Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon: America’s Beloved Wines

Napa-Vineyard
Napa Vineyard

For nearly a half century Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have captured America’s palates and become its most beloved wines. It’s not that other wine varietals or blends have not enjoyed their ascendency and even ridden tides of popular demand (i.e. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, etc.). Rather, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have never fallen out of favor as the United States Department of Agriculture will attest. According to USDA records, California alone had 300 grape varietals and 496,313 acres of wine grapes under cultivation in 2014, of which 185,798 acres were either Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. These two ever popular varietals account for more than 37% of the total wine grape plantings in California, the source of the vast majority of wine consumed in the United States.

Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon immigrated to the United States more than a century ago from their native France. Chardonnay hails from France’s Burgundy and Champagne regions where it gained fame as the world’s most prestigious white grape varietal, while Cabernet Sauvignon is indigenous to southwest France and Bordeaux, in particular, where it figures predominantly in many of Bordeaux’s greatest red wines (Châteaux Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Mouton among others). From its native France, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have traveled the world, gaining adherents everywhere, but nowhere more than in the United States where the names Chardonnay and Cabernet have become nearly synonymous terms for white and red wine.

Red-&-White-Wine-in-GlassesCalifornia remains the source of most of America’s greatest Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, with Napa and Sonoma counties enjoying top billing. However, savvy consumers need to know that some of California’s most compelling and often most affordable Chardonnays and Cabernets emanate from small family owned wineries in the big two appellations as well as from wineries outside of Napa and Sonoma. Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County, as well as many areas of Santa Barbara County all fashion outstanding California Chardonnay, while Lake County in northern California and California’s Central Coast (Paso Robles in particular) are increasingly sources of exceptional Cabernet Sauvignons at prices some of us can still afford, so enjoy!

Salud!
Don

How is Rosé Wine Made?

light red wine in glassRosé wines seem to be all the rage once again.  Gone is the stigma of the pink drink and memories of sweet, low alcohol, innocuous White Zinfandels, which weren’t white and barely rosé, either.  Today’s rosé wines come in all shades of pink, from a barely perceptible blush from leading Provencal rosé producers, to deeply colored concoctions made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Rosés can be made from any number of grape varietals, and they can range in residual sugar from bone dry to quite sweet.  Today’s consumers tend to eschew sweet rosé wines in favor of dry versions, which have been popular among Europeans for generations.  In fact, the French drink more dry rosé wine today than white wine.

Methods for Making Rosé

Rosé wines can be made in several ways.  They can be made exclusively from one or more red grape varieties that spend just enough time on their skins after crushing to impart color and a bit of flavor (remembering that it is the skin of the grape that determines a wine’s color, not its juice).  The longer the red varietal’s skins remain in contact with the juice or must, the greater the wine’s color.  When red skins are removed soon after contact, rosé rather than red wine results.  This is the most common method of producing rosé.

Rosé can also be made by adding a small amount of red wine in the form of a completely fermented wine or as unfermented juice to white wine. This practice is rarely done today, except in Champagne, where small amounts of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier are often added to white Champagne to create rosé Champagne.  The two then marry in the bottle as the wine undergoes secondary fermentation.

Almost any red grape variety can produce rosé.  Some of the most common grape varietals are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault (Rhône and Southern French varietals known for producing the bone dry rosés of Provence and nearby Languedoc), Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel. Almost all wine-producing countries make some rosé wine from local or international varietals.  Garnacha (Grenache) and Tempranillo in Spain produce excellent dry rosés, as do Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in Italy.  Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel based rosés predominate in California, many of which are deliciously dry.  So pick your pink pleasure, indulge yourself and enjoy!

Don

The Best White Wines for Summer

White-Wine-wmcSummer calls for white wines that quench the thirst and refresh the palate, wines with zip that disappear eagerly down the throat and immediately make me want to come back for more.   Big, buttery Chardonnays with plenty of oak have their place, but summer makes me search out a wide array of white wines with distinctive varietal character, minimal oak, and real quench-ability.

Sauvignon Blanc is my first go-to summer varietal, particularly from Sancerre and producers such as Fournier and Moreux.  Sancerre is France’s quintessential Sauvignon Blanc with crisp, racy flavors that capture the palate and enliven the senses.

Excellent Sauvignon Blancs from Chile, New Zealand and South Africa abound, too.  The Errazuriz Max Reserva and Casa Silva Cool Coast from Chile are particularly noteworthy, as they provide more body, flavor and quench-ability than most.  Although New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc have become nearly synonymous, some New Zealand examples strike me as a bit thin and acidic, but not Dog Point’s Marlborough Section 94Dog Point Section 94 is full-throttle Sauvignon Blanc that’s truly world class; it drinks great young and is even better after five or more years in the bottle.

For high-quality, everyday summer white wines, Italy is hard to beat, and I don’t mean just Pinot Grigio.  Costantini Frascati from estate organic grapes, the remarkable Stefano Massone Masera Gavi and any Verdicchio from Bisci or Tavignano make me smile as often as I drink them all year round.  Authentic estate grown Soave from the Veneto’s premier grape varietal Garganega offers plenty of pleasure, too, in every season.  Gini and Tamellini are clear stand-out producers who make consistently exceptional Soave every year.

Another wonderfully refreshing summer wine is Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s quintessential white grape.  Premium producers, such as Pichler and Hirtzberger, fashion world-class examples, but for every-day fare, Domaine Wachau gets my vote for their hard to beat, affordable, and tasty Grüner Veltliner.

Blends make great summertime whites, too.  California and South Africa have become quite adept at putting together thirst quenching blends with plenty of character.  Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer from South Africa’s South Coast strikes me as one of the best.  Fashioned initially with seafood accompaniments in mind, this mouth-watering blend of Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc offers especially pure fruit flavors as well as good, crisp acidity, which makes it a summer stand-out as well as a great all year round quaff.

It’s summer, be adventurous.  Try something other than big, buttery Chardonnay, even if it’s a delicious un-oaked California Chardonnay, such as the soon to be released 2014 Pietra Santa Estate Chardonnay.

Salud!
Don

The Best Wines of Southern Italy

Red and White Italian Wines from the Best Grape Varietals

Cantine-Antonio-Caggiano-Taurasi
Antonio Caggiano vineyard in Campania, Italy.

Southern Italy is best known for its robust reds, a flavorful family of wines that accompany the region’s traditional pastas that seem inevitably steeped in heady tomato sauces laden with olive oil, garlic, and herbs.  Negromaro, Nero d’Avola and Primitivo are just a few of Southern Italy’s red grape varietals capable of producing big-boned reds to accompany the region’s specialties.

Unfortunately, few Americans have heard of Aglianico, Southern Italy’s most prized red varietal.  Brought by the Greeks to Italy more than 2,500 years ago, Aglianico thrives in the Campania on the hills and spine of mountains inland from Naples and the spectacular beauty of the nearby Amalfi Coast.

The finest Aglianico is known as Taurasi.  Not only is Taurasi the most robust and age-worthy of the wines of Southern Italy, it matures into a velvety potion with exceptional aromatics and deep down complex flavors.  Taurasi ranks with Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and the finest Super Tuscan reds as Italy’s greatest wines.

Superlative Taurasi emanates from a growing number of exceptional estates, including Antonio Caggiano, Colli di Lapio, Benito Ferrara, Molettieri, and Mastroberardino, the region’s oldest producer of Taurasi.  Although not Taurasi, some very good lighter Aglianico is produced in outlying areas of the Campania.  Cantina del Taburno and Vesevo make tasty medium-bodied Aglianico at an affordable price.

Lest one think red wines are the only prized wines of Southern Italy, the Campania also produces two of Italy’s greatest white wines in Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.  Both white varietals thrive in the hills and low mountains above the Amalfi Coast and are made by the great producers of Taurasi.  Caggiano, Colli di Lapio and Benito Ferrara consistently fashion exceptional Greco and Fiano.  To my taste, there are no better white wines to accompany the region’s seafood than these.

What to Look For in Southern Italian Wines

Colli di Lapio Taurasi Andrea 2010 and Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino 2013 are wines to look for in our red and white wine June Collector Series. This pair comprises two of the best wines we tasted on a recent trip to southern Italy and are not to be missed.  Both are highly allocated.

Querciola Barbera d’Alba 2012 and Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 make a formidable duo as our June Primary Premier Series offerings.  Past vintages of Querciola’s Barbera have been some of our most popular red wine offerings, while Errazuriz’s Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc is making its International Wine of the Month Club™ debut in June.

Salud!
Don

To Decant or Not to Decant Wine

When and How to Decant Wine

DecanterTo decant or not to decant wine is a hot topic and almost always a leading question.  Personal choice and impatience dictate whether or not you should decant your wine. In reality, decanting serves just two purposes: aeration and removal of sediment.

Young, tannic red wines benefit the most from aeration.  In order to begin releasing the esters that give a wine its aroma and flavor, oxygen needs to be introduced and work its way into the wine.  Decanting helps to speed up the oxygenation process, but it also tends to tame a bit of a wine’s youthful tannin.

For many wine drinkers, the most compelling reason to decant a wine is to remove all or most of the natural sediment from mature wines whose sediments precipitate out over time. Some younger unfined and unfiltered wines may also contain sediment or tartrate crystals.  Although sediment (grape skin, yeast, etc.) and tartrate crystals are harmless natural byproducts of wine, they are unsightly and can detract from the pleasure of drinking a wine.  Hence, decanting becomes a viable option.

How to decant a bottle of wine

  • Allow a bottle of wine to stand upright for at least several hours before opening until the sediment settles to the bottom of the bottle.
  • Upon opening the bottle, carefully pour the wine slowly into a clean carafe or decanter.
  • For best results, shine a light behind the bottle of wine so that you can see when the sediment begins to rise in the bottle.
  • If done carefully, one should only need to leave a couple of ounces of wine in the bottle for you and your guests to enjoy the rest.

Here at The International Wine of the Month Club™, we leave decanting up to our customers. You can fine more information about decanting throughout our website, and even learn how our online subscription wine club works to see that you aren’t just getting great wine – you’re getting the best value and quality, guaranteed.

So, whether you decant your wine or enjoy it straight from the bottle, The International Wine of the Month Club™ will raise a glass with you.

Salud!
Don