Measuring the body’s response to aromas in wine

Measuring the body's response to aromas in wine

Researchers are studying people’s physiological reactions to wine aromas


Fresno State researchers are studying people’s physiological reactions to wine aromas using technology that can record facial muscle movements, the sweat on fingertips, respiration cycles and heart rate.

Winemaking involves a lot of science, but finding out whether someone likes a specific kind of wine or not often involves just one sip and a few questions.

Traditionally, consumer reaction to wine is measured with a rating system tied to a question. For example, on a scale from one to nine, how much do you like this wine?

Fresno State researchers and undergraduate students are now taking it a step further to capture actual data. They are studying people’s physiological reactions to wine aromas using technology that can record facial muscle movements, the sweat on fingertips, respiration cycles and heart rate.

Such data has not been recorded or included in the scientific literature of wine before, said Dr. Miguel Pedroza, assistant professor of enology in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State.

 “Wine is a very emotional beverage,” Pedroza said. “Historically, mankind has been attracted very heavily to wine, and we believe that this is due to the aromas which might be the link between emotions and wine. We want to understand a bit more how our body reacts.”

Several hundred aroma molecules can be found in a single bottle of wine, but people can accurately identify only about a handful through smell. The idea is to identify the smells that are perceived, in a positive or negative way, using body signals, he said.

Pedroza is collaborating with three other professors in the Food Science and Nutrition, Psychology and Computer Science departments. The two-year project is funded through the Agricultural Research Institute from the California State University system.

Testing is conducted in the sensory lab at the Jordan Agricultural Research Center, where participants are hooked up to small electrodes to record body signals and given aromas (or odors) to smell, such as rose, clove or spices.

The electrodes can detect the slightest movements, like the start of a frown, which usually indicates something one doesn’t like, or a smile indicating something one does like, said Dr. Martin Shapiro, professor of psychology, who specializes in decision making and has a physiology lab that measures responses in the body. Heart rate levels and sweat can tell about arousal levels and stress, he said.

Information collected from the aroma tests are uploaded into a database where computer science professor Dr. Hubert Cecotti helps the research team process the information.

“These people are great people to work with. They’re a lot of fun, and we have these great ideas,” Shapiro said. “I’m learning about wine, they’re learning about physiology and we’re learning ways of measuring it all.”

Dr. Carmen Licon-Cano, assistant professor in food science and nutrition, is excited to continue the work she started in her post-doctoral studies.

The goal is to create a database identifying the molecules that most often give a positive bodily reaction so “maybe the winemaker or cheesemaker or whoever is processing food can make it a target to include these specific compounds in their wine or product,” she said.

The project will be conducted in three phases with thirty participants in each phase. 

If you'd like to take part in your own "study", please join us each Saturday from 1-5 PM in our tasting room as we smell and sample some of the best wines Napa has to offer! See the calendar below!


This fully ripe Cabernet Sauvignon shows intensely aromatic tones of spiced plums, cranberry, cherry tobacco, and a note of warm toasty vanilla. On the palate the texture is immediately broad and plush, with bright, fresh berry notes and dusty mocha/dark cherry flavors both simultaneously enveloping the palate. The finish displays surprisingly resolved tannins given the overall weight of the wine, and fades to a lingering impression of fresh cherry.

Keever 2015 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
GGWC 134.99
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96 Points: An awesome bouquet of sweet cassis, cedarwood, incense, and dried flowers. As with all the wines from Celia Welch, this beauty is impeccably balanced, has medium to full-bodied richness and depth, subtle background oak, and a great finish. It shines for its purity and elegance as well as its depth of fruit and intensity. Drink it over the coming two decades or more.

Vinous 94+ Points: “The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is a very beautiful wine, especially within the context of the year. Sweet red cherry and purplish berry fruit, lavender and spice are nicely woven together in this very pretty, understated wine. Medium in body and classy, Keever’s Cabernet has so much to offer. Above all else, the 2015 has a good bit of freshness, something that is rare in this vintage.”

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Impressive White for those on a budget

The Kristy Vineyard grows on the western bench over the Salinas River on the broken sediment of ancient sea beds, fully exposed to winds off the Monterey Bay. Kristy is special because Albariño in the vineyard reaches full phenological ripeness at low potential alcohol and bright natural acidity.

FYI: Pronunciation  – Albariño (“alba-reen-yo”)

La Marea 2018 Albariño Kristy Vineyard, Monterey County
GGWC 27.99
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Pale yellow gold in color with an intense aroma of citrus zest, quince and white peaches. On the palate this very pleasant youngster offers lush citrus and bright orchard fruit flavors that become more intense towards the end.  The wine shows a nice mineral lift without being sharp in acidity.  The wine has a long and impressive finish with hints of floral notes at the tail end.  Low alcohol (13%)

The classic dish to pair with Albarino is pulpo, or octopus. Other good bets are grilled or spicy fish, shellfish, or mussels. It also goes well with roasted vegetables, and because it is generally crisp and refreshing is excellent on its own or as the first wine of a long night of drinking.

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A 95 Point Modern Marvel

Matthias Pippig is not your everyday mainstream winemaker. He’s an “artist” in the true sense of the worth.  A creator, a dreamer, a visionary, a poet, a chef, a scientist.  Mix this all together and you have Sanguis.  Matthias moved here from Germany some 30 years ago with plans to make it big in the Rock & Roll scene.  Life took a different turn, as he had to make a living and  he eventually stumbled onto the L.A. food scene.  He worked as a waiter, and in time met Manfred Krankl, of La Brea Bakery fame, which whom he’d partner and work for several years.  Krankl, created the infamous Sine Qua Non label and that inspired Matthias to go a similar route and the rest is history.  Sanguis is not a quaffing wine, but complex and sophisticated.

Those who purchased the 97 Point rated Bossman will not be disappointed with this latest “Modern“ botting!

Sanguis 2015 “The Modern” Proprietary Red, Santa Barbara
GGWC 84.99
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The Syrah-based 2015 The Modern is done in an especially opulent, flamboyant style, and yet all the elements fall into place effortlessly. Sumptuous and deep, but not at all heavy, the Modern is showing very well today. The 40% whole clusters are pretty much buried by the sheer richness of the fruit.

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “Based on Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier, the 2015 The Modern is another beautiful wine from this estate. Plums, blueberries, ground pepper, and olive tapenade notes all flow to a richly textured, medium to full-bodied beauty that has sweet tannins, loads of fruit, and impeccable balance.”

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97 Point, Full-Throttle, under $85 Must have Cab

Bob Betz MW (Master of Wine, only a few hundred of those in the whole world), has had a long career in the wine industry, going back to 1974 when he received his first “training” in France. Fast forward to 28 years at the helm of a prominent winery, and creating Betz Winery with his wife in 1997, to building a state-of-the-art winery in 2005. His path has crossed many regions of the world, and it shows in his winemaking skills!

Betz 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Pere de Famille”
GGWC 84.99
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Winemaker Notes:2015 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon shows its lineage clearly, while also expressing the conditions of the vintage. It’s a deep magenta through to the core. A knockout aroma of black currant and black cherry comes next, enhanced by bay leaf and thyme. Black olive notes share the stage with baking spices. Aromas of white flowers and red currants tease their way out with time in the glass. The palate impression is one of early integration between the oak and grape tannins. The inclusion of Merlot and Petit Verdot help create a seamless texture, and extend the length of flavor on the palate. Expect 2015 Père de Famille to be delicious young, but to offer up to two decades of cellar life.”

Jeb Dunnuck 97 Points: “The 2015 Père de Famille is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, and 4% Merlot that’s mostly from Red Mountain aged 20 months in 70% new French oak. This inky colored effort is packed and stacked, with deep blackberry and currant fruits intermixed with lots of graphite, crushed rock, and minerals as well as smoky, violets aromas and flavors. This full-bodied beauty has gorgeous purity and elegance. It needs 2-4 years of bottle age and will keep for two decades.”

Parker 96 Points: “A blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Père de Famille exhibits complex aromas of pencil lead, inky dark fruit, wild blueberries, black truffle, incense and anise. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, layered and very concentrated, with a deep core of sappy fruit, rich structuring tannins and a long, penetrating finish. This will need some time in the cellar, but it’s very complete and full of promise.”

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Inaugural Release of Maritana a.k.a. Life after Patz & Hall… The Remake… 2.0

After 29 vintages with his previous company Patz & Hall, Donald Patz moved on in May of 2017. It was a perfect moment to quit or take some time off. That’s not really his style. Donald hit the ground running on May 1, 2017 to implement a new wine brand. “I had some things I still wanted to do in the wine business. I love sharing my wines. This time being free to rethink and take my wines in a slightly different direction was exciting and refreshing!”  He created Maritana.

Maritana Chardonnay “La Rivière” 2017, Russian River Valley
GGWC 59.99
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La Rivière (meaning the River) is a  blend of 55% (Dutton Ranch) Shop Block 1967; 42% Big River Vineyard; 3% (Dutton Ranch) Hansen Hill Vineyard Chardonnay and includes – Old Wente Clone from both Hansen Hill and Big River, Clone 04 from Big River and a combination of an old Massale selection and Dijon Clone 76 at Shop Block 1967.  It is entirely barrel fermented in 90% once-used French Oak barrels and 10% new French Oak barrels – sur lies aged – 100% ML complete.   There is a lot of pear, apple, citrus to go with a gentle background note of lees and barrel spice. It’s got excellent acidity and presents a bright fully refreshing character.

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Screaming Eagle Value Cabernet

Arietta is the name for wines born of a passion for music. The name Arietta, meaning short aria or art song, expresses our belief that all great wines must sing. Both wine & song should “take flight,” in the course of which the qualities of balance, vibrancy, depth, overtones, and complexity resonate and give us a sense of exaltation.  Add ANDY ERICKSON, the longtime Screaming Eagle winemaker and you have the keys to success!

Arietta 2016 “Quartet” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley
GGWC 69.99
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Robert Parker 94 Points: “The 2016 Quartet is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Deep purple-black in color, it features youthful, vivacious black and red currants notions with an undercurrent of black plums, mulberries, Indian spices and fragrant earth plus wafts of tobacco and new leather. Full-bodied and laden with decadent black fruit and spicy layers, it has a velvety backbone and long spicy finish.”

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Explosive 6 Barrel Pinot Noir

Bohème was originally chosen for its geographical reference to the Bohemian Highway that runs through the town of Occidental, on the Sonoma Coast.  The road’s name arose in the late 1800s when San Francisco’s Bohemian Club followed this summertime route to a grove in the redwoods.  In 2000 Chuck Wagner (owner of Caymus) asked Kurt Beitler (Boheme’s winemaker/owner) to manage his Pinot noir vineyard near Occidental.  Some years later he had an epiphany about the transformative wines that surrounded him and he decided that right then the Sonoma Coast became the place of inspiration for Boheme winery.

Bohème 2015 Pinot Noir Stuller Vineyard Sonoma Coast
GGWC 57.99
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The Boheme 2015 Pinot Noir from the venerable Stuller Vineyard offers up pleasant flavors and aromatics of red fruits and white pepper that explode quietly on the palate as it develops. The  medium to full body is laced with lush and bright flavors of red stone fruits revealing elements of cranberry, pomegranate and wild strawberry that dance along the palate.  The wine finishes with lots of flavors and silky-grained tannins.

Footnote: Alc. 13.4% .  Only 144 cases (6 barrels) were produced

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Napa, Then and Now

Napa, Then and Now

By Tim Gaiser, MS

Summer 1976 and the Paris Tasting. The repeal of prohibition was just 43 years before. Dry table wines had only been outselling fortified sweet jug wines in the U.S. since 1968. For most Americans, fine wine—and fine dining for that matter–was about as remote as the Dog Star. The very thought that California wines could ever share the stage with top French bottlings seemed to be fantasy. The tasting changed everything, with California wines judged superior to Grand Cru Burgundy and classified growth Bordeaux by a panel of French judges. The results sent shock waves through the industry–and far beyond. 

I was an undergrad studying music at the University of New Mexico at the time. I clearly remember the tasting making national news (all four channels!) as well as the cover of Time Magazine. Even then I knew that for whatever reason, it was a huge deal.

At this seminal moment, writer Robert Benson wanted to find out more about the state of the California wine industry post-Paris tasting. From 1976 to early 1977 he interviewed several dozens of the state’s top winemakers. The result was his book, Great Winemakers of California. Published in the fall of 1977, Great Winemakers is the most accurate snapshot of the California industry in the ‘70’s I’ve ever found. Benson’s interviewees were essentially a list of the who’s who of California wine at the time: Andre Tchelistcheff, Paul Draper, Joe Heitz, Robert Mondavi, the legendary Martin Ray just months before his passing, and over 30 more.

Benson’s book is delightfully informative. He conducted all the interviews in person and later transcribed them. Interview questions ranged from general industry topics to the nuts and bolts of winemaking including brix levels, fermentation regimens, fining and filtration techniques, and laws concerning place names and varietal labeling.

In reading the interviews, I was struck by how distinct each individual was—not to mention their wines. Many came to the industry from completely unrelated fields and were amateurs learning on the job. Others, and Joe Heitz of Heitz Wine Cellars immediately comes to mind, had enology degrees, extensive training, and experience at multiple wineries. Regardless, all possessed what can only be called a pioneer-like spirit and the drive to make their respective wines the very best, while trying to establish the reputation of the California industry as world class. Here are some of the most notable topics from the interviews as well as memorable quotes. I hope you find them as fascinating as I did.

Climate vs. soil: many interviewed said that climate played a far more important role in quality wine than soil or location. However, one notable outlier was Dick Graff of Chalone, who said, “The whole idea of soil vs. climate in California was decided in favor of climate many years ago by professors Amerine and Winkler (U.C. Davis) for the simple reason that the factor of climate produces differences in grapes which are measurable in the laboratory. Now when you go to Europe, it’s universally agreed, from centuries of experience, that soil is very important and ours is about the only limestone deposit in a place that’s arable and has the right climate for grapes.”

Big vs small wineries and quality: depending on who was being asked, both small and large wineries had the potential to make top quality wine. Rick Forman, then winemaker at Sterling Vineyards, was convinced that smaller was better saying, “Some very good wines can be made in quantity. But wines of style, of breed and character, can only be made by hand in small batches.” However, the venerable Robert Mondavi believed just the opposite. Ever the politician, Mondavi was quoted, “I’d say that 95% of the time the finest wines are made by the smaller wineries. But there are exceptions to the rules. I’ve concluded you can produce wines in reasonable quantities that are equal to those of the smallest producer. If you have climate, soil, grape varieties grown in the proper location, and you add dedication, desire, the will to train your people, and the proper facilities, you can duplicate what the smallest producers can do.” 

Varietal percentage law: at the time of the book’s release, federal law required that varietal wines only contain a minimum of 51% of the grape stated on the bottle. Shocking, but true. The rest could be anything else available. Some thought the law fine as it was. Others wanted the minimum percentage raised to at least 60%, if not 75% percent. Martin Ray’s wines were 100% varietal. No surprise that he was quick to say, “I think it should be thrown out, for god’s sake!” Karl Wente of Wente Vineyards was a little more forgiving saying, “I’d like to see it go to 60%. I like the opportunity for a little blending with the Grey Riesling, Pinot Noir, and sometimes the Petite Sirah.” If not familiar, Wente’s Grey Riesling (Trousseau Gris) was one of the most popular white wines in the U.S. at the time.

Vintage dating and Christian Brothers: One of the interviewees was Brother Timothy of Christian Brothers, who had been working at the winery since 1928—almost 50 years at the time of the book’s release. With multiple winemaking facilities in Napa and beyond, Christian Brothers was easily the largest winery of any included in the book at well over a million cases per annual production. Brother Timothy strongly believed that quality wine could be made on a mass scale. Also—and this is striking—that blending vintages to achieve a consistent “product” as he called it, was far superior to vintage-dated wines.

Use of centrifuge: proved to be a controversial topic. Those that could afford them used them, and proclaimed their superiority in clarifying must before fermentation or the wine before bottling. Richard Arrowood of Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma said, “Let me tell you the reason most people don’t have centrifuges: they are terribly expensive. But the improved quality of the finished product justifies the expense for us.” On the flip side, smaller wineries without the capital or space were against their use, citing that they stripped the must/wine of important solids and character. To point, when asked if he used centrifuges in the winery, Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars said, “No. I don’t know if I’d use one either. I’m not sufficiently impressed that it improves white wines.”

Cultured yeast only: cultured yeast was universally used. Natural ferments were viewed somewhere between mysterious and an anathema to be avoided at all costs.

Use of European place names: a topic of great controversy. Practically every winery included in the book had a lower tier cash-flow line of wines labeled Chablis, Burgundy, Claret, or the like. Most accepted it as the norm. Joe Heitz of Heitz Wine Cellars strongly defended the practice of using place names saying: “The American Indians didn’t start bottling Burgundy. It was Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Germans who came to this country. They brought their cuttings from home, and said, ‘Ah, we’re in California now, this is California Burgundy, or this is Rhine wine.’ It was a natural transition; we didn’t suddenly become a civilized nation and decide to go into the wine business by stealing European place names.” Others condemned the practice of using European names including Andre Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyards who said, “It is very false for us to steal the appellations of Europe. I accepted it with the bleeding of my heart, but it was a necessity, a compromise I accepted with tears.”

Hand vs. mechanical harvesting: at the time of the book’s release, mechanical harvesting was anything but common practice. And the quality of the machines was definitely not what it is today. However, Donald Alexander of Mirassou Vineyards was convinced of their use saying, “Mechanical harvesting has to be better than picking by hand. We capture the flavor by crushing right in the field.” Martin Ray completely disagreed saying, "Unless your land is level, there is no equipment to take care of it. Anyway, you can't ever get satisfactory results with mechanical picking of the grapes." 

Andre Tchelistcheff

Variety of grapes planted: one of things that becomes quickly apparent in Benson’s book is the number and variety of grapes planted. Varietal bottlings of Colombard, Grey Riesling, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot St. George, Barbera, and Alicante Bouchet were regularly available in tasting rooms—in Napa Valley. Phylloxera would soon change that. More on that below.

The Paris Tasting: without exception, everyone expressed excitement about the results of the tasting. Benson’s final question in every interview asked if California wines were better than their European counterparts. Most said an emphatic “yes” with the few outliers—citing Burgundian varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—saying, “close but not yet.”

​The diminutive giant: though many of Benson’s questions were topics of debate, no one argued the monumental importance of Andre Tchelistcheff. Many of those who contributed to the book either worked directly with him or used him as a consultant not to mention as a source of knowledge and experience. Everyone, without exception, praised him to the heavens. No mystery that Tchelistcheff’s interview is by far my favorite in the book. Andre’s depth of knowledge about Napa Valley was remarkable—far beyond anyone else at the time. When asked a simple question about planting appropriate varieties in specific places in the valley, he responded with a lengthy tutorial on the Napa Valley’s micro climates and soil types, citing the most appropriate rootstocks and grape varieties for each. His knowledge of winemaking techniques for various styles of wine was also unmatched.

Quick story: I once had a chance to meet Andre—but didn’t. In 1988 I was at a trade tasting at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in the city. I saw the diminutive Tchelistcheff (not much over five feet tall) with a group of people and felt the urge to go over, say hi, and introduce myself. But I was a mere bartender at the time and let the moment pass. I’ve always regretted it.

The World Changed

My first trip to Napa Valley was in the summer of 1983, about six months before Carla and I moved to California. Highway 29 was lined with wineries whose labels I’d seen on wine lists the previous two years while working in restaurants in Ann Arbor during grad school. The valley and its wines seemed brimming with life, potential, and possibility. Then came phylloxera and everything changed. In the span of a decade most of the vineyards in Northern California were decimated and had to be replanted to the cost of $20,000 or more an acre. Many smaller vineyard and winery owners simply couldn’t afford to replant and quietly sold their properties and faded into oblivion.

Replanting also changed varietal demographics and overall wine character of the valley dramatically—forever. The combination of high cost of land (yes, even then) and expense of replanting practically forced most owners to choose grapes that were not only in high market demand, but would also would fetch the highest possible tonnage prices. In other words, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot. But perhaps the greatest impact of this mass replanting–and something rarely spoken or written about–was that the plant material completely changed. New low vigor native rootstocks and different clones replaced what had come before, most notably the move away from using the AXR1 rootstock that had been so susceptible to phylloxera. The new rootstock-clone combinations required longer hang time for the fruit to reach physiological maturity, and longer hang time made for higher sugar content in the grapes and ultimately higher alcohol levels in the finished wines. Gone forever were the sub-13% Cabernet Sauvignons of the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and early ‘80’s, with the new wines weighing in at 14-14.5% alcohol by volume and beyond. The new style of wines was debated by press and consumers alike, with critics and the use of numerical scores blamed for the new higher alcohol trend. But in the end, it was the different plant material that was responsible for the change in wine style. As always, nature bats last.

Final Thoughts

With the passing of time it’s all too easy to forget where we come from. There is so much about California wine that we take for granted simply because it’s been around for decades and become an almost unseen part of the fabric of our professional lives. One of the most important take-aways from Benson’s book for me is the need to keep California wine history on our radar. Further, to maintain an intense curiosity about where the industry came from, and to laud–and never forget–the first generations who put California on the world wine map. Our industry would not exist without the likes of Martin Ray, Andre Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Paul Draper, Joe Heitz, Warren Winiarsky, Dick Peterson and many more. They are the reason why the California wines of today are considered among the greatest anywhere.

You can read more from Tim Gaiser on his blog at

Virbrant Napa Sauv Blanc, just in time for Easter or Passover!

Scarlett Wines is a family operation owned by the McGah family, who are most notably known for co-founding the Oakland Raiders. Representing over four generations of wine growers, the family’s personal touch can be felt from the soil to the glass. The winery previously operated under the name McGah Family Cellars and rebranded in 2015 in honor of its flagship wine, Scarlett, which is named after the founder’s daughter.

Scarlett 2016 Sauvignon Blanc “Estate” Rutherford, Napa Valley
GGWC 29.99
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Fresh and sublime as the summer sunlight, Scarlett SB is a medium to full-bodied wine that instantly captures the senses with aromas of honeysuckle, Meyer lemons and lime blossoms.  This captivating Cali rendition showcases a creamy and smooth mid-palate framed by perfectly integrated acidity carrying the Scarlett trademark freshness throughout the finish.  This fabulous SB is the perfect compliment to the delightful spring and summer seasons, ready for sipping by a sparkling pool or on a sunlight porch.  Serve slightly chilled and pair with hearty dishes crafted with delectable cuts of fish, chicken or duck to create a match made in heaven.

Winemaker Notes: “In the glass a vibrant light blonde color greets the eyes and the palate displaying finesse, a powerful creamy texture and amazing mouth feel while still retaining  a brisk level of acidity.  The finish offers honeyed accents to the succulent pear and apricot flavors which flow into a finish that is precise and refined.  Drink this wine with your favorite light fair or just enjoy a glass with your friends and family on a nice summer day.”

Also check out these other great Mike Smith Wines:


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