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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.


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

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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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Give Sherry Wine a Shot. Secrets of Sherry wine.

Sherry - it's more than your grandmother's beverage

While on the rise in popularity with some inner circles of imbibers, Sherry is still a relative mystery to most drinkers. A lot of people associate Sherry with a sweet beverage sipped by grandmothers or used for cooking or as a vinegar. 

The reality of this exceptionally diverse and unique beverage, while complicated, is well worth diving in to. From where it originates to how it’s made to why you should try it, Sherry is a definitely a drink you should get to know.

What is Sherry wine?

So what exactly is Sherry? Sherry is a fortified wine. Sherry producers first make a base wine and then add 96% abv neutral spirit to the finished product, raising the alcohol level of the wine before aging it. The aging process is the hallmark of Sherry, but before we get to that let’s talk about where it comes from.

Where can Sherry wine be made? 

Sherry can only be made in Spain, specifically in the DO of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. Geographically this area is located in the in the southwest corner of the country anchored by the three cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, commonly referred to as the Sherry Triangle. 

Jerez has the distinction of being one of the oldest wine-producing towns in Spain. The whole region of Andalucía was actually the base of exploration for Christopher Columbus, and the port town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda became of great importance to the new trans-Atlantic trade in the late 15th and early 16th century.  It is not unlikely that Sherry was the first wine to enter North America.

It’s hot in this region, and dry.  Proximity to the Atlantic does offer mitigating climatic assistance, but that help doesn’t reach very far inland. The main varietal grown here and used to make Sherry is Palomino Fino. It’s a neutral grape with moderate acidity; not much to shout about on its own, but perfect for creating a neutral base for the process of Sherry-making. The process is really the star of the Sherry show.

Process of making Sherry

As mentioned earlier, Sherry starts its life as a base wine, most made from the Palomino grape. Depending on where the grapes were grown for the wine and how it evolves during fermentation, the base wines are classified in one of two ways: as a Fino or as an Oloroso. After this classification the wines are fortified and begin the aging process in their designated solera.

What? This is the key right here: solera.  

Solera is both a system and the elements which physically makeup that system. The solera system is one of fractional blending over time, one that defines the characteristics of every Sherry made; the solera is also the name for the grouping of barrels that the wine is aged in. Think of the newly fortified wine entering the top of a pyramid made up of barrels with many layers, and the wine finishing aging at the bottom layer of the pyramid. 

The finished wine is drawn from the bottom layer to be bottled, but whatever amount of wine is removed from the bottom layer is replaced with the same amount from the layer of wine above it; so on and so forth all the way up to the top of the pyramid, where newly fortified wine is continuously being introduced. In this way a little bit of every addition every harvest is in every layer and constantly being blended.

Type of Sherry & alcohol percentage 

So what does this process do besides blend and age the wine?  This depends on whether the Sherry is a Fino or an Oloroso.  Lighter colored, more delicate wines classified as Fino Sherries and only fortified to 15% ABV before entering their solera. The richer, heavier wines are categorized as Oloroso and fortified too. In both cases, the barrels are only filled 5/6 of the way full capturing air inside.  

In the Fino Sherry solera, this extra space of air at the top allows for a thin film of yeast known as “flor” to form over the wine, protecting the wine from the oxygen in the barrel, and feeding off of the alcohol and glycerol in the wine. Aging in solera with the presence of flor is known as “biological aging”, and this process creates lighter colored wines with delicate, nutty flavors and aromas, along with a very lean mouthfeel from reducing the amount of glycerol (glycerol is an odorless, tasteless substance naturally occurring in wine that lends a smoothness to the mouthfeel) and introducing acetaldehydes.  

Acetaldehydes are naturally occurring chemical compounds also found in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit, and are imparted to biologically aged Sherry through the presence of flor. The flavor profile of these wines is usually savory, austere and very surprising to someone who has never tasted it before; there is nothing quite like it, and people can be taken aback or dislike it at first. I say give it a chance. 😊

Now for Oloroso Sherry, no flor develops in the barrels of the solera because flor cannot survive at 17% ABV.  This means that throughout the entirety of the blending and aging process, Oloroso Sherry is exposed to and interacts with oxygen. This process is therefore known as “oxidative aging”. These wines take on deeply nutty and rich characteristics, are darker in color and have a fuller mouthfeel.

A third category of Sherry is Amontillado. These wines begin the same way as Fino Sherry, aging biologically under flor. However, if somewhere along the way the flor begins to die off and the wine begins to be exposed to oxygen, the wine will be re-classified as an Amontilldo, and finish the aging process oxidatively like an Oloroso.  Because it sees both types of aging processes, Amontillado Sherry contains qualities from both: some of the bready, yeasty acetaldehyde aroma of a Fino with a richer, fuller mouthfeel, landing the final wine characteristically between a Fino and Oloroso.

Lastly, a rather elusive and highly prized category known as Palo Cortado is said to have the elegance of Amontillado and the power and richness of an Oloroso.  This intermediary style occurs when flor fails to develop properly in a Fino solera, and the wine begins aging oxidatively. Typically a high quality Sherry, the production process is natural but based on a fluke, and can be very difficult to replicate intentionally. 

Pairing Sherry with food & sweet Sherry

All of these wine styles are naturally dry at the end of the solera process, and these dry styles of Sherry are made to pair with all types of food.  The general rule for which style to drink with what food is “If it swims – Fino, if it flies – Amontillado and if it walks – Oloroso”. While this is of course not a hard and fast rule, it is a good way to start thinking about how you might introduce a Sherry to your next meal. A classic pairing is Marcona almonds and Manzanilla (a Fino Sherry made only in the city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda) which also happens to be a great pre-cursor to just about any dinner.

Now, some Sherry is definitely sweet.  Sweet Sherry comes in two classifications:

  • Naturally sweet Sherry made from fermentation stopping early, either by fortification or because there is just so much sugar in the must the yeast die off, usually made with the other two varietal of Jerez: Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel.
  • Dry Sherry as discussed previously sweetened by the addition of naturally sweet Sherry or grape must.  

Sweetened sherries are known as cream sherries, named for the insanely popular Bristol Cream, a thick and sweet blended Sherry developed in Bristol around 1860. The category, however, varies in style and levels of sweetness:

  • Pale Cream Sherry is made with a biologically aged wine – Fino or Manzanilla. Will contain between 45 and 115 grams per liter of sugar.
  • Medium Sherry will have between 5 and 115 grams of sugar per liter, so therefore the range is quite wider in level of sweetness. Often based on Amontillado.
  • Cream Sherry will contain between 115–140 grams of sugar per liter, the sweetest style of the three, usually made with Oloroso and sometimes Amontillado.

Sweet Sherry, like dry Sherry, can be exceedingly complex and of high quality, and it makes an excellent dessert beverage. That being said, there are many cheap, syrupy sweet knock offs that can easily turn you away from your potential new favorite after dinner drink.  

Why I love Sherry

Why do I love Sherry? I love its versatility and uniqueness. For me, the nuttiness and austerity make it an excellent food pairing wine in all categories. It is not a shy beverage, it is bold and complex and either you love it or you hate it. The most important takeaway is not to be scared of it. 

The best way to sample it is the way it was made to be enjoyed: with food of the region. More up and coming restaurants are beginning to revive interest in Sherry through dedicated and thoughtful beverage programs. Vaca Restaurant is a great example in Orange County where the knowledgeable staff can guide you through a Sherry tasting experience with your meal. Sherry use in cocktails is also on the rise. Many new opportunities to try Sherry are popping up in our ever-progressive dining culture, and I encourage to give it a shot the next time you see it on the menu. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised.

Want some more detailed information on Sherry?  There is a ton of info out there. In fact, the region’s website https://www.sherry.wine/ can answer pretty much any question you may have about Sherry. The website Sherry Notes is also a site full of great resources and information: https://www.sherrynotes.com/.  Of course, if you prefer a hard copy of something to read, I would recommend investing in the book Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem.

Salud!

Photo credit: Deb Harkness

‘Tis the Season for a Wine & Holiday Movie Pairing

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The bakers are baking, the gift wrappers wrapping, and the families and friends are gathering. Everyone is busy with holiday plans and knocking out their end of year work goals. We are now counting down in the single digits to Christmas, and there is a lot happening.

All the more reason to optimize the quiet moments for maximum relaxation and enjoyment. For when you foresee (or even need to plan for) your evening ending up with a movie night on the couch with a bottle of wine, here’s our recommended shopping list to pair with some of our favorite holiday movie choices: 

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Elf 

For this delightful Christmas tale full of cheer and singing loud for all to hear, I suggest you pick up an Ice Wine - extra points if you find one from New York state! While I’m not sure if Buddy would want to put this in his coffee, this wine would surely align pretty closely to the 4th elvish food group: syrup. 

But this syrup is for adults only, and it is as sweet as Buddy the Elf himself. For those with less of a sweet tooth, seek out a prosecco - The big, clean bubbles mirror Buddy’s pure, effervescent personality.

For max enjoyment, pair with a treat from one of the other main elvish food groups: candy, candy canes, or candy corns.

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The Nutcracker Ballet 

The Nutcracker ballet, along with The Christmas Carol, are the holiday performances you and your family are apt to make the special trip out to the theatre for. However, if you can’t make the trek out, just tune into Netflix for a performance narrated by Kevin Kline and featuring a young MaCaulay Culkin.

For this classic, first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 18, 1892, I have to recommend another classic - Champagne. Of course, such a prestigious wine region usually comes at a price point that may-or-may not fit the everyday budget. In that case, why not try a traditional method sparkling wine from Moldova? They share history with The Nutcracker’s homeland, and you can find a decade-old Grand Vintage for only $20. 

For max enjoyment, have sugar plums and chocolate on-hand. 

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It’s a Wonderful Life

This beautiful Frank Capra exemplar was the Christmas tradition in my house growing up, and I appreciate it more-and-more the older I get. For this, I’d like to pair with a ruby port (tawny if you prefer). Port is refined and elegant, and simultaneously comforting, and you’ll certainly need some comfort as you progress through George Bailey’s Christmas crisis and revelation. The ending is sweet and triumphant, just like the finish of your port. 

For max enjoyment, have tissues and dark chocolate handy, and watch on Christmas Eve. 

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A Christmas Story

For this all-American, Cleveland classic, I’d pick up a US-produced rosé. I’m a huge proponent of enjoying rosé all year long, so wine not? It’s the pink bunny of the wine world (but one you’re actually happy about)! Plus, rosés are best in their youth, much like Ralphie’s active imagination. If you can’t find a US rosé at your local package store, you’ll certainly enjoy one from Provence or Languedoc.

For max enjoyment, don your favorite onesie in solidarity with Ralphie.

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Playful and bright, I want a young, fruit forward wine for this wholesome movie. Look for an Oregon Pinot Noir or California Zinfandel produced in the last 1-3 years, preferably with red cherry and/or strawberry notes as bright as Rudolph’s nose. If New World isn’t your thing, consider a Crianza Tempranillo from Rioja.

For max enjoyment, snuggle up for your viewing party with that toy or stuffed animal from your youth we both know you still have. 

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How to Grinch Stole Christmas

Ah, what to pair with Mr. Grinch, whether he be animated or Jim Carrey? Baring my husband’s appropriate, but non-grape based suggestions of Absinthe and Gin, I’m going to recommend you seek out the dark horse of the sparkling world: sparkling reds. 

Give an Italian, secco (dry) Lambrusco di Sorbara a try, with descriptors like tart and tangy red fruit; or if you like the darker fruit spectrum, a sparkling Shiraz from South Australia ought to do the trick. The red fruit in your glass will be festive, plus those bubbles will give you the warm-and-fuzzies when Mr. Grinch’s heart finally grows up from two sizes too small. 

For max enjoyment, sing out loud and proud when the Who sing their “Welcome Christmas” song because you know you want to. Fah Who Foraze, Dah Who Doraze...

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The Holiday 

For this subtle holiday favorite, I’d hands down pair with a California Chardonnay! In THE Let-Go-Bar-Scene Amanda is seen drinking a deep gold, white wine, and I’m making an educated guess it’s a Chard. Plus, Iris’s holiday takes place in Amanda’s home state of California...so off to the white wine aisle you go!

For max enjoyment, turn your living or bedroom into a pillow fort (absolutely bedecked with some holiday lights) from which you can enjoy watching the movie. 

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White Christmas

White Christmas is a Christmas classic for old Hollywood romantics, with music, fabulous dancing, romance, war-time camaraderie, and costumes to die for. It was released in 1954, and since that was long before the new world markets started to grace the wine world with their presence, I have to recommend pairing an Old World wine with this vintage film. 

Look for an older vintage Medoc red Bordeaux blend for you red wine lovers, and for the jazzier scenes, maybe consider a Condrieu Viognier to mix things up a bit!

For max enjoyment, set up shop next to a cozy fireside and wear something sparkly. 

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Hallmark Christmas movies

Go to your fridge. Pick a wine (any wine). Grab some crackers on the way back to the couch. Voila! You have the perfect wine and snack to pair with all of that CHEESE!! (I can say it, I’m obsessed with these movies)

What are some of your favorite holiday movie and wine pairings? What should we try next?

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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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#VINOMUSIC: Lion Babe & Vezér 2013 Estate Verdelho

Music and Wine should be paired. We call this VINOMUSIC.

When you wake up in the morning each day, do you begin your day with a bit of silence, or do you begin it with music? If you do begin it with music, what does that sound like? Bright productions reminiscent of the sunlight and a fresh start? Synth-heavy tracks that energize you to put your all into the day ahead? Let me share a recent morning with you.

We here at I like this grape took a team retreat out to Napa Valley to visit various wineries, and focus on team building activities. We stayed at Chateau Jaune, the guest estate on the Vezér Family Vineyard property in Suisun Valley. We were treated to a private tasting of about eight wines with none other than the man in charge, Frank Vezér. The majority of the wines were reds, but the one white we tried, the 2013 Estate Verdelho, was just delectable.

With notes of orange bitters, green apple and citrus, the Verdelho's taste was bright and sunny to me, reminiscent to the track "Whole" by Lion Babe. "Whole" is really an extraordinary way to open the album, and sounded lovely the morning I pressed play, and had the sounds fill the house. The build up is so pleasing, just like the aromas and flavors of the Verdelho. Maybe one day soon you will begin your day with a glass?

Listen to "Whole" by Lion Babe below and learn more about the duo via their official website.

Drink Vezér 2013 Estate Verdelho here.


Don't forget to 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 Vinvo.

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Top 5 Spring Experiences in Europe 2019 - Why Portugal?

Spring is the most pleasant time of the year. Days start to get longer and warmer, and spending time outside suddenly feels very inviting. The green gets greener, the blue sky turns brighter and flowers blooming everywhere it all seems magical. Well, and it is, at least in Portugal!

Did you know that Portugal is the European country with more sun hours? Yes, it is true. And is also under the radar so it is the Europe’s hidden-gem, traditional yet modern and innovative. Its wine tradition is older than its borders and in 1758 was established the first wine-producing region of the world.

Top 4 Spring Experiences in Europe 2019 - Why Portugal

It´s great to be outdoors during the Spring months. To take a walk along the lavish green Douro's landscape taking your time to relax or to sail the Douro river and breathe for a while. And if you are thinking that the perfect setting would include wine tasting, maybe you would enjoy a Port wine tasting paired with delicious food, Wine Tourism in Portugal is going to make that happen.

1 – Sleep in a Barrel 

This is the perfectly quirky accommodation option for all the wine lovers out there. 

You may now spend the night in a giant wine barrel, which offers all the comforts granted by modern-day standards. Each of these wine barrels - there are 10 of them - are about 270 square feet (25 square meters) in size and come with a double bed, fully equipped bathroom, and air conditioning. On the outside, there is a deck from where you can enjoy a rolling as-far-as-the-eye-can-see-view of the valley.

In addition to the round glass door, there's also a skylight through which the sun shines and you can enjoy the star-filled nights, all the more visible away from the city lights.

You can also take a winery tour here, enjoy a wine tasting session paired with cheese and jam, have a picnic in the vineyards, a wine course or - best yet - a cooking class where you will learn traditional techniques while preparing your very own meal. 

Sleep in a barrel - Top 4 Spring Experiences in Europe 2019 - Why Portugal?

2 - Picnic in the Vineyards

Picnics are a fun thing to do. But when do you have the opportunity to do it right in middle of secular vineyards sightseeing the snake like river Douro in the background?

Some wine estates in Portugal are able to provide that unique experience perfect for everyone. Enjoy it with your family, friends or even in a romantic getaway. Go ahead choose your spot in the vineyard and make that the moment when you reveal your feelings to your love ones and then unveil what is inside your basket to celebrate the moment. Everything you are about to taste was carefully selected and the wine will be the perfect pairing. Only the best regional wine and delicacies (or in Portuguese: Petiscos) combined with some charming and distinctive details selected for you will be inside your basket. Immerse yourself in the magnificent scenery and enjoy each flavor and each minute.

3 - Cruising 2019 in Portugal  

Wine cruises can be relaxing, fun, romantic, you set the tone we provide all you need on board for the smoothest sailing either for a short escape of one or two hours or to spend the night on board.

The view is stunning and the wine, by the moment you already know how it is, unique and produced in the man made slopes along the Douro river as far as the eyes can see.  A truly delight for those who need a moment out of the real world, a moment of indescribable beauty.

To set sail in Douro river you will be able to go on board of modern sailing boats or boats with a vintage feel. Also if you are visiting Algarve in the south of Portugal a Yacht cruise will take you along the immense bright blue of the Atlantic ocean and you will be able to spot the secret beaches hidden between the rocks.

Wine Tourism in Portugal has cruises that are able to suit your particular taste. Everything for the perfect spring day!

Top 4 Spring Experiences in Europe 2019 - Why Portugal?

4 - Cultural Tours - The Locals Choices

Yes, cultural tours can be exhausting, if the only thing you do is to walk around a town and visit platitudinous churches or museums. But what if this tour takes you only to the most beautiful european historic sites and shows you the true cultural heritage? A cultural richness that adds up some top quality wines and delicious petiscos. Yes, your cultural tour magically turns into a once in a lifetime experience. What about now? A Wine Tour in Porto with a River Cruise and Tour to The Port Wine Cellars, or a  Full-day Wine Tour in Alentejo?  Maybe you are more into a city feel, and if that is so: Wine and History Tour in Lisbon.

Top 4 Spring Experiences in Europe 2019 - Why Portugal?

5 - Adventure and sustainable tours

As a wine lover you know wine goes with any activity, mostly if you are on your Spring vacations. So, why not to mix it up with some adventure and nature experiences? OK, as long as the only thing you are driving is a Bike or a Kayak! And since spring is also the last chance you have to stay fit before summer, we have some excellent suggestions for you, that goes from an unique Wine and Golf Tour to Health and Wellness stays. In fact you can mix them and do it all during you stay. What about Bicycle Tours and Bird Watching,  Kayak and Bike Tours or get the adrenaline running in the 4x4 Wine Tour?

Probably many other experiences could be on this top as Portugal have so many incredible experiences waiting for you all year long. So now, it is time for you to see, taste, and feel for yourself.  Create your own unforgettable memories of 2019 in Portugal.

For more information visit http://www.winetourismportugal.com

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

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