Category Archives: Wine Education

Royal Bottle Sizes

You may have seen huge bottles in restaurants and wine stores and thought ‘There’s got to be a name for those bottles, other than Really Big Bottles.’ And there are. Pretty cool names, too.

A few numbers: A standard bottle holds 750mL and is the most common bottle size you will see.
A magnum holds 1.5 liters or 2 bottles

After the magnum, the names of bottle sizes come from the names of kings noted in the Old Testament.

Jeroboam
Bottle – 3 liters/4 bottles in Champagne & Burgundy (as well as most New World). In Bordeaux this size is called a Double Magnum.
King – After the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led a revolt against Rehoboam and became King of a newly independent kingdom of Israel.


Rehoboam
Bottle – 4.5 liters/6 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called a Jeroboam, just to confuse you).
King – King of Judea after the death of his father, Solomon.

Methuselah
Bottle – 6 liters/8 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called Imperiale).
King – Here is an exception, as Methuselah is not a king, but rather the oldest man cited in the Bible at 969 years old.

Salmanazar
Bottle – 9 liters/12 bottles
King – King of Assyria, also known as Shalmaneser. Mentioned in 2 Kings, Chapter 17.

Balthazar
Bottle – 12 liters/16 bottles
King – In the Book of Daniel, King Belshazzar (or Balthazar) was the last king of Babylon.


Nebuchadnezzar

Bottle – 15 liters/20 bottles
King – King of Babylon (before Balthazar) who conquered and exiled many Jews. Also built the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon).  Seen here in painting by William Blake.

There are larger bottles said to be out there – Melchior for 24 bottles and Sovereign for 34 bottles. These are very rare.

The largest wine bottle made so far was commissioned by Morton’s Steakhouse in 2004. At 4.5 feet tall, the bottle held 130 liters (173 bottles, 1200 glasses) of wine. The wine itself was Beringer Vineyards 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

What’s the biggest bottle you’ve drunk?

Wrestling with Rieslings – How to Decipher their Labels

Does reading a German Riesling label leave you scratching your head and running for the beer aisle? Too much information on a label can be daunting especially when the words are in German. What the heck does “Kabinett” mean anyway?  Thankfully, there is a method to the madness.   The many designations on the label are designed to be helpful so that you can select something that you will like.  Once you crack the code you can be confident in what you are buying and even (to some extent) what it will taste like. 

The striking purity of flavor is one of many reasons to love Riesling.  As an added bonus, these wines are often very low in alcohol, ranging from 8-11%.  The versatility of Riesling lends it to many winemaking styles.  The wines range from bone dry (no noticeable sweetness) to powerful honey-sweet wines.  This wide range is one of the reasons that the labels contain so much information.

The labels contain 6 types of information:  Winemaker, Quality Level, Region, Village/Vineyard, and Ripeness. 

Winemaker
Typically the largest words on the label indicate the winemaker.  The name may have the word “weingut” next to it.  Weingut is German for “wine-estate.”  Prominent German winemakers you may see are Joh. Jos. Prüm, Dr. Loosen, Selbach Oster, Fritz Haag and Zilliken. 

Quality Level
You will see one of two designations: QbA and QmP

QbA stands for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet.  Whew, that’s a mouthful. This simply means the wine is of average quality. The standards for making this wine are relaxed. The prices for these wines are very affordable.  Keep an eye out for QbA wines from the Nahe Region, as these wines often offer outstanding values.

QmP stands for Qualitätswein mit Prädikat.  These are the real beauties of the Riesling world.  In order to label a wine QmP the winemaker must follow specific requirements about where he or she got his grapes and at what level of ripeness the grapes were harvested.  These wines can be pricey but are well worth it; offering a unique experience that most people bypass in favor of more well-known wines.  QmP wines are the hidden treasures of the wine world.

Region
Just as the words Burgundy and Bordeaux conjure images of unparalleled quality and tradition, so too should the words Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau. The regions are named after the rivers that run through then.  The Mosel River twists and turns through ravines, meeting up with the Saar and Ruwer rivers along the way, which in turn follow their own courses. The grapes grow on steep terraces overlooking the water. The Rheingau region runs along the Rhine river.  After 2000 years of experimentation, German vintners have proven these regions as the finest. You can tell the difference between Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau wines in their taste and by the their bottles. Mosel wines are delicate and mineral-driven, often with a hint of slate. They also come in green bottles. Rheingau wines are fuller bodied, with more petrol notes. These wines come in brown bottles. There are many other regions but these are the finest and best places to start when trying new wines.

Villages & Vineyards
Many times, the label will contain a village name followed by the vineyard the grapes came from.  Unless you have oodles of time on your hands there is no way to learn them all.  Most likely if the wine is pricey and it uses a “village-vineyard” format, it’s a safe bet that the vintner has added the vineyard because it is particularly famous.  Here are some examples: Piesport-Goldtröpfchen and Brauneberger Juffer- Sonnenuhr.  Some labels may only have the village, in those cases, the price tag can be indicative of quality. 

Ripeness
I saved the best for last.  The easiest way to shock and amaze your guests is to actually remember the words indicating the levels of ripeness.  Stated simply, the words listed below indicate how ripe the grapes were at harvest time. Riper grapes were picked later in the growing season, usually all from the same vineyard.  Generally speaking, the riper the grape the sweeter the wine it makes. This fantastic nomenclature allows you to pick the sweetness level you enjoy the most. Although the wines can be very sweet, they are never sickly sweet.  This is because German Rieslings have an intense acidity that balances the sweetness perfectly. I have listed the levels of ripeness in order of driest to sweetest (which is also typically the order of least expensive to most expensive). Note that there are some Spätlese that may seem sweeter than Auslese, depending on the winemaker’s preference of how much grape sugar to convert to alcohol and how much sugar to leave in the wine. 
 
Kabinett – Refreshing and aromatic dry wines. They are picked first from the vineyard.
Spätlese – Typically they have some noticeable sweetness and are picked later.
Auslese – Sweet and full-bodied, these wines can be expensive ($40 and up).  They are harvested later in the season after the grapes have accumulated a substantial amount of sugar and perhaps some noble rot. 
Beerenauslese (BA) – Rare, intensely sweet and very expensive. The labor-intensive winemaking process dictates the high price.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – The rarest, sweetest and most expensive of all, these wines are made from grapes after they have shriveled on the vine. They are carefully hand picked one berry at a time.  More a nectar than a wine, these wines are only made in exceptional years – you can tell this by the price tag if nothing else!

As for selecting a wine, try at least a couple so you can compare and decide which level of sweetness you enjoy.  The 2007 vintage was exceptional with many wines just bursting with the aroma of fresh apricots.  I would experiment with a couple from 2007 to get started.  My personal picks are Joh. Jos. Prum Riesling Kabinett (2007) and Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese (2007).  Enjoy!

A Tale of Two Pinots

Last night in muggy DC, I tasted two Pinots, both from Oregon. One, a delicious ripe & lively Pinot Gris from King Estate and the other, a savory yet delicate Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards.

2007 King Estate Pinot Gris- showed very ripe fruit aromas and flavors, including kingestatepeach, kiwi and other such tropical fruits. Bordered on being slightly off-dry, but the zippy acidity kept it crisp and lively and balanced that ripe fruit perfectly. A delightful aperitif wine or with a chicken or pasta dish. We enjoyed it with an arugula salad with cherries & procuitto. A definite keeper for the rest of the summer. King Estate is a great place to visit, too, if you ever get the chance. Really beautiful winery!

Second wine – 2006 Eyrie Estate Pinot Noir – Always a fan of Eyrie, this wine was a huge disappointment when first opened. I poured the wine into a decanter and put a bit in my glass to taste. The odor was terrible – acid reflux is  the best way to put it, and while I thought it may be reductive, it was unlike any reduced wine I’d had before. I changed glassware and re-swirled, only to find the same odor. The palate seemed lovely, but I could not move past the acrid smell. Luckily, my husband had more patience. As I moved on to a bottle of Syrah, he continued to swirl it around in the decanter letting more and more air into the wine. About 45 minutes after my first sip, I was given another glass. Thank goodness I took it! The odor blew off and the savory, delicate aromas that replaced it delighted my senses! Cherry, red and wild berry aromas, with a touch of spice. The palate had a good acidic backbone, with bright red fruits, some spice and a touch of meatiness to it that gave the wine the “savory” character I like. Wonderful with grilled pork (or what was left of it after the Syrah). Good length and excellent structure. Good thing we’ve got a few more of this wine left as now that I know the drill, I’ll be sure to open it well in advance and decant. I also think it will get better with a few more years in bottle. I highly recommend this wine, but give it time – both in bottle, and in the glass.

The story behind the wine- Eyrie Vineyards:

David Leyrie 1977ett had an idea. He believed the the soils and climate of the Willamette Valley of Oregon were well suited to make exceptional Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and other Pinot varieties. In the mid-1960s, he planted his first vines in an old fruit orchard just outside Portland. His theory eventually panned out and people took notice when his 1975 Eyrie Pinot Noir showed well in an international competition that included the top Burgundian Pinot Noirs of the time. Oregon was on the wine map, and Eyrie’s performance in the competition even brought Burgundian winemaker Joseph Drouhin to Oregon to check out the scene. Seeing potential in the land and the wine, Drouhin founded his own Oregon winery, Domaine Drouhin, which resides near Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards.

Eyrie Vineyards produces wines that have character and a sense of place. You will taste that in both the Pinot Noir and PInot Gris –they truly represent the Oregon terroir.

Eyrie lost its founder in October 2008. Lett earned the nickname, “Papa Pinot,” as his pioneering spirit opened up the doors for the Oregon Wine Industry.  The winery is now run by his son, Jason.

Some not-so-common whites you shouldn’t miss this summer

“Off the Beaten Path” wines, or OBP as we call them, are some of my favorites to talk about. If you think about how many grape varieties there are, most would classify as “off the beaten path,’ since the average wine drinker only recognizes about 10 – 20 different varietal wines. When consumers do see varietals they don’t recognize, they often pass them over since they are unsure of what to expect.

Here are some less-common white grapes to look out for this summer and a bit about their flavor profiles:

Torrontes – This grape hails from Argentina (although its DNA roots are likely from Spain or another Mediterranean country). It is fresh & aromatic, with a nose full of white flowers and ripe pear or peach. The palate typically has crisp acid with citrus, floral and peach or pear flavors. It’s refreshing, but also has an almost creamy texture. Crios de Susana Balbo is a classic Torrontes, consistently good year after year.

Gruner Veltliner – The great grape of Austria is increasing in availability! Hurrah! Gruner (sometimes called GRU-VEE) is a wonderful grape. The aroma and flavor of white pepper is a telltale sign of a good Gruner, and adds a spicy kick to the wine. This spiciness is backed by ripe fruits and an excellent acidity. Very good food wine and at it’s best, can be very complex.

Chenin Blanc – Once over-planted and over-produced in California, Chenin can make a bad wine. But it can also make fantastically delicious wine! Wines from Chenin Blanc range from very dry to very sweet, come from France, South Africa & California, and are really worth trying! In blind tastings I often mistake Chenin for Sauvignon Blanc. The dry style has zesty acid and crisp citrus notes, but also some tropical fruit and a touch of honey, especially if any late harvest grapes were used. If you want to try the dry styles, go for Chenin from South Africa of a Savennieres from the Loire. A touch of sweetness can be found in Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, some other Loire regions.  California Chenin Blancs can vary. so find out about the producer’s style before you buy. Dry Creek Vineyard is an great Chenin producer in the dry style.

Arneis – Hailing from the Piedmont region in northern Italy, Arneis makes interesting wines. They are nutty in aroma and flavor, with medium acidity. They can become oxidized after a few years, so drink it young. That said, the wines are delicious with peach and pear and sometimes a bit of chamomile. This wine can hold up to some food. Vietti makes an excellent Arneis and is one of my favorite producers of all things Piedmont.

What it means to be GREEN

Sustainable, organic and biodynamic are the current buzz words coming from wineries across the globe. Wineries and winemakers are making big green strides in the vineyard, as well as the cellar by utilizing these practices. Here’s a bit about all these concepts and what they mean for the wine you’re drinking, particularly what it means when Wine.com calls a wine GREEN.

Sustainable Practices

Sustainable can be defined by three main goals – environmental stewardship, economic profitability and social and economic equity. That means that sustainable farmers are doing their best to give back to the environment and to the community, while also furthering their business. Sustainable farming may occasionally use synthetic materials, but only the least harmful and only when absolutely necessary. The goal is a healthy and productive soil that produces healthy vines and will continue to do so for future generations. Most certification organizations cover organic or biodynamic practices only. Because sustainable winegrowing is a broader term, there are less certification bodies for it. A few that do certify sustainable wineries are: LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) and the just-launched Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine, who promptly displays the tagline “Sustainability is a movement, not a buzz word,” on its landing page. Both are based in Oregon, the state that seems to be leading the sutainable certification process. We do think that more certification bodies for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking will pop up in the future, but at the moment there are not as many as the organic movement. Some sustainable producers I like: Argyle, Benton Lane, Domaine Drouhin, Willakenzie Estate, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Ponzi. Note that some of these producers may not have the green symbol because, while they practice sustainable agriculture, the wines are not specifically certified. Future vintages that do have certification will be green.

Organic

Organic farming is one step up from Sustainable. Farmers use no synthetic materials, but rely on natural fertilizers and pest control systems; the winery uses minimal filtration and fining materials and natural yeasts. The key here is excluding the use of any synthetic materials in the vineyard – no fungicides, no pesticides. Instead, crop rotation, cover crops, compost and biological pest control are used for the vines. Most wines termed "organic" are made from organically grown grapes. For a wine to be deemed fully "organic" by the USDA, it must contain no added sulfites. Sulfites act as a preservative, and while most producers using organically grown grapes use sulfites minimially, any addition of them deems the wine unworthy of the USDA's "organic" label. But there are lots of other organizations other than the USDA that certify organic wines. Some of these organizations include California Certified Organic Foundation and Oregon Tilth. Some US organic producers that are delicious- Frogs Leap, Hagafen Cellars, and Sokol Blosser. Note that Sokol Blosser Evolution is not organic.

Biodynamic

While trendy now, the biodynamic movement started almost a century ago in the 1920’s. In response to growing concern among European farmers regarding crop vitality in an industry increasingly dominated by chemical materials, Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures presenting the farm as a self-sustaining, living organism that needed to follow the earth’s schedule rather than the farmer’s. In 1928, the organization Demeter was formed. Demeter International is still around today and is the only certifying body for Biodynamic wines. Biodynamic practices use herbs, minerals and even manure for sprays and composts. They also plan vine care and harvesting schedules according to the astronomical calendar. The way Demeter so accurately sums it up: “Biodynamic® agriculture is an ecological farming system that views the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil maintenance, and the health and well-being of the animals, the farmer, the farm, and the earth: all are integral parts that make up the whole.” If you look at some of their practices, such as using a spray made from manure buried in a cow horn for a year, it may seem a little hocus pocus, but all you need to do is taste the wines… the end product is usually stellar, and more and more wineries are starting to move towards these practices. A few producers who are certified biodynamic by Demeter USA: Benziger, Bonny Doon, Grgich Hills and Robert Sinskey. While their wineries are certified, not all of their wines are, since some grapes are sourced. We try to be as accurate as possible when calling a wine green so you may not see green symbols next to all these wines.

It's also important to note that there are many organic and biodynamic wineries in Europe who have been practicing this type of farming for decades or longer, but they have not been certified due to the cost or bureaucracy involved. Some of them just don't see the point – they dont' care about it for marketing purposes and are just doing what has always made the best wines. Some green folks overseas who are certified include: Vietti, Chateau Beaucastel, Chapoutier, Seresin, Muga and Di Majo.

For finding “green” wines at wine.com, look for our green wine icon. This represents those wineries using one of the above practices. Let us know which vineyards you know of who are practicing being green!