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Friday, March 16, 2018

Southern Hemisphere Harvest

While the US is still entrenched in our last days of winter with dormant vineyards, south of the equator countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile have already picked their white varietals and are waiting for the late ripening reds, such as Cabernet, to finish the final step of their evolution.  

So why should wine aficionados be interested in countries on the opposite side of the globe?  The southern hemisphere offers some stunning varieties that we don’t grow in the US.  For example, Argentina's luscious Torrontes is a charming white that would bode well for drinking this summer. Chile's red Carmenere grape makes an interesting addition to a winter's table and comes with a fascinating historical story as the "lost grape of Bordeaux" as an added bonus.  Once thought to be extinct, the Carmenere grape was rediscovered not long ago in Chile where it had been mistakenly masquerading as Merlot for a couple of centuries.

Another reason to look to our southern neighbors is that even familiar grape varieties can make dramatically different wines due to differences in terroirs of the hemispheres.   For instance, Sauv Blancs from New Zealand serve up a completely different flavor profile that ones from California.  The Kiwi’s version is grassy and herbaceous, in contrast to Cali's version which often is citrus (think grapefruit), or tropical fruits from those grown in warmer climates.

Below are my DO NOT MISS wineries of the Southern Hemisphere.  

  • Catena Zapata
  • Zuccardi Family
  • Debortoli
  • Tornbreck
  • Los Maquis
  •  Montes
New Zealand
  • Dogpoint
  • Greywacke

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Best Glass for Champagne?

                                       All of these glasses are used in France for Champagne

Most of us remember the 1950-80's glass de rigeuer for Champagne was the flat shaped coupe with a shallow bowl.  Legend has it that this shape originated in France and was designed with the shape of Marie Antoinette's breasts in mind.  (However, it's  incorrect as the coupe shape for sparkling wine actually was designed in England some 100 ears before the birth of France's famous Queen.)

Americans in the late 1980’s began seeing the coupe change to a tall flute.  The new shape was preferred over the earlier saucer model as the flute showcased the rise of the bubbles perfectly.  Coupes were soon ditched and re-purposed for use with desserts or appetizers, and everyone jumped on the flute bandwagon.   Then a new shape appeared.

I remember the first time I saw the new tulip shape.  It was actually in the Champagne district of France 10-15 years ago.  The tulip had a wider bowl and tapered in slightly at the top.  The wider bowl supposedly allowed more aromas to be collected in the glass.  This shape’s tapered top was also advantageous in that it supposedly trapped the wine’s aromas.

So, what is the perfect glass for a sparkling wine?  Wine-Knows’ last trip in 2013 to Champagne was a mixed bag of stemmware.   We visited the esteemed and internationally powerful Champagne Growers Professional Association, along with Veuve Clicquot, and a private dinner in the magnificent dining room of the Moet estate.   Meals were also held at the Champagne region’s best restaurants including a Michelin star.  At most venues Champagne appeared in the tulip shaped glass, although at a couple events a flute was used.   

In 2019 Wine-Knows is returning to Champagne.  You can bet one of the questions that I intend to ask at each stop is how the glass shape effects the wine experience?   A follow-up question will be posed regarding science that supports any differences in preferred glass shapes.  We still have a few openings on this trip.  Let us know if you’re interested in joining the group and learning these answers from the professionals.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Piedmont: a Foodie’s Mecca

Many know that Piedmont is home to world-class Barolo and Barbaresco.   Others may know it is home to the most highly prized white truffle in the world.  But, Piedmont offers so much more for the discerning gastronome.  This hilly region in northern Italy at the base of the Alps, is the epicenter for a cornucopia of culinary treasures.

               Easter eggs at an artisinal chocolate maker in Turin that Wine-Knows will visit

In the 17th century Piedmont was the chocolate capital of Europe.  At this time Piedmont was part of the important House of Savoy which controlled eastern France and most of Italy.   The Duke of Savoy married the King of Spain’s daughter and she brought with her a dowry which included chocolate from Spain’s New World colonies.  In 1678 the very first chocolate store opened in Piedmont’s main city, Turin.  Chocolate has been part of the culinary fiber of Piedmont ever since.

Today, Turin produces 40% of Italy’s chocolate.  Walk around the historical center and you’ll see windows filled with chocolate sculptures worthy of Michelangelo.  One of its high-end Tiffany-esque chocolate stores offers >60 types of chocolates.  Moreover, the entire town is replete with gorgeous old-world cafes---their specialty is hot chocolate, although there are exquisite chocolate tarts and other chocolate confections to devour.

             An over-the-top rendition of white & dark chocolate with hazelnut-infused gianduja
Piedmont, however, is more than wine, truffles and chocolates.  The area’s hazelnuts are the most prized in all of Italy.  In fact, their hazelnuts are so extraordinary that they have been granted a special status by the Italian Government.  Hazelnuts are big business in Piedmont, adding an estimated 25 million US dollars annually to the economy.  It’s no wonder that many of Piedmont’s hazelnuts are paired with chocolate to create an ultimate marriage for foodies, gianduja.

Piedmont is home to a host of other culinary products.  The low flat-lands of the Po River Valley are used to grow some of Italy’s best rice for risotto.  Grissini (yard-long breadsticks) grace the table of most Piedmontese restaurants.   Wine-flavored salamis abound.  Last, but in no means least, Piedmont’s cheeses are exquisite.  Castelmagno cheese, rare to find outside the region, has almost a cult following.

                                 Freshly baked grissini are very typical of Piedmont

If you’re one of the lucky folks (the tour has sold out) who is coming with Wine-Knows this autumn for the Truffle Festival in Piedmont, you will be able to experience all of these delectable culinary treasures.  Better yet, you can bring them all home in your suitcase.

Viva Piemonte!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Rosé Sales are in the Pink

                                           Rosé, once a step-child, has now gone mainstream

Ten years ago I began a mission of what I termed as “reverse snobbism.”  My  challenge was to change the perception of Rosé wine from an unsophisticated white Zin to a beverage that even a bon vivant would appreciate.   I received some concerned stares when I began several dinner parties with a dry French Rosé, especially from those who had not traveled to the south of France.  I am happy to say that I no longer get those looks.   Everyone now has jumped on the Rosé bandwagon, including a vodka producer who just released a Rosé vodka. 

Rosé has become the new hipster drink.  Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt's purchase a few years ago of one of France's star producers of Rosé certainly didn't hurt promotion of the pink.  Last year sales of Rosé in the US escalated 50% ringing in at nearly $250 million.   But, there may be a lot more room for continued growth.  While many Americans still view Rosé primarily for summer-time drinking, Rosé is drunk year around in countries like France.  In fact, the French actually drink more Rosé than white wine.  In Provence, where most of the country’s Rosé is made, 90% of the total production of red grapes is used to make Rosé.  That leaves a lot of room in the US for continued rise of the pink.

With the growing US thirst for dry Rosé, it’s no wonder that French exports to the US have risen dramatically.  Rosé from Provence increased ten-fold between 2010 - 2016, and it’s expected that the stats from 2017 sales will confirm in another blockbuster year for the Rosé.   But, all pink wine seems to be on the rise.  Champagne makers in France are even reporting a sharp increase in sales of their Rosé Champagne.   Seems like everyone is on to a pink trend.  

Rosé is finally here...and it's here to stay.  Feeling in the pink mood?  Here are a few of my faves:   
  • J. L. Quinson Cotes de Provence at Trader Joe's:  hands-down best quality/price Rosé for $7 (note:  TJ's has a couple of Rosés by this producer.  Be sure to get the Cotes de Provence AOC)  
  • La Crema Rosé:   complex & a great buy for $20
  • Ployez Jacquemart  Brut Rosé Champagne:  can’t think of a better real-deal bubbly for $50

Friday, February 16, 2018

Burgundy Goes High-Tech

                 Ancient monks built walls ("clos") around vineyards to demarcate the best plots

Wine-making in Burgundy is deeply entrenched in centuries of traditions. It began with the monks of the Middle Ages who carefully and methodically mapped out each square inch of the region’s vineyards.  Detailed maps of the monks identified which plots of earth consistently made the best wines---this mapping today serves as the basis for Burgundy’s hierarchy of vineyard classification.  But, recently Burgundy has shifted on its axis by installing high-tech solutions to solve its age-old issue of poor weather.

                 Hail, sometimes as large as golf balls, has wreaked havoc on Burgundy's vineyards

Hail storms have long been a threat to the Burgundy region, but in recent years they have been appearing more frequently and with greater force.  Their destruction in the last five years has been particularly horrific with as much as >90% of the grapes lost to hail during the worst storms.  Burgundian vintners are fed up and have turned to technology for an answer.  The region has become the first in France to be totally covered by a “hailstone shield.”

                                       Grapes can be split completely open by hail

Burgundy is now protected the region's grapes with high-tech machines. The idea is to kill the storm before it arrives and avoid any hail from forming.  A network of 125 specialized machines have been dispersed throughout France’s smallest wine region.  These machines send particles up into the atmosphere that act as a hail-shield. The anti-hail devices have not only  been placed throughout the region, but the machines have been extended to a perimeter up to 30 miles around Burgundy’s vineyards.

               Netting has been used to protect the vines from hail but its cost was too prohitive

It’s not just grapes, however, that are destroyed by hail.  All of Burgundy’s produce has been a target, everything from fruits to vegetables.  Cassis, the berry liquor made from Burgundy’s prized black currants, has also been impacted.

Coming with Wine Knows to Burgundy in 2019?  If so, we’ll have an opportunity to observe the technology and hear first-hand about its efficacy from the first year of use.  For more information on this trip to Burgundy (we'll also be visiting Champagne) see our website,

Friday, February 9, 2018

Lirac: Before Chateauneuf-du-Pape

                                         Lirac is a small wine region but has a great terroir

The wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape have been a personal favorite of mine well before I first visited the area > twenty years ago.  Being a sort of history buff, I was enchanted not only with their wines but the fascinating history of the papacy moving in the 14th century from Rome to Avignon, France.   (Chateauneuf-du-Pape translates to the “new chateau of the Pope.”)   But, recently I’ve become enamored with the contiguous wine district, Lirac.  Located just outside of Avignon, Lirac is across the Rhone River from Chateauneuf.

The Rhone, which separates the two, exerts a tremendous influence on both Lirac and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Lirac, which lies on the western side, was the premier wine district back when the Popes were looking for land to buy in the early 1300’s.  The Popes quickly ascertained that Lirac produced the finest wine in the region, however, there appeared to be no vineyards for sale.  Thus, the papacy purchased land on the eastern side of the Rhone…which today we know as Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Soon the Pope’s vineyards were also producing excellent wines, but it was the Lirac wines that were coveted by the royalty of Europe for centuries.

                               Rocks left from the Rhone allow the grapes to fully ripen

Both Lirac and Chateuneuf-du-Pape have amazing terroirs.  The limestone soils of these regions are exceptional.  The Rhone River, which has changed course multiple times over the past millenniums, has deposited large stones (called galets) on both sides of the river.  These rocks act as a natural heating system, absorbing heat during the day and radiating it back to the vines during the cooler nights.  This is essential to the ripening of the grapes.  But the galets serve an additional purpose in that they promote excellent draining…a critical component in making world-class wines.  

The Popes moved their headquarters ultimately back to Rome nearly a century later, but Lirac and Chateauneuf-du-Pape remained formidable forces in the production of high quality wines until the 1800’s.   This is when Lirac committed a major faux-pas that destroyed most all of the vineyards in Europe.  A well-known Lirac chateau decided to experiment with new grape varietals and imported vines from America.   The American vines were on root-stalk that was resistant to the louse phylloxera, but the Lirac root-stalk on which the vines were grafted were not resistant.  Thus, began the viticultural pandemic that wiped out the vineyards of both Lirac and Chateaunuef-du-Pape, traveling across the continent and taking no prisoners.   Lirac has had a black eye ever since.

                       Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th century

If you can get past the phylloxera debacle you’ll probably love the wines of Lirac.  French in-the-know oenophiles, understand that these can be hidden treasure wines.  And, they can offer significantly better values than Chateauneuf-du-Pape which has soared in popularity…and price.   The following are some jewels from Lirac, listed in alpha order:  Duseigneur, Grand Veneur, Mont Redon, and Mordoree.

Coming with Wine-Knows on the Julia Child tour this June to Provence?  If so, you’ll be drinking red wines from a region that was around well before Chateauneuf-du-Pape.   That would be my faves from Lirac.

Friday, February 2, 2018

How Did a Cold Rainy Island Invent Modern Wine?

Perhaps the title of this article should have been the British Paradox?  No other country in the world has had more influence over modern wine than Britain.  For those of you who are scratching your head, let me explain. 


It all began in the late 12th century when Britain’s King Henry married France’s Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Eleanor’s family was extremely wealthy and her dowry included the entire Southwest of France, including Bordeaux and all of its vineyards.  Now that this entire area was under British rule, Bordeaux wine was granted preferential tariffs by the British monarchy and an export boom ensued.  For nearly a century, hundreds of ships traveling together in massive fleets filled with wine began the journey north to London.

Many Brits moved to Bordeaux to manage their wine export or shipping business.  Chateaux such as Lynch-Bages, Palmer, and Talbott reflect this British heritage.  But, the 100 year war between France and Britain brought it all to a halt.  The Southwest of France passed back into French hands in 1453.


The British were hooked on red wine and after Bordeaux reverted back to the French the Brits needed to look elsewhere for wines.  The Brits sailed further south and discovered the wines of Northern Portugal.  Getting these wines, however, back to London proved challenging as the wines often arrived spoiled. To stabilize the wine, brandy was added and this fortified wine became known as Port.  Today in Portugal many of these British families still have a firm hold in the wine industry.   Names such as Symington, Grahams, and Taylor reflect Port’s close ties to Britain several hundred years later.

Sherry, Madeira & Marsala

The British were responsible for the invention of the fortified wine industry.  Not only did they birth Port, but also Sherry, Madeira and Marsala.   Fortifying these wines with brandy enabled them to be shipped without spoilage to London.   Britain had an insatiable thirst for fortified wines, especially Sherry.  By the 19th century it is estimated that Sherry accounted for 60% of wine sales within Britain.

Madeira was very fashionable with the British Royalty who would voyage to the verdantly green “Garden Island” for a holiday of sunshine.  With the nobility came British merchants who set up wineries and shipping companies to bring a little slice of Madeira back to Britain.  The Brits monopolized the Madeira wine industry for generations and still to this day have a strong presence on the island.

The Brits sailed as far south as Sicily looking for their next new wine.  On the west coast they found the town of Marsala.  Having had great success in fortifying Portugal’s and Madeira’s wine for the long, arduous voyage back to London, they did the same with the table wine from Marsala.  Britain created Marsala as we know it today.

Glass Bottles

Our modern wine industry relies on glass bottles to prevent spoilage of the wine due to oxygen exposure.  While the Brits did not invent the glass wine bottle, they were the first to figure out how to mass produce them.  In 1821 a patent was issued to a chap from Bristol for his machine to bottle wine in a glass.  The rest is history.

Today, after centuries of influencing the development of the modern wine industry, Britain is finally producing its own wines.  While wine has been made for decades in England, the worldwide wine stage is now taking notice of English wines, especially the sparkling wines.  These “fizz” wines (as they are called) have out scored several well respected French Champagnes in blind tastings and have been given very high scores by international judges. 

Wine-Knows is heading to England this summer but the group is completely filled.  There are one or two openings, however, on the 2019 trip to the English countryside.