Thursday, May 26, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 30

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Next blog: Sparkling Cava

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cabernet Franc

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bosché Cabernet Sauvignon Bottle Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 30

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Jurancon & Jura

Things are popping on the wine front.  More high-end restaurants are coming on line with an informed understanding that high quality creative food shows best when paired with carefully selected wines.  

After so many years of wine being secondary to food, its now time for the two to share a place of equal importance.

Credit wine-savvy restaurateurs and knowledgeable sommeliers for creating wine lists that operate outside the Chardonnay/Cabernet box and for featuring wines from unknown places such as the Jurancon and Jura.  

While sounding similar, these two mostly unknown French wine regions offer a variety of white wines that challenge the standard offerings.  Indigenous grapes, with unusual names, are transformed into wines that are surely outside the box: Courbu, Poulsard, Arrufiac, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Trousseau and Savagnin.


Along the foothills of the western Pyrenees is a string of individualistic wines, like Madiran, Cotes de St-Mont, Irouleguy (Basque) and Jurancon.  Madiran, a deep tannic red made from the Tannat grape, had its day a few years ago, while St-Mont and Irouleguy never made an impact in the U.S. market.

The beauty of  Jurancon

Better known, although not always easy to find, are the dry and sweet Jurancon wines, made mostly from the Petit Manseng, with a little Gros Manseng.  Jurancon sec is a dry, crisp white packed with spice and aromatic fruits.  

Sweet Jurancon, made from the Basque grape, Petit Manseng, is one of a variety of sweet French wines that are unique in their own right, but share some similarities.  For example, the PM grape is resistant to various molds, while Semillon, the core grape of Sauternes thrives on the botrytis mold; Petit Manseng does equally well at various levels of sweetness, but year after year, Sauternes is about the same sweetness; Jurancon often is slightly green-hued; Sauternes is a bright medium gold.

Outside France, Petit Manseng is popular in Uruguay, brought there, along with the red variety Tannat, by Basque settlers.  Experimental amounts are also to be found in California, New Zealand, Italy and Australia.

Expect to pay between $15-$20 for Jurancon blanc, such as Domaine Bordenane and Domaine Cauhape.


Jura is a small eastern French wine region with a wide variety of wines, made mainly from five grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Poulsard, Trousseau and Savagnin.  The first two are the classic grapes of neighboring Burgundy and came to the Jura centuries ago.

Arbois town in France Arbois town in heart of the Jura wine region of eastern France. Place to visit, tourist attraction. jura france stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Village of Arbois, Jura

There is an interesting lineage story, at least to grape researchers, connecting Trousseau and Savagnin, that's unique to the Jura.  DNA profiling has revealed a connection between Trousseau and the Portuguese grape Bastardo, sometimes used in Dao red wine. Further, Trousseau is likely a sibling of both Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc and somewhere down the line, it is related to Savagnin.

Savagnin is a very old grape, native to the region around Jura.  Savagnin has some similar characteristics to Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.  Curiously, Savagnin is related to both grapes, although the flavors of SB and GT are quite different.

White wine made mainly from Trousseau is powerful, with a forward spicy perfume.  Savagnin flavors are very similar to Trousseau. With both Trousseau and Savagnin, the emphasis is on perfumed.

Jura has two main sub-appellations: Arbois and Cote du Jura, both of which make red, white, pink and sparkling wines. About two-thirds is white wine.

Jura and Cote du Jura whites are priced from $20-$30, for Chardonnay and Savagnin blends or a different take on French Chardonnay. Look for Domaine de l'Aigle and Domaines des Carlines.

Part of the enjoyment of wine is the search and discovery of something new.  Jurancon and Jura are not supermarket wines, but should be available from your local wine merchant. 

Next blog: Cabernet Franc

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 29

In Episode 28, I recalled the rigors, as a rookie wine judge, of tasting  California Sherry early in the morning, under the watchful eye of a seasoned judge and panel leader.  And I revisited an evening in Hawaii when I was asked the dreaded question, "What is this wine?"

These three episodes of "My Life in Wine," plus two or three more in Episode 30, will be the last of MLIW.  The plan, for episodes 29 and 30,  is to ramble through the 50-plus years I have been writing about wine, starting here with some thoughts on the evolving nature of certain wines that caught my attention.  

Beaujolais villages

Borgogne Rouge: When the wine bug first bit hard, injecting me with a kind of drug that has had a strong hold on me over the years, my epiphany wine, tasted at a train station restaurant in Chaumont, France, was likely Beaujolais.  I was stunned by the flavor and complexity of this newly discovered drink, so much so, that I didn't write it down.  

Thinking back, I suppose it could have been a red Burgundy, since we were just up the road from Dijon, the gateway to the great pleasures of Cote d'Nuit red wine, but the wise old waiter who recommended the wine we had that evening knew better than to initiate a neophyte with a more complex (not to mention, more expensive) wine, when Beaujolais would do nicely.   

Beaujolais is south of Burgundy and while the two wines are distinctively different (terroir, grapes, styles), there is a certain sameness that places Beaujolais rouge as a gateway, a preamble, a transition, to red Burgundy. 

What I learned over the years is that regular Beaujolais, and the more complex cru wines, is a richly textured quaff-able drink, layered with ripe Gamay flavors, while even the lightest Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, is more complex and   habit forming.  

I didn't know it at the time, but Burgundy would become my favorite, go-to red wine, even though I eventually spent more time writing about Bordeaux. 

Bordeaux Pleasures:  Burgundy's complexity and depth is derived only from Pinot Noir, while Bordeaux is a blend of five grapes that, over time, were carefully selected for their compatibility with each other, even though the growth characteristics are different.

Cabernet Sauvignon, the main component of the blend, doesn't stand alone in Bordeaux, but benefits from a blended association with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  In practice today, the first three are the main components of most modern Bordeaux blends, while Malbec and Petit Verdot are used sparingly.

When I began writing about wine in the late 1960s, a popular phrase was "Bordeaux is the king of wine, Burgundy the queen."  Political correctness was not a topic in those days, so the comparison was more subtly explained by saying that Cabernet Sauvignon was leaner and more muscular and Pinot Noir was softer and fuller in body. 

Anyway, as a fledgling writer, I followed the trend and began writing more about Bordeaux blends and the emerging California varietal Cabernet Sauvignons, even though I was being seduced more by red Burgundy and the few Oregon and California Pinot Noirs I could find. 

Young Cabernet's rough tannins and leaner fruit are harder to like than the softer tannins and forward fruit of youthful Burgundy and Pinot Noir.  But the harder tannic nature of Cabernet went cross ways when I tasted my first aged Bordeaux.  

I have to admit, though, that as impressed as I am with the seamless blend and complexity of aged Bordeaux, Burgundy is still my fav red wine.  

Today, an appreciation for the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux, adds to my ongoing enjoyment of red wine and by extension, other red wines like the variety of Italian vino.                          

Lombardy vineyards

Viva Italiano! In the early 1950s, while stationed in southern Germany, a friend and I headed south on leave in my 1950 Chevy Bel-Air, bound for Italy. Wine discoveries were not high on the agenda, but we did have a serendipitous meal at a mountain  hotel restaurant that left me with a desire to know more about wine.

The Chevy was struggling at the higher altitude, so we stopped at a small hotel to give the car a rest and have a meal. It was late afternoon and the dining room was bustling with an anniversary celebration.  When it was apparent that we were Americans, the boisterous celebrants invited us to join the party. 

Fortunately, my Italian-American friend spoke a little Italian, so we got the gist of what was happening.  The short version of a long story is that we enjoyed a full meal, with copious amounts of local wine and there was no charge

Ever since, I've tried to work out what the wine might have been.  The most likely route had us in the mountainous part of Lombardy, since we drove out of the mountains and stopped at a General Motors garage in Milan (I was amazed to find GM in Italy) to fix my ailing car.  So, the wine might have been Barbera or Pinot Noir from Oltrepo Pavese, or possibly a Valtellina Nebibolo. 

Whatever, it was a new red wine for me and another experience in the pleasures of good food and wine. 

Next blog: Jurancon and Jura

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Thursday, April 28, 2022

This and that...

Like most wine writers, I read a lot and scan web sites and blogs to learn what's happening in the expanding wine world, while trying to stay current on a fast-changing wine industry.

I can say, without exaggeration, that there's a lot of nonsense and useless information about wine circulating around, but there's also items I think help wine drinkers be better informed. 

This blog then contains seven items, both useful and useless, gathered from various sources over the past few weeks.  

Ridiculous Wine Prices:  Wine pricing may be the third rail of wine marketing, but the potential danger hasn't stopped some wineries from charging shocking prices for their wine...and foolish wine drinkers from buying the wines.

Readers with a wine budget and those who get nervous reading large dollar amounts, should skip to the next item.  For those who find high wine prices outrageous and titillating, check this out. 

Not long ago, Krug Vintage Champagne was one of the top expensive bottles of bubbly; today Krug, at $500, is a bargain luxury Champagne.  Compare the price of Krug, though, to these Champagnes: Jacques Selosse Millesime, $2,500 and Salon Cuvee S Blanc de Blanc, $1,400.


Then there's Burgundy, a coveted wine that has always meant big bucks.  Today,  2019 Romanee Conti, a consistently good and highly coveted red Burgundy, will set you back $4,800 a bottle!  

Since the first release of Napa Valley so-called "Cult Cabernets," prices have been astronomical.  Colgin Cellars now sells for a modest $600, but the wine to make your wallet scream is the Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc, listed at $1,200.

All of the above prices were gathered recently from online sites. Since prices vary, the above prices have been rounded down.  Up or down, maybe I have been away from the main stream too long, or someone is pulling my cork.

CAVA Goes Organic: Effective with the 2021 vintage, all vineyards supplying grapes for CAVA sparkling wines, must be organic. The new tiers will be: Cava de Guarda, aged a minimum of nine months; Cava de Garda Superieur, aged more than 18 months; Cava de Paraje Calificado, single vineyard source, aged 36 months. Cava's new move is in response to the success of Italy's Prosecco.  The move by the popular Spanish bubbly strives for "climatological and geological excellence."

Alsace Sweetness Scale:  Also beginning with the 2021 vintage, the Association of Alsace Winegrowers, has agreed to the application of a sweetness scale, that will appear on the back label of all Alsace wines belonging to the association.  For sec (dry) wines, sweetness will not be more than .4% residual sugars; demi-sec (medium dry) will be between .4% RS and 1.2% RS; moelleux (mellow) 1.2% to 4.5% and doux (sweet) over 4.5% RS.  The new sweetness scale will bring Alsace wines in compliance with EU regulations.  Cremant d'Alsace sparkling wines already use the scale.   

                          wine route sign in alsace - alsace wine stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

South Africa's Wine Problem:  Climate change, a roller coaster economy and a stubborn pandemic are challenging wineries and growers in many parts of the world, but no more so than in South Africa. 

Covid and local laws have placed restrictions on international travel for members of the South African wine community; the industry is just emerging from the third year of a crippling drought; sanctions on trade have meant vast quantities of wine and limited storage for the coming harvest. 

Huge quantities of bulk wine are being processed by large wineries but small wineries are suffering, causing them to sell the excess to the fruit juice industry or abandon a large percentage of this year's harvest.  The final insult: South Africa's President Ramaphosa has placed a prohibition on the sale of alcohol for the third year in a row. 

The good news is that South Africa got substantial rainfall in 2020 and the economy is beginning to open up.  So look for more South African wines at your local wine store.

Aside: For a different take on life in South Africa, after the freedom of Nelson Mandela, read "The Promise," by Damon Galgut.  The book is the winner of the 2021 Booker Prize.

The Future of Capsules: To capsule or not to capsule is an argument that is raging right now in wine circles.  Well, maybe not raging, but it is stirring up enough interest to qualify as a controversy. 

A capsule is the cylindrical piece that goes over the top of the cork and bottle; also known as the foil.

Pro capsule people, mainly traditional wineries and winemakers who like the way a capsule dresses up the package, want to keep it.  Anti capsule folks object to the additional cost, the environmental impact and the fact that there is no longer a need for capsules as most wine storage areas today are not cold, damp breeding grounds for mold and dirt. 

Poop to Wine:  Organic and biodynamic grape growers use animal dung to fertilize their vines, but who would have thought that dinosaur droppings may be the key to unlocking the secret of terroir. 

 Dinosaur, Reptile, Prehistoric, Raptor

Palentologists at a dig in the Cognac region of France have discovered a razor-thin layer of dino poop on the top of Jurassic rock.  Scientists suggest that vine tap roots may be drawing nutrients from this "herbivore excrement." Similar findings have been discovered in New Zealand's Hawke's Bay and the Burgundy region of France.

Buy Wine Get a Snake:  Actress Elizabeth Banks takes the prize for absolute nonsense. Banks, part owner of Archer Roose Wine, a company trying to sell "luxury" canned wine, made a promotional video saying that if you buy 100,000 cases of ARW canned wine, you get a live snake!  

Yes, you read that right. But not to worry. Banks followed that jaw-dropping bit of nonsense with a second video saying that the offer is against the law. By the way, 100,000 cases of Archer Roose wine would set you back $10 million.  

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 29

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Appeal of Chilean Red Wine

If you're a serious red wine drinker (and who isn't?), and you've been ignoring Chilean red wine, it's time to rethink your wine-buying strategy.

Some of Chile's most exciting red wine comes from a central band of prime vineyard land, between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  The most important grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Long & slender Chile on the left

Chile, a long slender country along South America's west coast, is a mere 217 miles at its widest point.  The wine magic takes place in a broad central plain,  from a few miles north of Santiago to just south of Talca.  Within this area are seven major wine regions: Aconcagua, Casablanca, San Antonio, Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule.

Maipo, the northern most major red wine region, stands out for its top reds.   Unlike Argentina's inland Mendoza Valley, where cool growing conditions are achieved by planting at higher elevations, Maipo, which is just across the Andes from Mendoza, benefits from cool breezes off the Pacific Ocean. 

Chile exports a lot of wine to the United States, so a trip to the local wine shop can be bewildering at best.  Here's a brief region-by-region guide of what to look for when you're looking for Chilean red wines.  

These appellations, from north to south, appear on the front labels, with Casablanca, Maipo, Rapel and Curico being the most common. 

Aconcagua: The interior of Aconcagua is hot and dry, but there are places where red wine grapes grow nicely. Errazuriz, one of Chile's major wineries, farms grapes for its iconic Maximiano Cabernet Sauvignon in Aconcagua. At $20, the 2019 "Max" is possibly one of the best Cabernet values from Chile. 

Maximiano vineyard

Casablanca: First planted in the 1980s, Casablanca and San Antonio, are cool temperate coastal regions, known for Pinot Noir, but more so for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

San Antonio: Moderating ocean breezes and morning fog are ideal conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, used for Chile's burgeoning sparkling wine business, especially from such producers as Valdivieso and Tabali.

Maipo: Not far from Santiago, this small inland region is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Some of Chile's best Chardonnay comes from Maipo.  Of note is the region's Carmenere

Rapel: Cachapoal and Colchagua are Rapel's two major sub regions that run east to west, meaning that growing conditions vary from cool coastal areas to warmer inland ones closer to the mountains.  Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in the inland vineyards, as do Merlot and Syrah.  Interest has been building in recent years for Pinot Noir from coastal vineyards.  Promising conditions in Rapel has attracted investment by the French, including Casa Lapostolle and Los Vascos.

Curico: Smaller than Rapel, but no less important, Curico attracted the Spanish vintner Torres to establish vineyards and a winery there in 1979.  Curico is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Maule: Although there are other vineyard regions further south, Maule, for now, is the southern limit for quality grapes, although there is considerable  experimentation in Maule and even further south in Bio Bio.  Carignan is more widely planted in Maule than Cabernet Sauvignon.  

The price range for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon varies, but the following dozen wines are $12 to $50, most in the low $20's: San Pedas Cachapoal, Toro de Piedra Colchagua, Perez Crus Maipo, Miguel Torres Curico, Undurraga Maipo, Tabal Taluid Maipo, Tarrapaca Maipo, Vina Aquitania Maipo, Arbuleda Aconcagua, Concha y Toro Maipo, Valdiviso Central Valley.

Chilean red wines are solid values in a market that seems to be getting richer by the month.  Cabernet Sauvignon was featured here, but Chile is a good source  for reliable Merlot and Syrah. 

Next blog: This and that...

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 28

In Episode 27, my life in wine participated in the arm-busting job of raising a wine barrel, attended a session with the inimitable Bernard Hine analyzing the merits of new spirit destined (or not) to be Cognac and  spent an afternoon in Australia's Hunter Valley learning that a little advance knowledge is always helpful when tasting Hunter Semillon. 

The following episodes look back at two occasions in my life in wine when confidence in my wine knowledge and tasting ability were tested under high pressure.  


Sherry in the Morning.  In 1978, while living in Colorado and writing about wine for the Rocky Mountain News, I got a call from Nathan Chroman, then chairman of the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition, held at the Pomona fairgrounds. 

Chroman invited me to be a judge at the three-day competition.  As a new wine writer hoping to bolster my reputation on the national stage, while having the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines, I readily accepted. 

Bright and early the first day, all of the judges and support staff gathered for the chairman's greeting, instructions and panel assignments.  The late David Lake MW and I were the new judges that year. Probably because he was a Master of Wine, David was assigned to the Cabernet Sauvignon panel. Lake went on to make a name for himself as winemaker at Columbia Winery in Washington state.

Because I was an unknown from Colorado, Chroman sent me to the panel tasked with evaluating California brandy and Sherry.  The other three panelists were Phil Posson, an expert on fortified wines specializing in Sherry, another distiller of wine spirits whose name I forget and Daryl Corti, a Sacramento wine merchant with an encyclopedic memory who enjoyed putting new judges to the test.

The first morning, at 7:30 am, sharp, I was at my judging booth, ready to put my limited knowledge of California wine spirits to the test!  Our first assignment was 30 California Sherries, divided into three flights of 10 wines.  I stared at the daunting lineup, then dutifully tasted my way through the wine, made my notes and assigned awards, then joined the other judges at the conference table.  

Only by applying learned tasting techniques and remembering to taste past the higher alcohol, was I able to keep pace with my fellow panelists, defending my opinions and awards, especially under Corti's withering cross examination on why I eliminated one wine and gave a gold medal to another wine. 

Corti's panel went on to judge other wines and I became more at ease with my new assignments.  My performance as a rookie judge apparently impressed both Corti and Chroman enough to invite me back the following nine years.  


Chateau Y on Maui.  For most people working in the wine business or writing about wine, there are two dreaded encounters with the curious, usually when least expected: You get asked, "What's your favorite wine?"; and someone hands you a glass of wine and asks you to identify it.  

I stopped counting the number of times I have been asked the first question, but there was one memorable evening when I was confronted with the second challenge.

During the Kapalua Bay Wine Symposium, held at the Kapalua hotel on Maui, my wife, Janet and I and a few friends dined at the hotel's specialty restaurant.

As the meal came to an end, Eric Hansen, Kapalua's late wine director and sommelier, came to the table and asked me to participate in a challenge.  Eric and I were friends, so I agreed not knowing what he had in mind. 

Eric presented a bottle of wine sealed in a brown paper bag, cork removed and poured a glass for me.  "Can you guess what the wine is, he asked with a conspiratorial grin?"

While he was pouring the wine, I had a quick peak at the bottle still in the bag, then I took a good long sniff, followed by a few sips.  Placing the glass on the table and pausing for effect, I said, "Chateau Y, from Chateau d'Yquem."

My table mates looked at Eric, who stammered, "That's right, how did you guess so fast?" 

I didn't divulge my secret that evening, but my guess was based partly on observation and knowledge and partly on luck.  Eric had removed the branded cork so that I didn't see the producer, but he forgot to completely hide the bottle, allowing me to see that it was clear and not green glass.  And, even though the bag partially hid the bottle shape, I could see it was a Bordeaux bottle. 

The medium gold color of the wine narrowed the possibilities further, plus the first sniff said honeyed fruity Semillon, which was confirmed by my first sip of the wine.

So, clear glass Bordeaux bottle, characteristic Semillon aroma with a mineral note and a medium gold color.  Could be a Bordeaux blanc, but the wine was too dark and the smell and taste too rich, for Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Semillon, so my guess was a dry Sauternes and the only widely available one at the time was Chateau Y, from Ch. d'Yquem, perhaps the best known Sauternes.

A final note on Sauternes.  Years before the Maui dinner, I had the good fortune to taste a Ch. d'Yquem from the 1920s at a wine auction in Denver.  Local press and wine writers were given 30 minutes to taste select wines before the auction began. 

After tasting a few old Burgundies, which I don't remember, I headed directly to the Yquem.  I was in luck, as a small amount of medium-dark gold wine remained in the large-bowl glass.  

The bouquet of this 50-year-old wine was incredible!  Deep, rich, honeyed exotic spice, pineapple upside down cake, ripe apricots and more.  A tiny sip was textured and complex with a long lingering finish.  

I returned to the Yquem a few times and though the glass was long empty, the wine's bouquet was still strong and inviting.

Next Blog: The Appeal of Chilean Red Wines

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Pinot Gris' Ascending Popularity

Pinot Gris is one of those fashionable grapes, versatile enough to reflect a wide range of styles.  Stores are full of Pinto Gris/Grigio, but you needn't look no further than Oregon for a take on Pinot Gris that is attracting a lot of attention.


Pinot Gris is the second-most planted variety in Oregon, behind another member of the pinot family - Pinot Noir.  And there is three times the acreage of Pinot Gris  than Chardonnay, mainly in the Willamette Valley, the state's prime wine region, but also in the Umpqua Valley.

First planted in 1966, Pinot Gris lags behind Pinot Noir in recognition, an irritant that prompted seven wineries (Airlie Winery, Christopher Bridge Cellars, Sartori Springs Estate, David Hill Winery, Oak Knoll Winery, Pudding River Wine Cellars, Terrapin Cellars, Yamhill Valley Vineyards) to form a marketing group to say that Oregon should be known for more than Pinot Noir.

The group's effort is all about promoting the style of Oregon Pinot Gris, focusing on forward and pronounced fruit with bright acidity.  To my taste, honeyed and nutty are the best working descriptors for Pinot Gris.  The sweeter the style, the more the honey comes out, even with a trace of exotic spice. 

Aside: Wine-Searcher, the online wine finder, published two recent articles on Pinot Gris/Grigio.  A close look at both articles shows that consumer preference doesn't necessarily mean quality.  One article lists the "Best Pinot Gris Wines," while the other shows the "Most Wanted Pinot Gris Wines." 

The 10 "best" PGs (no Grigios) were all Alsace wines, seven from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, and most either Vendage Tardive (late harvest) or Selections de Grains Nobles (a more amped up version of VT).  Domaine Weinbach and Hugel round out the "best" list of Pinot Gris wines. 

Reflecting the market for Pinot Gris/Grigio wines, Wine-Searcher's 10 "Most Wanted Pinot Gris Wines" include nine Grigios and one Pinot Gris: Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Clos St. Urban, $90.  The Grigios range in price from $11 for Voga delle Venezie, to $34 for Vie de Romans Dessimis Fruili.

Pinot Grigio in Italy

Before Oregon discovered Pinot Gris, the wine was enjoying success with white wine fans in France and Italy.  In recent years, the global wine market has been flooded with vast quantities of what the Brits call "cheap and cheerful"  Pinot Grigio, an unoaked medium-dry Italian white wine with pleasant pineapple  and honey aromas. 

Pinot Grigio

In 1990, there were 8,000 acres of Pinot Grigio in Italy. In just 10 years, that number shot up to nearly 43,000 acres.  Most of it is grown in the Veneto, with substantial vineyards in Alto Adige and Friuli.

Italian Pinot Grigio is fresh, with the scent of apple and mango and lightly spiced with a hint of mineral.  Veneto PGs have a faint copper tinge, while PGs from Alto Adige and Friuli are more aromatic.

Pinot Grigio is the "most wanted" style of Pinot Gris.   So well-liked is Pinot Grigio, that it is the most popular white wine in the world, replacing Chardonnay. 

 Pinot Gris in France

Grigio is the Italian take on Pinot Gris, the French wine made almost exclusively  in Alsace, the eastern region in France on the border with Germany. Alsace is rich in French and German heritage, seen in the town names, road signs, cuisine and architecture. 

On any weekend, especially if the weather is good, a common sight at an Alsace vintner are cars with German license plates loading wine in to the trunk.  Germans appreciate the stylistic difference between sweeter German wines and drier Alsace wines, including Pinot Gris.  In Germany, Pinot Gris is known as Grauburgunder. 

Pinot Gris in Alsace

Alsace Pinot Gris, formerly known as Tokay d'Alsace, is more commonly seen as a dry wine, although the high profile fruit of Pinot Gris, often gives the dry style a sweet impression, especially in the finish. 

Richer and more decadent are Alsace Vendange Tardive Pinot Gris.  The Alsatian concept of Vendange Tardive (late harvest) was explained in the last blog (March 25, 2022).  Alsace VT wines are made under strict regulations, including the forbidden use of additional sweetness or chaptalization. One step up are Selection de Gains Nobles, sweeter than VT wines, SdGns also contain botrytis (the "noble rot").

With all that richness, Pinot Gris needs acidity.  In the vineyard, PG tends to be a little low in acidity.  Knowing that, the winemaker must look for a balance between natural acidity and natural sweetness, without the aid of acidification. 

Aside: Acidification is the wine making process of raising the acidity in a wine.  While it sounds easy, knowing how much acid to add and when to acidify is crucial.  Acids that are normally added to wine are tartaric acid, malic acid and citric acid.  As tartaric is the natural acid of ripe grapes, it is the most commonly used. Citric, on the other hand, is less expansive and thus is more commonly used in inexpensive wines. Acidification is not used in cool climates where there is usually sufficient natural acidity.

The opposite of acidification is deacidification, a process that removes excess acidity, sometimes found in cool climate wines, such as those from northern Germany and Tasmania.  

Some wines you need to work with to develop a liking, like Zinfandel, while other wines, like Beaujolais, are not taken seriously by some red wine drinkers.  Pinot Gris, however, is not demanding and has immediate appeal.


Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 28 

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Thursday, March 24, 2022

The spicy Traminer

Gewuerztraminer Grape,South Tyrol,Italy  gewurztraminer stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Gewurtraminer ready for picking

If there is a grape and wine that has it all, it would be Gewurztraminer.  Opulently aromatic, exotically flavored, broadly textured, Gewurztraminer is a naturally full flavored white wine with a character that doesn't seem to fit in today's market. 

The thing is, with one notable exception, the personality of Gewurztraminer runs against the grain of those people who want subtlety and dryness in their white wine.  

Born in northern Italy, near the village of Tramin, Gewurztraminer is a clone of the less aromatic Traminer. The new clone eventually came into its own in Germany, where it became known as the Spicy (Gewurz) Traminer, although some translations have it as "perfumed." 

In time, Gewurztraminer would spread throughout the wine world, taking root most notably in the Alsace region of France, but also New Zealand, Austria, the Alto Adige region of Italy, Germany and California.

Alsace and Geurztraminer

Mention Gewurztraminer in wine circles and Alsace is the most common reaction.  Makes sense since the region in eastern France is , by most standards, the best known (and arguably the best) Gewurz in the world. 

There are four main grapes in Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris (formerly called Tokay d'Alsace), Gewurztraminer and Muscat.  Each of the four is used to make dry and sweet wines. 

Dry Alsace Gewurztraminer is what defines the variety in the wine world.  For Gewurz lovers, the bouquet and elegant balance of the wine allows them to claim that Gewurztraminer is greater than Chardonnay.

Of course, there are those who rightfully say that dry is not the only way to go. Sweet styles, known as Vendange Tardive (VT), or late harvest, are made only from the four main grapes, with Gewurztraminer the most common since it attains high grape sugars easier than the other three grapes. Requirements for VT are strict and numerous, including informing the authorities before harvest of the intent to produce VT wine.

Botritised Geurztraimer

When grape sugars are higher than that required for VT, wines may qualify as  Selection de Grains Noble (SdGN), the last word referring to the presence of botrytis (the "noble rot"), which is not a requirement for Vendange Tardive. SdGN wines are always sweet.

Although some producers continue to make traditional dry wines, the trend in recent years has been toward white wines with, at least, the impression of sweetness. However, climate change has moved the needle back to a "drier" finish with little to no detectable residual sweetness. 

California and Gewurztraminer

Interest in California wine was growing fast in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Blends with fanciful names were big in those days.  Beringer Vineyards had a white wine money-maker called Traubengold (gold raisin). The Traubengold flavor was kicked up a notch by Gewurztraminer.  But, more often than not, Gewurz dominated most blends.  

As a varietal, though, Gewurz had success in Mendocino County and other cool spots in California, such as the Monterey coastal vineyards. However, the story of California Gewurz would be hit and miss.  

The hits were (and are) mostly in Mendocino's Anderson Valley, from such noted wineries as Navarro and Lazy Creek.  The misses, and near misses, were in warmer places like the Napa Valley.  Louis Martini was the exception, selling a medium gold, highly aromatic wine called "Gewurz Traminer." 

Other Gewurztraminer

There's not an extensive amount of Gewurztraminer and Traminer grown in other placesTraminer is popular in parts of Germany and Austria and northern Italy.  Torres has had success with Vina Esmeralda, made from Traminer. And some Gewurztraminer is grown in Washington state and Oregon.

Making Gewurztraminer

Production of Alsace Gewurz is pretty straight forward: controlled cold ferments in stainless steel, native yeasts, no acid adjustment and no malolactic fermentation. The wines are matured in neutral vessels.  Oak flavor is not desired, so the wines are often kept in old oak vats coated on the interior with thick tartrates.  White wine that has not gone through a cold stabilization may precipitate tartrate crystals that collect on the bottom of the cork.

Tartrate crystals on a cork

Aside:  Tartrates are the harmless natural deposits of potassium salt of tartaric acid. The deposits coat the insides of barrels and vats with crystals that have been called "wine diamonds," and have been mistaken for glass shards. The purified form of wine tartrates is made into Cream of Tartar.

Tasting Gewurztraminer

Gewurz has an aromatic profile that includes such diverse things as crushed rose petals, lychee, honey, exotic spice, citrus peel and even an old descriptor like shaving lotion or facial cream, although the latter probably would not resonate with younger tasters.  

The fullness of the spicy Traminer is proof that what you taste is a confirmation of what you smell. 


Next blog: Oregon Pinot Gris

Note: There will not be a blog on April 1, 2022.  "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" returns on April 8, 2022.






Thursday, March 17, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 27

The last episode of "My Like in Wine" (25 Feb) was about the joys and disappointments of winery touring and included a visit to Fetzer Vineyards and a tasting of Zinfandel with Barney Fetzer, then at a wine dinner in Denver, the adults got an evaluation of a Chardonnay from a young taster.  

Both occasions were learning experiences.  What follows are three episodes, from MLIW that further show there is always something new to learn about wine. 

                    Wooden Barrels in a cooperage, barrel workshop  cooperage stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

How hard can it be?

Working with wood has always been a personal passion.  A carefully wrought chair or table can be an exquisite piece of art and rare woods that are transformed into objects that seem to be alive are a wonder.  Just the process of bringing to life the beauty of wood gets my juices flowing.

So, I didn't hesitate when an invitation came to attend the "College of the Oaks," held at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage, to learn how to build wine barrels and then to raise my own barrel. Not exactly the same as making fine furniture, but it was working with wood.

Select a stack of presawn oak staves, fit them together, knock on the hoops and viola!  How hard could it be?

Very hard.  Especially if you don't have arms like Dwayne Johnson and the disposition to work in an environment that resembles hell, with machinery clanging and open fires blazing non stop.  This was woodworking like I don't remember in high school wood shop, or anywhere else.   

"Take the staves from the rack, hold the iron working hoop with one hand, then stand the staves inside the hoop, one at a time, forming a circle," explained the cooper (who had upper arms like Dwayne Johnson) showing us how it should be done.  In no time, my left arm felt like it was ready to fall off, as I attempted to hold the hoop steady while lining up the staves. 

Eventually, I managed, with help from the cooper to raise my barrel to the stage where a finishing hoop is hammered in place, with a short-handle sledge and a heavy iron wedge.  

The barrel wasn't finished, but I was.  Still to come were drilling the bung hole, toasting the interior and inserting the heads.  But, at least, I now  understood  that things are never quite what they seem and never as easy as they appear.

Mastering the black glass tasting 

Professional wine tasters and spirits blenders use a device called a "black glass," to allow a proper evaluation of the liquid without being influenced by color.  In place of a clear tasting glass, tasters use an opaque glass that is either black or cobalt blue. 

     Winecellar  Cognac stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

A number of years ago, I had written to Bernard Hine, director of Hine Cognac, expressing an interest in the art of Cognac tasting and blending.  So, he invited me to join him and Hine's master blender for an early morning tasting, when your taste buds and senses are the most acute.

There were a few ground rules I didn't expect: Do not eat breakfast or have coffee or tea, do not brush your teeth, do not us after shave or skin creams, do not use deodorants.  These guys were serious!

We gathered in a brightly lit white tasting room, with three sets of blue tasting glasses in a row on individual tables.  The glasses were capped with glass discs (I was at a similar tasting in Scotland where they capped the clear glasses with the bases of broken glasses), capturing the aromatics.

The task was to decide what was in each glass: colorless raw spirit, or various aged distillates that would be used in a finished blend.  I removed the glass cap from the first glass, put my nose into the glass, took a good sniff and immediately realized that without knowing the color and hue of the liquid (clear, light brown, yellow-brown), I didn't have a clue. 

Hine and his associate were intently smelling and tasting, while I stumbled through the remaining glasses, without forming any solid opinions.  It was clear to me that I didn't know as much about Cognac as I thought.  

Homework is important 

Followers of this blog may recognize the following anecdote, but in the interest of having a little advance knowledge to avoid being a complete neophyte, it bears repeating. 


On one of my visits to Australia, I met with Len Evans, at Rothbury Estate in the Hunter Valley.  At the time, the bigger-than-life Evans was one of Australia's legendary wine authorities, so I felt lucky to get a few minutes of his time.  Len Evans died in 2006.

Little did I know that in addition to the usual tour and tasting, Evans was about to spring one of his favorite Hunter Semillon tastings on me.  My knowledge of Semillon was limited and I had never developed much interest in the variety in California, but I was about to discover how much I didn't know, at least about Hunter Valley Semillon. 

Evans and I were seated at a table in the Rothbury cellar, with four glasses in front of each of us.  "These are four different Semillons and I'd like to hear which you think are oak-aged and which have no oak," Evans said.  

I look at, sniffed and tasted the wine in each glass and then proudly proclaimed they all had seen oak, numbers three and four the most. 

Evans let my words hang in the air for a pregnant moment and then rocked back in his chair with laughter and yelled, "No oak on any of the wines!"

Had I done my homework before visiting Rothbury, I would have known that unoaked mature Hunter Semillon, smells and tastes like it was fermented in oak, aged in oak, or both, and that Len Evans delights in playing the "Semillon trick" on unsuspecting writers.

The above three experiences, in my career as a wine writer, happened at different times over a period of 15 years and hopefully show that there is always something new to learn about wine. 

Next Blog: The spicy Traminer 

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Birthplace of Australian Wine


What a difference a few hundred years makes in a city.  It's 1791 in the Governor's garden in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.  On one side of the garden are a few grape vines brought to the British outpost from vineyards in South Africa.

It's now 2022 and the site where that garden once stood is now an international hotel on Macquarie Street.  Today, that simple urban garden is recognized as the birthplace of Australian wine. 

Of course, saying that someplace or something was first can be challenged, but it is generally accepted that when James Cook sailed into Botany Bay in 1770, he was bringing various necessities, as well as comfort items, from home. 

Eventually, settlers moved inland from the coast, with their seeds, plants and vines, to claim their own piece of land and build a future in the Hunter Valley. Besides dealing with animals and reptiles they had never seen, the settlers had to deal with often hostile Aboriginals.  

Despite these hardships, the pioneers established a wine culture that would expand south and west to Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and much later, Western Australia.  

The Hunter Valley ( known simply as "The Hunter" locally) today is divided into the Lower Hunter and the Upper Hunter.  Outside of Australia, the Hunter is perhaps the best known wine appellation in New South Wales.  But it produces less than 5% of the country's total crush. 

Weather not conducive to fine wine is the main reason The Hunter languishes behind other Australian wine regions such as the Barossa Valley.  High temperatures and humidity are the main culprits, so the search was on for more temperate zones at highly elevations and cooler conditions.

Cowra, Mudgee and Orange, in the Central Ranges, are west of The Hunter and  generally more temperate.  The Southern zone includes the Canberra wine zone within the Australian Capital Territory.  Both the Central Ranges and the Southern Zone produce far more wine than The Hunter. 

There are numerous books that cover The Hunter in detail, but we'll limit this brief survey to the Lower Hunter, Mudgee, Cowra and Orange.   

Lower Hunter:  In this region a few varieties, like Chardonnay, Semillon and Shiraz, seem to have adapted to the hot and humid weather.  Hunter Semillon has established a reputation for rich, honeyed nutty wines, but it takes bottle age to arrive at that stage.  Aged Hunter Semillon is known for fooling tasters into thinking the wine has been aged in oak, when few are.

Hunter Shiraz, starts out thin and astringent in youth, but with age is smooth and rich with a touch of spice.  It is a characteristic of youthful Hunter Shiraz that has affected sales for the unwary.

Look for these Lower Hunter wines:  Lindemans, Brokenwood, Tyrell's, Rothbury, Tulloch, Wyndham, Hungerford Hill, MGuigan Wines.

Mudgee: Located on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, Mudgee (which according to Aboriginal lore means "Nest in the Hills"), is marginally cooler and less humid than The Hunter, on the coastal side of range.

Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia
Mount Kosziusko, Australia's highest mountain

Grape growing in Mudgee goes back to the late 19th century and for years the bulk of the grapes went east across the mountains for blends.  In the 1990s Orlando-Wyndham moved their operation from The Hunter to a new Mudgee winery in Montrose.  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the main grapes. 

Besides Montrose, brands with a Mudgee appellation you might see include Rosemount, Robert Stein, Huntington Estate, Robert Oatley Vineyards and Lawson's Hill Estate.

Cowra: Vines were not planted on these rolling hills west of The Hunter until the 1970s.  Cowra is in a broad valley bracketed by the Great Diving Range and two rivers. Cowra is mainly white wine country, with Semillon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc the principal grapes. Chardonnays are peachy and honeyed, with ripe fig notes and good acidity.  

There are few wineries in Cowra, as most of the grapes are sold for blending at larger wineries outside the area. Look for Wallington and Kalari.

The rolling vineyards of Orange

Orange: Due to a scattering of micro-climate areas and the upper slopes of Mount Canobolas, Orange is one of the cooler growing areas in New South Wales.  However, the area is a flyway for numerous birds, which cause problems in the vineyards and spring frosts can be a threat. 

The principal grapes are Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Chardonnay from Orange shows citrus and melon. Shiraz has noticeable red fruits and spice and Cabernet Sauvignon is more herbal and dark berries.

Much of the grapes are sold to wineries outside the area, but Bloodwood Estate, Ross Hill Wines, Highland Heritage and Armour Wines are Orange wineries sometimes seen in export.

While the current buying trend favors substantial red wines from South Australia  and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Victoria, the time couldn't be better to try the wines of New South Wales, the birthplace of Australian wine.


Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 27

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