Posted in wine

A Funny Thing Happened….

On the way to the wine store? On the way home from the wine store? While perusing the wine aisles at the wine store? I guess I’m not sure exactly when or how, but I have developed a passion for white wine. And Rosé.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that will ever comfort me like a beautiful big bad cab with big aromas and perfectly balanced tannins. However, it seems I cannot come home from any wine store visit these days without at least one bottle of white and a bottle of Rosé.

In fact, I recently ran out to buy white wine even though I had some very good red options in my cupboard. On that particular trip I came home with Rombauer Chardonnay. If I had a dime for every time I’ve witnessed someone wax poetic about Rombauer Chardonnay, I’d have ALOT of dimes. I figured if I was going to make a special trip for some white wine, I might as well splurge a little. I’m now in the Rombauer fan club.

Another recent impulse purchase was a Vouvray. I believe it was off-dry, but I have a very limited frame of reference when it comes to white wine. While I do believe it had a touch of sweetness, the very high acidity made it seem very well balanced. It was like a Lay’s potato chip in that I couldn’t resist another sip even though this will probably never become a “go to” wine for me.

Then there was this white Bordeaux…. If I have had a life changing wine moment to date, it would be while standing in a grocery store in Cleveland, OH. The store, Heinen’s, had a very nice selection of wines to taste in those pneumatic dispensing machines that allow you to purchase 1 oz pours so you can try a lot of wines. I tried a white Bordeaux and I loved it. Not liked, loved. It had great mouth feel and was creamy and delicious. Fruity, yet somehow buttery. It knocked my socks off. The wine was Domaine de Chavalier Pessac-Leognan Grand Cru Classe de Graves Blanc 2008. Leave it to me to have the first white wine I fall in love with be a Bordeaux that retailed for more than $100! I pretty much appreciated the moment and blocked it from conscious.

I’ve been trying hard to get to know Sauvignon Blanc. I seem to gravitate to New Zealand on this which makes me really curious about California, Oregon and Loire Valley producers of Sauvignon Blancs and so anytime I see a bottle by a producer I have not tried for less than $15, it is not even a question, it is coming home with me.

Rosés are an entire world unto themselves. I can’t decide if I really like Rosé for the actual taste or if I am in love with the color and appearance of the wines and therefore just biased based on appearance. There are so many beautiful shades of pink! And they look so beautiful in a glass against a blue sky or water. My most recent Rosé purchase was Notorious Pink. Notorious Pink – Please tell me why everyone thinks the French don’t have a sense of humor? This bottle is so beautiful. I love the stopper — not cork, not corkscrew — but a little glass plug. J’adore. (Special shout out to my oldest daughter for my amazing Cleveland wine glass that happens to look prettiest with Rosé in it).

This new found sense of adventure in wine drinking is not only fun, it’s liberating! For reasons I could not begin to explain, it feels like I’ve just died my hair a different color – or cut it off!  There are over 10,000 grape varieties out there…and I’m pretty sure I’d like to try them all.


Posted in wine

What Would Jesus Drink?

I recently was at a tasting that included D’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture. This red wine is made with 100% Aglianico (ah-YAH-nee-koe)  grapes. During the tasting it was mentioned that Aglianico is one of the grapes that is on a short list of wines that may have been served at the Last Supper! If there is anything I love more than the wine itself, it is the stories about them — and that’s a pretty good story!

I bought a bottle of the wine and started doing a little research to see what I could find out about this Last Supper theory. It didn’t take long to learn that there is no way to get a definitive answer to what was in Jesus’ cup. Nevertheless, what I did learn is some absolutely fascinating wine history.

ItalyAglianico  grapes are grown in the same regions today as they were then — the Basilicata region of Italy where the wine is known as Aglianico Del Vulture because they grow on the slopes of the Vulture volcano, and also in Campania, where they are identified by the sub-region and called Taurasi, which is a DOCG. Taurasi is near Pompeii — it seems these grapes love volcanic ash soil. The wines are hearty, tannic reds that, like many of Italy’s red grapes, age extremely well.

So how did an Italian grape get on the short list for wine served at the Last Supper — keeping in mind that this event took place in Israel? Well, it was around 30 A.D., so about 57 years into the reign of the Roman Empire.  Aglianico was one of three grapes that were used in Falerian wine. Falerian wine was the best of the best in these ancient times, considered to be the “first growth” or top quality wines of the Roman Empire. If you were dining with King Herod or King David, it is a safe bet that Falerian wine would be served. I can see the logic in thinking that an event as important as the Last Supper, hosted by the King of Kings, would include the finest wine. But would a humble carpenter, who associated with the poor and wayward, really have served the Bordeaux of the day at the Last Supper?

Interesting to me also, is the fact that Falerian wine was white. My personal assumption is that the wine at the Last Supper would have been red, but there is no proof that it was and white wine was just as common as red wine during this time in history.  A little side research revealed that white wines are in fact used in Christian sacraments, so thinking that the wine was red is nothing more than my own personal bias. So, I guess it is certainly possible that this was the Last Supper wine, but I just don’t think it was.

So, if not Aglianico, then what? While researching for this article, it seemed that all wine history begins and ends with the Roman Empire. Now, I’m not arguing the importance and influence of the Roman Empire on the history of wine, BUT, wine making in the Middle East is well documented and pre-date’s the Roman Empire. The region is literally the cradle of early viticulture. There is conflicting information regarding the oldest documented grape pips — one source says they were found in in Georgia dating back to 6,000 B.C. — another says they were found in modern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon and date back to the Stone Age (circa 8000 B.C.). It is estimated Noah’s vineyard was planted near Turkey in 3000 BC. although some scholars think it was much earlier than that. Regardless, it was from this region wine making is first documented — from here it travelled to Phoenicia and Egypt which were eventually invaded and conquered by Rome.

So, this has me thinking, even though the Romans had already conquered Jerusalem at this point, there is a really good possibility that the wine served at the Last Supper was just a common, locally made wine. Afterall, Jesus lived and died in Israel.

I once heard someone say that it was Sangria that is most likely the closest thing to the wine at the Last Supper. There is some basis in fact for this line of reasoning. Local wine making processes were not very evolved, often involving crushing with feet and inclusion of pips and stems. The resulting wine was a bit harsh and things like tree resin, spices, honey, herbs and fruit were added to offset the tannic properties. Wines were also watered down to dilute the harshness. Diluted wine with fruit –  sounds like Sangria right?

Another possibility is a wine called Passum. Passum is a type of wine made from dried grapes.  Ancient jars have been unearthed in Judah that were inscribed with the words “wine made from black raisins.”   Although Passum is said to have originated in Carthage and spread to Italy with no mention of Israel, raisin wine was a common wine not only in the Roman Empire, but apparently it is a common wine to include in Seder meals during Passover. The Last Supper was  a Seder meal so this makes sense. There is definitive evidence that this wine was in Judah, which really is the best documented evidence available.  Here is an ancient Passum Recipe from Carthage on how to make the wine.

The hills and moutains surrounding Judea have a long history of wine making, well before the night of the Last Supper. In fact, the Judean Hills is a modern day Israeli wine region. Israel-wine-mapHere is a map of modern Israel wine regions and some viticulture data. Amazingly, Israel is considered a New World wine region which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I assume it is because modern day wine production did not begin until the late 19th century when French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild, developed an interest in the region. He is said to have imported vines of French grape varieties and wine making knowledge to the region. In 1882, he helped establish the Carmel Winery  the largest wine producer in Israel — fascinating!

Simg_0162o, while I will certainly still enjoy my Aglianico, I decided to add a bottle of Isreali wine to Easter dinner — maybe I’ll even make Sangria with it! I really wanted to find a wine from the Judean Hills, but they are harder to find. Apparently Galilee is where its at.

I think it is safe to say we will never know for sure what wine was served at the Last Supper, but we do know that wine was served, which is really all that matters!

Cheers! Shalom! Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

Peace and Love.

Posted in wine

What’s In a Label?

When talking about wine, there is quite a lot in, or on, a label. But I’m not talking about the legalities of compliance. I’m talking about the art. I like to believe that the label creates an unspoken connection between the winemaker and the consumer.

I am a recovering obsessive cab disorder person. On the road to recovery, I have found that I like to wander around wine shops and look for something new to try. Sometimes I am looking for something specific, but sometimes, I’m just wandering — I may be looking for a new varietal but don’t have a specific producer, or even a region, in mind. When this happens, I am choosing my wine by the label that speaks to me.

I truly believe there is some magical, cosmic process that occurs when a wine label forces you to notice it, and I recently came upon a book that champions the wine label and affirms my own beliefs that there is some magical thing that happens. The book is The Art of  the Wine Label, and authors Jeffrey Caldeway and Chuck House  cover the business, the history and the design of the wine label with such poetic prose that it was easy for me to feel affirmed in my belief that there is in deed a magic to it all. Here is an excerpt from the book that sums up how I feel about a wine bottle label much more eloquently than I ever could:

A successful label beckons from a distance, then invites personal discovery the closer you get. Like revealing clues in a detective novel, the message on a bottle must engage the reader, skillfully maintain the suspense, and be compelling enough to lead you to the mystery inside.

…. the package provides the only sensory clues about what lies within….

I think most people will agree, there are a number of factors that all come together to create any particular experience.  The reason that wines can be so fantastic while sipping them on the patio of  a Tuscan villa overlooking the beautiful hills and then not seem nearly as good when we are sipping the same wine in our living room is because the combined factors of the experience are different. I think a label and the story behind it, can also have an enhancing effect on our perception of the wine we are drinking.

I recently had the incredibly awesome experience of being a guest on the podcast Wine Two Five with Co-Hosts Valerie Caruso and Stephanie Davis. Proof that I can talk nonstop about wine labels, here’s a link to the show notes where you can also access the podcast. Valerie Caruso dug up some cool info on wine found in King Tut’s tomb. The jars of wine contained information on the location and proprietorship of the vineyard and name of the winemaker. So, labeling for identification’s sake has been around since the beginning. But when did artistic license begin to play a part?

img_9973One of the earliest attempts at art on the label that I could document was in Bordeaux in 1924. Chateau Mouton Rothschild commissioned graphic designer, Jean Carlu, to create an artistic label.

The concept was considered to be ahead of it’s time and Mouton Rothschild would not put art on the label again until 1945 in tribute to the Allied victory in WWII. This label was a huge success, and from 1945 on, the art has been an important part of the Mouton Rothschild brand. Art from artists such as Warhol, Kadinsky, Picasso, Dali and Chagall just to name a few have graced the labels. Interestingly, Prince Charles had the honor of painting a label in 2004 in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the France/England agreement to be allies in WWI.

It would stand to reason that the image would be the visual manifestation of the what the bottle contains, or the story behind it, but that doesn’t seem to always be the case. At Mouton Rothschild, the artists have complete freedom, although many of them seem to have been inspired by the wine and created visuals relating to the vine or to the Ram which is the icon of the brand. See all of the Mouton Rothschild labels here.

The most interesting story I discovered while researching this article was from  Santa Barbara producer Sine Qua Non. The winemaker, Manfred Krankl, designs his own labels which are known for being somewhat risqué. One of his labels was actually rejecting by the TTB — it apparently was for a wine called The Good Girl and featured a nude man with his face in the lap of a nun. It would seem that this is another case of the label not necessarily being related to the wine. I would really love to interview Mr. Krankl someday and hear the stories of his labels.

The Hussy is one that caused him some trouble with the TTB, but eventually was approved.

The bottom line is that ALL labels become the documented history of the wine and its producer. A label is what makes the wine and the brand recognizable.  Branding is in large part the color, the font, the positioning of the name or maybe even the shape of the label. Sometimes the artwork is simply a rendition of the property, but then there are the ones where the artwork surely seems to be something more than branding.  Unique and special. It is an expression, a story.

“A successful wine package is a sculpture of the moment, an authentic expression of time and place. At its best, it transcends the past and the present with a vision of the future that is uniquely its own.” — Chuck House


                                                                                                                              I am a sucker for birds on the label. Not long ago I was walking through my local grocery store and this label stopped me in my tracks.  I can’t explain why, but the owl’s face  just grabbed me. I was unfamiliar with this wine but it was around $12 so it was a no brainer to take the owl home with me and see what it had to say. It turns out this brand is co-owned by Zac Brown. I’m a fan of The Zac Brown Band so this was a fun little discovery and $12 very well spent.

Here a few more of my choices that include a bird:

I’m going to leave you with another excerpt from Icon:

“Inherently theatrical, wine packages are entertainers that come alive in front of an audience.….Maybe we designers are only stagehands, make-up artists, or set decorators, whose job it is to enable the winemaker to capture the audience’s heart. “ ….
“Whether it be a comedy, a drama, or perhaps a farce, everyday existence is heightened and dramatized by the presence of wine, which sets the stage for magic possibilities. The label is the overture, as well as the finale, and the human drama is richer for it.

Admittedly a very dramatic summation, but a drama I will happily play my part in.

Does the label ever play a role in choosing you wine?

P.S. For an excellent book on the legalities and compliance requirements for wine labeling, The Inside Story of a Wine Label, by Ann Reynolds is an excellent source of information.





Posted in wine

Tempranillo Blanco?

Even though I have gained my CSW credential, I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to wine. To be honest, I  think  I will always feel this way and therein lies part of the allure for me.

I attended a tasting this past weekend with Domaine Wine Distributors of Georgia at Savi Provisions. All of the wines were unique in that they are not produced in large quantities and therefore not sold through large outlets. There were a few that got my attention, but none more than the Bodegas de Mateos Temperanillo Blanco. Say what? I did not know white Temperanillo existed.  The wine kept me busy all day Sunday googling, researching and reading.

Here’s what I learned.

Tempranillo Blanco

The white grape variety is the result of a mutation of the red Temperanillo grape. This is not unusual, there a many mutations that are very well known varietals — Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc are all mutations of the same variety. It turns out this white Tempranillo grape was only just discovered in Rioja in 1988 and  is only grown in the Rioja region. The Consejo Regulador approved the grape for use in Rioja wines in 2007.

The wine I tasted was 100% Tempranillo Blanco, so this got me thinking because I had been under the impression that a white Rioja had to be produced with at least 51% Virua grapes. I went back to my Certified Specialist of Wine course book, my notes and one of my  favorite sources, Wine Folly. My coursework confirmed that any white Rioja wine had to be produced with a minimum of 51% Viura grapes. Wine Folly even went so far as to say that Tempranillo Blanco is used in blends from Rioja containing 51% Viura. I visited the Consejo Regulador for Rioja wine website which listed each type of grape approved, but I could not find mention of percentage requirements. Finally, I googled images of 100% Tempranillo Blanco wines so I could inspect the label. There definitely are Tempranillo Blanco blends out there, but there are also 100% Termpranillo Blanco wines and it sure does appear that they can be labeled with the Rioja DOCa.  If anyone reading this can elaborate further, please enlighten me! These are the kinds of things I love to let me drive nuts;)

My palette is in the development stages, but should you come across a Tempranillo Blanco you might find notes of citrus and green apples with minerality and grassy notes as well. The wine I tasted was young and un-oaked. I would love try an oak aged version.

I tend to gravitate towards reds so I can’t say this was my favorite wine of the evening,  but it surely was my favorite discovery. I will try a Temperanillo Blanco any time the opportunity presents itself.

Have you ever experienced one? Please comment with your thoughts and impressions if you have.



Posted in wine

Wine & Chocolate

I recently attended an event called Wine Loves Chocolate and wanted to share the yumminess with you.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my palette is literally in its infancy but I am working hard at developing my tasting skills. Once, a few years back I had attended an in home tasting and I remember that we tasted a young big bold red, had a piece of dark chocolate truffle and then tasted the wine again. The result was that the wine tasted much smoother and it seemed to be a good pairing to me. Recently, in my CSW prep course the topic came up and it apparently can be a controversial topic with some people being dead set against the pairing and others having experienced good wine/chocolate pairings.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed each pairing I experienced at this event, but, as you will soon see, this was no ordinary chocolate and the chocolatier had pre-tasted the wines and created the confections to be paired with each wine. Not the kind of pairing we get to experience everyday to be sure.

Il Falchetto Arnies 2014, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy.

This dry white wine is 100% Arneis grapes. This grape apparently almost became extinct but is currently enjoying somewhat of a revival.

The producer’s tasting notes say that the wine has intense mineral and fruity notes and is fresh, warm and persistent on the palate, strengthened by a fair acid vein. For those of you who enjoy the geek information as much as I do, the vines are grown in sandy soil on the left bank of the Tanaro river.

The chocolate for this wine:  Mandarin and organic honey milk chocolate ganache, blood orange olive oil, white chocolate shell.

Azienda Agricola Cavazza Tai Rosso, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy

 This wine is a rose and the color dazzled me from the get go. It was such a deep rose color, just beautiful. The grape variety is 100% Tcocai Rosso and is indigenous to the Berici Hills. The producer’s notes say that the color is ruby red, that it is medium bodied with a pleasantly slight bitter taste in the finish. The vines are grown in iron-rich sandstone outcrops and karsified limestone. Since it is a rose it is interesting to note that the wine was allowed to ferment on the skins for 6-8 days in stainless steel.

The chocolate for this wine: raspberry chocolate ganache, infused with flowers and espelette pepper.

Veglio Michelno & Figlio Baric, Vino Da Tavola Rosso, Italy

This wine is classified as a basic red table wine and the name Baric is taken from the vineyard where the grapes are grown, which is in Serralunga D’Alba, also in the Piedmont region.  It is a blend with 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Dolcetto grapes. The grapes are soft pressed and fermented for 4-5 days. It is aged for 6 months in Slavonia oak. I couldn’t fine tasting notes from the producer, but I thought this was light bodied and dry. Being a table wine, I like to think this is something I would experience locally if I were traveling in Italy.

The chocolate for this wine: tart cherry chocolate ganache with wild mushroom olive oil in dark chocolate.

2009 Bodegas Carrau Tannat De Reserva, Las Violetas, Urguguay

This wine is 100% Tannat. Tannat is not indigenous to Uruguay but is considered the national grape. Uruguay has a reputation for being the best at making great wine from the variety. The Carrau family has been making wine for more than 250 years and appears to be an industry leader in DNA research on the tannat grape. They are also regional leaders in biodynamic and sustainable farming practices. Their website tells me that these vines are 25 years old and are grown in heavy clay soil. It is aged in French oak for 18 months, bottled with minimal handling and aged another 16 months. This wine has cedar and violet on the nose — how can you not love that in a wine that comes from Las Violetas? Plums are evident on the palate with very smooth tannins.

The chocolate for this wine: blackberry dark chocolate ganache, plum jam, a hint of violet infused with crushed white peppercorn.

2011 Sterling Vineyards Anniversary Blend Limited Edition, Napa Valley, California

This wine celebrates Sterling Vineyards 50 year anniversary. The grape blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petit Syrah. Tasting notes indicate raspberry jam, rhubarb cobbler (seriously?) and fresh black cherries with hints of licorice, cocoa powder and mocha.

The chocolate for this wine was raspberry pate de fruit, candied licorice infused blueberry ganache with cocoa-coffee dust.

This was the first in show for me — I gravitate to the big bold red. This wine was my favorite of the 6 and so was the chocolate. The licorice was so subtle and it worked so well — licorice and chocolate? Trust me on this one. We purchased a few of these chocolates and a bottle of this wine to enjoy at home.

Cantine Francesco Montagna Sangue Di Guidua Sparkling Sweet Red Wine, Italy.

This was sparkling — so fun! The grape blend includes: 45% Croatina, 45% Barbera, 5% Ughetta and 5% Uva Rara. It is produced in the southwest portion of Lombardy from the Oltrepo Pavese DOC. The producer’s notes tell me that these grapes are carefully analyzed for sugar levels and hand harvested by vine according to their ripeness. It is sweet but also has good acidity for a nice balance. Best paired with fruit tarts, almond desserts and fine pastries.

The chocolate for this wine:  almond marzipan, blackberry ganache, a reduction of this wine infused into it and stone fruits.

All in all, there is not one of these pairings that I would not be glad to have again. I think when it comes to wine and chocolate pairings I am a fan!


Posted in wine

I Won! I Won!

My favorite wine podcast — and I listen to a few — is Wine Two Five! It is hosted by Valerie Caruso and Stephanie Davis and these ladies are the queens of wine “edutainment.” Each episode teaches me something new in the most entertaining way.

The Wine Two Five podcast has a quarterly contest for people who  participate in the #W25Challenge by using this hashtag when they are trying a new wine (or cocktail) and I had the good fortune of winning this contest for the last quarter of 2016!

Being a huge fan, I can’t tell how you exciting this was for me!  Even though I am clearly a bit nervous as I seem to be very giggly during this entire episode, I hope you will listen and enjoy enough to become a regular listener.

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Posted in wine

Aldehyde, Acetaldehyde, Mutage, Remuage and AVAs, DOCGs, AOCs and Don’t Forget the Subregions!

I am less than one week way from taking my Certified Specialist of Wine exam. I’ve done a lot of things in life that have required licensing and/or testing: real estate, aesthetician and mortgage originator. All of these these tests were required in order to do the work I was looking to do at the time.  Fast forward to 2016 and I VOLUNTARILY sign up for the Society of Wine Educator’s prep course and the CSW examination. Have I ever worked in the wine industry? Nope.  Did I have a lot of wine knowledge and feel that I needed to take it to the next level — uh, no. In fact, quite the opposite is true! In other words, I put the cart before the horse to be sure.

Although, I had (have) an “obsessive cab” disorder, something had happened after watching one too many wine documentaries. I developed a desire to really learn more about wine. I found a club called the Century Club and the only goal was to document the tasting of 100 different grape varieties. I wanted to do that! It seems the club is somewhat defunct. I couldn’t find any recent activity and emails went unanswered. I had a hard time finding friends that wanted to be adventurous in their wine tasting. So, a little research for options to expand my knowledge landed me at the Society of Wine Educators. I considered WSET, International Wine Guild and even some sort of Sommelier route, but in the end, I decided the CSW was the best option for me.

My prep class began on September 10th and was an on-line, live format that lasted for 12 sessions. The actual time frame was longer than 12 weeks due to holidays, etc.  and ended in mid-December. Each class lasted approximately 1.5 hours and included a drink-a-long wine of the week. Jane Nickels, the Director of Education for the SWE was the live instructor and she was wildly entertaining. I had seriously considered taking this course through the Atlanta Wine School, which offered the class a couple of times a year. The format at AWS was 5 Sundays, from 9-5. I couldn’t find 5 Sundays in a row that I could commit so I ended up taking the online class. Although I constantly wonder if the in-person learning style is better for me, I have to say I don’t know how I would have absorbed all of this information in 5 weeks.

I have a sneaking suspicion that had I not been so clueless about wine to begin with, I wouldn’t be so nervous right now. I’m a good test taker. I passed all of the above-mentioned tests on the first try. In fact, I took the mortgage licensing one because it was newly required by the industry and no one could pass it.  Loan Originators were dropping like flies. I was a processor and the company I was working for actually had the audacity to ask me to take the test so the LOs who had flunked it could still work. The idea being that the LOs who didn’t pass their exams would still make thousands on each loan, originated under my licensed name, and they would give me a $100 a file, in addition to my processing file fee. Ummmm…  But that’s a whole different story.

I was at a store this weekend that had the pneumatic dispensing systems and had about 2 dozen wines to try. They had a really nice selection. I was able to taste a Gewurztraminer from Alsace, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a Saint-Julien Bordeaux, a white Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux, a Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend, an Asti, a Burgundy from Chambertin and a 20 year Tawny Port. I had never tasted a Port before so that was fun. I have to say, that my newly obtained knowledge made this experience a whole lot more fun. It also made me realize that I have been doing a lot of studying and not a lot of drinking and enjoying!

So, I am going to keep studying my flashcards, my self-drawn maps,  the worksheets, the weekly quizzes. At this point I still miss Acetaldehyde, Aldehyde, Rumuage, Mutage and nearly every subregion of any important wine area that exists. Every time.

If you are not doing anything on January 28th at 3:00 p.m., please raise a glass, say a prayer, send well wishes. Once I pass the test (and I hope it will be on the first try), I am going to really enjoy having fun adding some practical knowledge to my book learning! Cheers! 🍷

P.S. Just in case you wanted to know:


Posted in wine

Getting to Know Meritage

Every wine has a story and most of them are fascinating because of the history, or the romance we associate with its location or producer. I recently learned the story behind Meritage wine,  and while it is not what I would call romantic, it is fascinating.

I must confess I drank Meritage many times and never considered exactly what it was — a varietal? a region? In the process of studying for the CSW exam, I discovered that Meritage came to be from the result of businessmen, who happened to be winemakers, coming up with an idea that was pure marketing genius.

In  1988, a group of Napa Valley winemakers formed The Meritage Association, which is currently The Meritage Alliance. The birth of this Association/Alliance resulted from American wine labeling laws which did not allow wine makers to label a superior quality red blend with anything more than a basic table wine label. To put this into practical terms, think about American wines that you know and love — they are labeled by varietal — merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc. These wines can only carry the varietal identification if they contain a minimum of 75% of  the identified variety. A wine containing a blend that did not meet this requirement would be labeled as a red blend, which could be misinterpreted as being of the same quality as table wine.

In comparison, Old World wines are most often labeled by the region they come from, with Bordeaux in particular, representing the pinnacle of quality wine world wide. The Bordeaux blend is copied world wide, however the wine cannot be labeled a Bordeaux unless it originated in Bordeaux.

American winemakers, producing beautiful blends that represented the best of their technical and artistic abilities, wanted to be able to label these wines with something other than “red blend.” The intent was to create a New World wine that could  compete with a Bordeaux. A name that consumers would recognize, just as they recognize Bordeaux.

These wine makers had the concept but needed a name for this creation. A contest was held to determine the name to be given to this wine and the result was Meritage.

“Meritage,” pronounced like “heritage,” was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest to name the new wine category. Meritage is an in invented word that combines “merit” and “heritage” – reflecting the quality of the grapes and the ancient art of blending wine.  —

Presumably unknown prior to 1988, the word Meritage has since blended itself right into the English language. Although you cannot find Meritage in any dictionary, a quick Google search will reveal many business ventures and housing developments that use the name Meritage. Now if that’s not interesting, I don’t know what it is!

In addition to being a member of the Meritage Alliance, the wine must be made from the same grapes approved for use in Bordeaux, for both white and red wines. So, if you are drinking a red Meritage it will contain a blend of at least 2 of the following varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Pedit Verdot and Carmenere. If you have a white Meritage, the blend will include at least 2 of these 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Muscadelle du Bordulais.

Meritage wines are easy to find at your local retailer, and most are very affordable.  Here is a link to a list of some that the Alliance has singled out for having received high accolades:

Today there are hundreds of members of the Alliance, including international members from Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Israel and Mexico. It is interesting to note that sometimes members do not use the label Meritage, and img_9388
instead prefer to use their own proprietary name. For example, the awarding winning Meritage from Vina Robles, has the img_9389proprietary name, Suendero. While it does not say Meritage on the label, it does use it in the description. Another award winner, Lemon Creek Winery in Michigan uses Meritage on the label. So, like all wine labeling, it can be confusing. The important thing is that now you know what a Meritage is!

When putting this knowledge into practice remember that any red blend comprised of the Bordeaux varietals would be similar to a Meritage.  Just like Bordeaux cannot be used on a label if it did not originate in Bordeaux, Meritage cannot be used if you are not a member of the Alliance. But if a red blend is comprised of the grape varietals listed above, it is  the same style of wine.

The Meritage Alliance encourages you to host your own blending party:

What a fabulous idea! I think there is a future Side Hustle Wino event in the making….








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Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day!

I have been studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam and if you’ve ever studied for this exam or any other professional credential, I am sure you can agree that this type of in-depth study can suck the fun right of your wine life. I believe this is why I am so enamored with Beaujolais Nouveau Day. It is a celebration of wine in the simplest form.

Under French law Beaujolais Nouveau Day begins at 12:01 a.m. on the 3rd Thursday in November and it is the earliest that wines made from the current year’s harvest can be released – that’s right grapes picked a mere 6-7 weeks ago! How simple is that?

Beaujolais is a wine region in France that is approximately 34 miles long and 7 to 9 miles wide. The northern end of Beaujolais actually overlaps with the southern end of Burgundy. The wine is made from 100% Gamay grapes – all of which were harvested by hand. The only other region requiring hand picking of grapes is Champagne, so you see, the wine is made quickly but with care.


Speaking of how it is made, the reason the wine can be produced so quickly is due to a process called carbonic maceration where the entire grape is fermented whole.  If you are curious about this process here is a great link to a very detailed, but easy to understand explanation:

The wine was historically made for local consumption while waiting for other Beaujolais wines to age. At some point getting the wine to market became a bit of race – an event that was anticipated throughout the year. It attracted so much attention that in the 1970’s it became a nationally recognized event in France. Eventually the rest of Europe became involved and by the 1990’s North America and Asia raced to get Beaujolais Nouveau to their markets as well.

The Beaujolais region has a classification hierarchy that includes 10 Grand Crus – indicating the best wine the region has to offer, a 2nd tier of classification call Beaujolais Villages and lastly, a region whose wines are simply labeled Beaujolais. The Beaujolais Nouveau grapes cannot come from the Grand Crus, only the Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais AOCs. While the 10 Grand Crus produce some wonderful wines, the Beaujolais Nouveau wines account for nearly ½ of the regions entire production – approximately 65 million bottles.

So we have gapes that were just picked, being made as fast as they can, with grapes from 2nd and 3rd tier classifications and you may be thinking this wine is not worth your time but I urge you to reconsider.  The simplicity of this wine is charming and engaging and the wines are delightful.  Light, fun, fruity and described by many as gulpable! Now if that doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will.

If your goal is to only drink cellarable wines that garner nods of approval in stuffy wine circles, then by all means steer clear of Beaujolais Nouveau. However, it you want to celebrate with the French and get the first possible taste of this year’s harvest of Beaujolais, then you should definitely join in this fun tradition. For the entire weekend people all of the world will be lifting a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau with you – how fun is that?

If I still haven’t convinced you, let me quote the great Karen MacNeil as she sums up Beaujolais Nouveau wine in her book , The Wine Bible: “Drinking it gives you the smae kind of silly pleasure as eating cookie dough.”

So my wine drinking friends, don’t walk, run – the entire celebration is based on a race – to get a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau this weekend. Drink it now. In gulps. Hooray for Beaujolais! Cheers!


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Election Night Wines

Whether you are celebrating victory or drowning your sorrows (and really how could anyone be celebrating any result this Election Day), here are some fun wine choices to help us all get through it.

If you choose  Trump (as the lesser of two evils of course):

The obvious choice is Trump Meritage.  All things being equal, with not one redeeming quality among either candidate, at least one of them makes decent wine.

Interesting tidbit, the Trump winery is on the same property where President  Thomas Jefferson attempted and failed to grow grapes.




The Federalist. I chose the Honest Red Blend, featuring Honest Abe, who was the first Republican President – considered a radical champion of social justice at the time. My how things have changed.



If you choose Clinton:

Although the Clintons do not own a vineyard, I did find the appropriately named Clinton wine from Clinton Vineyards in New York.  They call themselves the “jewel of the Hudson Valley” and have jumped on the campaign trail with Clinton Vineyards Victory White. As far as I can tell, this only retails at local locations, but can purchased online:

Now for a little fun, here are some choices that may help get you through the night, admittedly it was hard to choose which candidate to apply some of these to, it could defintiely go either way, just like this election.



I don’t need to say anything here right?





I really hate to drag the beautiful Miranda Lambert into this, but she put her face on her wine label, so I had no choice.  There is no hot sauce in your purse Hillary. I’m calling bullshit on that one, which makes you a white liar.





Could there be a better wine for T-Rump? I think he should try and buy the licensing rights to this name for his own winery.






Because we all know it so much more than emails…..






The Donald would probably find this flattering.





The new nickname for the Clinton White House?






I picked this one for personal reasons. My Popo used to sing me a song about a horse keeping it’s tail up to keep the sun out of his eyes.  This was sung while drinking a shot of Kessler and drinking PBR. Anyhoo, it seems that Mr. Trump does not mind acting like a horse’s ass on any given day.






Like the Trojan Horse.




And, because we are all at our wit’s end with this election and will likely wake up tomorrow morning in a conundrum no matter who wins, I’ve picked a white and red for Wednesday night wine:


May I suggest a 4 year supply?