Wine Terms Deciphered

When choosing a bottle of wine, everyone has their favorites; red, white, sparkling, or rose’. We also have particular nuances that we look for; bone dry, dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. 

Lately I have been getting a recurring question (mostly when discussing whites) –  “What do you mean when you say dry?” I know it may sound snide, but the correct response to this is, “Not sweet!” When a winemaker produces dry wine, they let the fermentation process completely finish, allowing the yeast to absorb all the sugar present, leaving no residual sugar. No sugar; hence, dryness.

Other confusing terms are the words fruity and sweet; they are notably different. The amount of residual sugar left behind after fermentation, will determine the level of sweetness a wine will have. Fruitiness will always be detected at different levels, even if a wine is dry. Many people are usually surprised to hear this; it is a big eureka moment for them!

Dry New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and semi-sweet New York Riesling.

So what do you look for? Now that the days are getting warm, are you gravitating towards a crispy, dry, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc or a sweet, fruity Riesling? Or do you drink red all year long and reach for a bone dry, fruit-forward Sangiovese from Chianti, rather than a dry, ripe Garnacha from Spain?

Bone dry Sangiovese from Chianti and a dry Garnacha from Spain.


 Whatever your preference, next time you are out shopping for a bottle, try to think about what it is you favor when selecting a wine, and reach for something new to try. Or ask for help; it is how you learn. 


Cin Cin!

Sauvignon Blanc Day!


Every first Friday in May, winemakers in Marlborough, New Zealand come together to celebrate the crispy, white grape known as Sauvignon Blanc. Since the early 1980s, New Zealand has been producing some very reputable Sauvignon Blancs, especially on South Island, home to Marlborough, their largest region.

Sauvignon Blancs from this area are very herbaceous and fruit-forward, with grapefruit and tropical fruit notes. These wines are usually high in acid and are almost always dry. They pair well with young, creamy cheeses, white meats like chicken, pork or turkey and just about any fish, including shellfish. The acidity of the wine bursts through in high fat dishes like vegetarian quiche, casseroles and lasagna.

So despite the cool start to this spring season, chill your favorite bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc today and celebrate this delightful white with Kiwis around the world.

Cin Cin!

World Malbec Day!


Since 2011, Malbec fans around the world have been celebrating World Malbec Day every April 17. Established by Wines of Argentina, the day was created to help recognize Malbec as one of the leading wines in the world. 

Back in 1853, the then President of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, ordered Frenchman Michel Aimée Puget to bring Malbec vines and others from France to help boost Argentina’s wine industry. In 1863, France was hit with the phylloxera plague, which resulted in the erosion of many varietals; Malbec being one of them. Consequently, Argentina is one of the only countries that has original Malbec vines and they have truly prospered over the years, making Argentina a top wine producer.

A medium-bodied, red dry wine, an Argentine Malbec also has medium tannins and acidity. It exhibits lush flavors of plum, black cherry and blackberry on the palate followed by a smokey finish, while a Malbec from France will be less fruit forward and have a higher acidity.

Malbec is very food-friendly and easy to pair with just about anything. It is ideal with grilled or barbecued meats and sausages. Roasted and stewed beef or game, braised lamb, mushrooms, and spice-laden sauces are a perfect accompaniment to this versatile red.

So wherever you are in the world today, open a bottle of your favorite Malbec, and celebrate World Malbec Day!

Cin Cin!

The Art of Home Winemaking


Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing two homemade red wines, each remarkably different from the other. These days the internet is flush with all kinds of recipes for wine, using almost any fruit, grape juice and even honey, which, with other ingredients, produces mead, the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. How-to videos are available on YouTube and there are a plethora of kits available for purchase online as well. However, the kind of homemade wine I am talking about was made by two very serious winemakers.

In a past post, I have written about my cousin Lisa, who grows her own grapes and makes small batches of homemade wine up in Maine; she has been bottling since 2009. She planted her first group of vines (10) and a small garden in front of her house in 2006, later expanding the vines to the back of the house, clearing the property with a rented back hoe. Currently she has 40 vines spaced 8 feet in rows, 10 feet apart, which she maintains each year on her own. She grows two cold weather red grapes, Frontenac and Marechal Foch.

Sometimes buying frozen juice and must (crushed grapes with skins, stems and seeds) or whole grapes, Lisa will blend either of these with her grapes before fermentation to elevate the sugar levels and decrease the acid levels. By doing this she decreases the amount of added sugar to her wine. Lisa procures her products from Musto Wine Grape Company, LLC in Hartford, CT. There was one year she blended Tempranillo, a black grape indigenous to Spain, that the company secured from Suisun Valley, CA. A grape high in sugar, it blended very well with her grapes.

However, the wine I opened was a straight up Frontenac, harvested September 23, 2011 and it had been aging in my wine cooler since bottling. Once uncorked, the aromas of cherry and other red fruits permeated the room; the same fruitiness came through on the palate. In addition, a slight oakiness was detected, due to the probable use of oak chips in the glass bottle aging process done before the final bottling. Overall, I found the wine very smooth, velvety, with a really nice finish.

The second bottle I opened was from a customer, who has been making wine for most of his 85 years; first with his dad and now on his own since 1952. Joe has added more and more family members along the way to assist in the process. However, unlike Lisa, Joe purchases all of his grapes from a company in Pleasantville, NY called Prospero. Most varietals are for sale from growers and can be purchased online (or in person) through a grape broker. Prospero is a one-stop shop for all winemaking equipment, supplies and grapes, which they get from California. They also service home brewers, distillers and cider makers. 

Joe blends three grapes into his wine – Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel and Thompson Seedless. The Alicante Bouschet is a dark-skinned grape with a bright red pulp that produces a wine low in acid and light in body. Zinfandel, another red, has medium acidity and boundless fruity flavors. The Thompson Seedless, I am learning, is a favorite white blending grape for home winemaking. Because of it’s low acid it is perfect for blending with both whites and reds. Back in the day, Joe’s dad used the white Muscat grape, but Joe finds the Thompson a better grape for blending with his reds. 

His 2018 vintage was approximately 60% Alicante Bouschet, 30% Zinfandel and 10% Thompson Seedless. Aged in oak (for a short time), the fruitiness of the Alicante and Zinfandel come through on the nose and palate; there is a slight hint of oak on the nose, not so much on the palate. Overall, it is an appealing blend, and the more it opened up, the more I enjoyed it.

The thing to note about home winemaking is that the wine is pretty much made for immediate consumption; it is rare someone like me will have a bottle hanging around in their wine cooler. Lisa’s husband, Don, almost single-handedly drinks her wine each year, while Joe and his family turn their winemaking into an annual family event. Maybe you would like to attempt home winemaking, or like me, just leave it to the experts and drink the fruits of their labor.

Cin Cin!

To Pair or Not to Pair: Are There Rules?

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Photo by Michael Kasten

I remember, not long ago, attending a wine tasting led by a French winemaker, peddling his portfolio of wines. He alleged that ALL wines are meant to be paired with a good meal; he said it is the European way aka “the right way”. Further, he declared to a room full of Americans, that Americans will come home at the end of a stressful day, open a bottle of wine, drink a glass or two without food, solely with the purpose of unwinding. And? What is wrong with that? Oh mon Dieu!

When I dine out in a restaurant, I very rarely start out with a cocktail before the meal; I usually go straight to the main drinking event and order a glass of wine. Not really into cocktails, I will likewise order a glass of wine (sometimes a beer) if we are allocated to the bar to wait for a table. When deciding on a varietal, I give zero thought to what I will be eating. There are a few things I will take into consideration: 

  • What am I “in the mood” for – This comes into play when making many “life” decisions
  • What do my dining mates like to drink – I am usually quite flexible when it comes to sharing a bottle
  • Are there specials – There may be wine specials, especially during happy hour
  • What season are we in – This will determine if I will drink red, white or maybe rose’

Once in a while, however, I will stumble across a great pairing. Over the holidays this past year I got together with friends for an evening of food, wine, and laughter; one of my favorite ways to pass an evening. We started out with three different reds for the appetizers. For dinner, the hostess prepared chicken francese so I opened a white Bordeaux. Wow – it was an amazing pairing! The crisp, citrusy flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion blend was a perfect complement to the lemony sauce of the chicken; just delicious! It is worth noting, however, I have also had this same wine on a hot summer night, at the end of a stressful day, to help me unwind; it was also quite satisfying. 

Having lived in Europe myself for four years, I don’t know if I believe pairing is the European way – it may be the French way. There was a fabulous vineria (wine bar) close to where I worked in Rome, Italy. The proprietor, Alberto, saw most of his business congregate well into the evening, but you could still find customers stopping in at the end of their stressful day, to unwind with a glass of prosecco or two. My small group of friends were a United Nations mix of people and regulars at this vineria.   

So, to pair or not to pair? I say drink what you want, when you want, with whatever you want, with whoever you want, wherever you want; it really should not matter, there are no rules. It is all about the experience, making new discoveries and creating memories of your own.

Cin Cin!

Cheers (or Cin Cin) to a New Year!


As everyone celebrated the holidays with food and family, popping open bottles of wine and bubbly, did anyone think about why we clink glasses and toast each other? Does anyone notice that at the end of each post I write “Cin Cin”? Admittedly, clinking glasses is something I do automatically, without thinking; it is something I learned early on, never really giving it much thought either.

Funny enough, it is believed this custom began back in medieval times as a way to prevent poisoning. Clinking glasses would cause liquid from one glass to spill into the other glass, hence proving the host was not intentionally trying to poison their guests. The sound also made by the glasses (back then wooden or clay mugs) was said to be a celebratory sound. Unfortunately, these are just stories and there is no recorded proof.

Another very popular story comes from the 17th century in which the word toast comes from the custom of flavoring drinks, like wine, with a piece of spiced toast. Hence the term toasting came into use. The most common toast you will hear around the world is “to health”. You will hear Salud (Spanish), Salute’ (Italian), Sante’ (French), or Zum Wohl (German). The often heard, L’Chayyim (Hebrew), is a traditional Jewish toast and means “to life”. The word “Cheers” is all-encompassing, expressing “good wishes” to the recipient. “Cin Cin” is the equivalent of cheers and the most popular way to toast in Italy, but to Italians is less formal than Salute’ and glasses should not be clinked, but just raised.

So let’s raise, clink, spill (hey, you never know!) our glasses together to a happy and healthy 2019! Cheers, Salud, Salute’, Sante’, Zum Wohl and L’Chayyim to you all!

Cin Cin!

Cabernet Franc Day!

Cabernet Franc Day
From left to right: Finger Lakes, NY; Lodi, CA; Mendoza, Argentina; Bordeaux

Since 2015, every December 4, wine lovers pay tribute to this “black” grape variety on what is known as Cabernet Franc Day or Cab Franc Day. And celebrate it we should! There is not much talk about this little known grape, but it has apparently gotten around in the wine world, making a reputation for itself. As one of two parents, Cab Franc is responsible for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere. Now, these are not just rumors flying about the vineyards; DNA analysis at UC Davis has proven this to be true. 

Best known as a blending grape used in Bordeaux-style wines, Cabernet Franc’s red fruit and herbal flavors are the ideal complement to two of its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is less commonly bottled as a varietal wine, but in cooler regions where it is difficult to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is one of the main red grapes. We see this in some parts of California, the eastern United States, and Canada. Argentina is also putting out some high quality, light-bodied Cab Francs, which come in second to their fuller, well-known Malbecs.

As a varietal, Cab Franc is a dry, medium-bodied wine with medium-high acidity and tannins. Aromas of raspberries, blackcurrants, violets and graphite are part of Cab Franc’s taste profile. Uniquely, a herbaceous or green bell pepper aroma can also be detected because of the presence of methoxypyrazines. This compound is found naturally in Cab Franc and is an inherent defense against pests, which allows this grape to grow in a diverse group of places.

Cab Franc is also a great food wine, but just as good on its own. It pairs well with most meats – grilled steak or lamb, roasted pork, or smoked ham. Grilled salmon works well or any earthy mushroom dish will bring out these same subtle flavors in the wine.  

So, if you have only tried one of the offspring – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Carmenere – and never the wellspring, now is a good time to get yourself a bottle of Cabernet Franc and celebrate! Happy Cabernet Franc Day! 

Cin Cin!

Give Thanks With Wine!


On this Thanksgiving Eve, with your pies in the oven and your turkey (I hope) brining, many of you are probably thinking about what you will be drinking with your divergent feast tomorrow. If you are entertaining, I am sure you are all set by now with a variety of libations, from aperitifs all the way through to dessert. But, what wine have YOU decided to drink during the main event? This year I have given this a lot of thought. 

Pinot Noir  Long a Thanksgiving staple for red wine drinkers, Pinot Noir is a good choice because of its light body and versatility; it will go with just about anything on the table.

Gamay As I mentioned last week, Beaujolais Nouveau was just released and is a fine accompaniment to Thanksgiving. Similar to Pinot Noir, the Gamay grape is also very versatile. If you do not want the fruitiness of a Beaujolais Nouveau, try a more mature Gamay and pick up a Beaujolais Cru.

My Pick I know I have proclaimed myself a seasonal wine drinker, but after much thought, I have decided to drink a white wine with tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal. With the variety of dishes and flavors on the table, I just feel a cool, crisp white is a better pairing for the actual meal. My pick is a medium dry Pinot Gris from Alsace, France. With hints of peach, spice and minerality and a long, crisp finish, I think this wine will be perfect with the various items on my plate.

Pinot Gris for Thanksgiving
Pinot Gris for Thanksgiving

Whatever it is you decide to drink tomorrow, make sure it is something you enjoy; whether it pairs well is secondary. May your Thanksgiving be filled with peace, love, laughter and good wine. Happy Thanksgiving!  


  Cin Cin!

It’s Beaujolais Nouveau Time!


Since 1985, every third Thursday of November, the Beaujolais region in France releases a red wine at 12:01am (local time) made from recently harvested Gamay grapes. Known as Beaujolais Nouveau, this very fruity, young wine is celebrated throughout France with parties and fireworks; the main festivities are in Lyon. Millions of bottles are also shipped around the world beforehand, but kept under lock and key until the official day.   

Hand-harvested, the whole grape is used in production (no bitter tannins from the skins) and the wine is bottled 6-8 weeks after harvest. Meant to be drank immediately, it is best served with a slight chill to bring out all the red fruit flavors – cherry, strawberry and raspberry.

In France, the celebration will run through the weekend and revelers will enjoy platters of charcuterie and cheese. Smoked ham, dried sausage or mild, soft cheeses are a perfect pairing for this young wine. Dinners of hearty stew and roasted meats (chicken or pork) will also be consumed throughout the long weekend celebration.

Beaujolais Nouveau has been around as early as the 1950s, but it was not until the 1970s that a national event was established. With all the media coverage surrounding the event, it became known internationally in the 1980s. Thanks to a group of marketing gurus, the official release date was finally established in 1985 as the third Thursday in November, the week before Thanksgiving.

So whether you have it this weekend or with your Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you have a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau before it disappears until next year.

Cin Cin!

International Merlot Day!

California Merlots
California Merlots

Every November 7, lovers of this globally grown dark blue-colored grape come together to celebrate International Merlot Day. Getting a bad wrap in the 2004 book and movie, Sideways, Merlot’s reputation did take a slight hit, but is now one of the most popular red wines amongst consumers and is successfully produced in almost every country around the world. Utilized as a blending grape, Merlot is also used on its own in varietal wines.

One of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wines, Merlot is the most widely planted grape in this region. An early ripener, it produces a medium-bodied wine with intermediate alcohol levels and acidity, and red fruit flavors. Merlot planted in New World regions like California are harvested later and produce wines that are fuller in body, with higher alcohol and deep plum, blackberry fruit tastes and aromas. 

As a blending grape, the role of Merlot in Bordeaux is to add softness to Cabernet Sauvignon. In Italy, you will see the use of Merlot to balance out the high acidity in many Italian grapes. Similar to Bordeaux, it is blended in “Super Tuscans” to soften the Sangiovese grape. In California, Merlot was mainly used on its own as a varietal wine, but for years now, it is also being blended in the Bordeaux-style as well.

Lighter Merlots pair well with salmon, shellfish, chicken, particularly grilled or roasted, and also mushroom-based dishes. The fuller Merlots make a tasty accompaniment to beef, grilled or roasted, and filet mignon, as well as pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces.

So, don’t be like Miles in Sideways – order that bottle of full-bodied California Merlot if it is to your liking. Or try a traditional Bordeaux – 2015 is a good year. Whatever you decide to do, just have a very Happy International Merlot Day! 

Cin Cin!

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