Category Archives: Wine Education

WINE (noun): the alcoholic fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage

Source: Merriam-Webster

Washington Wine: A Journey Just Beginning

Washington State wine is a journey just beginning, but what milestones it has already passed! Barely a half-century since viticulture began in earnest, following Dr Walter Clore’s mapping of the Columbia Valley’s likely sites, the state has become the second-largest premium wine producer in the US and made its mark with grapes as diverse as Riesling, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, impressing with the quality and variety of its value wines, and culminating in the great reds which rival the best in the world.  The generous contours of the Columbia Valley AVA, which at 8.8 million acres covers a third of the state, hint at the ambition of the endeavor, as well as the adventures in terroir still to come; the relatively small area planted to vines (around 55,000 acres, slightly less than Burgundy) tell us the exploration has only just begun.

As with all great wine regions, the work (so to speak) began long ago, with the uplift of the Cascade Range and the periodic catastrophic flooding from the great Ice-Age lakes, Missoula and Columbia, which swept out a massive basin between the Cascades and Sierra Nevada and filled the valley with loess, clay, loam, and fine dry silt over a deeply eroded basalt foundation. In the rain shadow of the Cascades, the region’s semi-desert weather sports 300 days of sunshine and balances the extremes so paradoxically friendly to good wine. The northernmost of US wine regions, it enjoys sixteen hours of sun a day at the Solstice, while in the dry desert air the diurnal temperature swings unimpeded through forty degrees, imparting complexity and preserving acidity.

Dry and pristine as it is, with little fungal threat to the vines and a sandy, loose soil distasteful to the phylloxera louse, abundant aquifers and the great rivers give Washington’s growers water in need. Low disease pressure makes organic and biodynamic farming attractive, while the own-rooted vines dig deep in the poor, well-drained soil for their sustenance. Rewarding such keen attention, grown in a mélange of soil types, slopes, aspects, air currents and elevations, its vines flourish under the hand of the people living on the land, making wine from the produce of their vines, and the family winery has defined winemaking in Washington since its inception.

From these unfettered, well-tended vines spring true wines of place: pure and classic, with the richness of fruit characteristic of US wines but structured like no other, encompassing equally fruit and tannin, earth and acidity, filling all corners of the palate. Broad vineyards give quality grapes in such quantity that Washington’s value wines are a byword, while the nooks of the Wahluke Slopes, Red Mountain, and the Columbia Gorge (among other places) provide ample room to the winemaker drawn to seek the highest vinous expression.

Won’t you come along with us? It can only get better.


Wine Pairing Strategies for Thai and Sushi

Let’s face it Asian fare is downright delicious, but it can be tricky to find solid wine pairing partnerships given the dynamic fusion of flavors, spices and otherwise exotic ingredients. In general, spicy themes beg for a wine that tames the heat with a touch of sweet (think German Riesling and off-dry Gewurztraminer). So, wines that carry higher levels of alcohol and lean heavily into oak, tend to overwhelm many of the innate flavors of Thai and sushi finds.

Wine Pairing: Thai

From super savory to feel-the-heat spicy green curries and creamy coconut milk textures to the full-on fusion of sour, sweet, salty and bitter found in your favorite Pad Thai, there is plenty of variety and culinary innovation busting out of most modern Thai dishes. When it comes to partnering up a wine, there are several things to consider.

  1. Sweet tames heat: for super spicy dishes, grab a wine that carries its own dash of residual sugar. This bit of sweet puts out the flames of hot red and green chili peppers quite well and fans the flames of flavor integration. German Rieslings at 9% abv or less are no-brainers for spicier curries.
  2. Bold flavors beg for less bold wines: Austria’s groovy Gruner Vetliner delivers savory flavors all wrapped up in rich fruit that won’t compete with the bolder flavors, but lighter weight of shrimp Pad Thai or more mild curries.
  3. Acidity is a good thing: when you’ve got moderate protein, a mix of funky flavors and exotic aromas and typically a starch base of noodles or rice, wines that deliver a dose of zesty acidity tend to highlight the flavors and carry the dish with added dimension.

 Quick Pairing Picks:

Wine Pairing: Sushi

Salty seaweed, wasabi, pickled ginger and raw fish. Not one of the easier pairings by any standards, but fully capable of showing fantastic potential with a handful of wine styles. As you increase the spice component, you want to decrease the alcohol levels or the alcohol will just amplify the heat and douse the flavors. For super versatile, tried and true pairings, you can rarely go wrong with off-dry Gewurztraminer or German Riesling (again). However, for more detailed menu matching, sometimes it’s easier to start with the protein for pairing. Let’s check in on wines for these ultra-popular rolls.

  • Crab Roll: The basic crab roll is picture perfect for pairing with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer or classic German Riesling, both teaming with mouth-watering acidity and forward fruit. These wines promise to play extremely well with the crab, cucumber and avocado that typically pack themselves into your everyday crab roll. Want to turn it up a notch? Give it a go with an off-dry Vouvray, based on the Chenin Blanc grape, that brings zippy acidity, round textures and lots of minerality that plays off the briny character of the crab meat.
  • Spicy Tuna Roll: The extroverted flavors and palate weight of the traditional spicy tuna roll call for a wine that shares many of the same characteristics. Enter Viognier. Highly aromatic, showing plenty of apricot and honeysuckle on the nose with more on display on the palate, Viognier echoes many of the characteristics of the roll itself – fresh, fuller bodied, complicated, versatile with rich silky textures.
  • California Roll: Avocado, cucumber and crab. Does it get any better than that? Well, with sushi, yes…often it does! But, the basic California roll is still loved by young and old alike, it’s a great introduction to all things sushi and provides a snappy pairing with everything from Alsatian Rieslings with their drier styles or the often herbaceous, topped with sunny citrus New World Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Tempura Shrimp Roll: The crispy, fried textures of the tempura make sparkling wines and Champagne a must-have glass for cutting through the yummy, fatty flavor profiles of your basic tempura shrimp roll.
  • Salmon Roll: Most salmon rolls show well with sparkling and still roses. The sparkling roses promise to cut through the fatty textures and clean the palate in one fell swoop.
  • Eel Roll (aka: Unagi or Dragon Roll): Earthy and briny, eel rolls work exceptionally well with the full-throttle aromatics and slightly sweeter side of Gewurztraminer, as does the snazzy, sweet, soy-based Unagi sauce that usually accompanies the roll.

 Quick Pairing Picks:


The new age of Prosecco

written in collaboration with wine author and consultant  Alan Tardi

If you like wine — and since you’re here on I’m assuming that you do — you’ve probably heard of Prosecco. You might well have tried it and you might even be a fan, like millions of others throughout the world, but there’s much more to this quintessentially Italian bubbly than most people are aware of. There are a few important things you really need to know to help you find the one you’re really looking for, that is, the one you’re going to enjoy the most.

To begin with, you probably know that Prosecco comes from Italy, in the northeastern corner of the country, but did you know that there are actually three Proseccos? And, while all three share some common factors and are produced in the same general area, there are some critical differences between them. In a nutshell, it comes down to two things: terroir and tradition.

Prosecco DOC, created in 2009, is produced in an extensive area encompassing two regions of Italy — Veneto and Friuli — 9 entire provinces, and 556 towns. Because most of the growing area is located in flat plains and valleys, the yield of grapes per hectare is much higher and many of the vineyards can be (and are) harvested mechanically. Despite the fact that this is a new appellation, Prosecco DOC now accounts for about 80% of all Prosecco produced.

Colli Asolani Prosecco Superiore DOCG, also created in 2009, is a small area located in the hills around the town of Asolo in the province of Treviso. Though wine has been produced here for a long time, until bubbly Prosecco started to boom, the real focus of this region was — and in many ways remains — still red and white wines. The Colli Asolani area currently produces about 1% of Prosecco.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a small area consisting of 15 municipalities (most are sleepy villages) in an east-west swath of hills located right in the middle of the greater Prosecco area. This is where the Glera grape — which must make up at least 85% of all Prosecco — first found its ideal home and this where the wine we now know as Prosecco was born.

Grape growing and wine making have been taking place in Conegliano Valdobbiadene (ko-neh-yee-ah-no val-do-bia-deh-nay) for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years and the vines have been painstakingly handcrafted over time to fit the undulating contours of the hills. Even today, most of the work in the vineyards is done by hand by thousands of independent farmers on small family plots who supply grapes to the 178 wineries. The “Italian Method” of making wine sparkle was developed around the turn of the 20th century at the enology school in Conegliano (founded in 1876, it is Italy’s oldest and remains a vital and important institution to this day) and the very first Prosecco appellation was created by a Consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene producers in 1969.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene occupies an exceptional geographic position: the Dolomite Mountains just behind the hills blocks the harsh northern temperatures while the Piave River Valley at the foot of the hills forms a plain extending south all the way to the Adriatic, bringing warm sea breezes that ventilate the vines and create a unique combination of Alpine and Mediterranean influences.  Even within the small area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene there is a tremendous diversity of microclimate due to its complex geological history.  The Conegliano (eastern) section was shaped by glacial activity from the Dolomites that shaved off the tops of the hills and carried it downwards along with lots of other glacial material extending the hills to the south (you can see this as a heart-shaped bulge on the map). For this reason, the altitudes here are lower, the slopes gentler, and the soils are denser, with lots of ferrous and morainic deposits. The western Valdobbiadene side was little affected by glaciers, so the altitudes here are higher, the slopes are much steeper, and the soil contains an abundance of marine deposits (the entire area was once under water). In between these two extremes is a myriad of environmental variations.

The long viticultural tradition and great diversity of terroir within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area is reflected in the wines that are made here. In 2009 a sub-category called Rive (ree-vay) was created, which indicates a Prosecco DOCG made entirely from grapes of a single village or hamlet. The grapes must be hand-harvested, the maximum yield of grapes is lower than that of a regular Prosecco DOCG, the wine must be vintage-dated, and the name of the Rive — of which there are currently 43 — must appear on the label. Besides the village/hamlet designations, a Prosecco may also be made from grapes of a single specific vineyard (this is a winery decision and not part of the officially regulations). Then there’s the legendary Cartizze subzone, known as Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, an entire south-facing hillside in Valdobbiadene of 106 hectares with over 140 proprietors.

While we all think of Prosecco as a sparkling (spumante) wine, it also can be fizzy (frizzante) and there’s even a rare still version known as Tranquillo. While the Glera grape is the principal player in Prosecco, there are also several other native varieties of Conegliano Valdobbiadene that can make a notable impact even in small quantities (especially if they come from old vines, of which there are many in the area). The amount of residual sugar in a Prosecco DOCG also varies considerably and makes a huge difference in the final product. “Dry” (with 17-32 grams of residual per liter) is actually the sweetest type of Prosecco; “Brut” (0-12 grams per liter) is the driest; and “Extra-Dry” is in between.

Finally, while the vast majority of Prosecco Superiore is made using the Italian Method developed at the Conegliano enology school over a century ago, it is also possible to conduct the second fermentation in bottle, either in the traditional process known as Col Fondo in which the sediment (fondo) is left in the bottle, or the Metodo Classico in which it is removed.

There’s something for most every palate and every occasion so dive into Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and have fun exploring what makes it simply, distinctively Superiore!

Bordeaux: It’s for everyone

Innovative yet traditional, easy-drinking yet complex, delicious and approachable now but also able to sustain the long haul, that’s Bordeaux in a nutshell. It’s a rather large and diverse nutshell, but the point is that while Bordeaux is the quintessential region for wine aficionados and collectors, it is also the region for the everyday wine drinker. Once the basics are introduced, anyone can embrace and understand the wines of Bordeaux.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major appellation of France. It has 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 275,000 hectares (nearly 275,00 acres) of land under vine. Red wine dominates Bordeaux today, representing 85% of its total production, though the dry whites, sweet wines, and even harder-to-find sparkling and rosé, are top quality. While Bordeaux has a tough climate—its proximity to the ocean makes it a fairly wet place, prone to disease and pests—its winemakers are striving for sustainability. The push for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has taken hold.

With so many wine regions of the world to choose from, and so many of them newer than Bordeaux, why would you choose it? The answer is its diversity and sustainability.

From white, rosé, red, and world-class sweet wines, Bordeaux has many families of wine at all different price points. Over the past century, Bordeaux has continued to focus on its terroir, finding the right grape for the right soil and microclimate, and making sure those grapes are expertly nurtured. For the white wine lover, excellent value wines labeled as from Entre-Deux-Mers or AOB Bordeaux Blanc deliver zesty acidity and ripe citrus fruit flavors in its wines. For more complexity and ageability, try the whites from the Graves district—in particular its sub-region or enclave Pessac Léognan.

Red wines range from delightfully fresh to dense, sappy and ready-to-drink to cellar-worthy. If you are looking for something to drink now that is fruit driven yet dense, and want something fruit-driven yet dense, try values from Fronsac, Castillon—Côtes-de-Bordeaux, or Francs—Côtes-de-Bordeaux. Bright and fresh qualities can be found in recent vintages of wine labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. Most of these wines are based on the Merlot grape and are approachable now. For the cellar, we head to the left bank where the communes of the Haut Médoc offer structured Cabernet-based wines, which, in particularly in good vintages, can be cellared for a many years.

Bordeaux has a maritime climate, which means climatic challenges. Rain at flowering or harvest increases disease pressure (aka likelihood of rot). While Bordeaux might not be top of mind when you think of organic, the push toward sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has definitely taken hold. Sustainability and environmental responsibilities are high priorities across Bordeaux today, and start early in the vineyard. Diverse cover crops are found between the vines, creating biodiversity and encouraging natural predators to help manage pest control. In addition, cover crops create mild competition, managing vine vigor and forcing vine roots to go deeper. Canopy management techniques have become more sophisticated to foster healthier vines and prevent or manage common diseases. These practices lessen the need for any additional chemical spraying.


Great European Garnacha/Grenache for Toasting #GarnachaDay 2017

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

8 Popular Garnacha/Grenache Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of European style Garnacha or Grenache from a variety of regions and styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.