Archive for the ‘Wine Education’ Category

A New Twist on the High Alcohol Debate


Adam Lee of Siduri

I’m intrigued by the debate that’s raging among winemakers, critics, and wine consumers about alcohol content in wines. I wrote a post a few months ago, “How High Is Too High,” where I laid out the basic arguments on both sides.

OK, I admit that I didn’t present a totally unbiased opinion — I think my verbal “body language” showed that I sided with the go-for-it, balls-to-the-wall kind of wines.

But I just came across an article that takes the debate to a new level. It’s written by Eric Asimov, the very respected wine writer for The New York Times. You can’t get more respected than that…

So in his column, “A Gadfly in the Pinot Noir,” Asimov recounts the tale of a panel he moderated at a recent Pinot Noir symposium. Now, that’s not a situation that would seem to invite verbal fireworks, but there was a dramatic twist near the end of the proceedings that has created a mini-uproar in the wine community.

Check this out, and let me know what you think.

By ERIC ASIMOV, The New York Times

IT’S been called the Ol’ Switcheroo, and the Great Pinot Noir Kerfuffle. Depending on your point of view, it was either a surprise changeup that proved a point, or a dirty trick that proved nothing at all. Either way, the stunt that the winemaker Adam Lee pulled at a pinot noir seminar earlier this month has evoked both claims of vindication and cries of outrage throughout the wine-drinking world. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

The Food and Wine Lifestyle: Have We Become Wine-ies As Well As Food-ies?

chefI just read a story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website that’s definitely worthy of notice: “Ooh la la! Report Shows US Wine Sales Top France.” It read, in part:

“For the first time ever, overall U.S. wine sales have topped the wine-loving French.”

I think that’s amazing. I wondered, “How did this happen?” The article shed some light on that:

Why now? Part of the story is that as U.S. per capita consumption has risen, French consumption has fallen. In fact, U.S. wine consumption continued to grow during the recession, though many consumers switched to cheaper wines.”

Very interesting. Americans seem to have adopted a wine-drinking lifestyle, and I think I know why.

We’ve become a nation of Foodies. We shop differently, cook differently, and eat very differently than our parents ever did. Our mothers made recipes clipped out of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine. Every main course included a can of soup (usually Cream of Mushroom), and every dessert had a tub of Dream Whip somewhere in the list of ingredients.

Us Baby Boomers and our kids (X Gen, Y Gen or whatever), are fluent in Food-Speak. Every kitchen now includes:

- Four different kinds of oil (Extra Virgin Olive, Peanut, Grape Seed and good old Vegetable Oil for when we’re slummin’ it);

- Four different kinds of vinegar (Balsamic, Rice Wine, Sherry or Champagne, and White Vinegar for cleaning the windows);

- About $10,000 worth of amazing kitchen accessories including four sizes of Saute pans, a Crepe pan, an Asparagus Steamer, and a Panini Maker;

- No less than 42 cookbooks written by Celebrity Chefs (who’ve become America’s new royalty); and

- A bunch of recipes downloaded and printed from

This phenomenon was recorded and explained brilliantly by David Kamp in a book called “The United States of Arugula.” I highly recommend it. But apart from the sociological significance of our new eating habits, what does this have to do with U.S. wine consumption?

I’m sure it’s obvious: good food needs good wine to elevate it to a great meal. Everyone who’s obsessed with making great food is obsessed with drinking good wine along with it. So we’ve started:

- Reading wine reviews and wine blogs (I hope);

- Learning the difference between Burgundy from France and burgundy in the gallon jug at the grocery store;

- Starting a small (or large) collection of better wines; and

- Discovering which food pairs best with which wine.

It’s amazing — we’re becoming almost European! Next thing you know we’ll all be “living to eat,” not “eating to live.” And that’s a wonderful situation for everyone — except the guys who make that Cream of Mushroom soup… Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

How to Decipher Wine Labels to Find a Wine You’ll Enjoy

YouTube Preview Image

  • Share/Bookmark

Yes, You Can Pair Chicken and Wine


It’s the meat that gets no respect.

It’s considered the “cheap” choice on restaurant menus, and the boring, cook-it-when-you-can’t-think-of-anything-better dinner choice.

But add some sauce and spice, pair it with the right bottle of wine, and you’ve got a great meal.

So invariably people ask me, “Which wine should I serve with chicken?” And I have to say… “It depends.”

“Oh, right,” you say. “I knew it couldn’t be simple.”

But is. Because there’s really only one Tried and True Rule of Food and Wine Pairing.

Before I unveil this Guiding Principle, let me walk you through a little case study. Let’s say you’re cooking Chicken Parmesan, with a rich Marinara Sauce and some melted cheese. What’s the dominant flavor? What stands out in your mouth? Is it the taste of the chicken breast, or the taste of the tomato sauce?

And if you cook an elegant Chicken Piccata, drizzled with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce, what do you taste? You taste the lemons and capers, if you cook it the way I do.

So the dominant flavor of any dish is the sauce or the spicing, not the base meat or vegetable.

Aha! Now you see where I’m going. If someone asks, “Which wine should I pair with chicken,” I ask, “How are you preparing it?” If they say, “With Parmesan Sauce,” I go for a red: maybe a lighter Italian red such as Barbera or a Toscano blend; maybe a Spanish Tempranillo or Garnacha; maybe a Malbec from Argentina. The point is that I want to drink a red to complement the tomato sauce, and especially a red with some acid to match the acid in the tomatoes.

That’s not too complicated, right?

So let’s do the Picatta Chicken. I want a wine that can stand up to tart lemon and tangy capers, so I’ll go with a crisp, dry white. I don’t want an oak-aged wine like Chardonnay, because it won’t set off the lemon. I think I’d like a Sauvignon Blanc, or a European white. How about a Pinot Grigio? Or how about a dry Greek white? Greek cooking uses a lot of lemons, so we know it’ll work.

It’s that simple.


There are other considerations, and rules of thumb that folks have discovered by trial and error. But it’s not rocket science. Say, what wine do you think they should drink on rocket ships? We’ll talk about that next time. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

The Wine Lady’s Wine Wars: France Vs Spain

YouTube Preview Image

  • Share/Bookmark

Canadians World Leaders in Ice Wine — and Very Large Wine Glasses

ice wineThe Canadians are at it again. This time they’ve grabbed the attention of the wine world by setting a Guinness World Record for the Largest Filled Wine Flute. Yes, as the kick-off to the 2011 Niagara Icewine Festival, “38 Ontario ice wine makers and winery proprietors gathered to pour seventy 375 ml bottles and six 200 ml bottles” into a giant flute designed by world-renowned stemware manufacturer Riedel.

Now that’s a lot of icewine. The article said it totaled 18 liters, which by my calculation represents about $3000 worth of icewine. “Wow,” I thought: “That’s one expensive publicity stunt.” But the good news is that the alcohol didn’t go to waste: it was sipped and enjoyed by all in attendance.

Canada’s Niagara Peninsula has earned a great reputation for its icewine. It’s the world’s largest exporter of the stuff, most of it going to Japan and the Far East.

It wasn’t always so. Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo of Inniskillin Winery got the idea to make icewine around 1975. “When we poured the first icewine in 1984,” says Kaiser, “people were drinking junk like Black Nun and Blue Tower.” After that, he says, people got into cheap French wine, and then because of their previous experiences with the sweet Old World wines, they were hesitant to try icewine. But that all changed in 1991, when Inniskillin’s Vidal Icewine won a Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo in Bordeaux. “The world took note,” he smiles.”

The folks in Ontario know how to have fun with their icewine. Every winter they stage a bang-up icewine festival, most of it “al fresco” in Ontario’s sub-zero (Celsius) winter. In the pictures I saw, everyone’s bundled up from head to toe, they’re all clutching glasses of golden icewine, and they’re all grinning like crazy. I guess the alcohol cranks up the old internal thermostat…

So once again, Go Canada! Here’s to ice, wine, and adventurous Canadians. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

Canadians Taking the Wine World by Storm


I have to admit I was shocked by a recent headline in the wine press: “Canada’s Wine Consumption is Growing Six Times Faster than the World Average” (from”Wow,” I thought. “They’ve certainly picked up the pace since I lived there…”

I know something about Canadian drinking habits, which used to run from Canadian Club whiskey and Molson Canadian beer, to nothing at all. You may not know that Canada was home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, of which my grandmother was a card-carrying, white-ribbon-wearing member. They believed that alcohol — any and all alcohol — was the Demon Drink and would lead otherwise God-fearing citizens (such as my Great Uncle) to rack and ruin. It’s true that Uncle Harry did his share of drifting, usually ending up in some Western boom town where he would drink and gamble till he ran out of money and then move on. I heard he was a mean piano player, and often paid his way by playing piano in honky tonk bars. I know his church-going relatives were horrified, but I’ve always wished I’d been able to meet the guy.

Anyhow… the point of my digression was to explain that alcohol in general and wine in particular was not traditionally a part of many Canadians’ lives. (Just ask all of us who sat through countless dry family gatherings.)

But apparently all that has changed. A report conducted by the British research firm ISWR examined worldwide wine consumption trends from 2005 to 2014. It flagshowed that between 2005 and 2009 alone, Canadian wine consumption increased a whopping 22.5 percent. Wow! In the next five years, 2010 to 2014, a 19 percent increase is expected in Canada, while the rest of the wine-drinking world logs a modest 3.18 percent increase.

Canada is also the world’s fifth largest importer of wine, and is scheduled to hold the number 3 spot by 2014, lagging behind only the U.S.and China. And this with a mere tenth the population of the U.S. and I can’t even count high enough to figure out how much larger China is.

All I can say is, “Go Canada!” Whether my brothers and sisters to the North are enjoying more domestically-made wine (you’ll read another post about that tomorrow), or they’re hitting the Old World and New World wines harder, I say, “Keep up the good work.” Forget that nasty rye whiskey, and limit your lager to hockey-game-watching. Go ahead and pour a glass of red, white, pink or bubbly and keep racking up those numbers.

I’m proud, once again, to be a Canadian: Oh Canada!

  • Share/Bookmark

Welcome to the Other World of Wine: Ruta 22 Malbec

pataginiaIf you head south to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then keep heading south through Pampas grasslands, alongside towering Andes mountains, through forests and beside remote lakes, you’ll finally get to Neuquen, Patagonia. This distant valley is so far away from all the civilized, corporate, congested wine places like Burgundy and Napa Valley that you would think you’re in another world. And you are: that’s what the owners of Ruta 22 call this place. It’s not part of the Old World of wine, although they have French winemakers. And it’s not part of the New World of wine, although they grow intense, fruity New World style wine. It’s truly the Other World of wine.

Patagonia and the Neuquen Valley are a study in extremes. The topography is difficult, and the climate more so. There’s a huge “diurnal temperature shift,” or difference between day and night-time temperatures — like 35 degrees Fahrenheit. This produces structure and acid in the fruit. There’s very little rainfall, which stresses the grapevines and creates more intense aromas and flavors; and almost constant winds that challenge the vines but keep them relatively free of pests so that chemicals aren’t necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

The Wine Lady’s Wine Survival Training:Pairing Food and Wine.

YouTube Preview Image

  • Share/Bookmark

Open That Bottle! Join the International OTBN Wine Event

old btlsI’ve seen it way too often. Casual or serious wine collectors have cellars where they carefully guard their prized wine collection. They delight in telling me about their 1982 French, or 1987 Napa, or whatever. When I ask, “So have you enjoyed any lately?”, they invariably say, “I’m waiting for the right occasion to open something.”

Guess what? Any occasion is the right occasion for a great bottle of wine! If you keep putting off the pleasure because it’s not a good enough occasion, you may just find that… you’ve run out of occasions!  And worse yet, you’ve run out of drinkable wine. Because too often, cellar dorks keep their wines cloistered beyond the point when they were at their peak. I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat around a table swirling my 19whatever and heard, “Damn, I should have opened this last year.” Or the year before, or the year before that.

So here’s a great way to avoid all that sorrow. Participate in this year’s Open That Bottle Night on February 26, 2011. I read about this on one of my favorite blob/websites,, which is manned by a group of very fun Australian and New Zealand wine freaks. They reminded me that the last Saturday in February has become an International Wine Event. Anyone and everyone can participate at a restaurant or in someone’s home. The only stipulation is that everyone bring a bottle they’ve been waiting to open. “It could be a special vintage, your dad’s favourite wine, the wine you enjoyed on your first date or one you bought on a memorable visit to a winery. Or if you aren’t saving a wine (wine is meant to be drunk after all!) OTBN is a good excuse to go out and buy a bottle and treat yourself.”

My feelings exactly. So start planning your evening now. Call up some family and friends — anyone who also enjoys good wine (that leaves out half my family). Commandeer someone’s dining room table (the biggest you can find), and start searching your recipes for a wine-friendly dish to bring along with your wine.

It sounds like a blast. Stay tuned, because I’ll report on our OTBN and I’d like to hear some comments on yours, too. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark
Wine Accessories

Switch to our mobile site