The Perfect Reds and Dazzling Whites of the Pacific Northwest

Whether you get your national weather report each morning from ABC, CBS, ABC, The Weather Channel or some other source, you’re probably never surprised when you hear that it’s going to be stormy in Portland and Seattle.

But not all of Oregon and Washington are rain magnets. In fact, there are numerous parts of each state where the climate is relatively dry, and grapevines dominate the landscapes.

The reds wines of the region — including those in the Perfect Pacific Northwest Reds Collection — garnered lots of deserved attention during the last two decades of the 20th century. In particular, Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington and Pinot Noir from Oregon have become coveted among wine collectors.

The terroir of Washington’s Columbia Valley has proven to be particularly welcoming for Cabernet Sauvignon, as demonstrated by the 2014 Big DeVine Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2015 Pacific Crest McNary Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

While the two wines are slightly different in their aroma and flavor spectrums, both are exceptional examples of how tasty Washington Cabernet can be.

Likewise, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has emerged as a dependable source of world-class Pinot Noir, challenging the best that Burgundy has to offer. The 2013 Aberrant Cellars Confero Pinot Noir is a true “wine of a place” — a place where the soils and the climate provide the perfect setting for growing Pinot Noir grapes.

The terroir is so diverse and accommodating that it also makes possible the growing of several white varieties, two of which have been brought together in the Dazzling Pacific Northwest Whites Collection.

Generally speaking, these special wines are made in much smaller quantities than the reds, mainly because so much more vineyard land has been devoted to reds. Because they’re true artisanal wines, you’d be hard-pressed to find Chardonnay more enjoyable than the 2015 Matchmaker Chardonnay from the Yakima Valley or the 2015 Pacific Crest “Centennial Trail” Chardonnay from the Columbia Valley.

Likewise, the 2015 Del Rio Vineyards Viognier from Oregon’s Rogue Valley is an outstanding example of the variety — engagingly floral, brimming with fruit flavor and just a little bit nutty.

Before the Dazzling Pacific Northwest Whites came on the scene, one could be perfectly content with the Perfect Pacific Northwest Reds. Now, however, choosing between the two can be a real conundrum.

My advice? Choose both.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

Wine Cuvees of Distinction: The Art of the Blend

Much like 3D technology can enhance the experience of watching a movie, when a vintner uses more than one grape variety, it can enhance the experience of drinking a wine.

Filmmaking and winemaking both are art forms, and the techniques selected will add a layer… or layers… to the ultimate experience.

Every country where wine grapes are grown has a signature blend, and some have more than one. Three countries are spotlighted in the Mind-Blowing Red Blends Collection — France, Chile and Portugal. All told, nine different varieties were used in making the three wines.

The 2015 Chateau Cap de Biolet France Bordeaux utilizes two of the traditional blending grapes of the Bordeaux appellation, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, in a cuvee that is wonderfully fruitful with a lingering sweetness — something that could not have been achieved with either variety individually.

The Chilean wine 2014 Valle Secreto Cachapoal Valley ‘Key’ uses another traditional Bordeaux variety, Cabernet Sauvignon, as its base wine. But it’s the Carmenere component that makes the wine unique as it softens on the palate like few 100% Cabs would.

Finally, the wine from Portugal,  the 2011 Mondeco DAO Portugal Vinho Tinto, utilizes not two, not three and not four… but FIVE different varieties. It’s a magnificently complex yet beautifully balanced wine, with an engaging aroma and almost too many flavor impressions to count.

Single-variety wines can be wonderful, and I drink them all the time. But sometimes I want to treat my palate to an explosion of flavors, particularly when I’ve taken the time to assemble a multi-faceted meal.

That’s when I reach for a bottle that includes more than one grape variety, blended to aroma, flavor and balance perfection by a vintner who is passionate about winemaking and views his work not merely as a job, but as a calling.

The delicious cuvees in the Mind-Blowing Red Blends Collection are calling my name right now.

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Posted in In the Cellar, Wine Buzz

The New Sparkling Wine Taking on Champagne

Spain is about to “take on” France in the realm of world-class sparkling wine.

France has always taken Champagne-making seriously, and has worked diligently to protect the “Champagne” designation in the global wine marketplace. As a result, with rare exceptions, a sparkling wine may not carry the “Champagne” designation on its label unless it was made in France’s Champagne appellation.

Now, Spain is taking steps to elevate its Cava sparkling wine by introducing a “Single Estate Cavas” designation. According to the Wines from Spain Trade Commission, to qualify for this new designation, a Cava must:

  • Be made with grapes grown on vines that are at least 10 years old.
  • Come from vineyards that are harvested by hand (not machine) with a maximum yield of 8,000-kg. per hectare.
  • Be estate fermented and vinified with a maximum output of 48 hectoliters per hectare.
  • Be fermented in bottle and aged for at least 36 months.
  • Obtain certification demonstrating the “path” of the base wine from the vine to the store shelf.

Pedro Bonet, President of the Regulatory Board of DO Cava, says, “The new ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado’ designation is ideal for positioning Cava at the top of the qualitative wine pyramid and for doing justice to this incredible sparkling wine. As far as the Cava category is concerned, this new designation represents a step toward giving visibility to the singular excellence in the production of sparkling wines made in the traditional method.”

In other words, it’s a way of elevating Cava in the minds of consumers. A list of the first producers to embrace the new designation was expected to be released this spring. Within a few years, we should be able to enjoy these exciting sparkling wines — a few of which are already being made, by the way, but simply lack the official designation.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to enjoy the wonderful sparkling wines of Champagne, and raise a glass to the success of Spain’s ”Single Estate Cavas” initiative. After all, good sparkling wine, regardless of its place of origin, is always a special treat.

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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wine in the Glass

The Wonderfully Diverse Wines of Chile

Talk about diversity. Chile is home to the driest place on Earth (the Atacama Desert), and some of the tallest peaks in the world (within the Andes mountain range).

That geographic diversity creates climatic diversity, and that translates to numerous regions where perfectly ripened wine grapes can be grown and world-class wines can be made.

As demonstrated Vinesse’s Best of Chile Collection, the sources of delicious renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are by no means limited to the vineyards of France and California.

In fact, the wines of Chile have become so coveted that the country has risen to the No. 9 position on the global wine-producing map.

Chile has been described as an “agricultural island,” with four natural barriers — the Pacific Ocean, the Patagonian ice fields, and the aforementioned Atacama Desert and Andes mountain range — creating microclimates that are conducive to world-class wine production.

The Maule Valley, for instance, brings us the outstanding 2016 Zurdo Maule Valley Chile Merlot. Made from grapes grown in soils that are quite rocky, it’s a wine of lovely purity, elegance and freshness, joined by just a hint of spice.

The Colchagua Valley, situated about 80 miles south of Chile’s capital city of Santiago, is home to a winery named Koyle, where Biodynamic farming is practiced. It crafts the 2012 Koyle Colchagua Valley ‘Gran Reserva’ Chile Cabernet Sauvignon which is deep, rich, complex and compelling.

Great Cabernet also is made in the Limari Valey, one of Chile’s northernmost winegrowing regions, as demonstrated by the 2015 Tierra Del Sol Valle Del Limari Reserva Chile Cabernet Sauvignon. Jose Pablo Martin strives to make wines that are in perfect balance, and the 2015 vintage defines “balance” as it is simultaneously complex and elegant.

The history of wine in Chile began with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. It continued when Catholic missionaries planted vineyards to make wine for mass rituals. But it wasn’t until late in the 20th century, when a handful of large wine companies recognized the potential of Chile as a wine-producing country and invested in new vineyard plantings, that things really took off.

Now, the wines of Chile more than hold their own next to those of more famous wine countries. If you haven’t given them a try, now is the time, and Vinesse’s Best of Chile Collection makes it easy.

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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wine Region Profiles

3 Wines That Are PERFECT for Spring

A friend who lives in Chicago says that spring does not officially start until he can take his grill out of storage and fire it up. If the weather forecast holds true, Saturday will be the day.

The temperature is expected to reach 78 degrees, a pair of perfectly seasoned lamb chops will go on the grill, and my buddy and his wife will open a bottle of Braxton Hall Melange Red, a sublime cuvee from California.

That wine is part of the 2017 Spring Reds and Rosés Collection curated specifically for the spring by Vinesse — a trio of wines that speak to the season through their less-intense tannin structures and easy-drinking personalities.

After a long (and we do mean long) winter, during which many of us warmed our souls with “big” wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, spring brings an opportunity to get reacquainted with “smoother” varieties like Merlot and more refreshing styles like rosé.

Personally, I’m already mentally planning our first picnic of the season — a selection of cold cuts, cheeses, crackers and nuts, along with a chilled bottle of Alerys Rosé from Spain. It’ll be like an outdoor version of visiting a Barcelona tapas bar.

Spring is an important season in the world of wine. It’s when the vines awaken after their winter nap, and a new growing season begins. Weather patterns in spring can have an impact on the output of the vines come harvest time.

Likewise, for wine drinkers, spring is the season of renewal — a time to embrace wines that may have been “hibernating” over the winter, and to think about lighter food-and-wine pairing possibilities.

Earl Hull, a media mogul of the 1940s, once suggested that “science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.” This Saturday in Chicago, I expect my grilling friend will be in full agreement.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Imagine: Pouring Wine With No Spills

Pouring wine without a spill has long been an issue.  Rogue drops of wine have destroyed countless table cloths, suits, and dresses, but this problem may soon be a thing of the past.

As a steward at wine competitions, I prepared tens of thousands of 3-ounce to 4-ounce pours of wine for judging panels.

Later, as a judge at wine competitions, I was served thousands of glasses with droplets of wine on the outside, ready to stain my hands and clothing. (Not all stewards are as meticulous as I was about serving “drip-free” glasses.)

I’m not casting aspersions. Pouring wine without some of it dripping down the outside of the glass is tricky. Many of my fellow stewards… and a whole lot of restaurant sommeliers… wrap a towel around the neck of a bottle when pouring to catch those droplets.

I’ve seen and tried many pouring methods to eliminate the dripping problem, including giving the bottle a quick twist right at the end of the pour. For me, this has resulted in stains on my shirt as often as a drip-free pour. I don’t recommend it.

There also are various accessories on the market that can help with the problem but, of course, they come at a cost.

Now, a fascinating variation in pouring wine could be on the horizon, courtesy of a renowned inventor who has more than 100 patents and just happens to be a wine lover.

Meet Daniel Perlman, who has spent a lot of time studying this conundrum and developing what he believes is a solution for it.

As Lawrence Goodman reported on BrandeisNOW, Perlman’s idea is not to develop another accessory, but rather to change the design of the bottle itself.

After studying wine being poured in slow motion, and using his extensive scientific knowledge, he determined that the drips could be eliminated by adding a circular groove around the neck of the bottle just beneath the top. After much experimentation, he further determined that the ideal width of the groove is roughly 2 milliliters, and the ideal depth is roughly 1 milliliter.

Taking a look at the video above, you’ll see two bottles of wine being poured side-by-side — the one on the left with a standard bottle and standard spillage, and the one on the right with Perlman’s circular groove and no spillage.

Wine bottle “technology” hasn’t changed much in more than a century, with the main development being the introduction of the screwcap.

But if Daniel Perlman can interest enough bottle makers in his new design, this could be a game changer — for the wine industry, not to mention the dry cleaning industry.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

What Ever Happened to Wine Coolers?

The Buggles ushered in the age of music videos with a song called “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The song’s music video was the first such video played on MTV in the United States on the first day of August in 1981.

I’m no songwriter, but if I were, I’d pen a Buggles-inspired tune called “Moscato Killed the Wine Cooler.”

I have no actual evidence to support the claim made by the song’s name. But having lived through the era of Seagram’s Coolers and its main competitor, Bartles & Jaymes, it makes sense to me that a superior sweet drink (Moscato) would supplant another sweet drink (wine coolers) at some point.

Wine coolers certainly enjoyed a good run for a number of years. At one time, Seagram’s Coolers was the title sponsor of bowling’s most prestigious pro tournament, the U.S. Open. Bartles & Jaymes countered that marketing strategy by creating two down-home characters you’d love to have in your home, and featuring them in their commercials.

But as Chardonnay’s popularity began to explode, the appeal of wine coolers started to wane. Many wine cooler drinkers wanted to “move up,” but they weren’t quite ready to sacrifice the sweetness that was a big part of a wine cooler’s appeal. So, they gravitated to the sweet wines that populated supermarket shelves: white Zinfandel and Moscato.

Today, Moscato has become a star of the nightclub scene, and a “wine cooler” is more likely to be thought of as a refrigerator for wine bottles than as a beverage.

It should be noted that beverage makers haven’t given up on the “wine cooler” category altogether. The definition is being expanded, and the beverages being offered — just as likely to be in a can as in a bottle — are being marketed as “artisanal.” I’ve tried a few, and they are head-and-shoulders above the wine coolers of the 1980s in quality — at least to my palate.

But when I want some sweetness in my adult beverage, I’m still going to opt for a nice Moscato.

In fact, I think I’ll pour a glass now while I work on my song lyrics…

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Posted in Wine Buzz

2 Wine-and-Cheese Pairings to Try Before You Die

I never knew I liked blue cheese until I tried it soft and warm atop a thick, juicy steak. I never knew that what we in America think of as Swiss cheese really isn’t until I went to Switzerland.

For me, those experiences resulted in two wine-and-cheese pairings that you absolutely must try before you die — and hopefully several times before that inevitable day arrives.

Blue cheese is salty, spicy and pungent when crumbled over a salad or simply served solo. But when you mix it with a little butter and then dab it on a broiled-to-perfection steak, it instantly becomes a perfect pairing partner for Pinot Noir, especially one from a region where the wine takes on a somewhat earthy character.

If you think you don’t like blue cheese, give that combo a try. It may change your mind, as it did mine.

Two autumns ago, the Mrs. and I visited Switzerland — a place about which I had no preconceived notions. We were visiting a friend who lives in the mountain community of Engelberg, and we asked him to share with us an authentic Swiss dining experience.

“Do you like cheese?” our friend asked. My dad’s side of our family comes from Wisconsin, so the answer was an enthusiastic yes.

That night, we were treated to a wonderful Swiss fondue dinner. I presumed that Swiss cheese would be used, but as my friend pointed out, there are dozens and dozens of different types of cheese made in Switzerland.

The pot of melted gooey goodness turned out to be a mixture of equal parts gruyere and emmenthaler, and about one-third as much Appenzeller. Day-old bread, pickles and a few other bite-sized items were provided for dipping, and we washed it all down with glasses of Austrian Gruner Veltliner wine.

Sadly, we can’t go to Switzerland every day, so we must seek out wine-and-cheese pairings that are a bit more accessible. The wines included in this collection of Heavenly Cheese Pairing Reds provide half of the “answer.”

What about the cheese?

Well, with the fruit-forward 3 Muses Zinfandel, I’d opt for Parmesan or Asiago, either of which could be sprinkled on pizza or pasta with a red sauce.

With the rich, classic Espirit des Trois Pieres, a red Leicester would work well, or opt for a simple macaroni-and-cheese meal or a cheese-topped casserole using a mix of your favorite cheeses, with cheddar as the base.

And with the full-bodied and spicy Tamaya Reserva, an aged cheddar would work very nicely.

All of that said, don’t be afraid to experiment. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll have a wine-and-cheese pairing epiphany like I had with blue cheese and “Swiss cheese.”

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Best Wine Pairings for St. Patrick’s Day Fare

Technically and traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day pays homage to one of Ireland’s patron saints, St. Patrick.

In practice in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is embraced by far more people than just those of Irish heritage, and provides a reason to drink lots of beer that has been dyed green. It also gives the folks who live in the Windy City an excuse to dye the Chicago River green. I lived there for 13 years, and I can report that a lot of green beer is consumed along the green river each March 17.

But as St. Patrick’s Day 2017 approaches, we all need to remember that beer is not the only adult-beverage option for accompanying traditional Irish pub fare. Wine works, too. Wonderfully.

I have personally experienced all of the pairings I’m about to suggest, and highly recommend you give one of them a try this Friday… or any day…

  • With Fish-n-Chips — Almost any fried food matches beautifully with dry Riesling. Try the 2015 Carl Zuckmayer from Germany’s Rheinhessen region. It’s a crisp, juicy, easy-to-drink wine. Or consider the fresh, crisp and powerful 2015 Sherwood Estate Riesling from New Zealand.
  • With Corned Beef and Cabbage — This has become the “go-to” dish for many restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day, and a nice Pinot Noir makes an excellent pairing partner.
  • With Irish Stew — Cabernet Franc is an ideal pairing partner for this hearty dish. I love the wine known as “Le Bouquet” from Laporte, as its flavors of tea leaves, blackcurrant, strawberry and chocolate intermingle deliciously with the flavors of the stew.
  • With Bangers and Mash — If your palate is feeling adventurous, pork sausages with a bit of spice call for a fruitful wine with some spice of its own. For me, that can mean only one thing: Zinfandel. It’s a uniquely Californian wine that meshes perfectly with this traditional Irish dish.

And that’s no blarney.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Wine Showdown: Australia vs. New Zealand

New zealand flag combined with australian flagHead-to-head encounters in cricket, rugby, hockey and netball have been known to evoke heated exchanges between Aussies and Kiwis. The sports fans of Australia and New Zealand love their teams, and aren’t about to back down from some friendly banter when the situation calls for it.

There also are minor cultural differences between the two largest countries of the region often referred to as Oceania, primarily based on the influence of the indigenous Maori population of New Zealand.

And then there is wine — an area in which the competition between Australia and New Zealand is both friendly and serious. It’s friendly because the people are fun loving. It’s serious because it’s business, and as the old saying goes, “If you want to make a million dollars in the wine business… start with two million.”

The rivalry is a boon for wine lovers, because it motivates men and women who already are extremely passionate about their craft to push the boundaries of tradition, try new things, and focus on one thing and one thing only: the quality of the finished product in the bottle.

Vinesse’s Oceania’s Greatest Treasures collection provides a delicious opportunity to compare and contrast a few of the varieties and blends produced by these quality-focused vintners.


There’s a wonderful Merlot from one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed winegrowing areas. There’s a bottle of that country’s signature red wine — Pinot Noir. And there’s a wonderful example of what Aussie vintners do best: a perfectly proportioned blend of Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

These are treasures of Oceania that are packed with personality — just like the people who made them.

Which country is making the best wines? The answer to that question will be determined by your palate.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass, Wine Region Profiles
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