The Blog

Peter Downey
February 21, 2013 | Peter Downey

Champagne at the Oscars

I miss the metallic-popcorn pop of flashbulbs.  The silent strobe of modern photographic lightning without that muffled report of miniature thunder is unnatural,  as is the fake shutter ‘click’ of most modern cameras and iphones.  So this Sunday, the only real ‘pops’ greeting the glitterati  at the Annual Oscar festivities will come, of course, from bottles and bumpers and cases and carloads of Champagne.  We haven’t invented a silent, digital Champagne bottle. Yet.

Why celebrate with Champagne?  Now, that is like asking “Why is the Oscar gold, man?” Since humans discovered them, both have been treasured as luxury items, sought after, collected, and employed as the simple, elegant implements of achievement and success in this life.  “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams” is the battle cry of the Rich and Famous. No matter if it is acidic, lean, yeasty, bitter, and the fizz gets up your nose. Caviar is fish eggs, so there you go…

In 2006, the European Union reclaimed several wine names from general use, and took steps to reconnect them to places of origin within the EU:  these include Burgundy, Claret, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Malaga, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine Wine, Hock, Sauterne, Haut Sauterne, Sherry, and Tokay.  Why?  These names carry inherent value, and bear histories that can be expressed in a very specific monetary value. The French have been making laws regarding wine quality and purity for centuries, and this has led to increased prices for wines coming from recognized regions in France. Nowhere is this more obvious as in the case (pardon the pun) of Champagne.

As is true of other luxury items, the perceived monetary value of Champagne precedes the individual product. The inherent value, from strict production methods and quality control, is compounded by the intrinsic value of the terroir itself: unique amoung the AOCs of France, the appellation “Champagne” covers all the wines made there, and so every single prized bottle promotes the entire region, along with the producer, vintage, style, etc. – increasing Champagne’s value with every sale.

Still, half the sparkling wines produced in the US will have the word Champagne hiding somewhere on the label. Some have special permission from the French, as is the case with Korbel, who received this honor in the late 1800s; others will claim that the term is “semi-generic”, while using it to inflate their prices.

No matter. This Sunday, flutes and coupes will overrun with Champagne, all over Los Angeles.  I am reminded of the words attributed to Bonaparte: I drink champagne when I win, to celebrate . . . and I drink champagne when I lose, to console myself.   Champagne is perfect for the Oscars, then:  in a room where few winners will be rubbing shoulders with an increasing number of “losers” as the night progresses, it can simultaneously celebrate and console table by table. “Champagne for real pain” as we say sometimes in the Valley.

Although if anyone has the gall to think themselves a loser while sitting in that room, well then, …he is one.  Bring him a vodka-Redbull.

Peter Downey
December 11, 2012 | Peter Downey

“A Holiday Pairing” in Anacreontic Verse

An Ancient Greek lyrical form, 20- to 30-lines with three to five syllables per line, often in homage to Dionysus.

Try sparkling wines
(Any), or a rich,
Saignée-style Rosé
With holiday ham,

Spätlese Riesling
To compliment spiced
Baked squash or yam.

Californians serve
Cold Dungeness crab
Courtesy of Stock YardsWarm butter with But-

And for gravitas
Beyond gravy with
Roast Turkey, prefer
An aged Cabernet.

Pour “Beau-Nouveau”! It
Has cran-raspberry,

Courtesy of Stock YardsCherry, carbonic soft
Flavors; while deeper

Cru Beaujolais and
Pinot Noir proffer
Fruit with earth tones and
Mushroomy “savors”.

Bacon lardons with
Sprouts or sausage in
Your stuffing? Syrah
Isn’t too racy…

Courtesy of Stock Yards

And if you grilled your
Bird “en barbecue”,
May we suggest a

Desserts! Bread Pudding?
Serve a Moscato
, Sauternes, or
Late Harvest SB;

Pumpkin pie with a
Riesling Auslese,
Courtesy of Stock YardsAnd mincemeat pie with
A Port LBV.

Bual (Madeira)
Or Colhieta (rare
vintage Tawny) with
Pecan Pie is best.

And Last: Coffee with
“Schlagobers”. Now sigh,
Collapse to the floor,
And moan. And digest.

Anacreon, (born Asia Minor, 6th Century BCE) was inspired by a variety of cultural and …supernatural undertones, often paying homage to Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine. His poems revolved around themes of love, infatuation, revelry, festivals, and observations of everyday life “…it’s fun to compose because its subject matter tends to combine everyday observations with supernatural themes and/or celebrations”. Poetry through the Ages, Robert Yehling.

Amber Snider
October 27, 2012 | Amber Snider

Ghost Wineries of the Napa Valley

Napa Valley wineries built between the years 1860 and 1900 are also known as “Ghost Wineries” and sure, some have even been rumored to be haunted. Prohibition and phyloxerra (a detrimental vineyard pest) forced hundreds of old wineries out of business and only a few survived that time period. Many of these old abandoned wineries morphed into restaurants, retail shops and residences, while the lucky winery survivors arose like the Phoenix from the ashes. Sure, the facilities have been restored and the equipment has been upgraded but what remains at the core of these 100 year old gems are historical reminders of a different time. Stories of hardship, passion, perseverance and yes, maybe even a few ghosts.

Here are three "Ghost Wineries" that still produce amazing wine today:

Chateau Montelena

Founded by Alfred Tubbs in 1888 The early founding of Chateau Montelena and few other surviving wineries is important to the American wine industry. And yet this early status as a Napa Valley and California wine industry founder is not what makes Chateau Montelena both legendary and important. Alongside their longevity is a history of wines of truly historic character and outstanding quality.

Chateau Montelena 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Intense deep crimson color with a powerful nose. Classic structure of fine-grained tannins and firm acidity persist through to the clean, crisp, spicy finish.

"A great wine in the making, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate (just under 10,000 cases produced) possesses a fragrant bouquet of sweet black currants, crushed rocks, earth and background oak. - 94+ Points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

$122.99 bottle | BUY NOW >>


Palmaz Vineyards

For anyone who has ever ventured into a winery’s caves, it’s usually something of a disappointing affair. They are, after all, just caves; holes dug into the side of a mountain where barrels are stored in cool temperatures and high humidity. But then…there are CAVES.

Imagine a winery cave system that is 18 stories high, consisting of four vertical levels with one level a full five stories high. That’s not a winery cave. That’s a monument to engineering. SHOP ALL WINES >>

Palmaz 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
"This old ghost winery, which has been resurrected, has produced their best wine to date. Dark ruby/purple, with a nose of graphite, black currants, violets, and some chocolate, the medium to full-bodied texture of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon builds incrementally. The fruit is pure, rich, and concentrated, the finish long and authoritative. The wine, which is very approachable now, should drink well for at least 10-15+ years." (Dec. 2010) - 90 Points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

$99.99 bottle | Only 22 left! BUY NOW >>


Napa Valley Wineries built between the years 1860 and 1900 are also known as “Ghost Wineries” and sure, some have even been rumored to be haunted. 


Flora Springs Winery

Originally built in the 1880s, the buildings that now house Flora Springs Winery on the western edge of the Valley consisted of two run down stone shells of its former self when Jerry Komes found the property in 1978. But, it had potential and sat on good ground for planting.

The old ghost winery that Komes bought and named after his wife, Flora, was built by a local stonemason named Cadioli and was the home to Brockhoff Winery before the turn of the 20th century. But, between the outbreak of Phylloxera in the late 19th century and the onset of Prohibition in 1919, the stone buildings were left abandoned. However, a soon-to-be Napa Valley icon saw their potential. The winery is open to visitors only by appointment. It’s most certainly worth the effort to call Flora Springs, make the trek down Zinfandel Lane and experience the historic buildings first hand. In addition to a tour of the former ghost and a walk into Flora Springs’ hillside caves, visitors to the winery will have the chance to taste a selection of Cabernets that are made from a small selection of the finest grapes culled from the winery’s nearly 500 acres of vineyards. It’s a true Napa Valley experience. SHOP ALL WINES >>

Flora Springs 2005 Holy Smoke Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Exhibits spice, berries and licorice aromas and flavors. Rich texture, a complex mid-palate and an amazingly long finish.

"The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard exhibits a dense ruby/purple color and notes of charcoal, black currant, sweet cherry, earth, and underbrush. A deep, full-bodied wine that is more supple and forward than its two predecessors, but beautiful, it should be drunk over the next 12-15 years." (Dec. 2007) - 90 Points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate


$89.99 bottle | Only 12 left! BUY NOW >>


Amber Snider
October 15, 2012 | Amber Snider

October is National Seafood Month

If you love seafood, check out these great seafood enhancing wines to pair with your favorite dishes! Plus, because of our close relationship with Stock Yards® -- The World's Finest Steaks, Chops & Seafood, you can purchase all these items right here! We've made it even easier for you to enjoy wine with your favorite meals. Satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. (These items will ship separately -- all seafood ships 2 day air).

Pahlmeyer 2009 Jayson Chardonnay

The 2009 Jayson Chardonnay is pale yellow-green in color. Composed of both Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast fruit, it reveals kiwi, melon, tangelo and lemon-lime curd with an underlying flintiness and minerality.




Atlantic Cold Water Lobster Tails

Two or Four 8-9 ounce servings. Remarkable tender, snow white lobster tails from "Down Under" have an exquisitely mild taste with rich flavor.

$62.95 - $109.95

Spelletich Cellars 2008 Reserve Chardonnay

Lovely, toasty aromas with some citrus. On the palate, it’s soft with some vanilla that morphs into crisp acidity on a long finish.


Atlantic Salmon Filets

Six 10 ounce servings. The rich, delicate flavor of Atlantic Salmon makes it a favorite seafood choice. Every step is taken to ensure exceptional quality.



Huru 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

Our staff thinks this Sauvignon Blanc is the cats meow. Full of fresh tropical flavors and a finish that goes on and on, this wine packs a lot of punch for it's little price!


Ultimate Crab Cakes
Six 3.25 ounce servings.
An all-time favorite! Our East Coast Recipe is loaded with the sweetest crabmeat available and hand-blended with the right spices.




Amber Snider
September 17, 2012 | Amber Snider

Make Merlot Burgers to celebrate National Cheeseburger Day

Swanson Merlot Burgers

  • 10lbs. lean ground chuck
  • 1 bottle of Merlot (try Swanson merlot)
  • 2 medium-sized red onions, coursely chopped
  • Sea salt and pepper to tast
  • Mix all ingrediants in a small bucket or large pot.
  • Add more or less Merlot, depending upon moisture content of the beef.
  • Meat should be well saturated with merlot, but not oversaturated, which would make it difficult to form pattied.
  • Cover and allow to "macerate" in rwefrigerator for 3-4 hours prior to shaping patties. Grill over charcoal coals. Burgers cook rather quickly; remvove from grill as soon as clear juice appears.
  • makes 20 1/2 - lb burgers.


(Recipe by Chris Phelps, Swanson Vineyards Winemaker)

Time Posted: Sep 17, 2012 at 3:18 PM
Amber Snider
September 12, 2012 | Amber Snider

September Is California Wine Month: Carneros

The Wines of Los Carneros

Fun Facts:

There is a word, Carneros and it means “The Ram” in Spanish. The name “Carneros,” or “Los Carneros,” is derived from the days when our region was home to sheepherders, dairy farms, fruit orchards and hayfields.+ 

Climate: Cool, with prevailing marine winds from the San Pablo Bay and through the Petaluma Gap to the west. High temperatures during summer rarely exceed 80°F (27°C) with less diurnal range variation.
Elevation: 15 to 400 ft. (4.6 to124 m)
Rainfall: Lowest in Napa Valley: 18 to 24 inches (7.2 to 9.6cm) annually.
Soils: Clay dominated, very shallow in general, with more loam and hillside alluvials in the northern section. Yields typically are restrained by the hard claypan subsoil, which prevents deep-rooting.++

Shop Carneros Wines Now

+"Welcome - Carneros." Carneros Wine Alliance. Carneros Wine Alliance. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

++"Science of Napa Valley." Napa Valley Appellations and Wine Grape Growing Regions. Napa Valley Vintners. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

Joe Roberts
June 22, 2012 | Joe Roberts

Only at Auction Napa Valley!


The Blog

Auction Napa Valley

This very well could have been the story about how I met Tango, the six-year-old male Cheetah who is a minor celebrity, having appeared in several commercials (which gives him more acting cred than most of the human actors that I know), and then watched baby jaguars drink from baby bottles.

But it’s not.

It might have been the story of partying with the young female staff from Clos du Val, who were wearing Victoria’s Secret angel wings at the time, after touching the America’s Cup (yes, that America’s Cup).

But it’s not.

It’s not even the story of how I tasted (more like guzzled, in some cases) coveted California reds like Screaming Eagle, Spottswoode, Scarecrow and Palmaz, all within less than twenty-four hours. Or how I attended an impromptu performance by wunderkind violinist Charles Yang. Or how the 2012 incarnation of Auction Napa Valley, held at the luxurious Meadowood Resort off the Silverado Trail in St. Helena, raised over $8 million for health, hospice and housing charities by gathering celebrities, wine personalities, and (very) wealthy and (very) generous folks to bid on a lot of wine coupled with experiences such as dinner with Superbowl legend Joe Montana, a 12-day African safari (that’s where Tango came in – and he even has his own Chappellet wine to go with it), VIP access to the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (hence the angle wing attire), and a private concert from Grammy-award-collectors Lady Antebellum.

No, this is actually the story of how I almost got bulldozed over by Emeril Lagasse. Yeah, that Emeril Lagasse, the one they call “Chef” without using the rest of his name because he’s that bad-ass. And his New Orleans style brass band – they almost bulldozed me, too.

It’s not as if my stint at Auction Napa Valley 2012, where all of the above took place – on the same day, I should add, and not while I was dreaming after overdoing it on spicy Thai food the night before – needed to be any more surreal than it already was before I got in Emeril’s way. It was just the tale-to-tell-the-grandkids icing on the bizarro-world cake at that point.

It happened like this: I was sitting with the aforementioned Clos du Val angels at the back of the luxury tent that housed table after table of winemakers, media, celebrities and auction bidders on the Meadowood lawn, and the Auction was a bit more than halfway through the lots. I then got a text message from a friend who was sitting at another table, just right of the stage and practically on the stage itself, inviting me to check out the view over at his table. Why not, right? Good opportunity to take pictures, and since every table had a different vintner with their killer Napa wines being poured, I figured what the hell - let’s mix it up.

That’s when I got in Emeril’s way. I grabbed a seat at my buddy’s table, with my back to the audience, and figured I’d be under the radar since most everyone’s attention was focused squarely on the bidding happening on the stage to my left.

I hadn’t counted on Chef, though.

Chef came charging into the tent several minutes later, to much fanfare and applause and with a band and two police escorts in tow, fresh from having cooked dinner (with help from the Meadowood staff) for the few hundred Auction-goers. Instead of looping around to the far lefthand side of the stage where the steps were, Emeril went for the most direct path to the stage, because that’s how Emeril rolls. A direct path that lead straight to my seat; the one with about six inches of clearance between its legs and the edge of the stage.

Chef is not a tall man but he is anything but a frail man. He certainly weighs more than I do, which you should treat is an educated assessment since I had to use all of my strength to level the chair steady when Emeril grabbed it (along with my arm, which was draped over the chair’s back) and hauled himself onto the stage, to much fanfare and applause. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about the surrealism so much as focusing on the fact that, if I failed to steady the chair I was likely going to fall flat on top of Chef, and be tazed (or shot) by his police escort and (maybe worse) never be invited back to the madness of Auction Napa Valley ever again.

Once Emeril passed by, all of what seemed like the 700 members of his Big Easy style brass troupe used the same stage entrance pathway, made slightly more accessible by the jamming of my body between the table and my chair, which probably gave them a much roomier seven inches of clearance versus the more claustrophobic six inches we were working with there for Chef’s entrance. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about the surrealism so much as focusing on being able to breathe enough not to pass out, and trying to avoid getting clobbered in the head by trombone, bass drum, or tuba (or having any of them lay a Voodoo curse on me for all eternity).

I’m happy to report that all ended well, Emeril and crew made it safely on stage, I suffered only minor bruises to my pride, and Chef went on to literally auction off the shirt off his back.

That’s my story, people. Cheetah, jaguars, angels, trophies, private Classical concerts, Big Easy bands, a whole hell of a lot of great wine… and Chef; all in the same day, all in the same place, all while lucidly awake, and only at Auction Napa Valley.

Francis Sanders
April 20, 2012 | Francis Sanders

“Corked” Roadshow Diary – Noir City X

This was a shorter-than-normal trip for us to the festival this year.

Al had recently undergone left knee replacement surgery, and the “Corked” army feared her wrath if we spent too much time sans her in the city by the bay.
Normally we do “Corked” events at a couple other venues in addition to Noir City – last year we brought our dog and pony show to the Cartoon Art Museum & Isotope – The Comic Book Lounge.

Other than pouring shot glasses of 08 Red Brick Cellars, Tough Dame Cabernet Sauvignon & 09 Mira Luna, Tough Day Chardonnay  for more than 400 guests per night while Dave was his usual caricature-drawing-machine self, it was like old home night at the Castro Theatre.

Thursday, January 26, 2012 – Bad Girls!

Mike Whipple of the Prescott hotel and best-selling author Rudy Simone augmented our crew in vintage period attire, bringing a much needed sense of style to the “Corked” army, and Mike helped us pour.

Instead of wearing my by-now-already-ripe Tough Dame Cabernet t-shirt, I was sporting a t-shirt with the Robert McGinnis cover art for “Kill Now, Pay Later” by Robert Terrall on it – I own the McGinnis rough for this cover - when a guest points to me and says “My dad wrote that! Thank you for wearing the shirt!” We made sure that Dave devoted additional time to Ben Terrall’s caricature, then proceeded to scour the Green Apple books stand for additional Robert Terrall novels.

Friday, January 27, 2012 – Blue Collar Noir


Maria Mendoza & Ron Blum from Kayo Books, our favorite bookstore, attended. I had earlier-in-the-week scored the original Duillo cover painting to 1959’s smutty-for-the-time paperback “Exotic Sinner” by Shep Sheppard (Harry Whittington) at Kayo, while Dave filled in his “Filmfax” collection.

For us, the best line of the festival didn’t even occur at the Castro. The “Corked” army was paying homage to James Sime and crew, dropping off Dave’s 2012 posters and contributing to the cash flow at Isotope, that coolest of West Coast comics shops, and James noticed that Al was on a cane. “How did you hurt your knee? Fighting crime?”

As art of our festival prep work, Dave had created a beautiful Angie Dickinson tribute for the festival’s super special guest star.

After working the festival we made sure that both Amoeba & Rasputin wouldn’t go broke any time soon. We squeezed in a lovely Park Chow breakfast with Sean McIntyre, Laura Nelson and family, where Clodagh and Dave exchanged drawings before Sean drove us back to the airport to start back to Boston.

Time Posted: Apr 20, 2012 at 9:23 AM
Alexandria Mariscal
April 19, 2012 | Alexandria Mariscal

Earth Day

How have you “gone green” lately?

Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22, and it marks as an important day to teach and remind everyone about all the ways we can become more environmentally conscious. Our products come wholly from the earth, so it’s very important to us that we find ways to give back and be as environmentally friendly as we can!

We’re most proud of our partnership with ReCork, a cork recycling program. Natural cork, most commonly used for wine closures, is prime for recycling. This cork is 100% natural, biodegradable and renewable, so there is no reason why these wine corks should end up in the garbage.

Did you know that wine corks can become used for flooring tiles, building insulation, automotive gaskets, craft materials, soil conditioner and sports equipment? And they’re even more in demand now that there is worldwide interest in sustainable agriculture and natural products, just like corks. That’s where ReCork comes in.

It’s a very simple process, where they collect used corks from partners in wine, hospitality and retail markets and then grinds those corks down to various sizes of granules based on planned use.

That’s not all that we do. We also sell wines from some very environmentally conscious wineries. With your purchases from these vineyards, you’ll be sipping delicious wines with a clear conscious and taking care of the planet at the same time.

Our friends at Hahn Estates promote natural pest control, including beneficial insects such as beetles, lady bugs and lace wings.

At J Vineyards, plants cover crops to control erosion, choke back unwanted weeds and enrich soils with important nutrients.

And Pahlmeyer dramatically reduces their water consumption with customized irrigation systems and individual drip lines.

Every little bit helps when it comes to taking care of our earth. And this Earth Day, we’re happy to know that we’re able to contribute.

What changes will you be making this Earth Day?

Alexandria Mariscal
April 13, 2012 | Alexandria Mariscal

Throw a Tax Day Party

Are you a go-getter or a procrastinator when it comes to filing your taxes?

April 15 is Tax Day (or April 17 for those of you really running late!) so you better get a move on it, and plan to give yourself a nice reward for all of your hard work when you finish. Whoever you are, make this weekend a fun one and throw a Tax Day party to celebrate being done with your taxes! If you want to make a bigger bash of it, plan ahead for making the party next week so your friends who will be forcing the post office to stay open on Tuesday will be able to join in the fun! 

Not that anyone needs an excuse for a good get-together, but a festive theme can always be fun to celebrate.

Pick up these perfect red & white wines for those who need to relax after just filing at the last minute and while you're at it, grab a bottle of bubbly for those who are ready to party the night away! Our picks for the occasion:

Want a signature drink for the night? Try out this fun mix we found at

Income Tax Day Cocktail 

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • Aromatic bitters to taste
  • Orange slice or twist for garnish

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, vigorously shake liquid ingredients. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange.

Decorate your place with fake monetary bills, chocolate coins and Americana décor of red, white and blue. For a little noise or something to do, keep a money-minded movie on in the background (we’re thinking either of the Wall Street movies or the sympathetic look into an IRS Auditors life in Stranger Than Fiction).

Need a Tax Day Party activity? We have a couple! 

Guess Who: Not the board game, in this guessing game you should have each of your guests write down their perfect scenario of what they would spend a tax refund of $1M on! 

Wall Street Movie Drinking Game: (Before we begin ALWAYS DRINK RESPONSIBLY this game is only for friends over 21 who are staying over!)

Drink every time…

  • The time is shown
  • Anyone drinks
  • Money is referenced in any way
  • Anytime a company is mentioned by name

Before you begin calling your friends, it’s probably best if your taxes are done before you start any games. Get to the post office soon and have a happy and safe weekend! 

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