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

Sangiovese and Schubert Make Beautiful Music Together

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been writing this blog for more than 10 years now. That makes it one of the longest-running blogs in the world of wine.redwine&piano

Every so often, we like to go back and see what we were writing about in 2007 — when George W. Bush was President, and Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record.

One topic was the synergy between music and growing wine grapes. According to a story in Wired magazine, music helps grow healthier plants. Wired was reporting on the preliminary result of research by Italian scientists who had been examining vineyards exposed to classical music to see if sound made the plants grow larger and more quickly.

While sound had long been thought to influence plant growth, this was the first time anyone had investigated the effects of music outdoors on Sangiovese vines, which are best known for producing grapes that go into Tuscany’s famous Chianti wines.

The effect of sound on plants apparently depends on frequency, intensity and exposure time. Chinese researchers found that low-frequency sound does not damage cell structure but instead activates enzymes, increases cell-membrane fluidity and promotes DNA replication and cell cycling.

The testing ground for the Italian experiment was a postcard-worthy, 24-acre Tuscan winery called Paradiso di Frassina.

The researchers set up speakers in front of young plants in wooden tubs and older plants in a small vineyard on an isolated area of the estate. Shoots and tendrils exposed to this sonic fertilizer were tested once a week from May until December, when the plants go dormant.

They examined, among other variables, chlorophyll and nitrate content with a handheld Konica Minolta Spad-502 meter; photosynthetic and transpiration rates were checked with a Ciras-I infrared gas analyzer.

“Sound exposure has some positive effects on vine growth in the vineyard, especially shoot growth,” said lead researcher Stefano Mancuso, a professor of agriculture at the University of Florence. “The results aren’t conclusive yet, but total leaf area per vine was always higher in sound-treated vines, both in the vineyard and in the pots. The silent control pot-grown vines also showed delayed development.”

Hey, we’ve always contended that wine and music go together — back then… and to this day.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

A Great Way to Celebrate California Wine Month

Napa ValleySeptember is California Wine Month, and I have the perfect way for you to celebrate the occasion: Join the California Treasures Wine Club!

Why did Vinesse develop a wine club focused specifically on the wines of the Golden State? Simple: Because some of the finest wines in the world are being made in California.

As the Wine Institute points out, abundant sunshine ensures a consistent and long grape growing season, while the diversity of the terroir supports a multitude of wine grape varieties and surprising flavor variation within them.

California’s 800 miles of rugged coastline expose nearby vineyards to natural “air conditioning” in the form of fog and breezes, making for exceptional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other cool-climate varieties. Warmer interior valleys receive a similar cooling effect thanks to rivers, lakes and deltas.

Meanwhile, vines planted along hillsides get a fine mixture of cooling air and bright, unfiltered sun conditions that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were born to love.

Up and down the state, individual vintners and groups of wineries (which organize into “wine trails”) have organized numerous special events this month. You can find a sampling here.

With so much to enjoy, the California Treasures Wine Club makes experiencing everything there is to love about California wine easy.

P.S.: The holidays will be here before you know it, and a California Treasures Wine Club membership makes a great gift for any wine drinker.

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Posted in Wine Buzz
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