Thursday, March 16, 2023

Paso Robles Reds

Here's a question to test your California wine knowledge: What is the most planted red grape in the Paso Robles AVA?

If you said Zinfandel, you'd be off...way off.  Although Paso Robles has long been linked with Zinfandel, the most planted red grape in "Paso" is Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Syrah...and then Zinfandel.

One theory behind the Zin link, more fantasy than fact, I suspect, has to do with the Paso climate and a wild west legend.  Paso Robles, an inland part of San Luis Obispo County, is blazing hot in the summer and Paso Robles town once had a reputation as a safe haven for outlaws. So legend has it that the bad guys were looking for a liquid refresher to beat the heat. And that, according to the legend,  is where Zinfandel comes in.

I'd say that tale is as full of holes as the unfortunate bartender of the Paso town saloon who crossed old Bad Bart, an ornery sidewinder with a taste for sin, 'er Zin.


 "Give me a shot of Zinfandel and make it fast," Bart bellows sidling up to the bar.

 "I'm sorry, Mister Bart," squeaks the quaking bartender, "all we have is Red Eye." 

The well ventilated bartender and Bad Bart have passed into history, but the popularity of Paso Robles Zinfandel lingers on.  

Paso Robles Zin continues to make its mark, especially with intriguing names like "Twisted," "Double Black" and "Truth & Valor," but the reality is that in Paso Robles, Cabernet Sauvignon rules. Numbers show that there is more Cabernet Sauvignon (39%) planted in Paso than Zinfandel (8%). Even Merlot (14%) and Syrah (9%) are ahead of Zinfandel in Paso vineyards.  

All of those grapes and more (60 different varieties), are planted in 11 districts, with the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards between Paso Robles town and Templeton. In 1990 there were 20 wineries in Paso Robles. Today, there are more than 200.

Paso History

Grapes were first planted in 1787 by missionaries at Mission San Miguel Archangel, one of the string of Spanish missions that extended from San Diego north to the town of Sonoma. Commercial wine was first made in the 1880s at what is now York Mountain Winery.

Official recognition of Paso Robles had to wait until 1983 when an AVA was granted by the federal government. Then, in 2007 a proposal was submitted to split the area along the Salinas River and form "Paso Robles Westside," but it was turned down.

Since the 1980s when the first Rhone varieties were planted, Paso Robles has become a leading maker of Rhone-style wines in California. Today, Paso Robles has the largest acreage of Syrah, Viognier and Roussanne in the state.  The growing popularity of Rhone-style wines encouraged a group of Paso wine folks to stage the first Hospice du Rhone gathering. 


Tablas Creek, in the Adelaida District, west of Paso Robles, is one of the top producers of Rhone-style wines in California, if not the country. Tablas Creek is a  collaboration with the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel in the southern Rhone Valley.  

Still, Zinfandel is what many people think when they think of Paso Robles wine. 

Why Zinfandel?

Simply put, the grape likes warmth, Mediterranean heat, Paso Robles heat. And Paso's long growing season is just right for Zinfandel.  

The problem with that combination is it can mean high alcohol wines.  In the late 1970s early '80s, Zinfandel could easily reach a bruising 17%.  These high octane  Zins were delicious, like drinking Port, but they were a challenge to serve with food. 

A high alcohol Zin can still seem soft on the palate, mainly because of the abundance of primary fruit.  Some Paso Zins lack acidity, resulting in a little flabbiness. Paso growers got around that problem by better vineyard practices, while winemakers, working with better grapes, produced more balanced Zins.  

Still, some Zinfandel winemakers believe that Zin, by definition, is a higher alcohol red wine and any attempt in the winery to lower the alcohol will result in just another red wine, but not one that is characteristic Zinfandel.

Why Paso Robles?

You can choose your red wine from anywhere else in California, but Paso Robles reds, especially Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, are warm, fruity and inviting, the very wines you want at your next dinner. 

Next blog: Northern Italian Whites

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Thursday, March 9, 2023

France Series: Loire Valley & Rhone Valley

There is hardly a spot in France where wine is not made. From the sparkling wines of Champagne in the northernmost region to the wide array of table wines and bubbly along the southern parts of the country; France is awash in wine.

Spanning across the country's midsection, the agriculturally important Loire Valley has earned the reputation as the "Garden of France." The Loire is both an east-west-oriented valley and a river.  And the Loire river supplies irrigation for the valley's many crops and vines and is a means of river transportation. 

Situated in southeastern France, the Rhone Valley has earned its renown as the source of some of the country's most highly regarded red wines, as well as an impressive wine blend with an ecclesiastical history. 

Along the narrow river valley, the Rhone is home to an impressive selection of wines, that in their uniqueness rival any in the world. 

There's a lot more to say about the Rhone Valley and its wines, but first, there's this about the Loire Valley and its wines.

Loire Valley

No fewer than 30 wines are made in the Loire Valley, a verdant corridor that runs west to east across the center of France.  In the tradition of great wine that comes from areas adjacent to a body of water, the Loire river is the climactic tempering force that helps wine grapes to thrive. From the river's source in the eastern Massif Central, the Loire river runs 625 miles before forming a delta and then emptying into the Atlantic ocean. 

Along the way numerous wine districts are woven into the natural fabric of the valley alongside orchards, flower gardens and a seemingly endless variety of grand estates with picturesque castles.  To travel along the Loire is to satisfy all of the senses.

Loire chateau

The most important Loire wines and grapes are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume (Sauvignon Blanc), Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), Anjou-Saumur (Cabernet Franc), Muscadet (Melon), Quincy and Reuilly (Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris).

One other Loire wine that seems to escape Americans is Saumur Mousseux, a high acid sparkling wine made mostly from Chenin Blanc.  Cabernet Franc is the base for Saumur Rouge, a refreshing light and frothy red bubbly with good fruit.  And then there's the Chenin Blanc-based sparkler Saumur-Champigny. 

Rhone Valley  

It is hard to overstate the value of Rhone wines to the history of French wine. In the past, when Bordeaux found it difficult to ripen their grapes, robust Rhone wines came to the rescue. Syrah and Grenache, to name a few Rhone varieties, deepened the color and helped build the body of anemic Bordeaux wines. 

The Rhone Valley has a long and storied history. Long before the Christian era, the Gauls were moving wine up river deep into the valley. The Rhone river flows for more than 500 miles, starting at Vienne in the north and flowing south through four distinct wine regions before emptying into the Mediterranean at Arles. Along the way, are were many ports of call.

In terms of quantity, the Southern Rhone is the largest producer with such noted wines as Tavel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (more than one million bottles annually), Gigondas and Beaumes-de-Venise. Red varieties of the Southern Rhone include Mourvedre and Carignan, with Grenache the dominant red grape.  

Remains of the "chateauneuf"

Chateauneuf-du-Pape takes its name from the summer home of the Avignon popes in the 14th century. The law allows 18 red and white grapes in the blend, although in practice contemporary blends consist of varying amounts of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault.  There is also a white Chateauneuf made mainly of Grenache Blanc.

Southern Rhone is one of the few places in France that makes a vin doux naturel, or natural sweet wine.  Beaumes-de-Venise, made from Muscat, is a fragrant nectar with a lovely golden, slightly pink color.  It's sweet!  But like all great sweet wines, Beaumes-de-Venise is balanced nicely with good acidity.

The wines of the Northern Rhone -- Cote Rotie, Chateau Grillet, St. Joseph, Hermitage, Cornas -- are the most prestigious and longest lived Rhone wines. Amounting to less than 5% of the total Rhone production, Northern Rhone wines are geared to the fine wine collector and not the mass market. 

Syrah is the only grape permitted in Northern Rhone red wines.  At its greatest,  Cote Rotie and Hermitage are at the top of this class, while for value, it's hard to beat St. Joseph and Cornas. Viognier is the grape of Condrieu and the tiny exclusive Ch. Grillet.  Other Northern Rhone white wines are made from Marsanne and Roussanne.

Value seekers are in luck with Cotes du Rhone, the Rhone's other appellation.  Made mainly from Southern Rhone varieties, Cote du Rhone reds are blends, of which Grenache must be 40%, with Syrah and Mourvedre at 15%.  Viognier and Carignan may also be included in the mix.

When you're thinking of trying a French wine, there is a wide variety available.  Dry to sweet, still to sparkling, few regions offer more than the Loire and Rhone.


Next blog: Paso Robles Reds

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Friday, March 3, 2023

Wine from a Narrow Country

Recently, some family members picked up on the "New York Times" online puzzles that include Wordle and the deceptive Worldle. The Worldle puzzle tricks the puzzler into thinking they know more about world geography than they do.  Worldle shows the outline of a country like Italy or Chile and the puzzler is then asked to guess the country. 

Anyone knowing even the basics of geography easily recognizes Italy's boot shape.  But what about trying to guess the many small African countries, or Chile? 

Chile should be easy.  Long and slender, it runs north to south for nearly 4,300 miles along the western coast of South America.  The widest part of Chile is a mere 49 miles, between the snow capped Andes mountains in the east and the Pacific Ocean Pacific Ocean in the west. 

                                            Chile map Vector illustration of the map of Chile chile outline stock illustrations

That doesn't leave much room for wine growing. Yet, the Chileans have skillfully   found the best spots for vineyards, at high altitudes in the northern region of Salta, and the flatter southern expanses of Bio-Bio.   

Standing on the coast, facing east, the Andes seem to be hiding behind the near  horizon of a rising landscape. But the mountains are there forming a barrier, keeping phylloxera, an aphid that has destroyed many vineyards elsewhere and continues to be a problem, from entering Chile. On the plus side, the year round mountain snow fields in the Andes are a continuous source of runoff, supplying water to Chile's extensive system of irrigation canals. 

For years, Chilean grape growers used the ample Andes runoff to irrigate their vineyards. In the past, grapes were once sold on weight, so growers would flood their vineyards just before harvest, plumping the berries. Stories are told of the resistance from older growers to the introduction of drip irrigation and the efforts to control vineyard flooding.    

The Regions & Wines

Here's a breakout of Chile's top wine regions, north to south:

Aconcagua is the northernmost fine wine region, known mainly for red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Vina Errazuriz pioneered much of the grape growing in Panquehue and Manzanar sub regions.  Errazuriz's Don Maximiano Bordeaux-style blend is one of Chile's best-known red wines.  Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a little Pinoir Noir from the cooler coastal Manzanar are among Aconcagua's most successful wines. 

Close to the coast, south of the major port city of Valparaiso, the small region of Casablanca is noted for the bulk of Chile's cool-climate wines such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  South of Casablanca, the San Antonio valley is one of Chile's newest wine regions, with the same cool-climate varieties as Casablanca.  

An aside. Casablanca and San Antonio valleys are both coastal regions growing the same cool-climate grapes.  Where they differ is that the San Antonio valley runs north to south with all vineyards benefiting from the cool coastal breezes, while Casablanca runs east to west which means it is a transversal valley with warmer zones in the east and cooler zones in the west closer to the ocean.

Another anomaly for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere is remembering that in the Southern Hemisphere, the further south you go, the cooler it becomes, while a warmer more tropical climate is in the north.  

Beyond the smaller northern zones, most of Chile's wine comes from the Central Valley, a huge area, including the capital city Santiago, stretching north to south from Maipo to the Southern region zones of Bil-Bio and Itata.

Directly east of San Antonio valley is Maipo, the most famous wine region in Chile. Maipo vineyards have a predominance of red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere.  Whites are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Top wineries: Concha y' Toro, Carmen, Santa Rita, Cousino Macul, Patrick Valette. 

Rapel is divided into two transversal valleys: Cachapoal and Colchagua, that run from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere are the most planted varieties.  The potential of Rapel for great wine has attracted foreign investment: Los Vascos (Ch. Lafite-Rothschild)and Casa Lapostolle.  Other wineries: Vina Montes, Undurraga, Santa Emiliana.

Curico has two sub-regions of note: Lontue and Teno. Little was known of Curico outside Chile until 1979 and the arrival of Spanish vintner, Miguel Torres.  Except for Torres, the other Curico wineries of note are Valdivieso and San Pedro, although all the big wineries have extensive vineyards in Curico. 

Maule, one of Chile's cooler regions, has five sub-regions, with Talca and Linares the most important. Many of Maule's western vineyard areas are deficient in nutrients, especially nitrogen, but modern vineyard practices are helping to overcome these problems. Once an area for bulk wine, Maule now grows varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan.

In the Southern region are two relatively new wine regions: Itata and Bio-Bio. Lacking the protection of the Andes, the southern regions experience higher rainfall and cooler temperatures.  Cinsault and Muscat of Alexandria are the most planted varieties by Concha y' To William Fevre.

Chenqueco Village and Ralco Lake, Alto Bío Bío
Alto Bio-Bio


Grapes & Vines

Until the 1990s, the most common grape variety in Chile was the Pais, but in a short time, Cabernet Sauvignon shot into first place as the most planted variety, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the latter a slow performer in Chile. 

One interesting aspect of Chile's vineyard leap forward in the early 1990s was the discovery that much of what was thought as Sauvignon Blanc was, in fact, Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignon Gris.  And DNA vine identification also showed that a lot of Merlot was Carmenere.  

The bright side is that innovative Chilean marketers turned this confusion around, making Carmenere the Chilean signature wine, the way that Argentina captured Malbec.

Today, Chilean wines are among the world's finest, especially for high quality for the price.  


Next entry: France Series: Loire & Rhone

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

New Zealand's Other White Wines

The year was 1996 and the place was Seattle.  A quiet man stepped to the podium at the World Vinifera Conference and introduced the attendees to Cloudy Bay Marborough Sauvignon Blanc. 

Almost to a person, the reaction after the first taste was, "What in the hell is this wine?"  It didn't take long for this "new" Sauvignon Blanc to take the country by storm.

The inviting fresh tropical fruit salad flavors, leaning toward passion fruit, crisp acidity and a long clean finish; what was not to like.  It took only a minute for most of the attendees to realize that the pungent flavors of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc were unlike any Sauvignon Blanc they have ever tasted. 

Cloudy Bay would be the first of a flood of New Zealand Sauvignons to captivate a receptive U. S. market.

The Other NZ Whites

More than 35 years later, Sauvignon Blanc is still the most planted variety in New Zealand.  Not far behind are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling, with Gewurztraminer struggling to stay in the game. 

Sauvignon Blanc

But to get Chardonnay to stand out, winemakers had to start making the wine in the vineyard, then coax the flavors from the shy grape in the winery, often with the help of oak.  Aromatic whites like Pinot Gris and Riesling can be simple and fruity, lacking complexity.  And no matter what a winemaker did to Kiwi Gewurtz, the nagging reality was that the Alsatians had the formula for that variety down pat.

The concern was not to rely too heavily on Sauvignon Blanc, to the extent that New Zealand would become known as a one-white-wine producer. And then there was the growing international taste for Chardonnay, posing a marketing challenge.  So plantings of Chardonnay  increased, moving it into third place behind Pinot Noir.  

Chardonnay is the main white variety in Gisborne and nearby Hawke's Bay on the North Island.  Gisborne Chardonnay has attractive flavors of ripe peach and pineapple, while Hawke's Bay Chardonnay is more citrus and elegant.



Perhaps NZ's best Chardonnay is Kumeu River Estate, from a smallish region outside Auckland.  Others of note: Te Mata (Hawke's Bay), Millton Estate (Gisborne) and Villa Maria.

In 2012, new and improved clones of Pinot Gris were approved for planting in New Zealand.  Also responsible for the revival of Pinot Gris was the growing interest in aromatic varieties, a sort of retro look at once popular aromatic white wines that all but vanished in the rush to plant more Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. As a popular varietal, Pinot Gris emerged quickly in the early 2000s, rising to the fourth most planted wine grape.

Pinot Gris

New Zealand Pinot Gris more closely follows the fuller richer style of Alsace Pinot Gris, than the lighter northern Italian Pinot Grigio.  Pinot Gris is happy in cooler soils like those of Central Otago, Marlborough and Nelson, all on the South Island.  Look for Pinot Gris from Kumeu River, Seresin, Gibbston Valley, Dry River.

Riesling is the emblematic grape of Germany, although it is grown in nearly every wine region in the world, even those with marginal growing conditions for Riesling, like certain parts of California.

Cool growing conditions in New Zealand are ideal for growing Riesling.  The wines have a citrusy character that is balanced nicely with ample fruit. The whole package yields Rieslings that are light and delicate. 


NZ Rieslings worth a search include Millton Estate, Felton Road (Central Otago), Giesen, Corbans, Neudorf, Villa Maria.

I have a friend who discovered New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and for quite a while, it was his house white. He and his wife spend time in Paris and during one of those trips, they started drinking Sancerre and found a different expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

The beauty of Sauvignon Blanc is it's many different styles. To some degree, Sauvignon Blanc adapts to local terroir better than Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling.  Get a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling, invite over a few friends for a comparative tasting and decide if your favorite is Sauvignon Blanc or one of New Zealand's other white wines.


Next blog: Wine from a Narrow Country

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Thursday, February 16, 2023

France Series: Burgundy and Beaujolais

Sometime in the late 14th century, the red variety with a long name, Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc, was introduced into the vineyards of Burgundy.  The move was  controversial, mainly for those that grew the noble Pinot Noir grape.

Ripe Pinot Noir

The official name is long to distinguish Gamay Noir from the red-flesh Gamay Teinturier, which in French literally means "dyer."  At one time, the juice from these teinturier grapes was used to help deepen the juice of weak colored grapes.

Today, Gamay Noir accounts for less than 10% of the plantings in Burgundy, but the variety is planted in 98% of Beaujolais vineyards.  Burgundy and Beaujolais  are among the few regions in France with just one or a few grapes. 

Ripe Gamay

And there are more differences. Most importantly, red and white Burgundy are among the most expensive wines in the world, with the most coveted ones priced at hundreds of dollars, while the most expensive Cru Beaujolais costs little more than a hundred dollars. Aging is also different.  A well cellared Burgundy will last a few decades while the best cru Beaujolais will likely top out before 10 years.

The wines from each region are, in their own right, unique. So let's take a closer look at the two regions.   


Known as Bourgogne in French, Burgundy is a province in eastern France, best known for the Cote d'Or, a long pencil-thin region, famous for its white wines made from Chardonnay and reds from Pinot Noir. 

Administratively, Burgundy also includes Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, Auxerrois and Chablis. In terms of production, Maconnais is the largest, followed by the combined output of Chablis and Auxerrois, the latter a rather common wine used in blends more than as a varietal. 

An aside. Auxerrois is a prime example of the confusing nature of grape names being mixed up with wine names and place names.  To begin, Auxerre is a city in north east France.  Auxerrois is another name for Malbec in Cahors and Auxerrois Gris, is a synonym for Pinot Gris in Alsace.  Auxerrois is more popular than Pinot Blanc in Alsace, but is often not mentioned on a wine label, although can be labeled as Pinot Blanc.

The ancient history of Burgundy dates to circa 50 BC, when the Romans conquered Gaul, followed by the Celts, the Franks and the Vandals.  But by the 10th century, a major change occurred in Burgundy, from barbarian rule to Christianity.

Various monastic orders, notably the Benedictines, are credited with the origins and development of Burgundy vineyards and wine, starting in the 10th century.  By the 13th century, the Benedictines owned vast vineyard holdings, including what is known today as Domaine de la Romanee Conti: Romanee-Conti, La Tache, La Romanee, Richebourg, Romanee Conti and Romanee-St.-Vivant. 

Domaine de la Romanee Conti

Today, the Cote d' Or, (or "Golden Slope") is synonymous with Burgundy and, in fact, is the source of the region's most distinguished wines.  From the city of Beaune north, the Cote de Nuits is known mainly for red wines, from Pinot Noir, like Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanee. 

South of Beaune, in the Cote de Beaune, white wines, from Chardonnay, are best known, such as Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet.  The famous growths of Pommard and Volnay, both red wines, plus Santenay and St. Aubin round out the wines of the Cote de Beaune.


Due south of the Maconnais lies the regional city of Macon and on the city's southern edge is the beginning of the province of Beaujolais.  Administratively, Beaujolais is often thought of as part of Burgundy, but it is different, mainly in soils, location and grapes. 

Limestone and granite, two of the elements that help varieties like Pinot Noir and Gamay to ripen fully, are found throughout the rolling hills of the Cote d'Or and Beaujolais. However, it is the Gamay Noir a jus Blanc (or Gamay Noir) grape that determines the character of Beaujolais. 

Perhaps, a third element is even more important thing as it sets Beaujolais apart from other French wines:  carbonic maceration (C-M) , the wine making technique used to fashion the clear juice of the Gamay Noir grape into a fruity grapy red wine that delights wine drinkers everywhere.  

Most of the wine bottled simply as Beaujolais is made using carbonic maceration. The process is involved, but the simple explanation is whole clusters are loaded into a tank and about a third of the mass is crushed by the weight of the grapes above. The grape juice on the bottom of the tank ferments as usual, releasing carbon dioxide that causes an intracellular fermentation in the grapes at the top of the tank. 

The new wine rests for a few days and then is released as Beaujolais Nouveau. A small amount of C-M is sometimes used to brighten standard Beaujolais but C-M is not used in Cru Beaujolais.


A step up from Beaujolais are the 10 Beaujolais Crus, so-rated for the vineyards around the named villages.  From north to south: St. Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly. The wines from these select villages are considered so good that they deserve a special designation.  Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent are considered the biggest most concentrated.  In blind tastings, aged Beaujolais Crus have been mistaken for Cote de Beaune red.

Collectors of French red wine say that Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone are most desirable...and then there is everything else.  Try a bottle of red Burgundy or Beaujolais and see for yourself. 

Note:  The next entry in the France Series: Rhone and Loire, will appear in this space on March 10, 2023. 


Next Blog: New Zealand's Other White Wine

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

The King of Italian Wine

In 1980, Burton Anderson, an American journalist living in Italy, released "Vino," a personal account of the wines and winemakers of Italy, to great acclaim. Anderson's book introduced wine drinkers to Italian wine while persuading those who swore by French and California wine that Italy had something equally good to offer. 

Burton Anderson

Anderson praised Barolo, the famous red wine of Piedmont, as "extraordinary." And though American wine drinkers had made Chianti the most popular Italian red wine in the United States, Barolo maintained its reputation as Italy's finest. 

Although Burton Anderson reacquainted Americans to Barolo (and all Italian wine) in the 1980s, forty years earlier, fellow American, Harold Grossman, wrote sparingly but persuasively about Barolo.  Describing the village of Barolo and the surrounding Nebbiolo vineyards, spread over a hill of volcanic tufa, Grossman said:"On this hill the Nebbiolo grapes grow best, and they give the finest and most justy celebrated red wine Italy has.  In good years, Barolo can be classed as one of the kings of wine."

Barolo Basics

Among the top villages near the town of Alba noted by both authors for Barolo are Serralunga d'Alba, La Morra, Montforte d'Alba, Barolo and Castiglione Falletto.  The last two are thought by many Barolo aficionados as the site of "real" Barolo.

In recent years, Barolo producers have designated certain vineyards, or "Crus," for their high quality grapes.  A few of the better known Barolo Crus include Rocche, Bussia, Brunate and Ginestra.

Barolo owes its well-earned reputation to two things: the Nebbiolo grape and the volcanic tufa soil that makes up the hilly Piedmont countryside.  

Nebbiolo is a late ripening variety, maturing in October and November, when the hills of Piedmont are cloaked in heavy fog, or nebbia. Piedmont climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters and lots of rain.  Nebbiolo does not like to get its feet wet and that presents a challenge for growers every year. 

In the winery, the use of traditional long macerations and fermentations is slowly giving way to shorter terms for both, using more French oak, resulting in Barolos  that are fruitier and less tannic and are drinkable earlier.

Traditionally, Barolo has been described as smelling like an unlikely combination of roses and tar.  As odd as it may sound, I picked up both in a well-aged Alda Conterno Barolo. Newer style Barolo has raspberry and dried herbs, with floral notes.  Barolo can be high in mouthwatering acidity and finishing with full tannins.

Nebbiolo on the vine

Nebbiolo d'Alba is a red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape in a zone surrounding the city of Alba.  Although lighter and softer than Barolo, Nebbiolo d'Alba is a less expensive alternative to Barolo and Barbaresco that is ready to drink earlier.

Although not apparent when buying a bottle of Barolo or Nebbiolo d'Alba, there is a clonal difference with the Nebbiolo grape, mainly Michet, Bolla and the most common Lampia clone. However, since Nebbiolo has a virus problem and Barolo producers don't want to gamble on the wrong clone, most of them use what is known as mass selection, a technique of field vine selection, the opposite of clonal selection.

Here is a short list of Barolo producers: Aldo Conterno, Giacomo Conterno, Michele Chiarlo, G.D. Vajra, Bartolo Mascarello, Ratti, Elvio Cogno.  Prices for Barolo range from $60 to hundreds of dollars.  A Giacomo Conterno Francia Barolo currently sells for $300. Nebbiolo d'Alba is priced around $25. 

Memories of Wineing in Italy

In the early years of my editorship of the "Wine Spectator," owner and publisher, Marvin Shanken, and I took a rare trip to Italy, to "show the flag," and increase the visibility of the Spectator.  Our first stop was Vinitaly, a major venue on the European wine calendar.

Upon arrival at Milan's Malpensa airport, we discovered that Lucio Caputo, then head of the Italian Trade Commission in New York, was on the same plane.  Caputo was driving to Verona and offered us a ride.  What we didn't know until later was that in an earlier life, he had been a race car driver. 

The memory of what car Caputo rented escapes me now...but it was fast!  He deftly maneuvered his way onto the Autostrada heading east, with me in the back seat and Marvin in the passenger seat, holding on for dear life. Noticing he had a white-knuckle passenger, Caputo smiled and pressed harder on the accelerator, as we sped our way toward Verona.

Later in the trip, Marvin and I were in the Piemontese town of Barbaresco to visit Angelo Gaja. He had extended an invitation when we met at Vinitaly to visit the winery and taste his Gaja wines.  

That evening, Gaja came to our hotel to get us in his Mercedes station wagon to take us to dinner at a nearby restaurant.  As I climbed into the back seat, I thought that a Mercedes was an unusual choice for an Italian winemaker, as they all seemed to drive a Lancia or big Fiat.

Marvin was in the passenger seat holding on tightly as Gaja zoomed along the narrow mountain roads in the dark.  It was another white-knuckle ride with another Italian winemaker who enjoyed his macchina as much as his vino.

And the trip promised to be great so long as we could stay out of fast Italian cars, driven by speed-loving Italian winemakers.


Next blog: France Series: Burgundy and Beaujolais

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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Understanding Wine Sweetness

For years, wine buyers have taken a wine from a store shelf and wondered if it's dry, or sweet?  The question is especially important with white wines like Riesling.

Germans have been trying for decades to dispel the myth that all German wine is sweet. Of course, it isn't true, as one taste of a Riesling trocken can shock your palate into numbness.  

Still, many German white wines are semi-sweet, sweet and dessert-wine sweet. German wines are hard to sort out, which is ironic since the Germans have a reputation for orderliness and organization. 

Before we get to specific sweetness scales, here are some terms to help better understand the basics of German wines: Trocken is dry; Halbtrocken means half dry or off dry; Kabinett is perceptibly sweet; Spatlese is sweet; Auslese is honied/sweet; Beerenauslese (Ba) means sweet/honeyed/complex and Trockenbeerenauslese, commonly referred to as "Tba," is Germany's rare and most complex sweet wine.  Eiswein, or Ice Wine, is a special category that fits between Ba and Tba and is made from grapes frozen on the vine.

The Sweetness Scales

In 2007, a group of Riesling producers created the International Riesling Foundation (IRF). In designing a scale to be placed on the back label of a Riesling wine label, the IRF hoped to answer the question once and for all: "How sweet is this wine?"

Using an arrow to point to one of four terms -- Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, Sweet -- a Riesling producer tells the consumer what he or she believes to be the sweetness level of wine.      


Eventually, global Riesling producers adopted the scale, but ironically, few German Riesling producers went along, citing one reason or another why they wouldn't participate.

In Alsace, the French wine region, across the Rhine river from Germany, the Association of Alsace Wine Growers was faced with the same sweetness question as their German neighbors, so they devised their own sweetness scale to indicate to consumers the level of sweetness of an Alsace wine.  

The Alsace sweetness scale looks similar to the IRF Sweetness Scale, but the four terms are different: sec (dry), demi-sec (off-dry), moelleux (med-sweet) and doux (sweet).   Alsace producers could either show the appropriate term on the back label or use a scale with an arrow pointing to the word.

Online site, Wine Folly, has its own sweetness scales. There's a scale for white wine and one for red wine, using claimed residual sugars from winery tech sheets.  The Wine Folly red scale, for instance, suggests that Tempranillo is nearly dry, Syrah is beyond medium sweet and Zinfandel is sweet. On the Wine Folly white wine scale, Riesling is nearly sweet, while Sauvignon Blanc is nearly dry.

There are more wines on both Wine Folly scales, but the confusing scales present  a dilemma for consumers when what they need is transparent guidance and information.

The Usual Dilemma

Any information you give a wine consumer is helpful, right?  Not when a collection of sweetness scales, that aims to give the consumer helpful information about the wine in the bottle, is murky and confusing.  The problem, unfortunately, is repeated over and over again.

For example, how does the consumer define the difference between "demi-sec" and "medium dry?"  Are those terms the same?  Or, because one term is in French and the other English, is there a cultural language difference?

Granted, the first scale is on the back label of a bottle of Alsace (French) wine and the other on a bottle of Riesling.  Riesling is a primary wine in Alsace, so why a different scale for Alsace Riesling, when Alsatians could use the IRF scale?

Obviously, the answer is a sweetness scale is proprietary and political.  And there are political/trade differences between the two countries, made even more complex by EU requirements.

A closing personal note:  Reflecting on the sweetness of Riesling reminds me of a visit my copy editor (aka, my wife, Janet) and I made to a wein keller in the German Rheingau, that involved tasting a number of Rieslings and then the challenge of spitting. 

Vineyards overlooking Rudesheim

After being greeted by our genial host, we were led down a long flight of steep steps into a narrow cramped and cold cellar.  Explaining the careful arrangement of equipment and tanks in his small cellar, the vintner selected a small stainless tank that had been fabricated to fit into a niche, grabbed three glasses, opened the spigot and while holding the glasses in one hand, poured a measure of golden wine into each.  

Then the seriousness of the tasting lightened up a little, at Janet's expense. 

Tasting a line of wines at a tasting bench or table is not like tasting in a cellar. There's usually a bucket or spittoon at the table. A modern winery has shallow trenches in the floor for water runoff and the disposal of spit wine. In the cellar, spitting demands expectorant velocity and accuracy, even when there is no trench or drain.

Americans who did not grow up in the wine business likely never learned to spit, especially on the floor.  Sure, young boys tend to spit a lot, to the displeasure of adults. But girls never spit, so on that day in a Rheingau cellar, Janet was expected to become an instant spitter. 

Back at the car, Janet took a tissue from the her purse and wiped the wine from the toe of her shoe.  At other wineries on the trip, the wines got better, but unfortunately, Janet's aim didn't. 

Next blog: Barolo

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

France Series: Bordeaux



The region of Bordeaux kicks off this new series, with a focus on the diverse wines of France.  Spread over the next two months will be overviews of seven of the main wine regions in France. 

Along France's western edge, slightly inland from the Atlantic Ocean, the large region of Bordeaux is fed by two rivers that flow into an estuary and finally the ocean. 

Nowhere in all of the expanding world of wine is the maxim more evident that wine grapes grow best near a body of water then it is in Bordeaux. The rivers Dordogne and Garonne empty into the Gironde estuary after passing through a number of Bordeaux appellations.

Although there are 50 Appellations d'Origine Controlle (AOC) in Bordeaux, most wine drinkers think of Bordeaux as just the Medoc, Graves and Sauternes/Barsac on the left bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion on the right bank, with Entre-Deux-Mers as, well, in the middle between the two. 

Fortunately, for the curious wine consumer there are not 50 grapes to be known about in Bordeaux.  The left bank and right bank communes have five red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot.  Carmenere is also grown but not used in the Medoc.

White varieties include Semillon and Sauvignon, used in the Graves and Sauternes/Barsac. Muscadelle is also allowed by appellation law, as is Sauvignon Gris.

Here's a brief look at the most important left bank and right bank regions and their communes.

Medoc is a sprawling, mostly flatfeatureless wine region between the ocean and the estuary. The most northern wine area is the Bas-Medoc, known simply as the Medoc. This area is known for well-made simple red wines that do not quite reach the heights of the reds from the Haut-Medoc. 

With pine forest on one side and the Gironde estuary on the other side, the Haut-Medoc, a narrow strip of land, approximately 8 miles wide and 50 miles long, is the site of six famous communes -- Listrac, Margaux, Moulis, Pauillac, St. Estephe, St. Julien.  Although the Haut-Medoc lacks scenic interest, the red wines are world class. 

Graves/Pessac-Leognon is a large region extending south of the city of Bordeaux along the left banks of the river Garonne.  It is the only Bordeaux region famous for both red and white wines, made from the standard Bordeaux varieties. Pessac-Leognon is a section carved out of the northern part of Graves including the suburbs of Bordeaux city.  All of the famous chateaux, such as Pape-Clement, Haut-Brion, Smith Haut-Lafitte, that were once a part of the Graves, are now under the Pessac-Leognon appellation.

Sauternes/Barsac is all white and mainly sweet.  The blend is dominated by Semillon, with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle that are affected by botrytis. Rich and complex with excellent balancing acidity, Sauternes is thought by many to be the creme of sweet wines. Most of the producers make a dry white wine, such as Chateau Y from Ch. d' Yquem, from the three varieties.

Barsac is sandwiched between Cerons/Graves and Sauternes, on the climatically important cool Ciron river, a contributing factor to the development of the all-important botrytis.  Barsac wines are thought to be lighter than Sauternes, although that depends on the producer.   

St. Emilion is, in terms of output, the largest right bank region.  It is also the place where you will find many high-priced "garage wines."  The region takes it name from a picturesque town set in a hilly surrounding landscape. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main grapes of St. Emilion, with a few estates, like Chateau Figeac, favoring Cabernet Sauvignon.  St. Emilion, like the Medoc, has a classification system and there are four sub-regions, or "satellites," producing wines from the same grapes, that are a relative bargain.

Pomerol is a small region next to St. Emilion and the merchant city of Libourne.  The Moueix family, owners of various properties in Pomerol, including the famous Ch. Petrus, is Libourne's most successful wine merchant.  About 80% of the plantings in Pomerol are Merlot and in the best years, Pomerol is plump and rich. 


Entre-Deux-Mers is a large region that lies between the Rivers Garonne and Dordogne, even though the name of the region means "between two seas."  Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main red grapes, with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon accounting for the whites.  The wines of Entre-Deux-Mers share many of the same features as their better known neighbors, but are less expensive and worth a search.

An aside.  How times have changed in Bordeaux.  Early in my career as a wine writer, I thought it important to visit Bordeaux.  I believed then that Bordeaux was the center of the wine universe.  Not any more, but that's a story for another time.

When I was planning my trip, email had yet to take over personal and business communications, so I wrote letters requesting interviews and tastings to a handful of chateaux, mainly in the Medoc.  Wokeness hadn't been invented yet either, but if it had, the term would have negatively applied to my plan.

Before leaving, checking on proper protocol at Bordeaux chateaux would have helped immeasurably.  I would have known that in those days, not being punctual was a social no-no for which you would be turned away, appointment or not.  

And I would have known in advance not to ask to talk to the winemaker.  "You understand, Monsieur Boyd, we have an oenologue and a maitre de chai, but no winemaker." 

Another important thing not ask then was about alcohol.  It was a given in Bordeaux in those days that there is alcohol in wine and a chateau-bottled wine would always measure out at about 12.5% abv, so asking about the percentage of alcohol in a wine was a nonsense question to a Frenchman.

Anyway, I arrived at my first appointment (the chateau will remain unnamed), carrying my bottle of California Zinfandel as a thank you for seeing me.  I was greeted by a young man who, while eyeing the unfamiliar wine I was holding, promptly informed me that he wasn't the person I was supposed to see and excused himself, leaving me shifting from one foot to the other in the entrance hall. 

I didn't have time to get nervous, though, as the young man returned accompanied by an elderly man in a suit and tie. 

We exchanged greetings and my host paused, then quietly said, "Ah, yes, Mister Boyd."  We both smiled and I thanked him for seeing me, and then not knowing what else to say, I  handed him the bottle of Zinfandel. 

It was an awkward exchange and I wasn't sure if my host knew what to say either, but he grasped the bottle, smiled politely and said, "Ah, yes, Mister Boyd, we heard they were doing something with grapes in California," and then delicately handed off the bottle to his man as though it were a dead rat.

I got my interview, was granted a taste of the current vintage wine and we said our goodbyes.


Next blog: Understanding Wine Sweetness

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Friday, January 20, 2023


In every region of the wine world, there are one or two grapes that define the local wine culture. Germany is known for Riesling. Sauvignon Blanc brought New Zealand onto the world stage. Northern California identifies with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay; Bordeaux and Cabernet, Italy and Sangiovese,  Australia re-defined Syrah as Shiraz and so on.  

What red wine grape best identifies with Spain?  Could it be Garnacha, or maybe  Carinena?  Neither.  The number one Spanish red grape is Tempranillo.

Known by different names throughout the country, Tempranillo is Cencibel in southern Spain, Ull de Libre in Catalonia and in the Old Castile region of Toro, it is known as Tinta de Toro, while in Castile's Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo is called Tinto Fino.

No matter the local name, Tempranillo makes robust red wines that are treasured throughout the wine world.  On its own, Tempranillo is reminescent of fresh strawberries. But where Tempranillo shines is with other grapes. 

Tempranillo has a relatively neutral aroma and low acidity, so its best blended with complimentary grapes, like Garnacha (Grenache) or Carignan. Tempranillo is a major contributor to a Rioja blend with Graciano and Mazuelo, developing cinnamon and raisin notes supported by a velvety richness.  Extended barrel aging is another way to bring out Tempranillo's character.

Old vine Tempranillo

Tempranillo provides backbone to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, two of Spain's most respected reds.  It is the principal grape in Ribera, but sometimes combines with French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, as in the highly vaunted Vega Sicilia. The same blending preferences apply in Navarra and La Mancha, where Tempranillo is complimentary to Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.  

An aside.  A number of years ago, on my first trip to Rioja, I had an appointment at a small family-owned winery in Laguardia.  The name of the winery escapes me now, but the experience of approaching Laguardia late in the afternoon has stayed with me to this day. 

The road leading to Laguardia meanders across a flat plain. That day, low black clouds, pierced by rays of late sunlight, framed the town of Laguardia laying across the crest of a high swelling in the landscape, with dramatic mountains as a backdrop.  It was a stunning sight, especially to my tired jet-lagged eyes. 

Laguardia is a small walled town of about 1,500, in the Rioja Alavesa.  My destination was down one of the narrow cobbled streets where a challenging tasting of straight Tempranillo and Rioja blends with Tempranillo the lead component. 

The winemaker was an older man with the hands of someone who made wine without the help of modern technology or the need to learn English. 

Tasting red wine in the chill of an old cellar with dirt floors was enlightening.  We communicated by nods and little smiles.  The Tempranillo was young and fresh and loaded with fruit, not unlike a nouveau Beaujolais.  The blend was immediately more complex, with deep fruit and firm tannins.  There was a depth to the wine that I discovered was from the addition of Graciano. The wine was pure Spanish and true Rioja Alavesa.

After my visit, I wondered why it was suggested that I visit a small winery that didn't export to the United States.  My contact at Wines of Spain explained that the Tempranillos I tasted that afternoon in that chilly cellar in Laguardia were what traditional Rioja was all about.

There was no Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Laguardia winery, but the simpatico relationship of those two varieties may have given rise to the expression, in Rioja and Ribera, that "Tempranillo is Spain's answer to Cabernet Sauvignon."  Perhaps, but some of the leading Ribera challengers to Vega Sicilia, like Dominio de Pingus and Hacienda Monasterio, believe that in Ribera, Tempranillo holds sway over Cabernet Sauvignon.

In Rioja and Ribera, the trend with Tempranillo is to make big rich wines, but to back off on oak aging.  In the past, extended aging for these two wines was the norm, especially in American oak.  Today, winemakers are moving more to French oak and being more selective with new or used barrels and aging regimens.

This lighter touch results in wines with more fruit and a softer mouth-feel. The benefit to the consumer is that the wines are ready to drink sooner, requiring less cellaring. Some Riberas buck the trend of shorter barrel aging, in favor of fuller oak tannins, probably from American oak, or longer barrel aging, or both.  

Harvesting Tempranillo

In neighboring Portugal, Tempranilo is known as Tinta Roriz, an essential component in the production of Port and still red blends. Modern wine making in the Douro and further south in Alentejo, where Tempranillo is called Aragonez, has managed to smooth the rough edges that Tinta Roriz sometimes gets, while highlighting its bright raspberry and mocha flavors.

Beyond Spain and Portugal, Tempranillo's struggles for recognition are pitted against local varieties and popular French grapes.  There are a few places of encouragement.  Argentina's Mendoza Valley is experiencing a growth spurt in Tempranillo plantings, competing with Malbec.  California and Australia have seen interest in Tempranillo increase in recent years. 

Prices for Tempranillo are all over the place, but mostly break out by place of production.  Ribera del Duero is generally the most expensive, with the majority of Riojas a little less. I found the range is about $13 to $55, with a few wines, like Vega Sicilia (Ribera) 2011 "Unico," $395 and Lopez Heredia 2001 Rioja Reserva, $100. The current vintage of the highly regarded Hacienda Monasterio Rioja tops the price range at $55, while a Crianza Rioja is priced at $15 and a Crianza Ribera $22.  

Prices for Tempranillo, whether varietal, Rioja, Ribera, are wide enough to fit any wine budget.  Pick up a bottle or two at your local wine shop, or better yet, go to Rioja this summer and drive out to Laguardia in laet afternoon when the clouds are gathering over the little town.


Next blog: France Series: Bordeaux

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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Sauvignon Styles

Sauvignon Blanc is an important variety, widely planted in every major wine region, with the possible exception of Germany.  Chardonnay may be the most ubiquitous premium white wine grape in the world, but Sauvignon Blanc is a close second.

According to various reports on world grape plantings, Sauvignon Blanc was the 11th most planted wine grape in 2021, while Chardonnay was 7th.  The same year, the California Department of Food and Agriculture recorded there were 16,000 planted acres of Sauvignon Blanc in the state, compared to 90,000 for Chardonnay.  Sauvignon Blanc had come a long way, in the United States, since its humble beginnings.

Records suggest that Sauvignon Blanc had its origins, perhaps in the 18th century, in the Loire Valley of France.  By 1997, DNA studies showed that, along with Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc was a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was an aha! moment for many wine drinkers. 


Why?  The herbaceousness found in Sauvignon Blanc was similar to the herbal flavors found in Cabernet Sauvignon.  Some tasters described the flinty character of Pouilly Fume as slightly herbal, while the same grassy notes were noted in Sancerre.  Early on, California Sauvignon Blancs were thought to be grassy and herbal, a style that gave way to one closer to New Zealand than Bordeaux. But  the occasional New Zealand "sauvy," famous for tropical fruit flavors, can also have an underlying herbal note. 

Over the years, as the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc spread around the world, various styles developed based on local terroir.  What follows is a brief look at the most popular of these styles. 

Upper Loire, to most wine fans, means Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. There is a difference between the two wines, with the fruitier Sancerre attracting more wine drinkers. 

Across the river, near the small town of Pouilly-sur-Loire, the Sauvignons of Pouilly-Fume are earthier with a trace of flint, thought to be from a mineral called silex. Both wines have lively acidity, sometimes too much for some tastes, found more in Pouilly-Fume than Sancerre. 

Here's the thing.  Despite the differences that some say they can detect, most tasters find it difficult to decide if the wine is a Pouilly Fume or a Sancerre.

An aside.  The story behind how Pouilly Fume got its name is based on a misunderstanding.  In the early morning hours, the mist that rises from the surface of the Loire river, reminds locals of smoke, slipping and swirling its way over the vineyards.  The French word for "smoke" is fume and somehow the popular meaning of the name became "smoke" instead of "mist." 

Below, under the style of "California Sauvignon Blanc," you'll find a short tale of how one Napa vintner converted the name Pouilly-Fume into a marketing success story.

Bordeaux has a lot of white wine, from the simple whites of Entre-Deux-Mers, mostly from Sauvignon Blanc, to the complex sweet whites of Sauternes, also  from Sauvignon Blanc.  The dry white Sauvignon Blanc, for which the region is justly proud, come from the Graves, an area south of the city of Bordeaux. 


In 1987, a division was made in the Graves district that made a lot of sense to local vintners but created confusion in the wine world.  A section of Graves was carved out and called Pessac-Leognan, taking most of the well-known chateaux with it.  

I have a hunch that Pessac and Leognan, two communes in the Graves, are not even familiar to the French wine drinker, so you can see why there might be confusion for the non-French. However, if you're looking for a Bordeaux-style Sauvignon today, it will likely be from Pessac-Leognon. 

Bordeaux blanc is crisp and lively with a trace of minerals. Most have some oak. And it is that aging in oak that is mainly what separates Bordeaux blanc from Loire Sauvignon Blanc. 

New  Zealand, usually means Marlborough, the renown region at the northern end of the South Island. Lesser known NZ "Sauvys" include those from Nelson, a western neighbor of Marlboro, Canterbury and Hawkes Bay on the North Island.

Before the advent of canopy management in New Zealand, the lush green coverage provided lots of herbaceousness. Once growers adopted canopy management, Sauvignon Blanc escaped the veggies in favor of juicy tropical fruit flavors, popularly described as passion fruit.  Today, although the export market for NZ Sauvignon Blanc has tapered off a little, consumers still buy the number-one wine from New Zealand.

NZSB with screw cap

An aside.  American wine drinkers know about NZ Sauvignon Blanc, but few are aware that the Kiwis were mainly responsible for the push to finish wine bottles with screw caps.  In 2001, a group of young winemakers, created The Screwcap Initiative, hoping to replace the traditional cork with a screw cap.  Today, close to 100% of all New Zealand wine, red and white, are sealed with a screw cap.

California Sauvignon Blanc was just another Sauvignon before Robert Mondavi renamed his wine Fume Blanc, an Americanized play on the Loire Pouilly Blanc Fume.  Not only did Mondavi sales take off, but the name change stimulated a new interest in California to make a white wine that would compete with Chardonnay. 

Chardonnay held on to the number one spot, but California Sauvignon Blanc took off and today, it enjoys healthy sales as an interesting white wine in its own right.

Tank fermented is the method of choice for most Sauvignon Blanc made in California and Washington state, to preserve the fresh fruit flavors and crisp natural acidity.  Some California Sauvignons are barrel fermented and aged for short periods, resulting in what amounts to a "poor man's Chardonnay." 

Nearly every region in California produces Sauvignon Blanc of one style or another. Central Coast regions of Monterey and Santa Ynez Valley and the cooler spots in Sonoma like the Russian River Valley, favor the grassy/herbal style. Ripe melon flavors define Sauvignons from the warmer parts of upper Napa Valley and Sonoma County.  Pick a style and you'll find it somewhere in California. 

The main takeaway with Sauvignon Blanc is that there is a style for every wine fan. The variety's identity is herbal/grassy, but winemakers have learned to tame that character and coax out more fruit.  Whatever your preference, Sauvignon Blanc is a great casual wine, or enjoy it with light meals. 

Next blog: Tempting Tempranillo

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