Category Archive: Wine Education

How to Evaluate Wine

Posted on April 22, 2019

How to Evaluate Wine

Wine sensory evaluation is as simple as smelling perfume, eating a meal or looking at art.  Wine is really not that complicated.  We make it more complicated than it needs to be.  We insist on making it mystical or something only an expert can interpret.

On April 27th, along with my good friend and sommelier, Ashley Phillips I will be holding a class where you will learn how to evaluate wine. I break it down to the bare essence and teach you how to understand what you are smelling and tasting.  Every aroma we smell in a wine is most likely stored away somewhere in our memory, we just need to get it out. Every wine has a unique taste and since we have been eating and tasting food since birth, it is really easy to identify those tastes.

At the end of the day, wine is like art. We can all see the same art work, agree on the color, texture and sometimes the subject matter. We can agree on what we are seeing, but disagree on the meaning of the work. Now, does that make our interpretation of the art wrong or right? No.  The same goes for wine. We can smell and taste a wine and agree on the generality (color, alcohol, acidity and tannin); but have a completely different interpretation on if that wine appeals to us or not.

We would like to show you how to “feel” wine. Instead of tasting wine and searching for its identifying flavors, ask yourself “how does it make me feel?”  Once you take this approach you will begin to really understand how to evaluate wine.

This Saturday we have several exercises planned to help you evaluate and engage with wine.  During the seminar you will discover if you are a super-taster or not. You will dive into an interactive aroma identification exercise.  We will show you how the color you see effects the flavor of a wine.  Finally, we will show you how music can make a great wine bad and a bad wine great.

All this will be at Island Prime, April 27th 12-2pm. Call 619-298-6802 to make your reservations today!



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6 Tips to Help You Learn About Wine?

Posted on April 16, 2018

In this day in age everything comes so easy. If you want to know the capitol of Paraguay, you google it. To know when to use “capital” or “capitol” you go to  If you want to learn how to put up dry wall, you YouTube it. If you’re lost and need directions you WAZE it.  If your kid breaks out with red bumps, you go to WebMD.  No matter what you want to know the answers are at your finger tips.

Learning about wine is not quite the same. Sure you can go to Wine Folly and learn what it means when your white wine turns brown. Wikipedia will tell you the DNA of your favorite grapes. Each region has their own sophisticated web page describing in detail the history, terroir and climate of their region. Unfortunately, learning about wine is not the same as learning how to put up dry wall.  You can acquire all the textbook knowledge online, but the real magic is in tasting.  Here are my 6 tips on how to learn more about wine.

Drink French Wine


  • Drink French Wine! In order to really understand wines from the new world, you need to know where they came from. Most of the wines we see in the market today originated in France. The great thing about French wines, is that they are loaded with regulations. While conservatives might say regulations are bad for business, I say they are great for wine. It allows the consumer to know what the wine is like. French regions are subject to rules and regulations controlling grapes, viticulture and vinification.  They are held to high standards. These standards were put into place so that wines will show the best expression of its grape and  terroir.  Once you understand French wines, France’s regions and regulation, then you are on your way to mastering wine.

mikey likes it

  • You must experiment! Most wine drinkers  like a certain style of wine, and drink the same style over and over. There are thousands of styles of wines in the world, and if you narrow your selections down to your personal preferences, then you hinder yourself from learning. Try everything, you don’t have to like it, but you should try it. You never know, it might turn out to be one of those Life cereal moments; “Mikey likes it!”

the guild somm

  • Join the Guild Somm. The Guild Somm is the most comprehensive up to date wine site on the internet. It is put together by the Court of Master Sommmeliers where they have a team of sommeliers constantly updating the information. It has a vast compendium of wine information along with podcasts, videos and an excellent forum. If you want to stay in touch, the Guild Somm  is worth every little penny.

blind tasting group

  • Join a tasting group. I can honestly say that this is one of the most valuable pieces of advice. I started my tasting group in 2009 and it is still going strong, we learn something new each time. This may be difficult to find. And for some people it can be a bit intimidating. However, if you are really dedicated in learning about wine, the tasting group will push you to the next level. Learning from your peers is priceless. If you login to the Guild Somm website there are forums where you can search for a tasting group in your area. If you are not interested in joining the Guild Somm, then invite friends over to the house. Have them bring a bottle of wine in a brown bag.  Blind taste with them. Listen to how they describe the wine. Discuss the wine’s characteristics and quality. Finally reveal the wine and see what you might have learned from your blind tasting and the group’s feedback.

prime cru class

  • Go to school. Back when I got into wine, wine schools were hard to find. Today there are dozens. Many people learn better this way. I know I do. I’d much rather listen to a lecture, taste wine and ask questions than read a book.  Each course has its specialty. Find the course that works best for you. WSET (Wine Spirit Education Trust or the Wine Smarties) is great if you are looking to get into retail, restaurant, wholesale or if you are just a novice. It covers the broad spectrum of wine from viticulture to describing wine. The Court of Master Sommeliers is great if you work in the restaurant industry. It focuses on theory, wine service and blind tasting. It is no so much a school but a certification entity. For everyday wine drinkers looking to get more acquainted with wine and possibly looking for a career in the wine industry, there are college classes available. In San Diego there are courses at San Diego State University where I teach 4 courses.  You can go at your own pace. Then there are numerous online schools, some have live classes. The one I am familiar with is the Fox School of Wine in Utah. You can search online for wine classes in your area and you will come up with a great list. I recommend SDSU if in San Diego, I just know what they teach there. Maybe you don’t have the time to dedicate several weeks, then look out for my Prime Cru classes where you can come for a few hours and learn about a particular subject. A Sensory Master Class is coming in June, stay put.

World of wine

  • Travel! This is the best part of learning about wine. There are wine regions all over the world. Each region has a unique approach to wine. You can smell, feel  touch, and experience wine. Travelling is all fun and dandy when we vacation in excluded beaches, but traveling to a wine region is so much more rewarding. From San Diego there are endless regions in all directions. Take a weekend and explore south of the border, Baja wine. Or drive out to Santa Barbara and do the wine trail. If you’re looking for something a bit different take a drive out to Arizona and see what Maynard Keenan from Tool is up to. Or better yet, stay home and visit a local San Diego winery. No matter where you decide to go, first hand accounts of the region, grape and wine is so much more interesting than sitting in a class and hearing an instructor babble about wine.

You thought learning about wine would be difficult. It is actually pretty fun. Think about it, study online the maps and history, take a class at an accredited program, drink French wines, try all kinds of wines, meet new friends in a tasting group and travel around the world. Who would not want to make wine their hobby? Better yet, make it your job!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

-Benjamin Franklin

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Don’t be a Samelier

Posted on September 12, 2017


(Article released for the Somm Con blog)

The beverage industry has changed dramatically and gets more complex each year. Sommeliers who went through testing 20 years ago had a very different experience than those testing today. It has forced young sommeliers to look past France and Italy and discover wines from Croatia, Brazil, and other nontraditional regions. Many sommeliers are up for the challenge and build programs that stand out from the rest. Others are not up for the challenge, and I call these somms sameliers.

In addition to not adapting to changes within the wine industry, sameliers have not adapted to the fact that wine now shares the dinner table with spirits and beer. I hear more guests asking questions about the milk punch or the hops used rather than the grape.  Many more people are enjoying a cocktail or craft beer with their meals rather than a glass of wine.

Restaurants cannot afford to have a sommelier, a cicerone, a whisky expert, and a tequila aficionada walking from table to table recommending pairings. One person needs to do this job. The sommelier needs to diversify. He/she needs to explore much more than just new grape varieties and regions. It really is an easy transition, especially for those somms who love history. Wine, beer, and spirits share a long, intertwined and incestuous history.

What does a true sommelier look like? Take Master Sommelier Thomas Burke. He not only represents Chateau Margaux, but is also a certified cicerone. Master Sommelier Richard Betts not only makes old vine Australian Grenache, but helped grow the Mezcal category with Sombra. Steve Olson, aka Wine Geek, travels around the country enlightening bartenders, sommeliers, and distributors on the wonders of wine, beer, sake and spirits.

You can be a true sommelier too. Go out and make friends with brewers and distillers. Some might be just as resistant to change as the samelier. Regardless, give them a hug and maybe they will stop hiding behind their beards and embrace wine.

This year at Somm Con, enjoy learning about the wines from Central Europe, and blind tasting with the masters, but also go out and expand your boundaries by taking a spirit or beer course. Don’t be the samelier — diversify! You may find it fascinating.

sommcon 2017

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CRG Cocktail Month is Here!

Posted on March 24, 2017

CRG Cocktail Month

 This April my focus is to run an extensive cocktail month across my many restaurants. Most of you know me as the wine guy, but for the last 3 and a half years my focus has been much more so on liquor and beer. The trends across my restaurants are liquor and beer increasing as a percentage in sales a much higher rate than wine sales. It makes me sad to say that wine has taken a steady decline. But I cannot get dragged down by, I have to focus on what people want. And it seems as though they want spirits. April will be CRG Cocktail Month.  I have a lot of really cool promotions, events and dinners planned out. Make some space on your calendar and check out a few of these events.


Two company-wide promotions you will have to check out. We kick off the month with $5 cocktails. Come in to any of the participating restaurants and check out my bartender’s creations for $5. Each restaurant will have a different selection of 5 cocktails for $5, all day long for 5 days!  This will take place April 2nd-6th.  Come mid-month, just as you are turning in your taxes, and we will turn on the cocktail specials again. This time enjoy 2 cocktails for the $10.40. Drown your tax woes with a friend and try any of the participating restaurants’ fresh cocktails. Whether it is Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Rum or Whiskey; we will have something for you.

CRG Cocktail Month $5       CRG_TaxCocktails_031317


The most fun part of my job is coming up with creative events where you can enjoy an afternoon or evening with friends. Some are educational while others are a good party. The first event of note is a two part event. At Sea 180 Coastal Tavern I am inviting local distillers from Henebery Whiskey, Malahat Distillers and Cutwater Spirits for a panel discussion and tasting.  We will meet in the Boca Rio room where the distillers will talk about their projects and walk us through their spirits in a classroom style tasting. Following the panel, we head out to the Patio for a cocktail party. Sea 180 will provide snacks and live music. You will enjoy live cocktail demonstrations with local spirits. See, you can have your cocktail and eat it too, get educated while you party! Only if this was available when I was in college.

Sea 820 Local libations

Mid-month we pay homage to my favorite spirit, Tequila!  Our first annual Tequila Fest will be held on the Harbor Float at Coasterra. Deborah Scott features the signature dishes from her 5 restaurants, Coasterra, Island Prime, C-Level, Vintana & Indigo Grill. Tequila and Mezcal producers will taste you on their best agave spirits. I will be releasing our collaboration with Modern Times and Azunia Tequila. I have been working on a very special beer aged in Tequila barrels and flavored with salted plums and tamarind just for this event. And to bring even more life to an already bumping party, DJ Süsio spins Latin Beats. Your ticket gets you 5 food tickets, 1 signature cocktail and unlimited tastes of agave spirits. For those of you looking for wine, beer or creative cocktails, a full cash bar will be available.

Tequila Fest

The last major event is a San Diego Bartender Competition. We have invited the top bartenders in the city to join us at Analog for a friendly competition with Makers 46.  Maker’s Mark will be there sharing and teaching guests about whiskey and their many brands. All the while, a live bar competition will take place. Bartenders will compete in a two part competition. The first, they bring with them their best Maker’s Mark 46 cocktail.  For the second competition they will be given a limited amount of time to create a cocktail using a secret ingredient. Analog will provide snacks for everyone, tastes of Maker’s whiskeys and a full cash bar will be available in the Karaoke room.

Maker's 46


To round out the month our chef’s host dinners at their restaurants. All cocktail inspired of course. 333 Pacific, our vodka lounge, has Chef Steven Zurkey pairing his delightful creations with Absolut Vodka. C-level’s chef, Mike Suttles is pairing whiskey with his creations. Bo Beau + Garden’s chef, Tyler will have a variety of spirits to choose from and doing a cocktail dinner. Finally, Vintana is hosting an interactive brunch, Brunch en Blanc.  Every one dressed in white trying white spirits paired to Chef Bryan Brown’s brunch favorites.  In true Vintana fashion, live music will be played during this brunch while bartenders shake up white spirits for you to enjoy.


Absolut Vodka Dinner

Whiskey Dinner



Spirits Dinner     Mezcal Dinner


Don’t Let Wine Labels Get The Best of You

Posted on October 12, 2016

wine labels

A few months ago month I spoke at the Ramona Valley Vintner Association’s Wine & Grape Symposium about wine labels.  Local wine makers, winery owners and home wine makers met at the Escondido Center for the Arts and listened to professionals give advice on wine making, vineyard management and wine sales.  RVVA asked me to speak about wine labels.  The earlier month while judging the Ramona Valley Vintner Wine Competition I opened my big mouth and said something like, “it is really hard to sell Ramona wine when the labels look like this.”  I was referring to a wine with cursive writing and photo of a tree and animal.  It looked like a label made for a wedding.  I realized several people became interested, they wanted to hear more and asked me to expound on the subject. It annoyed me that I added to my work load, yet I felt flattered they asked for my opinion and I could help my local friends.  I put together a presentation called Wine Labels: how to sell to restaurants.

I began my talk by mentioning they need to know their consumer before designing a label.  Are you intending to sell your wine to one of the Orange County Housewives, to a sommelier at a fine dining restaurant or out of the tasting room to a tourist from Nebraska?  The basic principle of marketing is knowing your consumer and tailoring your product to fit that consumer’s taste.  Most wineries would say that all three consumers are their targets.  So this means the label would have to attract a larger consumer base, and now designing the label is that much more difficult.

Consumers need to know some very basic things when looking at the label.  What type of wine is it?  Is it red or white? Is it a Cab or Pinot? Where is it from? How much alcohol does it have? Luckily these are all required by law.  What the consumer does not know is if the wine is good or not. They do not know the wine’s quality by looking at the label.  I told the RVVA members that it was their job to tell the consumer what the wine tastes like through the design of the label.  Every winemaker believes their wine is a wine of quality.  Not everyone will agree, but they have to sell it so when the consumer sees the label they associate the wine with quality.

HAH!! Not what I mean.

This is not easy to do, especially if you are not a graphic artist. I gave examples of labels ranging from old traditional Bordeaux labels to labels with big black letters stamped across the front.  I showed pictures of thick dense bottles with textured paper and gold leaf.  I showed pictures of labels which were simple and minimalist.  I pointed out how the millennials are all about the graphics and how some very bad wines have eye-catching bottles millennials just need to buy.  I showed them graphic labels which combine old school elegance modern chic.  The basic premise was the label has to tell us how the wine tastes.






Too many wineries want to put their story on the label.  They have their code of arms, their favorite dog, the rocks by the ravine near the property and so on.  They fail to look at their label through consumers’ eyes.  “My grandmother loved to crochet so this ball of yarn and needle on the label pays tribute to her.”  NO! You cannot do that. You can tell your story, but it needs to grab the consumers attention.  Whether you choose the Chateau, the big bold black writing or engraved gold leaf, the design has to tell us what is in the bottle, not that your grandma sewed.

I then began thinking about the consumer.  It is hard to buy a wine.  There are so many wines on the shelves.  We each shop for wine in different ways. We are either looking for a certain type, meaning grape, grape blend or region.  We shop for by price. Sometimes we want a wine to impress and other times a wine to drink at the next barbeque. Boring as it is, most people buy wine because they are familiar with it. This explains why the large companies are buying and bidding for the old staples in Napa.

The wine business is colossal and unfortunately condensed into the hands of a small group of national and multi-national corporations.  You will never know when buying your beloved Sauvignon Blanc, classic New Zealand full of citrus and grassy aromas, you are buying from the same company that makes box wine in Brazil, brandy in France, animal graphic bottled Shiraz from Australia and overpriced Napa Cab. Consumers are left in the dark as to who really makes the wine and what that wine taste like.  This is why so many stick to what they know and are afraid to experiment.  I do not blame them,  they once bought an unknown eye-catching label with black background and red writing which looked like it would taste big and bold but turned out tasting of swill with residual sugar.  Probably one of the wines also made by the company that boasts the overpriced Napa Cab.

So as a consumer how do we know what to look for?  Before I help you with this question, I need to ask you a few.  What are you looking for? Are you looking for a story? Are you looking for an artisanal wine? Are you looking for something that is easy to drink and don’t have to think about?  There are many criteria to the consumer’s needs.  I do not think I can give you the best answer about what will be in the bottle just by looking at the label, but I can give you some clues.

Look for the alcohol level. It is found on the front, side or back of the bottle and usually hard to find. When you do find it, be leery. Legally they can fudge the percentage by a few points. The alcohol level tells us how the wine might taste.  The more alcohol means more body. Less alcohol means less body.  More importantly this will give you clues to the wine’s acidity level.  Consumers deem acidity as a bad thing, but it is the backbone of wine and it is essential to have balanced acidity or else the wine can taste and feel flabby.  If the alcohol level is higher, that means there was more sugar in the wine prior to fermentation.  If the grape has more sugar then its acidity is lower. If the wine has lower alcohol then it should have greater acidity.  So far the front label will give us clues to its flavor.  You know the grape, vintage, where it came from and have an idea of its body and acidity levels.

Now stop looking at the front label and turn it around and read the back.  Skip that mumbo jumbo about cherries, field flowers and chocolate. Focus your attention to the “Produced and Bottled by” part of the label.   Many  times the front label only has the name of the wine and not who made it, this information will always be on the back.   Here is what you need to know. The back tells us how much say the winery had in its production.

Cellared and Bottled by” & “Vinted and Bottled by” tell us that whoever bottled this wine had very little to do with the actual wine making process. They bought wine, maybe blended it with other bought wine, bottled it and slapped a label on it.  This exact same wine is most likely in other bottles with different labels.

“Made and Bottled by” tells us that at least 10% of the wine is made by the winery on the label. The rest of it is purchased wine and blended. Many of the wines with the above designations, will not have the winery’s name on the front, rather you will have to hunt for the name on the back.  Production of these wines is usually high. These are commodity wines, made to sell and fill the demand for inexpensive juice. However, many times they are not that inexpensive, but have great labels.

“Produced and Bottled by” lets us know that at least 75% of the wine was actually crushed, fermented and bottled at the winery.  The other 25% could have been made by someone else.  This does not mean they grew the grapes and made wine.  Most with this designation bought their grapes. However, many of these wineries have long-term contracts with grape growers and have a say in how to cultivate the grapes.

“Grown, Produced and Bottled by” is exactly what it means.  They grew grapes and made their own wine.

“Estate Bottled and Produced” means that the wine was made from grapes on the property where the winery stands, they had full oversight of the production of the wine and bottled on the estate.  These are the wines which slap their winery name right on the front label with pride.  They want everyone to know they produced the wine.

We think we are savvy consumers.  But be careful, there has been a lot of research by large wine companies on labels and selling wine. Marketing drives the wine business.  They still have the upper hand and sell millions of cases of swill because they invested their money on marketing and not the vineyard. Hopefully these few tips will help you in choosing your next bottle of wine. More importantly I hope our local friends at the Ramona Valley Vintner Association put more thought into their labels.  The competition is fierce and these massive wine conglomerates have no mercy.

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