Category Archives: Wine Education

Riesling love

Each country has a different way of indicating sweetness levels in wines. Because everything is strictly codified and regulated there, German wines are very easy to learn. On the label, they must have the region where the grapes are grown, the variety, the quality level, and in most cases the sweetness level.  All you need now is a Rosetta stone to crack the code. The most famous German varietal is Riesling, so here is a guide to sweetness levels with that variety in mind.

A QbA wine or Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (isn’t that a mouthful to say!) is the most basic of the 2 major categories of German wines. QbA wines can be grown in one of 13 different regions and the region must be stated clearly on the label. They must use grape varieties that are on an approved list. They must have a minimum alcohol content that is achieved, and they are what most people would call an “off dry” sugar level. For example, Ernst Loosen is considered to be one of the best winemakers in Germany, so his QbA wine is a lot higher quality than the average wine of that category. While the Dr. Loosen Dr. L Estate QbA 2012 is fruity, there is plenty of acidity in the wine to balance it out and make it more appropriate to serve with savory items and not dessert. I love this wine with cheese or roast chicken.

The next level up in German wines is called QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). These wines have many of the same laws about regions and varieties. In addition, the sweetness levels of the wines are also regulated and must fall within a range that is specified for each level. From driest to sweetest they are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, and Trockenberenauslese. In special years, grapes that achieve the Bereneauslese or sweeter level and are left to freeze on the vine create a very unique wine called an Eiswein. For the last several years, many German wineries are creating dry or “Trocken” wines. Many of these wines started life with an Auslese level of sugar, but are then fermented to dryness. A great example of a Kabinett level wine is Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Estate Kabinett 2012. It is a blend of grapes from the most famous villages in the Mosel: Graach, Bernkastel, and Wehlen. The bright apple fruit is balanced by flinty, minerally notes and a long crisp finish. I love this wine with grilled fish such as trout or salmon.

Unfortunately, in the United States, there is no special system to rate the sweetness levels in wines, so we have to rely on the winemaker’s description, a recommendation, or tasting the Riesling. Ernst Loosen also makes a high quality Riesling in Washington called Eroica. The Eroica Riesling 2012 is a very high quality wine that has more sweetness than his QbA or Kabinett wines. I love this wine with cheeses or, for an entrée, grilled pork chops with an apple and cornbread stuffing. The Eroica Gold Riesling 2012 is definitely a dessert level wine, which would be perfect with an apple or peach cobbler.

I hope you give Riesling a try. It is a noble grape variety that is very versatile where the wines can be crisp and refreshing to rich and sweet. Trying the wines from a great winemaker like Ernst Loosen is an easy way to learn about Riesling and the sweetness levels in wine. Go ahead and have an adventure tonight with a new wine!

 

The legend of Fume Blanc

One of the reasons I love wine is its combination of history, geography, biology, chemistry and marketing. Yes, marketing. Though many romanticize about wine in its purest form, with what’s inside the bottle marketing itself, the fact is wine is a beverage that sees plenty of marketing – through traditional marketing channels, wine publications and even pop-culture (remember Merlot’s demise after Sideways?).

The original bottle look for Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc
The original bottle look for Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc

One of my favorite stories in the marketing world of wine is that of Fume Blanc. In the late 1960s, Sauvignon Blanc suffered a negative reputation. It was too sweet, or too grassy, poorly made, hard to pronounce, and generally avoided by many wine drinkers. About this time, the late, great Robert Mondavi had an opportunity to produce some promising Sauvignon Blanc. Though he knew it would be delicious, he also wanted to sell it, and labeling it as Sauvignon Blanc may not do the trick. Taking a cue from the Sauvignon Blanc-saturated region of Pouilly Fume in France, Mondavi labeled his wine Fume Blanc and used that name for his SB, which was dry-fermented and aged in oak barrels.

Since you’ve most likely seen a bottle of Fume Blanc, you probably know that this marketing decision paid off and easily accounts for Sauvignon Blanc’s popularity today. Mondavi did not trademark the term, so other wineries jumped on the bandwagon, crafting Sauvignon Blanc in the same style and using the Fume Blanc term. These days, Sauvignon Blanc enjoys a stellar reputation and is proudly displayed on labels in California. But many, particularly those established wineries with a few decades under their belt, still use the Fume Blanc moniker for their Sauvignon Blanc. What’s the difference? Though there are plenty of exceptions (as there always are), Fume Blanc typically sees a bit of oak and displays rounder, richer, more melon-like flavors. Sauvignon Blanc aims to bring out the grassy and sharper citrus aromatics of the varietal.

The California wine industry owes much to Robert Mondavi, but the story of Fume Blanc remains one of my favorites to show this legend’s bright mind and influence on California wine. It’s spring, so pick up a bottle of Fume Blanc and toast the man who brought it to life!

 

Sparkling Wine Guide

wedding bubblyThe holidays are in full swing and that means people are breaking out the bubbles. Parties, celebrations, fantastic gifts, family gatherings, holiday meals… so many things that require some delicious Champagne and sparkling wine. But the stress of picking the best one can be overwhelming. Stress no more and read on for our helpful cheat sheet for sparkling wine.

Champagne
Let’s start with the big one, Champagne. While you often hear this word used to describe all sparkling wines, this is not the case. True Champagne must come from the region of Champagne and it must be made in the traditional champagne method, which means the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle. A few more things to know…

The facts about Champagne and sparkling wine & tips on how to read the label

The grapes
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Some wines have all 3 grapes, some have only one or two. These three grapes are also typically used for sparkling wine made in the traditional style from other regions.
On the label you may see the following (and these hold true for sparkling wines made in the traditional method in regions like California and Australia as well):
Blanc de Blanc – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – for the value blanc de blancs, try them as an apperatif or with seafood. That said, some of the great ones have fantastic ageing potential. The classic, rare Blanc de Blancs Champagne on every collector’s list? The Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil-sur-Oger 1999.
Blanc de Noir – means “white of black” and is a white champagne made from either Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes); usually fuller-bodied than blanc de blanc, this style enjoys the ability to match with a variety of foods. One of our favorite values from California is the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs.
Rose – could be only one grape or all three, but must contain some % of a red grape – that’s where it gets the pink color! Champagne is actually one of the only regions of France that blends red and white wine to create rose, rather than the saignee method, or bleeding. Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink. An awesome value rose Champagne? Try the Canard-Duchene Authentic Brut Rose – absolutely fantastic for under $50!

Non-Vintage vs. Vintage
Non-vintage wines are exactly what they say they are – not from a particular vintage. They are blends of a few wines from different years. Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2005 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2003 or 2004 Chardonnay and blend it in for acidity. The goal is consistency. So that the NV of Veuve Clicquot you buy this year will be consistent with the one you bought last year. Most NV Champagne represent a house “style” that the winemaker tries to maintain so that the consumer knows what they are getting. NV wines should be drunk within a year or two of purchase. The most classic of NV Champagne is the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. But for me, I’ll pay the extra $10 for the Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee. I’d drink it every night if I could!

Some years the vintage is so perfect that the houses of Champagne declare a vintage year. The blend is made only from grapes in that vintage – no adding of back vintages allowed. Vintage wines are low in supply and high in demand, and therefore a bit more pricy than that NV. Most vintage champagnes can age about 10 to 15 years, sometimes much longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 to 15 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 1999 vintage about the same time Krug released their 1995! And Salon recommends that their vintage Le Mesnil sur Oger age for at least 20 years after the release date (which is 10 years after the vintage).

Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best of the best blend of the house. A classic example?  Krug’s Grand Cuvee.
Premier Cru and Grand Cru – Some vineyards in Champagne, like other areas of France are labeled Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards. If a house purchases all of its grapes from grand cru or premier cru vineyards, they may put that on their label.

Levels of Sweetness
Extra Brut – Bone dry
Brut – very dry, but with a touch more dosage
Sec – off-dry, which means a hint of sweetness
Demi-Sec – technically means “half dry” but really is half sweet
Doux – sweetest of the Champagne, more rare, often more expensive, and a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity.

Sparkling wines in regions like California and Australia will also use the above labels.

Cava & Prosecco
Cava: The sparkling wine of Spain. Cava can come from quite a few regions in Spain, but generally offers the same style: it’s dry, crisp and affordable. Need a good party wine? Cava is the go-to. Have a budget but want something delicious? Go with Cava. One of our favorites for everyday drinking  – Juame Serra Cristalino Brut Cava.

Prosecco: From the region of the same name in the Veneto area of Italy, Prosecco is made from the Glera grape. It is produced using the tank method, which means instead of having the biscuit and bread-like flavors of the Champagne method, the wine delivers up-front fruit and floral aromatics. Fresh, fruity and floral = Prosecco. Grab a bottle of Carletto – it embodies the fresh, fruity and floral mantra!

Cheers & enjoy the bubbles!

Make every night a Bordeaux night

BordeauxVineyardsChateauNo need to save Bordeaux for special occasions or let it languish in your cellar for decades. There are plenty of perfectly drinkable – and affordable! – bottles of Bordeaux for everyday drinking.

A little incentive for you? We’re offering 10% off 6 bottles or more from our Affordable Bordeaux list through 11/24.

We certainly have our own favorites on here, but we’re also interested in hearing your favorite Bordeaux under $50. White, red, rose? Do you drink it at dinner, give it as gifts or sip it on its own? Share with us and you’ll be entered to win a $50 gift card from Wine.com (which we are sure you will want to spend on Bordeaux). Share on Twitter @Wine_com or on this blog.

Contest ends 11/22 at 5pmPST so share away! #drinkbdx

What do “legs” tell us about a wine?

“Legs” in a wine glass are the tears that stream down the side of the glass after you’ve swirled it. Some take special notice of these legs – are they fast or slow? Thick or thin? Whatever speed and shape they take, what does it even mean? The legs of a wine show you nothing of the wine’s quality, and studies have shown they don’t really show much about a wine’s viscosity, either. Legs are created in a glass by a number of different relationships between the liquid and the glass surface and between the water and alcohol components of the wine. The way the legs fall usually has to do with the level of alcohol in the wine and the speed at which it evaporates, and  thicker and slower legs can indicate a higher alcohol level. In short, watching the legs flow down a glass may be pretty, but won’t give you much insight into the wine.