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Top 10 Wine Bargains for Summer 2018

Summer is almost upon us. It’s time to start stocking warm-weather wines for the patio, picnic and poolside.

I’ve been diving into a flood of whites and rosés over the last few weeks, and I’ve selected from that gushing inventory 10 summer wines that are worth trying. Some are special-occasion beauties; others show well for the price and could easily be your seasonal backyard wine, since buying a case won’t break the bank. Prices are best available from the usual local sources such as Hi-Time, Costco and Total Wine & More.

Amelia Brut Rosé Crémant de Bordeaux  ($19): Made from hand-harvested red grapes grown in the acclaimed Bordeaux region, this blend of 90 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc is a summer charmer. Amelia ages en tirage (on the lees) for 18 months, double the nine months required by law, giving it aromatic and textural complexity. You’ll also notice nuanced fruit components with a touch of toasty brioche.

Anaba 2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($36): This harvest’s low yield produced concentrated, bright fruit. You’ll get a bewitching duet of orange blossom and lemon custard on the nose. A strong acidic backbone combines with ripe fruit, lemon cream and sweet herb in a balanced finish. A great cool-climate California chardonnay from one of my favorite regions.

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Bodega de Edgar 2017 Albariño: ($24): This 100 percent Albariño from Paso Ono Vineyard, off Creston Road, in Paso Robles, is one of the area’s most coveted summer sippers. It’s fermented and aged in 100 percent stainless steel, and the result is a Spanish grape with a California accent: honey suckle, zesty lemon, honey and white floral notes. From one of Paso’s best smaller wineries, this beauty sells out quickly every year.

The Calling Dutton Ranch 2016 Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($30): Intensely aromatic with notes of honeysuckle, sweet lemon and delicate rose. Crisp acidity is balanced with the vanilla signature of French oak on the palate. The lingering finish offers spicy toastiness that complements the fruit.

Daou 2016 Chardonnay ($15): A riot of flavors includes pear, lemon, passion fruit pineapple and banana. Even the nose is aggressive: honeysuckle, nutmeg, almond. But Daou’s Chardonnay isn’t just a frat party in a glass. It has a sumptuously silky texture and welcome acidity on the finish, and leaves a full, plush impression. Quite a talker for the price (you can sometimes find it for $11 at Costco). A great introductory wine from Paso’s flamboyant Bordeaux kings, the Daou brothers.

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Fleur de Mer Provence Rosé Vintage 2017 ($18): This pale pink beauty balances ripe fruit, bracing acidity and dry mineral finish. Red cherry, raspberry, white peach, lavender, grapefruit and warm-weather herbs, with a touch of salinity. The very definition of an elegant Provencal rosé. Also available in magnum size for $40 – a showy way to kick off a summer party.

Robert Mondavi 2016 Napa Valley Fume Blanc ($20): OK, so Robert Mondavi made up the name “Fume Blanc” to help goose the popularity of his dry-style Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is worthy of representing his legacy. Pithy, with grapefruit and lemon peel flavors, it’s deceptively crisp and light on the nose, offering a wealth of body and lushness on the palate, accented with nutmeg and peach. It includes 4 percent Sémillon, partly from the legendary To Kalon vineyard.

Rodney Strong 2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($25): Normally I shy away from variations on rosé’s Provencal standards, but this rose of pinot noir pulled me in with its electrifying color. The enchantment continues with strawberry, white peach and jasmine on the nose and the palate. The finish is long and luxuriant. Sharply focused acidity but light of body, and it surprises you with a zesty lemon finish.

Saint Clair Family Estate 2017 Origin Series Sauvignon Blanc ($28): This worthy New Zealand winery has produced a persuasive example of the sauvignon blanc style from the little land Down Under. Origin Series introduces itself with a mysteriously bready nose, then opens up to rich hits of pineapple and guava with a grassy undertone. There’s a hint of saltiness riding on the long, lively finish.  And yes, there’s a bit of gooseberry, that distinctive New Zealand flavor.

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Smith Madrone 2015 Estate Grown Riesling ($30): An epic riesling from one of Napa’s best producers of this grape; Smith-Madrone has been growing riesling in the Spring Mountain District since 1971. Unlike the 2014 vintage, which was lush, deep and round, the 2015 is the very definition of racy. It is bright, clean and delicious with a solid core of minerality surrounded by grace notes of citrus fruit and honeysuckle.

Wine on Tap

An Illogical Argument Against Wine From the Tap. 

Keg wine served through bar-top taps has never caught on in the U.S., and I think I know the reason: romance.

Wine is surrounded by traditions, some of them indefensible. Is cork inherently better as a stopper than synthetic corks or twist-off tops? Of course not – but we still prefer it. We’re creatures of habit. That’s why we like that sleek bottle in front of us, reflecting the candlelight as talk turns intimate and the hour gets late.

In Europe, the wine-tap system has been around for decades; I remember seeing them everywhere during trips there in the 1980s. On a visit years ago to a bar in southern France, the local Beaujolais was served to me directly from a big wooden keg sitting right on the bar.

But for some reason, wine taps have never been widely accepted here, despite attempts to make them trendy in the 1970s and ’80s. I’ve seen them in only a handful of Orange County (California) bars over the last 18 months or so.

But What About the Taste of Keg Wine?

Many in the industry claim that wine stored in kegs is better, on average, than the same product in a bottle. Corks can carry impurities which undermine the taste of a wine. So can oxidation, which happens when a wine bottle is opened and the unfinished portion is exposed to air. When a keg is tapped, the void space inside instantly becomes pressurized by an inert gas, which prevents oxygen from coming in contact with the wine.

There’s the nagging perception that wine from a keg is plonk. But respected wineries such as Au Bon Climat and Qupé are getting into the practice, so that argument doesn’t really hold.

True, not all wine benefits from keg storage. Many require bottle aging. But for wine that’s meant to be consumed when it’s young, kegs are ideal.

Still, where is the romance? I know, I know, it’s not a logical argument. But to me, part of the pleasure of wine drinking involves observing its traditions and rituals – even the ones that make no sense.


Wines to Drink With Angela Merkel and JAY-Z

Diplomacy and hip-hop are two things that should always be celebrated. Let's get into some wines for both occasions.

Angela Merkel

Angela don't take no shit. Germany's Chancellor held the task of hosting the G20 Summit in her hometown of Hamburg last week. It's where the world's most powerful leaders come together to address pressing issues facing humanity...and witness the carnival sideshow that is Donald Trump.

Chancellor Merkel, 1 of only 2 women participants in this year's summit, isn't shy about expressing displeasure. She rolls her eyes when things are "man-splained" and reminds the world how dumb it is to not invest in climate protection.

So what do you (politely) slam on the table when seated next to Angela Merkel? If not a beer stein filled with Bavarian ale, you go with a classic bottle of Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape where lychee, pineapple, and apricot are the common, dominant flavors. The grape's proverbial roots are German but it has thrived among the foothills of the Alps, particularly within France and Italy.

Let's aim for Domaine Zind-Humbrecht's 2014 vintage of this cold-climate wine. The winery is located in Alsace, technically in France, but the region sits right along the border with Germany. Gewürztraminer is also one of Alsace's four noble varieties produced, which means you're definitely getting the best version of the grape in this terroir.

The Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer is a dry, easy drinker with more subtle notes than a typical "würz". This is probably due to the wine being grown on a completely organic and biodynamic vineyard - a serious plus for the environment. Make sure you tell Angela.

JAY-Z

Hova pulled back the curtains on 4:44, his first album in 4 years, a couple of weeks ago. The kicker: it was only released on TIDAL (JAY-Z's streaming music service) as a one-week exclusive to the frustration of many. The cut is now available on Apple Music and Amazon but still noticeably absent from Spotify.

J is no stranger to throwing velvet ropes around product he's invested in. Surely you've heard of Armand de Brignac, a.k.a. Ace of Spades - a Champagne brand JAY-Z owns that will run you no less than $300 a pop. And you thought having to buy a TIDAL subscription is rough...

If that price tag ain't cutting it for a Sunday afternoon on the patio with Hova, there are potential alternatives that will still impress his palate and your accountant. We'll roll with a bottle of Bellavista's Brut Cuvée Franciacorta - a divine Italian sparkling wine.

Now when you're thinking bubbly Italian vino, Prosecco is probably what first comes to mind. However, Franciacorta - which comes from Lombardy in northern Italy - is, indeed, a closer relative to Champagne as its second round of fermentation happens in the bottle (Prosecco's happens in a tank).

Bellavista's version of Franciacorta is 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero (a.k.a. Pinot Noir). The result is a tasty, effervescent mouthful of citrus, vanilla, and bread - like Mama's homemade lemon cake. It's also 90% cheaper at roughly 30 bucks a bottle. No red rope necessary.

Your New Brunch Wine. In Like a Lyon. Out Like a Lambrusco.

Warmer weather is just about here. We all know what that means. Patio furniture gets hosed off, the white & floral print ensembles come out and wide, floppy hats have some faces to smack. 

It's brunch season. Wait, brunch happens all year. It doesn't matter - it's a beautiful day out and we're going to day drink over some eggs benny, Jenny. 

It's difficult to stray far from the bottomless champagne option. It's a classy, tasty beverage that pairs well with just about any brunch item and cleanses the palate in hot weather. 

Even if it's relatively shitty sparkling wine, you'll hardly notice after your 6th "top off". 

Despite its comfortable familiarity, sometimes an alternative to champagne is good for the soul. No, not mango juice or a strawberry to toss in it. I'm talking about a fizzy replacement that's just as versatile and twice as interesting.


Lambrusco


Ever heard of Lambrusco? It's been around forever (like, B.C. forever) and hasn't always had a stellar reputation. Many have regarded it as a sugary, cheap substitute for the inexperienced wine drinker's champagne. 

They're dead wrong. Not only are the best Lambrusco's only a touch sweet and lightly effervescent, they're equally good on their own as well as the foundation of a wine cocktail. 

One of the more interesting and modern Lambruscos out there right now is Red Lyons

Produced in the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy - just about the only province you'll find quality Lambrusco made - Red Lyons is an untraditional label on a super old grape. It's irreverent and satisfying in both design and taste. 

By far, the best part of Red Lyons is the overall experience. This Italian juice comes in a blood-red (and surprisingly heavy) bottle that is more opaque than Lambrusco itself. It's difficult to tell what the hell is in it or just how much there is. 


Red Lyons


"That mystery is completely intentional", Chris Lyons, proprietor of Red Lyons, tells me. "The bottle should be reflective of the environment you're enjoying it in; care-free and without worry about what remains."

Just as striking as the bottle is the actual juice. This Lambrusco is dark, dark red yet deceivingly light. It's wild to see a layer of foam on top of a deep purple wine as it comes out of the bottle. Almost like a barrel-aged stout wearing lipstick. 

Red Lyons, like most Lambruscos, is mild in alcohol content. Its 8.5% buzz level has the day drinking seal of approval. Which also means it's a great mixer for batch-style drinks such as sangria

The fruit-forward, frizzante foundation of Lambrusco inherently lends a refreshing flavor to a brunch cocktail that doesn't need much else. Except, perhaps, more of it. 

Lambrusco is typically easy on the wallet and a quality one will range you 30-40 bucks. You can snag Red Lyons in packs of three or six via a direct order. Enjoy!

Drinking Wine with Gary Vaynerchuck #VINOWITH

WHO IS GARY VAYNERCHUCK?
Successful entrepreneur, investor, social media influencer, speaker, motivator, content creation machine, digitally savvy hustler - but it all started with wine. 

Gary took his family wine-retail business in New Jersey, changed the name to Wine Library, started an eCommerce side of the business, and began filming bold wine reviews on a YouTube channel over a decade ago. From there he took a 3 million dollar wine business to a 60 million dollar wine business by using the power of eCommerce, video, and social. With early investments in Twitter and other household technology companies Gary has certainly done well for himself. Gary is a hustler who works extremely hard, can be in your face, but is a person that genuinely cares about people succeeding. I've not met Gary but I've seen and heard a lot of his podcasts, videos, and one-line quotes across the web. The man is everywhere!

WHY DO I WANT TO DRINK WINE WITH GARY VAYNERCHUCK?
I dig his pulse on culture, and appreciate his focus on today's consumer. The value any brand has is their consumer which I believe Gary would think is key to gaining leverage. It would be entertaining talking to him because he talks a lot, and the smallest prompt can send his mind in many directions. He's an instant dose of energy and inspiration. To vibe with his hustler-spirit combined with his business experience would be invigorating. Also, Gary Vee seems to dig hip hop and sees it as I do - a milieu that moves culture. Plug any brand or product in the hip hop machine and watch it grow exponentially.

WHAT WINES I'D DRINK WITH HIM
I'd have at least two wines with Gary, the first would have to be an in your face red wine from Washington that is not afraid to be what it is. Big mouthfeel, big fruit, big bite that comes out the gate swinging. For instance, Boom Boom Syrah by Charles SmithThis wine does not mask itself or parade around restraint. This bottle simply tells you as it is, I'm an explosion in your mouth. 

Boom Boom Syrah

The second bottle of wine would be something a bit more finessed because it seems to me that as Gary's career advances he'd appreciate a wine that is a little more  focused and subtle that you can enjoy just chilling with the homies talking Gen-X women blogs, hip-hop, future of media and whatever other thoughts pops into Gary's eclectic mind. For instance, a 2009 Vina Albina Grand Reserva.




Cheers Gary Vee

Photos from SOMMX: Kanye West Music Interpreted Through Spanish Wine

Google Slideshow: SOMMX


For the past few months we've been working on creating a live event that embodies who we are as a brand- the Voice of Modern Wine Culture. On April 12, 2018 we launched our event platform SOMMX.

The theme for our first event was: Kanye West's Music Interpreted Through Spanish Wine. It was sold out with a long waiting list! 

What is SOMMX
A series of themed wine experience events hosted and lead by unique sommeliers intended to evoke multiple senses and delight guests through food, wine, performances, art, special guests, and unique culturally relevant themes. 

The experimental event: 

5 of Kanye’s songs were interpreted through 

5 original oil paintings by local award-winning artist which were each paired with

5 courses of unique food which were each paired with

5 Spanish wines 

Oh, and there were ballet dancers and a spoken word artist.   

The event is narrated & hosted by celebrity sommelier Amelia Singer who explained each song, each painting, each course of food, and how it tied into a wine. The food was designed and cooked by Top Chef Alum Brian Huskey, and the original painting by visionary artist Kathy Lajvardi.  

Enjoy the photos and join the mailing list at SOMMX to be notified of our next event.

Google Slideshow: SOMMX

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Taste Wine Like a Master Somm - Part 2

This past weekend, I talked about 2 of the 3 ways to savor wine like a master somm. Got those tips memorized? Good. Now comes the best part:

Taste

The final step is, no doubt, to taste. Highly recommend you get yourself a spit cup, but I know you're going to swallow anyway. Cheers!

To analyze each of these elements, we use a range of low-med-high:

Acid. Does the wine make you salivate? On the side of your tongue, near the back of your mouth, is where you can feel this sensation. Some of us call it “The Waterfall Effect”. Acid (not the stuff in college) is great for cleansing your palate after fatty foods like risotto or short ribs.

Tannin. Is your mouth drying up? Tannin is the sensation of dry mouth. It's typically found on your cheeks and gums. Tannin tell us if the wine has been aged in oak (cheeks) and/or has spent extended time on the skins (Gums). Extra time on the skins adds additional bodyweight, as well as color.

Body. How does the wine feel in your mouth? I like to compare it between the feeling of water or milk. Water being of light-bodied weight and milk being full-bodied.

Alcohol. Can you feel the BERN!!! Oh wait, I mean the BURN!! Is the booze burning your senses or can you barely tell the stuff is getting you drunk?

Complexity. Did you have a lot to say as you went through this evaluation or no? If yes, then you have a complex wine in front of you. If not, then your wine is pretty boring and I hope you didn’t pay more than $10 for that shit.

Conclusion

BOOM there you go! That’s the whole wine tasting gig right there. The world's best Sommeliers are expected to do this entire evaluation and a few extra steps...in under four minutes...and not even know what wine is in the glass.

The key is to practice every time you open a bottle of wine. Take the five minutes, learn and enjoy. After that, treat yourself to the rest of the bottle and show a friend what you’ve learned!

Now that you're a bonafide expert, be sure to download the tasting sheet and get into this juice:

About your #SommNextDoor

Nicholas Ducos

Nicholas Ducos is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a Certified Sommelier. He's worked in many prestigious restaurants in Miami, Florida. As a chef and as a sommelier, he is dedicated to creating a memorable dining experience and making wine relatable to others in a witty yet refined style. Nicholas is currently the Assistant Winemaker at Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Follow his latest adventures through his website and Instagram.

Taste Wine Like a Master Somm - Part 1

Ever since the documentary Somm was released, everyone wants to learn how to taste wine or is impressed by those you can. The art of wine tasting is something that must be practiced over and over. It took me years to decipher Sonoma Pinot Noir from Burgundy Pinot Noir but now I can tell just by smelling a wine.

You see, the magic to becoming a great taster is learning the basics of “sensory evaluation”. In other words, using your eyes, nose and mouth to figure out WTF is in the glass. If you can understand sensory evaluation, your next wine experience will feel eerily similar to losing your virginity and saying “Oh snap! Did I just do that?!”.

Sight

First things first: use your eyes, homie. Just by looking at a wine in the glass you can pull so much information. Ask yourself the following questions:

Is the wine clear or cloudy? This can tell us if the wine is filtered or not.

Gas or sediments? This tells us if we're drinking a sparkling wine or still wine. Sediments (the dark floaters in the bottom of the glass) are typically found in red wine and are signs of aging.

tasting

What’s the color? This goes one of two ways: red or white. Once you use your wine genius to figure that out, dive a little deeper. For example, is it red, is it Ruby, purple, garnet, etc. For whites, is it gold, straw, pale straw, silver…catch my drift?

How intense is the color? Depending on the intensity, you can already figure out a few grape varietals. Thick-skinned grapes like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon offer deep, rich intense colors to the point where you can’t see through the wine. Chardonnay has a similar effect. Thin-skinned grapes offer very translucent juice, such as Pinot Noir or Cab Franc would.

This is my favorite part…The viscosity aka “The Legs”. Give that baby a swirl and watch those legs run down the glass! Thick legs that run fast mean higher alcohol. Thick legs that run slow typically mean higher sugar. It’s that simple.

Smell

Next is the smell. Time to use that honker of yours but heed my words: don’t dig your nose in the glass. Wines higher in alcohol will burn and you'll regret it. Usually three inches out is good and you can pickup more aromatics from the distance. Feel free to use the aroma wheel here as guidance and again ask yourself the following:

tasting

Does it smell clean or flawed? Pretty much, does it smell good or not? If it smells oxidized or like vinegar we can stop here and grab a new bottle. If not, lets continue.

What is the primary smell? Fruit or earth. Are we smelling juicy ripe berries or are we smelling peppery herbs and dirt? This is a MAJOR sign of a new world wine (North America, South America, New Zealand, Australia) vs. old world (Europe and everywhere else). New world wines 99.9% are always going to be fruit forward.

Beyond the primary smell, is there a secondary smell? If so, dive deep but listen here - when you say, “I smell apples.” be more specific! Is it a tart green apple, a ripe yellow apple or a baked apple? Oh, that’s citrus you smell? Great…lemon, lime or an orange? Ya dig?

Is there oak? Most wines are aged in oak and the sign for it is spice, vanilla and/or buttery goodness. Some say baking spices such as clove and cinnamon. It’s somewhat subjective. Oak really adds that layer of complexity and being able to pinpoint that really shows everyone you kinda know what you're doing.

But wait! What about the best part: tasting the wine? Tune in next week for the complete package on how to analyze wine like a master somm.

In the meantime, be sure to download the tasting sheet and apply your new knowledge to these sommelier-approved wines:

Here's our Jennifer Tapiero teaching Jimmy Vestvood (character played by superstar comedian Maz Jobrani) how to taste wine. Memorable quotes include Jimmy comparing the taste of the wine to sex. Yup.

About your #SommNextDoor

Nicholas Ducos

Nicholas Ducos is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a Certified Sommelier. He's worked in many prestigious restaurants in Miami, Florida. As a chef and as a sommelier, he is dedicated to creating a memorable dining experience and making wine relatable to others in a witty yet refined style. Nicholas is currently the Assistant Winemaker at Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Follow his latest adventures through his website and Instagram.

Vino Tinto Can Beat The Heat. Here Are The Red Wines of Summer

Don’t be afraid to admit it: you’re a red wine snob. You’re cuckoo for cabernet, super-fond of Super Tuscans, mad about merlot.

In the summer, it can get pretty lonely out there, can’t it? Picnics and parties are an endless round of buttery chardonnays, sweet rieslings and (God forbid) rosé, which you dismiss as little more than pink Kool Aid with a bad aftertaste.

I’m here to help. There are a number red wines that drink perfectly well in warm weather. Many somms use a simple rule when recommending summer reds: stick with the thin-skinned grapes. The most common ones are pinot noir, grenache, sangiovese and tempranillo.

Nebbiolo is also a thin-skinned grape, but it doesn’t behave like one. It’s the main ingredient in barolo and barbaresco. It’s powerful, tannic and hard to tame.

But the other four can be fashioned into light-bodied, fruit-forward wines that often benefit from being chilled or at least served at what I can “northern European room temperature” – 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pinot noir

The most popular wine in the light-red world. For summer, stick with Burgundian-style pinot – light in color and body, often barnyard-ish and funky when you sniff it, dominated by cherry notes and very light on tannins at the end.

The Burgundy region of France is obviously the first choice for pinot noirs, but Oregon and New Zealand also make excellent Burgundian-style pinots. In California, the northern regions produce the best light-bodied examples of pinot: Anderson Valley, Russian River, the Santa Lucia Highlands. ($19, BUY HERE!)

Go for the 2015 Cloudline Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley - THE region for Oregon pinots.

Granacha

A Spanish grape that also does well in France’s Southern Rhône Valley, where it’s called grenache. It’s the backbone of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. But they’re often pretty meaty; far better in summer to go with lighter Côtes du Rhônes grenache. Or, if you want to save some green, go with Spanish granachas, which often have more backbone than their French counterparts.

Run with a 2015 La Maldita Garnacha. A summery version of the grape with bright acidity, lighter fruits, and silky texture. ($11, BUY HERE!)

Sangiovese

From Italy’s Tuscany region. Makes an excellent, all-purpose barbecue wine. Some are blends; Montefalco Rosso, an inexpensive mélange of sangiovese and sagrantino, carries delicate flavors of strawberry, tart cherries and white flowers. Most Chianti is made with 100 percent sangiovese grapes. It’s medium bodied, with crisp acidity and light tannins.

The 2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso will do very well. A nice representation of the blend. ($22, BUY HERE!)

Tempranillo

Another light-bodied Spanish grape, medium ruby in color. It delivers tastes of cherry, plum, tomato and sometimes dried fig, with mild to medium tannins.

New World tempranillos from Argentina, Mexico and the U.S. usually deliver more fruit than their Spanish counterparts – a taste profile highlighted by cherry and tomato sauce, followed by tannins and earthy notes. Crianza rioja tempranillo, which spends a minimum of one year in casks, has long been prized by fans of the grape because it finds a sweet spot of quality and price – it often tastes more expensive than it is.

Let's pop open this 2012 Crianza by La Rioja Alta Finca San Martin. It's fresh yet mature, energetic yet refined. ($15, BUY HERE!)

Beaujolais

Made in France, generally from the Gamay grape, it’s a wonderful wine for summer barbecues. It’s not at all tannic and has a strong acid backbone, and it’s ready to drink as soon as it’s put in the bottle.

But if you’re tired of the late-summer Beaujolais habit, consider a similar grape that’s unjustly overlooked: Austria’s Blaufränkisch. It can be spicy and juicy yet elegant and structured – and it’s seldom expensive.

Before you ease into the adventure that is Blaufränkisch, let's roll with Georges Duboeuf's take on a classic Beaujolais. ($22, BUY HERE!)

Cool Kid Juice - Sunday Funday

It's official, gang: summer has arrived. That means beach, bikinis and, most importantly, BBQ's! Yet aren’t you tired of showing up to those Sunday parties with your friends only to see the same old booze options of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir?

Plus, there's always that one guy with the "Cab blend from California" who micromanages how much to pour everyone because it costs $60, yet somehow his glass is always topped off. We all hate that guy. But what if you could change all that and generate a whole new level of wine excitement at the table and a brand new buzz (pun intended).

Change is good. So when you add these new wines to the beverage options on Sunday, you just might be the coolest kid in the room. Don't be surprised when you hear, “Hey, who brought this bottle?", "It’s SO damn delicious”, or even, “What the hell is a Gewürztraminer?”.

Oh, it's a good feeling. Lucky for you - ILTG always provides the answers to make sure you're just as knowledgable as we are about this kinda stuff. With that being said, here's a few Sunday bangers that will keep you on top of your game:

*Tip: You can purchase all of these wines together for under $50..........and you're welcome!

cool kid juice

Chateau Ste Michelle "Gewurztraminer" - Washington ($10)

This wine is spicy, floral, yet really elegant and different. Stunning acidity and awesome with dumplings (if you're into that kind of thing). Gewürztraminer is the grape and sexy-smooth is her flavor. Forget Pinot Gris or Riesling. This is the red-headed stepchild of wines and everybody loves a redhead. Take a sip!

cool kid juice

Indaba, "Chenin Blanc" - Western Cape, South Africa ($10)

Ahh...South Africa. Home to crazy safaris, lions and really yummy wine! Yes, I said it…Chenin Blanc a.k.a. “Steen” is the grape commonly found all over the southern tip of Africa. This basket of apples, pears and kiwi flavors is so damn good you’ll forget you're partaking in an adult beverage. Sippy cup recommended! #sippycuplifestyle take a sip!

cool kid juice

Domaine des Versauds "Morgon" 2015 - Burgundy, France

Morgon (not to be confused with my ex-girlfriend) is one of ten Cru villages in Beaujolais. These are highly rated towns where the wines go for $80-100! From here I bring you Domaine Des Versauds, a stellar Gamay (that's the grape) with firm minerality and really cool violet and cherry notes. A great, hip alternative to Burgundy Pinot Noir. Keep it chilled for those hot summer nights when you know it's going to get spicy!

cool kid juice

St Cosme "Cotes du Rhone" 2013- Rhone Valley,France ($15)

100% Syrah! This bad boy is a show stopper. Juicy, spicy, and fresh, this wine is begging for food with bold flavors. Light the grill and call over some peeps. BBQ + Syrah = best damn Sunday ever! Great Cabernet Sauvignon replacement. Don’t forget to wear your big kid pants and take a sip!

#SommNextDoor NicholasNicholas Ducos

Your #SommNextDoor: Nicholas Ducos. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a Certified Sommelier, Nicholas has worked in many prestigious restaurants in Miami, Florida. As a chef and as a sommelier, he is dedicated to creating a memorable dining experience and making wine relatable to others in a witty yet refined style. Nicholas is currently traveling the world learning the art of winemaking and plans to create his own label in the near future. Follow Nicholas's latest adventures through his website and Instagram.

One Rosé, Two Rosé, Three Rosé, Four

Ah, Rosé. How we love you. You’re refreshing and crisp and possess all the things we love about sipping on something wonderful as the weather heats up. Since gas prices are starting their yearly climb, and that savings account for your vacation hasn’t seemed to grow itself, how ‘bout we offer some affordable alternatives that fit the bill just swimmingly?

Here are three of the newest Rosés to hit your grocery store aisles from brands you already drink, at prices that will make you want to buy them by the case:

Barefoot California Rosé

This well-known brand is recognized by their footprint logo; it's a popular bubbly and has a low-effect on a customer’s wallet. Although Barefoot's Rosé is new to the marketplace, it’s juicy fruit notes and off-dry finish sings a familiar tune reminiscent of the other infamous styles of wine in their lineup: Moscato, Sweet Red Blend, etc.

This pink drop is a blend of Grenache, Zinfandel and Riesling, which explains why the candied red berries and melon are consistent throughout the nose and palate. A fitting choice for a hot summer day or as the base of your favorite sangria recipe; and at an average price of $7, you can afford to experiment with a couple different recipes. Bottoms up! BUY

Dark Horse Rosé

Another household brand in the world of wine drinkers, Dark Horse made its name by specializing in their inky, luscious and fruit-centric Cabernet Sauvignon, supported by a range of both red and white varietals. Their Rosé is the first blush colored addition to the beloved lineup and is made in a traditional Provence style.

Dry in finish yet hardly lacking in succulent fruit, winemaker Beth Liston combined Grenache, Barbera, Pinot Gris and Tempranillo grapes to create the brightness and balance present in every glass of this aromatic drop. A palate pleaser but hardly overdone, Dark Horse Rosé is versatile and fresh with a pleasant amount of weight on the mouthfeel. Easy to pair with, this wine plays well with others, making it flawless for summertime hangs. Available for $10, BUY

Apothic Rosé

Making their name in the wine industry with their infamous blends in both red and white styles, Apothic just recently revealed their Rosé--the newest blend to enter the family. Out of this blend of Tempranillo and Grenache come ripened watermelon and juicy strawberry flavors that simply pop out of the glass as you take a whiff.

The palate hardly disappoints with a medium bodied weight that still manages to stay refreshing and crisp. The finish seems to say “dry”, but fruit flavors resound after taking your last sip, making this pink drink suitable for pairing with heavier hors d'oeuvres or enjoying on it’s own while watching the summer sun go down. Available for 1-cent delivery by Amazon!

#SommNextDoor - Sam!Sam Stowell

Samantha Stowell began her adventure with wine 4 years ago after quitting her corporate life as an interior designer. After completing the Advanced Level 3 WSET course, she traveled to McLaren Vale, Australia to work for Mollydooker wines. Since returning, she has been the sommelier of a wine bar in Downtown Santa Ana, CA, helping to develop their wine program and is currently the resident sommelier at Yves’ Restaurant & Wine Bar in Anaheim Hills, CA.

Featured image credit: Wine Folly

Anything Can Be Paired With Wine. Even Crickets. Pairing Wine with Aketta Roasted Crickets

Aketta roasted crickets and cricket powder are a flavorful, resource-efficient and nutrient-dense way to ingest edible insects”, according to the...chirpy...folks at Aketta (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

The first time I read that sentence, I had a tough time getting past the words: “ingest edible insects.” I once swallowed a grasshopper when I was five, but that was on a dare. And, like I said, I was five. Why would sensible adults, grown-ass people like you and me, put an insect, live or dead, in our mouths and chew it?

Nevertheless, that was the assignment. More specifically, the assignment was to open the packets, taste the damn crickets, then try to decide what kind of wine to pair with them.

That’s the kind of important consumer-oriented work we do here at ILTG, folks – and believe me, we’re not paid enough for jobs like these. I still can’t get my wife’s words out of my head right now: “A cricket is just a cockroach that sings at night!”.

OK, so I lied. I once tried chapulín (dried, pulverized grasshopper), but it was on the rim of a very tasty margarita, and that irresistible flavor overwhelmed any insect-y aftertaste. I sampled the chapulín by itself, and it wasn’t bad: salty, crunchy, perhaps a faint hint of dried grass.

Same with the crickets. Keep in mind that you’re not just chomping on an unadulterated bug here – these little mofos come in flavors like Texas BBQSea Salt & Vinegar and Sour Cream & Onion. The coatings tend to dominate, so keep that in mind when you pair them with wine. (And, really, who wouldn’t want to?)

The Texas BBQ works perfectly with a gutsy Zinfandel. I’d go with something classy from Turley ($78, BUY) in Paso or Davis Family Vineyard, which makes a superb old vine zin sourced from Russian River vineyards.

Sea Salt & Vinegar seems like a natural fit for something a little more exotic, such as a manzanilla sherry, with its salty notes picked up from the maritime climate along Spain’s southern coast. Valdespino’s Deliciosa would work like a charm.

Sour Cream & Onion is buttery, creamy and a little spicy. You could go with an old school chardonnay to match the butter – Rombauer ($36, BUY) would be the ticket. Sour Cream & Onion is also the flavor that allows the snack’s essential cricket-ness to come through a bit in the form of grassy, herbaceous undertones. I’ve got the perfect wine for that: a bottle of Merry Edwards’ fabulous Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Really, I can’t think of anything better than a glass of this superlative winemaker’s magic white wine to wash down a heaping helping of crickets.

Learn more about Aketta and their deep catalog of cricket foods on their website.

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How To Start a Wine Collection - Tips from Master Sommelier Brian McClintic

We asked Master Sommelier Brian McClintic how a first-time wine collector should start a wine collection. You'll find a handful of articles online about the subject, but each article requires a starting budget of $10,000. We challenged Brian to give tips on starting a collection by spending no more than $1,000. Think of spreading the $1,000 over a year and, preferably, keeping yourself away from the goods!  Have a separate 'drinking' allotment. (I know, it's tough!)

"I like the $35-$55 range with starting a cellar.  That's the range I use for 99% of the wine I buy and for Viticole as well."

Obviously that's not going to be a lot of bottles before you hit $1,000 but anything lower than that is typically not worth cellaring. There are exceptions but few and far between for something that is farmed and produced responsibly.

When it comes to a buying strategy, start with the producer first and work your way out.  In other words, instead of saying you should cellar Northern Rhone Wines or Barolo, start with bankable producers, following them in subsequent vintages.

"To me the old world still represents tremendous value."

Here are a few thoughts on Brian's favorite producers in different styles. All are farmed organically:

Light, crisp whites

Martin Muthenthaler Bruck Riesling $50 SRP. This Austrian producer has just started being imported to the states and is making some of the finest dry Riesling on the planet. Expect the current release to drink well young and cellar 20+ years.

Richer whites

Gonon 'Les Oliviers' Saint Joseph Blanc $37 SRP.  This Marsanne-dominated blend will give Chardonnay drinkers something to love. Gonon's Syrahs are extremely age-worthy, but the whites tend to eclipse the reds in the cellar.

Light reds

JL Dutraive Fleurie 'Terroir Champagne' $44 SRP.  This Cru Beaujolais is so delicious now but in the last couple of vintages ('14 & '15) it demonstrates the hallmarks of a wine that will last 15 years plus in ideal conditions.

Big earthy reds

Domaine Tempier Classique $45 SRP.  It appreciates in every vintage from the moment the next vintage drops.  The wines are accessible now and can age comfortably for 40 years plus in the best vintages.

Parting words of wisdom from Brian as you journey down this obsession: "Too many people get fridge happy after a few drinks and open up something they shouldn't. I've learned this lesson the hard way and now store all my wine off-site for this reason."

Editor’s Note:

Here are some wines that are similar in style to the ones above and more readily available to try.

If it’s tough to find a Martin Muthenthaler Bruck Riesling, then go for either Austria's Pichler-Krutzler Trum Riesing 2013 ($30) or Schloss Gobelsburg Tradition Riesling 2013 ($50). Equally impressive and a beneficial addition to our collection.

For a domestic equivalent to the Saint Joseph Blanc give a white Rhone from Tablas Creek out of Paso Robles ($22) or Booker ($48) a shot. Tablas Creek partners with iconic Chateau de Beaucastel, so their wines are remarkably French in style. Booker’s Eric Jensen has a way with white Rhones that make him a standout in California.

America has nothing to compare to the Cru Beaujolais, though the world’s favorite light red wine, Pinot Noir, is becoming more entrenched in California, and the quality is rising (as are prices -- expect to pay above $50 for most good-quality examples). Sanford ($60) and Babcock ($21) from Sta. Rita Hills are excellent investments; so are Hahn ($23) and Pisoni ($55) from the Santa Lucia highlands. Farther north, turn to Landmark and Patz & Hall ($87).

Brian McClintic is a Master Sommelier and documentary film star of the movies SOMM and SOMM: Into the Bottle.  After 20 years in the restaurant/retail industry he founded Viticole, an online wine club and travel blog that focuses on domestic and import selections that can't be found on the open market.  By the 1st of every month, Brian travels to a wine region and offers out a special cuvee directly from the winery door in real time.  You can follow his travels and join the monthly wine club at: http://viticolewine.com

Sommeliers and Wine Experts Tell Us What Wine to Buy After Getting a Promotion

Recently, a reader of I like this grape. asked us to recommend a wine to celebrate getting a promotion.

Some more context: she is a 5th year software engineer at a mid-size company in California that builds high-end websites and apps. She’s in her late 20's and this is her first job out of school. So the promotion is a big deal. She plans on having a little celebration with family and friends at her house.

We asked some of our sommelier and wine expert friends to weigh in and help our dear reader. Here’s what they said:

Alex Sanchez, Certified Sommelier and a Somm Next Door!

"I’d recommend the 2011 Mascot Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley for $115.

The story of this brand is really interesting. Will Harlan, the son of legendary Bill Harlan, created this brand as an experimental project focusing on the younger vines of Harlan Estate. The Mascot has had incredible success since its beginnings in 2008 and it represents the younger generation of winemakers in Napa Valley. This is the perfect wine to enjoy and treat yourself to for your big promotion. After all, you deserve it!"

Lisa Strid, Winemaker 
at Aridus Wine Company in Scottsdale, Arizona

"I think you have to go for a fun wine - after all, it’s a celebration!  If you’re someone who loves bubbles, go for a Franciacorta - they’re Italian bubblies made in the same method as Champagne, and they encompass a huge range of styles at very friendly prices. Get a Riserva if you love bready, biscuity aromas and flavors. But, if you’re a fruit lover, an NV (non-vintage) should satisfy.

If you’d rather have a red, seek out an old vine Grenache from Australia. I’m sorry to say that this will probably ruin all other Grenaches for you. Oh, well. Now that you’ve been promoted, you can become the old vine Grenache person that was always there inside you.

I especially like the Clarendon Hills Kangarilla.  And if you really want to mark the occasion, why not invest in a vintage port, use a marker on the bottle to remind why you bought it, and then hide it from yourself in a place that you won’t bother to look for the next 50 years?  Then when you retire and decide to clean out the crawlspace and find the bottle, you can pop it open and praise yourself for being so wise at such a young age to invest in your own future enjoyment."

Andrew Cullen
, Founder/Editor, CostcoWineBlog.com (no affiliation with Costco)

“Since this is a young developer, I’m going to put $100 cap on the wine since that will likely seem like a lot to drop on a wine unless they are really into wine. Given that range, I’d go Old World with something that isn’t the standard Napa Cabs which they might have had at company dinners and see all the time.

I would also want something with a little age on it so the wine can change and develop over time in a decanter. That way, this person can really savor and enjoy the wine as well as the fruits of their hard work. 
So my pick would be a second or third growth Bordeaux, which would fit the bill on all of these points.

A Pontet-Canet ($95) from an off year might fall in this price range, as would a Duhart-Milon ($120). You could also move to the right bank and go for something like the Canon La Gaffeliere ($85) or La Dominique ($45) which would save a few bucks.

I’d pick one of the above, toss it in a decanter and cook a fantastic meal enjoying a small taste every 30 minutes paying attention to how the wine develops while savoring your success.”

Cassandra M Brown, Certified Sommelier, CSW, CWAS, CSP

"If money isn't an issue, I would say splurge and pop a nice bottle of Champagne. "Champers" ranges from dry to sweet and works for every occasion.

If budget is an issue, popping a bottle of delicious bubbles doesn't always mean you have to pop a bottle of Champagne. It's totally fine to go for something more moderately priced like Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain.

Cremant de Bourgogne or another 'Cremant' is also a nice choice. 'Cremant' is French Sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region but produced in other regions of France and is made in the traditional Champagne method.

There are also some beautiful domestic sparklers from California and even New Mexico that should not be overlooked. Bubbles...always the way to go!

Here are some to try. Great rec's other than Champagne. All these producers have an amazing assortment!:

Lucien Albrecht - France, $19

Schramsberg - California, $32

Roederer Estate - California, $45

Gruet - New Mexico, $15

Bien Vivre et Boire le Meilleur!"

Naushad Huda, founder of I like this grape. (not a sommelier, just a wine geek with an opinion)

"I’d go with a Cru Beaujolais. Beaujolais is a region in France and the grape used in these red wines is Gamay.

Now, don’t confuse Cru Beaujolais with Beaujolais Nouveau, which are uber popular wines that are released the 3rd week of November and heavily marketed.

Beaujolais Nouveau wines are bottled just a few weeks after the grapes are harvested, have very little tannins and are typically purple/pinkish in color. It's simply spiked grape juice! They are meant to drink and have a jovial time - think Pirates of the Caribbean! (Nothing wrong with them, but save the Nouveau for Sunday brunch.)

The Cru regions of Beaujolais, of which there are 10, produce wines that are very diverse in flavor - though all the wines are made from the same grape: Gamay! It’s fascinating to experience how the same grape can express itself so differently.

You can get some vibrant, juicy wines from a region in Beaujolais called Chenas all the way to slightly heavier, minerally, stony wines from regions such as Morgon. You can easily pick up a Cru Beaujolais wine for under $35. They pair with just about everything you eat, can be stored for years, and will be a fun wine to pronounce when you’re tipsy.

Tip: buy 3 of the same bottle, one to drink for the celebration and 2 to hang on to for future so you can reminisce about this wonderful achievement in your life years later.

Here's one I dig: Duboeuf Morgon Jean-Ernest Descombes 2015 ($19)"

If you have any suggestions for our young reader who is climbing the corporate ladder then please join the conversation Twitter: www.twitter.com/ilikethisgrape

The Badass Rebel History of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Like so many French wine regions, it’s fun to say out loud – tres sexy, n’est-ce pas? – yet the average American has absolutely no clue about where it is or what its wine tastes like.

Let’s lift the veil of mystery.

First of all, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an ancient town in the southern Rhône Valley. If you were to travel north, up the river from its silt-filled mouth at the Mediterranean Sea, you’d pass Arles and Avignon. Just before you hit Orange, there it is on a high bank about three clicks east of the riverbank: an ancient town of 2,000 people, dominated by the remains of a castle.

How ancient, you ask? Well, the Romans colonized the region two millennia ago, when the mouth of the Rhône was several miles north of its present location. The ruins of their public buildings can be found all over this part of the valley, including a kickass amphitheater near Orange.

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PC:Jean-Jacques Gelbart

The Romans planted wine grapes here, too, and it was a great spot for it: rocks, stone, sand, limestone and clay soil and a warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The village probably dates from the 10th century, but it comes by its name because Pope Clement, who was French, transferred the papacy from Rome to Avignon in 1309. He spent a lot of time at Châteauneuf-du-Pape over the next few years and died nearby in 1314.

Editors note: for a beautiful, quality representation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, give the Domaine de la Vieille Julienne 2010 a taste. This legendary estate produces some of the world's best juice and the 2010 is no exception. Drinking young, big and full of grippy tannins, this drop packs a haymaker of dark fruits. Drink now or age it for a few more years.

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Subsequent French popes also favored the place. Pope John XXII built a large summer residence in town in 1333, the ruins of which still dominate the skyline today. Hence the name: Châteauneuf-du-Pape means “the new castle of the pope.”

Though the papacy moved back to Rome in the late 1300's and the castle fell into ruin, the already well-established winemaking tradition continued. By the late 1700’s, Châteauneuf-du-Pape had earned kudos for the quality of its wines, which reportedly combined the best qualities of the Languedoc and Bordeaux.

Like the rest of Europe, the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape were destroyed by Phylloxera. In fact, the destructive pest struck here first in 1866 and laid waste to almost everything. By 1880, only 200 hectares of vines remained in the entire appellation.

Growers who had prospered for generations went bankrupt. Vineyards were abandoned. It took decades for the area to recover, partly because the wine was being sold at low prices and it wasn’t considered worth the effort to replant. From about 1900-1920, negociants used Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine mainly to add color and backbone to more desirable wines from Burgundy.

Editor's note: the Domaine Roger Sabon 2015 is all tart-fruit raspberry on the front and minerality on the back. A charismatic yet elegant take on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this is an excellent version for both experts and novices alike. The softer tannins won't leave your mouth cottony yet finishes with enough pleasant brute force where laying it down for a few more years will serve you well. 

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In 1924, Châteauneuf-du-Pape applied for official appellation status. It took 12 years for the fussy French wine brain trust to grant it. That sense of being dissed by the wine establishment has persisted over the decades, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape once had a reputation for being a bit of a rustic bad boy.

Its red wines (about 95 percent of total production) were considered full-bodied but rough around the edges, and its three dominant varieties – Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre – were traditionally not as valued as the characteristic grapes of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

In recent decades, though, the area has joined France’s big-boy ranks, with high scores from many judges and rising prices to match. Other nearby regions, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, are well regarded, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is universally acknowledged to be the best wine region in the southern Rhône.

The reds share certain traits: red and black cherries, strawberry, kirsch, black pepper, ripe raspberry and garrigue (the quality of the herbs found locally). Its textures can be luscious, big and fruit-forward when young; two or three more years in the bottle gives them silkiness and finesse. Some can be left in the cellar for 8 to 12 years.

Editor's note: throw this Domaine Giraud 2015 in your cellar (or wherever you keep the good shit). This fancy fruit and herbal drop has some power behind it. Although totally drinkable now, let it calm down for a few years to soften up the biting finish. Otherwise a great show-off wine to represent the region. 

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The appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 3,231 hectares in size. It’s about 8.5 miles long and 5 miles wide, delineated by the city of Orange with its Roman ruins in the north, the town of Sorgues to the south, the Rhône River to the west and the A7, a major highway, to the east. About 13,750,000 bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are produced every year, most by small, family-owned estates.

Bordeaux Like A Pro: The Wines of Bordeaux

I'm here to tell you everything you need to know about Bordeaux. It's really not too painful. I promise.

Bordeaux is a region in France, and you can't call it a Bordeaux if it comes from anywhere else in the world. It can be white, it can be red, dessert, rose. All colors of the wine f**king rainbow.

First, a little about France being a controlling mom. There are rules. France has laws that dictate what types of grapes can grow where, and what they can use for wine. After hundreds of years, they've figured out which grapes grow best where and they don't want to mess with that.

The Banks

Bordeaux is divided into two areas known as the Left Bank and the Right Bank.

"I only drink wines from the Right Bank. I don't know why."

"Ew you drink from the Left Bank, you peasant?"

Left and Right Bank wines taste very different because the blend of grapes is very different.

Also, why are the labels hard to read? What makes reading French labels difficult is that they name the wines by the place. Since the country has specific laws that indicate where certain grapes can grow, they just label it by the place. Because, obviously, that grape would grow there. You with me?

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PC:http://wineknowstravel.blogspot.com/2016/02/bordeauxs-right-left-banks.html

The tricky part is they expect the consumer to just automatically know what their laws are and which grapes are planted where. It's confusing. For instance, instead of saying Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot on the label, they'll say Bordeaux...the place.

Sound complicated? It was, until now. The Left Bank is made up of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, making the wine more full-bodied and darker in color. Like the Pauillac region, for instance.

(Editor's note: Take a sip of the Chateau Durhart-Milon 2008 from Pauillac, Bordeaux. It's a soft, dark fruit Cab Sauv/Merlot drop that's an absolute steal of a price point for the region.)

The Right Bank is more Merlot dominant, which means the wines are usually lighter bodied and more pale in color. Easy, right?

White wines and dessert wines are made up primarily of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The bottle says Pauillac? OMG it's from the Left Bank! It's probably more Cabernet Sauvignon then. If the bottle says "St. Emilion", it's on the Right Bank and probably going to be more Merlot-dominant as a result.

The Buy

Oh, that wasn't so hard - agreed? Some Bordeaux is very expensive and collectable, however, most are between $10-25. So go out, try something, and use your fancy buzzwords. Oh, can I have a Left Bank? What about a Right Bank? Right Bank? Left Bank?

(Editor's note: A very tasty example of a Right Bank, Merlot-dominant Bordeaux is the Chateau Peymouton 2012. And for just over 20 bucks? Woop!)

There it is. Your super basic intro to Bordeaux!


Cristie Norman is a certified sommelier and currently helps diners at the acclaimed Spago Beverly Hills as a resident Sommelier. She’s a bikini athlete and her wine creds include CMS and WSET Level 3. Check out her Instagram!

Napa and Sonoma Fires: Running Directory of Ways to Help and Wineries Damaged


It's been a devastating week for Napa and Sonoma counties and, as of this writing, the fires are still raging.


There has been loss of life, homes, wildlife, and livelihood for many - specifically to those in the wine industry which spans from the vineyards to various hospitality and tourism businesses. There are many articles on the destruction so we don't need to rehash that information.

Instead, we'd like to provide a list of ways to help our Northern California brethren, and highlight entities who are providing assistance. Also, there is a running directory of wineries that have been affected: one way of helping those wineries is by buying their wines in addition to sending them messages of support.

Please send us any tips to add to this post and we will update asap: naushad@ilikethisgrape.com

Ways to Help

The Press Democrat has partnered with Redwood Credit Union, Senator Mike McGuire and numerous business leaders to raise funds to directly help fire victims. Every donated dollar will go directly to fire victims – all costs will be covered. To donate, click here.

The Salvation Army NorCal Wildfire Relief - Monetary donations are needed at this time. 100% of your gift will be used in support of the relief efforts. Donate here.

Donate to the Direct Impact Fund in partnership with GoFundMe. Your tax-deductible donation will go directly to support charities and individuals with verified campaigns on GoFundMe, donate here

The Redwood Empire Food Bank is currently providing critical food to shelters for our neighbors displaced by fires. Donate here

United Way of Wine Country. Donate here

Sonoma County Recovers, both to donate and also ask for assistance if you've been affected. Click here

Sonoma County of Education will be coordinating funds for schools and students that have lost everything. Make a payment to a school district. Click here

Running Directory of Wineries Affected

Tres Sabores - "Although the fight and worry is not yet over, the winery, Julie & Jon's home, our staff and all our furry/wooly/feathered companions are currently safe. We are indeed the lucky ones at this moment. Our hearts go out to other wineries and residents who are not so fortunate." FB

Darioush Winery landscape and vineyard damage, but the winery building itself is still standing. (Take a sip of their '13 Caravan Cabernet, $50) IG, TW, FB

Hagafen Cellars, “The winery building appears to be fine. The tasting room also appears to be fine though much of the vegetation surrounding it is black and burned." (Take a sip of their kosher Sauvignon Blanc, $20) IG, TW, FB

Helena View Johnston Vineyards, “all is lost.” You can support them by donating even a few dollars to their YouCaring page.

Mayacamas Vineyards, “Our team is all well. The winery is safe.” Tasting room is burned down. (Take a sip of their 2012 Chardonnay, highly rated, aromatic, and excellent aging potential.) IG, TW, FB

Paras Vineyard, no found website nor social pages, but a this video from SF Chronicle shows a structure property completely engulfed in flames.

Patland Estate Vineyards, family is safe, they have not updated as to the extent of the damage. IG, TW, FB

Pulido-Walker’s Estate Vineyard, “Pulido Walker suffered a devastating loss of our home, but thus far the Estate vineyards seem to have withstood the destruction from the flames. Most importantly, we and our team are safe.” (Take a sip of their 95 point, 2010 highly acclaimed "killer Cabernet", $150) TW, FB

Robert Sinskey Vineyards, no social pages nor updated website, but this Instagram post which indicates loss to vineyard and tasting room. (Take a sip of their biodynamically grown Stag's Leap Cabernet, $100)

Roy Estate, no social pages nor updated website, but word is that the winery was extensively damaged. (Take a sip of their 92 point estate proprietary blend red, $70) TW

Segassia Vineyard, A company spokesperson confirmed that the winery owned by the Cates family has burned.

Signorello Estate Vineyards, “…while the winery buildings themselves had essentially burned to rubble, the vineyards appeared to be in good shape—and ready to bear fruit for another 20 vintages. We can, and we will, rebuild the winery.” TW, FB

Sill Family Vineyards, “We will rebuild as soon as we’re allowed to return.” IG, TW, FB

Stags’ Leap Winery, “In the face of too much tragedy and loss, we continue to be deeply grateful that our buildings, vineyards and employees have been spared.” (Take a sip of their regularly 90+ point Cabernet, $50) IG, TW, FB

VinRoc, no social pages nor updated website found, but owner said “Total loss, everything gone except our (wine) cave,”

White Rock Vineyards, “Everyone at White Rock is safely evacuated and accounted for. The whole eastern Napa hillside from Stags leap down to napa is on fire.” Believed to have major damage. (Take a sip of their Bordeaux blend of which they make less than 1,000 cases, $50) IG, FB

William Hill Estate Winery, “ we have confirmed that the winery buildings are intact. William Hill sustained only minor cosmetic and landscaping damage” (Take a sip of their Napa estate blend, 90 point offering at $43) FB

Ancient Oak Cellars, “I’m very sad to report that our house, two big beautiful redwood barns, gorgeous tasting counter... are gone,” IG, FB

Chateau St. Jean, ‘Our employees are safe and accounted for and their continued safety remains our number one priority.” The main structure appeared unharmed. (Take a sip of their 90 point Sonoma Chardonnay for just $25) IG, TW, FB

Gundlach Bundschu Winery,  ‘I spent some of the day digging through the rubble at my parents’ house, with little to no luck finding anything intact.” Still assessing the damage. (Take a sip of this Sonoma Cabernet that's scored 90+ points across critics, giving Napa a run of its money, $43) IG, TW, FB

Nicholson Ranch, “All the people at Nicholson Ranch are fine..Some of us are without power and some are staying with friends. But we are safe.The winery was in the path of the fire but escaped being engulfed by the flames. We have some damage to fix. The wine is secure in our cellars." IG, FB

Paradise Ridge Winery, “We are heartbroken to share the news that our winery was burned down this morning. The winery may be broken but our estate vineyards survived, which is foundation of our wine.” IG, TW, FB

Sky Vineyards, no updated social page nor website; the extent of the damage is unknown because the fire is still active in that area. FB

Backbone Vineyard & Winery,“Our winery burned to the ground along with all our wine made over the past five years.”

Frey Vineyards, The country’s first organic and biodynamic winery lost its winery and bottling facility. The wines are readily still available at Whole Foods. IG, TW, FB

Golden Vineyards, The vineyards “are scorched but they are not ruined,”. No updated social and website isn’t working. Oster Wine Cellars, destroyed in the Redwood Fire.

J Cage Cellars: "We were one of the lucky ones." Their family is safe and their wine is already in barrel.

Shout Outs To:

Participating wineries from Paso Robles have mobilized and will donate $1 from every bottle sold in the month of October to charities helping those impacted by the fires. Here is a list including these 90+ point Cabernets by J Lohr ($13), Ancient Peaks ($17), DAOU Reserve ($50).

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that the company is donating $1 million. The money will be divided among the Red Cross California Wildfires Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma and the Napa Valley Community Foundation

E. & J. Gallo Winery and Apple are giving $1 million, plus matching employee donations two-for-one.

Google said Google.org and the company’s employees are donating $500,000 to help support those affected by wildfires in Northern and Southern California. The money will go to the American Red Cross and to the Napa and Sonoma Community Foundations.

Intel said it is matching its employees’ donations.


Burgundy Wines for Beginners

Burgundy Wines for Beginners

This is a real basic primer on a complicated topic. Burgundy is like next level confusing. Yes, I've cried at times when studying Burgundy. Just, like, a little tear. Just one...

I'm here to tell you some foundational information you need to know about the Burgundy wine region and why it's one of the most amazing wine regions on the planet. (Also, one of the most expensive! For example, recent vintages from the iconic Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, often abbreviated to DRC, go for tens of thousands of dollars per bottle!

Firstly, Burgundy is an area of France. You can only call wine a Burgundy if it comes from the area of Burgundy. Over 200 million years ago, there was a tropical sea where Burgundy is today, and it left millions of fossils that created a soil that's unique and rich in limestone. The soil actually makes the wine taste brighter and more mineral. It's like this rocky thing that you can't really describe, nor find, anywhere else in the world.

What regular person needs to know about wines from Burgundy.

Chardonnay is the major white grape in Burgundy, and Pinot Noir is the major red grape in Burgundy. Burgundy is a big, general area of France that has a lot of different places in it that you've probably heard of, a lot of really famous areas.

You also might notice that a lot of Burgundy producers have the exact same last name. That's not a coincidence. They're probably related. Napoleonic inheritance laws in France basically said that if a man owned property, like a vineyard, when he died, it would be split evenly among his children. A couple of generations later, each kid had, like, two rows of vines each. Not exactly conducive to excellent wine making...

So, some winemakers, called negociants, would go up to all of the little vineyards, the little, tiny parcels, buy all of their wine, and create their own wine under their own name. Efficiency!

Styles in the major areas.

Chablis is the northernmost area of Burgundy. Known for super-crisp, minerally white wines made of Chardonnay with a little to no oak. Next area is the Cote d'Or. "Cote" means slope or hill, and Cote d'Or means "golden slopes" in French. Sounds fancy already. The Cote d'Or is divided into two areas, the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.

(Editors Note: This is a great intro Chablis that's sure to please most any wine drinker. It's a Premier Cru for $35 - delicate, no butter-bomb here, flowers, lemon, and that Burgundy minerality. Take a sip here!)

Chablis Premier Cru

Cote de Nuits, or "Hill of Nights" is known for Pinot Noir. Super famous areas for Pinot Noir include Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanee are in the Cote de Nuits, so that's kind of easy to remember. The Cote de Beaune is known for Chardonnay - easy to remember, because it sounds like bone, which is white. Cote de Beaune. Super famous areas for oaked Chardonnays like Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet all are in the Cote de Beaune.

Feelin' fancy yet?

(Editors Note: Giving Vosne-Romanee a try can be a bit pricey, but well worth the exploration. Do it in the name of discovery! For around $70 try a Louis Latour Vosne-Romanee. Enjoy this while listening to Khalid's layered, soulful, and addicting voice while enjoying a pleasant conversation with a couple of friends. Take a sip here!)

Louis Latour Vosne-Romanee

Beneath the Cote d'Or is the area of Cote Chalonnaise, which makes a really great range of red, white, and sparkling. Below that is the Maconnais, which is known for a more full-bodied Chardonnays, because as we get closer to the equator, it's hotter. Just bigger, riper styles. Maconnais is probably best known for the area of Pouilly-Fuisse, and not to be confused with the area of Pouilly-Fume.

(Editors Note: For a great expression of the chardonnay grape from the Pouilly-Fuisse region, look no further than most any bottle produced by the Drouhin family. They've been producing top quality Burgundy wines for over 130 years, and the house is now run by the their 4th generation. Try Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse 2015. For around $26 you're getting a delicious, solid representation of the region by a top quality producer. Take a sip here!)

Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse 2015

The last thing that you need to know about Burgundy if you want to be a serious, certified wine geek is the area of Beaujolais. Is that fun to say? Beaujolais. Beaujolais. Beaujolais. Beaujolais. The area of Beaujolais actually doesn't use Pinot Noir. It uses the grape, Gamay. It's lighter-bodied like Pinot Noir, but it has more of a grapey flavor.

Beaujolais is made in a lot of different styles. There's Nouveau that comes out in November every year, and it's meant to drink young. Then there's Cru Beaujolais that is made from really, really special producers that are meant to age. Beaujolais is a gateway wine. It's delicious. You've got to try it.

(Editor's Note: Cru Beaujolais wines come from 1 of 10 designated areas. So when searching for Cru Beaujolais look for these 10 areas; Brouilly, Régnié, Chiroubles. These three are known to be lighter in body. For medium body Cru Beaujolais, look for Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, and Saint-Amour. For bolder, heavier Cru Beaujolais that can age in your cellar go for these regions: Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-Vent. For under $20, go for a critically acclaimed Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Mont Chavy 2015. Take a sip here!)

Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Mont Chavy 2015

That's it, my super-basic entry to Burgundy. I hope that wasn't too overwhelming. I know there's a whole lot more to cover. We'll get there. Don't worry.

Now, check out my video episode below on Burgundy!

Burgundy for beginners I Like This Grape

Cristie Norman is a certified sommelier and currently helps diners at the acclaimed Spago Beverly Hills as a resident Sommelier. She's a bikini athlete and her wine creds include CMS and WSET Level 3. Check out her Instagram!