Friday, December 30, 2011

Champagne / Sparkling Wine, Part 2

There is only one method of making Champagne and that is the Traditional Method, or Methode Champenoise.   There are three other methods of producing sparkling wine that can be employed elsewhere.  These are the transfer method, the tank method and the asti method.  The rest of the world may still choose to make wine in the traditional way but, as we have already learned, cannot call it a Champagne.  Whatever method is chosen will have an effect on the aroma and flavor profiles of the final product. 
To make wine in the traditional method, only two pressings of the grapes are allowed before the first fermentation.  Pressing is the manner in which the juice is extracted from the grapes.  It occurs exactly as it sounds.  A still wine is produced and may be used alone or may be blended with another still wine of a different grape or from another vintage.  After this base wine is produced, a mixture of sugar and yeast (liqueur di tirage) is added.  The wine is then bottled, where it will go through a second fermentation. 
After an appropriate amount of aging occurs, the bottles are placed in racks neck down.  For six to eight weeks thereafter, a person known as the Riddler (Remueur) turns each bottle a slight and modestly downward until the sediments are resting in the neck of the bottle.  What then follows then is degorgement, where the bottle necks are dipped into a solution that freezes them.  Once frozen, the temporary cap is removed and the settled particles fly forth from the bottle. The final stage is dosage.  This is where the wine's sweetness level is determined, when a mixture of wine and sugar is added before final bottling. 
When the transfer method is used, all the steps of the traditional method are employed, until the riddling stage is reached.  Instead of going through that process, the bottles are emptied into a pressurized tank where the wine is filtered then rebottled.  This method makes it easier to maintain consistency bottle to bottle and will maintain most of the quality of a traditional Champagne, but at a lower price.  The label may give you a clue that this method is employed if it says, “Bottle Fermented.”  This is to distinguish it from a traditional method wine that may say, “Fermented in this Bottle.”
With the tank method (also called the Charmat method), fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank.  These tanks are sealed to prevent carbon dioxide from getting free and yeasts can be easily filtered out without interrupting the fermentation process.  Since the yeasts are filtered out, these wines will be lighter and will show more of the fruit’s varietal character than those fermented in the bottle.  Wines made in the traditional method will have more contact with the yeast during fermentation, so there will be a more bread-like (yeasty) aspect to these wines.  It is also a less expensive method of production and the prices of the ultimate wine will reflect that.
The asti method does not begin with the production of a still wine.  The freshly pressed juice, or must, is stored near freezing until it is ready for production.  Once “called,” the must is warmed and placed in pressurized tanks for fermentation until the alcohol level reaches 7 to 7.5%.  The wine is then chilled, filtered and bottled for immediate distribution.
Champagne may control the name, it does not control the market.  There are several delicious sparkling wines made around the world, using several different grape varietals and going by different names.  Outside Champagne, but still within France, these gems are called “Cremant.”  Germany and Austria produce “Sekt.”  Spain makes “Cava.”  Italy is famous for a few breeds of nose-ticklers.  “Prosecco” can either be “spumante,” which is a standard sparkling wine, or “frizzante,” a lighter sparkling example.  The other is Piemonte’s Asti DOCG, where fruitier, sweeter wines reign supreme.
Tasting Exercise
For this exercise, choose one wine made in the tank method and one made in the traditional method (which should be marked, "Methode Champenoise,” "Methode Traditionnelle,” "Metodo Tradicional,” etc).   Sekt, Asti and most Proseccos will be made from the tank method.  Cava, Cremant and, of course, Champagne will be made from the traditional method.  In the New World, the bottle should tell you if the traditional method is used, as it is a great marketing tool.  Try to stay within the same sweetness category.  
How do the wines contrast in flavor?  Can you taste the yeast in the classic method wine?  Pay attention to the size of the bubbles in each; how long do they last?  They should live longer with the traditional method.
On The Label
Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cremant, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, Spumante, Frizzante, Lambrusco, “Bottle-Fermented”, “Fermented in this Bottle”
In The Bottle
Green fruit, stone fruit, mineral, chalk, bread, nut
At The Table
Aperitif, oysters, caviar, sushi, fried food, egg, fruit
Photo Credits:
Couple w/Champagne -
Riddling -

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Champagne / Sparkling Wine, Part 1

Be careful not to put your foot in your mouth when discussing these wines.  A wine labeled as “Champagne” MUST come from the Champagne region of France.  The quickest way to show you are a novice is to refer to a sparkling wine from California as “Champagne.”  Unfortunately, this occurs quite often.  You may use the term, “Sparkling Wine,” when it comes from anywhere outside Champagne.
Located north of Burgundy, we can easily surmise that the climate of Champagne is a cool one.  The soil here is chalk, which helps reflect the sunlight to the grapes during the growing season.  Its natural conductive properties keep the vines warmer in winter and cooler in summer.  When drinking Champagne, if you pick up on a bit of chalkiness, know that it is a derivative of the soil and not a faulty wine.  
Champagne is made predominantly from one, or a combination, of three grapes - Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noir.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir we already know as white and black, respectively; Pinot Meunier is also a black grape.  Within Champagne, there are five subregions with different specialties.  Cotes des Blanc uses Chardonnay, Montagne de Reims likes Pinot Noir, and Valley de la Maine (Epernay) uses Pinot Meunier.  The last two, Cotes des Sezanne and Cotes des Bar, use all three.
Sparkling wines made with white grapes are called Blanc de Blanc, which means “white of whites.  Those made with red (black) grapes are Blanc de Noir, or “white of blacks.”  Rose Champagnes or sparkling wines are made either by allowing the wine to sit on the skins a bit longer to extract some color ow by adding a small amount of red wine.  
When choosing a grape for sparkling wine production, high acid and low sugar are key.  To understand why, you need to know a few things about winemaking.  First, during fermentation sugar is converted to alcohol.  Therefore, low sugar equals low alcohol.  Second, alcohol kills yeast.  When the yeast is gone, fermentation stops.  Finally, sparkling wines go thru a second fermentation.  Yeast is necessary for this additional process.  As such, low alcohol ensures enough yeast is around to finish the job.
If the bottle is labeled as “Vintage,” this means that it contains only grapes picked during that particular year.  A “Non-Vintage” is going to consist of grapes of several different vintages.  In fact, it really should be dubbed “Multi-Vintage” to avoid confusion.  Since a wine will only be labeled “Vintage” if the weather conditions - and thus, the yield - of that particular year are exceptional, these wines are going cost more. 
Sparkling wines from areas outside Champagne may or may not have such strict regulations as to their required ingredients.  While you may very well find one or more of the three grapes present, you are also likely to find other local varieties.  To give you some examples, the Loire Valley will use Chenin Blanc.  Germany will use Riesling and/or Gewurtztraminer.  Sparkling wines of Italy will include Muscat, Brachetto or Glera (Prosecco); where Spain uses Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada.  Australia is making sparkling wines with Shiraz and the United States likes to use the traditional grapes, but also may include Pinot Blanc.  
There are seven styles, or sweetness levels, of Champagne and sparkling wine.  They are as follows, starting with the most dry: Brut Nature (next to no sugar), Extra Brut (really dry), Brut (dry), Extra Dry (semidry), Sec (semisweet), Demi Sec (sweet), Doux (really sweet). Most of what you are going to see on the shelves will be Brut, Extra Dry and Demi Sec.
Before you start uncorking any new purchases, we should talk a little bit about the proper method of opening a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine.  The pent-up carbon dioxide inside can lead to some unfortunate accidents if you are not careful.  Make sure the wine is chilled well before you start and do not ever point the bottle at anyone or anything you don’t want broken.
To begin, place a kitchen towel or serving napkin next to the bottle.  Make sure the bottle has been well-chilled.  Then, remove the foil.  Fold the towel over the top of the bottle and, with your thumb on the top of the bottle, loosen the cage, but do not remove it.  With the top of the bottle in one hand, maintaining a firm grip on the cork, and the bottom of the bottle in the other, begin slowly turning the bottom of the bottle.  Never remove your thumb from the top and always point the bottle away from danger.  The pressure inside will push the cork out.  If you really want to open Champagne like a professional, practice until you can remove the cap with only a hiss, not a “Pop.”
Tasting Exercise
If you are not yet sure which sweetness level you prefer, choose one Brut or Extra Dry and one Sec or Demi Sec for this tasting exercise.  If you're already confident you like dry wines better, choose one each of the first two.  If your sweet tooth carries over to your choice of wine, try one each of the last two.  Note how they compare as you go along the sweetness scale.
On The Label
Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir
In The Bottle
Green fruit, stone fruit, mineral, chalk, bread, nut
At The Table
Aperitif, oysters, caviar, sushi, fried food, egg, fruit
Photo credits:
Foot in mouth -
How to open Champagne -

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Riesling has a bad rap with many wine drinkers, who often think of it strictly as a sweet wine. While several are made that way, there are many not-so-sweet versions out there. Products of Riesling include dry, medium and sweet wines. Some are even capable of aging due to the grape’s higher acid level. You may even see some on oak.
The grape itself is an aromatic one with higher sugar levels, which does not help its reputation. While not as intense as some others we will get to later, you will often detect floral notes when whiffing this varietal. It is a very hardy grape that ripens late. Like Pinot Noir, Riesling is also very expressive of the soil type in which it grows. It does its best in moderate or cool climates.
Wines of different climates are going to be somewhat different in aroma and flavor. In Rieslings, for example, green apple and fig will be detected in cooler climates, peach or grapefruit is typical of moderate climates and tropical fruit is a common clue of a hot climate wine of any type. This is easy to remember if you think of what fruits fare mostly from the subject climate. Although this variety does not do well in hot climates, you will find some winemakers giving it a shot anyway. While honey notes may show in Rieslings of any climate, it will really show in the warm climate wines.
Germany, where the grape originates from, is famous for its Riesling. When buying quality German wines, there are two important classification terms to become familiar with. “QbA,” or Qualitatswein bestimmter Angaugebiete is a basic sample of quality wine that must come from one of 13 qualifying regions, or angaugebietes. The next level up is “Pradikatswein,” or Pradikat wine. Pradikat is a wine of distinction from a qualifying region. Within the quality classifications is another system of classification with whom you should also become acquainted. This classification is based on the must weights (the amount of sugar in the juice) of the grapes at time of harvest and serves as a general guide of the order of sweetness. You should be very careful, however, as a wine from any of the first three categories can be dry.
Since fermentation turns sugar into alcohol, a slightly more reliable guide is to look at the alcohol level on the label. The higher the alcohol, the lower the sugar; but, again, this is only a guide. They will start around 7%. If you are looking for a drier wine, do not go any lower than 10% abv. At the beginning of this classification is Kabinett. These grapes were picked at a normal harvest. They can be dry or sweet but should be delicate, light bodied aperitif wines. Spatlese is a late harvest wine. They can be dry or sweet but should be more concentrated and have more body. Auslese are from extra ripe bunches of individually chosen grapes. While they, again, can be dry or sweet, you are going to get riper fruit characteristics. Since I am one who does not like my Rieslings cloyingly sweet, I am able to remember the order using "KSA" or "Keep Sugar Away."
From this point forward, you can count on the wines being quite sweet. Beerenauslese (BA) are made with select berries that will often have noble rot on them. Do not be frightened by the term “noble rot.” Botrytis, as it is otherwise called, is a perfectly acceptable mold that develops on the grapes, which dries them out and makes for some wonderfully concentrated sweet wines. Sandwiched in the middle is Eiswein, or Ice Wine, wherein the grapes are not harvested until they have frozen on the vines. Hanging around this long leads to some serious ripening and, thus, higher concentration and sugar levels. Because there is no rot involved, the wines will show their pure fruit characteristics. Finally we have Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). These wines are only made during select vintages, are quite sweet, and will always be affected by noble rot. Due to their rarity, they have a high pricepoint.
Regions of Germany to look for are Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz. Mosel will have the lightest in body, where Rheinhessen will show fullest. Rheingau will give you the best chance of finding a dry example; Pfalz for sweet. If dry is your thing, look also outside Germany. Great Old World Rieslings can be found in Alsace, France and Austria. In the New World, look to Clare Valley or Eden Valley in Australia, the South Island of New Zealand (Marlborough) or the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Tasting Exercise For this comparison, choose one wine from a cool climate (Germany, Alsace, New York or New Zealand) and one wine from a moderate climate (Australia or Washington). You will not only be looking for differences in aroma and flavor, but also for differences in color and, possibly, sweetness. See if you detect any petrol, which can develop in Rieslings from warmer regions. Although I would recommend you choose both wines with the same approximate sweetness level (and I would pick either dry or off-dry), it may be fun to try some sweeter examples. Consider a comparison among the different must weight categories.
On The Label Riesling, White Riesling
In The Bottle Green fruit, stone fruit, citrus fruit, floral, mineral, petrol
At The Table Pork, fowl, shellfish, Thai, Indian, spice, salt, soft cheese, salads, dessert

Photo Credits: Riesling Scale - German Wines -

Monday, December 26, 2011

Learning About Wine One Grape (or so) At A Time

It was while preparing study materials for my first formal wine class that I realized the industry makes learning about wine much more difficult than it should be. Most people who are interested in wine do not care about how it is made or what type of soil makes for the best Merlot. They care about how it tastes, what they like, how to buy it and what to choose from a wine menu.
It did not take me long to notice that, even though I had made a conscious decision to take my wine knowledge to greater heights, while in class I found myself watching the clock through lecture waiting for the time when we put the books away and started tasting. While it is certainly important for someone in the trade to know about regions, climate and soil, most people just want to get down to the business of discovering their own tastes - likes and dislikes.
What I also found is that nearly every wine course, whether it be formal classroom or via the “over-the-counter” book, is organized by region, not by grape variety or type of wine. However, when a customer goes into a shop looking for wine, nine times out of ten they are asking, “where are your Malbecs” or, “can you recommend a good Malbec,” versus, “where are your wines from Mendoza?”
I am not saying it is a waste of time to learn that a Pinot Noir from California is going to taste more like red fruit and less like earth than the same grape from Burgundy. Once you find that you like Pinot Noir, this is an important distinction. If, however, you find that you just don’t care for Pinot Noir as you much prefer the fuller-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, the difference between a Pinot from Paso Robles and one from Oregon means nothing.
The characteristics of the grape itself are much more important when it comes to pairing with food as well. For example, most of us know that Chianti is present on nearly every Italian restaurant menu in the country. You may think that is because Chianti is an Italian wine. This is only partially true. Chianti is made from the grape, Sangiovese, which has a high acid level. Tomatoes, which are a staple ingredient in many Italian sauces, also have high acid level. This complement is why they work. Now, if you are stopping at the market to pick up ingredients for tonight’s spaghetti and they don’t have Chianti, or any Italian wines for that matter, what do you do? You are inclined to grab a Cabernet, because you read they are also being grown in Italy, but the match up will be a disaster. The high tannin levels of the Cab will clash with the high acid of the red sauce. If you know, however, that Pinot Noir also has a high acid level, you will be much happier with your pairing.
So get out there and start learning about wine one grape (or so) at a time. Get to know your wine merchants and, “get thee to a tasting.” Find what grape you like first, then start exploring the regions they do well in. The next step is to take note of the key words on the bottle that will tell you what is inside. If you find that you like a French style of Merlot, know the names “Pomerol” or “St. Emilion.” If you find that you don’t care for Merlot at all, don’t waste the brain space.

Photo Credits:
One grape at a time -
Girl confused -

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grenache (Garnacha)

For a grape that was once the second most planted red in the world, few have ever heard of Grenache. It is a variety that is packed with fruit flavor, specifically red fruit. It also has low tannin levels which makes it a very easy wine to drink. It is also easy to look at with its intense ruby color. This grape contains high levels of sugar, which makes for wines with higher alcohol levels. Because they tend to oxidize quickly, they are great candidates for screwcaps, no matter which side of the fence you are on in that debate.
Grenache has thinner skins, buds early and ripens late. This longer hang time leads to more concentrated flavor. They are tolerant to drought, which ensures they do really well in hot climates, although you will also find Grenache growing in some moderate climates. They make still red wines, roses and “white” wines, in the manner of White Zinfandel or White Merlot, where a limited amount of time on the skins leads to wines much lighter in color.
Garnacha, as it is known in Spain, is the most planted red grape in that country. Spain is going through a bit of a wine revolution right now, focusing on perfecting what is working and getting rid of what is not so that they can establish a greater international presence. What does this mean as it relates to this grape? In the past, Garnacha wines were mostly made in high volume (i.e. inexpensive) versions. Now, many high quality Garnacha can be found. They can stand alone or they can be blended with Tempranillo, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Spain’s most popular product of Garnacha, however, is rose.
Navarra and Rioja produce blends or roses, but Priorat is getting a lot of attention recently. The last few decades have seen a great deal of investment and change in the region and it is one of the first two to be awarded the prestigious DOCa status. A group of producers have been working to revamp long neglected terraces on the steep slopes of the vineyards in this region. The local soil, llicorella, is low in nutrients which makes the vines work harder and, thus, produce a more concentrated fruit. This, of course, transcends into a more concentrated wine.
While Syrah may take center stage in the Northern Rhone, Grenache takes over in the Southern Rhone where the temperatures are higher. While sometimes Grenache stands alone here, it will often be blended with Syrah, Mourvedre or Cinsault. The main appellation to look for is Cotes du Rhone, but the very best, and pricier, samples are found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Lesser priced, but still good quality, wines can be found in Gigondas.
Outside Europe, Grenache wines are being produced in Paso Robles, California and South Australia. In fact, if you can tolerate the name, “Bitch” wine from Barossa Valley is an easy-drinking 100% Grenache listed by Robert Parker as a value red. It makes a great gift for bachelorette parties or girlfriend birthdays.
Tasting Exercise
Find a Garnacha from Spain for your base comparison. A contest with France would be nice but 100% Grenache is quite difficult to find. A Cotes du Rhone is quite likely to be a blend, but Grenache will be the dominant grape, making up 75-80% of the wine. Priorat is worth a splurge for comparison as well. These wines may not be 100% Grenache, but the grape is a constant ingredient. If you would rather, compare it to a New World Grenache from either California’s Central Coast (Paso Robles, in particular) or South Australia. You may find also find a Grenache Blanc or Rose for contrast.
On The Label
Grenache, Garnacha, Gigondas, Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat
In The Bottle
Dark fruit, dried fruit, spice, sweet spice
At The Table
Barbecue, beef stew, goat cheese, hard cheese

Photo Credits:
Grenache wine -
Priorat -

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Wide Range of Bubbles

There is no shortage of Champagne and Sparkling Wine tastings at this time of year. If you haven’t already found yourself in attendance at one of these, I recommend you get out there and do some sampling. Even if you are not looking to be too picky since your guests are usually too “happy” to care about what’s in their glass at midnight, a good sale usually accompanies these tastings. It will also better help you determine what is your preferred style or whether your tastes are changing. For example, I have been choosing Prosecco and Cava over Champagne for several years now, choosing their crisp fruitiness over breadnotes. I quickly recognized this year that Pinot Noir dominated traditional styles - Blanc de Noir or Rose - will now become my “go to.”
So last night I attended what I am hoping is only my first of the season, wherein I was able to sample 41 different sparklers. (Had my teenager planned her night a little better, there would have been many more.)
Traditionally speaking, the NV Perrier Jouet Grand Brut at $36.99 was the standout soloist, utilizing all three of the Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Light, floral and sophisticated. (If you’ve never been to their website, I encourage you to check it out. Beautiful.)
My favorite table was the Heidseick table. Both the Charles Heidsieck Champagnes and the Piper Heidsieck were impressive. There really was not a bad wine at the table. If forced to choose, however, both Rose were very good - NV Charles Rose Reserve, with its strawberry notes resulting from addition of Pinot Noir wine, at $72.99 and NV Piper Cuvee Rose Sauvage, with more cherry and citrus, at $46.99. The real treat was the 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc Des Millenaires of 100% Chardonnay, with its perfect amount of butter and cream, at $175.
Two other, more affordable, Roses that impressed me were Terres Dorees FRV 100 at $18.99, which is made with Gamay (sour cherry flavor) and has a hint of sweet, and Casteller Rose Cava and its balance of acid and strawberry at $11.99.
The Segura line, of which I am a fan, had two very interesting and tasty comparisons, the crisp and fruity NV Segura Viudas Aria Pinot Noir (Cava) at $9.99 and their Italian NV Voveti Prosecco (conjures thoughts of green apple) at $13.99.
For those of you looking to branch out into different grapes, I found three for you. NV Vigneau Chevreau Vouvray Petillant at $17.99 is made with Chenin Blanc, so will have notes of pear. NV Marenco Brachetto D’Acqui (frizzante = lightly sparkling) at $22.99 is more on the sweet side and would be a great brunch selection (think all red fruits that would be just perfect with French toast and powdered sugar). Finally, the most exciting try of the night for me - “The Chook” Sparkling Shiraz with its dark cherry and sweet spice flavors at $16.99. And was being served with chocolate - delicious!

Incidentally, before I left home for this tasting, I read a brief article on Argentina proving they can also make sparkling wines. I had hoped that I would see one at this tasting. I did not, but I must have done something right because at dinner afterward, the Chinese Bistro we chose had an Alma Negra Sparkling (Chardonnay) Wine. I could not have been more pleased with the crisp green fruit flavors and the tiny bubbles never stopped. I knew it would be a perfect accompaniment to my salt and pepper shrimp appetizer, but I did not know how well it would pair with my hot and sour soup. The spiciness of the soup actually opened up a sweetness in the wine that was magical.

Piper photo from

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Tis The Season To Buy Jolly

Christmas is getting close and, if you haven’t already, it is time to start thinking about the gift shopping. There are many articles out there eager to help you buy the perfect gift. There are even articles out there discussing the conventions of choosing the perfect wine. This year, I say throw convention to the wind and have a good time. The following are my unconventional, or at least non-traditional, ideas for buying wine as a gift:

1. Find a great value. A customer recently came into the store looking for a Spanish wine. He was not looking for anything in particular, he just knew it had to be Spanish. I did not ask why. It just so happened that we currently have a great deal on a Priorat normally priced at $34.99 on sale for $26.99. After explaining how the region is trending upward right now and explaining the value and the 92 pts it scored with Wine Advocate, he spotted a $21.99 next to it and said, “I’ll just take this one.” After taking a couple steps away, he stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and said, “What am I thinking? This is for my boss and I’m trying to save $5.” He put it back and grabbed the sale wine. Good choice since he really saved $13 and now, should the recipient do his/her own research, they will see that he chose a wine with a reputation (no matter how you feel about point systems) and will also think he paid more than he did. (In fact, internet searches show this wine at a suggested retail price of $46.99.)

2. Buy based on a hobby or interest. One of the most fun customer experiences I’ve had was with a woman who came in asking, “do you have any wines with dogs on the label?” Fortunately, it was a slow night, so we had time to look together. My first choice was Australia, since they are doing some fun things; the second choice was American red blends. Next, I went back to Spain as they are making a great effort to appeal to international markets right now and I found a Mencia that did not have a dog on the label, but a pawprint. “It is perfect.” The wine inside was not so important as the label. The intended recipient was both a dog lover and a wine adventurist. Wine is a very subjective thing. Her friend may hate this new wine, but she may also love it. At the very least, she knows the giver put a personal touch on it and she tried something new.

3. Buy based on the name. With a caveat that the person you are buying for can take a joke, my favorite wine to buy for girlfriend birthdays or bachelorette parties is a fabulous grenache blend called “Bitch”. “Fat Bastard” is great for a guy’s 40th (or other) birthday. “Ball Buster” Shiraz is perfect for the recently promoted. There is also “Mommy’s Time Out” Pinot Grigio for Mother’s Day or new moms. Wine shouldn’t be stuffy. Have fun with it!

4. Buy based on the label. Paco & Lola’s Albarino has a very fun polka dot label. This is great for showers or any other parties where the decorations may echo the bottle. (For some reason, I always think Audrey Hepburn when I look at that label.) Clos Galena Formiga del Galena has ants on the label. Can you think of a better wine to bring to a picnic? Many customers come in asking for “that circus wine,” which is Michael David’s Petite Petit Syrah. While I’d love to take credit for originating the idea, “Buttery Books” suggests it for a “Water For Elephants” book party. What an awesome idea!

5. Buy an alternative. Many people are afraid to step outside their comfort zone and will shy away from buying a wine they are not familiar with. This is where the beauty of gift giving steps in. If you know someone who mostly drinks Chardonnay, buy them a Semillon or Pinot Gris. These are all white wines that may see oak treatment. If they like Cabernet Sauvignon, pick up a Syrah. You may also pick up a Barolo or Barbaresco, which is made from Nebbiolo. These three grapes are all high in tannin, so will give a similar mouthfeel. If you’ve often seen them order Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, grab an Orvieto or Albarino, that are also easy-drinking wines. If you’ve heard them talk about wines of the Rhone Valley, look for a GSM (grenache, syrah, mouvedre). They are the same combination of grapes you will see in the Rhone. In fact, if you already know they’ve had a GSM and would like to step it up a notch, the reverse is a great idea - buy a Chateauneuf du Pape.

(Santa photo from
(Michael David wine photo from
Enhanced by Zemanta