Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Chardonnay Question

                    ripe chardonnay grapes hanging on vine in vineyard at harvest time with blurred background and copy space closeup of ripe chardonnay grapes hanging on vine in vineyard at harvest time with blurred background and copy space chardonnay grape stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Are you under the sway of the Chardonnay mystique?   You're not alone and I wonder why.

It's not a secret that Chardonnay continues to dominate the white wine market.   Sauvignon Blanc has been making inroads, thanks in part to New Zealand, but Chardonnay, oaked and unoaked, holds on. 

The question is: Why?

Wine drinkers, in general, like and want flavor, which is the primary reason they reach for Kiwi "Sauvvie," as it is known in the Southern Hemisphere.  Zesty and forward, lime juice and passion fruit are but a few of the ways to describe the wine.  Fans love it and can't wait to open a fresh bottle. 

Others are not as enthusiastic about what they say is the in-your-face New Zealand style, especially when they read this description from one over-heated wine writer: "(the) taste of green peppers sliced with a silver knife."  

And that brings us back to the question of why people like Chardonnay?

An often-heard comment from winemakers is "If you don't have it in the vineyard, you won't have it in the winery."  Which is to say, grapes rule.  You can make poor quality wine from high quality grapes, but not the reverse. 

I once heard a winemaker say that Chardonnay is "a winery wine," meaning that a finished Chardonnay is more a product of wine making than grape growing. 

That's not as obvious as it sounds.  Sample a ripe Cabernet Sauvignon or Gewurztraminer grape in the vineyard and you'll get a mouthful of flavor.  There's more there than there is with freshly picked Chardonnay. 

Fermented Chardonnay that passes through the cellar with little handling tastes of green apples and in some cases a touch of minerals.  Riper Chardonnay offers flavors of ripe pears, honey and maybe roasted nuts.  Extending the apple analogy: Granny Smith and barely ripe Chardonnay; Golden Delicious and ripe Chardonnay.  

Chardonnay and acidity is another factor to consider.  Cool climate Chardonnay tends to show sharper, even mineral, acidity, at least when young.  Warmer climate Chardonnay has softer more tropical fruit, like mango and melon, that is more integrated with the acidity.

And then there's the influence of oak. 

Opinions vary about what oak to use (French, Yugoslavian, American), toasting levels and how long the wine should be in contact with the oak. Some say that without oak aging Chardonnay, you might just as well be drinking Chenin Blanc.  

Today, French oak has become an integral part of the character and taste of most Chardonnay.  Until recently, the smell and taste of new French oak was so strong in most Chardonnay that the wines were undrinkable.  

                    White wine with grapes on a barrel A glass of white wine with grapes on a barrel chardonnay grape stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

The situation got so bad with California and Australian Chardonnay, that a snarky comment sneaked into wine conversations: "Anything But Chardonnay." Needless to say, Chardonnay fans were not too happy.

But sometimes winemakers are slow to react to trends and the over oaked Chardonnay hung around until wineries, one by one, decided that there is such a thing as too much oak, especially new French oak.  

Curiously, while winemakers were trying to decide what is too much oak in Chardonnay, Burgundian wineries were making Chardonnay that was fermented and aged in French oak, without anyone saying the wine was too oaky.

The use of American oak with Chardonnay never took off, with ZD Wines, the Napa producer that stubbornly stayed with American oak when the trend was going French, the possible exception. 

The bottom line is that consumers like the taste of oaked Chardonnay more than straight Chardonnay.  Why?  Because the drinking public only knew Chardonnay with oak.

The good news is that most unoaked Chardonnay is coming on the market and the days of heavily oaked Chardonnay is, thankfully, behind us. 

And, I guess that answers why Chardonnay maintains its popularity. 


Next blog: Australia Series: New South Wales

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Friday, July 29, 2022

The Colorado Wine Barons

Recently, I read a notice about Joseph Phelps Vineyards changing ownership and it made me think of "The Colorado Wine Barons," an article I wrote in the early 1970s, about Phelps, Tom Jordan and Ray Duncan. 

I was living in Colorado then and became aware of these three businessmen/vintners from a business article I read in a Denver newspaper.  Wine was mentioned only mentioned wine in passing.  For me, though, that mention was the germ of an idea for an article about Colorado wine for a wine magazine. 

California wine was booming in the Seventies and everyone wanted a piece of it. Land in prime locations was still available and most of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma were still family owned. 

With a little research, I learned that all three men had transformed their love of wine and the culture associated with it into successful wine businesses in California.  Phelps, a Colorado building contractor, hired his own company to build  Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the Napa Valley.

Colorado entrepreneur, Raymond Duncan, with his partner, Justin Meyer, started Silver Oak Cellars and for a short time, owned Franciscan Winery, both in the Napa Valley. 

Tom Jordan, a Denver-based businessman in oil and gas exploration, and his wife Sally, established the Bordeaux inspired hilltop Jordan Vineyard & Winery outside Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. 

Jordan Vineyard & Winery 

                             1998 Cabernet Sauvignon

Long before I met him in his offices in the Petroleum Building in downtown Denver, Tom Jordan had made his fortune exploring for oil and natural gas in Indonesia. It was only natural that this new found wealth would support the love that Tom and Sally Jordan had for fine wine and food.

The Jordans were Francophiles with a refined passion for French food and Bordeaux wine and a distinct style of "chateau architecture." In 1972, construction began on the Jordan chateau on the crest of a rolling hill outside Healdsburg, in Sonoma County.

It was, and is, a handsome pile, complete with two elegant apartments, gourmet kitchen and a grand dining room that looks out on the winery tank room.  The space became legendary in Wine Country for elegant soirees attended by politicians and film stars.  At one dinner, actor Danny Kaye swept off the table, jumped up and danced a fandango, or so it has been rumored. 

From the first vintage in 1976, Jordan winemaker Rob Davis made only an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and later added a Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is a Bordeaux-style blend, aged in French oak.

Davis, who retired in 2019, was mentored by legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, who developed the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.   

Joseph Phelps Vineyard

                                           2018 Insignia, Napa Valley product shot

In the early 1970s Hansel Phelps Construction Company, a Colorado based firm that specialized in large buildings, was contracted to build Souverain of Rutherford winery.  Souverain, located off the Silverado Trail, later changed names and owners, to Rutherford Hill. 

Joe Phelps visited the Napa Valley many times during the construction phase of Souverain and was taken by the natural beauty of the valley.  Eventually he purchased land not far from Heitz Cellars in a spot known as Spring Valley, where he commissioned his construction company to build Phelps winery.

A vineyard was planted along Taplin Road and the German-born winemaker, Walter Schug was hired to make the first Phelps wines. Before Phelps was known for the Cabernet-based Insignia, Schug won acclaim for Phelps Rieslings, including one of the first late-harvest wines in the state.

Interest in Riesling tapered off while the Phelps reputation for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, took off.  Insignia, has been credited as one of the first so-called Napa cult Cabernets, as well as the impetus for Meritage, a concept that promotes Bordeaux-style blends.  Phelps Vineyard was also the first winery to bottle the true Rhone Syrah, while other California wineries were making Petite Sirah.

Phelps has said that he credits Joe Heitz, Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi for teaching him about grape growing, wine making and the business of running a winery.

In 2005, Joe Phelps turned over ownership and management of the winery and vineyards to his children, to spend more time with his grandchildren and cooking, his long-time passion. 

 Silver Oak Cellars & Franciscan Winery


At first glance, it would seem that Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer were an unlikely pair to get into the California wine business together.  But the partnership proved to be a success.  

Duncan, an entrepreneur, financed the investment and Meyer, a former Christian Brother, who studied wine making under Brother Timothy, supplied the wine expertise. The partnership thrived through the ownership of two Napa wineries.

In 1972, Duncan and Meyer founded Silver Oak Cellars, focusing only on making Cabernet Sauvignon, one from Napa Valley and the other from Alexander Valley, in Sonoma County.  Silver Oak maintains its reputation as one of Napa's best. 

The Franciscan brand was sold to Silver Oak, keeping it in the Duncan family. Franciscan makes a Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon and a Napa red blend, Magnificat Meritage, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

My connection to all three men and their wines and wineries was as a writer.  In the early 1970s, the most successful wine shop in downtown Denver, was Harry Hoffman. The unusual thing about Harry Hoffman, in those days, was a focus on California wine, when most other stores promoted European wines. 

Among the selections at Hoffman were Phelps and Franciscan wines, even though Ray Duncan had opened a Franciscan tasting room in historic Laramer Square. Colorado law at that time required a facility operating as a winery that served  wine also had to make wine on the premises.  So, Duncan installed a miniature press and fermentation tank, making just enough wine to satisfy the state. 

Jordan's oil exploration business included two corporate jet planes that he and some members of his crew used to move back and forth from Denver to Healdsburg.  I was fortunate to have hitched a ride to Sonoma and was invited to visit the winery before the official opening and release of the first Cabernet Sauvignon.

So many things have changed in the California wine business, but Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Joseph Phelps Vineyard and Silver Oak Cellars, maintain their high-end reliability for quality wine.


Next blog: The Chardonnay Question

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Covid Delay


 Free Red Bicycle on Green Grass Field Near Green Trees Under Blue Sky Stock Photo

A couple of weeks ago, I got Covid and ever since I have been bothered with persistent fatique.  At times I have trouble standing and my legs don't work the way I want them to.

I'm working with physical therapy to get my strength back.  So, for now, today's regularly scheduled blog, "The Colorado Wine Barons, is postponed to July 29.

I hope to see you all then. 

Gerald D. Boyd

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Australia Series: Victoria

"Yarra Valley is a place of extreme beauty, of constantly changing light, of colour and mood...Once you've seen it you cannot help but love it."  Writer and winemaker James Halliday describing where he lives and makes wine.

Australia's Victoria state is in the far southeast fertile corner of the country, with Melbourne as its capital.  Victoria is the most densely populated and most urbanized of all the states.

Sorting out Australian geography can be confusing because there are states and  territories, a mainland and an island. Victoria is the smallest of the six states on the mainland while the island state of Tasmania is the smallest. Smaller still is the Australian Capital Territory, which was established from two areas of New South Wales. The other territory is Northern Territory.  Western Australia is the largest state and occupies the western third of the continent.

Melbourne and Sydney each have a population of about 3 million, although bragging rights for the most populous goes back and forth.  Melbourne and Sydney are rivals in many ways, from population to sport.

An interesting thing about Australian cities is the relative size of first and second; Geelong, Victoria's second largest city has a population of only about 120,000, a fraction of Melbourne's three-plus million.

Victoria's Wine Regions

Victoria can claim at least eight major wine grapes, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon the principal varieties. Victoria's climate is generally temperate (climates are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere), just the right conditions for cool climate grapes like Pinot Noir. 

In all, there are 17 wine regions in Victoria, clustered in the southeast part of the state.  Noteworthy are Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula (both close to Melbourne), Geelong and Pyrenees. 

                               Old winery in Yarra Valley, Australia Yarra Valley, Australia – February 19, 2016: Yering Station established in 1838 is the oldest winery in Yarra Valley, which is one of Australia’s premium wine growing regions. Yarra Valley Stock Photo

Yarra Valley is, by some estimations, Australia's premier area for Pinot Noir and one of the top regions for Chardonnay.  In the 1980s, France's Moet & Chandon was looking for a place to make sparkling wine in Australia and settled on Yarra. The view from the Chandon tasting room is superb, as are the wines, which in my opinion, are better than the Chandon sparkling wines I've tasted in the Napa Valley and Argentina.  Microclimate pockets in the Yarra are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a little Shiraz.  Yarra brands to look for: Coldstream Hills, Yarra Yerring, Yering Station, DeBartoli, Mount Mary, Domaine Chandon, St. Huberts.

Geelong lies off Port Phillip Bay and is dominated by the Bellarine Peninsula. Noted for Pinot Noir, this cool climate area also makes Chardonnay and Shiraz, plus distinct long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon.  Geelong's history is the history of Australian wine, as 130 years ago, the region was one of the most important in Victoria.  Wines: Bannockburn, Prince Albert, Scotchmans Hill.

Mornington Peninsula; the name conjures up images for day-trippers of small wineries, trendy cafes and restaurants and beautiful sea vistas.  The Peninsula, as its known, is a pleasant drive from Melbourne.  Chardonnay and Pinot Pinot Noir are the leading wines, along with growing interest in Pinot Gris, Viognier and the odd Italian-style wine.  Wines: Dromana Estate, T'Galant, Stonier's, Kings Creek, Port Phillip Estate.

Pyrenees is an odd name for an Australian wine region since most people associate the name with a mountain range along the French-Spanish border. And in a country where the highest peak is 7,300 feet above sea level, the Victoria Pyrenees, known locally as Blue Pyrenees, for the soft blue cast on the rolling hills. Grape growing didn't get going in the Pyrenees until the 1970s, with arrival of Taltarni, Mount Avoca and Redbank.  They found Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grew well in the mountain climate. Taltarni and the French firm of Remy Martin also produce sparkling wines from non-traditional varieties.  Wines: Taltarni, Redbank Winery, Dalwhinnie, Blue Pyrenees Estate, Mount Avoca Vineyard, Summerfield.

                    Kangaroo road sign in Australia Kangaroo road sign on a side of a road in  Adelaide Hills wine region, South Australia australian wine stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Aside.  I have pleasant memories of Victoria, but among the most vivid and lasting was my time with Dominique Portet, brother of Bernard Portet of Napa's Clos du Val.  We had arranged an evening visit and when I arrived, Portet came bounding out of the winery door, smiling broadly and shouting, "G'day mate."  The greeting surprised me as I didn't expect to be met by a Frenchman with an Aussie accent. 

By the time Portet and I had lingered over a light supper and tasting of Taltarni wines, the light was gone.  The Victoria Pyrenees are a long way from anywhere and it was pitch dark. To make matters worse, when I got to the end of the lane, I couldn't remember which way to turn back on to the main road back to Avoca where I was staying the night.

There were no road signs and no other buildings to help me and I was driving on the right side of the road and you had to watch for nocturnal kangaroos.  

I sat at the end of the lane for a few minutes, then figured there was a fifty-fifty chance, so I turned left. After what seemed like endless nervous kilometers, there were the first signs of Avoca.  Good thing, because considering the size of Australia, I could still be driving.

Even though Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz dominate Australian wine, it's nice to know, especially for pinot fans, that there is a temperate region like Victoria for cool climate wines like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 


Next blog: The Colorado Wine Barons 

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Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Weighty Subject

The other day, I was thinking about Spanish red wines and how they differ in weight from light to heavy. And it occurred to me that the relationship between wine and weight needs some explanation. 

Weight is very subjective. If you have any doubt, consider the ageless dilemma of the hapless male upon hearing, "Honey, do I look heavy in this?" 

Heavy to one person is likely not the same to someone else.  Wine is a weighty subject too.  In wine terms, weight usually refers to the tactile pressure of the wine in the mouth. This is true more for red wine than white wine. 

Weight can also mean must weight, or the measurement of ripeness, in terms of certain compounds in grape juice, either in the vineyard or winery, or both. Must is the intermediate liquid -- neither grape juice nor wine.



Winemakers use a refractometer, like the one shown above, to measure grape ripeness.  

You probably don't have a refractometer laying around, so next time you take a sip of a red wine, think of your tongue as a scale, measuring the weight of the wine.  It's a trick that I found works, mainly when the sensation of the wine is present, but words to describe that presence are missing. 

Everyday examples of liquid weight are water as the lightest and milk as heavier.  Weight in wine might begin with a light rose, to a medium Pinot Noir and weigh out with a Syrah.

Spanish Reds

 Spanish red wines follow a more prescribed scale.  Learning Spanish wine terms is a good way to decipher the weight and style of the wine.  The terms are spelled out under Spanish wine laws, known collectively as DO laws or Denominacion de Origen

Higher quality categories include Denomacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) and Denomacion de Origen de Pago (reserved for single estates). 

The following two age levels of quality and weight apply only to wines with DO and DOCa designations, although the aging differs for red and white wines:

Joven wines are the lightest because they are the least handled in the winery and usually not aged before release.  Joven wines, white and red, are harvested in one year and released with little or no time in oak.  These immediate-drinking wines are light and fruity and may carry the word "roble" (oak) on the label, indicating the wine spent less than six months in oak.  Wines: Bodegas Santa Rufina, Teofilo Reyes, Abadia la Arroyada.

Crianza red wines are aged for at least 24 months, with at least six months in oak.  This popular category of Spanish wine often presents the right balance of fruit and oak.  Longer extraction time coupled with more contact with oak adds weight and structure.  Wines: Bodegas Casa Juan Senor de Lesmos, CVNE, Bodegas Puelles, Lopez de Heredia, Vina Real, Bodegas 220 Cantaras.

At the top end of the aging categories are Reserva and Gran Reserva, required to spend 36 and 60 months, respectively, in barrel before being sold.  

Joven wines, and some of the lighter and less weighty Crianzas, are good choices with casual outdoor meals and take-alongs for picnics.  Spain's workhorse red grape, Tempranillo, is adaptable enough to make light and fruity reds, as well as ones destined for aging. 

                  Hamburgers on barbeque Stock Photo

Grilled burgers and sausages are great with light Spanish reds and those labeled Tempranillo. Another trouble-free choice is spit-roasted chicken, like those pre-cooked birds you find in supermarkets.  Joven reds are quaffing wines, so just about any of your favorite al fresco foods will work, even spicy dishes. 

Easing into summer usually means a transition from heavier wine and heartier foods, to light and easy.  As the temperature rises, you'll feel more comfortable with less complicated meals, complimented by lighter wine.  Salud!

Next blog: Australia Series: Victoria

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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Provence Roses

lavender meets sunflowers south of france - provence lavender stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Sunflowers and lavender

Could it be that the combination of Provence olive oil, garlic and rose wine is what encouraged someone to think up the phrase,"a pair made in Heaven?"  

Maybe. But there are many other French regions with local foods that taste best with local wines, such as red Burgundy with game birds or Sauternes with Roquefort cheese. 

Provence is a region in southeast France, sprawling along the Mediterranean Sea, close to the Italian frontier. In this warm sunny climate, light meals, based on seafood and fresh produce, are a given.

Chic tourists admit that there is something magical about seaside towns like St-Tropez and the countryside with its vast fields of blue-purple lavender.  

Serious wine lovers, who also may be wine tourists, find magic in the vinous treasures of Cote de Provence and the more inland smaller region of Coteaux d'Aix en Provence. There is something about the simple Provence cuisine, of these two places, that goes perfectly with dry, fruity pink wines.

Provence Grapes 

For years, Carignan (Carignane) was the backbone of the industry, but the new generation of winemakers favor Grenache, Cinsaut, Syrah and Mourvedre, for pink and red wine.  Many wine drinkers think Provence roses mean light orange-pink color, fragrant aroma and refreshing fruit of Grenache. 

Winemakers are an observant lot and they see what's working and selling in the all-important international market.  Provence wineries, especially those with coastal vineyards know that growing conditions on Corsica are very similar and that the Vermentino grapes does well there, so why not Provence?  Today, Vermentino, Semillon and the humble Ugni Blanc are responsible for Provence whites. 

Provence Winemaking

The essence of pink wines is freshness, achieved by cold fermentation and no contact with wood.  Traditionally, A common way to achieve freshness is to ferment in stainless steel tanks with a refrigerant jacket.  The process is slow and the cold temperatures maintain fruit freshness and varietal character. 

Alternatively, a red winemaking technique known as saignee (French for "bled") produces a rose wine by "bleeding" a small amount of free-run juice from a red variety such as Syrah.  Saignee is used almost exclusively with red grapes. 

Provence Wines   

Nearly all of the production in Cote de Provence and Coteaux d'Aix en Provence is devoted to making pink wine, usually from Grenache and Cinsaut, an ideal match with local fish and shellfish, seasoned with garlic and fresh herbs and sauteed in olive oil.  Here's what to look for from these two varieties:

                                   Rose Wine on Wood Table Wine glass and bottle with a picnic basket. In the foreground a plate of strawberries and raspberries. provence rose wine stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Grenache is known in Spain as Garnacha and it is likely that Spain is the grape's original home.  The distinguishing feature of Grenache rose is strawberries, sometimes with a hint of ginger and honey.  I especially GGrenache rose with vegetarian dishes.

Cinsaut is rarely bottled as a varietal, as most of it is used in blends. More cherry fruit than strawberries, Cinsaut goes with Grenache, giving the blend perfume and a pleasing suppleness.

About 15% of the Provence production is now in red wine, mostly from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  These popular red grapes are grown along the French Riviera, from Provence in the east to Roussillon in the west and the border with Spain.  

With summer finally here, stores will be stocked with light, fresh and fruity Provence roses, much of it made by large cooperatives, priced from $14 to $22. 

Here are a half dozen names to look for: Domaine la Colombe, Peyrassol, Les Maitres Vignerons, Chateau les Mesclances, Chateau Miraval, Commanderie de la Bargemone.  Factoid: Ch. Miraval is where Pink Floyd recorded "The Wall" in 1979.

Next blog: Spanish Light Reds

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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Australia Series: South Australia

The series "My Life in Wine," ended with Episode 30, on May 27, 2022.  MLIW was a brief glimpse at the years I spent writing about wine, roughly from the late 1960s to the early 2000s, not including this on going blog.

Starting with this survey of South Australia, I'll post a series of profiles every three weeks.  The remainder of the Australia Series will include the wine regions of Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and others. In the future, look for series on Germany, Chile, France, and other countries. 

"May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view...where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams awaits you." -- Edward Abbey, American author and environmental activist

South Australia 

I would like to think that Abbey was musing of Australia when he wrote those words about traveling and discovering new vistas and experiences.  Australia is all those things - crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, strange, beautiful and full of wonder. 

Australia is one nation within a continent, composed of the mainland and Tasmania, about the size of the lower 48 U.S. states.  Australia's more temperate coastal areas are where most of the people live and wine grapes grow.  The interior is mostly a barren desert. 

There are six states, two territories (Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory).  Western Australia is the largest state and Tasmania the smallest. Except for Northern Territory, all states and the ACT produce wine.

Road trip through the Gum Trees Gum Trees (Eucalyptus) line both sides of this road in the Barossa Valley. Barossa Valley stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
The gum tree lined road to South Australia

     South Australia (SA) is the third largest state, located in the central part of the southern coastline, roughly where Texas is located in the United States. SA is sparsely populated with a Mediterranean climate, ideal for wheat and wine. 

Main Grapes/Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Shiraz

Main Sub-Regions: Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Claire Valley, Coonawarra, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Wrattonbully.  All are gathered in the far south of SA, drawing marine infuence from the Southern Ocean. 

Barossa Valley, often called the "Napa Valley of Australia," is the premier wine region of SA and perhaps of all Australia, noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (Syrah).   The name is pronounced (Ba-ross-ah)...Wineries: Penfolds, St. Hallett, Grant Burge, Rockford, Peter Lehmann, Hill-Smith Estate.

McLaren Vale, located south of Adelaide, may be considered the second most important wine area, although the same argument can be made for Claire and Coonawarra...Wineries: d'Arenberg, Hardy's Chateau Reynella, Geoff Merrill, Wirra Wirra, Andrew Garrett.

Claire Valley, a gently rolling enclave near Adelaide, produces noteworthy Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Steely Claire Riesling is dry, crisp and fresh, with traces of tropical fruit. The Cabernets are full-bodied and dense with concentrated flavors...Wineries: Jim Barry, Jeff Grosset, Knappstein Wines, Leasingham.

Coonawarra is, arguably, Australia's great red wine region.  The famed terra rossa soils of the region, give Cabernet Sauvignion and Shiraz their depth,  concentrated berry flavors and firm tannins...Wineries: Wynns, Penley Estate, Katnook and Rouge Homme.

Adelaide Hills sub-region, as the name implies, is close to Adelaide, the capital and largest city in South Australia. White wine, mainly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are stand outs.  Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir is on a par with Pinots of Victoria and Tasmania...Wineries: Petaluma, Smith and Shaw, Lenswood, Geoff Weaver.

Padthaway, like Coonawarra, is large vineyard region, on the Limestone Coast, south of Adelaide.  Gentle slopes are planted mainly to Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Wineries: Lindemans, Hardy's, Orlando.

Eden Valley is known for its excellent Riesling, but this hilly country also is reknowned for Henschke's Hill of Grace  and Mount Edelstone Shiraz. Parts of Eden Valley are cooler than the Barossa.  Wineries: Henschke, Pewsey Vale Heggies, Hill-Smith Estate.

Wrattonbully, located north of Coonawarra, is one of the newer wine areas in SA.  Drawing its strength from limestone-based soil, Wrattonbully is good red wine country.  Wineries: Hollick, Pepper Tree, Yalumba, Terre a Terre. 

South Australia hits the mark for Australian wine, in variety and quality, with big hitters like Barossa Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and Eden Valley and Clare Riesling.  Try one or all today.

Next blog: Provence Roses

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

A Collection of Italian Whites

At one time, the history of Italian wine making recorded white wine as being far different than it is today.  The wines of antiquity, written about in the 1st century BC by Pliny the Elder, were so dark from oxidation that they resembled red wine more than white. 

In Natural History, Pliny described Opimian, a popular white wine of the time, as "reduced to a kind of bitter honey but still recognizably wine."   Opimian was not the only early Italian white wine.  Falernian and Surrentinum were also popular, although the Emperor Tiberius said the latter was merely "high quality vinegar."

Major changes in the Italian appetite for white wine developed over the centuries.  Even so, interest in red wine began to dominate, spurred on by the popularity of grapes like Sangiovese, Barbera and Primitivo and the international interest in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

A major change took place in 1861 with the unification of Italy.  Vineyard planting took off as the economy boomed and white wines mounted a comeback. Today, there is hardly a corner of Italy where you won't find at least one white wine. 

There are about 1,000 grapevines recorded in Italy, with maybe half spread out in the 20 regions, from Lombardy to Calabria, plus Sicily and Sardinia.  What follows, then, is a list, in alphabetical order, of 12 white grapes that have been responsible for elevating Italian white wines to where they are today in the international market.  

Fully ripe Cortese grapes

Cortese is a popular white grape grown in southeast Piedmont, known mostly for  Gavi (or Cortese de Gavi).  Aromatic with bright acidity and a hint of mineral, Cortese is a white standout in a region known mainly for red wines.

Falanghina is common in the area around Naples. This aromatic white grape is  featured in the wine of Campania.  Best on its own, without oak, Falanghina is a fragrant white that may have been the base for Falerian, perhaps the best known wine of the Roman era.

Garganega is included on this list because of it's important role in Soave.  Planted widely in Veneto, Garganega may make up to 100% in Soave and does best in the Classico zone where it ripens to show lemon and almond flavors.  Garganega is also grown in Friuli. Umbria and Australia.

Greco: There are at least four varieties grown in Italy called Greco, with the best known one called Greco di Tufo, for the town of Tufo in Campania, which in turn gets its name from tufa, the volanic soil of the area.  Greco owes its heritage to the Greeks and the culture they spread throughout southern Italy.  Greco di Tufo is a potent full-bodied white, however the Greco grape is not the same as Greco Bianco, native to Calabria.

Grechetto, along with Trebbiano Toscano and Verdello, makes up the Umbrian white wine classic Orvieto and is used in the wines of Torgiano. Todi, an Umbrian hillside town, near the touristy Assisi, gives its name to Grechetto di Todi, another name for the ancient Pignoletto grape, widely grown in Umbria.

Aside:  Having trouble keeping up with Italian grape names?  Here's more confusion.  Besides Pignoletto, there are at least three other varieties that start with "pig": Pignatello, a red Sicilian grape; Pignola Valtellinese, a red Grape from Valtellina that may be related to Nebbiolo; Pignolo, a red variety from Friuli. 

Grillo is an important variety in Sicily and was once valued as a base wine for Marsala, the island's noted fortified wine.  Today, Grillo is popular as a stylized full-bodied dry white wine.

Malvasia, the name, has various variations.  Malvasia is used to identify at least 20 different grapes, grown through the length and breadth of Italy. For that reason, I have included Malvasia in my list of important Italian white grapes and the associated wines. 

The Italian dessert wine, Malvasia delle Lipari, is named for an island off the north coast of Sicily.  Malvasia is also used in Orvieto, blended with Trebbiano.  And Madeira Malmsey, one of the world's distinguished dessert wines, is derived from Malvasia.  Originally, Malmsey was made from Malvasia, but today the name just identifies a style.

Moscato Bianco is the Italian name for Muscat, of which, like Malvasia, there are many subvarieties, cultivated throughout Italy.  The best known is Moscato di Canelli, the grape of Asti Spumante sparkling wine, produced in Piedmont.  Another noted Moscato is Moscato di Pantelleria, a small island between Sicily and Tunesia.

Pinot Grigio probably owes its popularity to name recognition more than wine quality.  In the early part of the 21st century, the worldwide wine buying public decided to adopt the name Pinot Grigio over Pinot Gris, the grape's French name.  Made today mostly in Veneto, Pinot Grigio is mainly a neutral white wine.  Of more interest is Oregon Pinot Gris.

Riesling is a grape of different names in northern Italy.  In Alto Adige it is called Riesling while in Friuli the name changes to Riesling Renano.  Italian Riesling has a delicacy and fruitiness not seen in other Italian white wines. Riesling Italico, a grape often confused with Riesling Renano, is not the true Riesling of Germany, but nevertheless produces crisp aromatic wines.

White wine, Vitis, vinifera, Trebbiano Toscano, White wine, Vitis, vinifera, Trebbiano Toscano, trebbiano grape stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Trebbiano cluster

Trebbiano holds the title for being one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in Italy. There are at least six different Trebbiano grapes and dozens of other grapes that incorporate Trebbiano as part of the name, such as Trebbiano di Soave.  However, Trebbiano Toscano is the best known and most widely planted throughout Italy, with the exception of the colder north.   Trebbiano Toscano is so popular that it is a part of Soave, Orvieto, Verdicchio and Frascati among other wines.  Trebbiano is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

Vermentino, the name rolls off the tongue...vair-men-tee-no! Fresh, crisp and fruity, Vermentino produces the DOC Cinqueterre wine of Liguria, as well as the pale and crisp Sardinian white.  A little Vermentino is grown in other Mediterranean locations such as Corsica and Malta.

It is estimated that Italy has about 2 million acres of wine grapes, with many hundreds of indigenous varieties, up and down the length of the country, and the islands. Take your pick, but make your next white wine and Italian white.

Next blog: Australia Series: South Australia 

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Little Wine Tales

Wine has been associated with human evolution for centuries. So, it figures that there are numerous tales, big and small, true and not, connected with the wines enjoyed by the people who made them. 

Historical records show that nobles and clergy, tradesmen and travelers all have a story to tell about their individual adventures with wine. What follows are a few of these tales that stretch reality a tad while retaining a small element of truth. 

Why most of the tales are about Italian wines is beyond my knowing.  Perhaps it's because the rich history of Italy -- Greeks, Etruscans, Romans -- left an indelible mark on this wine saturated country.   

Est! Est!! Est!!! --  This fanciful tale tells how a certain Italian white wine supposedly got its name.  In the 12th century, a German bishop and his entourage were traveling to Rome and his eminence required his servant to go ahead to find the village with the best wine. Mark "Est!" (Latin for "it is") on the door of every tavern where you find the wine to be especially good, directed the bishop. When the servant got to Montefiascone, he wrote "Est! Est!! Est!!!" on all the tavern doors.  The bishop agreed that the wine was excellent and decided to stay in Montefiascone. Est! Est!! Est!!! is still made today from Trebbiano and Malvasia.

"Those Bette Davis eyes are saying, no white wine for me!"

Bette Disagrees -- Bette Davis, opinionated American film actress, probably never sipped Est! Est!! Est!!!, but she regrettably shared a white wine with someone and then breathlessly offered this advice: "Never, never trust anyone who ask for white wine.  It means they're phonies."

Vines of Antiquity -- Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon may be popular today but in the 1st Century AD, the wines fashionable Romans enjoyed, were likely a trio of whites: Falernian, Caecuban and Massic.  A curious wine note from the past claims that Falernian was so "strong" that it could be set alight! The contempory version of Falernian is made from Falanghina.  Caecuban was described by Pliny the Elder as "sinewy" and "packing a punch."  And while Massic was well known in the Roman era, little is known today about the wine. 

Castelli Romani -- Like so many things revolving around Italian wine, the vino of Lazio (Latium in English) requires some explanation, so bear with me.  Lazio is a large central Italy region, home to the capital city of Rome.  Lazio is also the site of a group of wines, known as Castelli Romani, of which Frascati is the best known.  

Frascati  takes its name from a town east of Rome and gets its subtle Muscat note from a traditional blend of Muscat of Alexandria and Schiava, known in Lazio as Malvasia del Lazio.  Since the 1960s, up to 30% Trebbiano has been allowed in the blend.  

The female cochineal

Waiter, there's an insect in my wine! -- Female cochineal insects feed on cactus and are valued for their deep red color, used as dye.  The bodies are liquefied to yield a food grade dye, used in food production and, it is rumored, to have been used at one time to make a rose wine by tinting a white wine with cochineal dye. 

Flog that wine! -- Long ago, when wine was imported from Europe to England in bulk, bottling in local cellars was a common practice.  A device was used to ram the cork home in a bottle, called a "Boot and Flogger."  Supposedly, the operator used his boot to slam a lever striking the cork, but later improvements used leverage to force the cork into the bottle. 

The man who (didn't) invent Champagne -- A vigorous telling of the discovery of Champagne supposedly has the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, exclaiming "Come quickly, I'm drinking stars!" Fact is, refermentation occurs naturally in thje spring, without the help of man or monk. Ironically, Father Pierre Perignon's experimenting with blending was thwarted by this natural process.  Eventually, the style became popular, taking the name of the region.

Fun anecdotes about wine and the people that make it are only one possible scenario.  The real truth about wine is in the drinking.

Next blog: A Collection of Italian Whites

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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Sparkling Cava

                                      Sparkling wine cork. A sparkling wine cork opened in celebration on a white background stock photo

Champagne is the benchmark for all wines that sparkle.  Anyone with a fondness for Champagne, and they are legion, knows that Methode Champenoise, the French term for the traditional method of making sparkling wine, is considered the most quality oriented way to add bubbles to wine.

There are other methods of getting bubbles into wine, such as Charmat, a process whereby the second fermentation that produces the bubbles, is done in a pressurized tank rather than a bottle.  No longer popular but still used is the transfer method, a sort of hybrid method that employs both a tank and a bottle.

Wineries that are making quality sparkling wines opt for using the classic method, over any other method. The nod is an homage to the Champenois and a way to trade on a prestige term.  

Even before Dorothy Parker said, "Three be the things I shall never attain: envy, content and sufficient champagne," makers of sparkling wine, like the Spanish, had re-worked the word Champagne, much to the displeasure of the Champenois

For years, the Spanish used the term "Champana" to identify their sparkling wines, mainly those made in the region of Catalonia.  The French said the term was misleading and too close to Champagne and eventually the Spanish agreed. 

In 1970, the Spanish adopted the use of the term Cava for all wines made using the traditional method.  Contrary to popular belief, Cava is not an acronym. Cava  means "cellar" in Catalan.  

Aside: Despite the continuing objections by the French over the use of the protected term "Champagne," some countries, most notably the United States, continue to apply the term to their sparkling wines.  Ultimately, an agreement was worked out grandfathering those wineries using the word Champagne so long as it was connected with a local appellation, such as "Napa Champagne."   

Nearly a century earlier, Jose Raventos made the first bottle of Spanish sparkling wine using the traditional method in the cellars of Codorniu in the Catalan town of San Sadurni d'Anoia, not far from Barcelona.  

Cava is not a low-cost alternative to Champagne since they are two different sparkling wines, made under different economic environments. By law, the makeup of Champagne is limited to three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Cava, however, is based on three indigenous grapes: Macabeo (also known as Viura), Xarello and Parellada. 

Other permitted varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha (Grenache) and Monastrell.  The first two, commonly called "international" varieties, are reserved mainly for high-end blends and prestige cuves. 

Sediment in champagne bottle. Close up view of the sediment settling in the neck of champagne bottles in racks stock photography
Riddling rack showing crown caps

Another difference between Champagne and Cava, is the development in Catalonia in the 1970s of the gyropalette, a large metal box holding dozens of inverted bottles that are riddled en masse rather than hand-riddled bottle by bottle.

The gyropalettes I saw in the cellars of Codoniu were constructed like a top - a large box on a point - that was moved manually side-to-side, keeping the sediment in the bottles suspended. This labor-intensive method of riddling was eventually replaced by a computer controlled mechanical riddler, commonly in use today in Catalonia and Champagne. 

Riddling collects the sediment on the bottom of the crown cap (similar to those on soft drink bottles) where it is frozen by plunging the necks of the bottles into a freezing solution. The icy plug is then removed by a stage known as disgorgement or deguelle in Spanish and degorgement in French.  

For the final stage in the Cava process, the bottles are topped with a small amount of wine and sugar, known as the dosage, stoppered with the mushroom cork, held in place by the wire muzzle, covered by the hood and then labeled. 

Depending on the level of mechanization in a cellar, it takes between 200 and 300 steps to finish a bottle of Cava. 

There is a little on-going controversy surrounding the official DO (appellation control) for Catalonia.  Awarded in 1986, the DO for Cava is losing some of the smaller Cava producers, mainly over the organizations inability or hide-bound attitude about change.  Cava's storied Raventos family has been one of the major producers to leave the DO to start their own label. 

With summer just a few weeks away, now is the time to stock up on Cava from these producers: Codorniu, Recacedo, Vivanco, Toca, Conca del Rio Noia (Raventos), Roger Goulart, Alta Alella, Freixenet.

Next blog:  Little Wine Tales

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 30

Episode 29 took a nostalgic look at three events that helped shape my knowledge and understanding of wine.  With the help of a kindly French waiter, and some Beaujolais, I found a new beverage to enjoy with food besides beer.  And, despite my attraction to Burgundy and Pinot Noir, I discovered the pleasures of aged Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Lastly, at a mountain restaurant in northern Italy, I was introduced to the depth and diversity of Italian wine.

In this final episode of "My Life in Wine," two events come to mind that include bookends enclosing the many years of learning and appreciation.  The "Then" was a tasting of eye-opening wines that set a personal course of wine discovery for the future and the "Now" was the gratifying experience that comes from teaching about tasting and evaluating wine and seeing first the smile, then a nod of the head and finally, the moment when it clicks.


In the 1970s, wine awareness in Colorado was just beginning to take shape.  There was a store in downtown Denver where you could buy California wine for less than it sold for in California.  Colorado boasted of one winery then in an old warehouse along the Platte River.  Vineyards were struggling with winter kill on the Western Slope and a wine tasting group was taking shape known as "The Grape Nuts."

Recognizing the growing interest in wine by its readers, the Rocky Mountain News hired me to write a weekly wine column.  Jack Daniels (not that Jack Daniels), worked for a local wine distributor then and was the founder of The Grape Nuts. Jack saw my column and invited me to one of the group's tastings. 

It was Daniels' turn to supply the wine the night I attended. He selected six red Burgundies from the famous Dr. Barolet Collection.  Dr. Arthur Barolet was an early 20th century physician from Burgundy with a passion for making and collecting wine.  His vast collection, which dated back to the early 1920s, included such wines as 1935 Clos Vougeot, 1937 Vosne Romanee and 1923 Hospice de Beaune Cuvee Fonguerand. 


Dr. Barolet enjoyed making his own wine and some of them were part of his  collection when he died.  He also liked to refresh aging wines with a little brandy, a practice that was not uncommon in those days. The brandy lifted the wine's tiring flavors and gave it a little more life.

The Barolet Burgundies we had that night in Denver are lost in my memory, but the tasting is not.  Even after 40 years and a lot traveling, the wines were inviting and balanced.  Although one or two were quickly passing old age, most of them  were still showing deep textured black cherry and ripe plum, soft tannins, good acidity and length.  No doubt, the longevity of these wines was helped by the brandy.

I came away from that tasting with a lasting appreciation for mature wines and the need to age certain red wines.  Barolet wines pop up at auctions or through private sales, now and then.  By now, though, they are curiosities and buyers should beware. 


Near the end of my active wine writing career in northern California, a friend suggested I teach about wine.  He mentioned my name and background to the head of a wine studies program at the local junior college and at the start of the next semester, I was in the classroom where I stayed for 13 years.

My first class was in 2003 and I was surprised at the demand for wine knowledge. Students came from a range of backgrounds and ages, including a few underage teenagers who tried to game the system and one man who told me in confidence that he was a recovering alcoholic eager to learn about wine and that he would just smell the wines during our class tastings.

The evening classes consisted of a lecture and a tasting of relevant wines. It was during the tastings when the bond between teacher and student had its highest value, especially when students were prompted to describe what they were smelling and tasting.

Even the vaguest description was discussed, as we explored the wines together. True to his word, the recovering alcoholic smelled all of the wines, adding some relevant and helpful observations.

 If someone thought they detected mint, I would explain the difference between peppermint and eucalyptus, a component often confused with mint.  Or, we would examine the subtle differences between lemon zest, the white pith and the juice.

To illustrate the difficulty of describing a wine in terms that others will understand, I would ask the class to describe the smell and taste of a banana or licorice.  Everyone knew what a banana smelled and tasted like, from personal experience, but they could only come up with, "Um...banana!"


Seeing the look on a student's face as they finally were able to put a name to what they were smelling and tasting, was the gratifying understanding of the teaching moment.

The satisfaction of being able to pass along my knowledge of wine was, for me, a fit way to end "My Life in Wine."  But I hope you will continue to enjoy "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" and will tell your friends.

Next blog: Sparkling Cava

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cabernet Franc

Here's a fun fact: Cabernet Franc, the grape variety that gives class to Bordeaux blends, is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.


It's true.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are proud of their progeny's success. For a long time, Cab Franc, a cultivar that some believe is the "true" Bordeaux red grape, was part of the classic Bordeaux blend, preferred by a number of chateaux.  While that's still the case, Cab Franc has branched out as a varietal red outside France.

A little history.  Tracing the ancestry of a grape can be frustrating, often ending in a dead end. Cabernet Franc likely got its start in France, somewhere between the Loire Valley and Provence. Some studies, however, contend that Cab Franc may have Spanish ancestry. 

What is certain is sometime in the 18th century, Cardinal Richelieu directed an abbot named Breton to plant Cab Franc vines at an Abbey in Bourgueil, Loire Valley. This ecclesiastical directive survives today as Breton is the Loire name for Cabernet Franc.

And there are other synonyms: Cab Franc is known as Bouchet in the Bordeaux right bank Libourne vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  In Italy, Cab Franc is often known simply as Cabernet.   

Bordeaux Franc: In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is the anchor grape, in the right bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  Merlot is the major grape in the Libourne, with Cab Franc playing a supporting role.  

Cooler weather in the Libournais is ideal for growing Cab Franc, but it is too cold for Cabernet Sauvignon, which does better in the Medoc, across the Gironde estuary.  Although the distances are not that great between the Medoc and Libournais vineyards, the differences in the climate and soils are enough.

The central Loire Valley region of Touraine is where Cab Franc does best as a varietal wine.  Chinon and Bourgueil are both 90% Cab Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon making up the remaining 10% of the blend.

This high percentage of Cab Franc gives Chinon and Bourgueil wines a concentrated berry aroma and flavors reminiscent of raspberry and some say pencil shavings.  Bourgueil is the more structured of the two, with deeper flavors and the possibility of aging. 

While a Bordeaux blend containing Cab Franc is a good candidate for aging, the structure and character of mid-weight Touraine Cab Francs is near term drinking. The point of Chinon and Bourgueil is drink now. This approach has earned Chinon the honorific of being called "The Frenchman's wine."

Bourgueil wines worth the search include Domaine les Pins, Joel Taluau, Yannick Amirault.  Chinon Cab Francs: Pierre & Bertrand Couly, Angelliaume, Charles Joquet. 

California and Washington Franc:  Interest in California and Washington state Cab Franc is growing, as a varietal and as part of a Bordeaux blend.  Acreage of Cab Franc is making a slow but steady climb in California, with more consumers looking for alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc is most at home in the Napa Valley, but where ever you find Cab Sauv and Merlot, it's likely that Cab Franc will also be there.

Bosché Cabernet Sauvignon Bottle Shot

 Aside: Fans of Freemark Abbey, in the Napa Valley, may recall Freemark's red wine called Cabernet Bosche.  The name may cause some buyers to confuse the wine for Cab Franc.  The Abbey Cabernet Bosche is Cabernet Sauvignon from John Bosche's vineyard, next to BV 1, which along with BV 2 are the vineyards for the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve.  The 2018 Cabernet Bosche sells for $175.

Washington has taken to Cab Franc in a big way.  Paul Gregutt, in his 2010 book, "Washington Wines & Wineries," list 32 Washington wineries that either bottle Cab Franc as a varietal or use it in a red blend.

Columbia winery made the first Washington Cab Franc in 1991, but it would be a few years before the varietal took offCab Franc has a tendency to be herbal and that can be a problem in Washington's cooler climate.

The major stylistic difference between California and Washington Cab Franc is fruit intensity.  Warmer growing conditions generally mean fruitier wines with more lush intensity.  Cooler growing conditions temper the lushness and often mean controlling the variety's herbal tendency.  Of course site-specific planting can help mitigate this problem.

California Cabernet Francs include Lang & Reed, Chappellet, Lieu Dit and Keenan. Look for these Washington Cab Francs: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Owen Roe, Willow Crest.

There are many choice today for red wines with Cabernet character.  The nice thing about Cabernet Franc is its adaptability as a blending component and as a varietal. 

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 30

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