Category Archives: Wine Education

Year in Review – Top Appellations of 2009 Part 3: Argentina

Argentina is hitting it big these days. With the popularity of Malbec still growing, and the recognition from media and retailers to some grapes sarge vinespecific to Argentina (like Torrontes and Bonarda), Argentina is on the right track. Sales of wine from here grew 60% last year and most of the wines coming from this country are well in the value range, which is what people like these days!

Argentina Facts:

-Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world
-Malbec, the grape most often used as a blending variety in Bordeaux and Bordeaux blends, has found a home in the high elevation vineyards of the country.
-Torrontes, a white variety unique to Argentina, is delightfully aromatic and crisp. Salta is a region further north that is becoming well known for Torrontes and other white wines.
-Many of Argentina’s vineyards are very high elevation, which is one of the reason’s Malbec is able to thrive – the dry air and strong temperature catenawineryshifts keep it disease and rot-free. But they do have to mind the hail storms here…
-Mendoza is the heart of Argentina grape growing, and is just a 45 minute flight from Santiago. Though you wouldn’t want to try the drive as that would take you through the Andes mountains.
-Bonarda   is a unique Argentine grape variety that is used mostly in blends, but occasionally as a single varietal – worth trying!

While Malbec is definitely the “state bird” of Argentina, other grapes are making excellent wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and, becoming ever more popular, red blends. So pick up some wine from this tango country – you’ll find many deals under $20 and the wines are certainly well worth it.

Year in Review – Top Appellations of 2009 Part 2: Tuscany

tuscan houseAnother appellation that grew last year – Tuscany. Wine sales from Tuscany were up 66% in 2009. Not as great a growth streak as Cotes-du-Rhone (151%), but it was steady. Tuscany is home not only to the classic Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, but also the collectible “Super Tuscans” and a growing group of delicious value blends. One of our best sellers this year was the Monte Antico 2006 Rosso, a delightful Tuscan blend for just $11. Not only is the wine delicious and diverse, but the region is stunningly gorgeous!


Tuscany Facts:

- The main red grape is Sangiovese . Most reds are based on this indigenous variety.
- The three “classic” wine districts of Tuscany are Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montalpulciano
- The more recent districts known for Super Tuscans are Bolgheri and the Maremma
- IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is a recent classification created in 1992 with Super Tuscan wines in mind – it is applied to wines from a specific geographic area, not fitting the DOC/DOCG mold, but offering superior quality to Vino da Tavola (table wine).

Tuscan wines are delicious with food, particularly foods of the area. Sangiovese has such excellent acidity, anything tomato sauce based is a delightful match. So give a Tuscan wine a try. My personal favorites:

Value: DiMajo Norente Sangiovese – light and easy drinking, bright fruits, bright acid – a fantastic food wine.

Mid-range: Le Macchiole Rosso 2006 – this is a Tuscan wine for the new-world palate. Full of ripe, sweet fruit and a touch of oak, very easy drinking and

Cellar-worthy: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2004 – Super Tuscans are nice, but this Brunello takes the cake. I have a few bottles of the ‘01 in the cellar waiting for me one day. Very age-worthy, always exceptional.

And of course, Tuscany has some white wines as well, which can be lovely. But they are outshone by the reds and I definitely would suggest many other white wine producing regions in Italy over Tuscany.

Year in Review – Top Appellations of 2009 Part 1: Cotes-du-Rhone

We love to watch the trends of our buyers at Though they don’t always represent what is going on through the country, it is kind of cool to see what’s going on with our customers and why they are buying what they are buying. This week I’m going over our top 5 appellations this year, giving you the facts on the region and the wines!

village cdr

#1: Cotes-du-Rhone.  Known for value and quality, the Cotes-du-Rhone is full of easy-drinking wines that are perfect for food. This year, the region was up 151% in sales. Why the growth? A few reasons. First, some stellar back-to-back vintages – ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08 are all particularly touted as excellent. Excellent vintages can mean that the “starter” wines of a region, such as Cotes-du-Rhone in the Rhone Valley, can offer incredible quality for the price.

CdR facts – 

– The appellation of Côtes du Rhône encompasses much of Rhone region, not to mention much of the wine!rhonemap_crop
– Two-thirds of the wine produced in the Rhone Valley is of the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation. 
– Over 23 grape varieties permitted in production 
– Most all of this appellation is in the Southern Rhône, as the wines are blends, though there are some Cotes-du-Rhone areas in the Northern Rhone.
Red wines are based on Grenache, which must constitute at least 40% of the blend
Whites focus on Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne, occasionally with some Viognier.

There is one higher level in the Côtes du Rhône called Côtes du Rhône Villages. These wines are from specific village areas that have higher standards the wine must reach to receive the village label. For example, reds from this appellation must con tain at least 50% of Grenache. Some villages to take note of are Cairanne, Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet. I am a particular fan of Cairanne.

The wines of Cotes-du-Rhone are delicious and often easy drinking. They combine good, ripe berry fruit with layers of spice and sometimes a touch of earthiness. Acid and alcohol are usually in balance (careful on some of those 2007 wines as the alcohol can be a big high!) and tannins are low to medium in the reds. These factors make CdR wines perfect for a variety of foods in a variety of seasons. So grab a bottle or two and see why this region continues to grow!

Synthetic Corks

synthcork Faced again with the difficult task of opening a bottle of wine sealed with a synthetic cork, I truly would like to know the benefit of these closures. I can easily list what I don’t like about them. It is a hassle and huge effort to get the corkscrew into them. It takes a good amount of elbow grease to pull the “cork” out of the bottle (think holding the bottle between your knees while you pull on the corkscrew with all your might), and then, God forbid you do not finish the bottle (which I must admit is usually not an issue) and you want to put the “cork” back in, you are faced with a square peg/round hole situation.

Synthetic corks are not only a hassle to pull out, but also can allow oxidation as they do not mold themselves to the glass as it changes temperature. Yes, most wines are meant to be consumed young and you won’t find one of these closures in a wine meant to age. But even for those wines with an expected shelf life of less than a year, a good way to shorten that life even further is to finish the bottle with synthetic cork.

I understand why a winemaker may use them. First, to avoid TCA (cork taint). TCA, the taint that can affect wines closed in cork is something to be avoided – it gives the wine a musty moldy smell at its worst, and at its least, dulls the wine’s fruit, leading a consumer to think they just don’t like the wine. Second, because of cost. It is more expensive to use a natural cork rather than a synthetic cork, though not by much.

And what about the screw cap? They protect the wine from cork taint and are becoming more widely accepted as closures for quality wine. They preset a higher cost up front as a winery much change the bottling machinery and types of bottles used. I know some are still worried about consumer views of screw caps, but I think many wine consumers would prefer a screw cap wine to one closed with a synthetic cork. It preserves the wine much better and requires less energy to open. And sometimes we need to get to our wine fast! 

Though I love screw caps, if a winemaker prefers a cork like closure, please just continue to use the cork. My corkscrew and I will thank you. What closure do you prefer?

Grape-Region Decoder Ring

A colleague of mine was recently in a Spanish restaurant where she was presented with a simple wine list, about 10 whites and 10 reds, but not one wine was recognizable. Everything was lowercase print and it was not clear what was the italygrape or the region or the producer… Confusing to say the least. And while a lovely wine steward helped her select a nice wine to try, that kind of menu can be frustrating, even with only 20 wines. To help on that end, here is a quick cheat sheet on grapes & regions from Spain and Italy (since these are often the ones that have the more confusing indigenous grape varieties to stump us).

White Wines

What you might see

What is it?

What’s it taste like?


A region in northwest Spain, Rueda produces white wines made from the Verdejo grape, occasionally with some Sauvignon Blanc blended in.

Crisp, dry, refreshing, with an almost herbaceous character. Good citrus and mineral aromas and flavors. If you like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, you will probably enjoy Rueda.


A grape from the Galacia region of Spain – Rias Baixas to be exact.

Makes a delicious aromatic wine, with floral and tropical fruit notes. Very crisp acidity balances this wine out – a perfect match for seafood.


A white grape grown in Southern Italy.

Apple and bananas. Not really taste like that, but can have great tropical fruit aromas and flavors, but not too heavy. A good medium-body wine.


A grape from Piedmont region of Italy.

Floral and nutty, with stone fruits like apples and pears as well. Crisp, medium-bodied. This is a very cool variety and goes with lots of foods.


What you might see

What is it?

What’s it taste like?


A red grape from Spain, also known as Mourvedre in France and most other wine-producing regions. Monestrell wines usually come from Jumilla, Yecla or other regions in Spain.

Often from old-vines, Monestrell makes wines with concentrated ripe black fruit and spice. Typically rich and intense, occasionally “jammy”


A region just south of Barcelona in Spain, producing wines from old-vine Carignan and Garnacha in sandy soils

Very concentrated and intense, Priorat can have structured tannins with concentrated fruit. Some bottles are collectibles and age-worthy.


Barbera is a grape that actually makes it onto the label of the wine. Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba are the most popular.

Barbera is a light bodied grape with lots of great fruit and acid – excellent food wine! Think pasta with red sauce.


It’s Zinfandel! Same grape DNA, but different name when it comes from Italy.

Also has a different flavor profile. Primitivo is not as concentrated and dense as some California Zinfandel. More rustic spice going on. But great fruit as well.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Montepulciano is the GRAPE here, Abruzzo is the region

Lots of ripe fruit and easy drinking. These are very approachable wines.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Montepulciano is the REGION here and the grape is Sangiovese, which is the noble grape (vino nobile) of the region.

Similar to Chianti. Sangiovese-based Tuscan red with good acid, cherry fruits and dusty tannins.

We’ll follow up to this segment next month so let us know what other grapes and regions cause confusion!