What is Vermentino?

Perusing through the retail wine shelves or a restaurant wine list, you may have come across “Vermentino” and wondered what it is. Yosemite Sam might guess it is an Italian wild rabbit but he’d be wrong. Though, he’d be right about the Italian part — Vermentino is a grape from Italy.

Yes, Vermentino is a grape variety from Italy that makes white wine. It’s pronounced ver-men-TEE-no. Easy, right? So now you can say it, but will you like it? What does it taste like? Generally speaking, the taste of Vermentino is somewhere between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio — but minus the grassy and cat-pee character of Sauvignon Blanc, and with the minerality of, but not quite as sharp in acidity as, Pinot Grigio. And though it’s best described as a light-bodied white grape, the flavor is fairly complex, with a texture (or mouthfeel) that is a hint oily (in ...

Wine Review – What Brunello 2011 Tastes Like

Please don’t tell the Consorzio, but I had my first taste of Brunello 2011 — and Brunello 2010 Riserva — a few days ago. Some of you in the wine trade might be interested in my impression, so I’m sharing here. Before you proceed, please look at my profile and you’ll see I work for Banfi. Therefore those were the wines I tasted, and, yes, I’m biased toward Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino (not to mention my livelihood is somewhat dependent upon people buying these new vintages). With that out of the way, I will do my best to give you as impartial a review of the new wines as I can. Regardless of which Brunello producer you prefer, you’ll probably agree that the 2010 vintage was absolutely glorious — one of the best years ever for Brunello di Montalcino. The 2010 growing season was a viticulturist’s dream: a bit ...

Arsenic In Wine – The Complete List

Following is the full, complete list of wines that allegedly contain dangerous amounts of arsenic, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles, California. Almost all are inexpensive California wines. Arsenic is a poison that, when ingested in high enough doses, can be fatal.
  1. Acronym GR8RW Red Blend 2011
  2. Almaden Heritage White Zinfandel
  3. Almaden Heritage Moscato
  4. Almaden Heritage White Zinfandel
  5. Almaden Heritage Chardonnay
  6. Almaden Mountain Burgundy
  7. Almaden Mountain Rhine
  8. Almaden Mountain Chablis
  9. Arrow Creek Coastal Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
  10. Bandit Pinot Grigio
  11. Bandit Chardonnay
  12. Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon
  13. Bay Bridge Chardonnay
  14. Beringer White Merlot 2011
  15. Beringer White Zinfandel 2011
  16. Beringer Red Moscato
  17. Beringer Refreshingly Sweet Moscato
  18. Charles Shaw White Zinfandel 2012 (a.k.a., “Two Buck Chuck”)
  19. Colores del Sol Malbec 2010
  20. Glen Ellen by Concannon Glen Ellen Reserve Pinot Grigio 2012
  21. Concannon Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011
  22. Glen Ellen by Concannon Glen Ellen Reserve Merlot 2010
  23. Cook Spumante
  24. Corbett Canyon Pinot Grigio
  25. Corbett Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon
  26. Cupcake Malbec 2011
  27. Fetzer Moscato 2010
  28. Fetzer Pinot Grigio 2011
  29. Fish Eye Pinot Grigio 2012
  30. Flipflop Pinot Grigio 2012
  31. Flipflop Moscato
  32. Flipflop Cabernet Sauvignon
  33. Foxhorn White Zinfandel
  34. Franzia Vintner Select White Grenache
  35. Franzia Vintner Select White Zinfandel
  36. Franzia Vintner Select White Merlot
  37. Franzia Vintner Select Burgundy
  38. Hawkstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
  39. HRM Rex Goliath Moscato
  40. Korbel Sweet Rose Sparkling Wine
  41. Korbel Extra Dry Sparkling Wine
  42. Menage a Trois Pinot Grigio 2011
  43. Menage a Trois Moscato 2010
  44. Menage a Trois White Blend 2011
  45. Menage a Trois Chardonnay 2011
  46. Menage a Trois Rose 2011
  47. Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
  48. Menage a Trois California Red Wine 2011
  49. Mogen David Concord
  50. Mogen David Blackberry Wine
  51. Oak Leaf White Zinfandel
  52. Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2011
  53. R Collection by Raymond Chardonnay 2012
  54. Richards Wild Irish Rose Red Wine
  55. Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc 2012
  56. Simply Naked Moscato 2011
  57. Smoking Loon Viognier 2011
  58. Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  59. Sutter Home Gewurztraminer 2011
  60. Sutter Home Pink Moscato
  61. Sutter Home Pinot Grigio 2011
  62. Sutter Home Moscato
  63. Sutter Home Chenin Blanc 2011
  64. Sutter Home Sweet Red 2010
  65. Sutter Home Riesling 2011
  66. Sutter Home White Merlot 2011
  67. Sutter Home Merlot 2011
  68. Sutter Home White Zinfandel 2011
  69. Sutter Home White Zinfandel 2012
  70. Sutter Home Zinfandel 2010
  71. Trapiche Malbec 2012
  72. Tribuno Sweet Vermouth
  73. Vendange Merlot
  74. Vendange White Zinfandel
  75. Wine Cube Moscato
  76. Wine Cube Pink Moscato 2011
  77. Wine Cube Pinot Grigio 2011
  78. Wine Cube Pinot Grigio
  79. Wine Cube Chardonnay 2011
  80. Wine Cube Chardonnay
  81. Wine Cube Red Sangria
  82. Wine Cube Sauvignon Blanc 2011
  83. Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2011
The lawsuit claims that the above wines contain as much ...

Kim Crawford Pinot Gris

Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2013 | Marlborough, New Zealand

kim-crawford-pinot-grisNose is wide open and expressive, with bright, delicious aromas of pineapple, ripe pear, peach, and apricot. In the mouth, the fruit is similar — really ripe, bright, upfront sweet pear, with a touch of residual sugar, but the fruit lasts through a lengthy, pleasant finish. The bright pear and peach flavors remind me a bit of Muscat / Moscato. It’s aptly named Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio; to me, “Pinot Gris” is what I associate with Oregon and Alsace, and in those areas, the grape tends to make wines that are less acidic and have a slightly oily mouthfeel (in comparison to Pinot Grigio from northern Italy). Toward that point, Kim Crawford Pinot Gris has some weight in the mouth, and is on the fat side — which makes it a wonderful solo sipper and, when pairing with food, is better with leaner meats and simply prepared, undressed / un-sauced vegetables. The back label suggests Asian and spicy cuisine, and I’d agree with that. This is a potential picnic crowd-pleaser.

How You Pour Wine Affects Your Drinking

This information came out a few months ago, but it remains relevant: did you know that the way you pour your wine can affect how much you drink?

According to studies published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse:

- Wider glasses lead to pouring up to 12% more wine than a narrow glass.

- More wine is poured when holding the glass in hand, as opposed to pouring into a glass set on a countertop / tabletop. Again, up to 12% more.

- People tend to pour more white wine into a glass than red wine — up to 9% more. The theory is that because red wine is a more stark contrast in color, it’s easier to judge how much is being poured.

- More wine gets poured into colored glasses than in transparent glasses.

So, if you want to drink a little less tonight, make sure you serve yourself red wine in a crystal glass placed on a table. On the other hand, if you’re looking to drink a little more, hold a dark-colored glass in your hand and pour white wine into it.

Red Wine Review: Chateau Lassegue 2006

Chateau Lassegue 2006 | Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

chateau-lassegue-st-emilionYet another stellar example of right bank Bordeaux by brilliant winemaker Pierre Seillan.

Generous, open nose give opulent scents of ripe black fruit, earth, and mild hints of dark chocolate, tobacco, and something vegetal. On the palate it’s more restrained — really tight, not ready to offer the ample fruit waiting to erupt after a few years in the cellar. What you do get — after several rounds of double-decanting and allowing the wine to hang around in the open air — is complex layers of red and black fruit, earth, tar, and tobacco. What tips off the future greatness of this wine is its lengthy, perfectly balanced finish. No one element jumps out to be counted, but the subtle, complex flavors are preserved with appropriate levels of acidity and tannins. The finish goes on, in balance, for five minutes plus; even when it finally disappears from the palate, there’s no heat, astringency, nor bitterness taking away from the pleasure.

If you want a New World, fruit-forward, jammy ripe cocktail-hour wine that bursts in your mouth with upfront flavors right now (and goes better with a cigar than food), then stay away from this wine. However, if you prefer an understated, youthful, harmonic wine with structure to match with beefy or gamey dishes, then stock a case of this in your cellar, forget about for about five years, and start uncorking a bottle a year until it reaches its apex. It will be well worth the wait.

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher


Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

How To Buy Champagne for New Year’s

champagne-cork-popWe’re about to ring in the New Year — and the best way to do it is with bubbles. But which bottle of bubbles to choose?

First, if you aren’t already aware, Champagne is a type of sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine can be called “Champagne.” Actually, that’s not entirely true — there are a handful of American wineries that are allowed to put “champagne” on the label. How to know whether it’s American “champagne” or the real thing? Here’s the hard and fast rule of thumb: if the full-size (750ml) bottle costs less than $20, and/or the label says “Korbel,” it’s American. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with American “champagne,” nor does it necessarily mean you won’t like it — just be aware that what you’re buying is not from France.

With that out of the way, let’s get an understanding on how to buy a bottle of Champagne (from France).

If you’re not an avid drinker of “real” Champagne, or don’t know much about it, you may want to put your money toward another type of sparkler — you’ll likely be able to buy multiple bottles for the same you’d spend on one bottle of Champagne from France. However, if you’re only planning on buying one bottle, and are budgeting at least $30 for it, then go ahead and try some of the real stuff!

Champagne labels look confusing, but are actually very helpful in letting you know what’s inside the bottle. Number one, it’s either going to be a “vintage” — meaning all the grapes came from the harvest of a specific year, or “non-vintage” (often abbreviated as “NV”), which means the wine is a blend of several different years. Generally speaking, non-vintage Champagne from a particular “house” (a.k.a. “winery” or “brand”) will cost less than the house’s vintage offering. Which is better? Most snobs will tell you that a vintage-dated Champagne is going to be more complex. However, the nice snobs will tell you that the non-vintage represents the “house style” and can be counted on to have a consistent taste profile. In other words, which is “better” is subjective. If you’re purchasing the bottle as a gift for a wine aficionado, the vintage-dated Champagne will be more impressive.

Beyond the vintage/non-vintage issue, the main thing to look for on a Champagne label is one of these words/phrases:

Brut Nature – completely dry, with no sweetness whatsoever.
Extra Brut – pretty darn dry, with anywhere from 0 to 6 grams per liter (g/L) residual sugar.
Brut - dry, but with just enough sweetness to be palatable for people who enjoy dry white wines. This is the type you’ll see most often in wine shops. 5-15 g/L residual sugar, for those who know what that means.
Extra Dry – 12-20 g/L residual sugar, which means it’s going to be a bit sweeter than Brut.
Dry/Sec – 17-35 g/L residual sugar. It’s much sweeter than Brut. You’re unlikely to find it in the USA, except at specialty wine shops.
Demi-sec – 35-50g/liter residual sugar. It’s sweet, but Champagne has enough acidity to balance out the sweetness and so it’s still palatable — and quite enjoyable with desserts.
Doux - at 50+ g/L sugar, this is the sweetest Champagne of all. You likely won’t see it in the USA, but in case you do, know that it is exceptionally sweet.

Most people enjoy either Brut or Extra Dry Champagne, and Brut tends to be the style that is most easily found. Now that you know the difference between vintage and non-vintage, and know the various sweetness/dryness levels of Champagne, what else can help you make the right decision in purchasing a bottle? Well, now it’s a matter of choosing the “house” or winery (or brand). How to choose? Really, there’s no formula — it’s all a matter of taste. For 90% of the population, it won’t make too much of a difference which house/winery/brand you choose. However, the 10% of the population who fashion themselves as Champagne connoisseurs may prefer one house over another — if you are in that group, please let us know in the comments which Champagne house(s) you most enjoy, and why. As for the rest of you, feel free to explore. Some houses tend to have a lighter style, others richer, some more toasty, while others more buttery — which one you like is a matter of personal taste, and you won’t know your favorite until you try several. As for reliable names to look for, consider Billecart-Salmon, Bruno Paillard, Gosset, Henriot, Deutz, Salon, Krug, Pommery, Lanson, Mumm, Perrier-Jouet, Louis Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck, Heidsieck et Monopole (one of my favorites is “Blue Top” NV), Duval-Leroy, Bollinger, Taittainger, Nicolas Feuillatte, Laurent-Perrier, Moet et Chandon, Veuve-Clicquot, Ayala, Philipponnat, and Lenoble. Yes, that’s a long list, and there are several others, but it’s good to know that there are so many high-quality Champagnes available to you, isn’t it?

Happy New Year!

Wine Gatekeeping and Empowerment

Last week I worked a distributor event, standing behind a table pouring my company’s wines to retail and restaurant wine buyers, waitstaff, sales reps, and other trade/industry people. This is always a pleasure for me, as I thoroughly enjoy interacting with people who get a kick out of wine and looking to explore and educate themselves. It’s also a fantastic way for me to get a feel for what distributor sales managers and reps are experiencing, as well as getting an understanding of the needs, knowledge, and challenges facing retailers and restaurateurs. Anyone at the “supplier level” — a.k.a., the top tier of the three-tier system — should work events such as this a few times a year (as well as spend time “on the ground”) to better understand their customers.

This particular tasting was in New Jersey — my home state — and though I’ve been doing NJ shows for over 15 years, I’m always stunned that no one spits. Ever. There are spit buckets at every table, but they’re used only for pouring out the contents of a glass. For whatever reason, NJ people believe spitting at a wine tasting is rude; I’ve not experienced this, at the trade level, in any other market in the United States. How people can taste dozens of wine, not spit, and still remain standing — much less, drive home — boggles my mind.

But I digress …

Every time I work one of these shows, I learn a few things, meet new people, and usually, have at least one experience or interaction that makes me shake my head. At this show, the head-shaking moment came unexpectedly, while speaking with an otherwise very smart, personable retailer.

At my table were an assortment of wines from Chile, starting at $11 retail and going up to $34. They didn’t receive nearly as much interest and attention as many other wines at the show, perhaps because Chile isn’t a “hot” region for NJ, or perhaps because none of the wines I poured were rated 98 points by Wine Spectator. It’s difficult to stand out at a show when there are dozens of other tables offering hundreds of wines and spirits. But when someone ventured to my table and expressed interest in my wines, I did my best to educate and provide unique selling propositions for their customers.

One kind soul was already a fan — and a buyer — of the wines at my table. This is always especially helpful to me, as I can pick the brain of the person to find out how the wines are doing with consumers, and why they’re selling — or not selling. Information like this is invaluable toward marketing and messaging. This particular retailer carried, and did well selling, the Cabernet Sauvignon at my table, and was a genuine fan of Chilean wine, so we chatted for a few minutes about the country’s regions, some of the great values it offers, and the response by her customers to Chilean wine, which was good — many of her customers loved the price:quality ratio offered by Chilean wine, and were exploring several Chilean brands as well Argentinean ones. “Would you like to try the Carmenere?” I asked. A shake of the head. “OK. Are you already familiar with it?” Another shake of the head, and then this explanation:

“I love Carmenere, and I’m sure I’ll love this one. But there’s no point in trying it, because it won’t sell. My customers don’t know what it is.”

Um …

I let her walk away, invoking the old edict “the customer is always right.” After all, she knows her customers better than I do — who am I to argue.

But her response bugged me the rest of the evening, and I remain miffed. This didn’t seem to be one of those retailers in the business simply for the purpose of making money — she seemed to be genuinely interested in wine, quite knowledgeable, and the type of person who could help others expand their comfort zone. Yet, for whatever reason, she wasn’t willing to use those aspects toward teaching others, and, ultimately, increasing profits.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the “gateway” wine for Chile, because so many people are already familiar with the varietal thanks to its ubiquity. Cabernet is the base of many Bordeaux, is famous from Napa, and grown just about everywhere on the planet. As such, it comes in many different styles in flavors, though somehow it manages to retain a few characteristics: earthiness, black fruit, pepper. Its kin is Merlot, which is similarly peppery and earthy, but often tends toward more red fruit than black. Very generally speaking, if one enjoys Cabernet, he/she likely will also be fond of Merlot.

Meanwhile, Carmenere is somewhere in between Merlot and Cabernet. In fact, it is so similar in structure and flavor profile to Merlot that for decades, Chileans believed it to be Merlot — it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that outsiders came in and told the Chilean growers, “hey, what you have here in the vineyard is not Merlot, it’s Carmenere.” That said, if a person enjoys Cabernet or Merlot from Chile, there’s a really, really good chance that he/she will also like Carmenere.

I suppose it’s easy to let customers continue to buy Cabernet Sauvignon — why fix something that ain’t broke? But that’s old-school wine industry thinking, when wine quality was less reliable, Americans were less wine-knowledgeable, and more focused on finding and sticking with the tried-and-true. Today, however — thanks mainly to the information superhighway — wine information is easily available for free, and people educate themselves. As a result, wine consumers today — and especially those under age 35 — are not only willing to explore, but feel they MUST explore. They want to try wines from places they’ve never been to, made from grapes they’ve never heard of, with names they can’t pronounce.

And that’s where the profit potential comes for the retailer — both monetary and spiritual. If you can be the person who turns on someone else to a new wine, you can become their trusted source, their “go-to,” their expert. Introducing and empowering another individual is fulfilling to your soul and can help pay the bills.

Many people find it too much work. They’ve tried to convince people in the past, and it didn’t work. It was frustrating, and may have caused loss in revenue. But times have changed, and while 9 out of 10 customers just want to pick up the wine they know they like, it’s that tenth customer who makes working in the wine business worthwhile. If someone has already dipped their toe in the water and moved from their old reliable California Cab to one from Chile, is it really that difficult to prod him/her just a little more, suggesting, “hey, if you like Chilean Cab, you may want to try Carmenere.” Tell them how the Chileans thought it was Merlot, tell them that it’s a minor grape in Bordeaux, but flourishes in Chile. Tell them how the leaves turn red — or “carmine” — when the grapes are ripe. With those few points, they don’t even have to taste the wine to buy it — they now have a bottle that is a conversation starter at their next meal or party. Buying and selling wine is often about commodity and price points, but it doesn’t have to be, all the time. It can be so much more, if only we put in a little effort.

Retailers have a choice: they can be a gatekeeper, or an empowerer. Those that choose the latter will achieve self-satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and increased profits.

Pine Ridge Chardonnay

Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones Carneros – Napa Valley, California

pine-ridge-chardonnay-dijonEvery once in a while I get a hankering for big, buttery, Chardonnay — i.e., “New World” style, usually from a warm-to-hot wine region.

Although this wine comes from grapes picked both from Carneros and Napa Valley, to me, this wine speaks Napa. When I think of Napa Valley Chardonnay, I think of a rich golden color, toasty vanilla and super-ripe pear aromas, over-the-top sweet ripe fruit upfront, and a hefty, almost syrupy texture. Pine Ridge delivers on all these expectations.

To be clear, this is a style of wine that I want to have occasionally — not all the time. It’s huge in the mouth, with globs of sweet bright fruit that is almost cloying, but somewhat tempered with ample acidity. This wine definitely got a good dose of American barrels, because in addition to the vanilla punch it has more tannin than most rose wines and a few light reds. Though it finishes dry thanks to the acid and tannin, this has plenty of sweet flavor upfront and through the midpalate, which means I recommend you pair it with spicy foods. I matched it successfully with BonChon fried chicken. On its own, I’m sure there is a crowd that will love this as a “cocktail wine,” though its acid and tannin structure beg for food.

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

This wine has also been reviewed by Heidi of Brix Chicks, Bill’s Wine Wandering, and The Wine Spies.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Canadian White Wine: Peller Estates Chardonnay

Peller Estates Chardonnay 2011 | VQA British Columbia, Canada

peller estates chardonnay niagara canadaAs a follow-up to the post on Inniskillin Pinot Grigio, my personal somm offered me two Chardonnays from Canada — one on the high end, one on the low end. This one was on the low end of the spectrum. But don’t take that the wrong way — this was no dog.

Peller Estates Chardonnay has an expressive nose of spicy vanilla oak, ripe pear, and honeysuckle. With that nose I was expecting an in-your-face, fat, sugary, over-oaked blast of tree bark on the palate, but that was not the case. Rather, there was plenty of bright acidity balancing ample ripe fruit, and the spice flavor was more toward something exotic like ginger or cardamom than the typical vanilla extract we’re used to tasting in cheap California Chardonnays. The finish was well-balanced and even had a hint of tannin. A nice solo drinker, and it would likely match with roasted or grilled pork.

Unfortunately, I think this wine will be difficult if not impossible to find in the USA, but if you live in Canada, you can find it at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

If you find yourself in the Niagara, Ontario area of Canada, check out the winery personally — for more info, visit the Peller Estates website.

By the way, yes I realize the winery is in Ontario and the wine is from British Columbia, which is a pretty far distance. If anyone has more information on how the wine is produced, please elaborate in the comments. Thank you.

We’ll soon review the Chardonnay that was on the higher end — stay tuned.

Buying Wines for Labor Day Weekend Barbecue

Going to — or hosting — a BBQ this weekend and need last-minute wine shopping tips?

Hopefully if you’re hosting an outdoor party / barbecue, you’ve asked your guests to bring a bottle of wine — it’s the least they can do, right? But whether you’re hosting or bringing to the BBQ, the general rules of thumb are the same.

First off, understand the wine-drinking crowd. Are there snobs in the audience? White zinners who like their spritzers? Most likely there will be a mix, covering both ends of the spectrum. You don’t have to please everyone, and in fact, one idea is to please yourself and bring your favorite bottle — then, at least, you know for sure you’ll have something you like.

One thing I must point out is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with big bottles — i.e., 1.5-liter “magnums” — and in fact they are preferable with a large crowd. A number of palatable wines come in larger format bottles, such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Personally, when it comes to 1.5L bottles, I like to stick to wines from Italy — specifically, wines that are named after a place and/or those that have DOC designation. For example: Soave, Orvieto, Frascati, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Chianti are all wines named after the region in which the grapes are grown. My personal “go-to” in every situation is a dry Frascati — it’s a crisp, mildly fruity wine that matches with just about any dish, tends to be a crowd-pleaser, and is fairly inexpensive.

That’s really the key for a barbecue or summer party: wines that go with a variety of dishes — which is another reason why I lean toward Italian varieties. Italian wines, by nature, are made to go with food.

If my white “go-to” is Frascati, my red “go-to” is Bardolino — preferably slightly chilled for an outdoor event. Like Frascati, Bardolino can easily be found in a big bottle, matches with all kinds of dishes, and is relatively inexpensive. For similar reasons, I also like Beaujolais-Villages or a Beaujolais Cru. DO NOT buy a Beaujolais Nouveau, unless summer in your part of the world occurs in November. Beaujolais Cru are wines from the Beaujolais region in France, south of Burgundy, that have one of these specific place names on the label: Fleurie, Morgon, Saint Amour, Regnie, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Julienas, or Chiroubles. Generally speaking, you’ll only find a Beaujolais Cru in a standard, 750ml bottle, so bring two to a big party. Prices vary, but you should be able to find them in $12 to $17 range. Flavor profile and structure depend on which Cru you choose, but regardless of which one you pick, chances are very good it will go well with a plethora of dishes found at a typical outdoor BBQ. The wines tend to be light in tannin, fresh and fruity, with ample acidity. You can serve them at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Now, if you know for sure there are going to be spicy dishes at the party — or actual, real, barbecue / smoked foods such as ribs, pulled pork, or BBQ chicken, then the ideal wine to bring is Riunite Lambrusco, which is available in party-friendly 1.5L bottle and 3-liter jug. Right here is where I have to make a huge disclosure: I work for the importer of Riunite, so I’m biased. However, I also know from experience that Riunite Lambrusco is PERFECT with foods glazed in barbecue sauces, smoked meats, cured meats (i.e., salami), and almost anything with some spicy heat, such as buffalo chicken wings. The wine must be chilled for ultimate enjoyment (old commercials had a song with the chorus “Riunite on ice”) and it has a bit of a fizz that puts smiles on people’s faces. Another great attribute: it’s only 8% alcohol, so you can have a second glass (or red Solo cup) without getting loopy. Oh, and it’s enclosed with a screwtop for easy access.

My final advice for a summer party wine is to get something pink — in other words, a rose. Ideally, a dry rose — though the truth is that many of the “dry” roses on the shelves these days have a hint of residual sugar, and that’s not a bad thing. How to choose? Here’s my hard and fast rule, assuming you know nothing else: stick to 750ml bottles, spend at least $9, and make sure the vintage a year previous to the present one. So, here in 2013, you’d want to purchase a rose from 2012. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one from 2011 or 2010 is bad, but you have to really know your wines and regions to know which ones still have vivacity and structure after a few years’ aging. Spending over ten bucks will almost always guarantee you’re getting a fairly decent, dry rose.

Most condescending cork dorks will scoff at the suggestions I’ve made above, and that’s fine. My approach to a summer BBQ is to enjoy easy drinking wines that I don’t have to think about. Also, if I bring a wine of simple pleasure, I don’t have to worry about “wasting” it someone who may not fully appreciate a more expensive bottle. At the same time, I might be able to introduce an easy-to-appreciate wine to a white zinner or beer drinker, and pull them out of the dark side. Now, if you know there will be a few wine geeks at the party, by all means, bring a bottle you love and think they might enjoy as well — it will be great for conversation.

That’s it — hope you found this helpful, and hope you enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Have any of your own summer party wine tips, suggestions, or favorites? Post them in the comments.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of barbecue, how’s this for a fascinating item? It’s a bundle of wood from wine barrels that you can use for smoking or grilling. They are oak staves pulled from actual, used wine barrels, so you can impart the scent and flavor of wine into your food. Pretty cool, eh? Click the image to buy from Amazon — they cost less than ten bucks a bundle ($9.30 as of this writing) and shipping is free if your shopping cart is at least $25.

Canadian White Wine: Inniskillin Pinot Grigio

20130825-135140.jpgSo, I’m finally getting around to posting wine reviews from my trip to the Okanagan Valley to participate in the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference.

This was my first taste of Canadian wine above the border, selected as a “surprise” by an enthusiastic and friendly sommelier at the White Spot Restaurant inside Kelowna airport. The lovely young lady asked if I wanted to see the wine list, or if she could surprise me; naturally, I opted for the surprise. She “guaranteed” that I’d enjoy the wine — and I did. It’s always great to find someone with a similar palate to guide you.

One caveat: it was served too cold — due to the white wines being stored in the refrigerator next to the beer. My personal somm explained, “most people who come in here want their white wine ice cold.” Yes, we have that problem in the USA as well. In any case, initially, the wine wasn’t impressive — not bad, just not impressive. But, my trusty infrared thermometer (yes, I’m a James Bond wannabe) registered 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so how could the wine possibly show any character? Once it warmed up to a more drinkable 52, then 55, the lovely mineral took over the aroma, which also boasted ripe pear and a hint of white peach. It had excellent acidity — again, only after warming up — and was nice enough drinking on its own, with a well-balanced finish of green apple. I would guess it would also go well with an array of foods. If you see it, give it a try.

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See more reviews for Inniskillin Pinot Grigio from Wines in Niagara, Tony Aspler, and John Schreiner on Wine.

White Wine Review: Uvaggio Vermentino

uvaggio-vermentinoWhen I received this wine as a sample, I pulled it out of the box, gave the label a quick glance, and thought, “oh, a Vermentino — I like Italian wines.” After chilling it down for about 20 minutes and pouring it into the glass, I took a sniff, and thought, “ah, that nice mineral and floral character I love from Vermentino.” Then I took a sip and thought, “whoa, there’s something different about this Vermentino. It’s a little richer, sweeter, fatter, and more creamy than I expect from the variety — it must be from an area in Italy further south than where the grape is usually found.” So then I took a more detailed perusal of the labels — front and back. And the light bulb went on.

“Ah, no wonder — it’s from California!”

The vowel at the end of the winery’s name, and the grape, threw me off. Uvaggio is located in California — Lodi, to be exact. It can get warm in Lodi, which is one of the reasons the area is so wonderful for Zinfandel. It’s also the reason you get riper, richer, honeyed, and tropical fruit flavors from this Vermentino — a grape generally grown in cooler climates such as Liguria and Piedmont (where it’s called Favorita). Perhaps the finest examples of Vermentino come from the island Sardinia, which one would think is warmer when seen on a map, but in fact tends to experience a more continental climate due to its mix of mountains and valleys (less than 20% of the island is flat) and frequent sniffs of France’s mistral winds.

But over the last decade, warmer regions — such as Tuscany — have been growing Vermentino and the results have been impressive. So why not give the grape a try in Lodi, California?

As mentioned at the outset, this particular example from Uvaggio retains much of the character an experienced geek expects from Vermentino — mineral notes, delicate floral aromas, citrus. However, there’s definitely a “New World” style weaved in, perhaps the result of the warmer climate combined with some cellar techniques — maybe some of it went through a malolactic process to create the plush texture, and/or a kiss of oak is behind the sweet vanilla. On its own, is a pleasant sipper. With food, it’s lacking acidity to stand up to richer dishes, but should pair nicely with lean meats and simply grilled fish.

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Read other reviews of Uvaggio Vermentino from my pal Jon Thorsen at The Reverse Wine Snob, Winethropology, James the Wine Guy, and Avvinare.

Note: I received this wine as a sample

White Wine Review: Luna Mater

Fontana Candida Frascati “Luna Mater” 2009 | Lazio, Italy

fontana-candida-luna-materThis is one of those wines for that rare person who enjoys drinking wine with food, and/or considers wine as food.

OK, I'm being a little facetious / condescending. The truth is, like most Italian wines, this is food — at least, as far as I'm concerned.

Don't — under ANY circumstances — attempt to drink this all by itself. Oh, it's lovely on its own, but it's not what it's made for. This is Frascati, the wine of Rome, and it's not a loner. Acidity is good, but not overly abundant as, say, a Pinot Grigio might be. There is no oak, so don't expect over-the-top vanilla, toasty flavors that completely overwhelm the fruit. Ah, the fruit — when will I get to that? How about now? It's ripe, but maybe a teeny bit overripe, in a good way. The main flavor is pear — pear that is getting slightly overripe, a little extra brown. That same overripe pear is on the nose, with a hint of overripe banana. In the mouth it's perfectly balanced, with the twang of acidity coming at the end, turning the overripe pear into fresh pear.

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Disclosure: I work for the importer of this wine, and tasted it for free.

Spirits Kick: Limoncello

meletti_limoncello_lo

Meletti Limoncello

This thick limoncello follows with the Meletti house style, which tends to be sweeter, lighter, and more candied than others. As with this lemony digestivo, newbies will find their Amaro, Sambuca, and Anisette more approachable and an easier entry into those respective categories. Though the flavor is sweet and texture is really thick — seriously, you could chew on it — it's not cloying and the finish is very clean and pleasing. Also surprising, it's not that strong in alcohol (30% / 60 proof) and so there's no heat or “bite” to knock your socks off. That's either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on where you intend to go with your drink. Maybe the best part of this product is the package; the bottle is tall, with a long, skinny neck, and the label is worthy of putting on your wall in poster size, looking like an old-fashioned spirits ad from the late 1800s / early 1900s. I would call the package “retro” if not for the fact that I think they simply haven't changed it in a hundred years. Worth seeking.

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Disclosure: I used to work for the importer of this product, and tasted it free of charge.

Red Bordeaux Wine Review: Chateau Lassegue

Chateau Lassegue 2005 | Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

chateau-lassegue-st-emilionWow. That's the initial impression on the nose, which is generous with aromas of numerous black fruits, spices, mineral, and earth tones. I could sit here and smell the wine all day, the fragrance is so lovely — and continuously evolving. Which takes me to a vital point: decant this wine, several times.

At minimum, I recommend “triple decanting,” which means, pour the wine out of the bottle and into a clean, dry, glass vessel — such as a decanter — then pour it into another vessel (or, back into the bottle, using a funnel), then pour it back into the decanter, then repeat the cycle one more time. This back-and-forth effort from one container to the other will aerate the wine, allowing the deep aromas and delicious goodness to begin to emerge.

I say “begin” because this wine is still quite young, despite being eight years “old.” There are many layers to this complex juice, and only a hint of them are showing themselves right now. Generally speaking, I like to drink high quality (read: expensive) wines when they're younger than most serious enophiles and critics would recommend, but in this case, even I would stash this in a cool cellar for another four or five years — at minimum. I'm certain this wine will continue to develop and mature for 10-15 years at least before it starts a descent.

As with all wines I've tasted by winemaker Pierre Seillan, Chateau Lassegue is perfectly balanced. In other words, the full-flavored, complex fruit is wrapped tightly — and preserved — with ample, appropriate levels of ripe (but not harsh) tannins and lively (but not sharp) acidity. This is a huge wine that is just beginning to take baby steps toward childhood, and you can experience the layers by decanting and tasting the wine over the course of a long evening — this is one to contemplate. Personally, I triple-decanted and then poured 2-3 sips at a time, every 15-20 minutes; the aromas and flavors opened up, evolved, and became increasingly appealing throughout a period of four hours. And here's the best part: though it is young and tight, it can be very enjoyable right now with food — I enjoyed it with a filet mignon (it would be even better with a fattier cut, such as a ribeye or prime rib).

I'm not sure how easy it is to find 2005 Bordeaux from any producer — it has been hailed as the “vintage of a lifetime” by some of the most respected critics — but if you see Chateau Lassegue 2005, and can afford the price tag, I highly recommend you purchase whatever you can without hesitation.

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This wine was provided as a press sample from the winery.

Site Added to Wine Blog List: Wine Folly

During the Wine Blog Awards dinner at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2012, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Ben Simons from Vinotology. As the “Best New Wine Blog” winner was about to be announced, Ben whispered to me, “one of the best new blogs isn't even among the finalists.” Who might that be, I asked? “Wine Folly,” he answered.

Since I greatly respect Ben's opinion (and his writing), I checked out Wine Folly the next time I was in front of a computer. Within five minutes, I agreed with Ben — Wine Folly is definitely one of the best new wine blogs I've seen. So why wasn't it considered at the Wine Blog Awards? My guess is that the home page of the site looked more like a magazine or a front for a wine school, rather than a typical blog (i.e., where all the posts are stacked in one vertical column by date, such as on this site). But let's focus on why you should check it out.

First, it's easy on the eyes – clean, uncluttered, and simply but pleasantly laid out, with sharp photography and vibrant color contrasts. Second, the content is extremely well-written — the copy is compelling, well-researched, concise, entertaining (sometimes laugh-out-loud funny) and grammatically correct. That last point is a personal stickler, as I abhor blogs that ignore simple grammar rules and punctuation, are rife with misspellings, and require editing. But then, I'm an old-schooler with an English degree and spent several years of my working career as an editor. I digress …

It's now almost 8 months that I've been following Wine Folly, and since then, the esthetics and layout have changed — there's now a clear button telling you were where the “blog” section of the site resides. It's still clean and supported with rich, vibrant imagery, though perhaps more so now. The design is such that reading seems easy and a pleasure; as someone who has spent time managing website overhauls, I have a special appreciation for simple things like that. But enough about me, this is about you and your discovery of wine, which can be more enriching and enjoyable by visiting Wine Folly. Some of the more recent and informative posts include “How to Order Wine Like a Sommelier,” an infographic on “How Red Wine is Made,” and an incredibly easy-to-understand explanation of tannins in wine.

But if my glowing recommendation isn't enough, check out the video below to get a hint of what Wine Folly offers.

Red Wine Review: d’Art Zinfandel

d’Art Zinfandel 2010 | Lodi, California

d'art zinfandel red wine label from lodi californiaLodi, California (not to be confused with Lodi, New Jersey) is the place to grow Zinfandel. This particular example is evidence supporting that statement.

This zin offers big, juicy fruit on the nose and the palate. Nose is full of vanilla, butterscotch, cocoa, and red berry fruits. Palate is wide open, fruit forward with gobs of sweet raspberry, blueberry, and fruit compote, finishing with berry fruit and chocolate flavors. Acidity is mild, tannins are mild to medium. Alcohol is surprisingly low for a wine with so much fruit and concentration — there's some heat, which is expected, but not so much that it takes away from the flavor.

This is a fine “cocktail wine” and a good match for foods that pack lots of flavor and intensity, such as the buffalo burger with which I ate it. Zinfandel is purely an American wine and burgers a purely American dish, so it's nosurprise the two pair so well together. Drink this wine with burgers “with the works.”

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

This wine was also reviewed by Wine with Lisa, Ellen On Wine, Drink Hacker, and James the Wine Guy.

If you've seen other reviews, and/or have tasted this wine yourself, please let me know in the comments.

Red Wine Review: Koyle Royale Carmenere

Koyle Royale Carmenere 2009 | Colchagua, Chile

Looking at the name of this wine, for some reason I can't get the image of a deck of cards out of my head.

This wine has a really smokey, green, and mineral nose with notes of cloves, tobacco, bell pepper, earth, and something stony/mineral that I can't quite place — slate, if slate has a smell? Flint? Concrete? Can't really put my finger on it, but it's the smell of a freshly built stone cellar. In the mouth there is a rush of rich, luscious raspberry, blueberry, and boysenberry upfront, toning down in the midpalate before finishing with those same red- and blue-berry notes along with hints of clove and spice. Ample acidity and tannins, along with hot alcohol, all make an appearance simultaneously at the tail end of the finish. Enjoyable on its own, much better with food. I recommend it with a pot roast, stew, and gamey fowl such as turkey.

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Other wine blog reviews for Koyle Royale Carmenere can be found at The Reverse Wine Snob, Drinkhacker, Dallas Wine Chick, Chilean-Wine, The Good Wine Guru, and The Yum List.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample