Category Archives: Holidays

My top five holiday wines

PicMonkey Collage
What are the perfect wines to buy for holiday gifts? As all of you know, wine comes in different colors, flavors and price ranges.  So how hard can it be? If I were out there in consumer land, I’d be so confused. Marketing departments are putting their best foot forward and every wine sounds good. But some wines have a little more traction than others and some wines are more perfect for both the giver and the receiver. Below are my Top five holiday gift wines.

1. Acrobat by King Estate Oregon Pinot Gris, 2013: This is one of America’s best dry white wines in the $10-$15 range. Fresh and zippy, this wine has been well received by the marketplace. If you can’t spend a lot of $$$’s on a wine gift, this one is the ticket.

2. Chasseur Chardonnay Green Acres Hill, Sonoma Coast, 2011: I know some of you guys have some of those “wine geeks” on your list. They may be hoping for one of those $200.00+ low production trophy red wines, but get them this wine; it is a really cool winery, tiny production and would easily satisfy their curiosity. Retail about $60.

3. Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva, 2011. Every wine lover in America enjoys a good Argentine Malbec and this is one of the best. The winery is well known and has a great track record. Retail: Under $20.00

4. Seghesio Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 2012. From one of the most famous zinfandel families in Sonoma County, this wine explodes with all kinds of berries on the palate. Drinks well now. Perfect for that rascal on your list who like a big, bodacious red wine. Retail: around $20.00

5. Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2010. Everyone who drinks California wines knows this winery. The 2010 is one of their best vintages in years. For a name this well-known, this wine is actually an affordable luxury. You will win with everyone on your list. Retail around $50.00

These are my Top five holiday gift wines. Hmm, I wonder what my wines I may get this year. I would be thrilled to get any or all of these five. Happy Shopping and keep following us, you can also fine us on Twitter @wine_com.

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!

Working Moms in the Wine Industry: Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

Moms deserve so much credit. In most cases they are the ones who spend endless hours raising the next generation and with working moms the load becomes increasingly strenuous. But how about working moms in the wine industry? Does the industry that provides the adult population with some of the greatest libations on earth serve up additional challenges? Alison Crowe, winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and consulting winemaker for additional projects, explains, “The uncertain hours of Mother Nature can wreak havoc on a family’s schedule. Harvest is usually quite unpredictable and everyone has to be extra flexible, kids and parents alike. Since my two boys are so small, I sometimes can take them with me to the vineyards to teach them about the growing season and the natural world, but the daily reality is that it’s tough to juggle activities, to get them ready for daycare, and to get them fed and put to bed.”

Wine industry professionals are also called upon to host winery events, dinners and trade sales calls, which sometimes happen at night and on weekends. Crowe says, “The late nights are definitely an extra challenge of the job and means sometimes I don’t see the kids until they wake up the next day. I’m lucky I have a very supportive spouse as well as in-laws who live nearby; we’ve pieced together a system that seems to work.”

Though “wine country living” may seem like a fantasy to many of us, the reality is perhaps different for the working moms of the wine business. Crowe admits, “Living in Napa you are surrounded by an incredible array of some of the finest food in the world. Just like any parent, however, you have to model the balanced food choices you want your kids to make. Juice is watered down, sweets are limited, but great organic produce, cheese and wine (for the grown-ups) are definitely part of the “treats” that bring a lot of pleasure and enjoyment to gatherings. Lessons about wine, history and cooking are just as important to teach and model for our kids as the numbers around nutrition.” Children often emulate their parents and wine adds another twist to busy career moms. It is not just about having a busy mom, but one who deals in a beverage with and health and social ramifications.

One of the busiest and respected working moms in the wine biz is Dr. Valery Uhl. Besides growing grapes and being a serious student of the industry, she is knee deep in the wine judging circuit as an accomplished wine taster and the Director of the North of the Gate Wine Competition (NOTG). Valery, a physician and surgeon since 1985, gave birth to her son Tristan in 1997 while obtaining her Viticulture Management degree at Santa Rosa Junior College. She took one day off a week from her thriving oncology (cancer) practice  San Francisco bay area and drove 60 miles north to take classes from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Recounting the dual career journey, Valery included her son in her global wine travels. Tristan has been to every continent, except Antarctica. Over the years, both mom and son enjoyed working together in the family’s wine business ventures, including their prized T n T Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. As a mom, Valery’s top priority has been to include her son in her wine adventures whenever possible.

I first met Michaela Rodeno at Domaine Chandon when we were both young, and I was so impressed by her kindness and professionalism. She carried herself with great ease and she still managed take excellent care of her family. Michaela, a winery professional of 40 years, comments, “Our children were born in the 1980’s in a time where there were growing social concerns about alcohol. So being in the wine industry, it was important that our son, John, and daughter, Kate, were not excluded from our world. We taught out kids to be our wine waiters (at age 5). Dinner was our only time to be together, so the kids would open and pour the wine, then decamp after eating to leave Gregory and me alone (in peace) to finish the wine and catch up, talk, relax. They were very proud of their skills with corkscrew and pouring adeptness. As a result, they both enjoy a healthy attitude towards wine.” Michaela spent 15 years at Domaine Chandon as Vice President of Marketing and 21 years as CEO at Saint Supery. Please check out her newly published book, From Bubbles to Boardrooms in two volumes. The link is amzn.to/16eT6Xv. She is now running the family winery Villa Ragazzi.

The challenges of any industry can be incredible. In the wine industry, working moms have the added burden that centers on the subject at hand: “Wine.” What say you? Let us salute all the working moms in the wine industry.

Sparkling Wine Guide

wedding bubblyThe holidays are in full swing and that means people are breaking out the bubbles. Parties, celebrations, fantastic gifts, family gatherings, holiday meals… so many things that require some delicious Champagne and sparkling wine. But the stress of picking the best one can be overwhelming. Stress no more and read on for our helpful cheat sheet for sparkling wine.

Champagne
Let’s start with the big one, Champagne. While you often hear this word used to describe all sparkling wines, this is not the case. True Champagne must come from the region of Champagne and it must be made in the traditional champagne method, which means the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle. A few more things to know…

The facts about Champagne and sparkling wine & 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. These three grapes are also typically used for sparkling wine made in the traditional style from other regions.
On the label you may see the following (and these hold true for sparkling wines made in the traditional method in regions like California and Australia as well):
Blanc de Blanc – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – for the value blanc de blancs, try them as an apperatif or with seafood. That said, some of the great ones have fantastic ageing potential. The classic, rare Blanc de Blancs Champagne on every collector’s list? The Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil-sur-Oger 1999.
Blanc de Noir – 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. One of our favorite values from California is the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs.
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! Champagne is actually one of the only regions of France that blends red and white wine to create rose, rather than the saignee method, or bleeding. Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink. An awesome value rose Champagne? Try the Canard-Duchene Authentic Brut Rose – absolutely fantastic for under $50!

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. Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2005 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2003 or 2004 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. The most classic of NV Champagne is the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. But for me, I’ll pay the extra $10 for the Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee. I’d drink it every night if I could!

Some years the vintage is so perfect 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 much longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 to 15 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 1999 vintage about the same time Krug released their 1995! And Salon recommends that their vintage Le Mesnil sur Oger age for at least 20 years after the release date (which is 10 years after the vintage).

Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best of the best blend of the house. A classic example?  Krug’s Grand Cuvee.
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 a touch more dosage
Sec – off-dry, which means 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.

Sparkling wines in regions like California and Australia will also use the above labels.

Cava & Prosecco
Cava: The sparkling wine of Spain. Cava can come from quite a few regions in Spain, but generally offers the same style: it’s dry, crisp and affordable. Need a good party wine? Cava is the go-to. Have a budget but want something delicious? Go with Cava. One of our favorites for everyday drinking  – Juame Serra Cristalino Brut Cava.

Prosecco: From the region of the same name in the Veneto area of Italy, Prosecco is made from the Glera grape. It is produced using the tank method, which means instead of having the biscuit and bread-like flavors of the Champagne method, the wine delivers up-front fruit and floral aromatics. Fresh, fruity and floral = Prosecco. Grab a bottle of Carletto – it embodies the fresh, fruity and floral mantra!

Cheers & enjoy the bubbles!