Aroma or Flavor: Which Is More Important?

One of the questions I’m often asked when presenting wine education courses has to doswirl with the ritual of swirling wine in the glass.

The question asked is: Why?

The answer to that question is fairly simple, but it leads to a much more complicated question.

The reason we swirl wine in a glass is to help expose it to air and, in the process, help “open it up” so it reveals its full array of aromas.

Okay… but what does that accomplish?

Here’s what: How a wine smells — fruity, oaky, musty, spicy, etc. — provides a big clue as to how it will taste. A wine’s aromas won’t always mirror its flavors 100 percent… but it gets pretty darn close if it’s given enough time to “breathe” before it’s consumed.

It’s not unusual for certain aromas that result from the winemaking process to “blow off” fairly quickly once the wine has been uncorked (or unscrewed). Swirling helps with that process as well.

Through years of trial and error… and swirling and sipping… I have come to the conclusion that if I had to choose between the two, I’d say that the aroma of the wine is more important than the flavor.

Simply put, it is the aroma of the wine that signals when the wine is ready to be consumed… and its flavors savored.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

The Best Winery ‘Food Experiences’ in Napa Valley

Yes, you could stop at Gott’s Roadside for an exceptional burger and a milkshake for napalunch, but this is the Napa Valley. When in Napa, take advantage of food-and-wine pairing opportunities you won’t find anywhere else.

Here are three of my favorite winery experiences, where the food goes far beyond a plate of cheese and crackers…

  1. Artesa Winery’s “Chocolate Indulgence”

If there is one debate in the world of wine that seems to have no middle ground, it’s the one surrounding the “controversy” over pairing chocolate with wine. Some have found there to be sublime combinations, while others proclaim, “No, no, a thousand times no!”

I have my own opinion, but I also believe in encouraging people to experiment and find out for themselves. There’s no better place to do that than Artesa Vineyards & Winery, which, among several other fun and unique wine-and-food experiences, offers a “Chocolate Indulgence” tasting daily in its Grand Salon.

For $60, you get to sample Artesa’s best red wines alongside five hand-picked chocolate truffles.

If you like what you taste, you can pick up additional sweets at the source of those treats, Kollar Chocolates in Yountville.

  1. Pine Ridge Vineyards’ “Savor Pine Ridge”

Pine Ridge was one of the first wineries I visited when I caught the wine bug, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Its “Rutherford Cuvee” was my benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon for years, and its Chenin Blanc was my favorite white wine when it included just a little bit of Viognier in the blend.

The “Savor Pine Ridge” experience is well worth the $125 price tag, especially for a special occasion. You get to taste five estate Cabernet Sauvignon wines, each paired with small bites prepared by winery chef Susan Lassalette. It’s a great way to experience how differently Cabernet can taste when grown in various sites.

The setting, in a private area of the cellar, is intimate and spectacular.

3. The Hess Collection’s “Hess Experience”

Those who love art in addition to great food and wine will find the “Hess Experience” to be absolutely mind-blowing.

It begins with a tour of the Hess Visitor Center and Contemporary Art Museum on Mount Veeder, and includes a three-course, farm-to-table luncheon. Many of the dishes are prepared with items from the winery’s culinary gardens, and each course is paired with an appropriate Hess Collection wine.

The cost is $165, and there’s no extra charge for the spectacular vineyard views.


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6 Wineries in 6 States You Don’t Normally Associate With Wine

I have visited all but three states (Maine, West Virginia and Arkansas), and have made wineussojourns to winery tasting room in a vast majority of the states I’ve visited. I seek out wineries like others seek out art galleries or museums or restaurants.

Today, wine is made in all 50 states — yes, including Alaska — although not every state is able to grow grapes that can be used for making wine. In those cases, the grape juice may shipped in from elsewhere, then fermented into wine. I’ve even encountered a few wineries that use juice from more than one state in putting together a cuvee. If you ever see the phrase “American Wine” on a label, that typically means it’s a multi-state cuvee.

Of America’s 50 states, about a half-dozen produce really good wine, while another 20 or so make decent wine. Not all of it is made from grapes, either. I’ll always remember a trip I took with my Mom to her home state of Vermont, where we visited a couple of wineries that made varietal bottlings of apple wine. The Granny Smith was really good.

Each year, more and more people open more and more wineries, and not just in the “usual places.” I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a list of my favorite wineries in six states that may not be the first that come to mind when you think of wine…

* Alaska — Bear Creek Winery, Homer.

Most of the wines are made from locally grown berries, and luxury lodging is available on site.

* Colorado — Colorado Honey Wines, Parker.

Never tried Mead? It’s the specialty of the house at this winery.

* Michigan — Warner Vineyards, Holland.

Holland is not just a country; it’s a small town in Michigan, brimming with Dutch charm. It’s also the home of the Warner Vineyards tasting room, where guests can enjoy a glass of wine or a flight from among 25 distinct bottlings. My favorite: the Warner Brut.

* Nevada — Pahrump Valley Winery, Pahrump.

Bill and Gretchen Loken might be considered Nevada’s wine ambassadors, as they work with growers around the state to make “real Nevada wine.” A visit to the winery is worth the hour-or-so drive from Las Vegas for its on-site Symphony’s Restaurant, which makes the best beef barley soup I have ever had.

* New Mexico — Gruet Winery, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

All of Gruet’s fine sparkling wines are made from New Mexico-grown grapes.

* New York — Benmarl Vineyards, Marlboro.

The Empire State is home to distinct winegrowing regions, including Long Island, Hudson River, Champlain Valley of New York, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie. I’ve spent the most time in the Hudson River and Finger Lakes areas, and my favorite winery always will be Benmarl, even though it’s under different ownership today than it was when I visited many years ago. I come from the world of magazines, and Benmarl’s original owner, Mark Miller, was a former magazine illustrator. I will always cherish my autographed copy of his memoir, “Wine — A Gentleman’s Game,” which includes a number of his wonderful illustrations.

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The Wines to Have on Hand for the Holidays

I can’t honestly say that the weather outside is frightful — not from my place ofholidaywine_new residence in sunny California, anyway.

But I can say there’s no doubt the holiday season is in full swing. Intersections around shopping malls are jammed, even in the middle of the morning or afternoon, and virtually every store is adorned with garland or twinkling lights or some other symbol of the season.

Around our house, the holidays are synonymous with entertaining, and one thing we’ve learned is that while most people like wine, there’s no single type of wine that everyone likes.

Whether we’re planning a walk-around party or a sit-down dinner, we now try to have a number of different wines on hand. If it’s a dinner, we begin with a wine or two that will pair with the main course. But beyond that — and this certainly is true for parties, too — we make sure to have some lighter and sweeter selections available.

We’ve found that these types of wines — like those found in the Moscato & More sampler from Vinesse — connect with virtually everyone, from sophisticated drinker to wine newbie.

The reason they have become our go-to wines during the holiday season is their versatility. We can simply chill them down and use them as aperitifs, or pair them with food. The range is wide, from spicy Asian cuisine to fruit-based desserts.

Yes, you always want to have a few “special” bottles on hand, like those that are featured in the Elevant Society. Serious wine drinkers will appreciate being offered a glass or two from the selections procured for that exclusive club.

But if you’re looking for a safe way to appeal to the masses, a touch of sweetness is guaranteed to bring smiles to their faces.

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The Fascinating History of Wine in 338 Words

For as long as there has been a recorded history of mankind, there has been a recorded oldwinehistory of wine. As soon as human beings gained an appreciation for the finer things in life, wine was considered one of those finer things.

According to multiple books, the European tradition of drinking wine probably began in the Classical Greece territory, when people drank it as part of their breakfast. In fact, a person who did not drink wine there during that period was considered a barbarian.

As for the oldest-known winery, it was discovered in the “Areni-1” cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia. Believed to be traceable to 4100 B.C., the cave contained a wine press and fermentation vats. There also were jars, cups, seeds and vine cuttings.

About a thousand years later, the pharaohs rose to power in Egypt and began making a wine-like substance from red grapes. Recordings say that because of its resemblance to blood, it was used in various ceremonies.

About the same time, the Egyptians came in contact with the Phoenicians, and it would be the Phoenicians who’d cultivate the wine and begin to spread it around the world.

146 B.C. was a seminal year in the history of wine. That’s when Rome conquered Greece and the Romans took wine as their own. They created Bacchus, their own god of wine, and made wine a central part of their culture — just as the Greeks had done.

But they weren’t happy to merely emulate the Greeks. They built upon and formalized the Greeks’ farming and winemaking methods to the point that the concept of terroir was recognized for the first time, as were vintages.

The first famous vintage? 121 B.C.

As the Roman Empire expand across Europe, the troops and their followers planted vines in what that today are some of the wine world’s most famous countries: France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

So the next time you enjoy a bottle from one of those countries, thank the Romans — and toast one of mankind’s oldest beverages.


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Posted in Wine Cellar Notes

Wine Clubs and Wine Samplers Make Great Gifts

I survived Black


Every year, I swear I will stay at home on the biggest shopping day of the year, thus not having to fight for a parking space and deal with wild-eyed shoppers. And every year, I get sucked in by an unbelievable deal on some product I really don’t need.

But now that I’ve taken care of myself (yes, the deal was for something that I wanted for myself… even if I didn’t need it), it’s time to take care of those on my gift-giving list.

And this year, I’m going to let my friends to all the work for me.

For my really good friends, I’m going to give a six-month membership in a Vinesse wine club of their choice — and they’ll definitely have some choices.

Some clubs focus on a single variety of wine (such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, et al). Others shine the spotlight on wine regions (California, the Pacific Northwest, The World of Wine). Then there’s my personal favorite, the Elevant Society, which brings members exclusive, high-quality red wines.

Let’s be honest: When it comes to gift giving, most of us have “A” list friends and “B” list friends. While my “A” listers will get the club memberships, the “B” listers will receive either a wine sampler  — three, four or six bottles of wine that share a common theme.

Recent examples include Pacific Northwest Passion, a three-bottle sampler; Pascal Winery, a four-bottle collection; and Bright Spanish Reds, featuring six bottles.

These samplers are so much fun to receive because, for most recipients, the wines are new to them. Because of that, the Tasting Note included with each wine is particularly valuable.

I’ll be working on my Vinesse wine club and sampler gifts this evening. Next year, I’ll work on them on Black Friday.

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The Top Two Wine Regions of South America

Just like in California and France and other winegrowing areas of high esteem, Southlow poly south america America is home to multiple sub-regions — regions within regions, otherwise known as microclimates.

It would be impossible to delve into the full list here, let alone the best of the best. So for today, let’s deal with the two undisputed appellation champions of South American wine — the Mendoza region of Argentina, and the Central Valley of Chile.

Argentina is known as “the land of gauchos,” but today’s it’s also thought of as “the land of the vineyards,” producing wonderful wines that shine brightly on the world wine stage. The Mendoza region is the hub of production, and a vast majority of the bottles produced in Argentina include the “Mendoza” designation on their labels.

The soil in Mendoza is alluvial with rocky subsoil. It possesses sediments of sand, silt and clay, and its lack of organic matter restrains the growth of the grapevines, resulting in grapes of excellent quality for winemaking. The wines from this area are known for their great intensity.

Argentina’s neighbor to the west, Chile, also has become a phenomenon on the global wine scene, and its hub of activity is the Central Valley (a.k.a. Valle Central).

Like Mendoza, the Central Valley has numerous sub-appellations, each of which is known for producing specific varieties of exceptional quality.

The Curico Valley, for instance, is situated between the massive Andes and the rolling Pacific coastal ranges, south of Chile’s capital city of Santiago.

Although winemaking has been a valley tradition for hundreds of years, Curico’s modern history as a major New World wine-producing region began in 1979. That’s when acclaimed Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres established the country’s first major winery using modern stainless steel tanks for aging many of the wines. That ignited a flurry of foreign investment and plantings, and Chile now is a major player on the worldwide wine scene.

When you’re looking for a quality wine from South America, the best places to start are Argentina’s Mendoza region and Chile’s Central Valley.


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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

What, Exactly, Is a Sommelier?

I’m the first to admit that my French is not muy bueno. So I am enlisting the help of our Fotolia_67509663_XSfriends at Merriam-Webster to provide the correct pronunciation of “sommelier.” According to the word experts, it is: səməlˈyā.

You’ve probably heard the term used in a fine-dining restaurant, or any restaurant that has a good-sized wine list. But what, exactly, is a sommelier?

In my experience, he or she can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

First, let’s define the job. A sommelier is “a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing.”

In most cases, a sommelier carries some form of certification. A sommelier without a certificate often is referred to as a wine steward. Same job, different title, and perhaps a different level of experience and expertise.

On the surface, having someone who is knowledgeable about a restaurant’s wine list, including which wines pair well with which dishes, would seem to be a good thing. And it is, presuming the sommelier is honest and not being pressured by the restaurateur to sell the most expensive bottle possible.

Restaurant owners like that do exist, unfortunately, often out of necessity. The restaurant business is a brutal, low-margin business, and many depend on wine sales to keep the doors open.

So before you do anything else, scan the restaurant’s wine list to get a feel for the upper price range. If the sommelier suggests a bottle in that range, there’s a possibility you’re being taken advantage of.

On the other hand, being placed in the hands of an honest sommelier at a restaurant with an honest proprietor is akin to hitting the vinous lottery. Such a sommelier can direct you to the best dishes on the menu and pair them with a reasonably priced bottle of wine, creating a culinary experience you’ll long remember — without killing your budget for a month.

Check with friends to see which restaurants in your area have the best, most trustworthy sommeliers. Getting to know the good ones will elevate your dining-out experiences.

Meanwhile, when dining in, think of American Cellars Wine Club as your own personal sommelier.


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11 Celebrities and Their Wineries

A number of celebrities — from musicians to filmmakers to athletes — have taken their image13love for wine a (big) step further by getting involved in the wine business.

In some cases, it has involved lending their name (and money) and creating a brand. Others have gone all in and opened their own wineries, complete with tasting rooms and other amenities.

The list of “celebrity winemakers” grows each year. One of the first to embrace the wine lifestyle was the late Fess Parker, the television and film star (“Daniel Boone,” “Davy Crockett”), who established a vineyard and winery in Santa Barbara County. I’ll never forget being there on the day the winery opened, and Parker was outside greeting the first customers. He also used a gold Sharpie to sign bottles.

Parker played pioneers and was a pioneer among celebrity vintners. Here are 10 (among many others) who have followed in his footsteps…

* Dave Matthews not only has a band named for himself, but also a limited-production winery in Charlottesville, Va. That led to a much larger wine project in California called The Dreaming Tree, in collaboration with a former winemaker for Clos du Bois.

* Jonathan Cain, keyboardist and rhythm guitarist for the legendary rock band Journey, is involved with Finale Wines, which benefit charity.

* Claypool Cellars makes wine under the Pachyderm label. It’s a project of Les Claypool, the lead vocalist and bassist for the rock band Primus.

* Robert Kamen, the man behind the movie, “A Walk in the Clouds,” also has a winery: Kamen Estate Wines. By the way, if you’ve never seen “A Walk in the Clouds,” you should track it down — if nothing else, for the gorgeous vineyard scenes. Kamen also was behind the “Karate Kid” movies.

* Another filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola, has a winery that features a museum featuring memorabilia from his iconic movies, including “The Godfather.” He also has a second winery through which he has brought a North Carolina wine brand, Virginia Dare, back to life.

* Jeff Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, works with two acclaimed vintners to produce 250 cases of wine each year. Its limited availability is part of its attraction for his fans.

* A famed racecar driver from another era, Mario Andretti, founded his Napa Valley winery 21 years ago. (Geez, that time has gone by as fast as his Ferrari…)

* Charles Woodson won a Super Bowl ring with the Green Bay Packers, but fell in love with wine while playing for the Oakland Raiders — a team that trained in the Napa Valley. Today, his Charles Woodson Wines benefit the Charles Woodson Foundation.

* For former NFL football coach Dick Vermeil — who led the St. Louis Rams to their lone Super Bowl title — owning his own winery represents a homecoming of sorts. He was born in the Napa Valley town of Calistoga.

* No ladders are needed at Yao Family Wines in St. Helena, Calif. It’s owned by former NBA star Yao Ming (7-fot-6), who can tap stacked barrels of wine simply by reaching up.

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The Health Benefits of ‘A Glass a Day’

Few beverages have been studied as extensively in the new millennium as wine — image12especially red wine.

For those of us who love to drink the gift of the grape, the news has been good. (That grape gift, by the way, is a compound called resveratrol, which fights off bacteria and fungi, and protects against ultraviolet irradiation.)

Among the health benefits attributed to the moderate consumption of wine — generally defined as up to one 4-ounce glass per day for women, and up to two 4-ounce glasses per day for women — are:

* Living a longer life.

* Protecting against certain cancers.

* Improving mental health.

* Enhancing heart health.

There’s another caveat to the consumption limits: They apply only to people of legal drinking age. Consumption of any kind of alcohol can do great harm to those whose bodies and brains are still developing.

We also must stress the importance of moderate consumption. The concept of moderation tells us that it’s okay to exceed the recommended limit on occasion — mainly when consumed as part of a meal — but it’s never okay to get drunk.

A benefit of drinking wine, in comparison to hard liquor, is that it has a much lower alcohol level. But that does not mean you can drink more of it; it means that drinking it, in moderation, should not do you any harm… and may actually do you some good.

Keep in mind that every person is different, and there are some people who should not drink at all. But as Medical News Today has reported, a glass of wine per day could be the adult equivalent of “an apple a day.”

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