Category Archives: Wine Education

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

Source: Merriam-Webster

What is a Bunghole?

If you’ve ever toured a winery, particularly a cellar, you’ve probably seen it – the glass or plastic stopper wedged into the top or side of a  barrel. The stopper itself is called a “bung.” So it only follows that the whole in which that stopper is wedged is called the “bunghole.” There is a hole here for obvious reasons – how else do you get the wine in or out of the barrel? Winemakers also use the bunghole for stirring the wine on its lees, tasting the wine during the aging process and of course, racking the wine when it has finished its time in the barrel.

So next time you’re touring the cellar, go ahead and use this slightly off-beat (I say this only because apparently Beavis & Butt-head used it in a more derogatory way) wine term since you’re well aware of what it actually means.

Celebrate California Wine Month

Once again, September brings us the official California Wine Month. Though our customers never shy away from California wine (it’s our top selling region year after year), now is the time to stock up on your favorite bottles to help celebrate the great Golden State.

For all of our social fans, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed to tell us your favorite California Wine. We’ll put together a list on our site of “ Fan Favorite Cali Wines” and offer a special discount later this month!

Some things about California Wine you may not know…

-California makes 90% of all U.S. wine and is the world’s 4th leading
wine producer after France, Italy and Spain. (Which means that if California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth largest wine producer.)
– 3,540 bonded wineries
– 211.9 million cases = California wine sales volume into the U.S. market, with shipments growing 26% since 2002’s 168.7 million cases.
– $19.9 billion retail value: Estimated retail value of California wine sales in the U.S. 61% share of U.S. market by volume.
– Three of every five bottles sold in the U.S. is a California wine.
– 4,600 grapegrowers
– 543,000 acres of winegrapes: Winegrapes are grown in 48 of 58 counties in California; 115 federally approved American Viticultural Areas.
– More than 110 winegrape varieties.

Find more fun statistics on California wine at

Thick skin, big pips – how Cabernet Sauvignon came to dominate

One of the most well known wine grapes in the world, one that crafts the age-worthy collectibles of Bordeaux and California, the red variety we call the “King of Grapes,” a grape planted in just about every wine growing region in the world, and the grape that has it’s own day (August 30) to celebrate it. That’s right. We’re talking Cabernet Sauvignon.

But from where did Cabernet Sauvignon originally hail? Due to its popularity and its ability to grow in so many places, one would think it dates back to the beginning of wine as we know it. But in fact, Cabernet Sauvignon is a fairly recent variety. Thanks to DNA testing, we now know that it spawns from a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Seems obvious given the name, but fascinating nonetheless. The grape can have what we call a “bell pepper” characteristic, something found in both Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Cabernet Sauvignon established itself as one of the premier wine varieties of the world by having a number of distinguishing characteristics.

1. Thick skin, big pips. Kind of metaphor in our own life, too – you need those things to survive, flourish and become king, which defines Cabernet Sauvignon in the grape world! With a high pip to pulp ratio, and those thick skins, the grape is super high in phenolics. That makes wine with lots of color and pretty significant tannins.

2. A “varietal” flavor blended with a reflection from where it’s grown. This may sound like every grape, but Cabernet Sauvignon is in fact unique in this. Not only does it taste like Cabernet Sauvignon, it tastes like the region from which it comes.

3. Ageability. Chalk that up to those thick skins and big pips. High phenolics can make a wine that ages, and ages well. Examples of course are Bordeaux, some California Cabernet, and more new world bottlings that are proving what the grape can do.

Cabernet is also a blender. Rarely does it produce top quality wines on its own (though it can). Instead, it is backed by supporting roles from grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and, in the new world regions, grapes like Syrah and Carmenere. It is one of the most well-known grape varieties in the world. It’s unique, yet adaptable. It graces many a table, pairs well with a steak and is a go-to bottle for many.

So stock up on some Cabernet and celebrate the King of Grapes on August 30.


The ageability of Cabernet

One of the most attractive aspects of Cabernet Sauvignon, especially to collectors, is its ability to age. For a long time. The bountiful phenolics of the grape produce a wine able to age for a very long time in the cellar. Not that every Cab should age, but those made have that ability, and for those who have tasted the result, you are well aware of the benefits you reap when you age the right bottle.

So how do you know if a bottle is worth throwing in the cellar and for how long? For those not terribly experienced with knowing wines, regions, grapes and which wines are meant to age, it’s pretty difficult. A wine’s ageability can only be assessed once it is tasted. It has to have the structure, the backbone, the complexity, the balance and a certain weight to it to be age-worthy. Not to say it has to be a heavy wine, but it needs substance. So many wines taste good right now, right away, and they are meant to! Those that will benefit from age may taste delicious now, they may not. They may taste “tight” or “tannic.” Once you’ve tasted enough wines, you may know which can be cellared longer than others. Until then, take a few things into account.

Region– certain regions are known to produce age-worthy wines, like Bordeaux, Piedmont (Italy), Rioja… And others are known to produce drink-them-now styles, like Australia and Chile. However, regions known for aged wines and regions known for early wines both will produce the opposite as well.
Producer – may be a better way to gauge whether a wine has that cellar potential. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild certainly does not produce a bottle meant to be drunk the same year, while Yellow Tail probably doesn’t make many bottles that will last more than 2.
Price – I realize you should never judge a bottle on price, but if you find a Cabernet under $15, I’m going to take an educated guess that keeping it in the cellar 20 years will NOT make it taste better. Quality wines meant for long term ageing will probably have a higher price tag.
Reviews – I don’t mean ratings, I mean the actual reviews. Read what the critics have to say. They have been tasting wines for some time and have an idea of how long a wine might be able to age. They are not always right, but they often give ranges of when a wine could be drunk.  It may not be exact, but it could help in figuring out if it’s your ideal wedding wine or your 10 year wedding anniversary wine.

Remember, wine is not an exact science, there are no rules that cant’ be broken and it’s all about you. Also remember the majority (and I mean over 90%) of wines are meant to be drunk within the first few years of release. Cheers :)

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.