Category Archives: Wine Education

Old World vs. New World Gruner Veltliner.

Many people are familiar with Gruner Veltliner from Austria, but did you know that we also have small amounts growing in this country? As far as I can tell there is some being made in Oregon and some in California, as well as Washington and perhaps some others. No matter how you look at it however, there is a very small amount being made here by a very few producers. I love the wines from this grape because it has a peppery note with a good backbone and nice acidity and fruit flavors that run the gamut from stone to apple and pear. The wines seem to pair well with a huge array of foods, perhaps better than almost any other. Because of this, sommeliers around the world are crazy about this wine, as am I.  Stylistically, it can range from light and crisp, easy drinking, to serious full-bodied and well oak aged efforts.

I decided that it might be interesting to try a California example against a fairly serious Austrian one.

Here are the two wines : Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner and Weingut Knoll Federspiel Gruner Veltliner.

The Zocker is from the Central Coast in the Edna Valley. The Knoll is from The famed Wachau region of Austria.

So  now for the head to head tasting.  First the Knoll: On the nose it displays crisp apple and stone fruit with a bit of lemon curd and a bit of sweet vanilla and there is a white pepper note. When the wine enters the palate, it explodes with spicy ripe apple, guava, lemon and again pepper. The wine’s light color does not prepare you for the intense and density of the mouthfeel, and the mid-palate is especially good with this wine. The finish is very long and there is a bit of light tannin or maybe a tangerine pith quality on the tongue that mixes with the awesome mouth watering acidity.  Truly a classic and elegant, well-balanced, bone-dry wine. This wine will improve for at least 4-5 years and gets 4 stars.

The Zocker I would expect to be riper being from a warmer climate, and on the nose it certainly is.  I get pineapple and more tropical fruit notes, but also a balancing grapefruit aroma…nice. I also get sense of a cooler fermentation with a bit of that characteristic banana aroma that can come with it. In the mouth, right away, there is an almost candy-like golden delicious apple taste, surrounded by that Gruner pepper note, then a blast of nice acidity to round it out. The mouthfeel is rounder than the Knoll, and is more hedonistic, but still retains that true Gruner character, that I was afraid might be lost with the warmer climate. Although the wine is more full-bodied than the Knoll, it actually has a bit less concentration. I am impressed by the winemaking here as it is often tricky for Americans to master new varieties. This is pretty true to itself, whatever that means. This wine gets a 3.5 stars.

All in all, this was an interesting comparison and both wines show very well, with an added edge to the elegance of the Knoll. I, frankly, like both wines a lot, but would drink the Zocker in the next 2 years, and save the Knoll for a few more. I am impressed by the fact that the Zocker really does drink well, and believe that Gruner Veltliner has a good future being grown in this country.

Great tasting, and I see both these wines pairing very very well with many kinds of food.

Shop Like a Pro!

It’s time to up your game and shop like a pro.  So here they are – a few tips to help you pick out the best of the best and, bottle by bottle, transform yourself into the oenophile your parents always suspected you’d become.

Tip #1 Old to New

This first tip has very little application outside the wine world.  In fact, I discourage it for most other life scenarios, especially when shopping for milk or meat.  Find the oldest one on the shelf!  I always sort the 90 under $20 wine list by “Vintage:  Old to New.”  These lonely bottles are forgotten once newer, shinier bottles make their way onto the site.  That’s a shame because these wines are exactly what makes wine unique, they improve with age!  A little mellower, a little more complex, a little more integrated – a lot more interesting.

Tip #2  What the heck is that!?

Txakolina? Try it, you’ll like it.  Lesser known varietals like Torrontes, Graciano, Godello, Txakolina, Falanghina and Mencia, may not be as popular as Chardonnay but, ounce for ounce, these wines are some of this category’s top performers.  Complex, affordable and, best of all, unlike anything you’ve tried before.  They are a great way to expand your palate and the breadth of descriptors you use to describe wine.  Do you want to see why people describe Torrontes as smelling like Juicy Fruit gum or experience what a truly high acid wine feels like?  Then try a bottle of Torrontes and Txakolina.  Best of all these wines will blow your world of wine pairings wide open.  So experiment.   After trying some of these you’ll be loath to plunk down twice as much money for a more popular varietal.

Tip #3  Swoop in for Savings

Sort by savings!  You can sort our 90 under $20 list by savings and order a few killer $30-$40 wines for under 20 bucks.  Not only will these wines give you the most for your money, but they typically also offer the most in terms of cellaring potential.  The higher price can be an indicator that, unlike a $10 bottle, it’s a keeper and the winemaker put an extra level of care into ensuring it will develop over the years. That $30 bottle of Pinot Noir with 93 points from PinotReport is good now, but will also be good in another 5 years and you got it for just $19.99!

I’ve shared some of my top picks and my best tips on finding wines, now I’m curious to know about your favorite 90 under $20 wines.

Discover the Gems of Small Production Pinot Noir

At Wine.com we love working with wines like Schug 2008 Sonoma Cost Pinot Noir. While this wine has garnered great praise – 90 points from PinotReport – and can be seen on many top winelists around the country – the winery itself is a still family run operation focused on keeping production small and winemaking excellent. And, wow, at under $20 we consider this one of the wine steals of the year!

So what makes small production Pinot like Schug so great? Just like the great wines of Burgundy, the best small production Pinot Noir from around the world focuses on hand-crafting, small case quantities, and loving attention to detail. In general, Pinot Noir as a varietal does not lend itself to the large production winemaking techniques typically used in crafting other red wine varietals. And so, it has only the most committed of winemakers, like the Schug family, who have the patience and passion to produce great Pinot Noir. For the wine aficionado getting to know and love these small production wines is a lifelong affair. While small production creates a challenge to source and acquire the good stuff, the journey is filled with many tasty rewards. Get started now with this “hand-picked” selection of some of our favorite boutique small production Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and beyond.

Women in Wine: Laura Catena

What does a Harvard and Stanford degree-holding emergency room doctor mother of three do in her spare time? Make wine, of course! Laura Catena, daughter of wine pioneer, Nicolas Catena, obviously inherited some of her father’s genes. Her drive, spirit and passion for Argentina and its culture of wines are very apparent in her current role as President of Catena Zapata winery. The bright and engaging Catena is responsible for the Luca label, named for her first son, which focuses on producing artisan, old-vine Malbec from Mendoza. She has also authored a must-read book for anyone who wants to visit (or virtually visit) Argentina – “Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina.” Beyond that, she plays an integral role in running operations at Catena Winery, one of the pioneer wineries of Argentina. You can find out more about Laura and everything she is doing at http://www.malbeclife.com/

So raise your glass of Malbec (or Torrontes or Cabernet Sauvignon) to Laura Catena, another woman behind the wine.

Women in Wine: Madame Veuve Clicquot

A Champagne that adorns tables at weddings and other celebrations worldwide, Veuve Clicquot is now universally known, all because of a tenacious, young widow who took her husband’s company global.

220px-Veuve-ClicquotBarbe-Nicole Ponsardin married Francois Clicquot in 1798. Francois was part of the family business with his father, who, among other things, ran a Champagne house. When Francois died just 7 years later, he left his young, 27-year-old widow (veuve, in French) in charge of the company. Taking up the reigns and renaming the house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Madame Clicquot proved herself a shrewd businesswoman. During the reign of Napoleon and through the Napoleonic wars, Clicquot established her Champagne brand throughout Europe, including the courts of Imperial Russia.

Clicquot is also credited for both the bright yellow label that makes the brand so noticeable, as well as riddling, the Champagne making method that revolutionized the industry. Using a piece of her own furniture, Madame Clicquot, along with her cellarmaster, found a method of moving the yeast sediments left from secondary fermentation to the neck of a Champagne bottle. Riddling requires the slow turning of bottles over time until they are upside down, or sur point, with the sediment collected in the neck of the bottle. Still used today, the process allows for easy removal of the cork and sediment.

Still one of the strongest brands in the Champagne industry, Madame Veuve Clicquot was clearly ahead of her time.