Library Magic

You never drink the same wine twice.

Groth Winery & Vineyards

Have you ever sipped the same vintage of the same varietal produced by the same winemaker and somehow it tastes like nothing you’ve had before? I’m a firm believer that there is philosophy in wine and that tasting can be subjective and influenced by experience. Recently my husband and I took a trip up to Napa Valley for business and pleasure. I was scheduled to take my Level 1 WSET exam which happened to coincide with two events at wineries where we are members. I experienced two very different tastings at each respective winery. One event was fun and educational, because that is what I was looking for going in. The other was emotional and dare I say spiritual? There was an exact moment at event #2 that summoned the philosopher in me which completely took me by surprise.

Nickel & Nickel Winery

Our first wine event was an “Open House” at Nickel & Nickel Winery which was an opportunity for members to get together to enjoy some of the greats and maybe sample some new things as well. On the morning of I was reviewing my notes in preparation for the exam later that day. Aromas and flavors in wine were dancing around in my brain along with principal grape varieties and their classic characteristics by region. I was in full-on education beast mode as we made our way to the shuttles. The event transpired in the place where all the magic happens with each station setup along the production line. We sipped chardonnay by steel tanks and savored pinot near the cork lab. We’ve come to know the staff and enjoy seeing familiar and friendly faces each time we visit. The wine is always exceptional and the combination of an amiable ambiance and unparalleled vintages continues to draw us in. As we tasted our way through current-release single-vineyard wine, I took my time and analyzed the glass. Was there spice? If so what kind: baking or pepper? Are there notes of vanilla coming from oak? Is the wine high in acidity? What about the tannins – how smooth or structured were they? Did my notes align with the experts pouring for us? In addition to looking for these components I was doing my best to pair food with wine using the WSET standardized pairing chart. When food is salty a wine will taste less dry and bitter, more balanced in acidity, and full in body and flavor. If there is umami (aka savory foods) this will increase bitterness, dryness, and acidity while making wine less sweet. The result was me hovering over the cheese table for an embarrassing length of time. In my defense, there was an array of different cheeses to pair – from creamy goat to aged gouda-ness (see what I did there) and sharp cheddar. My stomach was having the time of its life while my brain and critical thinking was put to work.

Open House 2019 at Nickel & Nickel Winery

Event number two was a Library Tasting hosted at Groth Family Vineyards. The founders of Groth Vineyards & Winery are Judy and Dennis who have been rooted in the wine industry for almost 40 years. To this day, the production is family owned and operated in the heart of Oakville. We were welcomed with a glass of their most recent Sauvignon Blanc direct from the tanks since the wine hadn’t even been bottled yet. This was followed by an opportunity to sample a new undertaking that will only be available for their wine club: a rosé of merlot with the palest of hues and the richest of flavor. Historically Groth offers three varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was incredibly special to taste a brand-new release before it hits the market and provide honest feedback to the Cellar Master. While we loved the wine, of course, the experience made it even more enjoyable. I’ll just go ahead and say it, that welcoming will be tough to top! I was full of gratitude and feeling the buzz of cheer all around me. We continued to make our way from table to table tasting their Oakville and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons from 2006, 2009, and 2011. We’ve tasted the same varietals and vintages a few times, all in different settings, and with different people. But, there was something about sipping the 2011 Reserve Cabernet in the cellar with my husband surrounded by barrels while overlooking the vineyards that elevated the wine to a new level. We were there for my WSET exam and at that moment I was reminded of how incredibly supportive my husband is. We also had so much to celebrate – the hardworking vintners, viticulturists, winemakers, and wine community filled with likeminded enthusiasts. I swirled, sniffed, sipped and repeated. I gave the wine detective in me the afternoon off and let my hair down! The wine was silky smooth with layers of green bell pepper that nearly dropped me to my knees.  This was a moment that lasted forever, but in the best way. It’s a moment I will always remember and one that elevated my wine tasting.

Groth 2009 Cab & Reserve Cab

In the end my faculty of reason and perception of wine tasting was annexed by emotion and passion. Approaching these events with two drastically different mindsets left me feeling incredibly balanced, surprisingly. Like in winemaking, balance in life is vitally important. When it came time for the exam, I was steady and ready to pour myself into this next phase of appreciating and learning about wine.

Groth Winery & Vineyards

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

Digital Wine Boutiques

For the Modern Wine Lover

We’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: experience and connection are two of the greatest components in tasting wine. We love visiting wine country because of the hospitality, passion, scenery, and history. That’s also where we purchase 90% of our wine. So what do we do when the cellar is dry, our next wine club shipment is pending, and we’re craving something new? Glad you asked! In our house there are only 2 acceptable shopping methods: our local bottle house and online wine shops. Sure, BevMo has some great deals and a few good staples – but you can do better! There’s a community of passionate people who have curated a worldly and well-rounded wine offering. So, today I’m writing to encourage you to “be better than the Gap” (#CrazyStupidLove fans where you at?) and shop for wine online with a small business!

Shopping for Wine Online

There are plenty of big retailers on the web where you can buy wine, but as you all know, we prefer a more personal touch. We’re excited to have found a great option and to share with you all some background deets on one of the friendliest online wine shop owners out there: Mike Melançon at www.winesplurge.com

Wine Splurge and The Social Grapes share a common beginning: an appreciation for wine. Mike started out by hosting wine tasting events at work. With each tasting Mike was asked where the bottles could be purchased – short answers include Wine Exchange, Hi Times, Total Wine, or directly from the wineries. Since he was doing the selling, he wanted to launch an online store to compliment the tasting events. In 2018, Wine Splurge received a license to sell wine online. Since the launch they’ve added over 100 different wines with a couple of verticals. Mike’s family is involved too. His wife Pam helps sample wines before purchasing for the store. Their son Andrew samples wine while their daughter Rachel takes photos for the website and social media. We love family operated wine businesses and this one fits the bill!

If you’re like me, online shopping gives you a thrill! Idk why – perhaps this is something scientists should study – but it’s true. I’m particularly interested in seeing what happens inside my brain when the words “free shipping” flash across the screen. Wine Splurge ships wine free of charge to CA, LA, NH, NM, NV, OR & WY.

There are two wino friendly ways to shop for the perfect wine:

  1. Wine Type (Red/White/Sparkling) -> Grape Varietal -> Bottles
  2. Country -> Wine Region -> Sub-appellation -> Bottles

If that still seems intimidating or you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for, Wine Splurge can help with that too. We started chatting with Mike about the types of wine we like and mentioned some varietals we are interested in exploring a little. He curated a list of three bottles and sent them our way! Now that’s the kind of wine buying experience we love. Thanks Mike!

Wine Splurge Wine Reviews

Here are some of the wines we recently tasted from www.winesplurge.com

2014 Albariño which is a white wine from Rías Baixas, Spain
Produced by Marques de Vizhoja
Torre la Moreira Albariño

Appearance: clear, medium intensity, straw-yellow
Nose: green apple, pear, honeydew melon, citrus zest
Palate: herbaceous, grapefruit, earthy minerals, dry, light-bodied, high acidity
Conclusion: Very good- especially at this price!

2012 Estate Pinot Noir
Produced by Irvine Family Vineyards
Rogue Valley, Oregon

Appearance: clear, medium intensity, ruby
Nose: candied red cherry, spice, vanilla, earthiness
Palate: plum, cherry, vanilla, forrest floor, dry, light-bodied, high acidity
Conclusion: Outstanding – silky smooth!


2015 “Sweetwater” Cabernet Sauvignon
Produced by Levendi Winery
Oakville AVA, Napa, CA

Appearance: opaque, intense, deep purple
Nose: red cherry, fresh floral, hints of green bell pepper, sweet oak
Palate: blackcurrant, cherry, coriander, floral, dry, full-bodied, high acidity
Conclusion: Outstanding – velvety soft tannins. Great price for a Napa Cab!

This is one of our go-to spots when we’re interesting in trying new varietals from new places. Stay tuned for our next shopping post – we will share our favorite wine boutiques in real life!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

New to Napa

Two months after we were engaged Greg was preparing for a 6 month deployment. We decided to spend some quality time together and drive up the coast to Napa Valley with stops in Monterey Bay and San Francisco along the way. Upon our arrival, Napa welcomed us with rain for days. That wasn’t going to keep us down, because rain or shine we taste wine.

Being new to the scene, we only had one reservation on the books and decided to wing the rest of the trip. This wouldn’t fly during peak season, but we learned you can get away with this in the middle of December. As we googled vineyards, the top search result was Hall Rutherford. Little did we know, this is a private and very exclusive tasting room for members only. We didn’t get past the gate, but it led us to our very first Napa appellation… Rutherford! FYI – Napa Valley is made up of 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and Rutherford is one of them.

In the midst of our unsuccessful first attempt we did end up finding a small winery on the same road called Rutherford Hill. Success! Mark this hilltop establishment as our first tasting experience in the mecca of vineyards and wine. We shared a classic tasting which offered Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. All delicious and already higher quality than the wines we were used to purchasing from BevMo. Aside from the delicious wine, we found the grounds quite picturesque with a great vista of the valley. Rutherford Hill is quaint, rustic, cozy, and elegant.

After Rutherford Hill we cruised down to Mumm Napa. Err. Mahh. Gerrd. We immediately fell in love. Like most lushes, we had tried Mumm before, but the stuff in grocery stores doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what they do. What we soon found out was just how many different varietals and wine options they produce… including sparkling AND still. This was the first time we had ever even heard of sparkling Pinot Noir (it’s even more amazing than it sounds). Also, our host was incredibly sweet and made our experience fun and less intimidating. We joined the club and re-visit every time we’re in Napa. That was it for our first day.

The highlight of our trip, and what we were most excited about, was tasting at Reverie Wines. Our close friends were referred by a close friend who was referred by a close friend and so on. That’s how it works at Reverie. It’s a small vineyard that focuses on producing fantastic wine and marketing flows through word of mouth. You definitely need a reservation and each tasting is private for you & yours. The history of the vineyard and passion for Napa viticulture was contagious. Our tasting was inside the barn which looked out over the hillside vineyard as the rain poured down. It was cozy and welcoming. We talked and sipped for a couple hours, feeling like we were at home with friends. This was the second wine club we joined and we’ve been in a committed relationship for 2 years. We never miss an opportunity to visit our friends at Reverie.

After Reverie we popped over to Chandon to get a fix of our bubbles in for the day! As the rain poured outside, the wine poured inside. We sat next to a fireplace and tasted a few varietals… rosé being my fave which is produced using Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. The experience was less personal but the grounds makeup for that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take advantage of the outdoor picnic-like vibe, but we’ve re-visited and highly recommend you do as well!

We ended our first (very short) trip with a visit to Clos Du Val. We sipped at the bar and enjoyed the elegance of the wines in their cozy tasting room. The rain was really coming down at this point and we nearly got flooded in. Would not have been the worst place to be stuck in at all! Sadly, we were able to leave and admired the well-maintained vineyards as we waited for our uber driver.

This was all it took. We like to think back on our first trip because it reminds us of how little we knew. To be honest, I was intimated at first. But, we had such a positive experience and have continued to grow more passionate about Napa and wine-making with each return visit. Our advice for those making their first trip to Napa is to have reservations set up at 2-3 wineries per day, but leave a little room in the schedule. That will allow you to take advantage of any recommendations you might get along the way. One of our favorite parts of Napa is engaging with the people pouring our tastings – they all have their own love of wine they are willing to share and that usually includes their own favorite wineries. Once the wine starts flowing, so does the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be social!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape