Saturday, August 22, 2020

"My Life in Wine" Episode 5

"The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars."
                                                  Benjamin Franklin

In Episode 4 of "My Life In Wine," I had spent five years (1966-1970) at a USAF Air Training Command television production facility in Denver writing how-to scripts for airmen students. In my free time, I began shopping for wine in Denver area shops; launched a fledgling career as a freelance wine writer for newly discovered wine magazines; celebrated Thanksgiving by writing about Beethoven and Austrian wine for a classical music listener's guide. Then, I was informed that my next assignment was at a Vietnam support base in Taiwan.

Officially, the base belongs to the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) but was shared in a joint-forces agreement with the U.S. Air Force, allowing the United States to support Vietnam from a nearby country.  Of course mono-lingual Americans found the Chinese name for the base, Ching Chuan Kang, difficult to pronounce, so they reduced it to the acronym -- "CCK." 

One of the odd aspects of being an Airman in radio and television production, assigned to Armed Forces Radio and Television, is your immediate supervisor could be a civilian or be a member of another service. Such was the case at AFRTS CCK. I was in charge of the radio station, but my boss was a U.S. Navy officer at network headquarters in Taipei.  

The Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek was officially at war with the Peoples Republic of China so the ROC Air Force was on perpetual alert, fearing an air attack from the China mainland.  There was a anti-aircraft battery in a field between the barracks where I lived and the radio station, making walking to work, at times, a challenge, because one step off the poorly marked path and you could be shot for trespassing.

Day to day life at CCK was mostly routine and uneventful, but then, just as my year was up and I was preparing to transfer, word leaked out that the so-called anti-aircraft installation was a painted wooden fake. And we were not told that the path we took to get to work, overgrown with tall buffalo grass, was a favored habitat for a poisonous Taiwanese snake.

So on that note, it was time to return to a more hospitable version of reality.

Still, on the way out, I also discovered that the local "wine," or at least what was called "wine," was a popular beverage that I suspect was anything but grape wine. In those days the Taiwanese government had a monopoly on the production of beer and spirits. Any beverage that was alcohol-based was made in the same place...and it tasted like it. I never found out what was in Taiwanese "wine" but I was happy to leave it behind.

So, in 1971, it was goodbye to hot and humid Taiwan and hello to hot and humid South Carolina and Charleston Air Force Base. The wing I was assigned to was tasked with introducing the C-5A Galaxy into the active Air Force inventory and my job as NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the Base Information Office was to promote the C-5A to the public.  
                             Lockheed C-5A Galaxy Photos |

Aside: The story of the C-5A Galaxy and its service at Charleston AFB is an interesting one, especially for those who like airplanes.  Huge cost overruns and cracked wings cost Lockheed millions and hurt the company's reputation, a painful reminder of Lockheed's current problems with the 737-Max.  I could write extensively about my association with the C-5A, Charleston AFB and South Carolina, but it has nothing to do with wine.

The job at Charleston turned out to be challenging, for a number of reasons, not the least was having to deal with subtle racism while learning how to adapt to life in my first flying unit since joining the Air Force in 1953.  While trying to figure it all out, I was enjoying life with my family and carving out some free time to restart my wine education.  

But the transient life of a serviceman and his family didn't allow for building a large wine collection. And I soon learned that the real danger of wine buying, at the local Piggly Wiggly store, is buying wine faster and in larger quantities than you are drinking.

During Vietnam, all armed services were struggling to meet recruiting goals. The Air Force met the challenge by expanding the Advertising and Publicity (A&P) program in Air Force Recruiting. For me, the expansion was an opportunity to do something different, so I applied, was accepted, graduated from recruiting school and received my first assignment in A&P at, of all places, Lowry AFB, Denver.  Once again, the assignment gods were smiling on me.   

Between A&P trips to support recruiters in a 12-state Midwest area, I began again to build my freelance writing credits, preparing for my retirement from the Air Force and  transition to a full time career in wine, hopefully as a writer. 

In 1976, I retired from the Air Force and accepted a position as a sommelier at the famous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, which didn't work out, so I returned to Aurora and back to writing about wine. In those days, Charles Court, the newly-opened dining room where I worked was staffed entirely by old-guard European-trained hotel people.  The view was, food and service were the most important considerations and wine was only  important if it boosted the total on the check.

The early 1970s was a time when the California wine boom caused a flood of interest in wine, and all of the growth without the "Wine Spectator" which was still six or seven years away, to guide and hold the hands of America's new wine consumers. 

Almost overnight, a proliferation of newspaper wine columns and wine magazines grew to meet this new demand.  Wine savvy readers increased subscriptions to the British "Wine" magazine and the short-lived "Grand Cru" magazine published out of Chicago. It wasn't long before  "Vintage" (New York City) and "Wine World" (Los Angeles) were attracting enthusiastic subscribers hungering for wine information and recommendations.

                            Rocky Mountain News

 I began writing a weekly wine column for the "Rocky Mountain News" in Denver while contributing to both "Wine World" and "Vintage."  It seemed then like every city of any size in the United States had a newspaper wine column, often written by people with limited skills as a writer and only minimum knowledge of wine. 

Other outlets for budding wine writers included airline in-flight magazines and a growing number of city and regional magazines that included words on wine to go with their local food coverage. Business as a freelance wine writer was picking up for me and I soon added the "Denver" city magazine plus another piece for the "KVOD Listeners Guide," to my credits. 

Meanwhile, I had enrolled in Metropolitan State College, in Denver, to complete my long-delayed bachelor's degree, graduating in 1979.  As a reward, Janet and I went on a three-week wine trip to the wine regions of Europe. 

In Episode 6 of "My Life in Wine," Janet and I visit some of Europe's top wine regions, then return to Colorado and find an offer of a major wine-job opportunity in California. 


Next blog: A return to Bordeaux and the Medoc and Graves.

Comments?   Suggestions?  Email me at

Monday, August 17, 2020

Annual Index

"Do what you love.  Keep your own bones; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still."                      
                                         Henry David Thoreau

In the early months of 2019, I decided to get back into wine writing with a blog that would talk just about wine and not all the periphery things that define wine making and the promotion and selling of wine. 

Wine is what I know and so, as of July 14, 2020, I had gnawed on 37 blogs, covering a wide range of subjects. The following list is a recap of a year's worth of blogs. I'm a little late getting it out, but I hope you find a bone or two useful and informative that you can gnaw on during these trying times. 

July 12, 2019 -- Beaujolais, perhaps the greatest vinous gift the French gave to the world. 

July 29, 2019 -- Chenin Blanc, still popular in France, but mostly ignored elsewhere.

August 8, 2019 -- A look at what each of the five varieties give to the "Bordeaux Blend."

August 18, 2019 -- An examination of the impact oak barrels have on wine making.  

August 28, 2019 -- Riesling, in all its permutations, is examined and reviewed. 

September 17, 2019 -- Some thoughts on Rhone Syrah and Shiraz, Syrah's Australian cousin.

September 27, 2019 -- Relating a vineyard tour of eastern Washington with my son the winemaker.

October 7, 2019 -- Burgundy, the ancestral home of great Pinot Noir, is visited.

October 17, 2019 -- A summary of some easy steps to a better wine tasting experience.

October 27, 2019 -- An in-depth look at the styles of Sauvignon Blanc. 

November 6, 2019 -- Part 2 of Sauvignon Blanc styles.

November 16, 2019 -- A look at Beaujolais Nouveau and the debt it owes to carbonic maceration.

November 26, 2019 -- An inside look at Zinfandel in "The Zin Primer."

December 6, 2019 -- Examining Sherry, a holiday favorite from Spain.

December 16, 2019 -- No holiday celebration would be complete without a little bubbly.

December 26, 2019 -- Portuguese Port, a great choice to help ring in the new year.

January 5, 2020 -- "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" goes on a wine tour of Italy. 

January 15, 2020 -- An overview of the essentials of Merlot, the grape and the wine. 

January 25, 2020 -- "Wine and the Written Word" takes a personal look at wine writing. 

February 4, 2020 -- Viognier is examined in all its popular styles.

February 14, 2020 -- Visiting Languedoc and Roussillon, the two wine jewels of Southern France. 

February 24, 2020 -- A review of West Coast Chardonnay and its non-stop popularity. 

March 5, 2020 -- Re-discovering New York's Finger Lakes wines.

March 15, 2020 -- A personal account of the demise of a unique wine.

March 25, 2020 -- Exploring Campania's unique "Wines of Antiquity."

April 4, 2020 -- "My Life in Wine" Episode 1.

April 14, 2020 -- Reviewing the valued white wines of Alsace. 

April 24, 2020 -- A look at Tempranillo and Spain's top red wines.

May 4, 2020 -- "My Life in Wine" Episode 2.

May 14, 2020 -- Remembering Michael Broadbent.

May 24, 2020 -- Malbec's new life in Argentina.

June 3, 2020 -- "My Life in Wine" Episode 3.

June 13, 2020 -- Vivino's misleading claim of the "world's best wine."

June 23, 2020 -- A look at Italy's Montalcino.

July 4, 2020 -- America's First Wine Expert.

July 14, 2020 -- "My Life in Wine" Episode 4.

All of the above blogs are available in the Archive. To access the Archive, check the right side of the opening page of any blog or at Note: Due to an idiosyncratic aspect of, there are differences in the appearance of the blog by email and the website. 


Next Blog: "My Life in Wine" Episode 5.

Contact Gerald D. Boyd at

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Bordeaux's other right bank wines

"The Wines of Bordeaux give tone to the stomach, while leaving the mouth fresh and head clear.  More than one invalid abandoned by the doctors has been seen to drink the good old wine of Bordeaux and return to health."  
Comments by members of the jury judging Bordeaux wines submitted under the new 1855 Classification at the Universal Exposition in Paris. 

In 1855, Napoleon III requested that a classification of Bordeaux wines be drawn up to be featured at his Universal Exposition in Paris. A panel of Bordeaux wine brokers responded by drafting a list, based on market ranking, of the 60 leading Medoc chateaux, plus the famous Chateau Haut-Brion in the Graves. 

The leading chateaux of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol were not included in the now famous Medoc classification, although the brokers did draft a separate Official Classification of Sauternes-Barsac of 1855. And they honored Chateau d'Yquem as Superior First Growth Sauternes, while the wines in the Medoc classification were designated only as First Growth. 

Over the next 165 years, the wines on both lists, as well as the classifications themselves, have stood the test of time, making the classifications valid and useful today as a gauge of wine quality and price. 

But Bordeaux is not just wines in the 1855 Classifications. The right bank boasts a number of wine regions, of which four are worth considering. 

West of the town of Libourne, on the right bank of the river Dordogne, the small district of Fronsac, and the even smaller Canon-Fronsac, is known for hearty sumptuous reds and a sense of history that is largely ignored in our fast-paced times. 

A Roman temple once stood on the site that today is Canon-Fronsac. Then, in the 8th century, following the long Dark Ages, the Christian king Charlemagne built a fortress in Fronsac, followed in the 17th century by the Duc de Richelieu, replacing the fortress with a palatial villa, where he entertained with the local wine. 

What sets Fronsac apart are the limestone-rich soils, with some sandstone, on the higher areas above the Dordogne.  Merlot predominates in Fronsac wines, supplemented with Cabernet Franc. In the cooler soils of Canon-Fronsac, the percentages are reversed, with Cab Franc the preferred grape.  
Bed and Breakfast Château de La Rivière, France -
Ch. La Riviere, Fronsac

Aside: In 1980, I was managing editor of the "Wine Spectator," located then in San Diego. One day I received a letter with a French postmark, from Alan Spencer in Castillon, a wine district not far from Saint-Emilion.  Alan, an English computer software salesman, living in France for many years, was an avid student of the local wine culture. He had found a copy of the "Spectator," which in the early years was a tabloid newspaper, in an airport lounge. 

Alan was offering to be the "Spectator's" Bordeaux correspondent. The newspaper was only a few years old at the time and we were looking to expand our European coverage. Alan turned out to be the right man for the job; an astute observer with an active curiosity and a charming old-school writing style.  

On one of my visits to Bordeaux, Alan took me on a tour of Fronsac, stopping first at the picturesque Ch. de la Riviere, on a promontory above the river. Later, we met with Christian Moueix, owner of Ch. Petrus in Pomerol, for a visit to his two estates in Fronsac, Chateaux La Dauphine and Canon-Moueix.  Although the wines were impressive, Moueix admitted it was an on-going challenge to market the wines outside Bordeaux.

Fronsac wine doesn't have the lushness of Pomerol, but it can be ripe and fruity, though at times a little harsh. Canon-Fronsac is often more refined and carries the promise of complexity with bottle age.  Christian Moueix no longer owns property in Fronsac. 

Wine-Searcher lists hundreds of Fronsac wines, ranging in price from $7 to $108, including La Riviere, de la Dauphine, Beausejour, Dalem and Haut-Carles.
                                       7 Things To Know About Côtes de Bourg | Official website
Bourg and Blaye
Bourg and Blaye. Together, the two names sound like an old vaudeville team. Or, they do to those of us who are old enough to remember when vaudeville was still around.  Bourg and Blaye are, in fact, two wine regions on the right bank of the Gironde estuary. 

Bourg is the smaller of the two districts, with arguably better wines than those produced in Blaye. Bourg is just at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne, as they empty into the estuary.

All that water provides proper frost protection.  Merlot is the major grape, planted in a combination of clay, limestone and sandy gravel. Bourg rouge is a substantial wine with good concentration and a reputation for aging.

Once a source of white wine used for distillation, Blaye is known today mainly for red Bordeaux blends, relying heavily on Merlot. Larger than Bourg, the vineyards in Blaye are on steep slopes farther from the water, with soils that are mostly clay and limestone. 

The wines, sold mostly as Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, are robust and early maturing. A white sold as Cote de Blaye Blanc, is made from Ugni Blanc and Colombard grapes. 

Wine-Searcher offers 25 Blaye wines, $9 to $25, and hundreds of Cotes de Bourg wines, 
most priced $12 to $25

Entre-Deux- Mers 
Despite its name, which translates from the French as "between two seas," the sprawling vineyard district of Entre-Deux-Mers is between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, growers converted large acreage in the area from  Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, to meet the worldwide demand for value red wine.

Thirty years on, the market has changed, reflected in part by the rise of Sauvignon Blanc, with more people now looking for white wines that fit a lighter lifestyle. 

The Entre-Deux-Mers contains numerous appellations, but few of them, like Saint-Macaire, are seen in this country.  Today, Entre-Deux-Mers is the second biggest dry white appellation in Bordeaux, with Bordeaux AC (controlled appellation), by far the biggest.

Bordeaux 2019 weather and harvest report |
Harvest in Entre-Deux-Mers
Sauvignon Blanc is the grape of choice for E-D-M wines. As in other wine regions, the level of wine making generally relates to wine quality, with smaller producers having the desire and time to make more stunning wines than larger wineries that often focus more on quantity.  

Wine-Searcher lists hundreds of Bordeaux blend whites from Entre-Deux-Mers, with a price range of $7 to $30, although most are $10 to $12. 


Next Blog: "My Life in Wine" Episode 5, plus the Annual Index.

Comments?  Suggestions?  Email me at

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Generous Side of Bordeaux

"A fine wine lasts a long time in your mouth...and in your mind." Christian Moueix, Director of Chateau Petrus

It has been said that every great wine region across the globe benefits by its proximity to a major body of water, be it an ocean, a river or a lake.

Bordeaux, the esteemed wine region in southwestern France, has the Atlantic Ocean along its western side. Then there are three rivers and one estuary meandering through the region. The presence of all this water has a strong influence on the region's climate and in turn its wines.  

Guide to Bordeaux - Luxe Adventure Traveler
Garonne river and Bordeaux city
The Dordogne flows out of the east, winding its way to the northwest until it empties into the Gironde estuary. South of the Dordogne, the Garonne river meanders to the northwest through a cluster of wine regions south of Bordeaux city.  After passing between Sauternes and Barsac, the Ciron river empties into the Garonne, which in turn passes into the broad Gironde estuary and then the Atlantic Ocean. 

The moderating influence of the Dordogne, on the climate of the regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol, in concert with a set of unique soils, provide the essential conditions for the cultivation of Merlot, the "more generous" companion of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  

A grape by any other name: North of Bordeaux, in the Cognac region, Saint-Emilion is the local name for the highly productive Ugni Blanc grape, the major variety in the distillation of Cognac.

Merlot is the main grape in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, supported by Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Sauvignon, the major red grape of the Medoc, is of lesser importance in Saint-Emilion.  Cooler soils give the edge to Merlot in St. Emilion and Pomerol, over Cabernet Sauvignon, which ripens more evenly in the warmer soils of the Medoc. 

In this first of four essays on the wines of Bordeaux, we look at the vineyards and wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol, two regions that epitomize the French approach to Merlot.

St. Emilion
Of the two regions, St. Emilion is, by far, the largest and best known, with such noted chateaux as Ausone, Pavie, Cheval-Blanc, La Gaffeliere and Figeac. The region takes its name from a medieval town, dominated by a beautiful church, built on an escarpment  that towers over the surrounding vineyards and is today the center of the local wine trade and a popular tourist stop.

 Visit Saint Emilion, France - Top things to do & places to see

As a wine region, St. Emilion predates the Medoc and was once an important shipping port on the right bank on the Dordogne, eventually losing out to nearby Libourne.  Prior to the mid-20th century, the popularity of St. Emilion red wines lagged behind those of the Medoc, aross the Gironde estuary, but with the rise of interest in Merlot and a new wave of young winemakers, all of that changed.

The Garagistes -- In the late 20th century, an important component in the sale and rising popularity of St. Emilion red wines was "garage wines," a collection of mini-wineries with production small enough that the wines could be made in a garage. Appealing to the trend of the time, the wines, made by garagistes, were mostly showy, richly textured, oaky, pricy and early-maturing. Although Le Pin, in Pomerol, is attributed as being the original garage wine, the bulk of these idiosyncratic wines, are in St. Emilion.

Merlot accounts for more than 60% of total plantings in St. Emilion, with the remaining acreage planted mainly to Cabernet Franc, known locally as (Cabernet) Bouchet and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon.  A few St. Emilion chateaux, like Ch. Fogeac, do add a bit of the more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, but most do not.

Modern techniques are employed in the winery, with a new vintage racked into new French (what else?) oak. Barrels wear out, or loose their effectiveness, so with each new vintage, winemakers rotate their inventory by introducing a fractional amount of new barrels, and then using the older barrels for second label wines, if they make one, or selling them.

Opinions differ on the making of Merlot, with some opting for heavy tannic wines and others going for a lighter more approachable style. Whatever the style, Merlot fruit flavors lean toward black fruits like black cherry, with smooth texture, good balancing acidity and a long fruit-forward finish.  Cooler climate Merlot is more herbaceous and minty.  Add Cabernet Franc and now you have raspberry and a touch of herbs. 

In 1855, the top red wines of the Medoc were ranked into the now famous 1855 Classification. Although there were a number of fine Saint-Emilion wines then, the ranking was only for the Medoc. It was 100 years before the first classification of St. Emilion wines was drawn up. Over time, the classification has been modified five times, the most recent in 2012.  Saint-Emilion officials believe that such factors as wine quality and price warrant occasional modifications. 

Besides the cru classe wines, there are four "satellites" that are permitted to append Saint-Emilion to their name: Lussac-Saint-Emilion, Montagne-Saint-Emilion, Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion and Saint Georges-Saint-Emilion.  Made from the same grapes, the satellite wines are values worth seeking out.  

                                              Right Bank Bordeaux, Best Wines, Vineyards, Appellations, Buying ...

In his 1933 book, simply titled, "Wine," American writer and wine enthusiast, Julian Street offered this sparse comment about Pomerol: "The Pomerol wines are as a rule lighter than the Saint-Emilion, smooth and often delicious, but they mature more quickly."  Street concluded his mention of Pomerol with just one more sentence about the wine.

In the early years of the 20th century, Pomerol was not fashionable, so Street was not being dismissive.  He had no way to know then that eighty-seven years on, Pomerol red wines would become one of the most highly prized (and expensive) Bordeaux wines. 

For many years, Pomerol languished in the shadow of St. Emilion, with many people, including members of the trade, considering Pomerol as an adjunct of St. Emilion.  In the early years of the 20th century, Pomerol became its own wine, mainly in France and Belgium. According to wine historians, the watershed mark for Pomerol was the 1950s, when the wines were "discovered" by two British wine importers. 

Merlot accounts for about 80% of plantings in Pomerol, with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon making up the remainder. Such a high percentage of a single variety can be risky during bad years that result in a disastrous crop. 

The richest and longer-lived wines (Chateaux Petrus, Trotanoy) come from gravel and sandy soils, amended with iron-rich clay, on the featureless plateau.  Lighter wines are made in lower sandier vineyards.  

Pomerol is the only Bordeaux wine district with no official classification or satellites. Although there are no satellite appellations associated with Pomerol, as in Saint-Emilion, Merlot-based wines are made in Lalande-de-Pomerol, immediately north of the Pomerol district. 


Next Blog: The other right bank wines

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