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Forget Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s New Big Thing Is Pinot Noir

February 12, 2018 — Actor Sam Neill just finished a six-part television documentary on the voyages of Captain Cook, but right now he’s focused on the role of proud farmer. I’m walking with him on a tour of his organic vineyard in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand as he shows off his prize pigs and pulls out bottles of his much-talked-about Two Paddocks pinot noirs.

 “What do you think?” he asks.

Thumbs up, for sure. When it comes to wine, New Zealand is on a roll. According to a just-released Vinexpo study, it’s now the fastest-growing wine-exporting country to the U.S. By 2021, it’s predicted to become the No. 4 exporter to the U.S., right behind Italy, Australia, and France—which is pretty remarkable, considering that the country makes barely 1 percent of the world’s wines.

Most of them are New Zealand’s whistle-clean, distinctive sauvignon blancs, which smell like fresh-cut grass and wake up your palate with citrus-y zing. The ultimate white wines for parties, they’re driving much of that growth in the U.S.

But the real excitement in the offing centers on the country’s stellar pinot noirs….


Winemakers Turn to MIT fo Save Pinot Noir in Warming Temperatures


January 23, 2018 — In a basement teaching laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, biochemical engineer Jean-Francois Hamel has dug deep into the science of wine to help untangle the mystery of terroir for future-focused Oregon winery Chapter 24 Vineyards LLC. What’s under his microscope isn’t dirt but yeast, the crucial fermentation element in the winemaking process. Yeast is also part of the collection of bugs, fungi, and other microorganisms in a vineyard or winery that researchers call a wine’s microbiome, a term certain to become the new vino buzzword, much as it has with human health.

Hamel, a Frenchman who first came to teach at MIT in the 1980s, often puts the lab to work on research projects to improve the quality of human life, as with an effort that produced biofuels and was sponsored partly by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. Three years ago, Chapter 24’s founder, Hollywood film producer Mark Tarlov, and its famed Burgundian winemaker, Louis Michel Liger-Belair, enlisted Hamel to help figure out whether wild yeasts in their vineyards could help them make lighter, more elegant, and complex wines—even in the face of warming temperatures….




Seven Ways the Wine World Will Change in 2018

January 4, 2018 — Most of the wine world was happy to wave goodbye to 2017, a year of vine-killing frosts, hail, drought, and destructive wildfires in regions from California, to Chile, to Europe. Looking forward to 2018 is not only a relief; it’s exciting, because the year is full of promise. There will be new experimentation, exploration, and the continuing of trends we enjoyed from last year.

The rosé juggernaut, for example, keeps crushing it. With U.S. sales up 57 percent in dollars, our must-drink-pink obsession continues and is even fueling interest in rosé cider and pink gin. And thanks to adventurous younger drinkers thirsty for novelty and affordability, enthusiasm for obscure native grapes, especially from Italy, is still growing fast.

Here’s what I see in my crystal glass for 2018…


The Best Wines I Tasted in 2017 

December 21, 2017 — Last week I spent hours combing through my notes on the several thousand wines I sampled in 2017 to single out the best of the best.

My top taste experiences are always the ones I’ve noted with stars and exclamation points. There were lots of them this year, especially great vintages of the finest Bordeaux. But the wines that most seduced, surprised, or seriously impressed me were the ones whose aromas, tastes, and stories actually made me see the wine world in a new light.
This year they range from a great vintage of Burgundy’s most fabulous white to a rare red from Texas (!), to a New World grand cru from Chile and a Bordeaux produced while World War I raged…





The 50 Best Wines Under $50

December 14, 2017 — Every year I taste thousands of wines (I know, tough job), but I’m happy to report that finding great inexpensive examples has never been easier than it was in 2017. The bottles listed below deliver both value and sheer deliciousness.

Less buzzed-about regions such as Spain’s Bierzo and cool coastal areas of Chile are terrific go-to sources for superb bargain reds, whites, and rosés, but even such famous places as Bordeaux now offer a surprising number of reasonably priced examples.

In general, I find that entry-level and secondary wines from top estates consistently offer top value, as do those made from unusual grape varieties such as kerner and mencia. Newly popular chenin blanc and gamay are also underpriced for their quality.

And hey, don’t forget to shop around. You can often find some of the wines below for even less….



Eight Wines For Thanksgiving, Under $25


November 17, 2017 — If you’re weighted down by Thanksgiving wine anxiety, you’re not alone. Picking the right bottles for the holiday can be more stressful than cooking the turkey……





Wine on Demand? Rating Bottles From Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Caviar

November 3, 2017 — The U.S. is now deep in the throes of a food home-delivery mania that goes way beyond a pepperoni pizza arriving at your door in 30 minutes. I’m talking about the billions-of-dollars-a-year meal-kit business as well as the dozens of restaurant takeout apps aiming to appeal to millions of busy, busy people.

What’s been missing—until recently—is wine on demand, delivered with both.

The cooking-kit company pioneering wine is Blue Apron, which added bottles to its mix two years ago, partly because customers asked for it and partly to woo them back when they dropped out. Poor retention was one of the reasons for the company’s lackluster June initial public offering.

Berlin-based Hello Fresh, which has a presence in 10 countries, launched its wine plan in the U.S. in May. It priced its IPO in November.

Expect more meal-kit companies to pile on….


How to Tell if Your Wine Shop Is Any Good

October 25, 2017 — You can buy good wine anywhere—even in big-box chains, supermarkets, and convenience stores next to gas stations. I once discovered a high-end drug store in Vermont peddling bottles of Chateau d’Yquem.

But if you’re really interested in good vino, find an independent shop with an owner who loves the stuff, tastes what he or she is selling, and employs un-snooty clerks happy to share what they know and become your new best wine friend.

Major cities such as New York, London, and Paris have lots of these boutique wine merchants. But just as with vendors for technology, jewelry, or cheese, a few do it better than everyone else. Here’s what to look for when rating your local wine store….



California’s Wine Industry Begins Picking Up Pieces After Fire Damage

October 20, 2017 — Although still burning, the largest fires that have devastated California wine country are mostly contained, and winemakers, winery owners, and growers began taking stock this week of what they have—and haven’t—lost.

The numbers are numbing: at least 42 dead, nearly 100,000 evacuated, more than 5,700 homes, businesses, and wineries destroyed or damaged, more than 200,000 acres burned in total, and many vineyards singed and torched, according to an Oct. 17 announcement by CalFire, the state department of forestry and fire protection.

If you’re a wine lover, you know the people and places behind these numbers. The wineries include Signorello Estate, Paradise Ridge, Frey Vineyards, White Rock Vineyards, Roy Estate, Mayacamas, Pulido-Walker, Michael Mondavi Family Estate, and more that make the reds and whites you love to drink. As of now, 22 wineries have been damaged in northern California, with effects ranging from lost buildings to burned vines and ruined wine product.

Tom Pagano, a wine expert and account executive at global insurance broker Aon said overall damage could be in the $5 billion to $6 billion range and maybe worse. “It will take at least a couple of months to assess,” he said in a phone interview. “And it may be years before we know the final numbers.” The wine industry generates about $26 billion annually for Napa and Sonoma, according to the most recent reports from vintners’ groups.

Yet despite the horrific human toll and massive damage, early signs indicate that northern California’s wine industry isn’t ruined beyond repair and that much of its 2017 business can be rescued….


Surprising Australian Wines Are Storming America’s Shores

October 9, 2017 — Maybe your idea of Australian wine is Yellow Tail, the massively successful, superplonk with a jumping kangaroo on the label. Or maybe you picture an in-your-face monster shiraz so thick and fruity you could practically sip it from a spoon.

 If you think those examples define Down Under wines, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Australia’s fine wine scene is one of the world’s most exciting, dynamic, and diverse, with 65 regions growing more than 100 different varietals for nearly 3,000 wineries. A wave of young, avant-garde winemakers with hipster beards and daring ideas are experimenting with reds and whites all over the country and making killer wines.
So why don’t we all know this…?


The Sideways Curse Has Lifted: Merlot Is Having a Comeback

September 29, 2017 — Merlot was once the fan-favorite red grape and wine. Then came 2004 hit movie Sideways, in which Miles, the pinot-noir-loving main character, trashes the varietal before heading into a bar: “If anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving,” he explodes. “I am not drinking any f—ing merlot.”

Interest in pinot skyrocketed, while the reputation of merlot tanked. In California, growers pulled out more than 10,000 acres of merlot grapes

Such is the power of Hollywood.

But wine fashions are fickle, and now velvety merlot is experiencing a comeback….

This Year’s Extreme Weather Will Have a Serious Effect on Global Wine

September 20, 2017 — Earlier this summer, the Napa Valley was on track to be one of the world’s luckiest wine regions this year, having escaped everything from hail to fires to grape-gobbling wild boar.

 Then a scorching, record-breaking heat wave with temperatures up to 117 (!) degrees Fahrenheit swept in and stuck around over Labor Day weekend, upending vintners’ expectations. In its wake, winemakers were left with plenty of shriveled grapes and worries about both quality and quantity, despite a cool spell this week that’s now slowing the harvest.
Welcome to wine’s new normal: extreme weather events. They influenced this year’s harvest everywhere from Germany and France to Italy and Chile last spring and, at the last minute, Napa and Sonoma. “I’ve never seen a vintage like this,” admitted Cathy Corison of Corison Winery in Napa, who is now on her 43rd season….


Bordeaux’s Legendary Chateaux Are Now Open for Meals and Sleepovers

September 14, 2017 — The wine region of Bordeaux, long willfully fusty, is in the midst of a modern tourist boom. Last year saw the opening of the swirling aluminum-and-glass La Cité du Vin, a spectacular high-tech museum devoted to wine and culture. And this July brought a two-hour high-speed train link from Paris.

In the city of Bordeaux proper, beautiful 18th century buildings have shed their soot to stand gleaming once again as part of a renewal project that helped the municipality gain Unesco World Heritage status in 2007. Jazzy wine bars and inventive chefs have swept in since, upending decades of heavy cuisine doused in buttery sauces.

Now you’ll want to venture beyond town for the real fun: The appellation’s celebrated wine châteaux, whose doors were long shut to tourists, have unveiled dazzling wineries designed by big-name architects. And more than a dozen of them, including billionaire-owned Château Cos d’Estournel, have begun welcoming wine lovers for lunch, dinner, and even overnight stays in opulent rooms overlooking the vines….

These Six Lesser-Known Wine Destinations Are Great Escapes for 2018

September 11, 2017 — Wine tourism isn’t just expanding—it’s getting more creative in every corner of the globe, with more vine estates than ever wooing oenophiles with luxurious digs and experiences to indulge their grape-driven passions.

As always, superb wines and great estates are my first criteria for picking a region to escape to. But I try to look beyond wine cellar tastings and a chance to picnic in the vines; extra-special highlights include stunning and unusual landscapes to explore, delicious, creative, local cuisine to savor, and soothing rooms to sleep in when my taste buds need a break.

My crop of six destinations for 2018 delivers all of that – and more….


15 Great Pinot Noirs for Less Than 50 Dollars

August 21, 2017 — Great pinot noirs, as a friend once put it, have a near-sexual allure. The first taste can turn you into a bottle stalker, which is why the world’s pinot lust has pushed prices of the most coveted to three- and four-digits. Today, though, it’s easier than ever to find seductive examples with those rose-petal aromas, silky textures, and layered flavors at more affordable prices.

In Burgundy, still the grape’s ur-territory, global warming has (mostly) ensured riper grapes every year. That, along with better vineyard practices and young ambitious winemakers has upped the quality of non-snob generic Bourgogne Rouge and little-known village appellations like Santenay.

The biggest change in pinot during the past decade, though, is the rise of New Zealand, Oregon, and California, as winemakers finally zeroed in on the vine’s sweet spots….


A Champagne Bar Boom Pairs Bubbly With Hot Dogs, Dumplings, Tater Tots

August 10, 2017 — Maybe it started when Bill Murray persuaded wine snobs it was OK to drink champagne over ice.

Over the past few years, sparkling wine has been on a tear worldwide—it’s one of the three fastest-growing wine categories, according to a VinExpo/IWSR study released this past June and in 2016. And champagne shipments to the U.S. increased for the fourth year in a row, to 21 million bottles. The study also projects that global consumption of sparkling wine will increase another 8.7 percent by 2019, significantly more than overall wine consumption, at 1.4 percent.

And with all this enthusiasm for the fizzy stuff comes a new trend: hip bubbly bars.

At Air’s Champagne Parlor, a playful Art Deco “salon and living room” devoted to sparkling wine that opened just over a month ago in New York’s West Village, on offer is a drink called the WWBMD. That’s short for “What Would Bill Murray Do?” and it’s a champagne drink poured over ice with “expressed lemon” for $15 ….


Are the Wines from Costco, Amazon, or Hyatt Any Good? A Taste Test

July 31, 2017 — Every wine lover wants a deal, which is one reason the number of private-label wines is growing fast and furiously.

Trader Joe’s is often credited with popularizing the trend in the U.S. in 2002 with its Two Buck Chuck, the nickname for its exclusive Charles Shaw line of wines priced back then at $2 a bottle (the last time I tasted them they were still really awful).

So what is a “private label” wine?  It’s a brand created specifically for one retailer, hotel, or restaurant, often with their input on flavor profile and style, usually—and this is key—to sell at a particular price, lower than similar wines from known wineries.

Even restaurants such as the French Laundry and Nobu have jumped on the bandwagon, to offer exclusive bottles to their guests, and such steak houses as Del Frisco’s sell plushy cabernets under their own labels….



The Six Most Delicious Wines You Probably Never Heard Of

July 24, 2017 — In northern Italy last week, I tasted a crisp, earthy white from the bellone grape and a violet-scented red, recantina. I’d never even seen a wine from either grape before. Trust me, it’s only a matter of time until these come to a restaurant near you—they’re that good.

The current flood of delicious wines made from little-known grapes such as these can’t compete with floods of rosé being poured everywhere, but the vogue for exotic varietals is a trend that just keeps growing.

So if you’re hopelessly fixated on the top 10 international classics, such as cabernet, pinot, and chardonnay, you’re missing out on the latest wine-world thrills (and bargains)….


Terrible Labels, Great Wine: Six Amazing Bottles Hurt by Bad Art

July 5, 2017 — You’re standing in a wine shop, facing long shelves displaying hundreds of wines and trying to decide what to buy. Do you grab the bottle whose hip, clever label grabs you? If you’re like just about everyone, the answer is yes.

Face it: You know that’s not necessarily the way to get the best wine.

A wild label may be way more entertaining than the actual wine inside—overcompensating for it, even. And the liquid lurking behind an ugly label may be a fabulous red or white.

Of course, my idea of a terrible label may not coincide with yours. I assume those featuring cute animals, colorful trucks, little black dresses, or cheesy photographs of women’s legs are fronting for unsophisticated, easy drinking, generic plonk. Mostly, they are….



Five Wines and a Vodka You Need to Get Your Hands on Now

June 26, 2017 — Bursts of fireworks illuminated the night sky at Château Mouton Rothschild. Speakers in the vineyard boomed out arias from Mozart’s The Magic Flute as attendees streamed into a large white tent for dinner.

That was just one of the parties kicking off VinExpo 2017, the world’s largest wine and spirits trade fair, which was held last week at a giant exhibition space on a man-made lake north of the city of Bordeaux.

Don’t assume the biannual event is only about partying hard until dawn at grand wine estates, glass of something fabulous in hand. The wine and spirits’ industry’s four-day schmoozefest is actually serious international business—a place to do deals, discuss politics (Brexit, for example), trade gossip, and bone up on important issues such as shipping logistics and how climate change is affecting wine.

And, of course, the tradeshow is a primo spot to launch new products….


The Six Mistakes You Are Making When Pairing Food With Wine

June 19, 2017 — The worst wine and food combo I’ve ever tasted was a soft, gooey-textured Krispy Kreme doughnut coated in a sugary glaze with a decadent, opulent 1975 Château d’Yquem. They were both delicious on their own; the problem was that the doughnut was way sweeter than the wine. The Bordeaux’s fabled lusciousness came across as battery acid.

I tried it because I was at a dinner honoring a noted wine collector, and it was his personal favorite pairing. You know what else it was? Proof that even serious wine lovers make serious errors when matching food with wine.

Curious about the mistakes we all make, I quizzed a half-dozen sommeliers, who spend their time trying to suggest the best pairings to their customers, about the most common goofs….


The Three Wines That Should Always Be in Your Fridge

June 14, 2017 — Julia Child always kept a half bottle of Champagne in the refrigerator so she had something to sip on (and keep herself enthused) while cooking. Me too—but I’ve expanded her advice. I always have three bottles of wine on my fridge door shelves. So should you.Picture it: The moment you arrive home on a hot summer night, you’ve got something refreshing to open even if you didn’t have time to swing by your local retailer. When friends drop by, you have a bottle to pour without hauling out ice and a bucket or putting it in the freezer and waiting 30 minutes for the wine to cool. Immediate gratification is the way we live now, which is why most wine shops have a grab-and-go selection in a cooler.

And if merely savoring a glass while you chop vegetables fresh from the farmers market is what you need, no problem.

The rationale for having a stash of already chilled bottles isn’t all that different from having the basic essentials to make a meal (tomato sauce, pasta, etc.) on hand.

The important question is what those wines should be….

Napa Valley’s Glitziest Event Gets the Coppola Family Cooking

June 1, 2017 — This weekend, the 37th edition of the world’s glitziest charity wine auction will unroll like a glamorous film directed by Hollywood royalty. The goal is to encourage the 2,000 attendees to splash out more than last year’s $14.3 million—and maybe surpass the record-breaking $18.4 million in 2014. All proceeds go to local charities.

The glitz will come from Francis Ford Coppola and his family, who are honorarily co-chairing the annual four-day Auction Napa Valley, which officially kicks off Thursday night, June 1. But they’re no hands-off figureheads; they’ve divided responsibilities and are running with the challenge. From Sofia’s glamorous dinner, to Eleanor’s food and wine pavilions, to Gia’s after-party, the Coppolas have it covered….

The Wilder Side of Rosé: New Types of Pink to Drink This Summer



May 12, 2017 —  This year’s “drink pink” season, which starts officially on Memorial Day weekend, is ushering in a host of new trends, making clear we’re nowhere near peak rosé yet. Are you rejoicing–or rolling your eyes?

I’m a fan of some, but not all, of the new developments. Rosé from a can?  Well, maybe on a hike up New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. A 40-ounce bottle of rosé?  If I want to go big, I’d rather splurge on a top-end magnum, which holds even more.

The new trend that really perks me up is the rise of rich, exotic rosés from unfamiliar and unexpected grapes and lesser-known corners of France, Italy, Spain, and the New World….


Meet the ‘Wine Whisperers,’ Fancy Grape Fixers for Billionaires

May 2, 2017 — Last year, one of Matt Wilson’s wine clients asked him to orchestrate a dinner in Las Vegas, with a $100,000 wine budget. Easy for Wilson; he rounded up such rarities as 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle, 1985 La Tache, and 1834 Madeira. But he also had to convince chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin to give the 16 guests a cooking lesson and prepare the dinner.

Wilson, who launched Napa-based Company Fine Wine last fall, is what I call a “wine whisperer,” a category of white-glove wine fixers for the ultra-wealthy that’s growing rapidly. Some call themselves personal wine advisers. Others, such as Wilson, function more like private wine merchants. All offer a range of services to help cash-rich, time-poor aficionados manage their wine lives….


Great Wine Made Easy: The 15 Best Cabernets Under $50


April 21, 2017 — Good cabernets are getting ever more expensive: $100, $200, $300 are regular prices out of Napa Valley and in Bordeaux, especially for new labels primping for cult-worthy status.

Deep, rich, and power-packed, cabernet has plenty of appeal. It’s the ultimate meat wine, the mainstay of auctions, and at the top of the heap when it comes to red wines that age and age and age. (I’ve tasted 100-year-old bottles that were still going strong.)

Why is it so expensive? Location, location, location. In Napa, the high cost of vineyard land results in grapes selling for $10,000 a ton and up, 10 times more than, say, grenache. Add in the cost of aging in new French oak barrels, which sets winemakers back $800 to $1,000 per. And, of course, there’s a serious snob factor.

So look to such places as Chile, Washington State, Australia, and South Africa, where land is cheaper, and to less-well-known California names. Surprisingly, if you go beyond the famous ultra-expensive crus classés, Bordeaux remains the biggest source of bargain cabernet around….


After a Blockbuster Year for Bordeaux, the Top 18 Wines to Buy

April 12, 2017 — As spring sun blazed in blue skies over Bordeaux on Friday, March 31, I set out to taste nearly 500 barrel samples of red and white wines in the legendary French region. My mission was to discern how the 2016 vintage stacks up against the superb 2015s I tried last year.

I’m not going to beat around the bush: The best wines from this vintage are exceptional, with plenty of superstars as impressive as, or much better than, their 2015 versions. Many chateau owners feel the wines are the best they’ve ever made. (Of course, I’ve heard that before.) The style of 2016 is different and enticing: The wines brim with fresh, floral aromas and cool red fruit flavors, silky textures, complexity, and smooth, tightly packed tannins….


The New Bordeaux Vintage Looks Great But Will Politics Affect Prices?

March 30, 2017 — The big wine story next week will take place in Bordeaux, where flags are already flying over turreted stone chateaus to welcome several thousand enthusiastic merchants and journalists. They’re swooping in from around the globe for en primeur, the region’s famous annual spring ritual. (Some call it a circus.)

From Monday to Friday we’ll all sip and spit hundreds of red, white, and sweet wines from the new 2016 vintage, still aging in oak barrels, to evaluate how the wines are turning out. The weather last year was, as they say, complicated but ended well. So far, local Bordeaux wine whisperers claim the quality of the 2016s is as exceptional, possibly even better, than the superb 2015s I reported on last year….


The 15 Best Chardonnays Under $50

March 22, 2017 — If you’ve been avoiding chardonnay on the grounds that too many examples are garish and overblown, stop. It’s the most popular white in America—and better than ever.

What to know about the grape?

First, it’s native to Burgundy, where winemakers embrace a spectrum of styles, from steely, edgy, and chalky to creamy, rich, and golden. Chablis in Burgundy’s far north and Mâcon in the south are sources of delicious, reasonably priced bottles, and the two vintages now in shops are excellent. The 2014s are classic, pure, mineral, and savory; the just-arriving 2015s, from a warmer year, are exotic and rich.

And second, because the grape is so easy to grow, it’s ubiquitous around the globe, planted in wine regions from Chile to California to New Zealand….



These Chain Steak Houses Have the Best Wine Lists

March 14, 2017 — Before I stick a fork into a sizzling steak, I insist on a large glass of a great red wine that I can swirl alongside it and savor between juicy bites.

So do most people who go to steak houses, which is why their wine lists reflect the reality that big reds and rare, charred meat is a timeless combo.

And in an era when sommeliers champion obscure grapes from esoteric regions you’ve never heard of, chain steak houses offer reassuringly recognizable bottles: Napa cabs, big deal Bordeaux, classic Burgundy, muscular Argentinian malbec….



How to Find Affordable Bottles From the World’s Best Winemakers


March 1, 2017 — Last week I was sipping the latest vintage of cult Italian red Ornellaia in a light-filled downtown loft with bearded winemaker Axel Heinz. He gives a name to each year’s cuvée–the 2014 is L’Essenza, the essence—and when this ripe, chocolatey cabernet and merlot blend makes its debut a couple of months from now at a golden price tag of $240 a bottle, it will sell out to collectors.

But over a lunch of rich, slow-braised beef, we also savored the winery’s 2014 Le Serre Nuove, a silky, polished red that echoes Ornellaia’s plummy taste in a lighter style.  “It’s our second wine,” Heinz said as he swirled his glass and inhaled deeply, “but that doesn’t mean it’s a second-rate version of Ornellaia.” At $70, it doesn’t come with the same fancy artwork on the label or the same hit to the wallet….




Cabernet Who? The Hot New Wines Out of Napa Valley Are White


February 22, 2017 — When a collector friend offered me a glass of Screaming Eagle recently, I automatically pictured the cult winery’s polished, pricy red. Instead, I got my first taste of its sophisticated, wildly expensive, almost entirely unattainable white.

Chances are, when you think of Napa Valley, you think of red wine. Well, get ready to be surprised. In this classic cabernet territory, dozens of top-end wineries are focusing the same kind of every-detail-matters approach to whites that they’ve long lavished on their more prestigious reds.

Fortunately, to try any of them you don’t have to splash out as much as you do for Screaming Eagle’s 300-bottle-a-year sauvignon blanc that I tried. (The 2010 vintage is selling for $4,650 (!) a bottle at…..



Nine Best Burgundy Wines Under $100


February 14, 2017 —  A week ago, I elbowed my way through crowded New York tastings of 2015 Burgundies, touted as the best in decades. The city is a hotbed of Burgundy lovers who swoon over the world’s most famous pinot noirs, so sommeliers, retailers and journalists were sipping, spitting, and, I have to admit, shoving, to sample as many as possible. The goal: to decide whether or not the hyperbole was just hype.

Trust me, it’s not. The reputation of this vintage is deserved, especially for the reds. Rich, ripe, hedonistic, succulent, and mouth filling, they have cashmere-like texture and that juicy acidity that makes you want to take another sip, and then another. You’re really going to want them. Most are so good they even make you forget current politics, at least while you’re drinking….


New Zealand’s New Sauvignon Blancs Will Change How You See the Grape


January 31, 2017 — Whip-cracking acidity, tongue-tingling, citrusy-herby flavors, and pungent aromas give New Zealand sauvignon blancs a punchy, kick-boxing appeal.

Immediately recognizable, reliable, predictable, and cheap, they’re tartly crisp wines you either love or hate, with grassy aromas some have likened to cat pee—not, I admit, the most appealing description. One critic suggested that if you dislike New Zealand sauvignon blanc, it might be because you had to mow the lawn when you were a kid.

But adventurous New Zealand winemakers are now lifting the category to a new dimension of quality, creating more serious (and more expensive) examples in a variety of styles. If you’re not a fan of the country’s sauvignon blancs, these are the wines to try….



Soil, Not Grapes, Is the Latest Must-Know When Picking a Wine


January 25, 2017 — OK, you know the names of dozens of grape varietals and wine regions and all (well, almost all) the Bordeaux crus classes. You can name with ease the best Burgundy estates and famous vineyards such as Napa’s To Kalon.

But you’re not done yet.

Now it’s time to bone up on the latest must-know: the “dirty” side of wine. Not the geographic region, grape, or vineyard, but what’s below the surface of the land, where vine roots sink deep into the earth that (supposedly) gives a wine its true character and quality. Soil type is the latest way to classify wines….



Half of US Wineries Might Be Sold in the Next Five Years


January 18, 2017 — When billionaire Stan Kroenke, owner of Napa cult winery Screaming Eagle and a slew of sports teams (including the L.A. Rams), bought a majority stake in December in iconic estate Bonneau du Martray in Burgundy, France, shock waves ricocheted around the wine world. The historic property has belonged to the le Bault de la Moriniere family since the French Revolution. Its grand cru Corton-Charlemagne is one of the planet’s great white wines.

But that was only one of many high-profile wineries and vineyards to trade hands last year. In California and Oregon, more than 35 were sold.

Get ready for 2017: The Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the Wine Industry 2017 report, released on Wednesday, predicts a continuing vineyard land grab this year…..


Can Cava Convince the World It’s Worth $200 a Bottle?


January 13, 2017 — Does the idea of ultra-luxe, pricey cava sound like a joke? It’s not to Spanish winemakers.

If you think all Iberian sparkling wines are simple, $10 cheapies to pop open for a budget-brunch drink, it’s way past time for you to recalibrate your wine radar.

There are very good value cavas at $25, but I’m talking about the long-aged examples with elegance and complexity that only recently started making a splash outside of Spain. This spring, much more expensive bottles will arrive in the U.S. and other far-flung countries; giant producer Codorníu, for example, is launching its first Ars Collecta prestige cuvées in the U.S in March. Cost: $125 to $200 a bottle.

Would you fork over Dom Pérignon-level bucks for high-end cava….?

Free Wine Fountains and Other Bold Ways Wine Will Change in 2017


December 29, 2016 — If there are two words for wine in 2017, they’re experimentation and exploration. An unquenchable thirst for the new means wines made from less well-known grapes, such as Verdejo, and unfamiliar regions in Portugal, South Africa, and Arizona will gain buzz. (Hey, a wine from the Azores made my top 10 list for 2016.) The days when wine drinkers stuck with familiar brands, easy-to-pronounce grape names, and the standard bottle are gone forever.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we’ll give up what we’ve already embraced—for example, prosecco and rosé, which have moved from fads to wine-world fixtures, with a few stumbles. More luxury versions of all, especially pink vino, are coming, which will, hopefully, put a quick end to the frosé (rosé slushie) eruption….

The Top Wines of 2016, Tasted by Critic Elin McCoy


December 21, 2016 — To come up with this list of my most memorable wines, I scrolled through the tasting notes of nearly 4,000 wines from around the globe that I sampled in 2016. The following highlights are those I marked with additional stars, which meant I was seriously impressed, seduced, or totally bowled over. The wines range from a great vintage of a Rhône classic to a savory white from emerging wine territory in the Azores to an uber-historic California cabernet.

All wowed me, but they also reflect what’s new and important in the world of wine—and what might happen next. The influence of hot new winemakers, the emergence of new regions and grapes, and the rediscovery of old classics will help shape what we drink in 2017….




The 50 Best Wines Under $50 to Buy in 2017


December 13, 2016 — Believe it or not, it’s easier than ever to buy great wines without spending a fortune. From my tastings this year, I’ve picked 50 wines that cost under $50 a bottle—and deliver both value and sheer deliciousness for the price.

To find the biggest bang for the buck, look in emerging regions and those with less buzz, such as Mendocino instead of Napa, Beaujolais instead of Burgundy.

Rather than hunting the best-known grape varieties, try such neglected classics as chenin blanc or hard-to-pronounce obscure ones, like voisinho. Entry level and second wines from the best estates almost always offer top value…..


These 10 Ultra-Luxury Champagnes Are Worth the Really Big Bucks


December 2, 2016 — Glass of bubbly in hand, I took in the panorama of Manhattan’s twinkly lights from the terrace of a posh penthouse in Chelsea for the U.S. debut of the grand 2009 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne back in October. It was the perfect elitist bling to match the view, and I happily lapped up my fair share.

Just in case you didn’t know, Cristal is a tête de cuvée (aka prestige cuvée), created in 1876 for Russian Czar Alexander II. Much, much later it became a favorite fizz of rappers. Most Champagne houses, from grandes marques such as Moët to grower-producers like Jacques Selosse, make at least one of these luxury cuvées. You spot them by their stratospheric prices, starting at about $150 and going into the thousands.

In a world happy enough with prosecco and pét-nat, are any of these pricey bubbles truly worth it? Absolutely….

The Decade’s Best New World Chardonnays Are From … Ontario?


November 28, 2016 — The Kingston, Ontario, town crier, in fur-trimmed tricorn hat and bright red coat, rang a brass bell and shouted “Hear ye, hear ye” as the lead-in to my most surprising tasting this year: “The Judgement of Kingston.”

The blind competition, held Nov. 6, pitted such top California chardonnays as Chateau Montelena against those from Prince Edward County, a little-known, newly exciting wine region on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

I was the lone American on the judging panel, but like the Canadian judges, I ranked Ontario chardonnays as No. 1 and No. 2, ahead of the oakier Napa examples. They were brilliant: light and crisp, with spiky acidity, succulent layers of lemon-lime and stony flavors, and a flinty elegance missing from the California wines….

The Five Wines Everyone at Your Thanksgiving Tables Will Enjoy


November 18, 2016 — This week I’ve been flooded with e-mails and texts from friends and readers pleading for Thanksgiving wine advice. The all-American holiday seems to cause more wine stress than any other meal, especially this year.

After a divisive election, everyone is asking for the one wine that will not only go with every dish, but also please every guest from twentysomethings to grandparents, whatever their politics.

Sorry. I’m here to tell you that no single “unity” Thanksgiving wine exists. And that’s true even if you’re hosting a feast with just your partner and your best wine-loving friends.

But take a deep breath—and relax. The five wines I’m recommending below are sure to satisfy everyone at your table….


A Sommelier for Water? Seven Ways Somms Are Moving Past Wine


November 3, 2016 — In June, five international water sommeliers judged the second water tasting competition in Guangzhou, China. They swirled, sniffed, and sipped about 70 different brands of the simplest beverage on earth and awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals.

One of them was Martin Riese, the first and only water sommelier in the U.S. who does exactly what a wine somm does, but with water—understanding its taste complexities, selecting a list of waters from around the world for a restaurant, and pairing them with food. “Most people,” he says tartly, “are doing water wrong.”

You can roll your eyes, but this is a real job, and one of many: A whole new wave of sommeliers pour beverages other than wine….


Is This Australian Red Wine Really Worth $850 a Bottle?


October 27, 2016 — At 9:15 p.m. last Thursday, I was being happily seduced by a first taste of the 2012 vintage of Penfolds Bin 95 Grange, Australia’s iconic red that’s now being released to the world along with other whites and reds in their luxury collection.

Is this deep, rich, seductive, tongue-stroking red really the star of them all?

Well, this year, the answer is a definite “Yes,” but several immensely appealing also-rans are worth trying….

See Exactly How Bordeaux’s Chateau Palmer Makes Its Top Wines

Chateau Palmer vineyard during harvest, in Margaux, France, on october 4, 2016. The Palmer vineyards cover 66 hectares in the commune of Cantenac. Most of the plots are concentrated on a plateau of thin gravel from the Güntz period on the top of the rises of the Margaux appellation. Seasonal pickers during the harvest of a plot of Merlot grapes. Photographer: Marlene Awaad / Bloomberg

October 6, 2016 — With four turreted towers and flags flying, Château Palmer looks like a small, perfect castle surrounded by a vineyard, proudly situated in the Margaux commune of Bordeaux. Right now its vines are heavy with bunches of purple merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot grapes. Harvest is here.

The grapes will go into a wine that is one of the top reds in the world: sensuous, with lush red fruit flavors and plenty of elegance. Classified a third growth in the famous 1855 classification that ranked Bordeaux châteaux from 1st to 5th “cru,” Palmer has punched above that level in the past decade in price and quality.

That’s because of young, energetic winemaker and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Duroux, who arrived in 2004 after a stint in Italy at Ornellaia and Masseto. He’s shifted the vineyard to biodynamics, an uber-organic farming method that few in Bordeaux follow. And a risky one at that. This year, despite threats of mildew and possibly botrytis, his team didn’t spray the vines and got lucky.

“2016 has been a year of strange weather: a wet spring and a dry summer with no rain for almost two months,” he says. “But this harvest season is perfect. I have a smile on my face.”

Here’s how harvest went on Oct. 4….


A Frantic, High-Stakes Day in the Life of Aaron Pott, Napa’s Wine Whisperer

Aaron Pott, a winemaker and wine making consultant, works on pushing down grape skins that had risen to the top during the fermentation process of wine from his own label at Quixote Winery in Napa, Calif., on Friday, September 30, 2016. In addition to consulting there Pott shares space with the winery and produces his own label, Pott Wines, at the location.October 5, 2016 — For top consulting winemaker Aaron Pott, harvest time in the Napa Valley starts before dawn. Every day he juggles the needs of 12 client wineries as well as making his own wines. Constantly on his cellphone, driving from one end of the valley to the other, he’s ready at any moment to change his plans, based on a new weather report or a sudden problem to solve.

Well-known consultants such as Pott are hired guns in hot demand in the Napa Valley. Their rise parallels the boom of tiny boutique producers whose owners have millions to invest but no expertise. For some, he’s the part-time winemaker, buying additional grapes, choosing barrels, making the blends; at others, such as Fisher Vineyards, he’s an adviser, helping the winemaker kick up the wines’ quality and bring out individuality.

His days are filled with tasting, looking, and decision-making. Are grapes at optimum ripeness for picking? How long should the wine macerate on the grape skins to pick up the right amount of tannin and flavor?

Here’s how his Sept. 30 starts….


See How Pét-Nat Wine Is Made, From Vine to Bottle in Just Nine Days


October 3, 2016 — This year’s harvest in New York City’s local wine region, the Hamptons, started 10 days later than usual for Channing Daughters‘ pét-nats, aka pétillant-naturels, the current bubbly wine craze. These lightly fizzy, naturally sparkling wines are made by the centuries-old méthode ancestrale, bottled before fermentation has finished.

The winery began picking white grapes for its Sylvanus pét-nat on Sept. 21. Why harvest dates vary from year to year is partly mysterious, governed by the weather over the entire growing season.

Depending on the vintage, the ever-experimental winemaker Christopher Tracy makes six or seven pét-nats in white, red, and rosé versions each year….



Why Piemonte, Tuscany’s Lovely Stepsister, Is the Perfect Wine Trip Right Now


September 30, 2016 — At harvest time in northern Italy, layers of fog drift romantically over hillside vineyards of ripened nebbiolo grapes. Those from five tiny villages near Alba, the sleepy capital of the Langhe region of Piemonte, will go into the country’s greatest red wine, Barolo.

Right now, the crisp autumn air is accented with the scents of wood smoke, pungent, fermenting wine, and the fragrant, earthy-musky aroma of white truffles, sold at an annual market in Alba during October and November.

What could be better than wine and truffles at the source?  The combo makes this region, the home of the Slow Food movement, a gourmand’s paradise, especially during harvest season…..


Meet the Hottest New Names in Napa Wine


September 27, 2016 — Scouting the latest must-taste wine projects is a serious Napa Valley sport, and I play the game every time I visit.

Earlier this year a hot tip took me up a steep, twisting, rain-slicked road to the top of Diamond Mountain, in the northern part of the valley. I bumped over the rocky soil of a just-planted vineyard in an open ATV with Jasud Estate’s passionate, bearded owner, Ketan Mody, who didn’t seem to notice we were getting soaked. Later, when we tasted his first wines in the tiny cabin where he lives, I decided, despite being cold and wet, that this was one of the valley’s most fascinating new ventures…..


Which Wine Apps Actually Help You Choose and Buy the Best Wine?


September 26, 2016 — The new mobile app “Wine Ring” sounds great: With the help of secret, patented algorithms, it can predict whether or not I’ll like a wine before I buy it.

It’s the latest in a series of apps that all swear they’ll solve your myriad wine-related problems—even ones you never knew you had.

I’m a skeptical non-techie, so I spent last week testing out Wine Ring, the just launched Omnipair (which aims to help you pick the right wine in a restaurant), and the latest versions of a dozen other wine apps to see what, exactly, they deliver. Several stood out as worth downloading; others seriously underperformed….

How To Buy Wine at Auction—and Why You Should


September 2, 2016 — Maybe you’ve been put off by the numbers. When 10 bottles of 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild go for $343,000, it can feel as though a wine auction is a wee bit … inaccessible.

Or maybe you think buying wine at auction is a stuffy process, involving sitting on uncomfortable chairs in bland boardrooms, raising paddles out of sheer boredom. Wine auctions, you figure, are not for you.

Well, you’re wrong. Wine auctions are no longer just one thing. I’ve been to raucous live sales where collectors battled for expensive bottles while sipping Krug champagne and savoring food by Daniel Boulud. But you can also bid online while hanging out at home in your sweats and eating pizza from a box, or even while flying from New York to L.A. ….





Naples Winter Wine Festival 2016: Rolls Royce Dawn takes top spot


February 1, 2016 — When bids for the first Rolls Royce Dawn reached $750,000, the wealthy crowd at the glitzy Naples Winter Wine Festival 2016 charity auction went wild, shaking tambourines and fancy rattles.

This glamour car, not a stellar wine lot, was the monetary peak last Saturday. The winning bidder Julian Movsesian, who’s from California, told me, “I came intending to get this, no matter what the price.”

Most of the live auction’s 64 lots, many offered by famous vintners from five countries, included rare wines paired with fabulous trips, sparkly jewels, lavish golf holidays or VIP sports or concert tickets.

The auction was only one piece of a glittering, non-stop $10,000 per couple weekend that included vintner dinners hosted at private local mansions, with food cooked by all-star chefs, and, for an extra dollop of cash, a panel tasting celebrating the 1976 Paris Tasting….


from LE PAN:

Beautiful or Beastly? The World’s Most Artful Wine Labels


November 6, 2015 — People buy wine with their eyes, the late Napa Valley vintner Robert Mondavi once told me. He was talking about how a label design influences what wine we choose to drink. Part symbol, part source of essential information, part marketing and sales tool, a label is like the cover of a book, a clue to what’s inside the bottle and a way to stand out on retail shelves.

A handful of prestigious wine estates take the idea further, enlisting a celebrated artist to create a painting or sketch for the label as a way of announcing that a great wine is also a work of art.

When Château Mouton Rothschild recently revealed its label for the 2013 vintage by Korean-born Lee Ufan, I began thinking about why so many wineries have copied the Bordeaux first growth’s lead. The château has spotlighted a different artist almost every year since 1945, thanks to the ambitious Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a brilliant marketer.

Now his grandson Julien Sereys de Beaumarchais, who, with his brother and sister, inherited the château last year, has taken over the art-beat task. “Our only requirement is that the artist we pick should have a global reputation comparable to that of Mouton Rothschild in the world of wine,” he explains.

Linking wine with fine art elevates it as a key part of culture – or so the thinking goes….


Sonoma’s greatest Pinot Noir vineyards


October 14, 2015 — From Hirsch Vineyards, on a high ridge of Sonoma’s coast, I can see the blue Pacific just a few miles away. The wind is strong and cold, and the vineyard rises above a blanket of fog like a sunny island.

This verdant outcropping is one of the most famous Pinot Noir sites in California. A dozen wineries have sought out its grapes in their quest to make great wines and Hirsch has long been on my shortlist of ‘grand cru’ Pinot Noir vineyards.

Notoriously finicky, the so-called heartbreak grape doesn’t fair well everywhere. California winemakers have struggled for decades to identify the spots where the grapes produce wines with the tart, crushed-cherry flavors and seductive textures you get from Pinot’s home, Burgundy.

In Sonoma, Pinot Noir paradise is in the coolest areas….


Drinking Well at 36,000 Feet

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 12.08.04 PM (2)


October 15, 2015 — This past spring, Joost Heymeijer arrived in Bordeaux with the Emirates airline wine team for a four-day marathon of tasting barrel samples. They ended up purchasing almost 1 million bottles as futures, zeroing in on 60 famed crus classés, such as Château Cheval Blanc. When the wines are ready to drink, they’ll be poured gratis in Emirates’ first and business classes.

“A long journey looks a lot better with a glass of fine Bordeaux or champagne,” says Heymeijer, who’s in charge of the airline’s in-flight catering. “That’s why we’ve spent half a billion dollars on the wine program over the past decade.” Two million bottles are aging in a warehouse in Burgundy; the rest are stashed in Dubai.

Emirates is one of many airlines adding elite wines to the list of luxury perks like massage beds and Michelin-starred cuisine as a long-term strategy to win wealthy travelers’ loyalty.



How I Learned to Love Australian Wine

awesome-australian-wines-10005024March 3, 2015 — Australia’s thick, jammy Shirazes, cheap fruity/oaky blends from industrial producers, and cellar-wizard winemaker philosophy have long shaped that country’s wine image abroad – and never appealed to me.

So what turned me into an Aussie wine fan? The stunning new wave reds and whites I tasted not long ago on visits to two cool-climate valleys. They reminded me once again how diverse a wine country Australia is and showed me what I hope is the face of its vinous future.

I found dozens of ambitious young-gun winemakers, who are ignoring fruit-bomb styles and lashings of oak for leaner, subtler wines. And instead of blending grapes from different regions, they’re embracing single vineyards….

from The World of Fine Wine:

Romancing the Grape


Issue 47 – 2015 — I admit it: I’m a wine romantic. I respond to those special landscapes in wine country, the rows of gnarled vines tended by passionate families attached to their land for generations, the ever-repeated miracle of clusters of grapes being transformed into a drink that reflects their patch of ground, the dark cellars of cobwebbed barrels that hold history in liquid form. The wines that most capture my imagination seem imbued with a kind of meaning that no other beverage can match, their tastes conjuring cultural values that often tap into deep emotions.

My first visit to a California winery, several decades ago, was just the type of wine experience that fosters that kind of romantic view…

© 2002-2018 Elin McCoy. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction of images or texts in this site without written permission.

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