Category Archives: Wine Education

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

Source: Merriam-Webster

Chile 101

guest post by: Constance Chamberlain

Chile has exploded onto the wine scene in the past few years particularly because they consistently offer premium wines with a good quality-price-ratio across the spectrum. Coupled with good value, the wines of Chile really communicate their sense of place throughout the country’s 14 wine growing regions, each offering something unique to discover.

Part of this is thanks to the four natural barriers: the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes to the East, Patagonia to the South, and the Pacific Ocean to the West. In fact, despite being a country that is over 2,700 miles long, Chile’s climatic differences vary greater from east to west than from north to south—the proximity to the coast or the mountains, and the altitude influence the wine even more than the latitude. In addition to the creation of unique microclimates, these natural barriers act as a protective shield and to date Chile remains one of the only places in the world that has not been affected by phylloxera, the louse that destroyed much of the world’s vineyards in the 1800’s.   So unlike vines in most of the rest of the world which are grafted onto phylloxera resistant American rootstocks, Chile’s vineyards are on natural roots which many specialists say contributes to truly unique wines.

The sheer size of Chile also offers great opportunity for variation in terroir and specialization of varieties in certain regions. As a result, wines that fall into this category have really been a focus of the winemakers and vineyard plantings have expanded further north and south over the past few years.

Chile is dominated by red wines by 70%, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with the growth of coastal regions, Sauvignon Blanc has also taken a share of the spotlight as well as other cool climate wines such as Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Smaller projects throughout the country have allowed various grapes to shine such as with dry-farmed, old vine Carignan in the south.

Perhaps Chile’s most unique variety is Carmenere – a red grape that was thought to be extinct after phylloxera hit Bordeaux in the 1800’s. However, in 1994 careful analysis revealed that the once called “Chilean Merlot,” was in fact Carmenere.

Chile’s wine industry is really a mix of old and new world. Many of the world’s most prominent winemaking families such as Lafite Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, recognized the country’s potential long ago and have been producing wines in this region for decades. Additionally, many of Chile’s young winemakers have spent time training in prestigious winemaking regions such as Bordeaux so stylistically they are quite similar. These techniques combined with new technologies consistently allow Chilean wines to outshine their competitors.

Overall, the most important thing to remember about Chilean wine is this: quality-price-ratio. It’s unlikely that one will find the diversity of wines, but with such consistent quality at an affordable price anywhere else in the world making Chile a natural choice for a go-to bottle of wine.


Pinot Gris vs. Pinot Grigio

Grapes that are “international” often have different names in different countries. Take Syrah vs. Shiraz, Grenache vs. Garnacha, and of course, Pinot Gris vs. Pinot Grigio. Not only to the different names represent a different language, but typically  a different style as well. This is the case with Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio.

A French vine variety, Pinot Gris is best known for the soft, aromatic wines it produces in Alsace, France. Pinot Grigio, the Italian name for the grape, can produce wines of equal aromatics, but high production of the grape in some areas of Italy has led to wines that are less aromatic, more citrus-driven and lighter-bodied.

Outside of France and Italy, producers of the grape use the name (Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio) that represents the style they aim to create. So those wines with aromatics of ripe peach, flowers, richer texture and body use the term “Pinot Gris,” while those styles going for a crisper, lighter-bodied style with lots of citrus and refreshing acid term their wines “Pinot Grigio.”

Oregon is one of those places that adopted the name and style of “Pinot Gris.” Actually, it’s against the law in Oregon to name it anything else. And true to name and style, the Pinot Gris of Oregon mirrors the same aromatic intensity and rich texture of the wines of Alsace. And yet, they certainly can hold their own as well.

Today’s feature is the Benton Lane Pinot Gris, one of our all time favorites. With ripe peach, crisp apple and flowers on the nose, the palate has a zingy mineral-driven acidity that keeps that rich texture in check. Utterly delightful and a great August wine :)

Central Coast – from bulk to boutique

Central Coast. Thinking of the region may have you wondering, where exactly is it? How much land does it encompass? Isn’t it for cheap, bulk wine that goes into those jugs on the bottom shelf of the grocery?

Central Coast takes up the land just south of San Francisco to just north of Los Angeles – about 250 miles down the California coast. That’s a lot of land. To be precise, as an AVA (American Viticultural Area), it consists of nearly 4 million acres. Nearly 100,000 of those are planted to wine grapes. And yes, it used to be known for creating mass amounts of not-so-hot grape juice that made some not-so-hot jug wines that were cheap, but not too tasty. But in the past couple of decades, the “boutique” side of the Central Coast has worked to catch up with that “bulk” side.

So what are the “hot” regions of the Central Coast? Here are our favorite Central Coast areas and some  Let’s start up north…

Monterey: Name of a county and a town, this area just south of San Francisco Bay is an ideal climate for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You have smaller AVAs like Santa Lucia Highlands (Delicious Pinot!) and Arroyo Seco. Wineries with consistent track records and quality? Bernardus, Hahn, Chalone, Calera, and Bonny Doon.

San Luis Obispo: The county that is home to the growing-in-fame region of Paso Robles, this warmer region is home to Paso Robles (ideal for Zinfandel, Bordeaux and Rhone blends), Edna Valley (luscious Chardonnay) and Arroyo Grande (excellent reds all around). Some to look at include Tablas Creek and Justin.

Santa Barbara: Furthest south, you’ll find Santa Maria Valley. You may think this balmy Southern California area would be good for warm climate grapes,  but due to the east-west orientation of the hills surrounding the river, the Pacific air rushes in and keeps those grapes cool, so this area is ideal for Pinot and Chardonnay. Further south you get awesome Syrah & Rhone blends. We are fans of Au Bon Climat, Qupe, Cambria, Fess Parker and Sanford.

Tasting Room: Wines that taste great from a plastic cup (or great summer wines!)

For this month’s Tasting Room, we’ve gone with the them of “Wines that Taste Good in a Plastic Cup.” Otherwise known as “Perfect Summer Wines.” But the plastic cup thing is more catchy. Why do we call it this? Well, it’s summer – we have BBQs and picnics with big groups of people; you sip wine in a backyard, at a beach or by a pool. Sometimes on a boat! And these types of gatherings happen without glassware, hence our plastic cup title.

Now, I love my wines in a nice, tulip-shaped glass, but when that is not possible, I do have a few requirements for a wine I’m going to throw in a plastic cup. The first three things I look for: big aromatics, juicy fruit and refreshing acidity. Remember, the reason wines are drunk from pretty tulip shaped glasses is because that shape concentrates the aromas to your nose. A plastic cup, without that shape, dissipates those aromas. But wines that are intense and aromatic can overcome this obstacle. And it’s probably dang hot outside so you need something juicy with nice, crisp acidity. The last requirement for my wine would be a reasonable price! No need to go deep into those pockets when your kid may come running by and spill it out of that cup anyway!

For whites, Torrontes and Sauvignon Blanc are great aromatic wines, perfect for warm weather and those plastic cups. A number of Pinot Gris/Grigios also come up in the aromatic list, as well as Italian and Spanish varieties.

One of our favorite white is the Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes – this is a value bottle that is a great example of the grape. Torrontes is unique to Argentina. We love it because it has the aromatics of a grape like Viognier but the crisp acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. It gives you lots of stone fruits – peach, pear, even apple, with a perfumed floral backbone. It’s just pretty in the nose. Then on the palate, you get this zippy acidity that is so refreshing next to the fruity, floral flavors. A perfect combination.

And of course, Rose… you can’t think of summer without thinking of Rose! To be honest, there are not many Roses I don’t like. I do shy away from sweet rose for the most part, unless I have a super spicy dish with me, but  A current favorite is definitely the Mulderbosch from South Africa. It’s a bit different than many rose wines as it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – that’s a fuller bodied, thicker-skinned variety than many roses. But we love this part of it – it’s bold enough to match up to some spicy summer foods and yet crisp enough to get you through the heat! And… perfect in a plastic cup.

Finally, red wine lovers have an excellent line up for their glass – I mean, cup. From good California Zinfandel to juicy Cotes-du-Rhone to the wine we feature today – the Yalumba Organic Shiraz – reds have plenty to offer at a picnic or BBQ.

The Yalumba Organic Shiraz is a juicy and spicy wine, with lots of fruit and a great freshness to it to make it perfect for summer and your plastic cup. At a crazy good deal, it’s hard NOT to grab a few cases for summer.

If you’re like me, you may feel bad about the environmental impact of plastic, or you may just love stemware. If you don’t want to use real wine glasses but also don’t want plastic, invest in some stemless wine glasses. I love my Riedel O’s and we use those almost everywhere. If Riedel isn’t in the budget, there are now biodegradable cups being made out there, which should help you feel better about using disposables when your guest count is large.

Happy Summer sipping!
Gwendolyn & Michelle

Tasting Room: If you like Rombauer Chardonnay (or Rich & Creamy Chardonnay)


For this month’s Tasting Room, we are taking a bit of a different direction. Instead of the three tiers – novice, enthusiast and collector – we’re going with one general theme: Chardonnay. To be more specific, we’re focusing on “If you like Rombauer Chardonnay… “ We often hear consumers state “I only drink “enter wine here. One of the very common fill-in-the-blank answers to that question is Rombauer Chardonnay.

Rombauer defines a certain style of California Chardonnay – ripe fruit, vanilla-laced oak notes and an all around rich and buttery mouthfeel. The wine has such a stalwart following, it often faces a supply and demand problem – especially when certain vintages produce less than normal, which could be the case this year. So the idea behind this tasting room is to introduce Rombauer-loving palates to some other Chardonnays made in a similar style.

So what is it about Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is an interesting grape because on its own, it’s not that interesting. Chardonnay is a chameleon of a grape, meaning that the way it tastes truly reflects where it is grown and choices made by the winemaker. Winemakers often enjoy the variety because it’s a sturdy grape; it has reliably high ripeness and it responds well to a variety of winemaking techniques, so much so, that it’s hard to make a blanket statement that you love or hate Chardonnay. You just have not tasted enough of them.

For instance, in the cool-climate, chalky soils of Chablis, Chardonnay never sees new oak and the resulting wines are crisp, clean and mineral-driven, with high acidity and virtually no buttery tones to note. Take a Napa Valley Chardonnay and you’ll have a warm climate and heavier oak use, producing a wine that showcases ripe, rich fruits and vanilla and toast characteristics from the oak. Not to say one is better than another, but there are some stark stylistic differences when it comes to Chardonnay.

The style of Rombauer is in the latter. So that is what we are showcasing for you – rich and creamy Chardonnay. To achieve this, wineries typically pick their Chardonnay when it is qutie ripe.  In the winery, the wine typically undergoes malo-lactic fermentation, a process that changes malic acid into lactic (or very soft) acid. Malic acid is the kind of acid in a green apple, while lactic acid is the kind found in milk. This creates a much more creamy mouthfeel in the wine. Oak aging is also an important part. Often the oak is new, which gives the wine stronger vanilla scents and round and rich texture.

When you are looking for a Chardonnay to match that buttery and oaky character, we recommend a few, like the Mer-Soleil Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay. Barrel-Fermented indicates this wine will have a great deal of that toast and vanilla flavor. Another great choice is the Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay. Created by the Jess Jackson family, this wine is rich and creamy, but still well-balanced.

Finally, our featured wine of this week’s tasting room, Landmark Overlook Chardonnay. Landmark is a classic Sonoma Valley producer and they have made a name for themselves in crafting incredible Chardonnay. In fact, their signature wine, the Overlook Chardonnay, has made the Wine Spectator Top 100 list seven times in since 1997. They were also just touted as the most “fairly priced Chardonnay in California” by Antonio Galloni of The Wine Advocate. Hear now, that ‘s in CALIFORNIA – not Sonoma or northern California, but ALL of the state. That’s quite a dose of praise and one I personally agree with wholeheartedly! Stock up my friends! Speaking of Tasting Rooms, this is one worth a visit. Just off Highway 12, it’s a stunning little piece of property and you’ll be sipping on some delicious wines.

Now go grab some Chardonnay (it is Chardonnay Day #ChardDay after all, so a good time to stock up).