More on How to Read a Wine List

Wine BookOnce a diner decides upon price and category (White, Red, Rosé, or Sparkling) from a restaurant wine list the real challenge begins, but so does the fun if one knows how to break the codes and make the connections between Old World wines and New World wines.  Much of the confusion and difference comes down to varietal labeling (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc.) in the New World versus generic labeling in the Old World (Burgundy, Chianti, Rioja, etc.).  This is especially important when a large number of wines from France, Italy, and Spain appear on a wine list.

For starters, all white French wines from Burgundy, which include Chablis, Macon-Villages, Pouilly-Fuissé, and the wines of Chassagne and Puligny are all made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.  On the other hand, white Bordeaux springs almost exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with the emphasis on the former.  Sancerre, another popular  French white wine on restaurant wine lists, comes from all Sauvignon Blanc.  Red Burgundy, which includes many place names (Beaune, Côtes de Nuits, Pommard among a host of others) must be made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes.  And Grenache and Syrah constitute the major grape varietals found in the red wines of southern France, including the Languedoc and the Rhône Valley: think Côtes-du-Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Corbières, Fitou, Minervois, etc.  The latter constitute some of the best red wine values.  The problem is the grape variety or varieties rarely appear on the label.

Italy can be a bit more daunting because of the proliferation of varietals, but even there, several great red grapes appear ubiquitously: Barbera and Nebbiolo from Italy’s Piedmont, and Sangiovese from Tuscany and throughout central Italy.  A clone of Sangiovese plays an integral role in all Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile and nearly all Tuscan reds.  Many of Italy’s most popular white wines (Frascati , Orvieto, and Soave for example) bear only the name of their place of origin and are blends of indigenous grape varietals not widely grown outside of Italy.  For the record, they are typically at their best in the first three years of life.

And then there is Cava.  Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne, except it goes down more easily than Champagne partly because it’s fun and easy to drink and one need not blow a paycheck on a bottle at a restaurant.  Cava is made from a variety of indigenous Spanish varietals along with an increasing amount of Chardonnay.  Meanwhile, Spain’s most popular red wines, Rioja and Ribera del Duero, emanate all or primarily from Tempranillo.  Tempranillo rules the finest growing areas of Spain, though old vine Garnacha (aka Grenache elsewhere) from Calatayud, Castilla y Leon, La Mancha, and Toro, can be equally satisfying and constitute exceptional value.  So, let’s start breaking those intimidating codes and enjoy perusing the restaurant wine list.


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Rotini with Chicken, Asparagus, and Tomatoes

Reminiscent of a pasta salad, this spring recipe coats rotini and colorful vegetables with a basil-flecked balsamic vinaigrette.

Rotini with Chicken, Asparagus, and Tomatoes


  • 8 ounces uncooked rotini (corkscrew pasta)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (1-inch) slices asparagus
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled goat cheese


Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken and asparagus to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic to pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in pasta, basil, vinegar, and oil. Arrange 2 cups pasta mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Recipe and photo from:

Easy Grilled Maple Dijon Salmon with Bacon

Easy Grilled Maple Dijon Salmon with BaconThis mouthwatering salmon recipe features crisp bacon, savory dijon, and sweet maple that is grilled to perfection and is perfect for your busy week nights!



  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh salmon filet, skin-on (about 1-inch thick)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled


Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the fish with the olive oil.

Whisk together the dijon and maple syrup. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the salmon, then spread the entire top with the dijon mixture. Place the salmon on the grill, skin-side down. Grill for 12 to 14 minutes, or until fish is flakey and opaque. Remove and crumble bacon on top. Slice salmon into pieces and it should easily come away from the skin. Serve immediately.

Easy Grilled Maple Dijon Salmon with Bacon 3B

Recipe and photo for

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

St. Patrick’s Day is known for its green beer and Corned Beef and Cabbage but we decided to share another Irish classic, Irish Stew. Most households in Ireland will have their own version of this Irish staple but this particular version comes from “The Julia Child of Ireland”, Darina Allen, Ireland’s most famous chef and her Ballymaloe Irish Stew will become an instant favorite! Sláinte!

Style: "Irish trad"

Serves 4-6


  • 8 medium or 12 baby carrots
  • 8 medium or 12 baby onions
  • 8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1½-1¾ pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 tablesp. roux, optional – see recipe


  • 1 tablesp. freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tablesp. freshly chopped chives


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.

2. Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render down the fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).

3. Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you could leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave them whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, if they are small they are best left whole.

4. Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. De-glaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1½ hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.

5. When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Slightly thicken by whisking in a little roux if you like. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish.

Roux (Optional)

  • 4 ozs (110g) butter
  • 4 ozs (110g) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Irish Stew with Pearl Barley

1. Add 1-2 tablespoons pearl barley with the vegetables.
2. Increase the stock to 2 pints (1.2L) as the pearl barley soaks up lots of liquid.

Recipe from
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How to Read a Wine List

Wine ListEven the most ardent, self-proclaimed wine geek can become bewildered when faced with a restaurant wine list. So many wines, so little time, and what does it all mean, as half of the selections are in another language? If possible, download the wine list ahead of time, as many restaurant wine lists now appear on-line. Besides, choosing the wine before the meal makes perfect sense to wine lovers and beginners alike. In addition, you won’t be easily coerced to spend more than you had intended if you have one or more wines in mind before sitting at table.

Next, learn to categorize: White Wines (may also appear as Blanc, Blanc de Blancs, Blanco, or Bianco); Red Wines (often masquerade as Rouge, Rosso, Rojo, and Tinto); Sparkling Wines (more often than not hide under the names Cava, Champagne and Prosecco based upon their country of origin); and of course Rosé Wine, which can run the gamut from a light sweet blush wine like White Zinfandel to a bone dry, thirst quenching French Rosé that can make you think you’re sipping heaven at a table in the South of France.

Next, try to make the varietal connection. New World wines most often bear the name of the predominant grape varietal on the label, while most Old World wines bear the generic name of their appellation or region of origin. If you can make the varietal connection between Old World and New World, you can break much of the code that makes restaurant wine lists so intimidating. This is especially true for wines from France, Italy and Spain, the world’s three largest producers of wine.

Stay tuned for more on how to crack the code and navigate restaurant wine lists. In the meantime, don’t forget to consider a restaurant’s by the glass selections, which are typically more exciting than what is offered by the carafe (a full liter of wine that more often than not flows from a much larger box).

For more information on grape varietals, visit our Wine Grape Varietals page.


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