Monthly Archives: June 2012

Ordering Wine at a Restaurant

Jason asked what to do about the wine order when everyone is eating something different. Here are some suggestions that have worked out well for me: 

What are your favorite restaurant wines? Got any additional tips? 

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Can you Make White Wine out of Red Grapes?


Question from Ericka: Someone told me that they make white wine out of red grapes. Is that true? 

Reply: Hi, Ericka. Thanks for writing! Yup – it’s true. However, the vast majority of white wine is made from “white” (they look green or yellow-green when they’re ripe, like the grapes you get at the grocery) varieties. 

Unfortunately, this is the wrong time of the year for me to show you that the juice of dark wine grapes is clear. All of the grapes are tiny and green right now. They’ll start changing color mid to late July. But, anyway, if you squeeze a dark grape you’ll see that the juice is just as clear as a tear drop almost every time (there’s a handful of dark grapes with red juice – they’re called teinturier varieties – best known is Alicante Bouschet). 

The most famous example of white wine made from red grapes is sparkling wine. Of the three traditional grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, two are dark. The grapes are harvested at a low sugar, compared to grapes for table wine, so there’s little chance that the color will begin to bleed from the skins to the juice. Then, the grape clusters are pressed (squeezed) extremely gently, to separate liquid from solid. Et voilà – very pale white juice ready to be converted to wine! Blanc de Blancs is all Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs and Rosé are Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.

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Today’s Wine Word: Wine Aroma Wheel


Doesn’t it just drive you crazy when you smell something in the wine, and you know that you know what it is, but you can’t come up with the word? Wine Aroma Wheel to the rescue!

This is one of my all-time favorite tools. I actually had this wheel blown up into poster size to teach wine-tasting classes. 

The purpose of the wheel is to give us common language to describe wine. Rather than saying something esoteric like “This wine reminds me of a warm afternoon on the Champs Elysées.” – what the heck does that mean? – the terms are things we can all relate to. Like strawberries or licorice for instance. 

There’s a guide on the aroma wheel website that give you detailed instructions of how to use it. But, the big picture, as I see it, is that the wheel asks you questions that lead you to be specific in your in your description. In the center of the wheel you see the most general description, like “fruity” or “floral”. Say you think the wine smells fruity. As you work your way out, the wheel says “Okay – if the wine is fruity is it like citrus fruit? Or berries? Or dried fruit? What do you think?” If you select berries it goes on to ask if the wine is more like strawberries or blackberries. If you think it’s citrusy is it more like lemon or orange?  Continue reading


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Recipe: Sungold Tomato & Bread Salad


photo courtesy of Sherry Page

Enjoy this easy to make and delicious recipe for Sungold Tomato and Bread Salad from Sherry Page of Culinary Getaways. Summer on a plate!

Sherry: “This is one of my favorite summer salad recipes. It combines sweet orange Sungold tomatoes and basil with spicy arugula. The sweet, tart and peppery flavors in this salad pair beautifully with a crisp, zesty Sauvignon Blanc. With it’s citrus and ripe stone fruit notes, Round Pond 2010 is one of my favorites!”  

PAIRING TIP: when you pair high-acid dishes, such as tomatoes, tomato sauce and acid-based salad dressings the wine should be at least as high in acid as the dish or the wine will taste flat. 

About Sherry: 

My good friend, Sherry Page, has been cooking since age five and has vivid memories of standing on a big, heavy chair at her Grandma’s stove, stirring away!

She’s, since, deepened and polished the cooking skills she gained as a child by taking cooking classes all over the world, including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons near Oxford, Le Cordon Bleu in London, and culinary weeks with Patricia Wells in both Paris and Provence. She has also taken classes in Japan and Italy and has completed a number of professional wine classes at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Napa Valley.

Her day job? She’s the owner and very gracious host of Culinary Getaways, a travel company that focuses on introducing her guests to the riches of the Napa Valley, Paris, Provence and Tuscany through unique, carefully-crafted, food and wine experiences. 

I had the pleasure of going on her Provence getaway a few years ago, so I can attest, first hand, that she’s the hostess with the mostest! She makes it a point to know the special secrets that each region has to offer and the getaway is filled with exquisite tastings, intimate meals, really fun cooking classes and lots of laughter.

Sherry has generously agreed to share a special recipe and wine pairing with us from time to time. Enjoy, and bon appétit! Learn more about Sherry

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Organic vs. Organically-Grown Wine

Confused by the labels? Join the crowd! Here’s a brief explanation: 


How do you feel about it? Is the organic label important to you? 

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Warm Climate, Cool Climate


Last time I waxed eloquent about our lovely morning fog here in Napa Valley. Of course, we haven’t had any since then…

Anyway, I thought it might be a good time to take a closer look at how climate influences your enjoyment. That’s what it’s all about, right?

As we said before, world wide, the best winegrowing regions tend to have Mediterranean climates and the growers in each region want the same thing: enough sun and heat to bring the grapes to complete ripeness, but not so much that they lose too much acidity along the way. And, each region has its challenges.    

If you like to garden, you know how seasonal temperatures affect the ripening pattern of your fruit and vegetables. Imagine trying to ripen tomatoes on your patio if you live San Francisco, where it’s foggy daily in the summertime, and temperatures rarely rise above 65F.  Those are going to be some tart, green tomatoes, right?  The same thing applies to grapes. They start out with high levels of acid, low levels of sugar, and relatively vegetative flavors. As the weeks go by they gain fruitiness and sweetness, and the acid decreases, provided they get enough heat and sun. So, depending upon where they’re grown they’ll ripen slowly or quickly and end up tasting more or less ripe since the level of sugar and acidity is affected.

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Today’s Wine Word: Fog

For the first time this spring I woke up to fog this morning – not clouds – fog. I thought of all the lovely people visiting Napa Valley waking up, looking out the window of their hotel, and feeling a little bummed. I could just hear them saying “Darn! It’s going to be cloudy and cold today! Is it going to rain?”

I wished I could somehow tell them all not to despair. But, at least their disappointment was short-lived. By the time they had breakfast and hopped in the car for their 10:00 winery appointment things were already starting to break up. They thought “Maybe things are looking up.” By 10:30, or so, we had full sun. 

And, I was thinking “Yay! We’re moving into our summer weather pattern!” It’s made up of mostly cool, foggy nights and bright, sunny days. Very comfortable for the visitors and the vines.  

Why am I prattling on about this? Because, when it comes to climate, the fog is really the key reason Napa Valley is a famous winegrowing region. Without San Pablo Bay, down there at the southern end of the valley, it would be too hot, here, to grow good wine. The warm days encourage maturation. The foggy nights keep the progress kind of leisurely and the cool temperatures also keep the acidity bright.  Continue reading

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Throw a Wine and Food Pairing Party!

We talked about a couple of great books on pairing wine with food recently. Now that you’re armed with really good advice and recipes, how about throwing a wine and food pairing party? Tons of fun! 

What are some of your favorite formats when you host a wine tasting party or pairing party?

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Ya Gotta Love Merlot


The educator in me can’t resist following up on the last post, about buying Merlot, by telling you more about the grape, itself. 

Retailers and vintners still tell me that Merlot is a tough sell, thanks to the movie “Sideways.” Wow! That movie was popular a long time ago!! Anyway, when the main character in the movie says “I’m not drinking any f-ing Merlot!” he forgot that Merlot has been making great wine for centuries! In fact, the most expensive wine on the planet, Chateau Pétrus, is – you guessed it – Merlot.

He also forgot that even though Cabernet gets all the attention these days, Merlot is the most widely planted grape of Bordeaux. It’s kind of like an insurance policy for the growers. If late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon gets rained out, Merlot ripens earlier and may save the vintage.


Merlot’s roots: France, probably Bordeaux – there’s not a lot of information as to its origins, but records show that it has been cultivated in Bordeaux since at least the late 1700s. While Cabernet-based blends dominate the left bank of the great Gironde river, look to the right bank for Merlot. The most famous right-bank regions are Pomerol and St. Émilion. 

One of the most common questions I hear at seminars and classes is “What’s the difference between Cabernet and Merlot?” It’s a good question because even winemakers often mix up the two in blind tastings. Perhaps that’s the reason they blend so well – they’re similar.

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Which are the Best Merlots?


Question from Diana: Can you give me a guide to the different Merlots. Which one taste better and the different prices?

Reply: Hi, Diana. Thanks for writing! I’m a Merlot lover too.

I’m afraid that “tastes better” is a personal matter, just as it is with any other food. How much garlic do you like in your spaghetti sauce? Do you put mustard or ketchup on your hot dogs – or both? We don’t all appreciate the same things. 

I have two pieces of advice for you. 

1. Find a good wine retailer who knows his wine, his inventory and is service oriented. Develop a good relationship with him.  This is one of the best ways to explore and learn about wine. The wine may cost a little more than it does at the grocery or big-box store, but the advice of an experienced professional is absolutely worth the cost. 

There are a gazillion brands of Merlot from all over the world with prices ranging from$1.99 for “two-buck Chuck” Merlot to ~$2500.00/bottle for Chateau Petrus. You need someone right there with you when you make your choice. 

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