Monthly Archives: January 2013

Grape of the Week: Chardonnay


With this grape of the week theme, I’ve decided to address the biggies first. And Chardonnay may well qualify as the most popular wine in the world. For many people, white wine is Chardonnay.

What to Expect
It’s popularity is interesting because from a winemaker’s point of view, Chardonnay is somewhat a blank canvas – a relatively neutral variety ideal for showcasing terroir (an expression of the place it comes from) and also his bag of tricks! When pinned down, winemakers often compare Chardonnay to apple, pear and citrus. But, you’ll find tropical aromas – banana, pineapple – from warm-climate situations like Napa Valley and the warm spots of Australia (most of SE Australia.)

It’s also quite the jet setter. While many varieties are limited to a warm climate or cool climate situation, Chardonnay is successfully grown just about everywhere. And, this makes it hard for you to know what to expect. Continue reading


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Wine Pairings for the Super Bowl!


Well, I thought I’d written about this long ago, but wrong again! And, search analytics are telling me that you want to know about wine pairings for your Super Bowl party, so I’ve been remiss.

You know, I don’t think anybody thought about this a few decades ago, so we truly are becoming a wine-drinking country! Congrats to us! Here goes:

First, my old saw no matter the occasion: Most wines and foods taste pretty good together, so serve the foods you like with the wines you like and you can’t go too far wrong.

The main wine components that can trip up your enjoyment of any pairing are high alcohol, high tannin and overdone oak. And, really heavy reds aren’t as versatile as the light to medium-bodied ones. Fortunately, if the wine is of moderate alcohol, it’s probably not too heavy either.

The most broad brush, sweeping advice I have if you’re serving several different kinds of apps or dishes is to go to my old favorite: When in doubt, serve a bubbly – or a clean, high-acid white – easy on the oak or none at all. But, I’d still put out at least token red or two because there are those who drink red no matter what. Try to avoid high-octane reds – shoot for under 14%. Better stock some beer, too, huh?

White wine goodies
If you’re doing really simple stuff like chips, popcorn, fries, onion rings and nuts whites and fizzies are really the ticket for salty foods. Haven’t we heard, ad nauseum by now, that sparkling wine and popcorn love each other? In fact, they’ll love each other a little more if you sprinkle some truffle salt on the popcorn. Adds such a nice note of elegance to offset the carnage on the screen. Nuts can go either way – red or white – they’re very wine friendly! Continue reading

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Where Do Corks Come From?

Bill wrote in to ask where corks come from. Cork is a type of oak and the biggest supplier is Portugal. More here:

You might like to know that natural cork is by far the best choice, environmentally. In fact environmentalists are quite concerned about the trend toward alternatives because the cork forests are habitat for endangered species.

It seems to me I’ve been pulling out very few bad corks over the last few years. Do you agree?How do you feel about the alternatives? Let me know! 

Visit A Million Cooks for more brief videos from experts on the food you eat: Where it comes from, where to buy it and how to prepare it.

Send me your wine question   I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!

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Grape of the Week: Zinfandel


With the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) Festival only about a week away, let’s talk Zin!

For a long time we called Zinfandel “The California grape.” In fact, I still see references to Zin as a uniquely American or Californian wine. That, in spite of the fact that it doesn’t look like, taste like or have the growing habits of native-American varieties. Everything about it screams vinifera (vines of European origin) but no one could find its European counterpart. And, foolishly, because it didn’t appear to have the European pedigree, added on to the fact that its generosity of yield made it a staple for “jug reds”, it didn’t get much respect until recently.

Does it deserve respect? You betcha! If it isn’t truly a California grape, it’s certainly our heritage grape. This was the most popular wine variety in California in the late 1800s up until prohibition. Thank heavens for the industrious home winemakers and bootleggers during those thirteen years. Without them, most of the Zin would have been planted over to prunes or walnuts and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the wonderful old-vine Zins we take for granted today. And, thanks go to the White Zinfandel producers beginning in the 1970s, too. Same story. Without White Zin, most of those old vines would have been bulldozed decades ago, when red Zin fell out of favor. Today, Zinfandel is #4 on the list of top varieties planted in California, behind Merlot (#3), Cabernet (#2) and Chardonnay.

TIP! When you buy a California “field blend” Zinfandel is usually a major player, if not the lead player.

Continue reading

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Good Legs Mean Good Wine?


Question from Sheila: We were out to dinner with some friends and my girlfriend said the wine had good legs. I didn’t want to look stupid so I didn’t ask her what she meant. Is that good?

Reply: Thanks for writing, Sheila. This is a very common question and a source of unneccesary confusion about wine!

The term, “legs” (the British call them tears or candles) refers to the driplets of wine you see coming down inside the glass of wine after the wine has been swirled or has coated the glass.

One of the most persistent wine myths is that “good legs” are a sign of good quality. No matter what anyone says, the legs don’t tell you a thing about quality. Wine with a generous amount of alcohol, at least 11.5 or 12%, and that’s wine at every price point, has good legs.

TRIVIA! If you were taking the Master Sommelier exam, good legs might tell you that the wine came from a relatively warm climate or warm vintage. Warm weather = high sugar = hefty alcohol. Continue reading

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What is Terroir?

Jerry wrote in to ask one of the most controversial questions of all: What is terroir? It’s a tricky question because different folks apply different meanings and some think it doesn’t exist at all! This short video will fill you in:

I know I’m going to get some push-back on this business of the soil not flavoring the wine directly, so let me go to a higher authority: Dr. Mark Matthews, Professor & Plant Physiologist for the Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California at Davis (California’s best-known wine school.) Continue reading

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Zippy Zins at the ZAP Festival!


I love Zinfandel. Sometimes I get into a space where nothing else will do. In spite of all the complaints about its being high octane and sometimes sweet, I just love that bright mouthful of berries.

I just check the alcohol before I buy and avoid those brands that have been boozy or sweet in the past. We’ll take a good look at Zin before the ZAP festival, which starts on the 31st and goes through February 2nd.

ZAP, by the way, is short for “Zinfandel Advocates and Producers” and this annual tasting is what many people look forward to as the greatest tasting event of the year. If you live in the Bay Area or plan to be in the area at the end of the month the ZAP festival can be a wonderful, if somewhat dangerous, diversion and a chance to try some really fine Zins you haven’t tasted before. 

Dangerous, because more of us will go to the Grand Tasting, on Saturday the 2nd, than any other event and there are a bazillion wineries represented there. It takes some serious self control to prevent it from morphing into a Zin blowout that results in equally serious cotton mouth and monster headache later on.    Continue reading

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Grape of the Week: Petit Verdot


Petit who? Yeah, this one doesn’t get to be the star of the show very often. Many winemakers feel that Petit Verdot is kind of a bull in a china shop as a varietal wine. But when the winemaker wants to pump up the volume of a Bordeaux blend (Meritage wine), single digit quantities of PV can work its magic. A winemaker friend refers to PV as a “blending goddess” in that regard.

We’ve been focusing on Bordeaux varieties to kick off the grape of the week theme, and this’ll be the last of the reds, even though there are a few very obscure varieties that are included in the group.

Historians believe that it was recognized in Bordeaux before Cabernet Sauvignon, which means its been around since at least the late 1700s, and it has played its part as a minor component in the blend since then. As it gains popularity in the new world, less and less of it is grown in Bordeaux because it’s a late ripener, which is a tricky business in a cool climate. The best houses continue to take the risk because they like the way it ramps up the pigment, alcohol and adds volume to the mouthfeel. It can also boost longevity.

What to expect
If you like a lot of intensity and tannin in your red wine, do a search and you’ll find varietal Petit Verdot made here in Napa Valley and some other –  mostly new-world – wine regions. Continue reading

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Wine and Big Business

Did you know that approximately 50% of the wine sold in America has been produced by just three large companies: E&J Gallo (Gallo, Edna Valley, cast of thousands) Constellation (Robert Mondavi, Ravenswood…), and The Wine Group (Concannon, Cupcake…)?

How do you feel about it? One thing greatly in favor for these huge companies is that each brand is usually very consistent. If you like this vintage, you’ll probably like the next. Or, do you go out of your way to buy small, independent brands?

Correction: I should have said that St. Michelle Wine Estates has over 4% of the market share, not winery ownership.

Visit A Million Cooks for more brief videos from experts on the food you eat: Where it comes from, where to buy it and how to prepare it.

Send me your wine question  I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!

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Is Swirling the Wine Pretentious?


Originally pinned by Karen Choi onto WIne on Pinterest via wine folly

This cartoon has been making the rounds on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, which led to a question in my mailbox from Sam: Why do wine people swirl their wine? Isn’t it a bit pretentious?

It brings to mind the old days, when I was working at Robert Mondavi Winery. One day I was walking through the tasting room, absent-mindedly swirling my wine and I got a tap on the shoulder. This guy kind of scowls at me and says “Are you just showing off?”

So, of course, being the geek that I am, I had him smell his wine. Then swirl it for a few seconds (I showed him how to do it without spilling it all over the place.)  And then smell it again. He got it, but he still didn’t like it 😉

Fact is, we drank everything out of wine glasses at Mondavi and I got so I swirled my coffee, my water… Oh, dear!

But I urge you to try the swirl test I just described, Sam. You might be surprised! Incidentally, if you haven’t swirled a glass of wine before, here’s what you do so you don’t end up wearing it (although I wear so much wine on a daily basis, I’ve come to think of it as perfume.) Hope I don’t get pulled over… Continue reading

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