Category Archives: Wine Education

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).

Wine.com Tasting Room: Italy

In our second Tasting Room, we’re delving head on into Italy.

Though not a large country in land size, Italy kicks some major butt in wine size. Not only is Italy one of the largest producers of wine in the world, it also is one of the most diverse. The country sports 20 different wine regions, each named by district. Vineyards are planted in just about every corner of the country – from the Alps in the north to the sunny tip of the boot. Add hundreds of DOC and DOCGs and numerous indigenous grape varieties, and you have one complex wine nation.

For the Novice…
Most people shy away from wine labels that look completely unfamiliar. Unfortunately, most Italian wine labels are just that – unfamiliar. So how do you go about decoding Italy? It’s good to know a few key regions and their grapes, as well as the laws that regulate them.
First, let’s talk about the label. Italian wine labels can be quite confusing due to the fact that they have no uniformity. In France you see region, in the US you see grape, in Italy… well, you see both. Sometimes the label will list the region, other times just the producer and occasionally the grape AND the region together. Without knowing what to look for, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. We want to give you a little cheat sheet for decoding Italy. Here, we list the regions and grapes and what you see on the label and what it means.

Tuscany (Toscana)
Tuscany is one of the more famous regions in Italy. The primary grape of Tuscany is Sangiovese. When you see red wines from Tuscany, you MOST LIKELY are drinking a wine based on Sangiovese. Within Tuscany are smaller sub-regions, some with grape specialties. They are:
Chianti (red): Chianti is a DOCG, which means it is regulated by the government. Within Chianti there are other sub-regions.
Brunello di Montalcino (red): Brunello is the grape (a clone of Sangiovese), Montalcino is the sub-region within Tuscany. It’s a collectible wine worthy of the cellar. Try Rosso di Montalcino for a less-expensive and more youthful wine.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Vino Nobile (the noble grape, which is Sangiovese) is the grape, Montepulciano is the sub-region of Tuscany (NOTE that in Abruzzo, Montepulciano is a GRAPE).
Super Tuscans: For Super Tuscan wines, you may see a grape or a region like Maremma or Bolgheri on the label. You will most likely see IGT instead of DOC or DOCG. This is because Super Tuscan wines came about by not following the DOC and DOCG rules, so they were labeled with IGT (see more on Italian Wine Labels).

Piedmont
A region in the north that is know for three reds: Barolo, Barber and Dolcetto, as well as the ever popular Moscato.
Barolo and Barbaresco: Both are regions producing big, bold, expensive and age-worthy wines from the Nebbiolo grape.
Barbera and Dolcetto: Both are grapes producing light-bodied, reasonably priced wines in Alba (Barbera d’Alba; Dolcetto d’Alba) and Asti (Barbera d’Asti; Dolcetto d’Asti).
Moscato: All the rage, Moscato makes a lightly sweet, lightly sparkling wine with low alcohol levels.

Trentino Alto Adige
 If you see this region on a label, you’re in for a delicious white wine (most likely). Some of the best Pinot Grigio are from this area.

Prosecco
A region and a grape, this is THE sparkling wine of Italy

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Montepulciano (grape) and Abruzzo (region) make a rustic yet fruit-driven wine from central Italy.

Primitivo
Genetically the SAME grape as Zinfandel here in the US, Primitivo is usually from the Puglia region down near Italy’s boot.

Soave and Orvieto
Two delicious white wines from indigenous varieties in central Italy.

For the Enthusiast…
Though small in land mass, Italy remains a giant in the wine world. With 20 wine regions and numerous indigenous varieties, diversity is a key theme through the country. While that means Italy can be confusing when it comes to wine, it also means there is a little something for everyone beyond Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Our Enthusiast list this month highlights the hidden gems – wines slightly off the beaten path – that are some of our favorites, yet often overlooked due to their obscurity.

Italy is full of what we call indigenous varieties, which means grapes that are local to Italy, species that originated in the country and have found a “home” there. We throw that term, “indigenous variety,” around when we’re talking about non-international grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is also indigenous somewhere, but since it’s grown just about everywhere else, we call it an international variety.

Italy is quite unique in the vast number of indigenous varieties that are grown and not only consumed within the country, but also commercially sold. Falanghina is not in Australia yet. Aglianico has not picked up in California and I doubt you’ll be seeing Nero d’Avola pop up in South Africa. Countries have tried to grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, and while they have had some success, these grapes are just not destined to become international variety superstars. This makes Italy a very special place in the wine world.

There are a few generalities we could throw at indigenous varieties in Italy. For whites, most are crisp, with excellent acidity, and many have a slight hint of a “nutty” character, like almonds or roasted nuts. You may also note a lovely minerality flowing through Italian white wines. For reds, excellent acidity remains a theme, as well as red fruits, dusty tannins and an earth-driven character that is distinctive. That said, both white and red wines vary greatly due to extremely diverse climates, soils and grape make-up. Our selection of Italian gems off-the-beaten-path are meant to show you how Italy truly represents a sense of place.

For the Collector…
Structured and long-lived, the collectible wines of Italy are some of the best in the world. From the highly sought after Super Tuscans to the dust-worthy Barolos to the comeback kid Chianti Classico, we have a delectable list of collectible Italian wines ideal for your cellar. An age-worthy Italian wine has a combination of acid, structure and complexity of flavors. We think most of those wines deliver this harmonious blend. Though the majority could use some age, some of these wines can be drunk and enjoyed now.

We hope you enjoy the wines of this month’s Tasting Room. As always, feel free to let us knwo if you have any questions or would like to learn about a wine subject/region/grape in particular! tastingroom@wine.com

What Are Green Wines (Infographic)

There’s a lot of talk about “green” wines these days – from sustainable and organic to biodynamic and natural. In honor of Earth Day, we’ve put together a few pointers to point out the differences in all these earth-friendly wines, as well as what else wineries are doing to help make the wine world a bit more green!

Have a Wider Blog? (600 px)

Have a Thinner Blog? (500 px)

The Beauty of Beaujolais Cru

As we prepare to sit down with Yann Bourigault, export director at Duboeuf Wines, I felt it reasonable to share some fun facts on Beaujolais and in particular, Beaujolais Cru. For those of you interested, Wine.com will be hosting a virtual tasting with Mr. Bourigault tomorrow (4/3) at 5pmPST/8pmEST as we taste through a delicious line up of Duboeuf Beaujolais Cru from the outstanding 2010 vintage.

Beaujolais run-down:

Where is it? Beaujolais lies at the southernmost point of Burgundy where about 50,000 acres of vines are planted. About 30 miles long and 8 miles wine, Beaujolais can be compared to Napa Valley in size.

What grape? The primary grape variety here is Gamay, a very light bodied grape that does will with the soils and climate of the region. Gamay is actually a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, a white varietal. Perhaps that’s why it’s often called a white wine that happens to be red. 98% of Beaujolais is planted with Gamay.

What are the soils and climate like? The region can be split into two parts – north and south. In the south, the soils are clay-based and the land is flat, while in the north, there are rolling hillsides and the soil is a base of granite and schist.

How is Beaujolais classified?  There are three main classifications for Beaujolais. In order of complexity and quality (low to high): AOC Beaujolais, AOC Beaujolais-Villages, AOC Beaujolais Cru

What is Beaujolais Cru? There are 10 Crus in Beaujolais. These “Cru” are basically villages or sub-regions within Beaujolais that produce some of the best and most distinctive wine of the region. The Cru villages are primarily located in the northern part of Beaujolais, with the rolling hillsides and granite-based soils. Cru Beaujolais creates wines with more structure, more complexity and more aromatics than the more widely produced AOC Beaujolais and AOC Beaujolais-Villages from the south of the region. The 10 Cru include: Brouilly, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Julienas, Cote de Brouilly, Saint-Amour, Regnie, Chiroubles and Chenas.

What is Beaujolais Nouveau? Beaujolais Nouveau has  a very short fermentation process using carbonic maceration, so it is released in the November after harvest (just a few months after the grapes are picked). It is light, fresh, fruity and fun. Perfect for Thanksgiving and meant to be consumed immediately!

What is Carbonic Maceration?  To put an involved chemical process very simply, it’s where the fermentation happens anerobically rather than arobically – basically, inside the grape without oxygen. The grapes are not pressed as most grapes are to begin fermentation. Instead, whole grape bunches are put into a large tank. The grapes on the bottom are pressed by the weight of those grapes on top and once opened, begin the normal fermentation process, which releases carbon minoxide. In the enclosed tank, the CO2 wafts up to those whole berries, seeping into the skin and causing the grapes to undergo fermentation inside the berry. The result is very juicy wine with very little tannins. This process works with very few wines, but with Gamay, it’s a winner. Some of the higher end wines (like Cru Beaujolais) use less or no carbonic maceration.

Drink Beaujolais with a juicy burger, a gourmet pizza or roasted poultry. They are great food wines due to the acid and fruit structure, and completely underrated. We hope you’ll join us tomorrow to learn more! Cheers!