Malbec: Easy-Drinking, Spicy Pleasure in a Glass

malbecMalbec had always played a supporting role in the great red blends of Bordeaux, but during the 20th century, its role had steadily diminished to the point that many French estates were no longer including it in their blends. Then, something AMAZING happened…

Late in the 20th century, the wine industry in Argentina made a new commitment to quality and both growers and winemakers found that Malbec grown there could be transformed into easy-drinking, fruitful, spicy wines that are pure pleasure to drink.

It took about a decade, but once all the new plantings of Malbec were producing wine-quality fruit, Argentina had its own vinous superstar — much like those red blends of Bordeaux. Today, Malbec is the most widely planted red grape in Argentina, and that country’s leading variety. Talk about a Comeback Kid!

But as this Malbec collection demonstrates, world-class bottlings of Malbec are not restricted to Mendoza. Some pretty tasty renditions like the 2014 Big DeVine Red Blend are being crafted in Washington state as well, in part because there are microclimates there that mirror the Mendoza growing region of Argentina.

Black cherry, blackberry, roasted plum and black raspberry are among the fruit flavors that Malbec delivers, often accompanied by impressions of cocoa, chocolate, caramel and/or licorice… along with an engaging, subtle spiciness.

Whether it’s from Mendoza or Washington, Malbec delivers an abundance of drinking pleasure. It truly is the wine world’s Comeback Kid.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass, Wine Region Profiles

Cask 23: A Wine That Makes a Statement

When someone or something achieves iconic status, it doesn’t get much more prestigious.cask23

When I think of sports icons, Mickey Mantle comes to mind in baseball, Michael Jordan in basketball, Joe Montana in football, and Pele in that “other football” (i.e., futbol, or soccer).

When it comes to iconic wines, the Cask 23 cuvee from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars would have to rank at or near the top of any list.

In 1974, Stag’s Leap’s consulting winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff, was roaming the cellar and tasting the newly fermented wines. Normally, virtually all of the “lots” — a name for each wine from a particular vineyard or part of a vineyard — would later be part of blending trials to achieve the ultimate cuvee for the vintage.

Along the way, Tchelistcheff sampled one lot that was so distinct from the others — beautifully balanced and amazingly flavorful — that he decided it should be bottled as a stand-alone wine. It was housed in a large cask with the numeral 23 imprinted, so that wine was named Cask 23.

Today, Cask 23 has evolved to a blend of the most distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from the S.L.V. and FAY vineyards, melded to create a wine that’s known for its extraordinary depth and richness, yet not “over the top” or out of balance.

Every vintage of Cask 23 is special, but 2012 figures to go down in history as one of the best ever. Don’t take my word for it, though. On three of the wine world’s most important and respected 100-point rating scales, it was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator, 95 points by Decanter, and 96 points by Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate.

Those are pretty impressive numbers — numbers that make Cask 23 every bit as iconic as Mantle, Jordan, Montana and Pele.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Get Social With Wine and Wineopoly

wineopolyPretty much every life experience I can think of is enhanced when it is shared.

It’s even true in sports. There are numerous sports that have both individual and team competition components. Ask an athlete whether they’d rather win an individual medal or trophy, or one that’s shared by the entire team, and they’ll almost always opt for the team prize.

I feel the same way about wine. While it’s certainly possible to enjoy a glass of vino while reading a book, watching TV or (perhaps not a great idea) balancing a check book, wine drinking is enhanced when the experience is shared.

How it’s shared can take numerous forms. It could be part of a romantic evening with a Significant Other. It could help transform a meal with friends into a culinary experience. It’s perfect for commemorating special occasions.

Now, there’s a way to enhance the social aspect of wine and extend the enjoyment. It’s a game called Wineopoly, and it’s similar in many ways to another board game whose name also ends in “opoly.”

Wineopoly can be played by two as part of a stay-at-home date on a cold winter night, or enjoyed by a couple of couples in a friendly competition — perhaps with a nice bottle of wine as the prize.

Either way, Wineopoly is a lot of fun. The only question is: Which game piece will you choose? The choices are a wine bottle, cork, wine glass, cheese, grapes and a carafe.

I’m not sure what each piece conveys about a person, but I’m certain your fellow player or players will be happy to offer their perceptions.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Stress-Free Holiday Wine Shopping

Holiday shopping using laptop computer, photographed against christmas tree lightsA buddy of mine — in the fact, the man who officiated at our wedding last fall — has the shopping gene.

He could spend all day at Costco, and then he could spend all evening regaling you with a list of all the cool things he found, not to mention all of their special features.

I, on the other hand, do not have the shopping gene. That’s not to say I’m not a good shopper. In fact, as a single Dad raising a beautiful daughter back in the 1980s and early ’90s, we got by on a freelance writer’s income largely by learning how to coupon. With the exception of fresh fruit and vegetables, we didn’t buy anything unless we had a coupon for it or it was on sale.

Now that “the kid” is grown and has kids of her own, and now that my household has two incomes instead of one, we have been known to fill two baskets in a single trip to the store — but I still couldn’t tell you all the special features of the things we buy.

I guess I’m thinking about shopping today because the biggest shopping day of the year, known as “Black Friday,” is just two days away. And it will be crazier than usual this year because more and more businesses are embracing traditional customs and giving their employees the day off on Thanksgiving.

If you enjoy getting up super early… on a day you could be sleeping in… to take advantage of those “door-buster specials,” and if you enjoy fighting for a parking space while hoping the item you’re shopping for isn’t already sold out, I say: Go for it!

Me? Because I have so many “wine friends,” I’ll be doing a good chunk of shopping from the comfort of my own couch recliner on the Vinesse website gifts section. I also plan to buy a case of Pinot Noir and then gift a bottle or two to my local “wine friends,” knowing that the Vinesse tasting panel has given each selection their seal of approval.

I also love the idea that each bottle of Vinesse wine is accompanied by its own “Tasting Notes” — telling the story of the wine’s origin, the aromas and flavors you can expect to experience, how long it can be cellared, and more.

I know my buddy with the shopping gene would love that, too.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Wine Is No Worry When You Ham It Up

Traditional Sliced Honey Glazed HamThings were going so well.

I wanted to take the burden of preparing the Thanksgiving meal off the shoulders of my beautiful bride, so I’d been plotting my strategy for weeks.

Basically, I would purchase a pre-cooked turkey that merely needed to be heated up, and other family members would bring one side dish each. That’s right — a Thanksgiving potluck.

I had already selected all of the wines to accompany the big feast: mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with a couple of semi-sweet Rieslings (so I could demonstrate to a few doubters that they really do like wine).

On Saturday, Michelle returned earlier than I’d predicted from a shopping expedition while I was in the process of washing the dinnerware and the wine glasses. Although that “surprise” had been ruined, she acknowledged my “sweet gesture.”

Then she said five words that sent my Thanksgiving planning plummeting in a steep downward spiral. (Okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but the steep spiral thing makes for a better story.)

Those five words? “Let’s do ham this year!”

“Great idea!” I replied, and after I’d finished washing the dishes and glassware, I put the bottles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling that I’d selected back on the wine rack. With a honey-glazed ham, I needed to start the pairing process from square one.

Ham is a more challenging pairing partner for wine because it’s quite salty and, at holiday time, it typically comes with a honey glaze.

Whether the ham is salty, or salty and sweet, I’ve found that a glass of fruity Beaujolais makes a nice pairing partner. Another option is Viognier, which typically provides a nice counterpoint to the smoky quality of the ham.

I’ll also be opening a bottle or two of fruit-forward California Zinfandel. And to add a festive flair, I’ll pop the corks on a few bottles of sparkling wine once everyone has gathered at the dining room table. Sparkling wine — pretty much any type — is a good choice for accompanying salty fare like ham.

So, while the wines may be different, the big day will still be a lot of fun.

Besides, now I can save those bottles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for our big Christmas meal.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Go Rogue With This Wine-Friendly Dessert

Pumpkin Pie Mini Tarts with Whipped CreamYes, you could stop by the local pie shop or bakery and pick up a pumpkin pie to top off the big feast this Thursday.

Yes, you could bake a pumpkin pie at home.

Or, you could go rogue and do something entirely different this year — while keeping pumpkin in the picture.

Some years ago, we featured the following recipe in this blog. After Thanksgiving, we heard from numerous readers who had tried it and liked it a lot.

So, in the interest of spicing things up for newcomers to the blog, we offer this different take on a Thanksgiving Day dessert. The dessert pairs beautifully with a well-chilled Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, and this recipe yields 12 tarts.



* 2/3 cup gingersnap cookies, crushed
* 2 tablespoons butter, melted
* 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
* 1 cup 100% pure pumpkin
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 large eggs
* 2 tablespoons sour cream
* 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate morsels


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12-muffin pan (or two 6-muffin pans) with paper cups.

2. Combine cookie crumbs and butter in small bowl. Press scant tablespoon onto bottom of each paper cup. Bake 5 minutes.

3. Beat cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until blended. Add eggs and beat well. Pour into muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.

4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack. Remove tarts from pan and refrigerate. Garnish with sour cream.

5. Place morsels in small, heavy-duty plastic bag. Microwave on high for 20 seconds and then knead. Microwave at additional 10-second intervals, kneading until smooth.

6. Cut tiny corner from bag, and squeeze to drizzle chocolate over tarts.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Counting Calories? Have a Glass (or Two) of Wine

fotolia_123298724_xsThis is the time of the year when most of us start to count calories — and some of us have trouble counting that high!

From tapping (okay, stealing from) the kids’ Halloween candy stash to scarfing down the Thanksgiving feast to munching on too many sugar-coated snowman cookies, 10 months of watching our diet can go down the drain in, basically, three days.

And I’m not even counting the goodies that co-workers bring to the office.

So, if you’re trying to keep things under control this holiday season, you’d probably like to know how many calories are floating around in that glass of wine you’re having with dinner.

Well, every wine is a little bit different, and things have changed a bit since the last time I tackled this topic around a decade ago.

What’s different? Average alcohol and sugar levels have changed in recent years, especially among California wines, so the calorie count in some cases has increased — but only by a little bit.

Interestingly, alcohol has seven calories per gram as compared to four calories per gram for carbohydrates (sugar), which means it’s possible for some dry wines to have more calories than some sweet wines.

That’s an equation that really makes me wish I’d paid more attention in my high school science class…

But on average, a 5-ounce glass of white wine contains 125 calories, while a 5-ounce glass of red wine contains 120 calories.

Off-dry, semi-sweet and dessert-style wines will have a few more, based primarily on their percentage of residual sugar. An off-dry Riesling, for instance, will add 5 to 10 calories to the count.

And let’s not forget sparkling wine, since the toasting season is upon us. A flute of bubbly comes in at about the same calorie count as red wine: 120.

Considering a 1.66-ounce Snickers bar from the kids’ Halloween bag comes in at 229 calories, and a cranberry bliss bar from Starbucks represents 280 calories, a glass of wine makes an excellent waist-management option.

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Posted in Wine and Health, Wine Buzz

What to Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers — The Wine, That Is

Thanksgiving DinnerWe have an “early” Thanksgiving this year, as the fourth Thursday of the month falls on the 24th.

If you follow the advice we give each year — to set up a table with a bunch of glasses, open up several different types of wine, and let guests select the ones they like — you’re probably going to have several partially filled bottles remaining on the 25th.

Which brings up a few questions: Does wine keep well overnight? And if so, what’s the best way to store partially consumed bottles of wine?

Addressing question No. 1, the answer is yes! Rare is the wine that doesn’t taste almost as good on “day two” as it did on “day one.” In some cases, it may taste even better. An exception to this “rule” would be a very old wine that begins to fade quickly as soon as it’s uncorked.

As for more recent vintages, it depends on the type of wine and how long you plan to store it.

If it’s a white wine and you plan to drink it gradually over the course of a week, we recommend storing it upright, cork in or screwcap tightened, in your refrigerator. Some pundits disagree with this approach, but the fridge gives you the best shot at keeping the wine “fresh” over several days.

We also recommend this for lighter-style red wines (Beaujolais Nouveau, some bottlings of Pinot Noir, etc.), as well as Rose-style wines.

Now, if you’re planning to consume the wine in no more than two additional days, we again recommend sealing it, but leaving it out — in as cool an area of the house as you can find. Keep it away from electronics and lights, which may throw off heat, and opt for a dark closet or a corner of the basement.

Heat and light are the two main enemies of wine. That’s true when the wine is aging in the bottle, as well as after the bottle has been opened. So find a cool place, lay the wine back on its side…  and then don’t forget about it!

As a general rule, red wines will be fine in such a setting for two to four days after opening. White wines, on the other hand, should be consumed more quickly, in one to two days.

Regardless of their hue, know that wine has a finite lifespan after it has been opened, and it will lose a little bit of its aroma, a little bit of its flavor, and a little bit of its appeal with each passing day.

After a bottle has been opened, the third prime enemy of wine — oxygen — begins to wreak its havoc. So even if you keep the bottle in a cool, dark place, the exposure to air will continue to slowly do its age-quickening damage.

Let’s not forget one other option that celebrates the spirit of the season: You could simply re-seal the bottles and send them home with your guests.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Holiday Wine Gifts Your Friends Will LOVE

wineopolyYou know the most wonderful time of the year is upon us when the shopping malls put up their decorations, the red and green packages of coffee appear on the shelves at your neighborhood Starbucks, and holiday catalogs start arriving in the mail.

Many of the traditional catalogs have given way to e-commerce, but a number endure and entice me each year with a selection of gifts that span the spectrum from fun to practical. Some even include a handful of wine-themed gifts.

Let’s be honest: The best possible gift for a wine lover would be a bottle (or 12) of wine, and you can find many enticing options in the Vinesse wine shop. You’ll even find a selection of hand-selected gifts there sure to be fun and useful for any wine lover.

The Signals catalog, which is curated for and sent to fans and friends of Public Television, adds some whimsy to the gift-giving equation with personalized pour glasses that include lines for a person’s name, a long pour and a short pour.

Yes, the person’s name is placed along what would otherwise be considered a “high pour” line, with absolutely no room for swirling.

A similarly designed glass includes pour lines designated as, from bottom to top, “100 calories,” “150 calories,” “200 calories” and “Who Cares.”

These are fun ways to support Public Television, and the catalog also is available online at

A creative way to save a favorite (empty) bottle… and get some practical use out of it… is with the Bottlelight from the Acorn catalog.

The top of the Bottlelight looks like a cork, while the bottom in an LED. Simply give it a twist, drop it into the neck of a bottle, and you have a unique lamp.

Acorn also offers the Brix Chocolate for Wine Gift Set. Dr. Nick Proia, an Ohio physician, loves to pair wine with food, but prefers to avoid cheese. Chocolate? Now that’s another story, since it shares antioxidant qualities with wine.

So the doctor blended his own chocolates and offers them in a set of four 4-ounce bars, complete with wine pairing suggestions.

If you can’t put your hands on a catalog, check out

Then take a quick look at the calendar. The holidays will be here before you know it, which means the time to shop is now!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Crackle or Pop? When Opening a Bottle, Either Sound Works

multi bottles black - Stock ImageOne more FAQ to close out the week…

QUESTION: I recently received a bottle of wine from a friend that has a screw top. I thought all good wines came with corks. Is my friend trying to tell me something?

ANSWER: Well, I can’t speak for your friend, but I can absolutely speak to the question of how that bottle of wine was sealed.

Screw caps, as they’re known in the wine industry, make an absolutely ideal closure for wine bottles. The main task of a closure is to keep oxygen from entering the bottle, and screw caps do that.

The widespread use of screw caps began in New Zealand, primarily to seal their expressive bottlings of Sauvignon Blanc.

Then they started using them on red varieties. Within a few vintages, many Australian vintners followed suit.

Before long, consumers were accepting a crackle sound instead of a pop when opening their wine.

Not everyone hopped on the screw cap bandwagon, however. In particular, makers of high-end California Cabernet Sauvignon were reluctant to make the change because they were unsure there was widespread public acceptance for the idea.

Then came the changing of the millennium, and a highly acclaimed Napa Valley winery named Plumpjack decided to bottle half of its $150 Cabernet Sauvignon with screw caps and half with corks. The half with screw caps sold out first.

Now, we see lots of California wines sealed with screw caps.

Wineries in the Old World — France, Italy, Germany — have been slower to warm up to the idea that anything other than cork should be used to seal wine bottles. But there are some screw cap proponents, and I suspect we’ll be seeing more and more European wines sealed with screw caps. It just may take some time.

Long story short: There is absolutely nothing wrong with sealing a bottle with a screw cap instead of a cork. So enjoy that bottle of wine, give your friend a sincere thank you, and possibly a fun wine gift in return.

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Posted in Wine FAQ
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