Hooray! International Malbec Day Is Today!

malbecTwenty years ago, you rarely saw Malbec on a restaurant wine list, let alone on a supermarket wine shelf. Your best bet for encountering it would have been to visit a wine shop, but even then, it likely would have been a minor part of a red blend from Bordeaux or Cahors, not labeled as a varietal wine.

Even today in France, you’re much more likely to hear it referred to by another name: Cot. It’s also interesting to note that the first historic reference to the variety dates back to the 1500s, but even then the Malbec name was not used. At that time, it was called Auxerrois.

Talk about an identity crisis.

Things changed when Malbec was widely planted in the Mendoza region of Argentina. It was a perfect variety-to-terroir match, and because the land was cheap and the yields were high, lots of value-priced Malbec found its way to America. At many bars and restaurants, it became the “house red,” typically replacing the more expensive Merlot.

In the past 10 years, Malbec from Mendoza and other neighboring regions in Argentina has really come into its own. Quality-focused vineyard practices, such as limiting the yields, have transformed Malbec from second-tier status (in the eyes of some) to a true star variety.

Because of its softer tannins (compared to other reds), Malbec pairs just as well with chicken, lamb and pork as it does with beef. That makes it among the most versatile reds you can select as the summer grilling season draws near.

No wonder Malbec now qualifies for its own special day among wine drinkers. You may have thought this was just the 17th day of April, but it’s also a significant occasion on the annual wine calendar.

Happy International Malbec Day!

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

How Do I Know If a Wine Has Gone Bad?

Here is today’s assignment: Track down a piece of cardboard. The size does not matter. Itwinesmell could be from a just-purchased packaged dress shirt, or the back of a notepad… wherever.

Next, soak it in water for about 10 minutes. Make sure it loses all of its stiffness. Then place it in a closet or your garage or some other place so it can dry slowly, without any access to sunlight or too much heat.

Tomorrow morning, soak it in water once more, this time for just a moment.

You won’t need to get very close to “experience” its musty “aroma.” Warning: While it won’t turn your stomach, it’s certainly not pleasant.

When a wine smells like that, it is said to be “corked.”

That term stems from the cause of the off-smell: cork taint. The presence of a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole) is the culprit.

In essence, the cork in the bottle serves as the transporter of the TCA to the wine.

In a restaurant, it’s traditional for the sommelier, wine steward or server to pour a splash of wine into the glass of one guest to taste and ensure the wine has not been spoiled.

An experienced wine drinker won’t even bother to taste the wine. He or she will simply the swirl the wine, stick his or her nose deep into the glass, and take a few quick sniffs. If there is no presence of cork taint — that musty cardboard smell — then the wine is good to go.

There are other ways for wine to “go bad.” Leaving it in a store or restaurant window, exposed to sunlight and heat, will “cook” it over a period of time, stripping it of its aromas and flavors. Also, some wines simply age more quickly than others, and are meant to be consumed in their youth.

If you ever encounter what you believe to be a “corked” wine in a restaurant, politely ask your server to smell and taste it. Nine times out of ten, even if it’s merely in the spirit of goodwill, they will confirm your suspicion and get a replacement bottle for you.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

To Decant or Not To Decant? That Is the Question

When I was living in Chicago during the first 14 years of the new millennium, I had adecanter chance to visit Charlie Trotter’s just once before the famous restaurant was shut down by its infamous namesake owner.

One reason I had only one meal there was because Charlie Trotter’s was notoriously difficult to get into. It was always booked solid. Another reason was it was so expensive. At least in my mind, it was a “special occasion” restaurant, and the special occasion I chose to check it out was my 50th birthday.

It was a great meal made even better by the wine suggestions of the sommelier, Justin Hall. Last I heard, Hall was based in San Francisco, still deeply involved in the food-and-beverage business.

Some years after my meal at Charlie Trotter’s, I remember reading Hall’s words in a book about decanting. It was a simple statement about why the ritual was necessary for some wines. “The flavors have been locked in for so long,” he observed. “Sometimes, the wine needs to open up.”

Certainly, “opening up” is one reason for decanting a wine. The process helps “aerate” the wine, encouraging it to reveal those seemingly dormant flavors.

There’s another reason as well when red wines are involved. Over time, many reds will “throw” sediment in the bottle. It’s a natural part of the aging process, and decanting captures the sediment and keeps it out of the wine glass.

Even some younger red wines benefit from decanting. If you open a bottle, pour an ounce or so into a glass and find the wine to be quite “closed” in flavor, it will benefit from decanting.

Bonus tip: To open up a young “closed” wine quickly, decant it once, pour it back in the bottle, and then quickly decant it again.

You want to be able to experience all the wonderful aroma and flavor nuances of a wine, and in many cases, decanting helps make that possible.


Posted in Wine in the Glass

The Science of Wine Tasting

There is a great deal of science that goes into the making of wine.tasting2

Of course, it begins in the vineyard with the choice of rootstocks, grafting, training and trellising, canopy management, pruning methods, growth regulators, frost protection and so on.

It then continues in the cellar with considerations such as must concentration, pressing, malolactic fermentation, fining, racking, blending, aging, bottle closures and so much more.

All of that work… all of those decisions… in the vineyard and in the cellar contribute to producing a product that we take great joy in consuming, often without giving how it was made a second thought. After all, wine is a beverage to be enjoyed. And yet, it also lends itself to pondering.

So if you are the pondering type, you should know that a great deal of science also goes into the wine-drinking experience. It’s something that an ear, nose and throat doctor — or even a good high school biology student — would probably be better equipped to explain than I, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Enjoyment of wine involves three senses: sight, smell and taste.

Some would argue that sight should not be included on that list, but I disagree. The color of the wine provides certain clues about how it was made and its age. That said, smell and taste certainly are the key senses involved when experiencing wine scientifically.

“There are actually two ways you smell your wine — externally and internally,” explains Lori Budd in a blog for Dracaena Wines. “The external sense is called orthonasal olfaction. This is what is being used when you place your nose in the glass.

“The second smell, known as retronasal olfaction, is from inside the mouth. It actually means reverse smell. This is what gives you the perception of flavor.  When you say you ‘taste’ cherry, in reality you are smelling cherry. We are not able to taste cherry. This is why we swoosh the wine around our mouth. It is not to ‘taste’ the flavors, but rather to “smell” the flavors.

There also is a great deal of science involved in tasting wine.

“Taste is what occurs on the tongue,” Budd writes. “There are only five things that we can taste. These include sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami… In terms of wine, we focus in on only three of these categories. Sugar cannot be detected when it is less than 1 percent. Sour comes from the acid in the wine and is described as tart. Bitterness comes from the tannins created by the seeds and skin and provides an astringent mouthfeel.”

So, the next time you pour a glass of wine, check out its color, breathe in its aroma, and concentrate on its flavors — if you are so inclined.

What it boils down do is that tasting wine could be considered a science, but, thankfully, you don’t need to be a scientist to enjoy the gift of the grape.


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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wine in the Glass

At-Home Wine-Tasting Tips

Home is the place where we should be able to do pretty much whatever we want intasting whatever way we want… right?

Of course… as long as we’re not breaking any laws.

That said, it would be a crime to simply “drink wine” when it’s so easy to “experience” it, thus multiplying the enjoyment factor.

Here are five tips for getting the most out of drinking wine at home…

  1. Plan ahead. If you’re going to be drinking a white wine or a rosé, plan to put it in the refrigerator for about an hour prior to serving — just long enough to cool it down, but not make it too cold.
  2. Plan ahead, part 2. If you’re going to be drinking a red wine that may need to “breathe” for a little while, plan to open it between 30 and 90 minutes prior to serving. If you find that doesn’t “open it up” enough, then decant it. (More on that next week.)
  3. Invest in an Ah So or similar wine bottle opener — the kind with two prongs that slide down on two sides of the cork between the cork and the inner bottle neck. Sometimes a traditional corkscrew will crack the cork, rendering it nearly impossible to extract. An Ah So has rescued many bottles for me over the years, paying for itself a hundred times over.
  4. Pair the wine with food. Wine is a wonderful adult beverage on its own, but it becomes even more enjoyable when it’s consumed with just the right dish. The Tasting Notes that accompany Vinesse wines always include at least one food-pairing suggestion, but what it really boils down to is your personal preference. I have a friend who loves Chardonnay with a broiled hamburger, and I do not think any less of him. The point is to drink and eat what you like, with the beverage and the food enhancing each other in your mind… and in your mouth.
  5. Share. Whether it’s with a significant other, another family member or a friend, drinking wine is among the most enjoyable social experiences there is. So, when you open a bottle, grab an extra glass.



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Posted in Wine Buzz

Pair Wine With Peeps — Everyone’s Favorite Easter Candy

peepLiterally the day after Valentine’s Day, one aisle of my local pharmacy was transformed from a magical land of heart-shaped balloons and boxed chocolates to an equally magical land of stuffed bunnies and packages of Peeps.

I have to admit that I have gone entire Easter seasons without uttering a peep about Peeps. However, with daughters and grandkids, I’m still highly aware of the marshmallow treat.

I even was relieved to learn a few years ago that I’m a “normal” Peeps consumer. In a 2013 survey of Peeps eaters, nearly two-thirds admitted to chomping off the head of a Peep first.

Of course, one Peep leads to another, and before you know it, I’ve consumed enough of the sweet treats to begin thinking about what kind of wine I should be drinking with them. (That’s just how my brain is wired.)

For me, there are three basic choices — including one that may surprise you. I’ll save the surprise for last.

When it comes to pairing wine with desserts or other sweet dishes, the long-standing rule is to make sure that the wine is sweeter than the dish. With that in mind, my go-wine to sip while chomping on a couple of Peeps would be pretty much anything from the Muscat family — including sparkling Moscato di Asti.

Another strategy when eating a sweet treat, as long as it’s not chocolate-based, is to drink what you’d have with spicy fare such as some types of sushi. My sushi suggestion is almost always sparkling wine, such as Prosecco.

Okay, are you ready for my surprise pairing partner for Peeps? I happen to think Chardonnay — especially when made in a rich, buttery style — works very well. Honest!

And if you try it and don’t agree, just put the Peeps away for later and enjoy the Chardonnay with something else… or solo. It’s a no-lose proposition.

One final Easter treat note: If that dressed-in-gold Lindt dark chocolate bunny has been staring you down and wearing you down wherever you go, there are wine-pairing partners for him (her?) as well.

If you love sweet wine, a nice vintage Port makes an excellent companion. If you prefer dry wines, a not-too-oaky Cabernet Sauvignon works quite nicely.

Posted in Wine Buzz

Celebrate Spring With This Delicious Salad and Sauvignon Blanc

saladSpring certainly has been taking its time to arrive in many parts of the country this year. Late-March snowstorms have been Mother Nature’s way of letting us know, in no uncertain terms, who’s in charge of things.

But even in the hard-hit areas, springtime veggies are starting to show up in supermarkets. Whether grown locally or shipped in, vegetables are something I equate with spring, and I can’t wait to get back into my habit of a salad-a-day.

This recipe is ideal for couples as it makes 4 servings, which means it will take care of two meals. I like to prepare the dressing a day ahead and refrigerate it, as it gains flavor with each passing day — up to a point, of course.

It’s a wonderful pairing partner for Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde or Gruner Veltliner. And when you make it, raise a toast to Punxsutawney Phil; that annoying rodent sure was right this year.



* ½ cup plain yogurt

* 2 tablespoons olive oil

* 1 tablespoon lemon juice

* 1 garlic clove, finely grated

* 2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped

* 2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped

* Salt

* Freshly ground pepper

* ½ cucumber, chopped

* 1 avocado, chopped

* 2 scallions, chopped

* 3 radishes, trimmed and chopped

* 1 cup sugar snap peas

* ¾ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered


  1. Place yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, chives and mint in a small bowl, and whisk to combine.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Let dressing sit for at least 1 hour — or even better, overnight — to allow flavors to meld.
  4. Before serving, toss all other ingredients in a large bowl to combine, and then season with salt and pepper.
  5. Toss with the dressing and serve.
Posted in Wine Buzz

Wine Pairing With Thai Food

thaiAs is the case with most types of regional and/or ethnic cuisine, there are two distinctive types of Thai fare.

Most of us are most familiar with the Bangkok style, featuring dishes that place an emphasis on sweet and tangy elements. Then there’s the “northern” style of Thai food, which utilizes hearty herbs and spices, stews, and curries sans coconut.

The northern style is the specialty of the most acclaimed Thai restaurant in Las Vegas and its 2011 James Beard award-winning chef, Saipin Chutima. Recipes for Chutima’s Lotus of Siam restaurants are based on those of four accomplished cooks: both of her grandmothers and both of her husband’s grandmothers.

Interestingly, both styles of Thai cuisine pair beautifully with one wine variety in particular: Riesling.

Specifically, German Riesling.

Depending on the dish and its level of spice, the best German Riesling pairing partner may be dry, off-dry or semi-sweet. Fortunately, Lotus of Siam has a staff that’s trained to recommend the right wine for accompanying a specific dish.

Sadly, few Thai restaurants take wine as seriously as Lotus of Siam. If they even offer wine, it’s likely to be a cheap “house wine” that does nothing to enhance the food, and may even detract from it. In those types of restaurants, I recommend sticking with water.

Other wine varieties that can be successfully paired with Thai food include Gruner Veltliner (especially from Austria), Gewurztraminer (especially from the Alsace region of Germany), and Sauvignon Blanc (especially from the Marlborough region of New Zealand).

If all else fails — or if none of those varieties happen to be available — you can always fall back on the recommendation for most spicy cuisine: sparkling wine.

If you love Thai food and are planning a Las Vegas escape anytime soon, make plans to visit Lotus of Siam. The original location is presently closed for remodeling, but a second location is up and running and even more convenient for those staying on the Las Vegas Strip.

It’s a great place to experience a slightly different take on Thai food, and to learn about pairing Thai cuisine with wine.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Wine Country Wildfires and Their Impact on Wine

wildfireThe most profound impact of the wildfires that devastated parts of Napa and Sonoma counties last fall was the loss of human life.

Then came the loss of property, including entire neighborhoods of homes, a handful of wineries and significant vineyard acreage. Those losses, of course, impacted the survivors of the fires that own the buildings and land.

It simply didn’t seem appropriate at the time to even bring up the consideration of wine quality from the 2017 harvest. Anytime I thought about broaching the topic, two words popped into my head: “Too soon?”

Well, whether too soon or not, wine drinkers have begun to ask questions about the 2017 vintage from Napa and Sonoma countries, and whether those fires — specifically, the smoke from those fires — would have an impact on wine quality.

After speaking with a number of winemakers I trust, the nearly universal answer appears to be no.

The reason: The 2017 growing season was hotter than normal, which hastened the ripening process in most of the vineyards in North Coast Wine Country. By the time Oct. 8 — the date that the first of 15 big Northern California wildfires ignited — rolled around, most of the grapes had already been harvested, pressed, fermented and transferred to barrels or tanks to begin the aging process.

I’ve also been told that vintners who had not yet harvested their grapes, for the most part, opted not to ferment the fruit that was still on the vines after the fires had been extinguished. They did not want to risk their reputation by producing wine from smoke-tainted grapes. They decided to take a financial hit for one vintage, rather than destroying a brand that may have taken years to build. Smart.

So, all in all, I’m expecting great things from the 2017 Napa and Sonoma wines.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

How to Properly Order Wine at a Restaurant

redDining out should be an enjoyable, relaxing experience. That goes for ordering the wine, too.

But as consumers, we always need to keep in mind that a restaurant is a business, and a tough one at that. For many fine-dining establishments, being able to make money by selling wine is a critical factor in being able to keep the doors open.

Restaurants mark up wine prices for several reasons, including the storage space required, the need to occasionally replace broken glassware, and the expense of keeping an experienced sommelier or wine steward on staff.

A good wine list will feature a number of choices that match well with the various entrees on the restaurant’s menu. It also should feature a range of prices.

The longer the list, the more daunting it can be for someone who is just getting into wine.

Here are four tips to help you make a selection that will delight your palate without depleting your wallet…

  1. Ask the sommelier, wine steward or server for advice.  Someone on staff should be familiar with both the menu and the wine list, and know which wines pair nicely with which dishes. If your server doesn’t seem to be well informed, ask if there might be someone else who can help. In some cases, it might be the owner of the establishment.
  2. Tell the restaurant staffer about some of the wines you’ve enjoyed in the past. This will help them identify wine types and styles you’ll probably like. Also let them know about your price range.
  3. If you’d prefer to bring along your own special bottle, be sure to call ahead to see if the restaurant allows wine to be brought in. If so, ask about the corkage fee, and make sure the wine is not on the restaurant’s wine list. If a restaurant is willing to let customers bring their own wine, it should not be a wine that is on the list.
  4. When all else fails, follow this protocol: Determine the type of wine you want to have, and then order the second least-expensive bottle in that category from the restaurant’s list. Many restaurants include low-end bottlings in the various categories for those customers who read the list from right to left (i.e., price shoppers). But through the years, I’ve found that, in most cases, all the other wines in a given category are quite good — so there’s no need to order the most expensive bottle.


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Posted in Editor's Journal
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