Climate and Its Impact on Wine


In ancient times, almost every wine was what we’d today describe as a “field blend.”

Not much was known about specific grape varieties, and various varieties would be planted haphazardly. At harvest time, all of the grapes — both red and white varieties — would be fermented together to create a single cuvee for the vintage.

The first real “advancement” came when someone got the idea to ferment white varieties and red varieties separately. Then, instead of just one cuvee for the vintage, they had two.

As science advanced and the sharing of knowledge increased, it was discovered that specific types of wine grapes fared better in specific types of climates. The French were the first to latch on to this way of thinking, embodied to this day in their perception of “terroir” — all of the factors that contribute to a wine’s ultimate flavor, including the climate.

Every winemaker has his or her own idea of the type of wine they want to make from a specific variety, whether it’s extremely fruit forward, a bit more subtle and restrained, perhaps hinting at a bit of sweetness, and so on. Each “style” requires a specific level of ripeness in the grapes, and the vineyards are monitored constantly during the harvest season so the grapes (Mother Nature allowing) can be picked at precisely the right time.

Leaving as little as possible to chance, vineyards are now planted with the idea of maximizing the potential of each specific variety.

That’s why, in California as an example, you’ll see cool-climate-loving Pinot Noir planted in areas such as the Russian River Valley, the Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Santa Barbara County.

Likewise, it’s why you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon which can handle heat better, planted farther inland, such as in the Napa Valley.

Because so many modern vineyards have been planted with climate top of mind, there’s now great concern among some growers and vintners that global warming could necessitate replanting or, at a minimum, grafting to more heat-resistant varieties at some point in some areas.

For now, however, most vineyards are perfectly positioned to produce the type of perfectly ripened grapes that vintners need to craft wonderful wines.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Your Common Wine Questions Answered


Wine can seem like a complicated thing, from different varieties and flavors to regions to glassware to tannins (and you may even be asking, ‘What are tannins?!’ We’ll get to that another day.), the list goes on and on. Here’s the thing though, wine doesn’t have to be complicated! You may have asked yourself some questions about wine. Believe me, we have too; let’s try and go through some common ones.

There’s a lot of wine out there. What’s the best place to start?

The easiest place to start is with the two main types: red and white. White wines are typically lighter than red wines in taste, with flavors more reminiscent of lighter and acidic fruits. Think lemons, limes, pineapples, and apples. Red wines are usually heavier than whites and have more savory tastes. You may encounter flavors of herbs and tobacco for instance, but dark fruit flavors like berries and cherries can be quite prominent too. There are other types of wine out there as well, including, rosé, sparkling wine, champagne (which is sparkling wine made in the Champagne region), and ports.

If it can break down to red and white, why are there so many varieties?

The short answer is that there are a lot of different grapes! The longer answer is that each of those grapes has their own flavor and characteristics before they’re even turned into wine and those can become more evident through the wine making process. Some of the more common varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot for reds.

If the wines are all made from the same grapes, why do they all taste different?

What can help separate one glass of Cab from the next comes down to two big things: terroir and the winemaker. Terroir may sound fancy, but it’s really just the area where the grapes are grown. Everything from the soil, weather, and the actual way the land is shaped can have a profound effect on how a wine will taste. Winemakers influence the taste of a wine as well. They choose how long a wine is fermented and aged as well as which other wines are blended in (even single varietal wines can have small amounts of other wine blended in).

I’ve seen people swirling and smelling their wine before they drink it. Does that really help?

It can! Swirling or swishing a wine around in your glass helps it get oxygen. Wines have been sitting around in an unopened bottle for a while, so getting that oxygen can help bring out different smells and tastes. Wine can become too oxidized, but it isn’t a problem you’ll run into by just swirling it.

Smell and taste are very connected, so smelling a wine can help you pick out the different flavors and prime your palate for when you take a sip. Don’t feel like you have to do either of these though, your wine will still taste good without these extra steps!

Do I need to age my wines? I’d like to drink them now.

You don’t have to store, or age, any of your wines. In fact, most wines are opened while they’re young. That said, some wines can benefit from being laid down for some time. Some wines are also produced with the idea that they’ll be aged in mind. Aging a wine can allow you to get a different taste of the wine as it breaks down; fruit flavors will begin to disappear, tannins will soften, and the color can even change. How much someone enjoys what changes in the wine all comes down to personal preference, so try different things and find out what you like!

I want to try aging a bottle, does it have to be stored on its side?

While some of the answers come down to preference, this one doesn’t. To properly age wine, it has to be stored on its side. By storing wine horizontally, the cork is kept wet. If the cork starts to dry out, it can shrink enough to allow oxygen into the bottle which can oxidize the wine too much! If that happens, it can ruin the wine you were saving for a special moment.

If you’re ready to start exploring wines more, our American Cellars Wine Club provides a good mix of red and white wines of popular varietals including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Organic/Biodynamic Farming and Its Effect on Wine

Nobody completely agrees on the “definition” of organic framing. A good way to think oforganic it is the embracement of policies and procedures that are not harmful to Mother Earth. Those who embrace organic farming believe that when you take care of the land, the land will take care of you — in the form of healthy crops.

Biodynamic farming takes the principles of organic farming and, to use a math term, squares them. I like to think of Biodynamic farming as organic farming on steroids. The Biodynamic Association has an informative presentation on its principles and practices here.

More and more, grape growers and wine estates around the world are embracing organic and Biodynamic practices in the vineyard and the cellar. They’re doing so not only because it’s good for Mother Earth, but because it produces stellar wines.

As a winemaker once told me over a few sips of Cabernet Sauvignon just drawn from a barrel in his cellar, “Happy vines make great wines.”

As he explained, the truth in that poetry comes from the fact that without healthy, perfectly ripened grapes, it is impossible for him to craft an outstanding wine. Through blending and the effective use of oak barrels, he may be able to make a good or even very good wine, but he won’t get to “outstanding” without great grapes.

That’s where organic or Biodynamic framing practices come in. The Earth-Friendly Wine Club celebrates the wines made from those practices, in which a vineyard essentially becomes a self-sustaining ecosystem and produces flavor-laden grapes.

Which leads me to my own poem: “When the grapes are flavorful, the wines are wonderful.”

I may be no Edgar Allan Poe, but I know my Merlot.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

Before You Pour… Is a Coravin Needed?

There’s a “process” that occurs each time we open a bottle of wine. It’s called aerationwinetasting and, simply stated, it’s when wine that has been stored in a sealed bottle meets an influx of oxygen for the first time since it was sealed.

In most cases, that’s a good thing, because “aerating” a wine helps release its unique aromas and flavors. The process is further enhanced by swirling wine in a glass, which is generally referred to as “allowing the wine to breathe.”

The only cases in which aeration may be considered harmful are when dealing with decades-old wines that tend to “age” very quickly once they are exposed to that influx of air. I’ve been to tasting events and experienced this fast-aging process first-hand. A wine that seems alive and vital one moment can quickly devolve into a beverage that is more vegetal than fruitful, more “earthy” than spicy.

But for younger wines — which I broadly define as any red that’s less than five years old, and any white that’s less than three years old — aeration will be a good thing.

Which brings us back to the question of the day: Is a Coravin needed? Specifically, is a Coravin Aerator needed?

Quoting from the company’s website, “The Coravin Aerator, used with your Coravin Wine Preservation Opener, enhances your wine experience by immediately mixing the right amount of air with the wine as you pour. This lets your glass of wine breathe without lengthy decanting, while ensuring the rest of the bottle remains perfectly preserved.”

Rather than placing the cork back in or the screw cap back on an opened bottle of wine, which already has lots of oxygen in it, the Coravin Aerator purports to aerate the wine that you pour while protecting the rest of the wine in the bottle — until the time comes for it to be poured.

So, is this a product that you need to have around the house? Personally, I enjoy having a lot of “tools” and “toys” around the wine refrigerator, and the Coravin Aerator can come in handy when I want to make sure special wines — like those featured in the Elevant Society — “show well” throughout a meal.

The Coravin Aerator was just released and at this time the product is so new there are not even any consumer reviews yet over at Amazon. Mine’s on it’s way here and I’ll be sure to post an update as soon as I try it.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Our Love Affair With Pinot Noir: It’s All About Flavor

Critics who praise the “complexity” of red Burgundy and Champagne are absolutely, 100-pinotnoirpercent on target.

A few years ago, a team of French and Italian researchers mapped the genome of the Pinot Noir grape, used to make bubbly and many red wines from France’s Burgundy region and around the world, and their work scientifically confirmed what our taste buds have understood for a long time.

The Pinot Noir grape has about 30,000 genes in its DNA, which is more than the human genome, which contains some 20,000 to 25,000 genes.

The team published its findings in the journal Nature, saying it identified nearly half a billion chemical building blocks of the grape’s DNA. Certain sequences of these building blocks form genes, like letters spelling words.

Pinot Noir is the first grape — and first fruit — ever genetically mapped, and it will take years to apply this new knowledge to today’s vines. Down the line, it could possibly lead to grape varieties that are more resistant to bugs and disease.

But back to Pinot Noir

The team said its research had confirmed that the grape has an unusually high number of genes whose job it is to create flavor. More than 100 of its genes are dedicated to producing tannins and terpenes (compared to about 50 for other plants).

But flavor also depends on external factors such as weather, microclimate, soil, size of the crop, age of the vines and the winemaker’s art. So, no matter how scientific grape production becomes, Mother Nature will never surrender her critical role.

And Pinot Noir will remain a distinct, alluring variety, one that continues to make some of the world’s finest table and sparkling wines — including this delightful Champagne.

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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wine in the Glass

’Tis the Season for Pumpkin Risotto and Pinot Gris

PSL + LTO = $$$pumpkris

How many of the abbreviations do you know in that equation?

We all know that the “answer” is money — and because there are three dollar signs, we can presume that we’re talking about a lot of money.

If you’re a Starbucks customer, there’s a very good chance you know that PSL is the abbreviation for Pumpkin Spice Latte, more than 200 million of which have been sold since it was introduced 14 years ago.

The key to the PSL’s success can be found in the second part of the equation: LTO. In the world of marketing, that stands for Limited Time Only — three powerful words that serve as a call to action and a generator of seasonal sales, whether it’s a Pumpkin Spice Latte in the fall or a signature salad in the summertime.

Today, the pumpkin flavor permeates countless products; some say it can be found in too many products, that things have gotten a bit out of hand. According to this blog in the Washington Post, Trader Joe’s stocked more than 70 pumpkin items last fall.

I drink a few PSLs each fall, and I eat a couple slices of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day. Beyond that, I’m pretty persnickety about my pumpkin input. But one thing I absolutely love is Pumpkin Risotto, a dish that pairs perfectly with Pinot Gris.

Try this version, which can be served either as a main dish or a side dish. As a main course, this recipe yields about 4 servings.



  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 4.5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • Pinch ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tbs. fresh sage, chopped


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the broth over a low flame.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add oil over medium-high heat, and sauté onion until transparent.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for one minute.
  4. Add rice and one cup of heated broth, reducing heat to low to let broth simmer.
  5. Stir often, cooking until liquid is absorbed into rice. Add one-half cup of broth at a time until rice is tender.
  6. Stir in pumpkin, maple syrup, salt and nutmeg.
  7. Season with pepper and stir until entire dish is hot throughout.
  8. Stir in sage, remove from heat, wait two minutes and serve.
Posted in Wine Buzz

Wine Glasses: The Shape of Things to Come

glassesLet’s see if I can remember what I learned at a seminar conducted by wine glassmaker Riedel several years ago at the Kendall-Jackson tasting room in Sonoma County…

First and foremost, there are four “sensations” in wine:

  1. Bouquet — the wine’s aroma.
  2. Texture — how the fine “feels” in the mouth (creamy, silky, velvety).
  3. Flavor — how the fruitfulness, acidity, minerality, bitter components and “oakiness” (if any) of the wine intermingle.
  4. Finish — the after-flavor of the wine, which can be quite long… if the wine is good and the proper-shaped glass is being used.

Okay, I didn’t really learn that stuff at the Riedel seminar. I already knew it through years of “study.” But what the seminar did bring home is that the shape of a wine glass’s bowl really can make a difference, and that the proper shape varies from variety to variety.

That day, the Riedel educator brought out at least eight different glasses, each one designed for a specific variety. For each variety, a wine was served in a “regular” glass — the kind you’d find at a restaurant’s bar — and also in a glass designed specifically for the variety.

For me, the point was really made clear with the Sauvignon Blanc sample. When served in a “traditional” white wine glass, it came across as flabby and kind of watery; there wasn’t that much flavor apparent. But when the same wine was served in a glass designed specifically for Sauvignon Blanc, it came alive, revealing a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors.

Of course, getting a full set of variety-specific glassware can require a big investment. So when I returned home, I decided to do some experimenting of my own. You want to know what I found?

I really needed only one style of glass — one with a large bowl and a wide mouth, the kind typically used for “big” red wines. You see, the positives that glass design bring to red wines — providing the opportunity for a wine to “breathe” and show off all of its aromas and flavors — also apply to white wines… and rosé wines.

The more “expressive” the wine, the more its specific nuances will be revealed in a glass with a big bowl and a wide rim.

Try it yourself with any glass of quality Chardonnay. Pour some in the glass you normally use, and pour some in a glass with a big bowl and a wide rim. Swirl each, and then stick your nose deeply into each glass. You’ll note how the aromas in the big glass are more intense and, depending on the specific wine, more varied and complex.

Next, after another swirl, taste the wines. The one in the smaller glass should be fine, but the one in the larger glass should really shine with additional layers of flavors.

The bottom line is that I agree with the folks at Riedel that size and shape do matter when it comes to wine glasses. But it’s my belief that only one type of glass is needed in order to experience all the wonders of many types of wine.

And when you think about it, my approach leaves more money for buying more wine!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Corks vs. Screwcaps: The Jury Is No Longer Out

Without a doubt, in all the years I’ve been writing about wine, the question I’ve been asked more often than any other is this one: Is a wine that’s sealed with a screwcap inferior to a wine that’s sealed with a cork?screwcaps

Early on, when screwcaps were still new and had not yet established a track record, my answer was noncommittal: “We’ll see.”

My reluctance to place wines sealed with screwcaps on the same plane as those sealed with corks had to do with history and tradition. After all, the cork had been the only bottle seal for all of modern wine’s history until the screwcap was introduced.

But screwcaps have been in use for many years now, and more and more wineries are using them.

Among wine-producing countries, New Zealand was the first to jump on the screwcap bandwagon en masse, especially with its bright and expressive Sauvignon Blanc wines. The Aussies weren’t far behind, and many American vintners soon followed.

I was convinced that screwcaps were here to stay when Plumpjack Winery bottled half of its 2000 vintage Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon under screwcaps, yet still priced it at the under-cork price of $150… and the wine quickly sold out.

The main advantage of a screwcap is that it prevents the introduction of trichloroanisole, commonly known as TCA, to the wine. Somewhere between 3 and 5 percent of bottles sealed with corks show some degree of spoilage because of TCA, so using screwcaps provides dependable quality control.

The folks at Kunza understand this, and bottled their 2016 Malbec from Chile’s Maipu Valley with screwcaps.

The wine is floral, fresh and bright — and you don’t need a corkscrew to open it.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Why Prosecco Is Considered ‘The New Bubbly’

The year was 2015. It was a momentous year in the history of wine.prosecco

In the United Kingdom, for the first time ever, sales of Italian Prosecco surpassed sales of French Champagne.

Take a moment to digest that factoid. Never before in the history of wine — dating all the way back to Dom Perignon, who may or may not have “invented” Champagne (but that’s another story) — had Brits consumed more Prosecco than Champagne.

So what happened? Theories vary, but I have my own. Before getting to that, however, let’s take a look at the basic differences between Prosecco and Champagne.

While both wines are “bubbly,” they’re made from different varieties of grapes. In the Champagne appellation of France, the grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. In Italy, the primary grape is called Prosecco, a.k.a. Glera.

The other main difference involves how the wines are made. In France, the “traditional” method is utilized. It’s a process that is both time- and labor-intensive. In Italy, a much less-complicated “tank method” is embraced. You still get all the bubbles, only with a lot less work.

Because sparkling wine is served chilled, the varying flavors of the various cuvees are not as distinctive as in table wines. The colder the wine, the less its flavors will come through. Thus, even if a French Champagne were far “superior” to an Italian Prosecco, most people wouldn’t notice it unless they drank the wine at room temperature.

So, if the flavor differences are negligible and both offer plenty of nose-tickling bubbles, what’s responsible for Prosecco’s rise in the U.K.?

My best guess is price. Generally speaking, you can get a perfectly good Prosecco for about one-third the price of a perfectly good Champagne. That means restaurants and wine bars are able to charge less for Prosecco, and consumers are able to enjoy two or three glasses instead of just one for basically the same price.

The go-to sparkling wine around my house has become the Borgo del Col Alto, a crisp and refreshing Prosecco that has a persistent stream of tiny bubbles. It’s wonderful as an aperitif, or for accompanying almost any treat from the sea.

That’s not to say we don’t drink French Champagne, because we do — mainly for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. For those who like bubbly, the Sparkling Wine Club from Vinesse provides beautiful bubblies from around the world — including France and Italy.

The Brits have made their decision on the Great Bubbly Debate. Where do you stand? Joining the Sparkling Wine Club will give you all the tools you need to make an informed decision.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log, Wine Buzz

Why Can’t I Buy More Canadian Wine?


While I am not a political animal by nature, I must admit that the re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement has caught my interest.

Why? Because an 18-page document issued in July that outlined expectations for the NAFTA negotiations did not include even one word about wine. That’s surprising, considering how much wine crosses the borders of Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Because of its temperate climate and assistance from the Canadian government, British Columbia has become a hotbed of grape growing and winemaking, especially when it comes to varietals with which Americans are familiar. Most of Canada’s famed “ice wines” come from Quebec, where the climate is colder.

Yet because the Canadian government has given Canadian wineries advantages in their domestic marketplace, there are not nearly as many bottles of Canadian wine shipped to the United States as there are American bottles shipped to Canada. It’s not even close.

Part of that has to do with production levels, of course. But when American wine does make its way to a Canadian supermarket, it’s sold in a separate area away from the main checkouts, while Canadian wines are easily accessible on regular shelves in the main shopping area.

In Quebec, the restrictions are even more onerous. There, the provincial law requires wines sold at other than government-run outlets to be bottled in the province. In other words, if you want a bottle of American-made wine, you have to make a special trip to a Société des alcools du Québec outlet.

With Canadian wine being made in much more limited quantities than U.S. wine and enjoying advantages at the retail level, it can make finding Canadian wine here in the U.S. a real challenge. Wines & Vines has an excellent report on this topic, which you can read here.

The NAFTA negotiations will take months, and wine is certain to come up at some point simply because of the amount of revenue involved. Hopefully, the negotiators will find a way to protect America’s wineries while allowing more Canadian wine to flow into the United States. That would be a win-win for wine lovers.

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Posted in Wine Buzz
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