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White Bordeaux: Refreshing elegance in a glass

In summer, we crave white wines with bright acidity. But the last thing we want is palate boredom with the same-old go-to Sauvignon Blanc we buy by the case. Enter the white wines of Bordeaux. Complex and diverse, these wines offer a style for every palate and every occasion, and all put forth zesty acidity to keep you refreshed, whether you’re melting in the summer heat or need a perfect wine to pair with your meal. If you only think of Bordeaux as a source for red wines, then it is time to take notice of these fabulous whites.

The three grape varieties that are used in the majority of white Bordeaux wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. Occasionally, one may see small quantities of other varieties, such as Sauvignon Gris, in the blend. Like the red wines of the region, many of Bordeaux’s best white wines are blends – elegantly balanced wines with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending, added to the diversity of Bordeaux soils and micro-climates, makes for an almost endless selection of wines – each showcasing its distinctive style and terroir.

How to choose the right white Bordeaux?

If you are looking for something fresh, fruity and light, look for Bordeaux AOC (just Bordeaux on the label!) or Entre-Deux-Mers on the label.  These wines are typically unoaked, easy-drinking and value-driven. Predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors. They are meant to be drunk young and are ideal with fish, poultry, salads or served as an aperitif. Our favorites are:

Château Marjosse Blanc 2015 – Clean, refreshing and lively, the floral and fruit notes shine through on this wine. A value at $15, its made by the producers of the esteemed Cheval Blanc.

Château Bonnet Blanc 2016 – Loads of citrus and ripe melon on the nose and palate. A medium-body but zesty acidity make this ideal for summer days and a shellfish dish.

Clos des Lunes Lune d’Argent 2015 – A dry wine from the sweet wine region of Sauternes, this wine is predominately Semillon. Stone fruit and a full body on the palate, but lifted by fresh acidity.

If you prefer something with some steely minerality, layers of complexity, discrete well-integrated oak and possibly some aging potential, head over to Graves, located on the left bank just south of the city of Bordeaux. Both the Graves region and its smaller sub-region of Pessac-Léognan, produce some of the most complex, age-worthy white wines in the world. Our affordable favorites include:

Clos Floridene Blanc 2015 – A phenomenal vintage for both reds and whites, the Floridene Blanc has so much going on in the nose. From white flowers to lemon curd, backed by ripe nectarine and subtle herbal notes. The mineral-laced palate covers your mouth and lingers until you must take another sip. Stellar wine to drink now or hang onto!

Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc 2015 – An exotic spice note hums along through this wine, with the classic mineral and citrus notes of a dry Bordeaux Blanc. A rich mouthfeel, but again, with great acidity, makes this a worthwhile partner to a decadent meal.

Five Wines to Have on Hand for the Holidays

When the holiday season rolls in, time is short and demands are high. Happily, wine is there to support the food, family and friends in a dynamic role that ranges from subtle to celebratory. We’ve rounded up some of the high-demand holiday happenings for bringing a bottle to share and given a handful of our favorite recommendations to get the party started.

Last-minute Hostess Gift 

The specs for this bottle typically lie in the under $20 category and ideally should be super versatile with a variety of appetizers and go-to dinners. If it’s a holiday gathering, chances are good that the bottle will be opened on the spot and ready to roll with whatever festive holiday dishes or seasonal h’ordeuvres are gracing the table. Nothing says, “thanks, happy holidays, glad-to-be-here” quite like a bottle of wine at the door. To turn the gift up a notch, consider leaning towards a lesser known region or grape – which has the added bonus of morphing into an easy (and educational) conversation starter.

Top Pick Wine: To roll crowd-pleasing character, food-friendly nature and somewhat exotic region all into one welcoming price point, reach for Pazo Senoran’s 2016 Albarino. Albarino is Spain’s delicious answer to all sorts of tough to pair foods. Bringing citrus appeal underpinned by earthy, fresh cut grass aromas neatly packaged in the elegance and creative palate profile of salinity meets spice and creamy textures – this grape over delivers time and again.

The Office Party

Colleagues after hours and dressed to impress, the wine should be easy to enjoy and able to stand up to some curious scrutiny. While food pairing compatibility is always a plus, the “office party” bottle may easily fall into the “stand and sip” sans food category. In that case, keep it fresh, flavorful and capable of being its own conversation piece. To that end…

Top Pick Wine: The 2015 Kaiken Ultra Malbec is brimming with black fruit and carries a dash of mocha in the mix.  Easy food-pairing versatility combined with a fantastic price point make this a no-brainer bottle for the holidays. Conversation points? Glad you asked – ranked #45 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2017.

The Gift of Wine

From snazzy stocking stuffers or an age-worthy collector’s bottle to the high-pressure salute of the annual “boss’ gift,” wine is a fun, fancy and functional foodie gift – perfect for that tricky, typically hard-to-buy-for person on your list. For stocking stuffers, look for the personal-sized split bottles that run 187 ml (about 6 ounces) or turn it up a notch and fill that stocking with a bit more vino in the form of a half bottle of bubbly. For the collector and the boss, check out bottles that are capable of being aged a bit – start your search with California Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blends, concentrated Amarone, or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo-based bottles, Barolo or Barbaresco.

Top Pick(s):

Pol Roger Brut (half bottle) – The ultimate stocking stuffer: Who wouldn’t love to find a half bottle of Pol Roger’s tucked into the depths of their stocking come Christmas morning? Based on a traditional blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the grapes are sourced from well-known vineyards in Montagne de Reims, Vallee de al Marne, Petite Valle d’Epernay and the Cotes des Blancs for the Chardonnay.

Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2012 – A heady blend of the traditional grape trio, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, was dried on bamboo racks for 3-4 months to concentrate flavor components prior to fermentation. The result is a full-throttle Amarone from one of the best terroirs in Valpolicella Classico.

The Holiday Dinner Wine

Whether it’s ham, turkey, goose or prime rib, holiday dinners offer an outstanding opportunity to open new bottles from a variety of grapes and regions. Opting for a honey-baked ham this holiday season? Great, reach for the full, fruity flavors of a California Zinfandel. Turkey making a second debut at Christmas dinner? Give it a go with Beaujolais or Pinot Noir for red wine fans or a tangy, citrus-infused Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis for white wine lovers. Goose and prime rib, both buddy up well to Bordeaux blends. Traditional tried and true holiday favorites tend to be heavy on the Cabs and Cab-based blends.

Top Pick: Classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2014 Kathryn Hall Cab brings an often-overlooked affordability to the region’s top grape. Easy to like, and even easier to share, this food-friendly bottle promises to bring out the best in prime rib, filet mignon, goose and game at this year’s Christmas Dinner.

Celebrate with Bubbles

Yes, bubbles!! Nothing says ready to celebrate quite like a bottle of bubbly. Whether you are ringing in 2018 or just thrilled to be gathering with a favorite group of people this holiday season, sparkling wines are there for you. All the major wine regions produce their own signature sparkling wine based on local grapes, but for Champagne to be true Champagne, the grapes must be grown and bottled in the region of Champagne, France.

Top Pick: Representing one of the more affordable non-vintage Champagnes from one of the region’s top 10 Maisons, Piper-Heidseick Brut Cuvee brings exceptional consistency based largely on the Pinot Noir grape with diversity from over 100 different crus.

Urge to Splurge? Catch a celebratory sip of Nicolas Feuilatte’s 2006 Palmes d’Or Grand Cuvee in a stunning, black dimpled bottle with matching gift box. Marrying the elegance of Chardonnay and the depth of Pinot Noir, this versatile cuvee is aged for a minimum of 9 years before release.

Are Organic Wines really Organic?

As wine consumers, we have learned to ask a lot of questions about what we are drinking. What exactly is in this bottle? Are pesticides or herbicides sprayed on the grapes used to make this wine? Is anything added into the wine in the winery? Are any organisms or the environment harmed to make this? The laws that govern sustainable wine growing and processing can actually be quite tricky. We need to understand how to ask our questions before we can understand the answers.

Biodynamic Vineyards at Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, France

What is sustainable farming?

Wine Spectator gives a thorough definition of sustainable as it relates to the production of wine.

Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. (Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.) Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.”

 The sustainable label is useful; it tells the consumer which wines are made with ecological, economical, and social principles in mind. Its limitation is that it is locally defined and therefore varies regionally.

What is organic wine?

“Organic” is a system of farming and food processing, as well as a label. In the USA, organic is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP) of the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). These entities ensure uniform and reliable standards.

By definition, organic farming and food processing integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering are not allowed. Products from outside of the cycle are used minimally.

Oragnic farming promotes soil health with a mix of specific plants growing between the vineyard rows, Grgich Hills, Napa Valley, CA.

The USDA NOP allows for two categories of finished wine:

1 – wine made from organic grapes with the addition of sulfites during the winemaking process. Sulfites are allowed in small amounts (less than 100 mg/L (ppm)); this wine cannot be labeled as “organic” but can mention the use of organic grapes.

2 – wine made from organic grapes with no added sulfites. This wine can be labeled as “organic.”

But is 100 mg/L a lot? And does no “added” sulfites mean that there are no sulfites at all in the finished wine? To give perspective on these numbers, understand that natural yeasts, which are present on healthy grape skins, produce trace amounts of sulfites, usually around 15mg/L and often up to 20mg/L. Since 1988, in the USA, all wines containing more than 10mg/L must state, “contains sulfites” on the label. That means that just about every wine produced and imported—whether it be organic, made with organic grapes, or conventionally produced—will say this, which doesn’t help the consumer much.

If you are sulfite sensitive, or the levels are of concern to you, it is important to realize the limits behind the labels. In the USA, these apply to all wine produced, as well as imported.

By law the USA allows sulfite levels of up to 350 mg/L in any conventionally produced finished wine. Finished wine made from organically produced grapes is allowed to contain only up to 100 mg/L of sulfites. Wine labeled as organic cannot have any added sulfites, though it still may have a small amount since they occur naturally (probably 10-20 mg/L).

There are also about 70 groups of products allowed as additions (and not required to be listed on labels) in the conventional wine making process in the USA, Europe Union (EU), Australia, and Japan. But these products are restricted from organic wines according to the National List.

Two issues further complicate the organic label. For one, any foreign company who is exporting wines to the USA for selling and marketing as organic wine, must comply with the USA standards. However, the EU and other wine producing countries have different laws and standards than we have in the USA on the quantity of allowable sulfites in finished organic wines.

In the EU, allowable sulfite levels depend on the type of wine being made. In organic wine, sulfite levels must be at least 30-50 mg/L lower than their conventional equivalent. The EU allows only 150 mg/L of sulfites in finished conventional red wines, which means that red wine labeled as organic in the EU is allowed to have about 100 mg/L of sulfites in the finished product. For conventional white wines in the EU, 200 mg/L is the sulfite limit; 150 mg/L is the limit for organic white wines. For conventional sweet wines, the legal limit in the EU is a sulfite level of 450 mg/L and for organic sweet wines that level depends on the sugar levels in the finished wine.

In the USA, any wine labeled as organic is not allowed to have any added sulfites, resulting in usually less than 20 mg/L. While the USA certainly requires a lower level of sulfites in its organic wines compared to the EU, remember that we also allow a much higher level of sulfites in our conventional table wines. The EU also does not have a distinct category for wines made only from organically grown grapes like we have in the USA.

The second issue that complicates the understanding of organic wines is the non-labeling of some wines that are indeed organic, or nearly organic. Some of these are neither certified nor labeled as such because many producers—whether in the USA or abroad—do not want to deal with the bureaucracy or fees associated with the certification process. If the producer exports to the US, they may not want to be halted by the USA organic certification process when they just want to sell their wine. So they skip it.

So what about biodynamic wines?

Biodynamic wines use a form of agriculture very similar to organic farming, and winery methods similar to those required for organic winemaking, but which include various concepts from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Steiner’s farming methods treat soil fertility, plant growth, plant products, livestock care, and livestock products as ecologically interrelated. Biodynamic agriculture uses compost and manure for fertilization, natural herb and mineral supplements for field sprays, and prohibits the use of anything artificial on the farm. It treats the entire vineyard as an interrelated part of a self-sufficient farm and considers the influence of weather, air pressure, seasons, and movements of the moon and planets on the rythms of the farm. The term “biodynamic” refers to both the agricultural methods used to grow the vines, as well as winery processing.

Natural winemaking at a certified biodynamic winery, Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace, France.

Biodynamic wines run into similar labeling and conceptual problems as organic wines. Demeter is the brand for products labeled as biodynamic. While International Demeter ensures a comprehensive certification process and strict compliance, it is important to realize that there are different Demeter certification organizations in every country and often several within each country.

Furthermore, biodynamic farming reaches farther back in history than the Demeter certification and Steiner. Historically, before any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and mechanizations were available, farmers had to understand the natural interconnectedness of all living things on a farm. To this day many winegrowers, especially in Europe, still practice biodynamic philosophies on their farms and see no point in spending time and money for Demeter to brand and certify them as biodynamic.

Biodynamic farming uses sheep to cut the grass between rows, Manincor Estate, Alto Adige, Italy.

Wine.com categorizes all wines—biodynamic, organic, and sustainably farmed—into an overall “Green” category. You can rest assured that anything that we’ve put a green leaf next to has been produced in an ecologically responsible manner with the environment and our health in mind.

If you have a specific allergy or concern, our Green category is great place to start your wine search. After locating wines you are interested in, contact our recommendations team for more information or the producer to find out more on their production details.

Here are some examples of different “Green” wines we carry to help you get started.

Biodynamic producers

King Estate Signature Pinot noir
Grgich Hills Cabernet-Sauvignon
Zind-Humbrecht-Calcaire-Gewurztraminer
Kamen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac
Manincor “Mason” Pinot Nero

Producers who use biodynamic practices; produce some wines organically

Tikal-Natural-Organic-Red-Blend

Producers who use sustainable practices; produce some wines organically

Yalumba Organic Viognier

Organically grown grapes with minimal to zero winery intervention

Mauro Veglio Barolo Arborina
Frog’s Leap Zinfandel

 

9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Party Leftovers

The holidays are a time for celebrating friends and family, giving to the ones we love and eating—a lot. This joyous time of year always seems to fly by in a whirlwind, but when the decorations are taken down and the wrapping paper is stashed away, there’s one thing that remains: leftover food.

During the holidays, we stock up on foods like ham and turkey, and an overwhelming amount of food goes to waste each year. In fact, according to a 2016 turkey study, approximately 1.78 billion pounds (about 35 percent) of turkey is wasted every year in the United States.

Instead of letting all that food go to waste this year, use your leftovers Continue reading 9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Party Leftovers

Toast the New Year with Sparkling Wines from Around the World

If a region produces wine, then chances are exceptional that it will also try its hand at crafting a sparkling wine in some form or fashion. We’ve rounded up our favorite renditions of sparkling wine from a variety of countries to toast New Year’s Eve with an international flare.  Continue reading Toast the New Year with Sparkling Wines from Around the World