All posts by Gwendolyn

Champagne 101

’tis the season… for Champagne of course!

Champagne reigns as the gift-of-choice during the holidays, and for good reason.

True Champagne, the real stuff from the actual region of Champagne; there is nothing like it. Just drinking it ignites all of your senses. It reflects joy, celebrations and happy gatherings of friends and family.

Should you choose to stock up on Champagne this season (and I hope you do) think of this as your cheat sheet on buying the ideal bottle, whether it is for you or for a gift.

The facts about Champagne & tips on how to read the label

The grapes
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Some wines have all 3 grapes, some have only one or two.
On the label you may see the following:
Blanc de Blancs – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – this is a great apperatif or with seafood. A great producer is Salon
Blanc de Noirs – means “white of black” and is a white champagne made from either Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes); usually fuller-bodied than blanc de blanc, this style enjoys the ability to match with a variety of foods.
Rose – could be only one grape or all three, but must contain some % of a red grape – that’s where it gets the pink color! Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink.

Non-Vintage vs. Vintage
Non-vintage wines are exactly what they say they are – not from a particular vintage. They are blends of a few wines from different years. Remember, Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2011 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2010 or 2009 Chardonnay and blend it in for acidity. The goal is consistency. So that the NV of Veuve Clicquot you buy this year will be consistent with the one you bought last year. Most NV Champagne represent a house “style” that the winemaker tries to maintain so that the consumer knows what they are getting. NV wines should be drunk within a year or two of purchase.

Some years the vintage is so delightful that the houses of Champagne declare a vintage year. The blend is made only from grapes in that vintage – no adding of back vintages allowed. Vintage wines are low in supply and high in demand, and therefore a bit more pricy than that NV. Most vintage champagnes can age about 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 2004 vintage about the same time Krug released their 2000.

Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best blend of the house. Some good examples include Krug’s Grand Cuvee, Bollinger’s Grand Annee and Charles Heidsieck’s Champagne Charlie
Premier Cru and Grand Cru – Some vineyards in Champagne, like other areas of France are labeled Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards. If a house purchases all of its grapes from grand cru or premier cru vineyards, they may put that on their label.

Levels of Sweetness
Extra Brut – Bone dry
Brut – very dry, but with more dosage
Sec – Still very dry, but with a hint of sweetness
Demi-Sec – technically means “half dry” but really is half sweet
Doux – sweetest of the Champagne, more rare, often more expensive, and a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity.

And now, our favorites!

Under $40
Ayala Brut 
Pommery Brut Royal

Under $70
Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee
Louis Roederer Brut Premier
Gosset Grande Reserve

Under $100 
Beau Joie Champagne Brut
Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut

And of course, my all time favorite…
Champagne Krug Cuvee

Cheers!

Wine.com Releases 2014 Annual Wine.com 100

It’s that time of year… Wine.com has released its eighth annual Wine.com 100. The industry’s only list based solely on consumer purchases, the Wine.com 100 reflects the top 100 wines purchased on the website during the first 11 months of the year.

So who was number 1? It was the Caymus 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the first year that a wine retailing over $20 topped the list. Caymus released its 40th anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon to much fanfare and accolades. Blessed with the 40th anniversary label coinciding with a fantastic vintage in California, the 2012 bottling quickly rose to the top in units sold on Wine.com. And it remains there.

Other things we noticed on the list.
– Tempranillo was up! Last year, the number one wine on the Wine.com 100 was a value Tempranillo form Rioja. But it was the only Tempranillo on the list. Perhaps riding on the coattails of that #1 spot, this year the list featured 7 Tempranillos, all from Rioja.
– Diversity! Even in the top 10, there are 5 countries represented! Plus 18 different grape varieties, 5 continents, 7 countries and even more sub-regions… Then the prices of these wines ranges from $10 – $100+. Some are classic like Dom Perignon or Veuve Clicquot, but there are so many gems as customers discover new and interesting wines that they love.

It’s a list worth checking out, just to see the trends and popular wines of 2014! See the full list in PDF form!

A guide to finding value in Bordeaux

It’s a classic region, with classic wines. So often seen as unattainable, and even undrinkable, Bordeaux is slowly overcoming these misconceptions in the wine world. You can find affordable aged Bordeaux, and ready-to-drink young Bordeaux. Just need to know what to look for…

Getting into the wine industry some 10 years ago, I learned about Bordeaux – I memorized the regions and sub-regions, the left bank and right bank and the classifications systems. But over the past decade, I’ve slowly learned to DRINK Bordeaux.

By now I’m sure you know that Bordeaux is not limited to high-priced futures that go in the cellar, or less-than-palatable cheap stuff. But do you know what is a great value in Bordeaux? It seems to be an ongoing process to let the wine drinking population know what kind of Bordeaux belongs on your dinner table, or in the everyday drinking slot.

And, so, here are my tips on finding great “affordable” Bordeaux that you can drink now and, most importantly, enjoy.

1. Find a great chateau in a poor vintage
“Poor” vintage may be a broad statement, but some vintages don’t demand high prices at release, so top producers of the region release wines at lower prices. Even in lesser vintages, great producers craft quality wine, so those are ones to pick up.

Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2006 ($49.99)

2. Buy older wines at a value.
Some vintages are highly acclaimed at release (2000 vintage), but then a few years later, even better vintages arrive (2005 and 2009) and so the 2000, and then the 2005, looses some of it’s shine. Those with that vintage to still sell offer a great opportunity: the ability to purchase an older Bordeaux from a great vintage. When I say “affordable” in this sense, I’m not talking under $50, but more like under $100…  Great picks include:

Chateau La Croix du Casse 2000 ($59.99)
Chateau Clos L’Eglise Cotes de Castillon 2005 ($36.99)

3. Find village wines from fantastic vintages
This is my favorite value category… There are highly-acclaimed vintages that demand extremely high prices from top chateau, but a universally wonderful vintage means event the entry-level wines will be delicious. So give some of the under $20 village wines a try! Right now, if you grab wines from 2009, 2010 and 2011, you’ll be in great shape.  This is where I find the most values, so have the most recommendations!

Chateau Haut Bergey 2010 ($37.99)
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Le Petit 2009 ($36.99)
Actually, there are so many good ones, this is the list you should shop. Stock up for the holidays and enjoy!

The official wine for not over-cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving!

Full oven, crazy family, long day.

Whether you are navigating difficult in-laws or 9 dishes in the oven, you may be looking to that glass of wine.

Don’t fret, we have the wine for you – the one

Doctors_mediumthat will keep you sharp, yet let you sip.

Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Riesling 2012
THIS is the wine. Refreshing, zingy and… reasonable alcohol levels. Anyone else notice the rise in alcohol lately? Makes it hard to sip wine at noon when you’re cooking a turkey. This wine clocks in at a lovely 8.5%. And yet, no detectable residual sugar, just a delicious and refreshing wine that makes it easier to sip through the day.

The story of the Doctors from John Forrest is a great one. Forrest is, in fact, a doctor, who researched and studied and experimented with vineyard techniques to craft a lower alcohol wine. Rather than leaving residual sugar or reverting to reverse osmosis, Forrest avoids any winery intervention by utilizing a specific leaf removal  process in the vineyard. By achieving lower alcohol in the vineyard rather than the winery, Forrest does not have to sacrifice quality for the end result: a delicious, dry refreshing wine, with naturally low alcohol.

And so we have deemed this wine the official wine for NOT overcooking your Thanksgiving turkey. You may also deem it your ideal aperitif wine or perfect summer wine… we’ll leave it to you. Either way, you’ll feel okay about having that second glass :)

Cheers!

Tips to make wine ratings work for you

magazines290 points. 92 points. 88 points.

Scores, ratings, critic’s reviews, whatever you want to call them, they can be confusing. And controversial. There are those who live and die by the 100 point scale, refusing to consider a wine not scored over 90 points by their favorite critic. Others disapprove, believing scores have led to a conformity in wines as producers strive to earn scores that will sell, rather than produce a wine of character. This is true; if one crafts a wine in order to achieve a high score from a specific critic, that hurts the integrity of the wine and the scoring system. Wine should have a sense of place, a sense of varietal and preferably, a team dedicated to showing the best of those two features.

That said, scores and ratings should not completely be overhauled. There are a number of critics out there (we use 13 different critics/publications on Wine.com) and each has their own approach.

To really get the most of ratings, it’s helpful to learn a bit about the publication or critic that reviewed it. If you try a wine that is rated 94 points and don’t like it, look at who the review came from. While you don’t need to memorize every critic’s biography, learning who has similar tastes certainly helps finding wines fit for you. A few tips to help:

-READ the review. Scores are not just a number; there is an explanation behind that number with much more importance than the number itself. Look for terms that speak to you. I love Rhone wines, but if a 94 point Rhone mentions any term that refers to “barnyard,” I avoid it. You may know you like supple tannins, or prefer tart fruit over ripe fruit – look for these terms in the tasting notes.

- If you try a wine a love it, look it up (on our site or others) to see who may have given it a score, if any. If you see a score from say, Stephen Tanzer, take note that Tanzer (and his colleagues) may be similar to your palate preferences in that particular wine category.

- Exploring wine takes practice, and if you want to use ratings in helping you explore, that takes some practice too. You’ll hit a few ugly ducklings before you learn which wines are your swans.

As always, we try to provide you the most information possible at Wine.com so you can find the perfect wine for you! Happy shopping :)