Archive for September, 2009

What’s in your home wine cellar?

September 24, 2009

I’m often questioned about wine cellars and what is the proper environment for storage and aging wines at home. Truth be known, I don’t have a “cellar” with a large collection of untouchable bottles waiting “just for the right time” to uncork. My “cave à vin” can be found on the floor in the coolest closet of the house, complete with 12 bottle cardboard holder. I try to age younger reds and pour the better reds.

Fortunately my neighbor keeps bottles cool for me in his cellar. A classic rock basement, converted to a walk-in with earth floor, relatively moderate humidity, low voltage lighting and enhanced with redwood racks from old casks. Horizontal bottle storage allows the corks to keep in contact with the wine – not required for the Australian screw-top caps.

Whether you’re a professional collector, connoisseur or simple consumer, it’s common knowledge that wines face adversaries in their challenge to mature gracefully. There are unique conditions important to the proper storage and aging of wine, but nothing more critical than consistency in temperature (regulated 55º to 62º F). Variation in temperature of bottled wine storage accelerates the aging process.
“In red wines, the result can be the pigments polymerizing and falling out of the wine as sediment. It also could result in the premature loss of fruit flavors and aromas in both reds and whites. White and pink wines can display brownish tints in color early on,” said Etienne Cowper, Winemaker at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula. Humidity (between 50% to 70%), darkness of colored bottles help shield exposure (ultra-violet radiation from sunlight damages color and flavor), and a stable environment (free of vibration) are also important.
The chemistry of red wine determines its structure and aging potential. First-Growth Bordeaux’s and Vintage Ports for example are crafted for long cellar aging as they tend to possess a dense tannic structure and intense pigmentation and may be unapproachable in the first 10 years after bottling. “Different red grape varieties have different pigment structures in their skins. Some varieties like Sangiovese and Pinot Noir lack some of the intense pigments found in Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, amongst others,” said Cowper.

Wines produced in the “International style” which are soft on the palate, fruit forward, and ready to drink, are not good candidates for long-term cellaring and aging. Longer aging reds are likely to taste rather tannic when young.

“These are tannins that give structure and mouth-feel – not bitter hard or green tannins. Tannins are natural anti-oxidants and help give a red wine a long life,” said Cowper. “Please note that what one looks for in a wine that has been properly cellar aged for 10 years or more isn’t going to be what one looks for in a young red wine. Aged wines are not fruit forward but have developed complex flavors and bouquet associated with the chemistry of bottle aging.”
Cellars and storage cabinets vary in design, price, function and fashion. Here’s a few cellaring tips from local “cellar dwellers” who share pleasure and passion for protecting their purchases age worthy vintages and enjoying all bottles regardless of price.
Richard Crean of Alta Loma

The cellar in the Crean home in Alta Loma was designed and constructed as part of a remodel after the 2003 Grand Prix fire. The 200 sq. ft. walk-in is located off the dining room and finished with attractive wood of walnut, serving as a beautiful accent to the décor.

“I have been interested in wine since I came back to California after my military service, roughly 35 years ago. I enjoy wines that will compliment, or be complimented by the food I am eating at that time. However, from time to time, I find that I am making menu choices around a particular grape varietal,” said Crean. “I am fascinated that wine touches agriculture, chemistry, romance and history. It evokes memories of good time with friends and family.”

Crean’s wine purchases are for personal consumption, gifts to clients, friends and charities. “It’s a live cellar with constant movement. Right at the top of my favorites are the Estate wines of Clos Pepe Vineyards Santa Rita Hills,” said Crean. “The Pepe and Hagen families grow and produce premium quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their vintages have earned high ratings in major wine publications and competitions including the 2009 Los Angeles International Wine Competition.”

Crean utilizes to maintain the 1,500 bottle inventory and to create wine lists. “Eric Levin created CellarTracker approx six years ago. It is the largest wine data base service,” said Crean. Sylvester the black and white cat is the cellar keeper!

Fellow Rotarian and wine enthusiast John Lerias of Claremont has enjoyed wines for several years and one of his favorite varietals is Sauvignon Blanc. Why a cellar in the Lerias home? “Passion to preserve and serve wine at its optimum quality. My cellar is nothing special. It’s refrigerated, temperature controlled with 50 bottle capacity,” said John. “I rotate bottles in and out based on perceived quality of the wine, due to limited space. The higher the quality, the higher priority it stays in the cellar.”

Alex Velto of Upland has collected wines for over 15 years but acquired the “wine bug” in 1999 when he purchased a home with its own cellar. “My grandfather had made his own wine for most of his life and as a child I remember his cellar in New York. I really don’t have a favorite wine, I always try to match the wine with the food but if forced to choose it would probably be a big cab (Cabernet Sauvignon) with a few years age on it or a Burgundy (French Pinot Noir).

Velto’s cellar is split refrigeration, built below the house. “It holds over 1,500 bottles. It’s not very big but we have racks, a table and a couple of chairs and plenty of floor space for cases and crates,” said Velto. “I am always receiving emails and offerings on wines and just pick and choose things based on the quality of the vintage. I look to keep a balance of varietals so if I notice I am low on Zinfandels then I might look to add some.”
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at


Los Angeles County Fair Wine Tasting 2009

September 11, 2009


Greetings wine enthusiasts!

When I was young, unlike many of my schoolmates and friends, I looked forward to the end of summer. This is the time of year for harvest of the grapes in the Cucamonga Valley, and the Los Angeles County Fair opening!

My “to do” list included visiting the different county agriculture displays full of colorful fruits, produce and more. Of course the Fair’s annual wine competition exhibition of shiny bottles and ribbons with gold, silver and bronze medals always caught my eye well before I was old enough to sample. Alta Dena ice cream booth in building 4, FairView Farms and The Big Red barn are still among my favorites!

Today I bring you the “real juice” from the 2009 Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex – home of the largest county fair in North America, where once again I have been sniffing and swirling the finest nectars from the vine. Wine appreciation is a time-honored tradition at the Fair, and the wine education programs provide the public with several opportunities to expand their wine knowledge and enjoy some of the world’s best offerings right here in our own back yard.

“Many of us consider the Los Angeles County Fair as the world’s largest classroom where education is cleverly disguised as fun. As the hosts of one of the largest wine competitions, it is a natural for the Fair to share its knowledge and expertise through the Wine Education Program,” said Steve Morgan of LaVerne, Fair Director since 1997, Member of the Fair Association since 1990 and Chairman of the Board from 2002-2007.

“With our impressive team of judges we have some of the most knowledgeable folks in the industry to serve as the faculty for our classes and seminars. This is another wonderful opportunity for the Fair to share its resources with those who come out for a good time and an opportunity to learn more about a topic of great interest. Just another reason to come on out and enjoy this year’s Los Angeles County Fair.”

The Wine & Spirits Marketplace Presented by Ralphs is located next to the Flower and Garden Pavilion where Fairgoers may experience “Gateway to Africa” with themed hillside by the name of Safari Adventure, featuring live zebras, camels, ostriches, pythons and other interesting inhabitants of the continent.

Director Linda Keagle of Upland greatly appreciates the Fair’s wine programs. “The Fair’s wine exhibit is one of my favorites. My husband Chuck and I have both judged in the Wine & Spirits Competition, and he has judge wines for many years. I have also had the pleasure of judging in the Wine Label Competition before becoming a member of the Board. We both enjoy participating in the wine seminars. Chuck is a speaker, and I sit in the audience and taste and learn,” said Keagle.

“The topics are interesting and judges from the competition are the instructors. Attendees range from novices who may be slightly intimidated by wine, to experienced and knowledgeable wine lovers. What has been especially rewarding has been seeing people return year after year, and seeing their appreciation and knowledge of wine grow. I think the program at the Fair has introduced so many people to wine by presenting very user-friendly, affordable, interesting seminars and tasting opportunities. Questions are always welcome and I always seem to learn something new from the answers.”

Each wine class features a minimum of six wines and each adult participant will receive a tasting ticket for a taste of a Gold Medal Winner at the International Tasting Bar. The cost to participate is $17.00 per wine class. New this year to The Marketplace is a one of a kind beer & spirits bar. This unique area will proudly serve only our award winning beers and spirits, both inside and outside of The Marketplace.

The Fair’s wine competition has showcased the finest vintages from countries throughout the world and has illustrated time and again why this wine competition is considered one of the most prestigious. Seven decades of tradition began shortly after the end of prohibition, when the annual L.A. County Fair began awarding medals to the finest wines in California.

“We have 268 Gold Medal Winning Wines offered at our two Gold Medal Tasting Bars. We have 6 Best of Show Winners in various price points, something for everyone,” said Mary Ellen Cole the Wine Department’s Cellarmaster.Also new for this year we had a special competition for Bordeaux/Bordeaux Supérieur wines and we are able to offer those wines by the taste and by the glass. In addition to the wine competition we also have a competition for Extra Virgin Olive Oil and we have an extra virgin olive oil tasting and we sell a selection of the Gold Medal Winning Olive Oils and the Best of Show Olive Oils. Of course our wine education classes should be really great with a wide variety of classes.”

The judges tasted nearly 3,400 wines from 931 wineries. The competition received wines from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the United States.

Best of Show winners by price categories include;

Burly Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, Lasorda Pinot Grigio del Veneto IGT 2008, Caduceus Cellars Red Blends Shinola Merkin Vineyards California 2007, Château Saint Barbe Bordeaux AOC France 2005, Château Belle Garde L’Excellence Bordeaux Supérieur AOC France 2006, Tamari Malbec Reserva Mendoza Argentina 2007, Target Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah Blend California 2007, Cantina Redi Briareo Riserva Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2006, Armida Winery Syrah Flora Ranch Chalk Hill 2006, David Bruce Winery Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2006, South Coast Winery Muscat Canelli Temecula Valley 2008, St. Hallett Riesling Eden Valley Australia 2008.

The Fair is much more than animals, entertainment, food and wine. The Foundations at Fairplex support a vast array of educational programs that provide “a lifetime of learning cleverly disguised as fun” during the L.A.County Fair and throughout the year. Beginning with the community’s youngest learners at infancy, the foundations also provide educational opportunities for school-age children, high school students, adults, and seniors. The programs celebrate lifelong learning, starting at 8 weeks old and continuing to 88 years old and beyond! The three foundations are the Fairplex Child Development Foundation; Fairplex Education Foundation; and Millar Sheets Center for the Arts Foundation.

“All of us feel very fortunate to be a part of this wonderful Fairplex facility. Our mission statement says it all – we enrich lives by entertaining and educating our diverse community while creating unique and memorable experiences,” said Richard Crean of Alta Loma. Crean serves as Chairman of the Board.
Today is “Day for Heroes” September 11th at the Fair.

See you at the 2009 Los Angeles County Fair. Don’t miss the animals at FairView Farms!

The Fair is open Wed through Sunday – through October 4th.

For general information and hours of operation please call 909-623-3111 or view

For complete list of special value Fair programs, please visit

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at