Friday, February 19, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 11

"The traveled mind is the catholic mind educated from exclusiveness and egotism." Amos Alcott, American teacher and philosopher


In Episode 10, my Copy Editor and I had returned from a wine-trip to Europe and found a job offer waiting for me with the Wine Spectator under its new ownership.   Here was an opportunity to build on my experience in wine journalism and be a part of America's newest wine publication.  So, I packed my bags and headed for Southern California.

Driving from Aurora, Colorado to La Jolla, California in a '72 VW Beetle packed to the headliner with suitcases and boxes of wine is an experience I'm happy I only had to have once. VW Beetles are short-haul cars and not meant for long runs through near-desert conditions in southern Utah.

                             Image result for free photos of 1972 vw beetle

In his on-the-road journal, "Blue Highways," William Least Heat-Moon, described his journey across the country, traveling only on those secondary roads shown on maps in blue. Hoping to break the boredom of the Interstate, I got off onto a blue highway now and then and found it relaxing and scenic.

After a long second day on the road, the descent from the high desert of southern Nevada into cool foggy La Jolla and the welcoming Morrissey town home, was a welcome relief.  Bob and Mary Jane had dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and a quest bedroom waiting for me. 

The following morning was the first of many eventful days I would spend over the next three-and-one-half years, as Managing Editor and later Editor of the Wine Spectator. 

Throughout his years as a Marine journalist, Bob Morrissey had cultivated a taste for wine and once retired from the Corps, he and Mary Jane settled in La Jolla and Bob began the search for his next career.  

At the time there was only a handful of wine magazines, like "Wine World," "Decanter" and "Vintage," but none of them addressed wine news and current events. So, Bob had the idea for a biweekly tabloid wine newspaper, a format he knew from working on military newspapers.   

After my hiring, the Wine Spectator staff grew to three: Bob, me and Mary Jane handling administration.  My newspaper experience had mainly been as a writer, and my last editorial duties was with an Air Force base newspaper in South Carolina, years ago. 

Image result for free photos of military tabloid newspapers
Stars and Stripes: The tabloid for all U.S. military services

For the first few months, the learning curve at the Wine Spectator was quite steep for me.  I had to become familiar with the "Bob Morrissey version of tabloid journalism," which included, counting headlines so that each one told the story of the associated article, while fitting perfectly into the allotted space on the page.  Often we would write, count, then rewrite and count again until the headline fit. 

Today, of course, you write the headline, type it in and the computer fits the headline to the space. 

Meanwhile, I slowly began learning the particulars of the sale agreement between Bob and Marvin that would affect my future with the Wine Spectator.  The agreement stipulated that once the sale was final, Bob would stay on for a while, then turn the editorship over to me.  It was also a surprise to learn that Marvin's aim was to move the newspaper from San Diego.   

For a former New York investment banker, San Diego was not the best location for a wine publication.  Marvin was a firm believer in location, location, location, even having the "correct" zip code. There was some talk about consolidating the offices in New York and San Diego, to a central spot like Chicago.

In some ways, those were odd times for me, and by extension, the expanding  business.  When Marvin was in New York, managing the growing list of wine and spirits publications in M. Shanken Communications, Inc., the day-to-day of preparing the Wine Spectator for the next issue, writing articles and dealing with contributing writers was mostly uneventful. 

On those occasions when Marvin came to San Diego to see first hand how the newspaper was growing, the atmosphere in the office was often a little tense, especially for me as I was in the middle between Bob and Marvin without really understanding where the newspaper was going in the future. 

It was difficult for Bob.  He was an old-school guy and selling the newspaper, while economically necessary, was still painful.  It was hard for him to let go and that meant not coming to the office at times. 

One of the main changes was hiring more editorial members.  First to come on board were James Suckling and Greg Walter.  Both stayed with the Wine Spectator after I left, but eventually, they too also departed.  Walter started a newsletter focusing on Pinot Noir and Suckling became an international wine critic.  James Laube was hired later, after the Wine Spectator moved to San Francisco.  He remains with the magazine.

Image result for free photos of San Francisco
View from Marin Headlands through the Golden Gate

After about six months, Bob stepped aside and we were forced to move the newspaper offices to another location in San Diego.  Marvin had always believed that the Wine Spectator's editorial offices belonged in the Napa Valley.  At the time, there was no property in the valley that he could afford or that would house the growing staff, so he worked a deal with the Pacific Union real estate company for office space in the newly opened Opera Plaza, in the heart of the arts district in San Francisco. 

In Episode 12, the Wine Spectator enters a new era and the beginning of editorial disagreements between Marvin and me.  The period also saw the introduction of the first "Wine Experience," held in New York at Windows on the World.


Next Blog: While You Were on COVID Watch...

Comments?  Suggestions?  Email me at


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Distinctive Loire Sauvignons

"Good French wine should carry the phrase: 'Mise en bouteilles au chateau,'  This assures you that only the owner of the vineyard has had a chance to tamper with the wine."  Richard Smith, Washington state farmer and wine lover


On the first leg of our wine journey up the Loire River, we started out east of the delta at Saint-Nazaire, then past familiar wine regions like Anjou, eventually reaching our terminus at Saumur.  On both sides of the river, the land is dotted with orchards, vineyards and castles with deep moats and ornate gardens, likely the origin of the valley's nickname,"The Garden of France."

Before the rise of Bordeaux in the 12th century, the wines of the Loire, especially Anjou, were favored in England and the Netherlands. But the history of viticulture in the Loire Valley can be traced back to the 5th century.  What gave Loire wines the edge then in the markets of northern Europe was the navigability of the Loire river, a major thoroughfare for commerce then in France.

In this second part, through the middle and upper parts of the valley, the wine regions have a familiar ring. Starting in Bourgueil, we continue on to Chinon, Vouvray, then a detour away from the river to Quincy and Reuilly, and finally back to the river and Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

Chenin Blanc is the dominate grape in the lower reaches of the Loire Valley.  In the middle and upper Loire there is more of a mix, with Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc the major varieties. The exception, of course, is Vouvray, the best known Chenin Blanc in the Loire, still and sparkling. 

The change from Altantic climate to continental climate and the array of soils account for the fact that Chenin Blanc grows better in the lower Loire, while Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc do best further inland.

Along the more than 600 miles of the Loire river, from the Atlantic to the river's source, in the Ardeche, soil variations dictate what grape will be grown and where it is best for it to grow. Around Vouvray, tuffeau is a common type of marine limestone with good drainage that is suitable for Cabernet Franc.  Tuffeau is not the same as tufa, a rock typically associate with local springs and caves.  And it is different from tuff, a volcanic rock found in southern Italy and Sicily. 

Image result for tuffeau soil photos
Vouvray cellar carved in tuffeau soil

These are the seven major wines of the middle and upper Loire. There are others, but they are either of local interest or available mostly in EU markets.

Bourgueil -- This is Cabernet Franc country and Bourgueil is one of the best expressions, along with Chinon, of the grape. The wine is medium bodied with a lovely ripe berry aroma often described as raspberry.  Bourgueil is best when it's  young and fresh.  Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, a small enclave, produces lighter reds than Bourquiel. Up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is allowed in Bourgueil.

Chinon -- Chinon is an historic town on the Vienne river, a tributary of the Loire. The vineyard expanse is larger than Bourgueil, and the wines, made from Cabernet Franc, are light and fruity with good structure.  Chinon will take some aging, but the wines are best when young, fresh and fruity.  A little Chinon blanc is made from Chenin blanc.

Vouvray -- This is the heart of middle Loire where, according to locals, the climate changes from Atlantic to continental.  In Vouvray, the Chenin Blanc grape, known locally as Pineau de la Loire, shows its stylistic versatility, from dry, to soft and semi-dry, to moelleux, or rich, sweet and honeyed. The Vouvray style bag also includes petillant, with a slight sparkle, and a mousseux version, that is a fully sparkling Chenin Blanc and one of the best non-Champagne bubblies in France.  More than one million cases of Vouvray are made annually, making it one of France's most popular white wines. 

Wine making in Vouvray is focused on retaining the high profile fruit and crisp mouth-watering acidity of Chenin Blanc. Thus, only large neutral oak and stainless steel are used and malolactic conversion is avoided.

Quincy -- Although not on the Loire river, Quincy is considered a Loire Valley wine, since the area lies along the Cher river, which is a tributary of the Loire. Quincy is made from Sauvignon Blanc, although up to 10% Sauvignon Gris is allowed. Sauvignon Gris is an odd, but increasingly popular variety, also known as Sauvignon Rose, for lightly tinted skins.  Less expensive Quincy Sauvignon can be a pleasant substitute for Sancerre. 

Image result for royalty free photos of Sauvignon Gris grape
Sauvignon Gris

Reuilly -- In the upper Loire, the river bends northward in a wide arch.  Inside the bend is the small appellation of Reuilly, a less expensive version of Sancerre, made from Sauvignon Blanc.  Red and rose wines are made from Pinot Noir and the pink-skin Pinot Gris.  Quincy and Reuilly share some similarities and both are like nearby Sancerre.

Sancerre -- The town of Sancerre is a picturesque site, dramatically situated on a hilltop above the upper Loire river. Sancerre, the wine, is famous worldwide as a pungent, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  However, until the 20th century, Sancerre was mainly red wine and a neutral white made from the Chasselas table grape.

Image result for royalty free photos of Sancerre, France

In cool years, Sancerre has a tendency toward grassy herbaceous aromas.  In the best years, the wines are refreshing and lively, smacking of pure Sauvignon Blanc.  Oak is not used in Sancerre although there have been some oak-aged Sancerre produced.  A very small amount of light and fruity red Sancerre, made from Pinot Noir, can be found.

Pouilly-Fume -- Up river a few miles and on the opposite bank from Sancerre is the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire and its famous Pouilly-Fume wine, made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc. A slight flinty/smoky note is the most noticeable characteristic that separates Pouilly-Fume from Sancerre.  The use of oak for fermentation and aging is more common in Pouilly-Fume than Sancerre.

One of the enduring myths surrounding Pouilly-Fume is the origin of the word "fume."  The French word for smoke is fume and one version holds that the fume in the wine name refers to the mist that forms in the mornings above the Loire river and has nothing to do with smoke. Another explanation claims that the predominate soils of Pouilly-Fume vineyards contain some flint, which imparts a "smoky" flinty flavor to the wine. 

Whatever your wine preference - white, rose, red, sparkling- you'll find it in the Loire Valley.  If your local wine merchant doesn't carry the Loire wine you want, ask them to order it.  Better yet, when we can all travel again, enjoy your favorite Loire wine at the source.



Next Blog:  My Life in Wine Episode 11 

Comments?  Suggestions?  Email me at


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Loire Valley: A Collection of Chenins

"Your stomach is your wine cellar, keep the stock small and cool." Charles Tovey, British wine and spirits writer.


When wine lovers plan a trip to France, Bordeaux and Burgundy are usually at the top of their must-see list.  In the rush to go where everyone else goes, these wine trippers miss one of France's great treasures. 

Along the verdant Loire Valley, you'll find diversity in wine and sights, like no where else in France.  From Saint-Nazaire, where the Loire river meets the Atlantic Ocean, east for 625 miles to the wine towns of Sancerre and Pouilly sur Loire, the valley offers plenty of opportunities to sample wine.

Castle, Chambord, Loire Valley
 Chateau de Chambord

Known as the "Garden of France," for its abundant orchards and vineyards, the Loire Valley is also famous for its many castles, like the massive Chateau de Chambord with its 426 rooms and Chateau de Chenonceau, a 16th century castle with an impressive moat.

Although it is uncertain when the first wine was made in the Loire Valley, records do show that viticulture was well established by the 5th century. Today, the Loire produces the third biggest volume of wine in France, after Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. 

The Loire is known for its great diversity of still and sparkling wines, with Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, the leading varieties.  The array of grapes also includes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Malbec. 

Wine making in the Loire mostly follows the same techniques employed elsewhere in France, with two notable exceptions: a minimum use of malolactic conversion and mostly no oak contact.

Aside -- The malolactic process converts stronger sharper malic acid (think Granny Smith apples) into softer lower acidity lactic acid (as in dairy products). The goal of a malolactic conversion is to lower the wine's total acidity, help to stabilize the wine and improve its aroma and flavor.  The process is often referred to as malolactic fermentaion, although it is not a true fermentation, but a conversion of one type of acidity to another.  

Although the use of oak is not fashionable in the Loire, a few Loire wineries employ barrel fermentation for both red and white wine. More common is pump over (the movement of red wine from the bottom of a fermenter to the top, to help keep the cap moist while extracting coloring and tannins from the skins in the cap). 

Chaptalization, a winemaking technique named for Jean Antoine Chaptal, its French developer, whereby the wine's alcohol strength is increased by the addition of sugar or grape juice before or during fermentation is even more common.  Chaptalization is used in northern Europe where grape sugars may be low at harvest, however with climate change, the practice is becoming less common.

In recent years, the popularity of Loire wines on Sancerre, Muscadet and Vouvray. Other Loire wines, and there are quite a few, are not that well known outside France.  With that in mind, here is the first of a two-part overview of Loire wines.  Heading up river:

Muscadet --  The Muscadet region is southeast of Nantes, near the mouth of the Loire river.  Muscadet is made from the somewhat neutral Melon de Bougogne. Because of its neutral character, Muscadet is often left on its gross lees for extended periods.  Enterprising winemakers will also use lees stirring and barrel fermentation to add extra flavor and texture.  The main area of production, and an appellation to look for on Muscadet labels, is Muscadet-Sevre et Maine.

714 Anjou France Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Anjou -- This western district is one of the most varied in the Loire. The main grapes are Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.  Anjou is known for, at least by Americans, its rose wines, marketed as Rose d'Anjou.  A few steps up in pink wine quality is Cabernet d'Anjou, made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. There is an effort underway to establish a red wine appellation, Anjou-Villages, based on Cab Franc.  Anjou Blanc is the main white wine, made mainly from Chenin Blanc, but it can contain small amounts of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Savenniere --  This distinctive, and somewhat controversial white lies within the Anjou region.  The wine can be concentrated and tart when young and will age for decades.  Advocates of Savenniere, especially the single vineyard biodynamic-grown Coulee de Serrant from Nicolas Joly, attest to it uniqueness and high quality.  Critics claim the wines are mostly undrinkable.  As always, it is up to the individual's personal judgement of Savennniere, but the discovery can be costly.

Bonnezeaux -- A small appellation in the Anjou district, that is exclusively sweet Chenin Blanc.  At its best, a Bonnezeaux Chenin is attacked by the "noble rot" resulting in a golden nectar.  When the noble rot doesn't develop sufficiently, grape pickers are sent through the vineyards on a number of runs, gathering the ripest grapes.  This inferior process yields a sweet Bonnezeaux but it lacks the character and depth of one graced by the noble rot.  Bonnezeaux is a rare and delicious Loire wine worth the search.

Saumur -- The town, upriver from Anjou, gave its name to a wine district with several appellations. The most important is Saumur Mousseux, made in both white and sparkling rose styles, from Chenin Blanc.  Some Saumur Mousseux goes into Cremant de Loire, perhaps the best known Loire sparkling wine. 

1,908 Pouring Sparkling Wine Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from  Dreamstime
Pouring Mousseux

Sparkling Terminology -- "Mousseux" is the French term for "sparkling wine." Cremant is the tern used for France's finest sparkling wine not called Champagne. The name was created in the late 1980s when the EU stopped the use of the Champagne term methode champenoise on any sparkling wine that was not made in Champagne. It was replaced by methode traditionnelle. Cremant de Loire was created in 1975 and is made from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

This brief first part on Loire wines has brought us upriver to the middle of the valley.  In Part 2, we pick up at Bourgueil and Chinon, pass by Vouvray and Quincy, then end the journey at Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.


Correction:  The previous posting of "My Life in Wine Episode 10,"  scheduling of "Next Blog: While your attention was elsewhere...," was incorrect.  That posting is scheduled for March 2, 2021.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 10

"The more I see of other countries the more I love my own."  Mme Germaine de Stael, 18th century French-Swiss author


 In Episode 9, my Copy Editor and I had rounded out a pleasant visit to Alsace in 1979, then drove to Frankfurt, Germany for the flight back to Colorado.  After three weeks of driving, eating and wining in Europe, we arrived back at our home in Aurora, to an urgent phone call with surprising news that held the prospect of changing our lives. 

We were hardly through the front door when my mother-in-law anxiously told me of several phone calls from someone in California.  There was some confusion about the caller, but the message was clear: Call as soon as you get home!

There were very few wine publications in the late 1970s.  I was writing a weekly wine column then for the "Rocky Mountain News" and had heard of a new wine newspaper called "The Wine Spectator."  The founder and editor was a retired Marine Corps journalist named Bob Morrissey.

In the early days of the Spectator, Bob and his wife Mary Jane published the  Spectator in tabloid newspaper format (TWS became a magazine a few years later), out of their home in La Jolla, California.  

I quickly realized that the area code from the mysterious phone message and the code for the San Diego area were the same and that area code and the one I had for Bob were the same.  

Could Bob be calling about an article I had submitted just before going to Europe?  So, I put down my bags and picked up the phone.

When it came to business, Bob Morrissey wasn't fond of small talk. "Marvin Shanken and I would like you to join 'The Wine Spectator' as managing editor," Bob announced. 

Colorado free stock photos download (313 Free stock photos) for commercial  use. format: HD high resolution jpg images
Farewell to the Rockies...

Marvin Shanken, the founder of the Spectator, was an investment banker in New York City, when he decided to get into wine and spirits publishing.  Bob told me later that he didn't have the money to grow the Spectator and Marvin had contacted him with an offer to sell and, as they say, the rest is history. 

Bob and I chatted about specifics for a few more minutes, all the time I'm thinking, we're both former military journalists, but Bob was a Marine major and I was an Air Force NCO ... could that cross rank/cross service gap work?  

There's still plenty of inter-service rivalry and I'm thinking, there's a big difference between the Marine Corps and the Air Forcelong and a major and a sergeant.

"I'm flattered, Bob, but I need to talk with Janet," I answered, hoping he didn't pick up on the nervousness in my voice.  When I hung up the phone, Janet (who much later became my Copy Editor), noticed the look on my face, asked if everything was okay.  

"That was Bob Morrissey. He offered me a job with "The Wine Spectator," I said, still a little shocked.   

Utah National Park FREE Days |
...onward through Utah...

After moving numerous times while in the Air Force, Janet and I decided that we liked Colorado and Aurora was going to be our permanent home. And one of our sons was still in school; Sean is now a winery owner and winemaker in Washington state. 

But Bob had said that Marvin Shanken was prepared to establish the Spectator as the top wine publication in the country and to sweeten the deal, I would go from being a modestly paid free lancer to the highest paid wine writer in the country.  That distinction was short-lived, of course, as Robert Parker would soon surpass me by a mile. 

My wheels then was a 1972 V-W Beetle.  I had just bought the car from a friend, so I decided to drive it to San Diego.  My wine collection in those day was modest, but I wanted to take every bottle with me.  The question was how to safely move the wines?  

People I spoke with claimed that moving vans were hell on wine, so I decided to wrap each bottle in insulation and pack the bottles securely in boxes, drop the back of the rear seat in the V-W, strap it down as level as possible, then fit the boxes in and cover them with blankets and insulation. 

With my bags stowed in the front "trunk" of the V-W, I said good bye to my family and headed west over the Rockies, southwest through Utah, through a tip of northern of Arizona, then southeast Nevada and Las Vegas, and into southern California, skirting Los Angeles and finally reaching San Diego. 

San Diego EAC – CEAC beautiful San Diego!


 Next blog:  While your attention was elsewhere...

Contact me at