Wine Habits of the Presidents

congratulations Baikal red wineWe have a new President, one who does not drink alcohol. Never has. That makes him unusual among U.S. Commanders-in-Chief.

Here’s a brief look at the wine habits and preferences of some of his predecessors…

  • It’s fairly well known that Thomas Jefferson planted grapevines — European varieties — at his Monticello home. What’s not so well known is that he did not live to see them produce wine-worthy grapes.  A trip to France in 1784 had changed Jefferson’s drinking habits. Like most people, his experience with wine up to that point had been limited to Madeira, in large part because it traveled well (thanks to being fortified). But once he had experienced the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, there was no turning back for his palate.

I’m guessing Jefferson would have loved the 2015 Lavender Row Pinot Noir, a beautiful wine that shows off the terroir and winemaking techniques of France with its enticing aromas and flavors of red flowers, toasted oak, rhubarb, strawberry and crushed stones.

  • Most early Presidents were Madeira drinkers. Records show that during one six-month stretch — from September 1775 to March 1776 — George Washington spent more than $6,000 on adult beverages, mostly Madeira wine. Back then, $6,000 could buy A LOT of Madeira.
  • On January 24, 1980, Jimmy Carter hosted a dinner at which Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga of Italy was served a meal that included Robert Mondavi Johannisberg Riesling, Simi Cabernet Sauvignon and Hans Kornell Extra Dry sparkling wine.  The dinner was followed by a concert featuring country music star Tom T. Hall, who concluded his set with the song, “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.” That must have been quite a night.
  • From the perspective of making the information public, Lyndon Johnson was the first President to place an emphasis on American wines at White House functions. He understood that wine is not only a drink but also a business, and American wine creates jobs, generates tax revenue… and tastes good.
  • Demonstrating that he was quite different from Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon preferred French wines. Chateau Margaux reportedly was his favorite.
  • Ronald Reagan was an equal-opportunity wine drinker. At various stages of his life, he loved both American (primarily Californian) and French wines.
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Posted in Editor's Journal

3 Great Reasons to Stock Up on Syrah While You Can

syrahMore and more, it’s looking like it’s going to be a long winter.

For that reason alone, this is a perfect time to stock up on Syrah, the wine that goes by the name of Shiraz in Australia.

But there are other reasons as well…

  1. It’s the wine of winter.

Let’s deal with the season reason first. Syrah is a full-bodied wine that is perfect for sipping on a cold winter day when you want nothing more than to cozy up to a fireplace with a good book. With its mild spice component, it also pairs perfectly with hearty stews and flavorful soups such as my personal favorite, beef barley.

  1. It’s the wine of summer.

Wait, didn’t I just say that Syrah is the wine of winter? Yes. But because of its dark fruit flavors, it’s also a wonderful pairing partner for barbecue fare, as well as for pizzas that include sliced olives among the toppings. When it’s once again time to fire up the grill, or to enjoy a tasty treat fresh the pizza oven, Syrah is a great wine choice.

  1. Syrah is ready to enjoy now, but can age well for several years.

I’ve never been a big proponent of aging wines for long periods of time, because we never know what tomorrow may bring. That said, Syrah offers the best of both worlds: You can open a bottle and enjoy it with tonight’s dinner, or lay it down for several months or a few years and savor it later.

So, the time has come to stock up on this full-bodied, food-friendly, delicious wine. The Aussie Shiraz & More Collection includes two selections from Down Under and one from Italy — each unique, each packed with enticing dark fruit flavors, and each built for wintertime… or anytime… sipping.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

History’s Great Orators Speak Out on Wine

MLK MemorialToday we pay tribute to the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose voice was quieted by an assassin’s bullet not quite 49 years ago.

Dr. King was known for oratory skills, and no list of history’s great speech-makers is complete without his name — a name that tops many of those lists.

On January 2, 1966 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King titled his sermon, “New Wine in Old Bottles,” and quoted from the Bible:

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles… else the bottles break and the wine runeth out, and the bottles perish. But they put new wine in new bottles, and both are preserved.”

You can view a typewritten version of the speech at The King Center, and if you ever heard Dr. King speak, you will almost hear his voice and unique cadence through those printed words.

The Bible is packed with references to wine, so it’s likely this wasn’t the only speech in which Dr. King mentioned our favorite beverage.

As it turns out, other great orators have had a “connection” with wine in one way or another…


America’s 16th President wasn’t much of a drinker himself, but he and a business partner, William F. Berry, obtained a tavern license in Salem, Ill., that allowed them to sell “a half-pint of wine or French brandy for 25 cents.”


Although a very rich man, Kennedy was said to have simple tastes in food, with creamy New England clam chowder and hot fudge sundaes ranking at the top of his guilty-pleasure list. But wine was a different matter altogether. At one state dinner during his brief Presidency, Kennedy served Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc, which then cost $1,000 per bottle.


A book called “Drinking With the Republicans” was released this year, packed with information on what some of America’s most powerful people like(d) to sip.

The book points out that according to one of his trusted advisors, Michael Deaver, President Reagan “could not resist a good French wine.”

Perhaps a wine like the 2015 Laurent de L’Olibet Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicious red from southern France that’s brimming with cherry and berry flavors, and kissed with licorice and cedar notes.

Of course, we have no way of knowing with certainty what types of wine history’s great orators would drink. What we do know is that they all were aware of wine and, in some cases, sought out very good wine to drink.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

A Simple Recipe for Lamb Chops to Take Your Merlot Off the Charts

Lamb meat mealIt’s easy to fall in love with Merlot.

First, it’s just plain pretty — a ruby-red hue that can’t be fully appreciated until it’s being swirled in a wine glass.

Second, it’s among the most “mellow” of all red wines, possessing a tannin structure that allows for immediate enjoyment while your Cabernet Sauvignon ages and, well, mellows out.

Third, it’s a versatile food companion, pairing beautifully with everything from simple meals like grilled burgers to more complex fare like the recipe featured below.

The Ruby Red Merlots Collection features wines from Australia, Italy and California are distinct in their specific flavors, but share the qualities we love about the variety — the ruby-red color, the soft mouthfeel and the versatility with food.

The recipe that follows will produce a dish that would match nicely with all three of the featured wines, but especially with the selection from Italy. The 2013 Tellus Merlot’s fruit flavors are complemented by hints of Italian herbs, which co-mingle with the seasoning of the lamb chops for a wonderful wining-and-dining experience.

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This recipe yields 4 servings — perfect for a couples dinner with a bottle (or two) of Merlot.


  • 4 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 lamb loin chops (cut 1.25 inches thick)


  1. Mix garlic, thyme, rosemary and salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large bowl.
  1. Add lamb chops and coat with mixture.
  1. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes.
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  1. Heat other tablespoon of olive oil in heavy, large, ovenproof skillet over high heat.
  1. Add lamb, and cook until browned (3 minutes per side).
  1. Transfer skillet to oven, and roast lamb chops to desired doneness (10 minutes for medium-rare).
  1. Transfer lamb to platter, cover, and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Exploring California’s Top 5 Zinfandel Regions

zinYou can procure Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from any number of countries.

But there is only one country where significant acreage is devoted to Zinfandel: the good ol’ USA.

And within the U.S., virtually all of the Zinfandel grapes are grown in one state: California.

Zinfandel — known for its “jammy” character, delicious berry flavors and enticing spiciness — loves warm weather, and that makes California an ideal place for growing it.

In no particular order, here are five top California growing regions for Zinfandel:

  1. Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County). This may be the “prototypical place” for growing Zinfandel because the wines almost always taste like we expect Zinfandel to taste, possessing all of the qualities mentioned in the previous paragraph. As a result, the winemakers rarely use more than 20% new French oak barrels for aging the wines.
  1. Lodi (San Joaquin Valley). This region is home to the oldest plantings of Zinfandel vines, some dating back to 1888. Although it can experience some extreme heat spikes during the summer, the region’s the vineyards are cooled nightly by Sacramento Delta breezes. If Dry Creek Zins are “jammy,” Lodi Zins are “zesty,” with higher acidity and tighter tannins.

Wine to try: 2014 Criss Cross Zinfandel — a deeply hued, aromatic wine with notes of black cherry, raspberry, plum, toasted oak and vanilla.

  1. Paso Robles (Central Coast). Representing the “inland” portion of California’s Central Coast region, this is the hot new region for Zinfandel. The climate and soils are ideal for the variety, and as more and more vineyards “come of age” and further mature, I think you’ll see Paso Robles mentioned in the same breath as Dry Creek Valley and Lodi.

Wine to try: 2013 Grey Wolf Vineyards “Big Bad” Zinfandel — a big wine that offers impressions of blackberry, dark cherry, oak and raspberry liqueur.

  1. Russian River Valley (Sonoma County). While this region is cooler than most for growing Zinfandel, the resulting wines are still sublime — lower in alcohol, higher in acidity, and packed with food-friendly flavors. Russian River Zins often need more time in the bottle to fully develop.

Wine to try: 2013 Cambridge Zinfandel — made from grapes grown in the Elsbree Vineyard, with notes of blackberry, ripe Bing cherry, blueberry, root beer and oak, all in a full-bodied, jammy style.

  1. Sierra Foothills (Amador County). This region sits between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe in California’s “Gold Country.” Because the vineyards are so spread out, and the elevations vary from 1,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level, it’s almost impossible to describe a Sierra Foothills style. What we can say is that virtually every winery in the region produces Zinfandel, and some offer multiple bottlings each vintage in order to highlight specific vineyards or blends.

Three of California’s top five Zinfandel regions are represented in this expertly curated collection of Premier Zinfandels from Vinesse. The collection provides an excellent — and limited — opportunity to experience California’s unique wine variety.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

How to Cut Calories Without Cutting Wine

Woman drinking wine. Beautiful young woman drinking wineThis is the time of the year when we’re inundated with advertising that’s designed to make us feel bad about ourselves — under the guise of helping us feel better about ourselves.

Oprah expounds on the benefits of Weight Watchers. Marie tells us about her success with Nutrisystem. Local newspapers are packed with ads from local gyms.

After the season of indulgence (office parties, big dinners, lots of sweet treats), it seems as if each January, we are expected to pay penance.

So, we look for ways to cut back on calories. The good news is: Wine need not be part of that endeavor.

In the grand scheme of things, a glass of wine does virtually nothing to harm one’s waist-watching diet. Check out the chart posted by the website PopSugar, and you’ll see that the calorie count for a typical 5-oz. glass of wine ranges from under 100 to only 157 — and the high end is for a sweet dessert wine.

I’m big on wine-and-food pairing, and when you embrace certain types of wine at this time of the year and pair them with healthful foods, your post-holiday diet can be almost pain-free.

For instance, as PopSugar notes, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc includes only about 120 calories.

I love pairing the 2015 El Tiburon Cellars California Sauvignon Blanc with lemon-herb chicken. It’s a juicy and refreshing wine that seems to dance  on the tongue between bites of the tart and well-seasoned chicken.

Another pairing I love is the 2015 Ashfield Cellars California Sauvignon Blanc with a tropical salad. This is a wine with enough acidity that it melds perfectly with the tasty — and calorie-saving! — ingredients that make up a tropical salad.

Life should not be about deprivation. Even if you’re counting calories this month, wine should be included in — not excluded from — that count.

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Posted in Wine and Health, Wine in the Glass

4 Wine Resolutions Everyone Should Embrace

large red ripe grapes and wine on the natural backgroundFor many years, I made New Year’s Resolutions and rarely kept them beyond a few weeks.

Then I went through a period of not making resolutions.

In recent years, I’ve been making some again, and I’ve found that the ones I’ve been able to keep typically revolve around wine.

Here are a few “wine resolutions” we all should embrace for 2017…

1. Resolve to plan one meal per week around a specific bottle of wine.

Nothing’s more satisfying than enjoying a dish and a glass of vino that complement one another. It’s also fun to cook a meal with a particular wine in mind. My favorite varieties for food pairing are Pinot Noir among reds and Sauvignon Blanc among whites. Pinot Noir pairs beautifully with both red-meat dishes and salmon, while Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to variety for seafood and vegetarian fare.

2. Resolve to try new and different wines.

When dining out, don’t automatically order a glass or bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Dig a little deeper through the wine list to find something you’ve not had before, and don’t be shy about asking the sommelier or server for advice.

3. Resolve to visit California “wine country.”

No matter where your travels in the Golden State may take you, you’re not far from a memorable wine-tasting experience.

4. Resolve to trust your palate.

Ultimately, only YOU can decide what types of wine you like. You never have to apologize for your preferences; instead, embrace them, and seek out wines that will satisfy them.

Happy New Year… and happy wine adventures!

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Posted in Editor's Journal

4 Wine Reasons to Look Forward to 2017

Champagne sparkling wine for silvester partyI’ve been looking forward to 2017 for a lot of reasons, and at least four of them have to do with wine…

1. It should be a great year for Pinot Noir.

As this outstanding Pinot Noir collection demonstrates, Pinot Noir is primed for a big year in 2017, with many wineries releasing their 2014 or 2015 vintages.

Whether it’s fruit-forward and savory rendition from the variety’s historic home of France, like the 2015 La Vielle Courette … a bright and juicy style from California, like the 2014 vintage from Nu Wines … or an outstanding example from America’s Pinot Noir capital of Oregon, like the 2015 OTWC … our tasting panel members are practically salivating over the wines they’ll be evaluating.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, 2017 could be a case of “so much wine, so little time.”

2. More bubbly.

Whether it’s traditional Champagne from France, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, or sparkling wines from California, other U.S. states, Argentina, New Zealand and Canada, there is some serious sparkle in our future this year.

3. More wine-focused restaurants.

There have always been lots of restaurants with award-winning wine lists. Wine Spectator magazine honors the best of the best each year. But in recent years, more and more chefs are “designing” their menus with wine in mind — developing creative dishes and suggesting a wine or two to serve with them.

4. More wines from Portugal besides “just” Port.

I love ending a meal with a small glass of Port in lieu of dessert — or, if I’m feeling really decadent, alongside a dish of crème brulee. But in 2017, I think we’ll be seeing more Vinho Verde from Portugal in the marketplace. It’s light, bright, crisp and a fabulous companion to seafood.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

The Top 5 Wine Stories of 2016

Champagne corkAny “best of” or “top” list is purely subjective, and this one is no exception. These are five wine stories that simply touched me, in a personal way, in 2016…

  1. The emergence of Prosecco.

The sparkling wine that Michelle and I served at our wedding in the fall of 2015 was quite similar to the Il Cortese Sereno — fresh, fruity, frothy and fun. We like to think that we’re trendsetters, but the truth is that Prosecco has been making inroads in the sparkling wine world for several years… and the trend continued in 2016.

  1. The passing of Mary Novak.

She not only was the matriarch of Napa Valley’s acclaimed Spottswoode Estate, but a pioneer among women in the wine business. It’s almost cliché to use a phrase like “blazed a path,” but in her case, it was true. Women who hold executive positions in the wine industry today, as well as women winemakers, owe a big thanks to Mary Novak.

As for us mere men, we can thank her for making sure Spottswoode was a viable business. I’ve had an almost-30-year love affair with the winery’s Sauvignon Blanc.

  1. The 50th anniversary of Robert Mondavi Winery.

Without the acclaimed winery owner, winemaker and cheerleader for the California wine industry, even Mary Novak may not have been able to sell Sauvignon Blanc, Mondavi was the vintner who helped popularize the varietal by marketing it under the very French-sounding name of Fumé Blanc.

  1. The passing of Peter Mondavi.

Like his brother, Peter made numerous contributions to the wine world, and I like to think that the fact he made it to age 101 is a solid demonstration of the connection between moderate wine consumption and good health.

  1. The 40th anniversary of the Paris Tasting.

This wine judging, at which French judges gave higher grades to California wines than to their French counterparts, made it possible for people like Mary Novak and the Mondavi brothers to make their marks in the world of wine. After the so-called “Judgment of Paris,” everything changed, and the wine consumer benefited.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz

How to Open a Bottle of Champagne — Safely

ChampagneWe want you to have not only a festive and fun New Year’s Eve, but also a safe one.

A bottle of Champagne — whether it’s a vintage wine like the floral, fruitful and fresh 2009 Cristal by Louis Roederer or the rich and bubbly multi-vintage Brut Tradition from Champagne Delavenne Père & Fils — has a lot of pressure under the cork that seals the bottle.

Specifically, 70 to 90 pounds per square inch, or about three times the pressure in a typical set of tires.

That’s why opening a bottle of Champagne must be approached with care.

Step by step, here’s how to remove a Champagne cork safely:

  1. Remove the foil on the top of the bottle.
  1. Slowly “unwind” the wire “cage” handle.
  1. As you remove the cage, quickly place a hand towel on top of the cork.
  1. While gently pressing down, slowly twist the cork. Note: You need to press down in order to counter the pressure of the bubbles inside the bottle.
  1. Keep holding the cork with the towel while it comes out of the bottle’s neck.

Instead of a loud “pop,” you’ll instead hear a gentle “poof,” and the wine will be ready to pour.

Safely… bubbly… and deliciously.

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Posted in Wine FAQ, Wine in the Glass
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