% American oak and 10% French oak

Nose: red/black fruit, spice, suede-leather and red flowers

palate: red bramble, red cherry, bay leaf and pepper

Be Human Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

This wine is 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% of Petit Verdot, 19 month in 33% new American oak, $17 SRP and 3,700 cases produced.

Nose: red bramble, cherries, freshly sanded wood, and spices

Palate: Pomegranate, cherry, black pepper, and ground spices


Terranobile Gran Reserva Valle de Maule Carmenere 2018

This wine is 14%

Nose: black fruit, red tea, suede and forest floor

Palate: black fruit, pepper and clove, dried red flowers

Cattleya Sonoma County Chardonnay 2020

Nose: Autumnal and winter fruit, oyster shell and hint of nutmeg

Palate: Granny Smith apple, green pear, moistened mineral and delicate note of nutmeg.

14.1% ABV, 220 cases produced, and $26 SRP.

Cattleya Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Nose: Meyer lemon zest, white peach, moistened rocks and white flowers

Palate: Grapefruit, white peach, Lisbon lemon and white flowers

13.5% ABV, 2000 cases, $22 SRP

Cattleya Sonoma County Rosé of Pinot Noir 2021

White peach, Meyer lemon skin, and mountain strawberry.

Palate: delicate notes of mountain strawberry and mix of fresh citrus skin and hint of flowers

11.8% ABV, 1000 cases produced, $22 SRP

Video reviews:



© 2022 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Master The World Wine Kits: A Great Way to Explore Regions and a Fantastic Wine Appreciation and Learning Experience – 99 Points

“Unexpected Gems from Around the World” Master The World masterclass – my notes, scores and flags

I have participated in quite a number of Master The World master wine classes. And I have enjoyed them perhaps even more than pre-pandemic master classes for many reasons. I love attending wine events but I cannot attend them all; only but a rarefied few can. Also, many wine tasters are more geographically distributed than ever before.

Even a post-pandemic wine event world I do believe has changed and we will never be in a pre-pandemic wine event world again. But not all is lost! I do think wine events will reconfigure and adapt and after all wine tasting is essential because ‘tasting is believing’.

I have in the past attended several master classes in one day or worse have a show stopper class and tasting that takes valuable business time in the middle of a day.

I do recognize that I will be able to taste much more in person if there is an assembly of producers pouring their wines. BUT here is what I have experience is that rarely have I attended an event that had even slightly passable wine glasses. If a class is at a hotel, as an example, the glasses are often mass produced and are not designed for full sensory experience and appreciation (and I do refuse to bring my own glassware to an event). I have seen on rare occasion someone bring their own wine glass. I have too much to carry and if it is an in person consumer or media/trade event I don’t have room for a wine glass to tote along.

I recall attending a master class of a wine region that, in general, produces stunning wines but my experience was a struggle to taste the uniqueness of each producer. EVERY single wine at that master class was served in a mass market wine glass–I even overheard the organizers say how proud they were they found wine glasses for $1.00?! There was a lot of excitement and pride in that that statement and I was shocked they were so pleased in their purchase. But the walk away from the class was that regions wines all tasting the same–I knew from my long time exposure with this region that they are remarkable even in a challenged vintage year. This particular master class, unfortunately, was a waste of my time as well as each person attending. My notes and scores reflected a terrible wine glass design that were negatively impacting the experience of each wine. I could not publish my scores because I didn’t feel they reflected the true nature of each wine there.

Back to Master The World–I have attended featured tastings like the Rhône region, Antão Vaz, Loire Valley, and many more classes. I love the wines selected each kit contains 6 bottles and they are thoughtful selected. There are several different ways of experiencing Master the World:

A) Self-paced tast

B) Led tasting

C) Master Sommelier led tasting

The things I love about Master The World tasting experiences include:

  • Well curated tasting kit – very nice wines selected and always a logic to selection
  • You can have a blind tasting or immediate reveal; the choice is yours (my choice is to know the wine right away)
  • Super well organized in terms of accessing tech sheets and regional information and know what kit you have and to match up to any online materials
  • Tasting mat (and you can see in the above photo how handy it is)
  • Easy-to-order and yes even in our subscription based world some business do it well and some do not; immediate feedback in your ordering is apparent; and from my business knowledge it shows they have used a customer journey layer for effective customer experience
  • I can use my own wine glasses (and I get so much from tasting as the wine is optimized for tasting) – I prize this aspect

The master classes I have enjoyed have been led by Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier; Madeline Triffo, Master Sommelier and Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier – each has such a great depth of experience and such a great comfort, ease and enjoyment with presenting

When I didn’t think I could get any busier I do get busier (probably many of you feel the same). I have many more things I need to complete and I do need more efficiency in tasting wines as well. I do love the ability to taste at home whenever possible. I do appreciate the well executed business model of Evan Goldstein and Lemong Stroh. I recommend giving Master the World master class and I will attend more in the future as well.

I give Master The World for a high quality experience each and ever kit:

More information from Master The World website.



© 2022 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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2022 – A New Year Ahead

I am optimistic cautiously so about this New Year ahead. Last year this time I was full of hope and perhaps the expectation was overly optimistic. But I hope for this era of the Pandemic to end or at least a back to terms of not living in worry.

I hope that I can travel more and to explore the world once again. I do think based on my experience here in San Francisco the town is no longer what it once was and I do think 2019 was a peak year. Walking through the city over the holiday was a city where many vacant store fronts. I saw a few restaurants welcoming patrons back and yet there were few patrons. Vico Cavone a Neapolitan restaurant opened two weeks ago and subsequently closed down only open for a couple of week and based on their social media that they would reopen. I am concerned about a lack of vibrancy and energy that the city will never be quite the same. Many would argue change was due but I do think I would rather see a positive change and some energy and life to the city.

I do think that public and trade wine tastings will be done in Q1 potentially Q2 of this year. But I do hope it is time to have a wider net to cast from for people to enjoy tasting a wide array of wines.

On my year must taste experience is to taste a mix of domestic and import wines. High on my list is Australia–an illusive wine country for the US. Once there were many wines from Australia widely available and today, at least, in wine markets I shop there is a very small selection. My neighbourhood grocer which has a very nice selection of domestic and imports had zero Australian wine SKUs. Australia wine producers have not been focused on exporting to the US. A generation ago there were regular Australian trade/consumer tastings.

But I do also want to continue my focus on US, French and Italian producers. I do want to taste more Spanish wines which last year (’21) was a rare experience. I never imagined that tasting wines from Rioja would be an infrequent experience or elsewhere in Spain. While neighbouring Portugal I taste from regularly Year-over-Year. I do hope to be tasting more wines from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Montenegro, Turkey and Greece.

I do publish each year my #winetasingwishlist

  • Carneros AVA
    British Columbia – Okanagan Valley
  • Ontario
  • Santa Maria Valley AVA
  • Santa Barbara County AVA
  • Sierra Foot Hills AVA
  • El Dorado AVA
  • Grand Valley AVA
  • Virginia Wine Countries
  • Maryland
  • Washington State
  • Oregon State
  • Australia – all regions
  • New Zealand – all regions
  • Peru
  • UK
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Croatia
  • Bosnia & Hercegovina
  • Montenegro
  • Turkey
  • Greece
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
  • Israel
  • Cyprus
  • Poland
  • Switzerland
  • Luxembourg
  • France – regions that I rarely taste from Côtes du Jura, Gascogne, Loire Valley,
  • And more wine countries

I do hope to taste more wines than I did in 2021 and I hope that there are more wine events as these are important for me to experience. Wine events are important not just for me (but I do get an even greater tasting experience) but it is important to the specific wine regions to get a greater exposure.

I wish you a wonderful tasting year ahead–what is on your #winetasingwishlist ?




© 2022 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Top 100 Wines of 2021

This is my 11th annual edition of the Top 100 wines. And this is my most anticipated and most highly viewed article that I write each and every years hands down. I am surprised as I have many more thoughtful and compelling articles each and every year. But it is a compliment that so many want to see what is in my ranking of wines of the year.

My list is always different from other wine reviews and publications. My list is sorted alphabetically and not by a specific meaning of what number one means–it is simply a list where the ranking is in the point scores not necessarily a hierarchy.

It is impossible, especially, one and only one wine being ranked above all others is absurd—why would one style be it sparkling, still or sweet or even varietally specific be superior to all other wines?! That makes no sense. My list is more democratic and realistic–after all I don’t give out 100 or 99 point scores (unlike some wine reviewers who give it out “perfects” liberally and rarely do I ever a 98 or 97 point). I do think and I’ve said before my scoring is very much a bell curve statistically speaking.

It is a struggle–in a good way–to select the top 100 wines, I have never had just one hundred wines but in some years many thousands that I rank to get to my top 100. But unlike wine publication or personalities I don’t get every wine that say Wine Spectator gets–I get a fraction. Attending wine events is important and in nearly two years I can barely count on two hands how many wine events I have attended. I do think wine events both consumer and trade events are important. I do get that not everyone is like me at a wine event is taking notes but I do think it expands horizons for everyone–it is essential to have access to many wines not just for the individual but for expanding the wide world of wine.

This year the top 100 come from the following countries:

South Africa3

My wine list is also unique in that I do taste some aged wines and they are essential to rank in any given year. Wine rankings and reviews is not just about the “latest releases” but it is about the best wines possible tasted in any given year. I hope you get to taste some of these wines as well. There are some listed with a link which is to view the video review.

Past Top 100 Posting:

2020 Top 100 Wines

2019 Top 100 Wines

Happy Holidays and Santé,




© 2021 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Normalizing Sparkling Wine Consumption

The pandemic showed that people were treating sparkling wine as a celebratory wine versus a wine that can be enjoyed routinely.  Here is what happened in 2020 in major sparkling wine regions:

Sparkling wine sales total estimate for 2020 according to IWSR (total decrease -8% from  2019):

  • Champagne shipments 2020: 245m bottles (-18% FPY)
  • Prosecco shipments 2020: est. 452m bottles (-7% FPY)
  • Cava shipments 2020: 215.6m bottles (-14% FPY) Source: IWSR

Wine consumption in the US was stable in 2020 but the remainder of the world wine consumption was down (Source: OIV).  While the US is the largest wine market, per capita wine consumption is not the highest not even in the top 10 (imagine if it was!)

The UK is the biggest importer of Champagne in the world and when compared to the US that is a 5x difference in any given year (in 2020 the UK imported – 21.2 mm bottles and the US imported 20.8 mm bottles).  The reason is simple: Champagne and sparkling wine, in general, is not a celebratory beverage but a normalized wine in the United Kingdom. I don’t have statistics on the British import of Cava or Prosecco but I am sure the magnitude is most certainly and perhaps more bottles for both nations but my guess is that the ratio is mostly the same.

Yes, of course, sparkling wine is wine (but some people feel sparkling wine is so out-of-the-ordinary that it cannot be called wine)–that unto itself is telling.  The UK consumer has normalized sparkling wine—and that is a good thing.  I have a glass of bubbly, at least, once a week—it is a normal and routine part of my wine enjoyment.  I look forward to it and I doesn’t make sparkling wine any less special or exciting. 

Sparkling wine no matter where it comes from Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Franciacorta and the New World is sequestered for only celebratory moments. I know that I have long advocated a position of enjoying it more often. When I was a wine marketing manager at a large off-premise wine retailer I wanted to campaign ‘Enjoying Sparkling Wine Once Weekly.’  Simply the predictability for sparkling wine was New Years, Valentines day and a few other blips on the holiday calendar.  This would mean that the average wine drinker might enjoy a glass 4-5 times a year. And I think, in particular, in the US the average wine consumer needs some kind of “permission” to enjoy sparkling wine more often.

I am aware that not everyone likes or even loves sparkling wine but it is a wine that I find compelling and love all regions and expressions and even style.  I do see the full capability of sparkling wines being paired from first dish to dessert as completely relevant.  The only time I have done this is in Champagne and each meal was memorable and I remember everything I ate and all the wine I tasted.  The ‘check engine’ light did not go off instead–it was my quest to do this in a meal that I prepare in the future.  I am planning on preparing two meals in ‘22 where I will prepare one meal with sparkling wine from one region and another with a mix of sparkling wines from several regions.  I think it is important to highlight how sparkling wine is not just for celebratory wine but a compelling wine for the entire dining experience.  

Sparkling wine I do think, at least, in the US is not enjoyed more often is that it harkens back to a much more conservative view of wine and alcohol in general.  Also, perhaps a couple who opens a bottle sometimes feel the need to drink it in one setting and what if one of the partners doesn’t like sparkling wine?  There are, of course, amazing sparkling wine closures (my favourite right now is Le Creuset that helps to preserve the wine for the next day and beyond. 

Perhaps there is the thought that sparkling wines are expensive–the packaging on many producers’ bottles are special and I do think there is guilt in opening a beautiful bottle.  But like any other wine category “there is more where it came from.”  There is a wide range and so many sparkling wines are so reasonably priced

It is lovely start with a sparkling wine on any given Friday after work and enjoy with a triple cream or other cheeses and charcuterie and other nice things on your cheese board – dried fruit, almonds and so much more and feel n guilt.  Do yourself a favour and try a sparkling wine on a non-celebratory occasion and take it out for a spin to see if you enjoy sparkling wine in a non-celebratory setting! And the enjoyment is to taste a variety of sparkling wines and find what is most pleasing to you!



© 2021 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Q4 2021 Wine Reviews

Another year has flown by and like last year there have been some wine events but most of them like last year did not happen. I know some people are not fans of wine tasting experiences for trade and media. But I did get to taste more this year than last year.

I had a nice comment from a viewer on YouTube who said he liked my style and that I should be getting more hits and have a larger subscriber base. His comment was spot on and I greatly appreciate it as I have felt validated without having to ask someone. All of the sudden – the past two years – there has been an explosion of wine videos when once there were few. So I do have that competition. But what I find needed is more support from producers from which I review wines. A lot of producers do support what I do and add to their websites, favorite and retweet and more. And by producers showing supports does show that it does help to increase video click rate but also helps the producers; a classic two way street. But there is a producer base where there is no comment, like or posting of videos that support their products on their site. And some producer prefer only written pieces?!?

What??? This isn’t 1999. But a person very close to me asked me if I enjoy making videos and I said yes and he said then keep doing and I have added incremental improvements. And there is more to come. I do find value in written pieces as well.

We do live in a world where people are seeking written, spoken and video content. It is a win-win strategy if content is support from producers. I will be doing a separate article for sparkling wine recommendations for end of year celebrations for the season and new year ahead.

A Supply & Demand Curve depicting a shift of more consumption and view of wine videos in 2021

Here are my last quarter of 2021 reviews:

OneHope Monterey County Pinot Noir 2020

Nose: strawberry, mineral, pepper, spices, and wood pile

Palate: tart cherry, spice, violets, and dried herbs

$40 PP

Chasing Rain Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Nose: red blackberry, cinnamon suede, cedar, and rose petal. Palate: red cherry and blackberry, clove, pepper, and rose petal. ABV: 14.5% – 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. $25 Price Point.

Be Human Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Nose: Uplift of black fruit, cassis, spice, leaves on forest floor and red floral. Palate: cassis confit, clove, pepper, and dried herbs. 14.5% ABV – $17 Price Point.

Mas Llunes Emporion Empordà 2018 

This wine is 56% Garnatxa and 44% Cabernet. The nose presents violets red cherry, cedar, spices. Palate: bright red fruit notes, cherry pomegranate, pepper and cinnamon. 14.5% ABV

Aquilini Red Mountain Syrah 2019

Nose: blueberry, blackberry, underbrush wood, cinnamon; palate: bright cherry, white pepper, clove, espresso. ABV 15%

Virgen Organic Wines

It is rare to see the USDA Organic label on but say less than .1% of wine labels. The USDA Organic certification requires no added sulfites. But there is perhaps on the consumer side that wines with Organic grapes doesn’t consistite an organic wine as those wines have added sulfites. I am surprised that I have seen “Organic Grapes” on front and does that confuse the matter one what organic is? Does a wine consumer think an Organic wine begins and stops only with Organic grapes? Probably many consumers think they are getting an organic wine but by the USDA they get an organic wine when there have no added sulfites. I do give a caution on this wine in terms of sensory experience. This wine because there are no sulfites has a definitive nose and palate–some might term it savory or mushroomy. This will not taste like a Malbec or Red Blend with sulfites.

Virgen Organic Mendoza Malbec 2020 – $13 SRP

14.5% ABV; Vegan Friendly USDA Organic. Nose of Cherry, savory-mushroom, and graphite. Palate of Bing cherry, mushroom, pepper and spice.

Virgen Organic Mendoza Red Blend 2020 – $13 SRP

14.3% ABV; Vegan Friendly USDA Organic. Nose of Strawberry, mushroom, and mineral. Palate of red cherry, graphite and pepper.

Raeburn Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2020

14% ABV; nose of crushed red candy, cherry, clove and stacked wood; palate of Crushed red candy, bing cherry, and ground spices.

Qupé Santa Barbara County Grenache 2018

14.8% ABV – Nose presents with notes of red floral, mountain strawberry, spice an, leather, leaves on a forest floor. Palate: red plum, pomegranate, mix of spices.

Anarchist Piquette 2020

This Piquette is superbly dry and nicely effervescent. A Piquette is made from a secondary fermentation and pressing of grape pomace which normally thrown away. This styles is a wine made in France typically for farm and vineyard workers. This is an US made Piquette. Nose; raspberry, moistened mineral and hint of herbs; Palate of rapsberry, mountain strawberry and citrus peel. The RS is .23% and low ABV of 7 %. The SRP is $19.00

Samuel Lindsay The Gandy Dancer Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

This wine is 97.75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2.25% Merlot; Aged for 15 months in 100% French oak. Barrel fermentation 30%, Flash on skins 40% and traditional fermentation 30%. 14.82 ABV – fruit is mainly Lodi with additional fruit from Napa 12.75% and Mendocino 2.25%

Nose: rich nose of blackberry raspberry (think boysenberry) moist red clay earth, suede, lavender and spice Palate: blackberry, clove, pepper, and Bay leaf 

Monsaraz Reserva Alentejo DOC 2018 93 Points

This wine is Alicante Bouschet 60%; Trincadeira 20% and Touriga Nacional 20%. 15% ABV. SRP of $16.

Nose: black and red fruit, spice, herbs and violets. Palate: Rich black fruit notes, freshly ground spice, white pepper, and red floral. A lovely and inexpensive wine.

Russian River Brewing Robert Saison

Nose: bright citrus tones, pepper and spice

Palate: citrus peel, hint of autumnal-winter fruit (pears, apples) additional notes of cardamom and white tea.

More video reviews on my YouTube Channel



© 2021 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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National Zinfandel Day, A. Rafanelli & Dry Creek Valley

Today – 17-November-2021 is National Zinfandel Day

I have been fortunate to spend a good amount of time in Dry Creek Valley.  I have been in mid-winter to fantastically triple digit summers.  I have picked grapes and I have been on a sorting table sorting Zinfandel.  I love Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and the many producers in this American Viticultural Area (AVA).  Every producer will give you a different Zinfandel experience.  I can certainly be tasting the same vintage but, of course, each producer will have a remarkably different Zinfandel: it can attribute to terroir and vintage but also each producer has their own philosophy and how they vinify their wines.

Dry Creek Valley like other wine regions in California weathered the storm of prohibition. But in this storm things were lost and some things were retained. What I mean by this are mixed black sites of wine grapes in a single vineyard site with Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, French Columbard, Carignan and Petite Sirah. While wine grapes were still cultivated in that period for religious purposes and in some cases medicinal or even wine grapes where individual families who could create wines for their own consumption. While mixed black vineyard sites are not as common as they once were the wines from these sites are not just novel but compelling wines.

Zinfandel today does finds itself in a comfortable and most appreciated time in its existence–most assured today than ever. The many styles I do find intriguing and compelling and I love 100% Zinfandel wines with a vitreous quality. I too love Zinfandel with a smidge of either Alicante Bouschet or Carignan to be wines to be sought after. One producer, Quivira uses the Primitivo clone of Zinfandel; and if blind tasted this wine I would not recognize it as a Primitivo wine necessarily. But the diversity and willingness of producers in Dry Creek Valley to adopt this clone I think are telling of a devotion and love for Zinfandel.

Dry Creek Valley is just west of the charming town of Healdsburg and a great place to stay and find very nice food I might add. Setting base here is a great way to explore Dry Creek Valley over a weekend–don’t come one day but spend the night and, at minimum spend, two days.

Dry Creek is 9,000 acres of vines planted with a diversity of wines from Syrah, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Sangiovese to Chasselas and Chardonnay and more is telling of this AVA’s ability to foster wine grape diversity. King of wine grapes is Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. But I do think Zinfandel is the signature wine of Dry Creek Valley red wines.

Alberto Rafanelli founded this winery in 1900 is a wonderful place to visit (an appointment is needed). I don’t have a tech sheet but based on previous vintages I do suspect a very small percentage of Petite Sirah but the absolute majority is Zinfandel. A. Rafanelli is dry farmed which is always a great feature and done with a great commitment. A wonderful thing and a good practice.

This wine is eight years old and is not tasting like an aged or very aged wine–it has a lively and lovely acidity. Based on other A. Rafenelli wines and again I don’t have a tech sheet the Zinfandels undergo 18 months in French oak – a combination of new, one and two year old barrels.

Use a Burgundy glass to enjoy Zinfandel to enjoy the optimum expression of the wine. The nose of this wine is rich black cherry, dried herbs, flowers, leave on forest floor, suede; the palate is refined and the acidity is bold and appreciable. The palate expresses red and black cherry notes, pepper, a core of bay leaves, peppercorn, and violets; a satisfying and lingering finish.

National Zinfandel Day is important to recall and position Zinfandel for a dinner wine in this autumnal period. In fact, I have listed in my Thanksgiving Wines – Ideas for Your Table article some Zinfandel wines for Thanksgiving. I have listed 9 Zinfandels including A. Rafaenelli’s Zinfandel. I think of what I prepare and how apt they are to pair Zinfandel with a Thanksgiving meal – I think of the flavours of Thyme, bay leaf, Tarragon, Rosemary, accenting dishes like Turkey, stuffing, vegetables and so much more. Try Zinfandel for your Thanksgiving meal!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and National Zinfandel Day!



© 2021 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Thanksgiving Wines – Ideas for Your Table

I have been wanting to do this for a long time–which is to give a larger list of suggested wines for Thanksgiving. The intent is that you do not need to buy all of the wines on this list (which is probably understood). When I use to give a smaller selection the wines people wanted get were not available or more difficult to find: hence a fuller list can help you have a wider net to find the wines for your Thanksgiving table.

This list has price points across the board so while some categories are a higher price point–my intention additionally is to pick wines at reasonable price price for the larger list. There are a few that might be expensive and adjust your selection accordingly to feels comfortable to you.

I do not just have one wine or style when I am preparing and serving Thanksgiving. I do think that at minimum I need sparkling, a white and a red wine. I do look an expansive diversity of wines. I am not a fan of Beaujolais Nouveau and I know some people must have it. I am, however, a huge fan of Beaujolais Cru wines and I always have it on my table. It also makes me think of every visit to Paris as I always have a Beaujolais Cru wine and it is always served in a tasting menu.

The diversity for my table is that I might not get a full glass but even a small taste which goes a long way. I do share my wines and I am careful to enjoy through the meal. I hope this helps you to hone in on what wines you will serve.

Wine ideas for your Thanksgiving – specific call outs of Cuvées below.

Champagne wines:

  • Champagne Waris Hubert Albescent Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV
  • Champagne Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV
  • Champagne André Jacquart Brut Experience NV
  • Champagne Charles Heidseick Blanc de Blancs  NV
  • Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
  • Champagne Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
  • Champagne Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut Reserve
  • Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Extra Brut NV
  • Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
  • Champagne Drappier Blanc de Blancs 
  • Champagne Lanson Extra Age Blanc de Blancs NV
  • Champagne Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2014

Foods Mentioned in Video as Items that I typically prepare:

I generally have prepared all of the Thanksgiving meals and I love to cook everything. My guests are always gracious and they volunteer to bring food and wine. I do make a decent turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing–and I insist on making each item. I do love this holiday and I love cooking–it gets me away from my computer or technology.

Here is a sampling of what I’ll prepare while I may not make everything in appetizer or first items list. I will always make every item in the second plates


  • Crab cakes
  • Carrots en Croute
  • Crab dip
  • Bacon wrapped dates
  • Smoked salmon dip
  • Baked clams

First plates:

  • Lobster bisque
  • Butter nut squash soup
  • Apple-Pear Salad

Second Plates:

  • Roasted turkey
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Turkey gravy / sherry mushroom gravy
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Roasted carrot
  • Sweet potatoes
  • French bread stuffing

More Wine Suggestions:


  • Le Colture Gerardo Valdobbiadene Prosecco superiore Rive di Santo Stefano Extra Brut NV
  • Nino Franco Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano Prosecco 
  • Nino Franco Primo Franco Prosecco Superiore DOCG 
  • Corvezzo Prosecco Extra Dry NV
  • Tenuta Sant’Anna Extra Dry Prosecco
  • Val d’Oca Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry ’18 
  • Val d’Oca Rive di San Pietro di Barbozza Prosecco Superiore 2018 
  • Villa Sandi Prosecco Il Fresco
  • Zardetto Prosecco Brut 

Trentodoc (Sparkling):

  • Ferrari Perlé
  • Altemasi Trentodoc Millesimato 2014
  • Revi Dossagio Zero Millesimato Trentodoc

Franciacorta (Sparkling):

  • Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut
  • Ferghettina Franciacorta Cuvée Brut

Alta Langa (Sparkling):

  • Bera Brut Alta Langa DOCG
  • Ettore Germano Alta Langa Brut

Cava (Sparkling):

  • Cava Grand Ducay Brut Nature NV 
  • Cava Mestres 1312 Cava Reserva Brut
  • Caves Roger Goulart Organic Cava Brut Reserva 2018


  • Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir ’18 
  • Chanson Premier Cru Chablis Montée de Tonnerre ’18 
  • Isabelle et Denis Pommier Chablis ’18
  • Albert Bichot Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay
  • Pio Cesare Piodelei Chardonnay Lange DOC 2017
  • Donnafugata Chiaranda Contessa Entellina DOC Chardonnay 2017
  • Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay ’18
  • Smith Madrone Spring Mountain District Chardonnay ’17
  • Bouchaine Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay ’18 
  • Raeburn Russian River Valley Chardonnay ’20 – Value Price Point (under $20)
  • Bailey Family Willamette Valley Chardonnay ’17
  • Presqu’ile Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay

Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc):

  • J. de Villebois Sancerre 
  • Domaine Franck Millet Sancerre 
  • Domaine Andre Vatan Sancerre 

Vouvray (Chenin Blanc):

  • Champalou Vouvray
  • Marc Bredif Vouvray

Chenin Blanc:

  • Lievland Old Vine Paarl Chenin Blanc ’20 
  • Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc

Italian White Wines:

  • Terredora di Paolo Fiano di Avellino
  • Mastroberardino Radici Fiano di Avellin
  • Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina
  • Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino
  • Argiolas Is Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna
  • Pala Stellato Vermentino
  • Toscolo Vernaccia di San Gimignano 
  • Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco Vigneti delle Dolomiti 
  • Tiefenbrunner Alto Adige-Sudtirol Pinot Bianco
  • Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico
  • Umani Ronchi Terre di Chieti Vellodoro Pecorino 
  • Livon Collio Manditocai Friulano ’19 

Pinot Blanc:

  • Trimbach Alsace Pinot Blanc
  • Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2019 
  • Rebholz Im Sonnenschein Pinot Blanc Grosses Gewachs
  • Salwey Estate Baden Pinot Blanc


  • Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Riesling 
  • Richard Böcking Mosel Burberg Riesling
  • Prager Wachstum Bodenstein Smaragd Riesling 
  • Monchhof Mosel Slate Riesling Spatlese 
  • Rebholz Pfalz Dry Riesling

Pinot Noir:

  • Youngberg Hill Natasha Block McMinnville Pinot Noir
  • Lenné Willamette Valley Yamhill-Carlton Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir 
  • Gary Farrell Bien Nacido Vyd Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ’16
  • August Kesseler The Daily August Rheingau Pinot Noir
  • Schäfer Rheinhessen Pinot Noir 
  • Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir
  • Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir
  • Domaine Carneros Famous Gate Pinot Noir
  • Hyde Carneros Pinot Noir
  • Bouchaine Estate Carneros Pinot Noir 
  • Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2018  

Beaujolais (Gamay):

  • Duboeuf Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents 2019
  • Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee des Ambassades
  • Domaine Michel Tete Julienas Cuvee Tradition 2019
  • Domaine Desvignes Morgon Cote du Py 2019
  • Duboeuf Julienas Chateau des Capitans 2019
  • Domaine Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly Cuvee des Fous 2019
  • Mommessin Cote de Brouilly 2017
  • Alex Foillard Cote de Brouilly 2019
  • Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly 2017

Chianti Classico (Sangiovese)

  • Castello di Fonterutoli Vicoreggio 36 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
  • Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ’17
  • Barone Ricasoli Roncicone Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ’16
  • Castello di Albola Santa Caterina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ’15
  • Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2017
  • Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 Front Label
  • Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Margone 2015

Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese)

  • Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Margone 2015
  • Marchesato Degli Aleramici Brunello di Montalcino 
  • Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2016 Front Label
  • Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino 2013
  • Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2016
  • Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015
  • Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2016


  • Turley Kirschenmann Lodi Zinfandel
  • Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ’17
  • Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel 2019
  • Hartford Russian River Old Vine Zinfandel 2019
  • Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel 2019
  • Hendry Block 7 and 22 Zinfandel 2017
  • Easton Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel
  • Rombauer El Dorado Zinfandel 2018
  • A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2013

And for those who serve beer or lamb and need a heavy red:

  • Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ’18
  • Hawk & Horse Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
  • Leonetti Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
  • Northstar Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
  • DeLille Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
  • Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
  • Château Fombrauge Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Émilion 2019
  • Château La Marzelle Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Émilion 2018
  • Château Margaux Prieure-Lichine 2016
  • Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac 2014
  • Donnafugata Mille e Una Note
  • Donnafugata Sul Vulcano Etna Rosso
  • Paitin Barbaresco Serraboella 2017
  • Giuseppe Cortese Rabaja Barbaresco 2014
  • Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga, Barbaresco
  • Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2017
  • Cascina Bruciata Barbaresco 2015
  • Pio Cesare Barolo 2017

And lastly if you have room for dessert – how about a dessert wine:

  • Donnafugata Passito di Pantalleria Ben Rye
  • Chateau Manos Cadillac ’16
  • Château Filhot Sauternes ’15
  • Castelnau de Suduirat Sauternes ’06
  • Le Colture Valdobbiadene DOCG Spumante Superiore di Cartizze
  • Champagne Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec
  • Jean Vesselle Cuvee Friandise Demi-Sec Rosé
  • Hidalgo Villapanés Oloroso

I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving ahead! I’d be curious to know what wines you have selected for your table–drop me a line. Thank you!



© 2021 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Do Yourself A Favor – Use Only a Tulip Glass for Champagne/Sparkling Wine; Ban Flutes from Your Home

Please do not use one of the above glass for your Champagne and sparkling wine enjoyment! These vessels are not glassware that is appropriate for any sparkling wine or Champagne. While a long used sparkling wine glass since the 17th century which were truly designed to showcase the bubbles and nothing else including nose and palate. And yes, of course, I want to see bubbles too but I want to make sure I can enjoy the nose of the wine as well.

I’d rather be served in a coupe – very old wine silhouette like the flute and while fun and old timey have the same problem of nose and palate experience as the flutes. I call coupes “Jackie O’s” because of the mid-century adoption of these wine stems. I also found only one picture thus far of Jackie Kennedy Onassis drinking a glass of wine and it is a coupe and by that extension it had to be a sparkling wine. There are photos of wine objects near her and one where she is being poured wine in a vineyard setting but she is not drinking it.

But I digress.

I have been to wine events where someone will ask for a Burgundy glass for their sparkling wine which is not optimum either. The Burgundy glass is designed for still wines and not sparkling wine. If you visit Champagne and the only glass you will see will be a Tulip glass. The Tulip allows for full sensory experience and the 80% of our senses informs the experience of any wine overwhelmingly. The tulip also allows for a view of the alluring bubble action as well.

I have one particular set of friends who enjoy a high end Champagne daily (generally $75 and above) but they only use a flute and I have urged the acquisition of Tulip glasses to maximize the experience of the wines they pour frequently. I said try out a pair and see if they experience an improvement in their Champagne experience. A dollar spend of $2,000 per month but glassware that was never designed to maximize the value of the wines they are enjoying. If one can afford pricey wine everyday a slight spend on decent Tulip glasses can be easily accomplished. I know other people who have a large monthly spend on expensive wines but also use inadequate stemware. I kindly remind and challenge them to spend just a tad more on better stemware and they will be rewarding their daily tasting.

While good and great wine glasses are “expensive” they are a reward to wine drinking and with great care you can hold on to your wine glasses for sometime. There is a great disparity in how people enjoy their wines in glasses that are completely inadequate. At least in the US as compared to Europe many restaurants have terrible wine glassware–one restaurant here in San Francisco and one of California’s oldest restaurants uses stemware that might cost a dollar. I do think eating out in San Francisco which is an expensive food town should match with better stemware. I can for the most part reliably go to a Manhattan restaurant and have decent stemware but New York is an anomaly in the US restaurant landscape as it relates to stemware.

A Much Ado about Nothing–restaurants who use poorly designed stemware do not encourage another glass of wine to be purchased. The framing of wine is to pair and complement the food being served and optimizing the experience.

But A Much Ado About Something is about making the investment in better stemware to showcase fine wines that one might be serving. And it is not just for expensive wines but for well priced wines which can also live up to a better experience for even the everyday experience. So regardless of your wine budget a small investment reward with a totally sensory experience that you will wonder how you did without better stemware.

For the upcoming Thanksgiving and New Years do you and your palate a favor and buy some Tulip glasses. If skeptical by one and pour side-by-side with a flute and see which you might prefer.

We all deserve the optimum experience in drinking wine!



© 2021 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original content, drawings, art work, graphs, photographs, logo, brand name, rating, rating, taxonomy, graphic and award, my original art work and all designs of James the Wine Guy.  James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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