Archive for the ‘Wine Education’ Category

Drink Away Your Sunburn!

sunHere’s great news for sun worshippers: drinking wine may prevent sunburn. What a great excuse to pop open a bottle of summer wine!

An article by Melissa Dahl on’s Health website reports this great news.

A compound found in grapes or grape derivatives may protect skin cells from skin-damaging ultraviolet radiation, report researchers from the University of Barcelona and the Spanish National Research Council. The flavonoids found in grapes work to halt the chemical reaction that kills skin cells and causes sun damage.

Here’s what happens: When UV rays hit your skin, they activate “reactive oxygen species,” or ROS, which then oxidize big molecules like lipids and DNA. This activates particular enzymes that kill skin cells.

But grapes’ flavonoids work to decrease the formation of the ROS’s in skin cells that were exposed to UVA and UVB rays. The researchers, led by Marta Cascante, a biochemist at the University of Barcelona and director of the research project, note that this finding may lead to better sun-shielding drugs and cosmetics.

The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Previously, vino has also been found to fight Alzheimer’s, ward off prostate cancer and even prevent cavities. We’ll drink to that.

Thanks, Melissa. Salute!



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Wine and Millennials: “Everything Old Is New Again”

millennialsOK, I’ll try not to sound like an old geezer when I say this — I’m really tired of pandering to “Millennials.” It seems like every ambitious marketer and academic is studying or reporting on the habits and preferences of this category, which is supposed to be the focus of our sales and marketing efforts for everything from cars to computers to wine.

Here’s the latest overblown academic treatise that set me cursing:

Dr. Liz Thach MW, Korbel Professor of Wine Business & Management at Sonoma State University, released a study on the wine drinking habits of Millennials. Now before I go any further, let me specify that Millennials are defined as people born between 1980 and 2000 (give or take), and are also known Gen Y. They followed the previously famous Gen X, and they’re basically the children of the Post WWII Baby Boomers.

Have you got that? I know I’ve got two — Millennials, I mean. I (a self-confessed Baby Boomer) produced two children in the 1980′s, so I’ve had a chance to examine the care and feeding of this group in a very “up close and personal” way. I don’t feel I need an academic study to analyze their behavior, but I’ll go along with it. Hey, it may tell me something useful for my wine business.

This study, which was commissioned by the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University, was designed to determine the most common occasions during which young people drink wine. Here are the results.

The two wine-drinking occasions listed most often are Special Occasions and  Drinking Wine with Meals at a Formal Restaurant. Nothing revolutionary there, and in fact the study says these were the most common occasions listed by previous generations (including mine).

Next most popular: Family Get Togethers, Special Events (graduation, weddings, etc.), Friend’s Night, Parties, Theme Nights (movies, games, etc.) Date Nights/Romance, On Vacation.

OK, I’m waiting for something I don’t know already. Aren’t these the exact same occasions during which we Baby Boomers consume wine now? And that were popular when we were the 20-Something Generation (they didn’t give us initials like X and Y back then)? Read the rest of this entry »

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Another Spanish Bargain: Yonna 2003

borjaVintage close-outs are a tricky thing. They can be an amazing bargain, or a waste of time and money (my time, and my customers’ money).

So I flinched when I heard, “Down from $25.99 to the amazing low price of $12.99!! But wait! There’s more!!” Well, he didn’t say it quite like that, but I always think of late-night infomercial hucksters when I hear about deals that seem too good to be true.

So was this deal a bargain, or a bust?

The wine I’m talking about is Bodegas San Juan Bautista Yonna 2003. It’s from Spain, known for long-lived reds from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions. But this wine is from Campo de Borja, a relatively new wine producing area in Aragon province in northern Spain. I say “relatively new” because grapes have been grown there since Roman warriors marched across the Iberian Peninsula, scattering grape seeds and offspring along the way.

Up in Zaragoza (the much-more-romantic Spanish name for the region), the winters are cold and the summers are warm and dry. There’s a large Diurnal Temperature Shift, and if you’ve been reading my blog you know that’s techie talk for “Large Difference Between Daytime and Nighttime Temperatures.” This is a good thing because it helps create structure in the grapes, and contributes to the intensity of the flavors. Read the rest of this entry »

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More Fun in the Nuthouse from Argyle Winery

Rollin Soles, owner and winemaker at award-winning Argyle Winery

We’re all pretty darn quick to chirp, “2006 was a bad vintage,” or “2008 was a good vintage.”

The truth is, Mother Nature sometimes gives winemakers better conditions to work with, but no individual winery has a “good vintage” unless the winemaker does a good job.

Take the 2008 vintage in Oregon. The word went out very early that it was one of the better vintages in several years, and wine drinkers got their palates set to enjoy some really good stuff from their favorite wineries.

But 2008 was not an easy growing season. Nature through all kinds of stuff at Oregon vintners, including cool spring temperatures that delayed flowering, higher-than-normal summer rainfall, and early October frost. Vineyard managers and winemakers had to make some tough decisions, including how much to thin the crop in order to produce the best quality fruit.

Here’s how Rollin Soles put it: “So, it is an important balancing act to get the crop not too low, and not too high, to ensure proper ripening before the rain starts and doesn’t stop until next July!”

Here’s my point: Rollin made some great wine that year (which I know because I just tasted one), and not everyone else did.

Rollin is the winemaker and owner of Argyle Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He’s got some perspective on good and bad vintages, because he’s been growing and making wine in Oregon since 1987. And he hasn’t just been goofing around. His winery has earned all kinds of 90+ ratings from the big-name wine reviewers; his wines have made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list more often than any other Oregon winery; and Spectator named Argyle “Oregon’s Premier Winery” in 2000.

So yeah, the guy knows how to make great wine, even in a not-so-good vintage. Of course, he’s got some good tools to work with, like the Lone Star Vineyard that produces the fruit for Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008.  The Lone Star Vineyard is in the Eola-Amity Hills appellation, but it sits at a relatively low elevation and its orientation is such that it’s drenched with sunshine from the moment “the first light of day peaks over the Cascade range” until late in the day.

What does this extra radiant heat do? It produces more intense black fruit flavors and good structure. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Surprise from a Classic Winery: Sterling Napa County Meritage 2007

If you think you know everything you need to know about anything, then think again.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about Napa Valley’s Sterling Vineyards. I thought they had a classic reputation but weren’t very interesting, probably based on the fact that their wines have very large distribution — i.e. they’re in almost every grocery store. (As a small, independent wine retailer, I look for brands that my customers can’t pick up while they’re shopping for lettuce and milk.)

So when I came across a Sterling label that wasn’t familiar to me, I jumped on the internet to look it up. And I learned that Sterling Vineyards has a rather interesting history. The winery was created more than 30 years ago by successful British entrepreneur Peter Newton, who I’m guessing fell in love with the landscape and climate of the Napa Valley (if you’ve spent much time in London, you’ll now why).

Remember, this was back before Napa was a “wine country destination.” Newton planted some additional vineyards around the valley, including the first significant plantings of Merlot.

What??  You mean Sterling pre-dates, and may even have had a hand in creating, the American love affair with Merlot? (which later became a scornful relationship, thanks to one crack by a wine geek in a movie called “Sideways.”) Read the rest of this entry »

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Giving Wines a Health Score: Sense or Nonsense?

grapesI read in a recent post by Dr. Vino that a couple of British wine people have created an online wine store that rates all of its wines on a healthfulness scale.  The site is called and here’s how Dr. Vino describes it.

Vinopic brings together Rosemary George, Master of Wine and one of the UK’s leading wine writers and critics, and Professor Roger Corder, world renowned health expert and author of The Wine Diet. These two wine experts assess and score every wine at Vinopic for the two key elements of wine quality. Roger guides consumers in the direction of higher “natural quality” by taking into consideration the richness in grape polyphenols. Rosemary ensures the wines are of superior “drinking quality”, rewarding aroma, taste and pleasure.

If you’re wondering what they mean by “Natural quality” and what “grape polyphenols” have to do with anything, they’re obliquely referring to our old friend, Resveratrol. This substance found in red grapes and therefore red wine was the Miracle Drug of the mouseMoment a year or two ago. Researchers found that if they fed massive amounts to laboratory mice, the little critters would show reduced signs of aging. (You can read all about it in my post, “Are You A Man (Woman) Or A Mouse?”).

Every nutritionist and anti-aging quack jumped on the Resveratrol bandwagon, and many wine geeks made it their mission to figure out which red wines would give drinkers the most anti-aging bang for their buck. They published articles saying things like, “Cool-climate Pinot Noir has the highest levels of Resveratrol, followed by mountain-grown Malbec” (or something like that).

People who didn’t know any better (i.e. who drank little or no wine of any kind) came stumbling into my wine shop, clutching dog-eared pages ripped out of magazines and newspapers. They believed that the key to their health and happiness lay in procuring this one, exact, cool-climate, mountain-grown red wine. And when I told them the Oregon Pinot they were seeking was gonna run them $25 or $30 a bottle, they almost wept.

What was the problem then? Too much hype and not enough common sense.

And what’s wrong with the Vinopic concept (in my humble opinion)? Too much hype and not enough common sense.


Wines made from grapes that ripen slowly, i.e. where cooler temperatures and lots of sunlight allow longer “hang time,” will have more developed polyphenols (and Resveratrol), which are the compounds in red grapes that ripen more slowly than grape sugars and also happen to contribute flavor and complexity to wine.

Grapes grown that way are also the ones used to make higher-quality wines: it costs more to baby the grapes through their growing season, usually dropping fruit to limit yields and further improve quality. So the wines made from these grapes cost more.

The cheaper wines generally use grapes grown by the boatload, the more tons the merrier, in the relatively hot Central Valleys of the world.

Do they have less Resveratrol? Yes. Are they less healthful and lower quality? Yes again.

But not just because of the Resveratrol. These wines happen to be made by companies that intend to fill grocery store shelves with wine in jugs and boxes. To keep costs down and to standardize flavor profiles, they add to the wine: CHEMICALS, SUGAR, SULFITES, AND GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE.

So we’re getting around to the Moral of my Story: If you want to be healthy, feel youthful, and enjoy a lovely-tasting beverage with food, friends and family — drink any red wine that doesn’t come in a jug or 5 liter box (notice I said % liter, because there’s some decent stuff in 3 liter boxes) and doesn’t cost less than about $8 a bottle. (Or even a little less for some good-quality and good-tasting imports from Spain, Chile or Argentina.)

It’s that simple. You don’t need complicated rating systems or scientific reports — just ask your friendly local wine merchant to recommend a good, naturally-made red (i.e. with no unnecessary additives) and whether it’s a Pinot Noir, Malbec, Rioja or Cab, you’ll be doing your body a favor while you give yourself some fun and pleasure.

And now excuse me — I’m gonna pour myself a glass of red wine. Cheers!

P.S. – I tried to go to and Google says “Cannot Be Found.”




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Seghesio Family Vineyards: It’s All About Trust

seghesioWhen I’m not blogging, I’m selling wine. And one of the wines we’ve sold for years is Seghesio. Their labels have been on our shelves since the price tag on the Sonoma Zin was about $9, and we’ve never hesitated to recommend them, or to drink them (that’s been the best part!).

We’ve also visited the winery countless times, and every time, they welcome us like long-lost family (and not just because we also have an Italian surname). We’ve toured (happily), we’ve tasted (even happier), and we’ve been absolutely orgasmic over Seghesio’s Family Table, a lovely event where guests taste several wines along with amazing family recipes prepared by the winery’s on-site chef.

Everything we’ve experienced with Seghesio has been classy and elegant, and also warm and friendly. That’s one reason why I always send wine country visitors to Seghesio’s door, bypassing the big “corporate winery” tasting rooms.

So I was taken aback when I read in the Wine Spectator that Seghesio has been acquired by an outfit called The Crimson Wine Group. Yee gads! — the dreaded corporate owner!

Then I read farther. Crimson is not exactly Bronco Wine Company. They own just a few other blue chip winieries, such as Pine Ridge in Napa and Archery Summit in Oregon.. And the terms of the agreement state that the Seghesio family will continue to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery.

At least for now.

The Spectator article says “the purchase includes the Healdsburg winery, 300 acres of vineyards, the Seghesio brand and current wine inventory. Most of the family members involved with the winery will stay on board.” But read on — “Pete retains ownership of San Lorenzo Vineyard, while Ed and Ray Seghesio keep Cortina Vineyard.”

That little sentence opens a world of possibility. Like, what will Pete, Ed and Ray do after the expiration of their non-compete clause (which we all assume is included in the contract)? Will we see a new winery producing the great single-vineyard Zins that put Seghesio on the map?

I hope so. And I wish the family all the best in their new future.

But here’s what I know for sure: I’ve always trusted the Seghesio family — to make great wine, to treat people right, to be great people. And I’ll continue to trust them to do the right thing, whatever that is for them, their customers and their wines.

Here’s to you, Seghesio. Best of luck, and congratulations on creating a new future. Cheers!



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Bordeaux + Chile = Carmenere

morandeI admit it — I really like South American wines. They can be bold, rustic, in-your-face and over-the-top, but that’s they’re style. They’re like a Latin lover: hot-blooded, hot-tempered, but oh, so fun to play with.

So this week I’m in Chile. Well, not literally south of the Equator, but that’s where my tasting is focused. I have two Chilean Carmenere’s and we’re going to let them duke it out. But let’s get some perspective and context first.

Don’t feel like a dummy if you’ve never heard of the Carmenere grape. For about a century and a half, no one knew about Carmenere. The grape was native to the Bordeaux region of France and was one of the six grapes blended into red Bordeaux wine (for the wine-geek-wannabe’s, the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot). Cuttings from Bordeaux vines were taken to Chile sometime in the 19th century, and Son of a Gun if they didn’t grow much better in Chile’s warm, dry climate than they had in their homeland.

But somewhere along the way, the Carmenere got lumped in with the Merlot, because they were visually similar. Funny, though, that what the Chileans bottled as Merlot had a very distinctive, earthy edge… So it wasn’t until the 1990′s that the lightbulb went off and Carmenere got its own locker in the locker room. Growers realized that it had the potential to make classic wine, blended or by itself, as long as it got a little more hang-time for the grapes to fully ripen and develop their phenolics (that’s the stuff in the grapes that delivers complexity and flavor).

So Carmenere, the “lost Bordeaux varietal,” leap-frogged from being a no-name to becoming Chile’s signature red grape.

But is it any good? Well, sure. At its best it offers intense color, lots of rich berry flavors, spice, hints of things like smoke, leather, tobacco or earth, and a smoother, less-tannic finish than Cab Sauv.

So my job here is to taste two Carmeneres, from different wineries and at different price points, and see what we think. I started with Morande Pionero Carmenere Maipo Valley 2009. Vina Morande is only 15 years old, but it’s made a huge commitment in vineyards, facilities, and personnel. The winery has created about five tiers of wines, from everyday stuff to world-class. Pionero is Morande’s entry-level line, and is designed to be “Friendly, lively, and approachable.”

All those words fit the Carmenere I tried. It’s the kind of bottle you could slam down on the table when you get together with friends, or pop open on a Tuesday night without a bit of “guilt” about spending yet more of your grocery budget on alcoholic beverages. (This is the definition of a Tuesday Night Wine, and Tuesday Night Wines should form a significant part of your wine collection.)

This wine doesn’t need any fancy descriptors. It’s round, which means there are no harsh edges. It’a also full-bodied enough to satisfy your wine appetite and stand up to your burgers or chicken. It’s fruity, but not in a Juicy Fruit kind of way: the taste reminded me of cherries and red berries, with some spice-herb-mint on the side. I didn’t get the earth or smoke I expected, so the wine is relatively simple. But that’s not a bad thing: this is a “drink and enjoy” wine, so drink and enjoy! For under $10, I think it’s a great value.

In a day or two we’ll taste a single-vineyard Carmenere, and see what we can learn by way of comparison. Cheers!

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Raptor Ridge Winery


Raptor Ridge Winemaker Scott Shull

We met Annie Shull yesterday. She was standing behind the wine bar in a very nice Scottsdale retail shop, pouring wine and talking to the customers who wandered up. She does this a lot, as do the sales and marketing people from other up-and-coming wineries. The mission is to take their wine to the people — to pour their vintages down the throats of willing wine drinkers, thus building, one wine drinker at a time, a devoted following for their wines and winery.

Annie’s winery has jump-started that process. Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, Oregon has gotten such great press, almost from the very beginning, that they’ve happily sold out many of their vintages well before the next year’s release. All the name publications — Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits, which has named them a Winery of the Year — have awarded them many 90+ ratings. And that’s a very good thing.

Raptor Ridge’s winemaker is Scott Shull, Annie”s husband, who launched their venture in 1995 like many small producers: in his garage and on his kitchen table. His focus is Pinot Noir, and he sourced grapes from vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley. His winemaking focus is on allowing each vineyard to shine. He ferments and barrel ages each vineyard lot separately, and then produces each cuvee (there do about eight Pinot Noirs and a Pinot Gris) by tasting and blending just before bottling. This winemaking is as hands-on as you can get, from the vineyard right through to the bottling line.

The results speak for themselves. I tasted four of their wines, and was impressed with each for different reasons.

The Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris 2009 is a fabulous example of this varietal, which has become Oregon’s signature white grape. The nose is aromatic with peach and citrus notes and a suggestion of sweetness, but the palate is laser-beam clean, with tangy tangerine fruit and very crisp acid. The finish is anything but cloying, finishing rich but dry. I see why this vintage of Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris earned top ratings.

And speaking of vintages, I asked Annie whether there was truth to the now-commonly-held belief that 2007 was a crummy vintage in Oregon, while 2008 was the best ever. She pointed out that it was the wine press who fed us this theory, and that it wasn’t necessarily borne out across the board. In fact, her wines suggest the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

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Women, Wine and Golf: Great Pairings

women golf

That's me... no, not really. I wish...

It works any way you pair it: Women and Wine, Women and Golf, or Wine and Golf. (Wine and Golf may seem a little shaky, but I can testify that a glass of Chardonnay can sometimes make the back nine a lot easier.)

I bring up these three things because I just read that California’s Mirassou Winery is now the Official Wine of the LPGA (or Ladies Professional Golf Association).

I think that’s exciting, because no one, ever, pays enough attention to us women golfers. Big-name corporations aren’t exactly falling all over each other to sponsor women’s golf events, so this seems big to me.

With a little research on the Mirassou website I discovered that the winery has a history of supportmirassouing women’s golf. (There’s even a tab on their website home page about wine and golf.) Besides their LPGA gig, I discovered that they’ve co-sponsored many golf tournaments and events.

I was intrigued by another link on the Mirassou site. They’re involved with an organization called Women on Course, which organizes events around the country where women (mostly working women, I think) can get together to golf, network, and of course, drink wine.

Sign me up! I’m going to check out their site ( and see if I can find something happening near me.

I’m also going to drink some wine…but you knew that. Cheers!

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