Why Chardonnay Is a Favorite White Wine

One of the most challenging aspects of describing Chardonnay also is one of the reasonschard it’s one of the world’s most popular white wines.

Like few other white wines, Chardonnay can take on the personality not only of its place of origin, but also its winemaker.

A cool-climate Chardonnay is going to taste different than one from a warmer growing area. Typically, there will be plenty of fruit flavor regardless of its region of origin, but the specific impressions can run the gamut from citrus fruits to stone fruits.

Then there’s the winery’s or the winemaker’s stylistic preference. It begins with the type of fermentation undertaken. A process called malolactic fermentation — which may be undertaken after or concurrently with the primary fermentation — helps to “soften” the wine and typically lends a buttery flavor to it.

So what is Chardonnay? A wine that’s brimming with fruit flavor, or a wine with fruit flavor along with a layer of butter?

But wait. Those aren’t the only styles. The aging regimen — whether to use oak barrels, and if so, of what type, of what age, and for how long — also can greatly impact the aroma and flavor of Chardonnay. When you hear someone talk about a “full-blown” style of Chardonnay, it’s one that combines fruit, butter and oak impressions.

Frankly, a full-blown Chardonnay is next to impossible to pair with food. On the other hand, it can be a whole lot of fun to drink, as the layers of flavors and textures pamper the palate.

The fruit-forward style of Chardonnay also can be fun to drink, but primarily as a refreshing quaff.

The style that splits the difference between fruit-forward and full-blown is the one that I seek out to sip and savor with a meal.

With three distinct styles from which to choose, it’s easy to see why Chardonnay has become so popular. I always try to have all three styles on hand, because you never know when you’re going to need them.

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Old World Wines vs. New World Wines

By accepted definition, “Old World” wines are those that come from the long-establishedoldworld winemaking countries of Europe — primarily Italy, France and Germany, although some would include countries of the Near East and North Africa in the definition.

“New World” wines are those produced in countries with shorter winemaking histories, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

But it’s not just about geography. It’s also about style.

In the vineyards and cellars of Europe, tradition is huge. The varieties of grapes planted, the blends of varieties allowed, and even the aging regimen may be regulated by long-standing guidelines and laws. Not much is left to chance, and the ultimate quality of each wine depends largely on the whims of Mother Nature — whether she allows the weather at harvest time to enable the grapes to ripen fully.

The Old World style is very much driven by “terroir,” to use the French term that describes all of the environmental factors that impact any given microclimate. A majority of the vintners seek to present a “liquid picture” of a given place in a given year, and that’s why the “natural wine” movement has its roots in the Old World. The idea is that the farmer and the winemaker should intervene as little as possible in the process.

In contrast, New World winemakers are not bound by hundreds of years and numerous generations of tradition, nor by strict blending or aging guidelines. As a result, their wines tend to be more fruit-driven in flavor (favored by many contemporary wine drinkers), and also tend to be quite versatile as companions to food. Filtering typically is used to help minimize the “earth-like” flavors found in many Old World wines.

Which style do I prefer? It really depends, because I rarely drink wine unless it’s part of a meal, and matching the wine to the meal is one of my favorite hobbies. At my house, a gamey meat such as venison would call for an Old World wine, while a dish with a less-assertive flavor would most often be accompanied by a New World wine.

Which style do you prefer? There’s only one way to find out: through experimentation.

Happy exploring!

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It’s Almost Time to Celebrate National Merlot Day

Anyone who really gets into wine has an “ah-ha!” moment — otherwise known as an merlotepiphany wine.

It’s the first time you take a sip from a wine glass and think, “Wow, this is really good. I’m going to have to drink wine more often.”

My epiphany wine was a Merlot made by Duckhorn Vineyards. I won’t bore you with the details, but I can tell you that once I’d sipped that wine during the 1980s, there was no turning back.

I had a big jug of “Chablis” — which, as it turned out, wasn’t French Chablis at all, but rather a non-descript blend of less-than-esteemed white grapes from non-disclosed vineyard sources — sitting in a kitchen cupboard. When I returned home after “discovering” the Duckhorn Merlot, I poured the remaining contents of that jug down the drain.

After doing some research, I learned that fundamental to Duckhorn’s tradition was the early decision to focus on the production of Merlot. Dan Duckhorn felt that this elegant varietal was under-appreciated in North America.

“I liked the softness, the seductiveness, the color, the fact that it went with a lot of different foods,” he said in an interview on the winery’s website. “It seemed to me to be a wonderful wine to just enjoy. I became enchanted with Merlot.”

So did a lot of other people, including me.

There wasn’t a National Merlot Day back then, but today there is… and in 2017, November 7 is the day.

A little-known bit of trivia is that far more Merlot is grown in the Bordeaux appellation of France than Cabernet Sauvignon. Acclaimed vintner Christian Moueix, who oversees production at one of Bordeaux’s most famous estates, Chateau Petrus, has said: “Merlot is a friendly and delicate varietal which, on the proper terroirs and harvested at its peak, produces wines characterized by voluptuous, generosity and distinction.”

Today, the “terroirs” that provide welcoming homes to the variety have multiplied, and now include not only Bordeaux, but also various parts of California, Washington, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere.

Make no mistake about it: Merlot  is a variety that has created “ah-ha!” moments for countless wine drinkers. It’s a variety worth celebrating on National Merlot Day… and every day.

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Thanksgiving and Wine: Be Prepared

We all know how challenging it can be to find the “perfect” wine for the Thanksgiving tgivingDay feast.

With so many eclectic flavors on the table, it can be like trying to select just one wine to accompany a meal at a Las Vegas buffet.

There are numerous worthy strategies, ranging from simply pouring your favorite wine (regardless of color or sweetness level) to opening up a number of different bottles and letting the diners figure it out for themselves.

But if you’re hoping to achieve true wine-pairing bliss — whether the main course is turkey, ham, roast beef, a pork crown roast or a vegetarian specialty — picking the right wine is key.

Fortunately, the Vinesse tasting panel has taken the guesswork out of the equation by assembling a six-bottle sampler called The Holiday Collection. No matter what you’re serving, this collection has you covered.

Turkey is the most “wine-friendly” of the Thanksgiving main-course options, as it pairs nicely with both a white wine and a red wine — namely, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Another solid red option would be a fruit-forward Shiraz.

Ham is more challenging, and not solely because it’s salty; at holiday time, it may also come with a honey glaze. Whether the ham is just salty or salty and sweet, a glass of sparkling wine makes an ideal pairing partner.

If you’re slicing roast beef for guests, Cabernet Sauvignon would be an obvious choice, but you may want to opt for a Merlot-based Bordeaux cuvee since it would pair better with a wider array of side dishes.

A pork crown roast adds a “wow” factor to the table, and also demands a little more attention when selecting a wine partner. As with turkey, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can work very nicely.

Vegetarian fare often can be on the spicy side or have other assertive flavors, so sparkling wine is what I’d recommend pouring.

And here’s the best part of all about The Holiday Collection: What you don’t use on Thanksgiving Day can be saved for your next big holiday meal — or any meal, for that matter. These are food-friendly wines that will help transform a meal into an occasion.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Vinesse can help you place a big check mark on your meal-planning “To Do” list with an eclectic collection of perfect-for-the-occasion wines.

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Winery Cats: Cuddling Opportunities Abound

You may think we’re writing a blog about winery cats because we’re just four days awacaty from Halloween.

Well, if this were a blog specifically about black cats, that would make a lot of sense. But this blog is about all types of winery cats — British shorthair, Siamese, Persian, Ragdoll, Maine Coon, Bengal, Abyssinian, American Bobtail, American Shorthair and so on.

At quite a few wineries, the resident dogs serve as unofficial greeters. They trot up to arriving cars, rub up against the guests and lead them to the front door of the tasting room. I kid you not. I’ve had this experience at least a dozen times.

But winery cats are different. I’ve had a few allow themselves to be petted as I approached the winery doors, but most just sit around wherever they want or go off exploring, hunting who knows what. There’s no question that, more so than dogs, cats have minds of their own.

You can check out some adorable “winery cat” photos here.

There’s even a full book devoted to the topic called “Wine Cats,” which is available on Amazon.

The book was put together by the same authors who brought us “Wine Dogs California” and Wine Dogs California 2.

We know you’re a wine lover. If you’re also an animal lover, you should check out these books. They are perfect for the coffee table, especially if your coffee table doubles as a wine table.

And the next time you visit a winery, be on the lookout for a cute little animal to cuddle between sips.

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Entertaining and Wine: How Much Do I Really Need?

wine&entertainingHard to believe, but the holiday season is right around the corner. As soon as the Halloween products are removed from the shelves of your local supermarkets and drug stores, they’ll be replaced by Thanksgiving and, yes, Christmas items.

If you plan to host a holiday gathering or two — whether it’s on Turkey Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve or some other day — you’re going to need some wine. How much? That depends.

If you’re planning a sit-down dinner — which, in many households these days, may be the only sit-down dinner of the entire year — a good rule of thumb would be to allot two glasses of wine per adult guest. That works out to about one bottle for each two guests.

For a walk-around party, at which you take more of a “tapas” approach with the food, you may want to create a “wine buffet” that mirrors the food buffet.

As long as you know that each group of people at the party has a designated driver, you can simply open a number of bottles and let the guests have at ’em.

To make it more fun, you could place a card next to each bottle with a brief description — “semi-sweet white,” “dry red,” etc. — and a recommended pairing partner from the food buffet.

With this type of approach, you’ll need more wine. Plan on two bottles for every three guests, and also plan to have some wine left over. (That means selecting wines that you wouldn’t mind “finishing off” over the next few days,)

During the holidays, law enforcement is on the lookout for impaired drivers, and rightly so. That’s why I suggest not serving any hard liquor, and sticking strictly to wine because of its lower alcohol level.

For guests who say they don’t like wine, have a few sweet selections available, or prepare a bowl of sangria with your favorite red or white wine.

The goal is to entertainment without impairing, and to enjoy an array of wines. Now that you’ll know how much you’ll need, planning those holiday gatherings should be a lot more fun.

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Halloween Candy and Wine Pairing


The spookiest day of the year is a week away. Anyone who has kids goes through a progression of life experiences related to this “holiday.”

It begins with dressing up the real little ones in outfits they’d never select themselves if they had a say in the matter, and sharing pictures on Facebook. (This is the modern version of including a picture with your annual holiday greeting card.)

As the kids get older, they pick out their own costumes, often highly influenced by the hottest pop culture phenomenon of the moment, and go out trick-or-treating with Mom or Dad following close behind. The kids’ primary goal is to collect as much candy as possible.

Once the kids are really too old to go out on Halloween, they insist on going out on their own — with a group of like-minded friends. Here, the goal isn’t so much to collect candy (although that’s still a factor), but simply to be out of the house with friends after dark.

Once the kids no longer need a chaperone for their trick-or-treating, we parents are relegated to handing out candy at home. The constant doorbell ringing and brain-jarring hollers of “Trick or treat!” can be mitigated, to some degree, by a good glass of wine.

My suggestion is to open a bottle of your favorite Vinesse wine, and then raid your own candy jar for something to munch while you sip.

Wine with candy? As long as you like the wine (which is a given) and the candy, why not?

Here are five “pairings” that members of the Vinesse tasting panel have experienced over the years…

With Skittles, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and Kit Kat, the wines selected have complementary flavors. With 3 Musketeers, the pairing is intended to not overwhelm the silky smoothness of the candy. And with the Hot Tamales, the wine selection helps tame the spiciness — just as you’d drink Riesling with spicy Asian fare.

The Halloween countdown is on. Are you stocked up on candy… and wine?

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Climate and Its Impact on Wine


In ancient times, almost every wine was what we’d today describe as a “field blend.”

Not much was known about specific grape varieties, and various varieties would be planted haphazardly. At harvest time, all of the grapes — both red and white varieties — would be fermented together to create a single cuvee for the vintage.

The first real “advancement” came when someone got the idea to ferment white varieties and red varieties separately. Then, instead of just one cuvee for the vintage, they had two.

As science advanced and the sharing of knowledge increased, it was discovered that specific types of wine grapes fared better in specific types of climates. The French were the first to latch on to this way of thinking, embodied to this day in their perception of “terroir” — all of the factors that contribute to a wine’s ultimate flavor, including the climate.

Every winemaker has his or her own idea of the type of wine they want to make from a specific variety, whether it’s extremely fruit forward, a bit more subtle and restrained, perhaps hinting at a bit of sweetness, and so on. Each “style” requires a specific level of ripeness in the grapes, and the vineyards are monitored constantly during the harvest season so the grapes (Mother Nature allowing) can be picked at precisely the right time.

Leaving as little as possible to chance, vineyards are now planted with the idea of maximizing the potential of each specific variety.

That’s why, in California as an example, you’ll see cool-climate-loving Pinot Noir planted in areas such as the Russian River Valley, the Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Santa Barbara County.

Likewise, it’s why you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon which can handle heat better, planted farther inland, such as in the Napa Valley.

Because so many modern vineyards have been planted with climate top of mind, there’s now great concern among some growers and vintners that global warming could necessitate replanting or, at a minimum, grafting to more heat-resistant varieties at some point in some areas.

For now, however, most vineyards are perfectly positioned to produce the type of perfectly ripened grapes that vintners need to craft wonderful wines.

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Your Common Wine Questions Answered


Wine can seem like a complicated thing, from different varieties and flavors to regions to glassware to tannins (and you may even be asking, ‘What are tannins?!’ We’ll get to that another day.), the list goes on and on. Here’s the thing though, wine doesn’t have to be complicated! You may have asked yourself some questions about wine. Believe me, we have too; let’s try and go through some common ones.

There’s a lot of wine out there. What’s the best place to start?

The easiest place to start is with the two main types: red and white. White wines are typically lighter than red wines in taste, with flavors more reminiscent of lighter and acidic fruits. Think lemons, limes, pineapples, and apples. Red wines are usually heavier than whites and have more savory tastes. You may encounter flavors of herbs and tobacco for instance, but dark fruit flavors like berries and cherries can be quite prominent too. There are other types of wine out there as well, including, rosé, sparkling wine, champagne (which is sparkling wine made in the Champagne region), and ports.

If it can break down to red and white, why are there so many varieties?

The short answer is that there are a lot of different grapes! The longer answer is that each of those grapes has their own flavor and characteristics before they’re even turned into wine and those can become more evident through the wine making process. Some of the more common varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot for reds.

If the wines are all made from the same grapes, why do they all taste different?

What can help separate one glass of Cab from the next comes down to two big things: terroir and the winemaker. Terroir may sound fancy, but it’s really just the area where the grapes are grown. Everything from the soil, weather, and the actual way the land is shaped can have a profound effect on how a wine will taste. Winemakers influence the taste of a wine as well. They choose how long a wine is fermented and aged as well as which other wines are blended in (even single varietal wines can have small amounts of other wine blended in).

I’ve seen people swirling and smelling their wine before they drink it. Does that really help?

It can! Swirling or swishing a wine around in your glass helps it get oxygen. Wines have been sitting around in an unopened bottle for a while, so getting that oxygen can help bring out different smells and tastes. Wine can become too oxidized, but it isn’t a problem you’ll run into by just swirling it.

Smell and taste are very connected, so smelling a wine can help you pick out the different flavors and prime your palate for when you take a sip. Don’t feel like you have to do either of these though, your wine will still taste good without these extra steps!

Do I need to age my wines? I’d like to drink them now.

You don’t have to store, or age, any of your wines. In fact, most wines are opened while they’re young. That said, some wines can benefit from being laid down for some time. Some wines are also produced with the idea that they’ll be aged in mind. Aging a wine can allow you to get a different taste of the wine as it breaks down; fruit flavors will begin to disappear, tannins will soften, and the color can even change. How much someone enjoys what changes in the wine all comes down to personal preference, so try different things and find out what you like!

I want to try aging a bottle, does it have to be stored on its side?

While some of the answers come down to preference, this one doesn’t. To properly age wine, it has to be stored on its side. By storing wine horizontally, the cork is kept wet. If the cork starts to dry out, it can shrink enough to allow oxygen into the bottle which can oxidize the wine too much! If that happens, it can ruin the wine you were saving for a special moment.

If you’re ready to start exploring wines more, our American Cellars Wine Club provides a good mix of red and white wines of popular varietals including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.

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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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