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The Battle of Old World versus New World Wine

People often come into our shop and, after explaining they are looking for a nice bottle, immediately offer up the caveat “But I don’t really know anything about wine!” These are some of my very favorite people to help. The vast and endlessly complex world of wine is as yet unknown to them, yet the possibilities are still endless.

“I just want something I like,” they tell me. Here, here.

This can of course be a tricky thing to determine for someone else, and even for yourself. Where to begin? How to describe and define those elusive elements of enjoyment that you get from a bottle of wine that you like? Palate and structure analysis and even common flavor descriptors may not be helpful in this situation without a baseline reference, but hey, we’ve got to start somewhere.

I often like to begin with one of my favorite elemental distinctions: Old World vs. New World. While this concept is rudimentary for anyone in the industry, its meaning is not self-explanatory. It is a relatively unknown concept to many general consumers, even some that have a decent amount of basic knowledge. 

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Living in California is both a blessing and a curse; we have a plethora of world class winemakers in our backyard. Yet for many California residents, this is all they know. However, this simple distinction between Old World and New World helps to define in a very broad sense two particular styles of wine.

This is where it becomes exciting - at least for a geek like me. I'll use this distinction to help my customer find a unique and exciting bottle of wine they will enjoy at any price point.

Geographically, the Old World refers to Europe and the Mediterranean basin. The New World refers to everywhere else they make wine. Stylistically, Old World wines tend to have higher acidity, lower relative alcohol, and - most significantly - more minerality and earthy components on the nose and palate.

New World wines tend to have more generous fruit, slightly acidity and generally more alcohol. My straightforward explanation is: stick your nose in the glass. If you smell fruit first it’s probably New World. If you smell dirt or rocks or other funk, it’s probably Old World.

Of course, these days, with so much progress in both the technological and philosophical sectors of wine making, we are starting to see more crossover in these two styles from a geographical standpoint. Yet the styles themselves still maintain their original distinction.

So, what makes Old World wines old world? A lot of it has to do with the climate. European wine-growing regions often have a cooler climate and a slightly shorter growing season. This means grapes grown in these regions will naturally retain more acidity and produce less sugar – which also leads to lower alcohol levels – than grapes grown in warmer regions.

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The old world also has history. Grapevines have been cultivated for the purpose of making wine since the Roman era, on the oldest soils of our planet. This ‘terroir’ is something that is unique to the Old World and cannot be replicated or faked. And, of course, with all that history comes an awful lot of regulation. Old world countries have some of the strictest laws out there regarding how a producer can make his or her wine. These laws help to identify and regulate quality and expectations, and also create a huge headache for the consumer who doesn’t know how to interpret them.

Overall, if you like to taste in your wines a bit of tartness, leafy forest floor or wet rock minerality, then Old World wines are probably right up your alley.

Given all that, the New World seems like a pretty big place…and it is! So-named for the fact that all these areas were initially colonized by the Europeans, and thus christened as nouveau. This is also an important fact to consider because the species of vine we make wine from is indigenous to Europe, meaning that these colonizers had to transport the vines to their new outposts in order to continue their vinous enjoyment.

So, New World winemakers got a later start to the game. Specifically in where they chose to plant their vines, discovering the best areas that produce the highest quality grapes, and attempting to use European techniques that maybe didn’t work as well with their new environment.

The New World has indeed evolved into an entrepreneur’s paradise! Free of the traditions of Old World winemaking, producers can explore, experiment and define their own style of wine with their entirely unique geographical situation. Much of the New World tends to have a warmer climate, resulting in naturally riper grapes that yield higher levels of sugar, and therefore higher potential alcohol as well.

One often defining through-line of New World wines is an identifiable purity of, and focus on, fruit. Pure fruit on the nose and pure fruit on the palate. It is a point of pride to many New World winemakers to protect this expression of fruit quality in their wines. New Zealand is an excellent example of a New World country as a whole that often seeks the purest expression possible of their fruit.

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There are also a lot of New World wines that experiment in other ways through enhancements available on the market, such as additives, shortcuts and fancy gadgets – options not available in most of those regulated Old World areas. This, combined with the fact that these such “experiments” are usually not required to be disclosed to the consumer, can lead to extreme variation of quality from any given New World region.

However, if you tend to enjoy fruit forward, easy drinking wines that are lush on the palate, then New World is likely your style.

Does that mean one style is better than the other? Absolutely not! When it comes down to the nitty gritty, drinking what makes you happy is the right thing to drink. Yet, it’s always great to branch out and try something new every once in a while. You will likely be surprised. This is an easy assignment for newbies to wine, but an even better challenge for consummate wine professionals stuck in their ways.

If you are a die-hard white Burgundy fan, grab a bottle of Margaret River Chardonnay one night just to test it out. Big, bold Napa Cab drinker all the way? Head over to Rioja and check out a Gran Reserva. Or look around for the grape you have never heard of from the country you didn’t know made wine and have that bottle with dinner tonight. Even ask your local wine shop attendant, they’ll likely be chomping at the bit to offer you several new options.

The world of wine is vast and fabulous; our job is to enjoy as much of it as possible while we can.

From Sommelier to Winemaker Meet Nicholas Ducos

Nicholas Ducos has been providing joy to our readers with articles on variety of wine topics from his certified sommelier point of view - but over the last year Ducos has expanded his dominance in the game by becoming a winemaker for a William Heritage Winery in New Jersey (yes, Jersey!). He's doing  experimental winemaking as well as bringing back some traditional techniques. We caught up with our dude to reintroduce him to our audience. Enjoy!

Take us back to your earliest experience with wine, where were you, who did you drink it with, what was going on? 

It’s embarrassing but here it goes. I went to The Culinary Institute of America for college. As you know, CIA is where some of the most iconic chefs learned how to cook and build the fundamentals to be really great in the Food and Booze industry. Icons like Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Palmer and just about every freaking Celebrity Chef on T.V. is an alumni. They required us to take a mandatory wine class with three weeks of tasting the finest wines from Burgundy, Germany, Napa Valley, and more. 

While I was busy throwing back Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux, poppin' bubbles like it’s my birthday and chasing tail across the room, wine quizzes were being thrown my way once a week and I thought I was nailing them. Actually I knew I was! Turns out… I wasn’t and failed my 1st college course. However, $4,000 later and a spit bucket by my side I passed with an A- and never looked back. This was the beginning of my journey in wine. 

There is so much to do in the wine industry, what do you do? 

I love this question. I am the Assistant Winemaker at William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill, NJ. Now before you ask…yes we make wine in New Jersey and yes it is quite delicious. My day to day changes greatly. Some days I am running around the vineyards like a mad man collecting grapes to evaluate the Brix (sugar) and PH (Acidity). Other times I spend hours cleaning barrels, filtering wine and doing lab work.

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What gets your excited in the morning to go to work? 

I think the thing that really kicks me into high gear is my commute. I live in Philadelphia (The Most Underrated City in America) but I work on a farm so as I drive over the river and through the woods. You magically go from the hustle and bustle of city living into a very green lush farmland with cows, produce and, most importantly, vineyards. You would never expect it!

Your top 3 favorite wine regions

Easy question…

- Marlbrough, New Zealand. So much more than just Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of great Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer.

- Long Island, New York. World class Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon being grown. Same latitude as Bordeaux but with nicer beaches!

- Bouzeron, France. A little commune in Burgundy that produces minerality-driven wines from the grape Aligoté. The stuff is just sexy winemaking, man. And at a fraction of the cost of high-end burgundy.

What do think about this canned wine movement? 

How can you hate it? It’s booze on the go. I love it so much that we decided to make it here in NJ. We’re the 1st winery in New Jersey to make a canned wine! Obviously... it was Rosé.

What’s the most memorable meal you and your girlfriend had recently, and what wine did you pair with it?

My girlfriend is Italian and there is this amazing old school tradition where every Sunday you invite all your friends and family over to eat tons of food and drink bottles and bottles of wine until you can’t tell the difference between your uncle Giuseppe's left leg and the dog. 

Ironically this event is called “Sunday Gravy”. That being said, we held this grand tradition at the house last week and it surely was a rager! Five courses of pasta, meatballs and cheese followed by some homemade wine I made in a garage with a few old school Italian guys in their 60’s. We only make magnums because no one ever drinks just one bottle of wine in this circle.

Let’s play a quick game, we’ll give you 3 celebrities and you tell us a wine that matches their personality

Beyonce: Cava! She’s got that mystery to her that is very powerful yet under the radar. 

Kylie Jenner:  Is she even allowed to drink yet? She can be a bottle of Barefoot bubbly…..DO I NEED TO EXPLAIN? I hate Barefoot… 

President Trump: A warm can of PBR…

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Follow Nicholas on Instagram @somm_ist

Interview with Oscar Seaton Jr. of Seatpocket Wines

Wine mingles with musical talent. We've seen the likes of Slayer, Metallica, John Legend, The Rolling Stones, E40, Dave Mathews, etc. They've all succumbed to the powers that are wine. Now, here's a name we don't hear often: Oscar Seaton Jr. 

Who is he? Well, you've definitely heard his rhythm before. He's an amazing drummer with an exceptional lineup of artists and movies he's been involved with in his professional career.

Now you're about to experience some of his influence in wine:

Hello Oscar! We know very little about Seatpocket Wine. What can you tell us about its origins? 

Of course! It really is a simple story! It actually started as a conversation with my good friend, April Richmond, a few years ago when I asked if she thought having my own wine would be a good idea. After looking at the pro's and con's, I decided to go for it! 

Our initial focus, aside from costs and logistics, was the brand and how we could create a complete experience that intertwined music and wine. We settled on using my nickname as a drummer, "Seatpocket", and decided that each wine would have a music pairing and would be unique in style and varietal.


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Professionally, you’re now entering another playing field. Is there a significant move that brought you closer to the wine world that we should know more about?

YES! I've always loved wine and knew I wanted to do something in that industry, but I had no idea what or how to start. 

April started a wine business several years ago. Watching her success and talking to her about the industry over the years led me to take the leap with her. I probably wouldn't be doing any of this if it weren't for her. She brings the experience, background and knowledge along with being our Sommelier and winemaker.


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Music and wine are something we talk a lot about and you’re truly bringing both universes into a bottle. We want to know what fuels your passion for music and wine.

I think passion can come and go, I have more of a love for music and wine than a passion. Love is continuous. My love for both is what keeps me really excited about them everyday. They're both so similar in terms of the emotions they evoke and how we use both to celebrate, relax, get hyped up, etc.

Where did the main sources of grapes come from?

We sourced grapes from 3 different California regions. The Merlot grapes are from Santa Barbara county, the Chenin Blanc grapes are from Lodi, and the Rosé uses Grenache grapes from the Central Coast. 


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What processes went into making Seatpocket Wine?  

We didn't do anything outside of the normal wine making processes. We did use Eastern European oak for the Merlot which has helped maintain a full body that doesn't feel heavy on the palate. The Chenin Blanc has slightly riper grapes that gives it the beautiful aromatics we were specifically going for, without the heavy sweetness. Our Rosé is all old school Saignee method using Grenache grapes.


What was the most important factor in making the Merlot? In other words, what did you have to taste in the Merlot to say, “YES. This is me.”

I really wanted a Pinot Noir at first, but the Merlot won me over. I wanted something that was dry, dark, smooth, rich but still somewhat light and easy to drink. Not an easy order. 


Your #Rhythmandwine tag will be buzzing real soon, where do you expect to find your bottles traveling to?

We'll be on the road with our Rhythm & Wine events throughout California this summer. We will also be pouring at a few other events across the country and we're working on distribution in Illinois and Georgia! 


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Be sure to visit the Seatpocket Wines site where you can find their 2015 Chenin Blanc and 2014 Merlot!

First Time Drinking Wine - Wine Mom & the Critic Tell All

Everyone has their first time. For some it’s magical, but for many it’s something not to be repeated. A popular question from viewers of our Wine Mom & the Critic show is “When was the first time you drank wine, and what was the first wine you ever bought?” 

Wine Mom Eva Chavez and the Critic Paul Hodgins reveal their first times. 

Wine Mom’s First Time

So don't judge me! I just turned 21 and knew nothing about wine. One random weeknight, this guy I was dating (he also knew nothing about wine, but wanted to act ‘sophisticated’) tells me "Come in my jacuzzi. Let's go have a great night. I got us some wine, I'm going to talk dirty…” blah blah blah. I go over and he does a big reveal of his bottle. It was smaller than regular wine bottles which I thought was strange. He then pours the wine into a Solo cup. A red Solo cup. 

I drink it and I think, "Wow, this is so sweet, it’s amazing." We’re in the jacuzzi, it’s getting hot, and the next thing I know I'm pounding the wine. You know what it was? Port.

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He gave me Port, for my first wine. As you know, Port is fortified with a spirit, is very sweet (a dessert wine), high in alcohol, and drunk in tiny cups, not 8oz Solo cups. So I'm in the jacuzzi drinking Port wine thinking I'm fancy as f*** and saying, "Oh, this is amazing. I love it, it's fruity, it's delicious, it's swe. .,” -  I threw up all over his jacuzzi mid-sentence. Needless to say we broke up. Tiny bottle dude had to go.

The first wine I ever bought for myself was a magnum of Woodbridge Merlot. Ballin’ at $5.99. Drank it with my sister and a friend. The friend threw up. 

The Critics’s First Time

It was the 70s, I was home from college. On a day I was alone, and had the munchies so I raided my uncle’s fridge. In it was a bottle of wine. The wine was in a basket. I thought, “I’m an older, smarter, and distinguished freshman, I should be drinking classy shit.” 

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It was a bottle of Ruffino, a very popular wine in the 70’s. It was sort of an oblong oddly shaped wine that came in a little basket. People that drank Ruffino were the modern equivalent to cat-ladies. They drank it because afterwards the basket could be used as a candle holder you could put on the window to light the way for spirits or moths. So there I was. I, a ‘distinguished’ freshman chugging Ruffino at my uncle’s house. Alone. The only thing missing was a quart of ice cream and a Sandra Bullock rom-com. 

The first wine I bought for myself was something called Lonesome Charlie. Their slogan was "Lookin' for a friend?" It was pink, bubbly, and it came in a four pack. I thought it was terrible. My girlfriend loved it. I moved on - from her and Charlie in search of better friends.


Follow Eva Chavez on Instagram 

Follow Paul's wine adventures 


Sommelier Alex Anderson Tells Us About Okanagan Valley Riesling

The Okanagan is an exciting up-and-coming region in the province of British Columbia in Canada. The terroir screams diversity and tension - which is understandable given the fact that it teeters right on the 50th parallel.

One of the promising grapes of the region is Riesling. It shows best in the Northernmost sub regions of the Okanagan Valley and is often found basking in the sun on sloped sites overlooking Lake Okanagan. Riesling grapes thrive in the Okanagan because of the vast diurnal swings and cool moderating breezes that are created by the Lake; ensuring the grapes reach sugar ripeness while still attaining lively acidity. 

The Okanagan also boasts some of the longest sunshine hours during the growing season in the world due to its Northern latitude. Let's take a look at some of the best Riesling it has to offer:

Tantalus’ Old Vines Riesling

A winner for all Riesling lovers. The vines that grow this wine were planted in 1978 on a promising slope in Kelowna, British Columbia. The Tantalus Riesling guarantees a deep and concentrated experience — mouthwatering to say the least! Wet stone and slatey flavours balanced by floral tones, a limey spine and ripe apple flavours that are sure you want to pour more. One of my favourites in the whole province.

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Synchromesh Winery’s Bob Hancock Riesling

Synchromesh winery maintains a well respected commitment to minimal intervention with their wines. All their wine growing and making practices are done with utmost integrity to the planet and to showcase the fruit in its truest (and inherently tasty) state. It’s easy to agree with winemaker Alan Dickinson’s philosophy when the resulting wines are this tasty! The grapes from the Bob Hancock vineyard are grown on the northern tip of of the Naramata Bench overlooking  breathtaking views of Lake Okanagan and the city of Penticton. This wine is bright with puckering lime, fresh apricot and a touch of RS that makes you crave another sip. 

Quail’s Gate BMV Riesling

This off-dry beauty is the perfect companion to South East Asian food that has a little kick of spice and deserves a wine that can kick it right back. The Bouchrie Mountain Vineyard (BMV) in Kelowna has grown this fruit to speak to the terroir of British Columbia and proves its ability to age. This is a wine that has the delicate floral tones and bright acidity we all crave in Riesling. A wine to enjoy now and stock up on for later!


Alex Anderson is a Vancouverite with a passion for wine, communication and design. She is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, holds a WSET Advanced certificate with distinction, and was the runner up in the 2018 Aspiring Sommelier BC competition. You can connect and follow her vibrant and insightful wine endeavours on Instagram @wine.with.alexx 

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Barolo: Northern Italy's Sexiest Wine?

There’s something intoxicating about a piece of music that baits you with one chord, and then leads you like an aroused schoolgirl into something completely unexpected. 

The likes of Coltrane & Zeppelin come to mind when thinking of music that keeps you on your toes, zig-zagging you around until you’re dizzy with melodious ecstasy. The most primal of pleasures lend to that kind of experience; music, sex, and the most hedonistic pleasure of them all, wine. While many have a hard time verbalizing that journey, a bottle of wine of that caliber is hard to forget.

Barolo is a region in northeastern Italy synonymous with the grape Nebbiolo, as it is the only red grape the region grows & (like Burgundian Pinot Noir) is never blended. It is a wine that evokes a kind of existential ebb & flow. It reels you in with notes of rose petal, lilac & tar. 15 minutes later, it’s dried mulberries, fresh tobacco leaf & dusty leather boots. 


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It is equal parts sensual & barbaric. Like a woman who knows how to direct her lover, Barolo evolves more every time you lift the glass. As if the bouquet wasn’t enough to entice, the sheer mindfuck of the palate redirects your senses.

While Nebbiolo’s thin skin doesn’t cause it to act as controlling (read: unsexy) as your self-conscious fucktard ex, it does cause it to create a wine as pale in color as Pinot, yet packs the tannic punch of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Verdot. (Tannin creates the effect of dryness on the palate, sucking all the moisture from it like that sixth cup of black coffee you had this morning.) 

Most wines with high tannin come from thick-skinned grapes as that’s where tannin is primarily found. There is tannin present in seeds & stems, but high-quality wines are de-stemmed since their tannin is much harsher than grape skin tannin. Anthocyanins are the chemical component that dictates a wine’s color intensity, and thin-skinned grapes have low anthocyathnin’s, just like they (usually) have low tannin.


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When blind tasting, you first analyze a wine’s color & opacity before even smelling it. Seeing a pale colored wine sets your brain on a path. (Imagine hearing the Black Keys first couple, very blues driven albums...) You’re already racing towards Pinot Noir/Gamay/Cab Franc/Grenache, then you get hit hard with that mouth-draining tannin. (And then hearing the Brothers album & Dan Auerbach’s falsetto...) MINDFUCK. 

A young Nebbiolo reminds me of my brother's garage punk band when they started out; each instrument competing with the other, none able to stand on their own or come together in cohesion. An aged Nebbiolo, on the other hand, can be orchestral; every individual aspect of the wine coalescing together in unison like Amy Winehouse’s voice enveloping your ear canals. Pure fucking magic. 

And thus, the love affair with Barolo continues...

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The Badass Rebel History of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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

Let’s lift the veil of mystery.

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

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

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PC:Jean-Jacques Gelbart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Riesling. And Cabernet. And Pumpkin Spice.

Just to clarify, people, we hardly mean the infamous latte here. Even if the title does seem to scream, “it’s autumn!”.

However, as it is officially October, the lovers of summer begrudgingly pull out the sweaters and boots in preparation for the colder months ahead. Those devoted to the fall season rejoice...alongside the marketing geniuses over at Starbucks.

Might we suggest a winery to accompany your seasonal transition, whether is be positive or filled with dread? Ladies and Gents, we present to you a couple drops from Smith-Madrone.

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The name of this winery, sitting in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, found its origin from the brothers who started the establishment - Stuart and Charles Smith circa 1971 - as well as the beloved Madrone tree that has a prominent location on the grounds.

Although they have a beautiful Chardonnay and reserve wine in their lineup, today we’re going to take a look at the Smith-Madrone dry Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The juice

Now for those of you in denial of summer’s end, this Riesling is a fine solace for your woes. The honeysuckle and lemon peel aromas will certainly remind you of warmer weather.

The slight, yet distinctive petrol aromas, orange blossom notes and smooth mouthfeel will finish bone-dry. It seems to usher you right into the drier, savory months of autumn.

Similar to this varietal’s old world versions, Smith-Madrone grows their Riesling along the steep mountain slopes that assist beautifully to their ripening process and crisp, refreshing notes.

Whether paired with crab or seasoned pork loin with root vegetables, surely this wine is truly fit to consume no matter what time of year.

For those of you celebrating fall’s arrival one pumpkin recipe at a time, wait no longer than to pop open Smith-Madrone’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. This 100% estate fruit Cabernet sings with an aromatic nose of black cherry, dried herbs and hints of perfume. The mouthfeel continues via flavors consistent with the initial aromas, plus additional flavors of star anise, oak and black cherry skin.


A velvety and layered palate bleeds seamlessly into the long, enjoyable finish that extends a warming sensation. In other words, this wine is a flawless pairing for the cooling weather outside.


Fair warning: this Cabernet comes with a slightly higher-than-average alcohol level. So take caution with serving at room temperature and instead shoot for a few degrees cooler to get the best expression and balance out of the wine. With this lovely drop, try a pairing of roasted vegetables with parmesan polenta, or skirt steak with rosemary butter.


All in all, we say, “so long” to summer and “greetings” to autumn. We hope you enjoy these mountain-bred wines and the seasonal pairings that accompany them so well!

sam_somm.jpg#asset:1912Sam Stowell

Samantha Stowell began her adventure with wine 4 years ago after quitting her corporate life as an interior designer. After completing the Advanced Level 3 WSET course, she traveled to McLaren Vale, Australia to work for Mollydooker wines on the cellar floor, in the tasting room and, ultimately, their marketing department.  Since returning, she has been the resident sommelier of two Southern California establishments, where she focused on developing their wine programs until deciding to retire from the floor and begin her own wine education and recommendation business, Sam(the)Somm.

Fall Is Here. Time To Crack Some Chardonnay.

If you believe rosé was the wine for summer, then Chardonnay will definitely be the juice for fall.

This versatile grape can be found almost everywhere wine is grown. It comes in a wide range of flavors and textures, from crisp-apple versions that are housed in stainless steel, to buttery-rich drops soaked in oak.

As we stare autumn in the face, here are a couple of fantastic Chardonnays to get you rolling:

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Foxen, Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard Block UU” 2015 - Santa Maria Valley, CA

Want to get weird? Try this Chardonnay from two dudes named Dick and Bill over in northern Santa Barbara. This wine is crazy cool just for the sheer fact it was grafted onto Riesling vines back in the day. Which, oddly enough, gives the wine some tropical notes of pears, peaches, great acidity and tons of balance.

It's an ideal mix of sprightly, lighter wines and the heftier taste you'd expert from a Chard. Awesome for the smooth transition from summer into fall.

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Jules Taylor, Chardonnay 2013 - Marlborough, New Zealand

New Zealand (aka Kiwi Land) isn’t just Sauvignon Blanc and sheep. It’s also home to some of the best Chardonnay out there! Jules is a sweet lady with a strong passion for winemaking - and an even stronger liver. She pumps out hand crafted classics every year that gain a lot of attention.

This wine has tons of texture. It's packed with layers of complex aromas such as ripe yellow apples, lemon, white peach and a kiss of oak.

Nic-Duc.jpg#asset:1560Nicholas Ducos

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

The Next Rosé? That Would Be Frosé

And just when I thought the rosé bubble was about to burst, along came...frosé.

The French upstart was showing many of the signs that it was about to jump the shark. Albertson’s and other garden-variety supermarkets were featuring huge rosé displays near checkout counters.

The price of Miraval, suavely marketed in happier times by its owners, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, was creeping ever skyward. Neighborhood restaurants were offering more than one rosé by the glass, often charging the same prices for this throwaway wine as they would for good-quality chardonnay.

But then some wiseguy/girl mixologist tried freezing it, mixing it with a tasty liqueur, and viola! A new summertime concoction was born. Frosé first appeared last summer. This summer, it’s everywhere.

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At Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne in Manhattan last month, we tried an elegant variation of the drink, and we noticed it at many Manhattan bars. Orange County, California mixologist Gabrielle Dion has come up with a version for the bar menu at Broadway, a popular Laguna restaurant that features the cuisine of Top Chef finalist Amar Santana. Dion combines two ounces of Blackbird Rosé with Cappelletti Aperitivo, strawberry-rhubarb jam, lemon and grapefruit oils. Many recipes I found online recommend puréed strawberries and a little sugar to sweeten everything.

Another frequent point of advice is to use a stronger, darker rosé. “This is NOT a moment for that nearly clear, Whispering Angel kind of rosé. Look for Pinot Noir or Merlot rosés,” Bon Appetit advises. A couple of recipes even call for a little vodka to strengthen the concoction.

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We recently tried Bon Appetit’s frosé recipe and found it hassle-free and tasty:

  • 1 750 ml bottle hearty, bold rosé (such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot rosé)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 ounces strawberries, hulled, quartered
  • 2½ ounces fresh lemon juice
  • Pour rosé into a 13" x 19" pan and freeze until almost solid (it won't completely solidify due to the alcohol), at least 6 hours
  • Meanwhile, bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add strawberries, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes to infuse syrup with strawberry flavor. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl (do not press on solids); cover and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
  • Scrape rosé into a blender. Add lemon juice, 3½ ounces strawberry syrup, and 1 cup crushed ice and purée until smooth. Transfer blender jar to freezer and freeze until frosé is thickened (aim for milkshake consistency), 25–35 minutes. Blend again until frosé is slushy. Divide among glasses.

Bon Appetit says that frosé can be kept fresh for a week. It would never last that long in my icebox...

Taste Wine Like a Master Somm - Part 2

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

Taste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

About your #SommNextDoor

Nicholas Ducos

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

Taste Wine Like a Master Somm - Part 1

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

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

Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smell

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

tasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About your #SommNextDoor

Nicholas Ducos

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

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A Perfect Day in Napa Doesn't Exist

The coolest thing about Napa is the diversity of experiences you can have. There is no one way of enjoying wine, and there isn't one way to define what the 'perfect Napa day' is. During one day in Napa you can have a fabulous day tasting an assortment of wines while being blown away by the an incredible collection of contemporary art and art installations that would rival galleries from SF, LA, NYC. 

Hess Collection Winery has pieces that could easily be in the homes of anyone from DJ Khalid to Noah Horowitz. The art on property, that spans over 3 floors, is absolutely incredible. This is the private collection of winery owner Donald Hess, who began his collection out of a passion for art rather than trends, back in '66. 

A particularly powerful piece of a burning typewriter is by Leopoldo Maler, currently head of The Parsons School of Design Affiliation in the Dominican Republic. His works serve as symbols that spark what he calls the viewer’s “creative power of contemplation;” one is completely free to apply one’s own experience and understanding to his pieces. The burning typewriter, entitled Hommage, has a great deal of personal meaning for Maler himself. His uncle, a well-known Argentinean writer, was assassinated for the honesty of his political essays.


The Wines

Sitting with head Winemaker, Dave Guffy, I had the opportunity to taste a panel of wines, but the two that stood out were their Malbec and a special reserve Cabernet project called The Lion. The Malbec grapes are grown right on property in a small block at the summit of Mount Veeder. If you wonder what it means to taste a California style of this famous Argentine grape - give this bold, big, ripe Malbec from Hess a shot. (They do have property in Argentina and sell a Malbec from their Argentine property, but go for the Mount Veeder.)

Most know Hess from the supermarket aisle for around $15 and may not know their next level stuff. When sitting down to a tasting with Guffy, he brought out the special reserve project that he's been working on with superstar winemaker Celia Welch. The Lion - of which they only produce 500 cases with a price tag of $185 - puts it in an upper echelon of Napa wines. 

I had the 2014: voluptuous mouth feel, beautiful red fruit and power, but there is a finesse and softness that is satisfying. In other words it has great balance. The fruit is from their estate on Mount Veeder and that mountain juice is just flat out special. 

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Smith Madrone
The beauty of Napa is that you can be walking through 3 floors of modern art in the morning at Hess, then shooting rattle snakes with the owner of Smith Madrone winery in the afternoon as he takes you through their hillside vineyard on a rugged ATV.  Smith Madrone was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, Managing Partner and Enologist who then brought his brother, Charles F. Smith III, along for the ride as the head winemaker. 

These two veterans of the valley are flat out hilarious. Sitting over a picnic lunch the conversation can ping-pong from WWII watches to current issues within the walls of UC Berkeley. Ask anyone in Napa who makes the best Riesling in town and an overwhelming majority will point to Smith Madrone.

The interesting wine they brought out over our 3 hour lunch was their reserve Cabernet called Cook's Flat. They only produced about 1,300 bottles of the 2012 vintage. Before jumping into doing a $200 a bottle reserve, the brothers wanted to find their unique point of view in flavor profiles. Thus, they embarked on research (aka drinking!) of all the top Cabernets from Napa and beyond - then took a hard look at a special parcel of land on their property called Cook's Flat. 

Cook's Flat Reserve is a proprietary name for a wine that is the culmination of 46 years of growing grapes and making wine in the mountains of the Spring Mountain District. The name refers to George Cook, the first owner of the property. 'Cook's Flat' was the local old-timers' name for the eight-acre plateau-like vineyard block which was replanted in 1972.

The packaging of each bottle is as unique as the Cabernet inside of it. Each bottle is numbered and wrapped in tissue which has been printed with a copy of the U.S. Land Office Patent which granted ownership to George Cook and was signed by President Chester Arthur on December 5, 1885. The wine itself is outstanding, decadent, well structured, and delicious. 

The wines of Smith Madrone reflect the style of the Smith brothers who care about history, land, legacy, and enjoying what they do. 

So here's my point - there is no one day or specific set of adventures that makes a trip to Napa perfect. There are a wide variety of stories, adventures, and people that make Napa so special; just get out there! 

Top 10 Wine Bargains for Summer 2018

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

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

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

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

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


Editor's Note: Try this gold medal-winning limited production Cava from Spain. Can't buy in stores, rare to find online. Limited production, limited edition Antoni Gaudi print. Recommended by Our Somms. We're working directly with the producer to offer this to you via our partner Argaux Wine Club from Laguna Beach. http://bit.ly/Cava4pk Perfect for summer BBQs or for taking to a friend's house. 4 bottles $65! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine on Tap

An Illogical Argument Against Wine From the Tap. 

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

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

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

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

But What About the Taste of Keg Wine?

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

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

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

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


Wines to Drink With Angela Merkel and JAY-Z

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

Angela Merkel

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

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

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

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

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

JAY-Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lambrusco


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

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

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

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

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


Red Lyons


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

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

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

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

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

Drinking Wine with Gary Vaynerchuck #VINOWITH

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

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

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

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

Boom Boom Syrah

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




Cheers Gary Vee