Time to Celebrate National Wine Day — It’s Tomorrow!

cheers_1For those who work Monday through Friday, I have good news: National Wine Day falls on a Friday — tomorrow, to be specific.

So unless you have someplace to be early Saturday morning, you can stay up a little later than usual Friday night and pour yourself an extra glass of wine.

Wine is an important beverage for millions of Americans, whether as a before-meal aperitif, the perfect companion to a main course, an after-dinner sweet treat, or simply for sipping after a long day at work.

Tomorrow, I will take advantage of National Wine Day by planning a wine-intensive experience for my after-work hours. It will involve four parts, each including half a glass of wine:

  1. A nicely chilled Rosé to kick things off, out on the patio if the weather is nice. No homework… no newspaper… no book… no nothing. I may even close my eyes between sips.
  2. Back inside, I’ll switch to Sauvignon Blanc, and sip it with a few crackers and small chunks of cheese.
  3. With dinner, which my better half informs me will be a simple roasted chicken with corn on the cob (lightly buttered, of course), I’ll pour a glass of Chardonnay.
  4. Then after dinner, the Mrs. and I will raise glasses of sweet Moscato in a toast to National Wine Day.

Best of all, we’ll have plenty of wine left over for the day after National Wine Day.

And we’ll save the red wine for another day — perhaps Sunday.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

How Much Do Scores on Wines Matter?

winedrinkingSome people are downright vitriolic in their disdain for scores being assigned to wines.

“You wouldn’t assign a score to a painting, would you?” is a common refrain. “Or to a piece of music?”

Painters and musicians engage in forms of artwork, and I would argue that so do winemakers.

So I’m agreeing with those dislike scores for wine, right?


In all the years I’ve been associated with Vinesse — which is all but the first year of the company — scores have been assigned to the wines featured in the various clubs, Cyber Circle collections, and wines sold on the Vinesse website.

We utilize the standard 90-point system that Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and others use. Why? Because it’s based on a grading system that a vast majority of us grew up with in school. It’s easy to understand.

The reason some don’t like the system applied to wine is that it is somewhat more arbitrary than the grades we got in school. You either got a math question right or you didn’t; you either identified a noun as a noun or you didn’t. With wine, there’s a lot more gray area in assigning numbers.

Complicating matters for folks on my side of the argument is that each person “experiences” a given wine uniquely. This is especially true when it comes to the perceived flavors, because everyone’s palate is unique.

Using a 100-point system, there are several ways for a judge — that would be anyone assessing the wine — to arrive at a final number.

Some start at 80 and award “bonus points” for things such as color, complexity of the aroma, mouthfeel, the mix of flavors and the finish. They’ll also ask themselves whether the wine is a poor, good or great example of the variety (presuming it’s a single-variety wine).

I’ve seen some judges start at 90 and both award bonus points for certain outstanding traits and deduct points for perceived imperfections.

Over my three decades of judging wines, I’ve come to three conclusions regarding scores:

  1. I believe we’re better off with them than without them. If nothing else, they provide a starting point of differentiation among wines of the same variety.
  2. I believe the scores of tasting panels are more reliable than those of individual reviewers, simply because four or five educated palates are better than one.
  3. Once you find a tasting panel or individual reviewer with whom you seem to agree more often than not, stick with them. It likely means your palate is similar to theirs, and that should be true with virtually every type of wine.

Me? I’ve been putting my trust in the palates of the Vinesse tasting panel for more than 20 years.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

It’s 4 Days Until National Chardonnay Day; Are You Ready?

chardI had been drinking a lot of red wine over the winter, which seems to be a recurring theme with me.

But when the first really warm day of 2018 arrived a couple of weeks ago, I instinctively reached for a bottle of Chardonnay. I put it in the refrigerator for about 40 minutes to cool it off just a little bit, then opened it and enjoyed it with a baked chicken breast topped with basil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

It was an incredibly simple-to-prepare meal that was elevated by the perfect wine for drinking with chicken: Chardonnay.

America’s most popular white wine got that way because of its versatility. Not only does it pair beautifully with everything from chicken to shellfish, and from creamy pasta dishes to many vegetarian dishes, but it also is an exceptional sipping wine.

There’s also an aura of mystery about the varietal, the result of it taking on a number of “personalities” based on a number of factors. I can’t think of another variety that can be crafted in so many styles: rich and creamy… lean and mean… fruit forward… oak influenced.

Factors include where it’s grown, how it’s handled during fermentation, the type of vessels in which it’s aged, and winemaker preferences. Some wineries become known for a specific style of Chardonnay that’s consistent from vintage to vintage and recognizable in blind tastings.

I love the fact that Chardonnay always delivers an enjoyable drinking experience, regardless of the style and whether it’s part of a meal or savored solo.

With National Chardonnay Day just four days away, I’ll have one more reason to open a bottle of delicious wine — regardless of the weather that day.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Table Grapes vs. Wine Grapes: What’s the Difference?

grapes.jpgDang it. We polished off our last bottle of Vinesse-curated wine last night, the wine rack is empty, and we have guests coming over tonight.

No problem. We’ll just drive over to the market, buy a few bags of grapes and a packet of yeast, and make our own wine.

Uh… no.

Besides the fact that we’d be buying the wrong type of yeast, not to mention that we don’t have any barrels sitting around the house, there’s another problem: There’s a big difference between table grapes — the kind we buy at the market — and wine grapes.

Actually, there are several big differences…

* Table grapes have thin skins, which makes them wonderful for snacking on a hot summer day. But because they’re thin, they don’t possess much in the way of tannins, important for imparting color and “ageability” to wine. Tannins come from thicker-skinned grapes.

* Wine grapes are much sweeter than table grapes — although that may seem hard to believe. Whereas table grapes are picked when their sugar levels are in the 12-15 percent range, wine grapes remain on the vines until their sugar level climbs to around 23-30 percent. The higher level is necessary for the yeast (not the kind found at the market) to be able to convert the grape juice into alcohol through the fermentation process.

* Wine grapes are smaller. And that’s a good thing, because smaller grapes are more concentrated in flavor, another important factor in producing an exceptional wine.

* Table grapes produce much higher yields because, well, they’re allowed to. Table grapevines are trellised in a way that allows the bunches of grapes to hang without touching each other, which enables a single vine to produce upwards of 30 pounds of fruit. Wine grapevines are intentionally “cut back” to limit their yields — typically less than 10 pounds of fruit per vine — and intensify their flavors.

* Finally, there’s the scientific difference. Wine grapes come from the species Vitis Vinifera, whereas table grapes come from other species such as Vitis Labrusca and Vitis Rotundifolia.

So, best to save the winemaking for the men and women who have access to the best wine grapes from the best wine-growing regions, and to enjoy table grapes for what they are: a delicious, if somewhat addictive, snack. (As is the case with popcorn, I could munch on grapes all day long if my better half didn’t confiscate the bowl…)


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Posted in In the Cellar

Women Continue to Make Their Mark in World of Wine

female2017 will long be remembered for the #MeToo movement, and rightly so.

In the world of wine, however, women have been making their mark for decades — some as winery owners, some in winery management, some as vineyard managers and some as winemakers.

Here are four who have crafted wines featured by Vinesse in the not-too-distant past…

* KATE RADBURND — In the great scheme of things, all that a winemaker really has is their reputation. It’s something that can take years, even decades, to develop, because the opportunity to craft new cuvees of wine comes only once each year. That’s why the story of Kate Radburnd is so unusual… and so impressive. In a relatively short period of time, she has gained a reputation as one of New Zealand’s finest winemakers. The awards her wines have garnered — well over a hundred gold medals since she began her career — tell only part of the story. Radburnd was a key player in the development of the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program, an endeavor that has benefited all grape growers and wine estates that have embraced it. She also has volunteered time to other industry organizations, helping to spread the word about the ever-improving quality of New Zealand wines. Hers is a reputation well earned.

* DARCY PENDERGRASS — The Detour label is a collaboration between sommelier Andrew Stover and winemaker Darcy Pendergrass with the goal of crafting classically styled wines. One key to achieving that goal for Pendergrass is to have perfectly ripened grapes with which to work in the cellar, obtained dependably from vineyards that are sustainably farmed. Sustainable farming is a wide-ranging practice that includes stewardship of natural and human resources, the conservation and protection of water sources, embracing and welcoming a diversity of wildlife (rather than attempting to destroy it), using renewable energy sources, and minimizing or eliminating the harmful impact of agricultural activities on air and soil. All of that attention to detail in the vineyard produces grapes to which Pendergrass can lend her exceptional talents as a winemaker.

* ANALIA LAZANEO and VALENTINA GATTI — Canelones, situated about 30 miles north of the seaside capital city of Montevideo, is Uruguay’s premier winegrowing region. Artesana is located on an 80-acre estate in Canelones’ Las Brujas area. There, sustainable, low-input, dry farming is practiced, and an integrated pest management system is embraced. The entire vineyard is farmed by hand — no machinery is used. This not only helps sustain the land for the near-term as well as future generations, it produces perfectly healthy and fully ripened grapes each growing season. That’s music to the ears of the two-woman winemaking team of Analia Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti, both born in Uruguay. Gatti spent some time in California, working at the Simi and Frank Family wineries, where she learned a lot about growing and making Zinfandel.







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Posted in Wine Buzz

Tomorrow Is National Moscato Day — Let’s Celebrate!

moscatoAnd you thought tomorrow was just another Wednesday.

Not so. Tomorrow is National Moscato Day.

If you intend to raise a glass of this fun, delicious, delightfully sweet wine to celebrate, you’ll need a few fascinating facts to work into the subsequent small talk.

Here are 10…

  1. Moscato smells almost as good as it tastes. Honeysuckle and orange blossom are among its alluring aromas.
  2. As for the flavors, you can almost always expect to experience peach and orange. Others flavors will vary depending upon the clone and the place where the grapes are grown.
  3. Moscato is the Italian name for Muscat Blanc.
  4. Muscat Blanc is one of the oldest wine grape varieties known to man, dating back to the Ancient Greeks.
  5. Two of the favorite ways to enjoy Moscato are in forms known as Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante. Moscato d’Asti is semi-sparkling, while Asti Spumante is fully sparkling. Just to confuse matters, some wines labeled simply as Moscato are made in a bubbly style.
  6. While Moscato wines typically are semi-sweet or sweet, the variety can be made into really, really sweet dessert wines. In Australia, these wines — made primarily in the Rutherglen region — are known as “stickies.” (I have been known to pour Rutherglen Muscat over French vanilla ice cream for a two-continent dessert.)
  7. Awesome food pairing and a simple meal: Moscato with teriyaki chicken and chow mein from Pandra Express.
  8. It also pairs wonderfully with vegetables and just about any Asian fare. Most spicy dishes work quite nicely with Moscato.
  9. Pink Moscato is not in any way related to White Zinfandel. It’s typically made with a splash of Merlot to give it its color and a hint of berry flavor.
  10. Unless you’re hanging with unadulterated wine snobs, it’s perfectly okay to transform your glass of Moscato into a fizzy, fruity cocktail. Just add a few peach and orange slices, and enjoy.


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Red Wine Bath: A Grape Experience in the Big Apple

spaThere are spa treatments… and then there are spa treatments.

Did you know there are places you can go and soak in red wine? One such place is AIRE in New York City, which offers “The Wine Bath Experience.”

According to the spa’s website, experience spans three hours. The details:

“Designed exclusively for AIRE Ancient Baths, this is a unique and unforgettable experience that offers the opportunity to submerge yourself completely in the antioxidant properties of the Spanish Tempranillo grapes.

“This experience includes the Ancient Thermal Bath circuit through baths at different temperatures (hot, cold, warm, ice), the jets bath, the Laconicum (Steam Room with aromatherapy), and the Flotarium (Salt Water Bath), as well as the relaxation area to rest on warm marble.

“The ritual includes exclusive access to the Wine Bath for 30 minutes. This portion of the experience happens in a private room in which you will soak in an antique venetian well of the XVII century. During this time you will receive a 15-minute cranio-facial massage.

“Afterward, an intoxicating, hour-long massage with grapeseed oil will transport your mind to another place while your body benefits from its purifying and invigorating effects.”

AIRE adds that this is not merely a luxurious experience. The spa says there are skincare benefits as well.

“The polyphenols from red grapes are some of the most effective natural antioxidants, with numerous studies that back their use in the field of cosmetics and skincare,” its website notes.

“It is scientifically proven that the polyphenols have an elevated antioxidant capacity, higher than that of vitamins C and E. They help neutralize free radicals, the main cause for premature skin aging. Additionally, they act as substances that protect the skin’s components, preventing the oxidation of collagen and elastin fibers, as well as anything else that may come in contact with them.

“When this experience is over, the result will be an extremely soft, smooth and bright skin, accompanied by a feeling of extreme relaxation.”

AIRE charges $450 for this experience — if you go on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If you decided to go on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, it will cost you $100 more.

Obviously, soaking in red wine isn’t for everyone. Personally, I’d rather drink it. But if you’re looking for a little self-indulgence that involves our favorite adult beverage, “The Wine Bath Experience” may be for you.

It’s a grape experience in the Big Apple.


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Posted in Wine Buzz

Salad Season Is Here! Time to Chop, Chomp and Sip

whtwineWe love to experiment with recipes, adding our own little touches to them.

There are two basic goals: to make them our own, and to make “adjustments” that produce a finished product with a specific wine-pairing partner in mind.

In the case of this dish, we wanted to kick off the salad season with some fresh flavors that would pair nicely with either Sauvignon Blanc or Verdelho. We tried it two ways: moments after preparing it, and the next day after it had spent the night in the refrigerator.

So which way did we prefer? My lovely bride preferred it on the day it was made, while I liked it better nicely chilled on day two — with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

This recipe makes 6 servings, so there’s ample opportunity for you to do the same delicious experiment. Salad season is here, so it’s time to chop, chomp and sip.



* 4 ears fresh corn on the cob, cleaned and washed

* 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized pieces

* ½ avocado, cut into bite-sized pieces

* 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced

* ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

* ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

* 2 garlic cloves, minced

* ½ teaspoon kosher salt

* ½ teaspoon fresh black pepper


  1. Cut corn off the cob, and place into a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Add mozzarella and avocado. Sprinkle with basil, and set aside.
  3. In a pint-size canning jar, place lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Shake to combine.
  4. Pour dressing over salad, then toss to combine.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Full-Bodied vs. Medium-Bodied vs. Light-Bodied Wines

3winesThere’s a lot of lingo in the wonderful world of wine, most of it used to describe how a specific wine looks or smells or tastes.

There also is language used to describe how a wine feels in the mouth. The most common terms are full-bodied, medium-bodied and light-bodied.

What, exactly, do these terms mean? Well, they are used to describe the “weight” of the wine. Does it seem to coat the mouth and stick around for a while, even after being swallowed, or does it refresh the palate and then seem to dissipate?

Here’s how to remember the differences among these three styles:

* A full-bodied wine is big and powerful.

* A light-bodied wine is more lean and delicate.

* A medium-bodied wine falls somewhere in between.

There are no hard and fast rules about how to enjoy each style, but here are a few guidelines I tend to follow…

Full-bodied wines (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Malbec, et al) are wonderful sipping wines — perfect for parties, reading or watching TV. They’re almost as much fun to smell as they are to drink because the aromas tend to be intense and varied.

Medium-bodied wines (Merlot, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, et al) are the best food wines, because their texture and flavors tend to complement, rather than overpower, the texture and flavors of the food. Some people use the term “food wine” in a derisive manner. I completely disagree. I believe that wine and food, when paired correctly, make for the most memorable culinary experiences.

Light-bodied wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio) pair nicely with lighter fare (chicken, fish, etc.) and also are ideal for quaffing on a hot summer day. Some people quench their thirst with beer; I much prefer a nice chilled glass of white wine.

Which style — full-bodied, medium-bodied or light-bodied — is best? For me, it depends on the occasion. Like so much of wine appreciation, it’s a matter of personal preference.


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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz

It’s Sauvignon Blanc Day — Pour It!

sauvblancChances are pretty good that since you are reading this blog, you like Chardonnay.

I’m guessing the same would hold true for Merlot.

They may not be your favorite white or red wine, but you likely wouldn’t turn them down if a glass were put in front of you.

Oh, if only the same could be said for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a variety that people either love… or have never tried.

What about you? Are you a Sauvignon Blanc fan? Today is Sauvignon Blanc Day, so it’s time to find out.

Whether you answered yes or no, the truth is that you may not really know if you’re a fan because the variety has so many different personalities. The key to Sauvignon Blanc’s flavor is its place of origin.

Did you ever have a glass of Cloudy Bay during the 1990s or 2000s? That was the real take-it-or-leave-it rendition, defined by its in-your-face, no-apologies flavors of bell pepper and gooseberry.

At the other end of the spectrum were/are renditions from California’s Napa Valley, which tend to be much softer in mouthfeel and melon-like in flavor.

Why such a big difference? The Marlborough growing region of New Zealand, the home of Cloudy Bay, has what is considered a cold climate for winegrape growing. Napa Valley, conversely, is quite warm. The grapes know the difference.

If you prefer the cold-climate style, the Elgin area of South Africa provides additional bottlings to try. If your palate leans more toward the warm-weather style, Australia and Chile’s Central Valley offer plenty of choices.

Is there a benchmark locale for Sauvignon Blanc? The answer, of course, is purely subjective, but it’s hard to beat the Sancerre appellation of France’s Loire Valley. There, the melon-like flavors of Napa are replaced by lip-smacking grapefruit, while the bell pepper impression of Marlborough gives way to less assertive herb flavors.

So, do you like Sauvignon Blanc? Given the number of styles and sources, the real answer probably is, “I don’t know.”

A great way to find out is with an exclusive Vinesse wine sampler, or by making a few selections from the Vinesse wine store.  That’s the best way to determine the type — or types! — of Sauvignon Blanc your palate prefers.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass
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