Saturday, February 27, 2021

While You Were on COVID Watch...

 "I must have a drink at eleven, it's a duty that must be done; If I don't have a drink at eleven, then I must have eleven at one." A toast from Anon


What have you been doing these last 12 months?  When this nightmare began,  the thought of being stuck at home for an indefinite period was daunting and a little scary.  What will I do, seemed like a reasonable question? 

I was pretty sure there were still readers interested in learning about wine, so at least there was the blog for me to work on.  But you can't stare at the computer screen all day, so the lock down might be a good time to tackle those long-delayed DIY projects, like painting the bedroom, fixing the leaking toilet and building that wine rack you've been thinking about. 

                                          Free Newspaper Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on Clipart  Library

While you were on COVID watch, though, you probably missed a few items that have been sparking interest in the world of wine.  So here are six recent news bits and human interest items culled from wine sources:

Wine Making Under Duress -- Despite all the romantic nonsense, wine making is hard work.  Just ask the winemakers in Lebanon who have been making wine for years while war raged around them.  A first-hand look at wine making in Lebanon is now available in "Wine & War," a 95-minute documentary by filmmaker Mark Ryan.  The film includes the history of Lebanese wine making and a series of intriguing interviews, including one with Serge Hochar, legendary owner and wine maker of Chateau Musar.

A number of years ago, I met Hochar for lunch in Paris where he lived when not at the winery in the Bekka Valley of Lebanon.  I had long been interested in Chateau Musar, a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine considered by many to be one of the world's top red wines.  I was in France at the time and jumped at the chance to meet with Hochar and hear about the rigors of trying to grow grapes and make wine under wartime conditions. 

Earlier I had been in Israel and thought about crossing the frontier into Lebanon to visit Chateau Musar, but was told by Israeli authorities that if I did enter Lebanon, I would not be allowed to re-enter Israel.

So Paris was the fall-back site for our meeting. Hochar told me that protecting vines in the Bekka Valley from marauding soldiers was a challenge and about sleeping in the winery and hearing artillery shells whizzing overhead and not knowing if they would land on the winery.

That was then. Now the area is more-or-less peaceful.  Fortunately, Hochar  lived long enough to see peace in Lebanon.  He died in 2015.

                               General view of Bollinger champagne bottles during day two of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 18, 2014 in Ascot, England.

Wooded Champagne -- Champagne Bollinger, the only bubbly that James Bond would drink, has hired a new head cooper to tend its barrels. Why, you may ask, does a Champagne house need a cooper, when it's common knowledge that Champagne never sees wood?  Well, as it turns out, Bollinger is one of the few Champagne houses to vinify in wood. The theory is that fermentation in oak gives the base wine more texture and nuances than would be derived from stainless steel fermentation.

And to assure that everything meets the exacting Bollinger standards, the company owns an oak forest to supply the wood needed for new barrels and to maintain its 4,000 barrel cellar.

Vetting wine grape popularity -- Think you know what wine grapes are the most popular?  Well, the Aussies may have a surprise or two for you.  The Annual Database of Global Wine Markets, for places where wine, beer and spirits are consumed, published in Australia for 2018 (the most recent year available), looked at wine consumption for 47 countries and discovered some interesting things. 

Worldwide, the most popular wine grape was Cabernet Sauvignon - not Chardonnay, which came in a surprising fourth. Cabernet Sauvignon, accounts for 7% of world total. 

Even more surprising was how far down the popularity list were Sauvignon Blanc (8th) and Pinot Noir (9th).  And the market strength of Spanish red wine worldwide moved Tempranillo into third place.

These are the ten most popular wine grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Airen (a common Spanish variety), Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Trebbiano.  I was surprised that no Italian red variety, like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, made the top ten.  

Also in the database report was a ranking of world wine consumption, with the United States first, well ahead of France, Italy, Germany, China, Russia, Argentina, Spain and Australia.  In last place is Thailand.

China's huge population showed an impressive interest in beverages with alcohol, ranking fifth in world wine consumption, first by a wide margin in the consumption of beer and spirits.  India ranked second after China in spirits consumption.   

Australia II -- With all the talk lately about climate change, wine drinkers have been asking what effect climate change will have on their future wine purchases. Well, the Aussies (yes, them again) have some information that may interest you.

Wine Australia has compiled a "Climate Atlas," the result of a three-year project, gathering climate information on temperature, rainfall, heat and cold extremes and more that is available free on line.  The Climate Atlas includes data since 1960 for all of Australia's Geographic Indications, a system similar to the U.S. American Viticultural Areas.

                              a nutritional label, close-up - ingredient label stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

How much do consumers want to know about wine? --  If there is one thing I've learned from my many years of listening to consumers say what they want to know about wine, it is: How does it taste? And what does it cost?

Those questions were among others that got a positive response in a recent on-line survey.  According to a Wine Market Council, 78% "Always want to know the type of wine," 69% "Always want to know the flavor/taste" of the wine, while only 42% "Always want to know where the wine was produced."

Everything else that we wine writers have been droning on about for years is, according to the survey, of little interest to less than half of those respondents. For example, 44% "Rarely want to know how grapes were grown," 41% "Rarely want to see an ingredient list" and a low 33% "Rarely want to know how the wine was made."

Okay, I admit, ingredient lists are boring.  But if we writers can't describe how a wine was made...what's left?

The Tao of Vintage Charts --  Are vintage charts still popular?  Do you use one when buying wine?  I was thinking about vintage charts the other day and thought a few words were needed about their value and how vintage charts relate (or don't) to personal taste. 

A vintage chart is a list of years, going back as far as there is space, for a variety of popular wines. They are intended as a guide for consumers to make thoughtful decisions when purchasing wine. 

The problem with vintage charts is they are general overviews (California Cabernet Sauvignon, for example)...they reduce a complex subject to a number...they are written by a single person or group of persons who may be guessing..and most importantly, vintage charts are outdated almost as soon as they are written.

What prompted this caution was an item I read recently about two different assessments of the same wines.  Eric Asimov, wine columnist for the New York Times, joined Francis Ford Coppola, proprietor of Inglenook, Cathy Corison, owner/winemaker Cathy Corison Wines, Paul Draper, winemaker Ridge Vineyards and writer Elaine Chukan Brown, for a tasting of 2011 Cabernet Sauvignons. 

As Asimov reported in the Times, we all thought the wines were "gorgeous and elegant," while James Laube, columnist for the Wine Spectator, described the 2011 vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon as "the most damning vintage in perhaps 15 years." 

So, who's right: a single reviewer or a panel of wine professionals?  And what recommendation should you follow?  My suggestion is to use both as a guide and then decide for yourself.

The best approach for the wine consumer is to reply on one's own palate. Casual wine drinkers looking for a bottle for tonight's dinner, will likely find that vintage charts have little value. Wine collectors and consumers hoping to build a wine collection, will likely consult a wine merchant for suggestions, or formulate a buying plan. 

Here's a plan: Select a producer you like and trust for quality and value, then select a wine type and vintage and buy as many of them as you can afford, keeping at least three bottles as a minimum.  Open the first bottle, have a glass and decide if the wine is where you find it pleasant to drink.  If not, then wait six months and try another bottle, then a third.  This kind of progressive evaluation not only gives you a way to gauge the wine's progress but also provides a look at how wine matures in the bottle.

And if you can buy in lots of six, or better yet a case of 12, the system works even better, providing you with a method of measuring the aging of your wines and the condition of where you are storing them. 

The main thing is for you to taste and for you to decide, without relying on an unreliable vintage chart. 


Next Blog: Portugal's Excellent Reds









Friday, February 26, 2021

Reader Notice

Dear Readers, 

I am writing to alert you to changes in "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" that will happen soon. 

The first change will shorten the publishing schedule from every ten days to once a week, with publishing scheduled for Sunday. The next blog, "While You Were on COVID Watch..." will be published February 28, 2021.

Also in the planning stage is a complete re-design of the blog and a possible move from to Word Press.  No date has yet been set for this change but it will be in the near future. 

Making these changes will, I hope, make the blog more attractive and easier to read. Moving from will open the blog to more potential readers across more platforms. 

Thank you for your interest in learning more about wine through "Gerald D Boyd on Wine."

Gerald D. Boyd


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 

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