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Skinny Rosé Skinny Booze Trend

Following on from our recent article on the Nutritional Facts About Wine, this week we turn to look at the emergence of low calorie wine as a growing consumer demand. Is this a trend to be taken seriously? Or something unlikely to truly establish itself?

And who better to answer this for us than Tom Bell, founder of Skinny Booze – purveyors of all things alcohol and low calorie, including an ever-growing collection of low calorie red, white and rosé wine.

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How did Skinny Booze first come to be? What was the impetus?

Skinny Booze was the product of training hard during the week for a local Rugby team, but then feeling a sense that all that hard work was undone as soon as we went to the pub after each game to celebrate (or commiserate). To break this cycle, I started to research the market to try and identify a lower calorie alternative. To my surprise, though, I couldn’t find any suppliers in the UK. Realising the gap in the market, I started to import alcohol with fewer calories.

So, with regards to wine, how difficult has it been to find lower calorie alternatives?

One of the main difficulties in those early days was finding lower calorie wine that wasn’t also low alcohol. This is the result of the level of alcohol being the easiest way to get rid of calories, which is due to the calorie count for alcohol being higher per gram than sugar. Thankfully, though, a growing number of producers are now challenging the belief that less calories requires less alcohol. 

Nowadays, we’re seeing new producers and brands emerge all of the time. One of the most interesting new developments in the UK has been the arrival of a zero sugar wine called SlimLine Wine. Another important recent development has been the emergence of popular supermarkets stocking their own range of lower calorie wine, such as Aldi with their Featherweight Wine collection, as well as Marks & Spencers with their Sumika range. 


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But how about the US market? Are there many options for consumers over here?

I would argue that the US is much further down the line with all of this. I think it was 2009 that the whole Skinnygirl range of cocktails and wines first launched. Make of that company and brand what you will, but it kind of kick started the trend. Following this, I know you guys have seen Weight Watchers bring to market its Californian Cense range, which has been pretty popular. Alongside this, there’s also been the likes of Jacob Creek with their Cool Harvest collection, Brancott Estate with their Flight Song collection, and FitVine - to name but a few. 


In summary, then, you believe low calorie wine as a consumer alternative is here to stay?

Absolutely. Although we’re somewhat biased, people are definitely becoming increasingly conscientious about what they’re consuming, especially when it comes to the number of calories. There are certain things, though, that people are pretty reluctant to go without – wine being one of them. 

Low calorie wine (when enjoyed in moderation) answers that need for being able to enjoy yourself but not feel like you’re undoing any hard work you’ve put into moderating your diet or working out at the gym. You only have to look at the growing number of searches online for the term to see that demand is growing. People now expect a better for you option after years of being able to choose diet cola, slimline tonic, skinny latte etc etc. 

Learn more about Skinny Booze - have you have it? Comments? Start the conversation on Twitter or Facebook


Come to our book signing at Napa Bookmine inside Oxbow in downtown Napa on Saturday, June 15. RSVP here.

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Using Kickstarter to Open a Wine Lounge

Today, raising money to make entrepreneurial dreams come true has become a tad bit easier. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo give consumers the power to bring innovative ideas to market quicker and with less risk. Scrolling through Kickstarter you can find just about any creative and sometimes very niche concepts looking to get funded.

Meet Mark Prior, an entrepreneur with the drive to open his wine retail and lounge concept focused on California small production wines by raising money through Kickstarter. Prior is a wine geek who has traveled to wine regions throughout California and abroad. He's so passionate about wine that he organizes an annual wine-tasting road trip for his circle of friends, and is regularly the "go-to" guy for wine recommendations. Now, he's looking to take his love of wine and hospitality to the next level. 

What's your background, how did you get into wine? 

It's an unlikely chain of events...I was in sales & marketing, then came to LA for the typically Hollywood dream, fell in love with the state and its wine country, and found a new dream.

Why do you feel it's important to have a tasting room catered only to labels most of us haven't even heard of? 

I always find great wine when I visit the vineyards of Santa Barbara, Napa and elsewhere, but you never see those labels on the grocery store shelves or the big beverage retailers. It's important to spread the message that when a you walk down the wine aisle at the grocery store you're really only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the amazing wine made in California. There is so much more out there that should see light of day. 

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What's the retail strategy? Price points? Wine Club? 

No thoughts on a wine club at the moment. And I can't specify as to price points other than saying I WILL have offerings from $8-$20 that may be sourced from a wholesaler/broker [versus being directly from wineries], but I stand behind my commitment that 80% of my inventory will be small-batch and family-run vineyards. There are plenty of California wines out there, that you never heard of, which I can offer at $20, $30, $40, and $50 a bottle that give you a new take on winemaking here in California.

Who and how do you choose your wines? What do you look for? 

I lean on my friends, kindred spirits. You can't fill a wine shop with wines that only you like! But personally speaking, I love Pinot Noirs, Syrahs/Shiraz that have earthy notes and hints of plum or prune...maybe even a hint of smoked meat!

Who is your demographic? Why? 

Give me the beginners. People who just like wine. Challenging & developing your wine palate is noble, but it's not for everyone. There's a famous quote, I can't remember who said it, but it goes something like " there's too much tasting of wine and not enough drinking it!" I think a lot of oenophiles forgot that it's okay for wine to be fun. I don't want to set expectations with flighty descriptions & tasting cards. I'll let what's in the bottle do the talking.

What are the details of your Kickstarter? 

Target Goal: $50,000. Start Date: May 14 2019. End Date: June 14 2019. Link to Kickstarter: http://bit.ly/2HlaZAS



Winery Direct Deal: Yount Ridge

Shipping included on the award-winning 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Oakville (Napa Valley).

 Winemaker: Celia Welch (yup, that Celia Welch!)

Use code: SHIPINCL

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Best Cheap Wines

I’ve been an undying fan of California wine since that fateful day in 1987 when I laid down $7, more than I could afford, for a bottle of Byron Chardonnay at the winery’s rustic tasting room in the Santa Maria Valley north of Santa Barbara. One sip and the love affair was in full bloom. I vowed never to live more than a day’s drive from the place that made sunshine in a bottle.

In the years since, as I’ve traveled regularly up and down our verdant state and tasted wine from every region, I’ve witnessed a lot of trends come and go. Chardonnay went through its oaky, butter-bomb-y phase, and now it’s leaner and more balanced; chenin blanc disappeared, then reappeared; sauvignon blanc went from grassy and watery to robust and delicious; Napa lost its dominance as other regions found their viticultural mojo.

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Paso Robles continues its ascendancy. 

I know some of you are tired of my endless drum beating for the Central Coast, but it’s not just me. Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list for 2017 was illuminating: Four of the prestigious roll’s top 25 wines were from Paso (vs. three from Napa); and Tablas Creek, one of my favorite Central Coast wineries, came in at No. 26. That means Paso Robles is better represented than every other wine region in the world that year, including Napa, at the top of Wine Spectator’s list.

California wineries have made tremendous progress in their ability to produce quality wine at very affordable prices. Perhaps it’s because the current generation of young winemakers is better educated than ever – most are graduates of one of California’s world-class university-level wine programs. Maybe it’s just a sign that the industry in California is finally reaching maturity. It’s easy to forget that commercial winemaking almost disappeared here during Prohibition, and after the law’s repeal it took another 40 years or so for California wine to begin making its mark again outside our borders.

Selfless plug: to learn more about prohibition and how it annihilated Napa Valley, and what it took to get back to greatness, check out my book Drive Through Napa!


Whatever the reason for this happy situation, I’ve decided to make the top 25 a “bang for the buck” list. All of the wines I have chosen sell for $25 or less, yet I wouldn’t hesitate to pop the cork on one of these for Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson or James Suckling if any of those giants of the wine world ended up sitting on my patio one day. Hey, it could happen!

Wines are listed alphabetically. They’re not ranked, because I don’t believe in apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Top 25 “bang for the buck” list.


Bedrock Zinfandel California Old Vine 2015 ($25): Though it’s only a decade old, this Sonoma-based winery has already made a big impression by following a singular approach: to preserve and rehabilitate old vineyards throughout the state. Zinfandel, of course, is synonymous with California’s wine heritage. This beauty is 88 percent zinfandel blended with a few unusual varieties that also have a history here. It’s a classic New World zin: juicy, opulent and ripe.

Bodega de Edgar Paso Ono Vineyard Albariño 2016 ($24): From one of Paso’s more adventurous smaller wineries on the hilly Westside comes this dreamy summer sipper. Succulent nose of melon, sliced lemons, white peach and apple give way to a rich palate of cantaloupe and ripe honeydew. It sells out quickly every year; I recommend going to the tasting room in person.

Duckhorn Decoy 2014 Sonoma Valley Red ($20): Since Duckhorn merlot was rated the world’s best wine in 2017 by Wine Spectator, it’s a no-brainer that the winery’s lower-priced Decoy line would be producing quality merlot as well. This is a merlot-based blend with a velvety texture, plummy nose and a hint of wildness; it has undertones of blackcurrant, chocolate, cloves and licorice. What a sophisticated wine for the price!

Eos Estate 2015 Tears of the Dove Late Harvest Paso Robles Moscato ($24 for 375 ml): Normally I’m not a huge fan of late-harvest wine, but this one, a 100 percent Muscat Canelli, tickled my fancy. It’s jammy and apricot-y, with strong elements of ginger, tea and succulent peach. It’s not cloying, though, but delightfully clean, light and elegant for a dessert wine.

- Our favorite $10 corkscrew with a rosewood handle! -

Ferrari-Carano 2014 Merlot ($20): Merlot is back with a vengeance (see my Decoy entry above), and Ferrari-Carano in Sonoma County makes a dandy. It’s a tad more austere than some merlots, which tend to err on the plummy side. Balanced, silky, with prominent fruit, especially cherries and blackberry; long, coffee-and-chocolate finish.

Field Recordings, 2016 Franc ($20): Winemaker Andrew Jones is the embodiment of Paso’s innovative spirit. He finds diamonds in the rough – overlooked or neglected vineyards – and turns them into alluring wine. His cabernet franc (blended with 5 percent malbec) carries a wallop of blueberries, black cherries and, more subtly, rosemary and mint. It scored a close second in a cab franc blind tasting at my house, bested only by Ovid’s pricey Hexameter.

Giornata 2016 Barbera ($25): Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi, a young husband-and-wife wine team, make some of the best Italian wine in California; wine authority Jon Bonne thinks their nebbiolo is second to none in the state. Also irresistible, and considerably less expensive, is their barbera, which brims with the zing of this northern Italian favorite. Raspberry and mushroom give way to basil, strawberry and anise. Be sure to visit the Terrizzis’ tasting room in Tin City – they’re as charming as their wine.

Grgich Hills Estate 2014 Fume Blanc ($25):  I’m not sure why the winemaker used the deceptive old Mondavi term “fume blanc,” but rest assured this keeper is 100 percent beautifully made sauvignon blanc. Dark hay-gold in color, it’s juicy and tropical, with highlights of lemongrass and a bit of welcome minerality in the long, lush finish. Some critics have noted nutty lime, gooseberry and saltiness.

Gundlach-Bundschu 2014 Mountain Cuvee ($20): This Bordeaux blend (mainly merlot and cabernet sauvignon) from Sonoma is made by one of California’s oldest wineries. It’s full-bodied and a bit smoky, with tar and cigar notes alongside chocolate, cherries and espresso. Soft-shouldered tannins make it an easy drinker compared to its Napa cousins. This was on my list last year, too – it’s dependable from vintage to vintage.

Hanna 2016 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($21): Russian River could be one of the best places on earth right now for sauvignon blanc, as this excellent-value wine attests. Winemaker’s notes: “Vibrant straw-colored with a tinge of green. Aromas of freestone peach, nectarine, mango, and pink grapefruit peel. Balanced flavors of stone fruit, tangerine zest, and guava with a surprisingly well-rounded yet refreshing mouth-feel.”

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J. Lohr 2015 South Ridge Syrah ($15): Paso’s Jerry Lohr makes solid and well-crafted wine at every price point, contrary to most large California wineries. For the reds, all credit goes to J. Lohr’s superb red winemaker, Steve Peck. His notes: “Varietal aromas of blueberry and black tea … A touch of white pepper on the palate opens up slowly to reveal baking spice and pomegranate fruit on the finish.”

La Follette 2014 Pinot Noir ($20): It grabs you immediately: big notes of cherry and black plum with spicy accents. You’ll also notice forest floor, cedar, violets and wet stone. This Russian River pinot noir is an excellent value in these days of rampant pinot inflation. It’s also refreshingly old school, almost Burgundian – not overly extracted, dark and manipulated like a lot of over-the-top California pinots.

Lawer Estates 2015 Betsy’s Vineyard Viognier ($24): This multi-medal winner from Sonoma gives off tropical aromas alongside honeysuckle, honeycrisp apple, and jasmine, with highlights of tangerine and vanilla. It’s blessed with excellent acidity, which undergirds flavors of apricot, white nectarine and pear. The lengthy finish is strong on the spicy citrus. Finally, California winemakers know how to nail this varietal.

Lone Madrone 2013 Points West Red ($25): This Rhone blend (it’s a GSM with a little cinsault and counoise) has deep, inky fruit. You’ll taste black cherry and cranberry notes along with a little slap of leather. Later, some smoke, black tea and pepper sneak in, adding complexity that maintains its intrigue throughout the bottle. Still a little grape-y now, but it should settle down if aged. Neil Collins, one of Paso’s most talented winemakers, is the talent behind this wine.

Mason 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Yount Mill Vineyard ($15): Winemaker’s notes: “Nestled on the backside of Yountville Hill, Yount Mill Vineyard established in the 1930s and was an early adopter of organics. The owners started planting our sauvignon blanc block in 2001. The definitive style of this wine carries a vibrant acid backbone, subtle vanilla spice and core flavors of fresh fig, quince, honeyed cantaloupe with a touch of grass – all combined for an elegant and boisterous sensation.” No. 57 on the WS Top 100 list.

Oberon 2015 Merlot Napa Valley ($22): Dense black fruit aromas are followed by blueberry and chocolate flavors, and supple tannins linger on the palate. A robust style, with inky notes to the dark currant, dried sage and fig flavors that glide across the palate. The sanguine finish is richly spiced. No. 77 on the WS Top 100 list.

Pali Wine Co. 2015 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Riviera ($20): Winemaker notes: “Garnet, medium bodied, classic Sonoma County pinot noir with aromatics of cherries and strawberries leaping out of the glass, backed up with baking spices and hints of fresh-picked mushrooms and black tea.” Big and fruit-forward, with prominent plum and raspberry notes and floral undertones.

Raeburn Russian River Chardonnay 2016 ($17): A big, fruity horn of plenty here, including pear, nectarine and apple; prominent note of toasted oak with attendant vanilla. The finish is long, balanced, and laced with toasty caramel.

Rodney Strong 2015 Upshot Red Blend ($22): This zinfandel/merlot/malbec/petit verdot blend is big-boned and unorthodox.  It’s got sturdy body, luscious dark fruit and fairly aggressive tannins that are happily counterbalanced by an unexpected acidity that keeps the whole impression bright.

Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley NV ($24): Always one of California’s best sparklers, it’s dramatic and big, with cinnamon, apple and brioche notes. Some tasters cite pear and pineapple aromas and citrus flavors, subtle hints of baking spices, almonds and a nice earthy touch at the end. No. 25 on the WS 2017 Top 100 list.

Rombauer 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($24): Fresh, fruity, and fragrant, the nicely crafted 2016 Rombauer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc makes an excellent aperitif wine. You’ll get hints of juicy melon, dried grass, and concentrated citrus, especially in the finish, where lime predominates.


Smith Madrone 2014 Riesling Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District ($29): This beautiful riesling delivers notes of honeysuckle, orange blossom, lychee, and citrus in the nose. It’s got a good backbone of acidity that supports flavors of peach, Asian pear and citrus. The finish has some pleasant minerality.

Special interview with Rombauer and Smith-Madrone's winemakers on the Napa region that make their wines special.


Tablas Creek 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles ($25): One of Paso’s best and most consistent wineries continues to offer excellent value at every price point. This blend of four white Rhône varietals (grenache blanc, viognier, roussanne and marsanne) has notes of lemon, sarsaparilla, crushed rock and apricot.  It has a seductive mouth-feel and its dominant flavors are green apple and grapefruit. Number 26 on the WS 2017 Top 100 list.

Trentadue 2015 Alexander Valley Rosato di Sangiovese ($20): A supremely drinkable rosé, and a winner in the prestigious 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Winemaker’s notes: “Guava, peach, apricot and water melon followed by touch of Asian spices and a hint of rose petals. The mouth feel is sweet without the sugar, with bright acidity.”

True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon ($20): French-born winemaker Christian Roguenant brings Old World finesse to the Central Coast, and it shows in his mastery of warm- and cool-climate wines (he does wonders with wine in Edna Valley). This Paso cabernet sauvignon has typical notes of blueberry, blackcurrant and peppery spice leading to cocoa powder, caramel and pungent cedar. But like most Paso Bordeaux the tannins are soft, making it more immediately approachable than a typical Napa cab.

The Mr. Wine Guy Reviews Brandline Wine Cabernet

Here we are for another AMAZING Pick of the Week on this 2015 Brandline Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon out of the Mount Veeder region of Napa Valley.


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The winemaker for Brandlin is Steven Rogstad who just so happens to be on Episode 41 of the Mr. Wine Guy Podcast, set to debut this coming Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

Steven is also the winemaker for Cuvaison which is a family owned, 50 year old winery in the Los Carneros region of Napa Valley. In our podcast we talk about his ability to craft wines Bordeaux style, mountain-driven wines, all the way to beautiful and sexy Chardonnay’s and Pinot Noir’s.

His Brandlin Cabernet is a Bordeaux blend that can stand next to any mountain wine that I could imagine, blind or not, and is sure to please on any day and any occasion you decide to open.

- Our favorite $10 corkscrew with a rosewood handle! -

It's all about the taste

The blend in this 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is:
77% Cabernet Sauvignon
19% Malbec
4% Cabernet Franc

This Cabernet is one of the most beautiful wines I’ve been privileged to feature, showing off a bright beautiful display of sensuous regal maraschino cherries.

The nose on this wine boasts of rich acidity and bodacious black fruit, while hints of sweetened black current sinfully tease the senses with seduction.

The palate of this wine is massive with an aggressive amount of tannins, crumbled mocha, and a sense of place and terroir that tantalize the mind with the varied soils and minerality present.

Pair this wine with food respectably and decant for a good 2-4 hours to really expatiate all the things this wine is begging to offer.

To learn more about this wine and it's incredible winemaker Steve Rostad take a listen to episode 41 of my podcast! Link to podcast on iTunes.

🍷
Cheers!



 Drive Through Napa, your ultimate companion to Napa Valley's wine regions

A modern way to learn about the 16 wine regions of Napa Valley through bold design, exclusive winemaker interviews, maps, Price to Value charts, lists of wineries for every region and more!

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Interview with Justin Smith of Saxum Vineyards, Cult Wine King of Paso Robles

Justin Smith looks and acts a little like The Dude, Jeff Bridges' world-class slacker from the Coen Brothers classic, "The Big Lebowski." But don't let that resemblance fool you. Smith is not the kind of guy to sit around in his housecoat drinking White Russians all day. His small-output Paso Robles winery, Saxum Vineyards, has produced some of the most highly rated wine in America over the last few years. 

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Saxum’s 2007 James Berry Vineyard made Wine Spectator’s 2010 Wine of the Year. Wine taste-maker Robert Parker was blown away, awarding it a 100-point score. “Utter perfection, and one of the most profound Rhone Ranger wines I have ever tasted,” said the hard-to-impress Mr. Parker. 

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Here's how the Justin Smith dynasty started. 

Smith’s father James, a San Diego county veterinarian, bought the James Berry property when Justin was 10. He started dabbling with grape-growing immediately. Smith recalls, “My parents originally planted Burgundian varieties,” [Pinot Noir and Chardonnay]. "They were going off what had worked over at HMR (Hoffman Mountain Ranch)", which was founded by Dr. Stanley Hoffman, a pioneer of Paso’s modern wine industry, who planted his first vines in the early 1960s). “They put in mainly chardonnay here. It did well, but the market for Paso chardonnay was never there.”

In the late 1980s, the Smiths decided to change direction when local winemaker John Alban returned from France with a radical suggestion. “He just got back after spending some time in the Rhone and he was very excited about this crazy idea, that we could grow those grapes here. Rhones were not on my dad’s radar before that. John convinced him that this might be a great spot. So we put in a couple of test blocks of mourvèdre and viognier.” 

[Editor's note: Rhone Valley is a region in France. The indigenous grape varieties that grow in the region, like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier and Roussanne, are often referred to as Rhône grapes. So, regardless of their place of origin, wines made from these grapes are said to be Rhône-style wines the world over. Wine Enthusiast post]

Soon others were following suit, planting Rhones by the acre, and they enlisted the Smiths to help. In 1995 the Smiths purchased another 20 acres in the area, and by this time the die was cast: they planted nothing but Rhone grapes on the new property. “There was no turning back from that point,” Smith said. 

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Smith Underground

Smith's success is about to go underground -- literally. “We’ve been working on this cave for about six years now,” Smith explained as we entered through a still-unfinished door into a large main vault on the estate. “It’s expensive [to build a cave] but it makes so much sense in this warm climate. It also pencils out in the end when you realize that you’re spending thousands every month to chill wine bottles in an 80-degree room.” Smith has been slowly expanding his output, and once the wine cave is in business he will eventually increase production to about 8,000 cases a year. By wine industry standards, that’s minuscule. But for Smith, it’s all about maintaining quality and control – and enjoying himself in the process. “All of our vineyards are within a mile of my house. It’s a magic spot here. All of our production is sold through our mailing list. I’ve scaled back my consulting, too.” 

With his cult status assured – Saxum sells almost all of its wine through its mailing list – and his output capped by choice, Smith enjoys the luxury of being able to increase quality in almost any conceivable way. The cave was paid for up front, he said. “We waited a long time to do it; we wanted to save a lot of money first. Early on my wife told me, ‘You can do whatever you want, just don’t put us in debt. Don’t put it on the card.’” Smith laughed. “I didn’t.”

For more profiles of the top Paso Robles winemakers with beautiful photography check out this coffee table hardcover The Winemakers of Paso Robles

Wine and Basketball: Sac-Town is Proud of Their Roots

Farm-to-Table. Locally Sourced. Organically Grown.

You’ve heard the terms that swarm our society’s conversations today. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the marketers telling us such things--do they mean what they say? 

Let us introduce you to Sacramento: the California capital city that is saying what they mean, and meaning what they say. This Northern California city is indeed the location of hard-working men and women who enjoy where they live, and insist on bringing out the best of its resources. 

Long-time basketball franchise, the Sacramento Kings, paired up with much-beloved local family winery, Bogle Vineyards, to bring wine lovers and fans alike a bottled expression of the area: Proud Roots.

This limited-production wine is a blend of Petite Sirah and Malbecand is a juicy, satisfying and palatable sipper.  The grapes for the one-of-its-kind partnership wine were grown and harvested just 15 miles away from the King’s new arena--Golden 1 Center; perfectly fitting in to its main philosophy of supplying 90% of its food from within a 150 mile radius of the stadium.  Now that’s what we call “Locally Sourced”!

Desiring to tie into this philosophy of tribute and commitment to sustainability, the Bogle Family--avid Kings fans themselves--reached out to the franchise with the idea of coming up with a celebratory wine that expressed the land they each are so proud to occupy.

Our favorite $10 corkscrew with a rosewood handle! - 

As the first NBA partnership of its kind took off, Bogle comprised many blends for the team’s executives to sample.  Both the winery and the basketball team’s representation decided on a blend of 85% Petite Syrah, a heritage grape to Bogle as it was their first-ever varietal planted in 1968, and 15% Malbec; both certified sustainable grown grapes and fitting to the qualifications of the King’s arena. 

The result was a wine that is approachable and versatile; making it the perfect drink for fans to pair with the arena’s food selections, or simply have unaccompanied while enjoying their favorite display of athleticism. For the project’s inaugural year, Jody Bogle of the Bogle family said that only 2,400 cases of the special drop were produced this year, and as they have been supremely “pleased with the response”, it’s possible that more production will come as a result. 

At this time, Proud Roots is not available at your local watering hole nor wine retail store. However, if you want to make the visit to Sacramento, you can certainly taste the blend there, while supplies last, at the Bogle Vineyards tasting room. While there, be sure to also partake in Bogle’s line up of reserve, single-vineyard wines that are only available to visitors at the tasting room. 

Questlove from the iconic Roots Crew's latest book: "something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs"

A new partnership expressed, and a fine tribute to the land--Proud Roots is a beacon of symbolism you can sip with a smile. Cheers.


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Spanish Flavor: Spain's Take on Common Grape Varietals

There are many reasons why I love Spanish wine. I won’t bore you with every single one of them but instead focus on one specific character of the wine production that makes Spain such a dominant force in the industry: diversity.

Whilst Spanish wine may be synonymous with grapes like Tempranillo, Albariño, Verdejo and Garnacha there are countless other grapes grown in the country, some of which you might not expect to see either.  

Riesling. Chenin Blanc. Trousseau. Pinot Noir.  

Yes, these are all grown in Spain and many of which are produced into pretty epic varietal wines.

Given the fact that Spain has the highest volume of land devoted to the cultivation of grapes in the world, the breadth of diversity should hardly be surprising. Add to this a wide array of climatic and geographical differences both on the mainland and on the islands and you have a country with the ability to produce very different and very unique wines.

Whilst the staple varietal favourites will always provide the bread and butter in Spanish wine consumption, the increase in quality of non-traditional varietals should give the average wine drinker something to think about. I’ve always been a firm believer that grapes show their truest expression when grown in their indigenous home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find an alternative expression elsewhere.

I’ve picked 4 of my favourite International grapes and tried to find a quality Spanish wine made from each. I realise this ‘experiment’ had the potential to blow up in my face but, bear with me, the results may surprise you.

A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on Amazon

Riesling 

Alsace. Mosel. Clare Valley.  Riesling is an iconic grape grown is some fairly iconic vineyard destinations. Loved by sommeliers and wine geeks around the world and famed for its aromatic complexities, its ability to age for decades and its exceptional ability to express terroir.

This has enabled the grape to travel so well and find additional expressions in areas such as New Zealand, Austria, Canada, The Finger Lakes as well as the Catalan Pyrenees in Spain with winery Castell d’Encus.

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It is here that winemaker Raul Bobet harvests his Riesling grapes at around 1,000 metres in the vineyards hidden within the Pyrenees forests. Farming is completed organically with complete respect to the environment and constant research is carried out by the team into factors such as planting density, cover crop, pruning types, in order to enhance the quality of grapes.

The grapes are hand-harvested in small 10kg baskets from the small vineyard plots. The soils are clay limestone and due to the altitude and high diurnal range, the climate is cool, particularly for Catalunya and allows for a slow grape ripening which enhances the complexities.  

The site is surrounded by mountains and often prone to snow and frost which makes the vines suffer and therefore enhancing the quality of the grapes. This creates a unique micro-climate and a unique expression of Riesling that could most likely not be made in any other location in Spain.

Their Riesling is named Ekam and has developed a cult following despite being fairly unknown in the wine world.  

The vines are young at around 15 years and fermentation is carried out naturally in small 25HL tanks before being bottled and held for 6 months before being released. A pinch of Albarino is added to the wine which adds some aromatics and mineral freshness.

The result is a persistent and intense wine with mutli-layers and aromas of lime, grapefruit, white flower and a touch of smokiness that is all overarched with a wonderful acidity and mineral back-bone. It has the potential to age for a very long time.

Chenin Blanc

Famed for its world class quality wines produced in its viticultural home in the Loire Valley, it is also found in small plantings around Catalunya, Aragon and Navarra.  Whilst the planting sizes are relatively modest, there are a few producers creating world class Chenin wines with their own Spanish personalities.  

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One of these very producers is the acclaimed Escoda Sanahuja with their bottle of Els Bassots made up primarily from Chenin with small percentages of Sumoll Blanc, Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu. 

Based in the relatively unknown DO of Conca de Barbera within Catalunya they are committed to producing “natural wines of biodynamic agriculture”. This involves the use of native yeasts for fermentation and with no filtration, clarification, stabilization nor sulphites.

At Escoda Sanahuja the grape is the only protagonist. The grapes for this wine are handpicked and undergo a maceration on the skins for around 10 days which gives the wine an amazing amber tinge. Fermentation is carried out in stainless steel using natural yeasts before the wine is aged for at least one year in neutral French oak.

The result is a unique and expressive wine with a funky nose and bucket loads of flavour with ripe pear, dried apricot, honey and lychee. The tannins from the skin maceration create body and there’s a slight effervescence to the wine that ends with a long and citrus sweet finish.

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Trousseau

Originally from France and most planted nowadays in Portugal as Bastardo and used as part of the blend for Port wine, it is also found in North West Spain under the name of Merenzao.

There are various mutations of the grape and enough synonyms to ensure the average wine-buff would have come across the grape in some shape or form.

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It is a dark skinned grape typically producing deep cherry-red wines with dark berry and forest fruit nuances. The high natural sugars in the grape generally produce wines with high potential alcohol content.

We’re sticking with North West Spain, Ribiera Sacra to be exact, and small winery Adega Algueira where their small plot of Merenzao is located on the steep, schist slopes of the River Sil.

It is a family run winery in the midst of development, growth and ambition - and I was lucky enough to visit them in 2018.  The winery building itself has been expanded from the original structure into a large, modern, clean and organised operation.  The wide array of barrels, foudres, amphoras, all different shapes and sizes show commitment to artisanal winemaking.  Elaborations are carried out based on what is best for the grape rather than the winery.

Their Merenzao wine named Risco is ultra-low production and it’s sensational. Named after the previous owner of this special plot of vines and made from 100% Merenzao, the vines are 80 years old and the wine is whole-cluster fermented, foot-pressed and aged in old oak. The end result is unique and exquisite. Beautiful texture and inky dark colour with flavours of perfumed blackcurrant, fleshy plum, lavender and balsamic. I didn’t bring many wines home from my trip due to luggage restrictions but this one made the cut.

Pinot Noir

What is there to say about Pinot Noir? It's grown all over the world in various styles but firmly rooted as the darling grape of Burgundy. It has the ability to produce bland $5 wines but at the same time those life-affirming bottles from the Cote d’Or where you’d need a 6 figure bank balance, an extremely rich friend or a highly technical robbery plan in order to taste one.

You only have to listen to Paul Giamatti in the film Sideways to understand the passion and obsession many feel towards the grape. It’s “thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world…only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

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Quite the high maintenance grape but if there’s one winemaker in Spain who would be up for the challenge it’s Raul Perez.

Affectionately known as the Wine Wizard, Raul has been working magic with the indigenous Spanish grape Mencia for decades. Considering the grape is known as the Pinot Noir of Spain, it makes sense that Raul would branch out and experiment with Spanish Pinot Noir.

Planted as an experiment by Raul himself, his tiny single-vineyard in the Bierzo region in North West Spain produces the grapes for his wine ‘La Tentacion’, often considered as the finest Pinot in Spain.

Whole bunch fermented in open-top 5,000 litre foudres and aged for 12 months in French oak barriques and made entirely by hand.

The production is miniscule but the quality can rival many in Burgundy.

It is elegant, precise and complex and shows fresh red fruit character with wonderful acidity, a subtle earthiness and a long and opulent finish.

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Valentine's Day: Decoding Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, etc

Valentine's Day screams for sparkling wine, but it’s important to note that not all bubbles are created equal.  When shopping around for the perfect bottle at the right price point, it is extremely helpful to know what the difference is between styles of sparkling wine and where they come from.  

Champagne – the O.G.

This is it, the wine the world defers to as the best sparkling wine ever. The original bubbly, the standout sparkler, the very best.  However, NOT all sparkling wine is Champagne; in fact, it can only be called Champagne if it comes from the specific region of Champagne in France.  This can be confusing here in the U.S. where you will still see the term Champagne on labels of California sparkling wine, but make no mistake! Those are not the real deal. 

What makes real Champagne so unique and sought after is the place that it comes from and the way it is made.  In Champagne, the wines undergo a second fermentation in a bottle – most often the one that you buy it in – to capture the CO2 and make it bubbly.  This process is referred to as the Traditional Method, and while this method is used elsewhere to create similar styles of sparkling wine, Champagne is the hallmark.  This is also why Champagne will usually cost you a pretty penny but is pretty much always worth it.

Grapes used in making Champagne

All Champagne is made using three main varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.  These grapes, grown in chalky Champagne soil, are responsible for creating the unique aroma and flavor profiles of the wine. High quality Champagne will deliver wines with racy acidity, a creamy mousse (the feel of the bubbles on your palate), and a toasty quality often described as brioche, biscuit or pastry dough.  The official terminology is that these wines display autolytic characteristics. These aromas and flavors come from extended contact with the lees (spent yeast cells) in the bottle during the second fermentation and are the calling card of any wine that is made using the Traditional Method. 

Which Champagne to buy

So which Champagne should you buy?  Depends on what fits into your budget, but I recommend going with a Champagne made from Premier or Grand Cru grapes.  They may cost a little bit more, but over deliver on quality. Champagne Lallier makes exceptional Grand Cru champagne in both white and rosé style, but there are many others to be found as well.

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What is grower-producer Champagne

Another hot trend in Champagne now is buying Grower-Producer Champagnes. Most of the Champagne sold is made by the big houses from grapes they buy from other growers, but there is more availability these days of Champagnes that the individual growers are making from their own grapes. You can tell which is which by looking for a little two letter code on the back label, followed by a string of numbers. If it says RM, it is a Grower-Producer Champagne; if it says NM, that means it comes from one of the big houses. "RM" stangs for récoltant manipulant, a grower who makes champagne out of their own grapes.

Photo courtesy of http://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.comPhoto credit: http://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com

Vintage Champagne – The best of the best

As discussed above, Champagne is associated with that delicious biscuit aroma and flavor that comes from the winemaking process, but most Champagne is made by blending multiple vintages, so normally the label will say NV, or non-vintage. This allows Champagne producers to make a consistent, high quality product year after year that their customers can rely on and easily recognize. 

However, in the very best years some producers will make Vintage Champagnes, using only grapes from that year. These wines will reflect the overarching style of the house, but also have unique characteristics influenced by vintage variation. They are also often aged much longer on the lees, sometimes up to eight years or more, developing even more of that autolytic character common to all Champagne. So if that is a quality you like, vintage Champagne will be right up your alley. It will definitely cost you so be ready to throw down some cash, but once you take a sip of, oh let’s say the Henriot Brut Millésimé 2008, you’ll likely be glad that you did.

Henriot Brut Millésimé 2008

Crémant – Top notch, bottom dollar

Crémants refer to traditional method sparkling wines made in France that are not from Champagne, and they represent an EXCELLENT value in the category.  Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Loire (two other wine growing regions of France) will deliver excellent sparkling wines with a similar autolytic character at a fraction of the price. 

They can also be made with non-traditional Champagne varietals like Chenin Blanc or Riesling, adding intriguing layers of aromatics and flavors to these wines that differentiate them from Champagne. The Loire Valley actually produces the most traditional method sparkling wine in France after Champagne, so they know a thing or two about good bubbles, and you can find a great one that will knock your socks off for less than $20.

Cava – Bang for your buck

Cava comes from Spain, and they have been making their bubbles there since the 1800’s.  The traditional method is used here as well, but winemaking technology allows them to expedite the process and also lower the cost, meaning it is easy to find an excellent bottle of Cava for often much less than $25. Traditional Cava also uses the indigenous Spanish varietals Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Perellada, which can lend some more tropical Mediterranean notes like melon and peach to the aroma and flavor profile.  

Cava is, and always will be, a bargain for the traditional method junkie, but it's helpful to know your producers.  Bottom shelf Cava from the grocery store will not show the same kind of elegance and complexity you will find from a more quality oriented producer like Juvé Y Camps.

Juvé Y Camps


(Watch the recap to I like this grape's first SOMMX event? Kanye West's Music Interpreted Through Spanish Wine: Video recap.)

New World Sparklers – Blow your mind, not your budget

When you leave Europe and enter the New World, you will still find sparkling wine made it all countries. This includes South America, Australia, the USA, South Africa, New Zealand, you name it. Sparkling wine is just that popular. It can be hard, though, to readily identify the quality sparkling wine since new world countries don’t have nearly the same number of regulations that old world wine regions do. 

Knowing your producers and terminology can help.  For example, several large Champagne houses have set up shop in California, and produce traditional method sparkling wine in the states: Louis Roederer has Roederer Estate up in Anderson Valley and Domaine Chandon is owned by the powerhouse Moët & Chandon.  Looking on the label for the term “Traditional Method” will also key you in to the style and quality of production. Some countries use a different name for it, like the term “Cap Classique” in South Africa. 

In fact, my recommendation to anyone who wants to blow their mind with a new world traditional method sparkling wine is to go out immediately and purchase a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Zero Cap Classique.  It will be the best $25 you have spent all month.

Graham Beck Brut

Prosecco – Sassy Sparkle

Prosecco is the princess of Italian sparkling wines.  This wildly popular wine can be found all over the world, but can only be made in the northeastern region of Italy. It is the aperitif of choice among locals and tourists alike. What makes Prosecco so specifically delicious is that it uses a different method of production from Champagne and all other traditional method sparkling wines.  Prosecco does not have a second fermentation in the bottle or extended contact with lees, so the resulting wines are crisp, fresh and fruity without the nuance of biscuit or brioche.  This makes it an incredible versatile option to drink on its own or mix in cocktails, and it is always refreshing and delightful. 

While some Prosecco’s may have a little bit of residual sugar and seem sweeter that other sparkling wines, drier versions are becoming more common and easy to find on the market. Again, these are also incredible value wines, offering up their sassy sparkle in a lower budget bracket.  For an added bonus without much added cost, look for a DOCG Prosecco. A smaller category, but worth the investigation.

Moscato d’Asti – Sweet and spectacular

This iconic dessert wine of Piemonte, Italy, is often underrated and underappreciated. These lightly sparkling sweet dessert wines are made from the aromatic Moscato grape and offer sublime elegance to any event. Unfortunately, its good name has been tarnished by the flood of syrupy sweet imitations labelled simply “Moscato” that can be found in the supermarket, but these carbonated sugar waters can’t hold a candle to the real thing. True Moscato d’Asti are delicate wines and excellent pairings with lighter desserts that aren’t overly sugary, like strawberries and Chantilly cream, or even as a delightful aperitif.  

Have any questions on Champagne? Just send us a message on Twitter or Instagram! Cheers!


If you're still looking for that perfect Valentine's Day present for the wine lover in your life, then check out Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vivino.

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Nutritional Facts of Wine

We're now well into the new year, which means everyone has been seeing resolutions blowing up social media feeds. The gym is packed, and we're all reconsidering our diet choices after the rich-and-sweet-holiday-super-funtime-food-bonanza. But what does that mean for your wine?

Let’s consider the nutritional facts behind your wines to, at least, knock one worry off your plate and help you plan accordingly for the goals you’re setting. While wines (and other alcoholic beverages) are not required by the FDA to have nutritional labels, there are still some basic facts around calories, carbs, sugars, and dietary sensitivities we know that can help you make the best decision for you.

What is a standard serving of wine?

First things first: Though I’ve always been a liberal pour-er myself, a standard serving of wine is technically 5 oz (150 ml) and a standard bottle contains 25 oz (750 ml). So, in theory, you should be getting 5 glasses out of that standard bottle of wine you bought. 

The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 glasses of alcohol a day for men, and 1 a day for women (::sob::). Stepping over those bounds on the occasion will not mean any guaranteed and/or severe health issues for you; but like in all things, moderation is key to ensuring you stay as healthy as possible. 

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Does wine have calories?

Oh, you mean “delicious points?” Yes, it certainly and unfortunately does. 

Wine Folly has an awesome article that sums all of the details behind wine calories for you, but the gist is this: a glass can have anywhere from 80 to 200 calories per 5 oz serving, depending on the wine’s alcohol content and sweetness level. The higher you go in either of those two categories, the higher the calorie count. 

In general, dry wines with lower alcohol content will have the fewest calories. Your sweet, fortified wines at 20% alcohol-by-volume (ABV, listed on the label) will be your most caloric at almost 200 calories for a 5 oz pour. 

If you’re sticking to a 1500 calorie/day (women) or 2000 calorie/day diet (men) to drop some pounds, sacrificing 10-13% of your precious calories on one glass can feel like a lot! 

But be not deterred, wine lovers - if you’re watching the calories, seek out a dry wine produced in a cooler wine region* as cooler wine regions typically produce lower alcohol wines. In general, keep the ABV below 12%. Then (hydrate, then) consider 30 minutes of a physical activity to put you back on track. 

*Some cool wine regions to shop from can include the Loire Valley, France; Marlborough, NZ; Rheingau, Germany; Oregon and Washington states, USA; and Northern Italy. 

Does wine have carbs?

Good news: wine is typically low carb to begin with! Dry wines, in fact, have negligible carbs as “dry” means an absence of sugar. Carbs in wine come from unfermented sugars, so apologies again to my sweet wine lovers: the presence of sugars in your wines will mean more carbs. 

If you’re concerned about carbs (Keto dieters, I’m looking at you) but can’t do without that occasion wine sip, search for still (non-sparkling) wines labeled as bone-dry and sparkling wines labeled as brut nature.

Does wine have sugar? 

This is a resounding yes, and in fact sugar is how the alcohol is produced from the grapes in the first place. As already mentioned, sugar plays a major role in defining the calorie count as well as carbohydrate presence in a wine. Unless you are drinking bone-dry wine, your wine is apt to contain sugar. 

However, consider this: Is the sugar-free diet you’re on letting you drink milk? Milk contains about 50 grams per liter (g/L) a.k.a. 12 grams per cup of sugar. To stay under that amount of sugar per glass of wine, dry and off-dry still wines and extra brut, brut, extra dry, and dry sparkling wines are now all available to you. 

However, to play it safest: stick to bone-dry and brut nature.

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Is wine vegan? 

Even though wine is made from grapes, most wines cannot be officially labeled as “vegan” or even “vegetarian". Wine naturally clarifies during the fermentation process, but that can take a long time. To meet demand, wineries may use animal-sourced byproducts like egg whites as “processing aids” during the fining process

If a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle is important to you, you can find a list of vegan wines HERE.

Is wine gluten-free? 

Generally, YES! However, if you suffer from celiac disease it is still important to consult your doctor and perhaps consider contacting the winery directly to be super sure you can consume their wine.

Summary: in general, stick to dry wines from cooler regions with lower ABV to have the least amount of impact on your dietary regime. But rest assured, matter how you’re choosing to get and stay healthy for 2019’s “New You” know that there’s a wine waiting for you!

Rules for paring fast food with wine

Just imagine the mouth-coating richness of a fatty Wagyu steak being cut by the grippy tannins of a powerful Barolo. It sets the stage for a contrasted dance between savory red meat and elegant cherries, coupled with dried roses. 

Similarly, picture a contrast between the brambly berry flavors of a Dry Creek Zinfandel and the aggressive gaminess of venison. Or perhaps the intensity of a strawberry-laden Willamette Pinot Noir against the acrid smokiness of cedar-planked salmon. 

Sometimes the dance is more compliment than contrast, like the harmony of fruit flavors between duck a l’orange and Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Or even the simple brininess of oysters and the chalky minerality of Chablis.

In the best cases, the relationship between wine and food is a happy mix of both. But the stage doesn’t always have to be a ballroom, and the dance doesn’t always have to be a waltz - or in our case, the pairings not as fancy-shmancy. 

Sometimes the venue is little less classy...saaaay a Taco Bell, KFC, or maybe an In-N-Out (for those of you readers lucky enough to have one around). Rest assured, the pairings can be just as stellar, and that date night you have planned can still go off without a hitch, at least in the department of gastronomy. It is in this article that I hope to arm you with the knowledge I believe can make everyday meals outstanding. 

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There’s enough information to flood pages, but I’ll keep it simple with this metaphor. Picture two salsa partners on the dance floor or perhaps two boxing opponents in a ring. Think of a scenario where these partners have similar builds, and another in which they have dramatically different ones. It’s safe to assume that the first scenario would yield a harmonious, thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing, coordinated interplay while the second results in an undesired black eye. That’s what pairing wine & food is like. The better the match, the better the interaction. 

Another thing to consider is a wine’s structure (I’ll spare you the metaphor for this one). Fat in any dish is quite an amazing thing. However, it takes up lots of space on our palates, and blocks the way for other things that SHOULD be making an appearance - most notably flavors. Luckily, wine’s answer to this is acidity & tannin, as both precipitate fat, thus clearing the path for all the other cool stuff to make their way to our taste buds (and for all the beer lovers out there, carbonation acts similarly). 

Using this as context, let’s dive into the delectable, guilt-ridden world of fast food and search for some stellar wine pairings. For the sake of practicality, I will discuss wines that you can find at your local grocery, rather than having to go to a specialty wine store (although if you have one within proximity, then by all means go).

With the biggest, heaviest reds

Usually the stuff that first comes to our minds. Cabs, Zins, Malbecs, Syrahs, Blends, and the like. They have the most flavor, the most body, the most tannin, and the most of a whole lot more. But just because they’re the most obvious doesn’t mean they should always be first choice. 

Remember that metaphor from earlier? Keep in mind that these reds represent the far end of the spectrum – the Schwarzeneggers of wine selections. More specifically, the tannins in these wines are extremely abundant, and their weights are all at the top of the (fast) food chain. To keep the interaction balanced & engaging, we must make sure we partner with take-out that’s just as substantial. 

The most obvious partners to these are heavy duty hamburgers. However, since were discussing the biggest reds available, think BIG like Carl’s Jr (Hardees) Six Dollar 1/3lb Burgers, the Five Guys Double Grilled Cheeseburger, and certainly In-N-Out’s Double-Doubles and 4x4s. Other drive-thru contenders, again, remembering to think big, would be chili cheese fries, Philly cheesesteaks, & fattier iterations of Mexican dishes like barbacoa or beef burritos with gratuitous cheese. 

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In any of these cases, do be careful with anything spicy (jalapenos, red pepper flakes, etc) as tannins in wine, as well as alcohol, tend to exacerbate them for the worse. In the realm of barbeque sauce-slathered red meats, Syrahs (especially Australian Shiraz) & Zinfandels get a notable mention as they have inherent peppery/savory flavors that compliment meat, and fruit intensities that match the sweetness of the sauce. 

Regardless of which guilty pleasure you may choose, keep in mind that the interaction at play remains the same – your palate will be covered in fats from cheese, fats from meat, fats from rich sauces, you get the idea. When your tongue is coated in so much richness that you can no longer taste the nuances of other flavors, it’s actually those same rough, burly tannins (culprits of the bitterness we so vehemently avoid) that cleanse the palate and restore order to your taste buds - the best partners will bleed grease through the wrapper, clog the arteries, and most importantly give the wine’s structure something more substantial to spar with (although it wouldn’t hurt to schedule that checkup with your cardiologist).

With reds that aren’t as big

Think Grenache, Gamays, Pinot Noirs, Sangioveses, and more. When going lighter we naturally become more flexible with our pairings as our drinks are less demanding & aggressive (in the best cases, with no sacrifice to flavor). We no longer need look for entrees that coat our palates in fats & protein, as these reds will be less substantial. Lighter items like deli sandwiches and protein + rice (or other grain) plates can find their way back to our passenger seats. 

First, Pinot Noir can indeed work with fast foods but a good number (often domestically made) are oaky, bearing notes of vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and more. While that does sound fantastic, flavors reminiscent of Grandma’s kitchen aren’t the most flexible for pairing. Sweet spices can tend to clash with the saltier, more savory tones of cured meat, or the lively flavors of condiments like ketchup or mustard, or the raw flavors of vegetables, and even peppery spices like cayenne and paprika. However, this same acrid character makes a perfect partner to the deeply charred flavors from grilling, searing, roasting, and so on. Thus, if your meal is just roasted chicken or pork, without excessive salt, spice, or vegetal tones Pinot works great, so long as there aren’t any of the aforementioned flavors to oppose.  

If you’re a devout Pinot follower, than opt for versions that don’t stress the usage of oak, and are therefore more flexible (“excuse me, I’m looking for a Pinot that isn’t oaky”). A bit more obscure, but a fantastic alternative, is to reach for a bottle of French Beaujolais, which is based from the Gamay varietal. This red has a structure and berry-tinged character like Pinot Noir, but is unencumbered by a copious amount of oak flavorings. 

With the primary flavors being red berry fruits, Beaujolais makes a great contrast to cured meats such as ham, roast beef, and pastrami, as well as a match for livelier sauces like mustards, ketchups, and spicy mayos. The applications of Beaujolais extend far beyond conventional sandwiches, as its vivacious fruit tones serve as a great match to strongly flavored and/or spicy foods like Cajun and Middle Eastern – just think of how notes of fresh strawberry & cherry would wonderfully contrast against a savory mouthful gyros from Halal Guys. 

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Another French alternative for pairing would be a bottle of Cotes Du Rhone (based from Grenache) which is delivers loads of baked/dried red fruit flavors alongside secondary notes of herbs and spice, and a fuller body when compared to the former reds. Just like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone does well when matched with menu items that put the savory flavors of meat at the forefront, such as those deeply charred chicken & steak bowls from Chipotle or mixed piece meals from El Pollo Loco. Whether it’s Beaujolais or Cotes du Rhone, you have wines that are not very tannic and have livelier red fruit flavors. 

With this in mind, Mexican dishes that dabble with red pepper flakes, cayenne, chilis, and the like become outstanding partners to either wine as their piquancy will not be offset by an excessively tannic structure (the structure of wines from the former category would make your palate feel like a flamethrower). I will also quickly note that Indian cuisines work with these reds by virtue of the same principle. From another part of the world, Italian Sangiovese, often in the form of a bottle of Tuscan “Chianti”, works great with tomato themed dishes, whose inherent flavors are often hard to pair with. Sangiovese’s own flavors of tart cherry and tomato make it a natural partner to anything that dabbles in marinara sauces – think of your favorite pizza place, or perhaps Subway’s flagship Meatball Marinara. 

Regardless of the choices in wine or food, lets remember to take the bird’s eye view and repeat our mantra of matching the overall weights & characters of both participants. After conceptually scaling both partners mentioned above, can we see how they make fine dance partners?

With Whites & Rose

Although not often our first thought to accompany fast food, the opportunity for a home-run pairing very much does exist in the realm of whites, and in many more ways than you think. For a good number of these wines, the dynamic is simple – the acidity in whites contrasts with the lighter flavors of white meats & seafood, emphasizing their simplistic character. As MS Evan Goldstein put it in his fantastic book “Perfect Pairings”, the acid in these wines act as “gastronomic highlighter”. 

Obvious examples of this are Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino, and lighter iterations of Pinot Gris/Grigio, which prominently feature a lively acidity as well as vibrant fruit tones. When pairing with lighter whites, Tex-Mex-themed joints like Baja Fresh, Rubio's, Wahoo's, and El Pollo Loco are perfect as much of their menu revolves around simply prepared poultry and/or seafood, with minimal intervention from spices or sauce. Again, simple with simple right? However, be advised that when entrees include grilled vegetables or tossed greens, Sauv Blanc usually takes the edge as it has an intrinsic vegetal/herbaceous character that is complimentary. For those of you making New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, yes you should certainly pair Sauv Blanc with your salads. 

Beyond said varietals, there are a few that have a modest amount of sweetness to them – what is known as “off-dry”. While sugar isn’t always desired in our whites, and a lot of us prefer dry (supposedly), sugar does have its niche in the world of pairing – a prime example being German Riesling (look for “kabinett” or ‘spatlese” on the label when available). Its sugar nullifies heat, thus calming the palate and allowing us to enjoy the other wonderful flavors of a dish without breaking a sweat. Ethnic items that emphasize exotic flavors, like Tikka Masala and Chicken Curry, work great with Riesling as it has plenty of its own perfumed aromas to match the flavor intensity, as well as ample sugar to tame the heat. 

Another example of this dynamic would be a partnership with Szechuan entrees like Kung Pao Chicken or Mapo Tofu – for those of you who don’t have a local authentic Szechuan joint nearby, much of Panda Express’s menu offers items that dabble in both spice & sugar to dance perfectly with Riesling. Another fast food/wine niche that you might not have thought of (unless you’re German) would be pairing Riesling with hot dogs as the interaction becomes a playful contrast of salty against sweet. 

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The ubiquitous Chardonnay, contrary to its popularity, is actually not as flexible as the other whites mentioned – at least not the oaky, butter-laden iterations from California that we all know and love. Just as in the case of Pinot Noir from earlier, Chard’s hedonistic character of oak driven spices cause it to clash with the saltier and/or vegetal tones often found in drive-thrus (although it should be noted that the case is quite the opposite when discussing dishes in the arena of fine dining). When Chardonnay in unoaked however, it can be treated just like drier whites mentioned before; with simple recipes that put protein at the forefront. 

Lastly we have Rose to consider. While it is indeed lighter, it's sort of an “in between” style – from its assertiveness & intensity of flavors, to its fullness in texture, and even having a small presence of tannin. The style is characteristically a vino middle ground, never fully committing to either side, and therefore yielding implications in pairing that are synonymously “in between”. 

Any meal that hearkens to one color of wine, but flirts with another makes a perfect candidate - lighter variations of the items in the earlier sections work swimmingly such as single patty cheeseburgers, sandwiches with chicken or charcuterie, and most ethnic cuisines when the proteins are leaner cuts (like white meat & seafood). Even BBQ sauce items match well against Rose’s sweeter impressions of fruit, again so long as the proteins aren’t big slabs of red meat. 

More contemporarily, many of the vegetarian themed fast-casual spots that have rightly gained much popularity (like Veggie Grill & Native Foods) are also very much “in between” as they are based on vegetables, grains, and alternative proteins, but aslo have a ramped-up weight & flavor profile, due to their often generous, additions of sauce & seasonings. 

As we exit the drive-thru 

As a parting note, the knowledge presented above represents a foundational approach to pairing food and wine - much of these theories are long honored and time tested. However, the world of wine (and food of course) is dizziyingly immense. When attempting to pair our meals & beverages remember that, like a game of chess, there are many moving pieces, and our logical minds may often oversee exactly how intertwined even one piece may be in relation to the rest of the board, leading to minor, and even monumental blunders (last metaphor, I promise!). 

What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the pairing may not always work out, despite our best calculations. Inevitably our food will be much fattier than we anticipated, or the wine not structured enough, or the flavors just won’t play well together. Regardless of the hiccup, asking why a pairing failed to work teaches us just as much (if not more) than why something did – with the often-crippling amount of choice available, this approach will serve you well (it certainly has for me). 

Lastly, remember wine should always be, above all else, the fun part of our day, and we mustn’t let the ever-expanding abundance of information impede our enjoyment - or inebriation. Much like tone of this article, keep in mind to approach the subject of vino - and gastronomy for that matter - with a healthy degree of merriment. 


Don't forget to check out Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. The quickest and coolest way to learn about Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vinvo.

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Your Ultimate Guide to Wine Holidays in 2019

While the new year technically marks the end of the holiday season, it also means the start of a whole new year of hashtag wine holidays.

To help you ring them all in in 2019, we've compiled a 12-month calendar that includes a comprehensive list of each and every wine holiday, from legit ones like Beaujolais Nouveau Day to those that are just for fun (#DrinkWineDay). You'll also find some bonus holidays that we think will pair well – here's to looking at you National Chocolate Day. 

Download the calendar

If you find this helpful, please share it and make sure to tag us on Instagram at @millennialsdrinkwine!

New Year - New Ways to Think About Champagne

Champagne and caviar. Champagne and oysters. Champagne and whatever’s on that little silver tray they’re passing around. That’s so Downton Abbey! How about taking off the tux and pairing your bubbly with a bucket of popcorn instead, or maybe some deep-fried morsel of heaven or a big, steaming slab of meat? 

We did some investigating about unusual yet rewarding ways to match up your uncorked New Year’s Eve libation with food. Turns out the monocled world of Champagne is crawling with cheeky iconoclasts who are pairing it with everything except roadkill. Who knew? 

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Elise Losfelt, the whip-smart young winemaker with Moët & Chandon, toured America last summer promoting her classier-than-thou product. Usually the French Champagne House presents its bubbly like it's the latest Louboutin, but the message was more proletarian: Champagne, the people’s drink! One of the themes Losfelt hammered on was pairing bubbly with heavier meats. “(Our champagne) has the presence and maturity that goes with meat or fish – veal, for example; or lamb could be nice.” Losfelt thinks her label’s assertive and well-respected 2006 vintage can stand up to hefty sauces, too. “You don’t want just a light seasoning with this Champagne, but rather something creamy to counterbalance the acidity. I think I would love to have a risotto, maybe with a hint of lemon or some mushrooms. You could also go with roasted root vegetables.” You're a wild woman, Elise! 

Trend-savvy California mixologist Jenny Buchhagen senses a sea change in the way people are pairing Champagne. “I’ve noticed that younger people are drinking Champagne at the beginning of their meal and to start the night off.” There’s been a down-home twist to the trend, too, Buchhagen says. “Our sommelier thinks that the best pairing with Champagne is potato chips. People are trying that quite a bit.” Speaking of somms, a good one should be able to artfully match up bubbly with food throughout a meal. Why not start with a prosecco to go with your light appetizer, then go with something heavy for the entrée – some Australian sparkling Shiraz such as Mollydooker’s Goosebumps to match with that pork belly – and a Ruinart Brut Rosé to wash down your strawberries and ice cream? I can’t think of a better way to mark the calendar's passing than starting your first 2019 meal with this stunner from France’s oldest Champagne house. Oh yeah, about that popcorn you’re thinking of having with your bubbly – slather it with truffle butter. It’s the perfect blend of crass and class.



If you drink Napa wines, you need this book: Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vinvo.

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7 Wines for Date Night

“An excellent wine, someone’s best attempt at cooking, and the candles and flowers on the table can turn the simplest dinner into an unforgettably romantic event.”  Letitia Baldrige, Jacqueline Kennedy's Social secretary  

1) GRAHAM’S 20-YEAR-OLD TAWNY PORT

Like they say, “Old is gold”. So, don’t overlook the oldies while deciding on a perfect wine for your date night. In that spirit, a Tawny Port would be a great choice. Displaying a rich amber color, 20-year-old Tawny Port is a blend of older vintage wines. Treat your date with a bottle of this semi-sweet dessert wine. With the delicious taste of exotic wood spice and dried citrus, and a long finish of Tawny Port, enjoy the company of your significant other at ease. The icing on the cake is that it pairs gorgeously with fudgy brownies, vanilla ice-cream and all things chocolate.

2) KENWOOD VINEYARDS’ SONOMA SERIES ZINFANDEL

On my date night, I like to play it casual with Kenwood Vineyards’ Sonoma Series Zinfandel. This enticing wine highlights a bright red-fruit and spice expression of Zinfandel. This classic goes well with a casual meal like pizza & a Ceaser salad. A nice, no fuss dinner with a bold Zinfandel works wonders!

3) FATTORIA SAN GIULIANO MOSCATO D’ASTI 2015

Nothing is more romantic than a slightly sweet wine with a light exuberance. And that’s what makes Moscato a great choice for a date night. Explore this sweet option as the residual sugar in it will leave a pleasant sweet aftertaste while the fizz adds a light sparkle to the date.

4) CHATEAU COUTET BARSAC 2011

A bottle of lusciously golden dessert wine from Sauternes isn't cheap, but it is one of the most delectable wines available. The nutty flavor of golden fruit like apricot and peaches drizzled in honey gives way to a nice long finish. With full sweetness balanced with a touch of acidity it provides great balance and satisfaction!

5) 2013 HATTINGLEY VALLEY ROSE

As they say, ‘Roses are the symbol of romance.’ This elegant English wine with excellent mousse and aromas of rose, strawberry, and currants, is perfect for an ultimate romantic date night. It has excellent acidity giving it a refreshing finish. Serving it on a date night might be a useful ice-breaker.  

6) CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE RIESLING

If you’re a whiskey person, and fond of rich fruity aromas, sweet fragrance and long lingering finish of Black Velvet whiskey, Riesling can be a great alternative for you.  This label’s Riesling is dry and approachable. This bottle is textured, layered, and will be a versatile food-pairing option with flavors of nectar of apples, apricots, peaches, and pears. You can pick up a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling for $10 

7) NICOLAS FEUILLATTE, CHAMPAGNE

If you’ve been married for a long time it’s really important to make your better half feel special once in a while. Plan a special dinner and enjoy each other’s company with a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte. It is plenty tasty with its aromas of white fruits, apple, and raspberry. This intense, concentrated and seductive Champagne pairs with firm, aged cheeses drizzled with honey to elevate the experience.

Have a suggestion or wine you want to share? Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or tag @ilikethisgrape on Instagram

Going to Napa Valley soon? Here is your must-have guide.

7 reasons you should be drinking wine from the Douro. Now.

Remember in middle school when you loved that band that no one knew about? And then they blew up and you had to tell all your friends how you knew them before they were cool? That’s the Douro Valley in Portugal right now.

Even though it's been making wine for 1,000's of years - thanks to major infrastructure investments in the region and a growing reputation for red and white table wines - it's on the verge of a major breakout.

Here's why you should be drinking it now...

This ain’t just about your grandma’s port.

When you hear "Douro", you may be savvy enough to be thinking about Port wine–and you are spot on, our dear friend. However, did you know that the Douro Valley also produces some of the best table wines in the world? Reds, whites, even roses? These are some of the most interesting and unique wines we’ve tried – ranging from light and refreshing whites to intense, velvety, complex reds.

The incredible range of varietals will keep you guessing.

There are literally 122 different grape varietals grown in just the Douro Valley. Not 12. 122. And they’re not growing your typical Cabs and Chardonnays. All the varietals are local – from Toriga Nacional and Toriga Franca to the spicy Tinto Rodiz. Most interestingly, all the wines from the Douro are blends. Different grapes bring different qualities to the party, which means you're going to find something unique with each wine you try from here.

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How many other regions literally dynamited mountains to grow their grapes?

Beyond making the region one of the most breathtaking places you can visit in the world, the Douro's terraced vineyards are also part of what makes their wines so interesting. Not only are you dealing with 122 different varietals, but you’ve also got different levels of sun exposure on the North and South banks of the Douro river, a crazy wide range of topography, and varying altitudes. 

In typical wine regions, the difference in your wines really comes from the winemaker her or himself. Here, winemaking is an art form of a different degree based on the wildly unique terroir.

Cheatsheet on what qualities you can expect from different areas of the Douro:

  • South Bank: More elegant

  • North Bank: More intense

  • Closer to the river: More intense

  • Higher altitude: More refreshing

  • The highest quality wines typically come from Clima Corgo (upper Corgo)

These grapes know a good struggle.

When you go through something tough in life, you come out on the other side even stronger and wiser than before because you are a badass human being. The same goes for grapes. 

  • The Douro bakes in what locals call "three months of hell." In a fact that was surprising to us, the Douro is a Mediterranean climate. That means lots and lots of heat in the summer. Additionally, the vines sit in and on shale, which holds that heat at a constant temperature, resulting in rich, intense red wines.

  • When phylloxera hit the Douro in the 1800's, it wiped out +90% of production. Yes, 9-0. Winemakers across the Douro planted their vines closer together to try to increase their odds. This actually made it harder on the grapes. Think of when you and your sibling were put in a room together–you guys probably fought a bit. The grapes do, too. This ups the complexity of wines from the Douro and is part of the reason why you get an explosion of flavors with each sip.

  • As required by law, winemakers are not allowed to irrigate the vines. This means all of the water on these vines is natural, even in those three months of hell.

You can age the sh*t out of some of this stuff.

Getting back into our Ports. The Douro was the first demarcated (i.e. has rules) wine region in the world. Ever. One of the strange rules that is required of all producers is that they keep one third of their production, every single year. In other words, they cannot sell you that wine. This is why you can drink a 100 year old port wine that was born before your grandma. 

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It’s a good wine to be selfish with.

Locals call tawny port "selfish port." Wine producers will tell you that once you open a fine tawny port, you should drink it all within a couple of months. Apparently, you can actually keep this stuff for a couple of years. This is because it’s already adapted to oxygen. 

Tawny ports are aged in small wooden casks that are porous, to age the wine quicker. That oxygen breaks down the fruit flavors (and turns it that brownish tawny color) and brings in notes of nuts, toffee, and caramel, along with upping its aging potential. All this means is you can hide it in a dark, deep corner of your fridge and pop it out every now to enjoy a couple of sips to yourself. 

Okay, okay, they're also good to share.

For those of you who are nicer and like to share, they’ve got you covered, too. Even though the aging potential is killer on a lot of the reds and ports from the Douro, a lot of the wines produced here are meant to be drank young, once bottled. And because this region is still becoming really known internationally (beyond ports), you can also find them for pretty killer price points.

So the next time your favorite middle school band comes on the radio, remember the Douro. Head to your local wine shop. And pop uma garrafa open.

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Interview with Amelia Singer - The Wine Show, Wine Educator, Social Butterfly

Viewers of your series on Hulu, "The Wine Show" ingest complexities of history, geography and viticulture without feeling like bored school kids. Bravo, how do you do it?

Americans have a term, “edutainment.” That’s what we try to do and “The Wine Show” gets it just right.

The program stars bold personalities. I’m in awe of wine-world icon Jancis Robinson. But I would run and hide behind a tree if I said something stupid in front of her. You don’t find her intimidating?

When I first decided to set up my business I had seen her at a couple of tastings. I sent her an email asking, “Can I please come to you for job advice?” She invited me for a glass of wine at her house! She was really supportive and when “The Wine Show” happened she saw my dad and she said, “You must be so proud of her.” She’s gracious and generous.

Joe Fattorini

Joe Fattorini seems like the guy who knows so much that it might be painful for him to continually hold back his vast Obi “Wine” Kenobi wisdom. True?

I think he likes being Obi but he can laugh at himself and that’s great. He is not this crusty old curmudgeon. He’s a very good communicator and knows how to suss out an audience. He can be comedic when he needs to. He handles the two Matthews [hosts] very well.

Those blokes must be a handful.

They’re like two little kids when they get together and he’s the towering school master.

But Fattorini has a different vibe with you, sparring at times. I guess he feels you can take it?

He is a bit older than me and we didn’t want that lechy older guy/younger girl thing — there’s no chemistry between us in that way. It’s more the older brother/younger sister so I can annoy him. And you know what the dynamic is being a younger sister and older brother bantering; when we tease each other or trip each other up it’s all fairly harmless. It works.

Matthew Goode

Tell us about the rest of the cast. How did you land two of the hottest stars on telly?

The guy who’s in charge of the production company, his brother-in-law is Matthew Goode. He knew Matthew loves wine and grew up with wine. And they knew Matthew Rhys, who jokes that he only drank whiskey before the show, and that he’s not a wine lover. So they’re two different types that viewers can relate to and they have a great chemistry. You can’t fake that they enjoy each other.

You didn’t film with James Purefoy, but what’s it like to be up close to the two Matthews. Please dish!

It’s amazing how much the camera loves Matthew Goode. We had late nights and still there was no such thing as a bad angle or a bad shot. He can just make love to that camera. It’s like Kate Moss: There are no bad shots of her!

Matthew Rhys

The other Matthew seems a lightning wit.

Matthew Rhys I adore. He was originally going to become a stand-up comic and there you can’t hide behind lines; it’s a version of yourself. I think he’s using his stand-up personality because his mind is so quick and agile.

So he’s easy to work with?

Where he comes from there are no airs or graces. He’s very generous spirited with a lack of ego. I remember when the show came out it was announced on Hulu. I sent him a congratulations email and said “I’m in New York and I’d love to take you for celebratory cocktails.” He wrote back within a half hour and said “…I’d love to get together but we’re not in town this weekend, Keri (Russell his wife and costar in ‘The Americans’) has family in town.” He was just sooo nice. He’s the most unceleby celeb.

The show’s sometimes reminiscent of the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon movies, a whirlwind bacchanalian road trip. Do the guys even realize they’re doing this?

Both could party all night long but they’re very reliable on set.

Now for the critics. Vogue calls it, “So bizarre it can’t help but be charming.” The Guardian wrote, “I hate myself for loving it.”

I love the Guardian! They’re so left wing they don’t like the fact that they like a wine show. That makes me really happy that they’re saying, “Damn it, we actually like it.”

Catch episodes of The Wine Show on Hulu! 

Going to Napa Valley soon? Here is your must-have guide.

Spanish Flavor: Spain's Take on Common Grape Varietals

There are many reasons why I love Spanish wine. I won’t bore you with every single one of them but instead focus on one specific character of the wine production that makes Spain such a dominant force in the industry: diversity.

Whilst Spanish wine may be synonymous with grapes like Tempranillo, Albariño, Verdejo and Garnacha there are countless other grapes grown in the country, some of which you might not expect to see either.  

Riesling. Chenin Blanc. Trousseau. Pinot Noir.  

Yes, these are all grown in Spain and many of which are produced into pretty epic varietal wines.

Given the fact that Spain has the highest volume of land devoted to the cultivation of grapes in the world, the breadth of diversity should hardly be surprising. Add to this a wide array of climatic and geographical differences both on the mainland and on the islands and you have a country with the ability to produce very different and very unique wines.

Whilst the staple varietal favourites will always provide the bread and butter in Spanish wine consumption, the increase in quality of non-traditional varietals should give the average wine drinker something to think about. I’ve always been a firm believer that grapes show their truest expression when grown in their indigenous home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find an alternative expression elsewhere.

I’ve picked 4 of my favourite International grapes and tried to find a quality Spanish wine made from each. I realise this ‘experiment’ had the potential to blow up in my face but, bear with me, the results may surprise you.

A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on Amazon

Riesling 

Alsace. Mosel. Clare Valley.  Riesling is an iconic grape grown is some fairly iconic vineyard destinations. Loved by sommeliers and wine geeks around the world and famed for its aromatic complexities, its ability to age for decades and its exceptional ability to express terroir.

This has enabled the grape to travel so well and find additional expressions in areas such as New Zealand, Austria, Canada, The Finger Lakes as well as the Catalan Pyrenees in Spain with winery Castell d’Encus.

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It is here that winemaker Raul Bobet harvests his Riesling grapes at around 1,000 metres in the vineyards hidden within the Pyrenees forests. Farming is completed organically with complete respect to the environment and constant research is carried out by the team into factors such as planting density, cover crop, pruning types, in order to enhance the quality of grapes.

The grapes are hand-harvested in small 10kg baskets from the small vineyard plots. The soils are clay limestone and due to the altitude and high diurnal range, the climate is cool, particularly for Catalunya and allows for a slow grape ripening which enhances the complexities.  

The site is surrounded by mountains and often prone to snow and frost which makes the vines suffer and therefore enhancing the quality of the grapes. This creates a unique micro-climate and a unique expression of Riesling that could most likely not be made in any other location in Spain.

Their Riesling is named Ekam and has developed a cult following despite being fairly unknown in the wine world.  

The vines are young at around 15 years and fermentation is carried out naturally in small 25HL tanks before being bottled and held for 6 months before being released. A pinch of Albarino is added to the wine which adds some aromatics and mineral freshness.

The result is a persistent and intense wine with mutli-layers and aromas of lime, grapefruit, white flower and a touch of smokiness that is all overarched with a wonderful acidity and mineral back-bone. It has the potential to age for a very long time.

Chenin Blanc

Famed for its world class quality wines produced in its viticultural home in the Loire Valley, it is also found in small plantings around Catalunya, Aragon and Navarra.  Whilst the planting sizes are relatively modest, there are a few producers creating world class Chenin wines with their own Spanish personalities.  

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One of these very producers is the acclaimed Escoda Sanahuja with their bottle of Els Bassots made up primarily from Chenin with small percentages of Sumoll Blanc, Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu. 

Based in the relatively unknown DO of Conca de Barbera within Catalunya they are committed to producing “natural wines of biodynamic agriculture”. This involves the use of native yeasts for fermentation and with no filtration, clarification, stabilization nor sulphites.

At Escoda Sanahuja the grape is the only protagonist. The grapes for this wine are handpicked and undergo a maceration on the skins for around 10 days which gives the wine an amazing amber tinge. Fermentation is carried out in stainless steel using natural yeasts before the wine is aged for at least one year in neutral French oak.

The result is a unique and expressive wine with a funky nose and bucket loads of flavour with ripe pear, dried apricot, honey and lychee. The tannins from the skin maceration create body and there’s a slight effervescence to the wine that ends with a long and citrus sweet finish.

A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on Amazon

Trousseau

Originally from France and most planted nowadays in Portugal as Bastardo and used as part of the blend for Port wine, it is also found in North West Spain under the name of Merenzao.

There are various mutations of the grape and enough synonyms to ensure the average wine-buff would have come across the grape in some shape or form.

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It is a dark skinned grape typically producing deep cherry-red wines with dark berry and forest fruit nuances. The high natural sugars in the grape generally produce wines with high potential alcohol content.

We’re sticking with North West Spain, Ribiera Sacra to be exact, and small winery Adega Algueira where their small plot of Merenzao is located on the steep, schist slopes of the River Sil.

It is a family run winery in the midst of development, growth and ambition - and I was lucky enough to visit them in 2018.  The winery building itself has been expanded from the original structure into a large, modern, clean and organised operation.  The wide array of barrels, foudres, amphoras, all different shapes and sizes show commitment to artisanal winemaking.  Elaborations are carried out based on what is best for the grape rather than the winery.

Their Merenzao wine named Risco is ultra-low production and it’s sensational. Named after the previous owner of this special plot of vines and made from 100% Merenzao, the vines are 80 years old and the wine is whole-cluster fermented, foot-pressed and aged in old oak. The end result is unique and exquisite. Beautiful texture and inky dark colour with flavours of perfumed blackcurrant, fleshy plum, lavender and balsamic. I didn’t bring many wines home from my trip due to luggage restrictions but this one made the cut.

Pinot Noir

What is there to say about Pinot Noir? It's grown all over the world in various styles but firmly rooted as the darling grape of Burgundy. It has the ability to produce bland $5 wines but at the same time those life-affirming bottles from the Cote d’Or where you’d need a 6 figure bank balance, an extremely rich friend or a highly technical robbery plan in order to taste one.

You only have to listen to Paul Giamatti in the film Sideways to understand the passion and obsession many feel towards the grape. It’s “thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world…only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

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Quite the high maintenance grape but if there’s one winemaker in Spain who would be up for the challenge it’s Raul Perez.

Affectionately known as the Wine Wizard, Raul has been working magic with the indigenous Spanish grape Mencia for decades. Considering the grape is known as the Pinot Noir of Spain, it makes sense that Raul would branch out and experiment with Spanish Pinot Noir.

Planted as an experiment by Raul himself, his tiny single-vineyard in the Bierzo region in North West Spain produces the grapes for his wine ‘La Tentacion’, often considered as the finest Pinot in Spain.

Whole bunch fermented in open-top 5,000 litre foudres and aged for 12 months in French oak barriques and made entirely by hand.

The production is miniscule but the quality can rival many in Burgundy.

It is elegant, precise and complex and shows fresh red fruit character with wonderful acidity, a subtle earthiness and a long and opulent finish.

A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on Amazon

Valentine's Day: Decoding Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, etc

Valentine's Day screams for sparkling wine, but it’s important to note that not all bubbles are created equal.  When shopping around for the perfect bottle at the right price point, it is extremely helpful to know what the difference is between styles of sparkling wine and where they come from.  

Champagne – the O.G.

This is it, the wine the world defers to as the best sparkling wine ever. The original bubbly, the standout sparkler, the very best.  However, NOT all sparkling wine is Champagne; in fact, it can only be called Champagne if it comes from the specific region of Champagne in France.  This can be confusing here in the U.S. where you will still see the term Champagne on labels of California sparkling wine, but make no mistake! Those are not the real deal. 

What makes real Champagne so unique and sought after is the place that it comes from and the way it is made.  In Champagne, the wines undergo a second fermentation in a bottle – most often the one that you buy it in – to capture the CO2 and make it bubbly.  This process is referred to as the Traditional Method, and while this method is used elsewhere to create similar styles of sparkling wine, Champagne is the hallmark.  This is also why Champagne will usually cost you a pretty penny but is pretty much always worth it.

Grapes used in making Champagne

All Champagne is made using three main varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.  These grapes, grown in chalky Champagne soil, are responsible for creating the unique aroma and flavor profiles of the wine. High quality Champagne will deliver wines with racy acidity, a creamy mousse (the feel of the bubbles on your palate), and a toasty quality often described as brioche, biscuit or pastry dough.  The official terminology is that these wines display autolytic characteristics. These aromas and flavors come from extended contact with the lees (spent yeast cells) in the bottle during the second fermentation and are the calling card of any wine that is made using the Traditional Method. 

Which Champagne to buy

So which Champagne should you buy?  Depends on what fits into your budget, but I recommend going with a Champagne made from Premier or Grand Cru grapes.  They may cost a little bit more, but over deliver on quality. Champagne Lallier makes exceptional Grand Cru champagne in both white and rosé style, but there are many others to be found as well.

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What is grower-producer Champagne

Another hot trend in Champagne now is buying Grower-Producer Champagnes. Most of the Champagne sold is made by the big houses from grapes they buy from other growers, but there is more availability these days of Champagnes that the individual growers are making from their own grapes. You can tell which is which by looking for a little two letter code on the back label, followed by a string of numbers. If it says RM, it is a Grower-Producer Champagne; if it says NM, that means it comes from one of the big houses. "RM" stangs for récoltant manipulant, a grower who makes champagne out of their own grapes.

Photo courtesy of http://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.comPhoto credit: http://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com

Vintage Champagne – The best of the best

As discussed above, Champagne is associated with that delicious biscuit aroma and flavor that comes from the winemaking process, but most Champagne is made by blending multiple vintages, so normally the label will say NV, or non-vintage. This allows Champagne producers to make a consistent, high quality product year after year that their customers can rely on and easily recognize. 

However, in the very best years some producers will make Vintage Champagnes, using only grapes from that year. These wines will reflect the overarching style of the house, but also have unique characteristics influenced by vintage variation. They are also often aged much longer on the lees, sometimes up to eight years or more, developing even more of that autolytic character common to all Champagne. So if that is a quality you like, vintage Champagne will be right up your alley. It will definitely cost you so be ready to throw down some cash, but once you take a sip of, oh let’s say the Henriot Brut Millésimé 2008, you’ll likely be glad that you did.

Henriot Brut Millésimé 2008

Crémant – Top notch, bottom dollar

Crémants refer to traditional method sparkling wines made in France that are not from Champagne, and they represent an EXCELLENT value in the category.  Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Loire (two other wine growing regions of France) will deliver excellent sparkling wines with a similar autolytic character at a fraction of the price. 

They can also be made with non-traditional Champagne varietals like Chenin Blanc or Riesling, adding intriguing layers of aromatics and flavors to these wines that differentiate them from Champagne. The Loire Valley actually produces the most traditional method sparkling wine in France after Champagne, so they know a thing or two about good bubbles, and you can find a great one that will knock your socks off for less than $20.

Cava – Bang for your buck

Cava comes from Spain, and they have been making their bubbles there since the 1800’s.  The traditional method is used here as well, but winemaking technology allows them to expedite the process and also lower the cost, meaning it is easy to find an excellent bottle of Cava for often much less than $25. Traditional Cava also uses the indigenous Spanish varietals Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Perellada, which can lend some more tropical Mediterranean notes like melon and peach to the aroma and flavor profile.  

Cava is, and always will be, a bargain for the traditional method junkie, but it's helpful to know your producers.  Bottom shelf Cava from the grocery store will not show the same kind of elegance and complexity you will find from a more quality oriented producer like Juvé Y Camps.

Juvé Y Camps


(Watch the recap to I like this grape's first SOMMX event? Kanye West's Music Interpreted Through Spanish Wine: Video recap.)

New World Sparklers – Blow your mind, not your budget

When you leave Europe and enter the New World, you will still find sparkling wine made it all countries. This includes South America, Australia, the USA, South Africa, New Zealand, you name it. Sparkling wine is just that popular. It can be hard, though, to readily identify the quality sparkling wine since new world countries don’t have nearly the same number of regulations that old world wine regions do. 

Knowing your producers and terminology can help.  For example, several large Champagne houses have set up shop in California, and produce traditional method sparkling wine in the states: Louis Roederer has Roederer Estate up in Anderson Valley and Domaine Chandon is owned by the powerhouse Moët & Chandon.  Looking on the label for the term “Traditional Method” will also key you in to the style and quality of production. Some countries use a different name for it, like the term “Cap Classique” in South Africa. 

In fact, my recommendation to anyone who wants to blow their mind with a new world traditional method sparkling wine is to go out immediately and purchase a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Zero Cap Classique.  It will be the best $25 you have spent all month.

Graham Beck Brut

Prosecco – Sassy Sparkle

Prosecco is the princess of Italian sparkling wines.  This wildly popular wine can be found all over the world, but can only be made in the northeastern region of Italy. It is the aperitif of choice among locals and tourists alike. What makes Prosecco so specifically delicious is that it uses a different method of production from Champagne and all other traditional method sparkling wines.  Prosecco does not have a second fermentation in the bottle or extended contact with lees, so the resulting wines are crisp, fresh and fruity without the nuance of biscuit or brioche.  This makes it an incredible versatile option to drink on its own or mix in cocktails, and it is always refreshing and delightful. 

While some Prosecco’s may have a little bit of residual sugar and seem sweeter that other sparkling wines, drier versions are becoming more common and easy to find on the market. Again, these are also incredible value wines, offering up their sassy sparkle in a lower budget bracket.  For an added bonus without much added cost, look for a DOCG Prosecco. A smaller category, but worth the investigation.

Moscato d’Asti – Sweet and spectacular

This iconic dessert wine of Piemonte, Italy, is often underrated and underappreciated. These lightly sparkling sweet dessert wines are made from the aromatic Moscato grape and offer sublime elegance to any event. Unfortunately, its good name has been tarnished by the flood of syrupy sweet imitations labelled simply “Moscato” that can be found in the supermarket, but these carbonated sugar waters can’t hold a candle to the real thing. True Moscato d’Asti are delicate wines and excellent pairings with lighter desserts that aren’t overly sugary, like strawberries and Chantilly cream, or even as a delightful aperitif.  

Have any questions on Champagne? Just send us a message on Twitter or Instagram! Cheers!


If you're still looking for that perfect Valentine's Day present for the wine lover in your life, then check out Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vivino.

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Nutritional Facts of Wine

We're now well into the new year, which means everyone has been seeing resolutions blowing up social media feeds. The gym is packed, and we're all reconsidering our diet choices after the rich-and-sweet-holiday-super-funtime-food-bonanza. But what does that mean for your wine?

Let’s consider the nutritional facts behind your wines to, at least, knock one worry off your plate and help you plan accordingly for the goals you’re setting. While wines (and other alcoholic beverages) are not required by the FDA to have nutritional labels, there are still some basic facts around calories, carbs, sugars, and dietary sensitivities we know that can help you make the best decision for you.

What is a standard serving of wine?

First things first: Though I’ve always been a liberal pour-er myself, a standard serving of wine is technically 5 oz (150 ml) and a standard bottle contains 25 oz (750 ml). So, in theory, you should be getting 5 glasses out of that standard bottle of wine you bought. 

The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 glasses of alcohol a day for men, and 1 a day for women (::sob::). Stepping over those bounds on the occasion will not mean any guaranteed and/or severe health issues for you; but like in all things, moderation is key to ensuring you stay as healthy as possible. 

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Does wine have calories?

Oh, you mean “delicious points?” Yes, it certainly and unfortunately does. 

Wine Folly has an awesome article that sums all of the details behind wine calories for you, but the gist is this: a glass can have anywhere from 80 to 200 calories per 5 oz serving, depending on the wine’s alcohol content and sweetness level. The higher you go in either of those two categories, the higher the calorie count. 

In general, dry wines with lower alcohol content will have the fewest calories. Your sweet, fortified wines at 20% alcohol-by-volume (ABV, listed on the label) will be your most caloric at almost 200 calories for a 5 oz pour. 

If you’re sticking to a 1500 calorie/day (women) or 2000 calorie/day diet (men) to drop some pounds, sacrificing 10-13% of your precious calories on one glass can feel like a lot! 

But be not deterred, wine lovers - if you’re watching the calories, seek out a dry wine produced in a cooler wine region* as cooler wine regions typically produce lower alcohol wines. In general, keep the ABV below 12%. Then (hydrate, then) consider 30 minutes of a physical activity to put you back on track. 

*Some cool wine regions to shop from can include the Loire Valley, France; Marlborough, NZ; Rheingau, Germany; Oregon and Washington states, USA; and Northern Italy. 

Does wine have carbs?

Good news: wine is typically low carb to begin with! Dry wines, in fact, have negligible carbs as “dry” means an absence of sugar. Carbs in wine come from unfermented sugars, so apologies again to my sweet wine lovers: the presence of sugars in your wines will mean more carbs. 

If you’re concerned about carbs (Keto dieters, I’m looking at you) but can’t do without that occasion wine sip, search for still (non-sparkling) wines labeled as bone-dry and sparkling wines labeled as brut nature.

Does wine have sugar? 

This is a resounding yes, and in fact sugar is how the alcohol is produced from the grapes in the first place. As already mentioned, sugar plays a major role in defining the calorie count as well as carbohydrate presence in a wine. Unless you are drinking bone-dry wine, your wine is apt to contain sugar. 

However, consider this: Is the sugar-free diet you’re on letting you drink milk? Milk contains about 50 grams per liter (g/L) a.k.a. 12 grams per cup of sugar. To stay under that amount of sugar per glass of wine, dry and off-dry still wines and extra brut, brut, extra dry, and dry sparkling wines are now all available to you. 

However, to play it safest: stick to bone-dry and brut nature.

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Is wine vegan? 

Even though wine is made from grapes, most wines cannot be officially labeled as “vegan” or even “vegetarian". Wine naturally clarifies during the fermentation process, but that can take a long time. To meet demand, wineries may use animal-sourced byproducts like egg whites as “processing aids” during the fining process

If a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle is important to you, you can find a list of vegan wines HERE.

Is wine gluten-free? 

Generally, YES! However, if you suffer from celiac disease it is still important to consult your doctor and perhaps consider contacting the winery directly to be super sure you can consume their wine.

Summary: in general, stick to dry wines from cooler regions with lower ABV to have the least amount of impact on your dietary regime. But rest assured, matter how you’re choosing to get and stay healthy for 2019’s “New You” know that there’s a wine waiting for you!