Want Your Wine To Taste Better? Add Salt, Pepper and Fat!

Want Your Wine To Taste Better? Add Salt, Pepper and Fat

By John Mariani
in Forbes.com

It was an epiphany, though not the first of its kind, when I happened to taste a grain or two of coarse salt on some softshell crabs before I had a sip of Vermentino, which, tasted on its own, would have been a pleasant example of its kind. But those two grains of coarse salt  sparked my palate and increased the flow of juices so that when the wine washed in over my tongue, it seemed to burst with flavor, definitely enhancing the wine and, of course, the meaty softshell crabs.

There’s an old saying that salt makes its presence felt only in its absence, which is not to say, the more salt the better. Of recent discovery is how a pinch of salt in caramel or chocolate boosts flavor immensely, so that it’s almost become ubiquitous in such confections.

The same thing happened years ago when I served my younger son a thick ribeye that I’d seasoned with coarse salt then charred on a charcoal grill to a beautiful crust while retaining its medium-rare redness within. He took a sip of a big California Cabernet, put down his fork and exclaimed, “Dad, this steak is fantastic! What did you do to it?” It was a very good piece of beef, to be sure, but the addition of that coarse salt before cooking and a dash afterwards had a vivid effect on its bloody minerality and sweet fat that really was worthy of my son’s exclamation.

Black pepper, though a more pungent palate piercer, has much the same effect, though more so with red wines, which is why the French classic steak au poivre, with a lot of coarsely ground pepper in a cream sauce, is such a powerful carrier of flavor with a sturdy red wine like Cahors. The same goes for the Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe, in which the pasta is coated (not really sauced) with coarsely ground pecorino cheese and black pepper, which gives a tremendous boost to both a modest red Italian wine like Valpolicella or Bardolino, as well as enriching the complexity of a Southern Italian red like Taurasi or Nero d’Avola. The salt and fat of the cheese and the punch of the black pepper marry in an elemental way.

Which brings me to the subject of fat and wine drinking. Some years ago I was giving a tasting of expensive Tuscan red wines like Ornellaia and Sassicaia, at a wine exposition in Florida to be held at one o’clock. I had driven three hours from another city, without benefit of breakfast, and was ravenous when I got to my hotel, just minutes from the expo. I immediately ordered a rare hamburger and French fries, and when they arrived, I wolfed them down and dashed to the tent where I was leading the tasting.

The flavors of my quick lunch were still on my palate, not least the fat of the beef and the oil of the fries, in addition to the salt and pepper I added. And when I began tasting those wines, all of which I knew well from drinking them over many years, the flavors exploded in my mouth—a reaction I told my audience about. It was as if I’d never really tasted these wines before! The simple gustatory fact is, fat carries flavors, especially those of wine grapes.

As everyone knows, the sense of smell is the one that allows one to appreciate myriad sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors, and fat and pepper have their own olfactory stimulants. So the combinations build upon one another.

And what about red peppers in various forms, whole, dried or powdered? I certainly consume them all the time with all sorts of cuisines—Mexican and Asian, certainly—but I always prefer beer. Reams have been written about pairing wines with Indian vindaloo or Sichuan beef or Yucatan chile, but the very characteristic that makes such pepper condiments so attractive—their heat—in such dishes, along with distinct added spices and seasonings as varied as cumin, coriander, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and hoisin are too strong to marry well with any white wine, however refreshing, while most red wines’ flavors are blasted into the background under the assault of a habanero pepper. Tabasco is not kind to wine. (Incidentally, I swabbed a little very hot harissa condiment on those softshells, which not only ruined the wine but detracted from any delicacy the crustaceans had.)

The reason I wish to emphasize these elements of mutual enhancement is because far too many wine tastings take place in offices, winery labs or homes without any accompanying food besides a cracker. (If you’re going to serve a cracker make it a Saltine.)

Such exercises insist on tasting the wines purely on their own to detect their virtues and defects, which is fair enough. But without fat, salt and pepper, they are nothing more than exercises, like testing out a new car by running it in a garage rather than out on the road, where one can appreciate its ability to give pleasure and manifest where there might be problems.

Were I to hold a wine tasting, at the very least there would be some mild cheeses on the table, along with salt and pepper grinders of small, individual dishes containing coarse salt and ground pepper that my guests can put their fingers in, then on their tongues. It makes a world of difference, not least because drinking wine without food is like learning the tango and never going out to dance with someone.

Why not join us at our next tasting? Let’s talk wine and taste some of Napa’s best! Most Saturdays from 1-5 pm in our tasting room at 2337 Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. See the full tasting schedule at GoldenGateWineCellars.com


I just tasted the latest Bevan wines last week, and was speechless how good they were, this young!  The wines were opened (and decanted) at 11 AM, and I tasted them at 1 PM. One after another they were a WAW (What A Wine)!  Unfortunately production levels are as always small, so not a large amount was allocated to me, but I am very excited to share that the following highly rated wines from Bevan Cellars arrived in my warehouse.

Bevan 2017 Ontogeny  Proprietary Red, Napa Valley – 99 Points
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Jeb Dunnuck 99 Points: “While the 2017 Ontogeny Red Wine is the least expensive wine in the lineup, it comes from all the single vineyards and in 2017, it doesn’t give an inch with regard to quality. In fact, it might be my favorite in the lineup. Awesome notes of blueberries, cranberries, blood orange, white flowers, and liquid violets all flow to a full-bodied 2017 that has purity, richness, balance, and length in spades. It’s another sexy, straight-up heavenly wine from Russell Bevans that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.”

Winemaker Notes: “Ontogeny is pure bloody hell, showcasing the best each of the vineyards has to offer. A fruit profile that everyone can appreciate, with massive density and supple tannins. It is a blend from my big boy vineyards.  The wine is absolutely dynamic, with linear intensity, great balance and good acidity making it very food-friendly offering great power and concentration – a classic Ontogeny.

Bevan 2017 Tench EE Red (Cabernet Blend) – 99 Points
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Jeb Dunnuck 99 Points: “The 2017 Tench Vineyard EE Red Wine one of the few wines that has the potential to match what was achieved in 2016. A total thriller, it has awesome notes of plums, blueberries, earth, chocolate, and espresso, with even a hint of truffle developing with time in the glass. Deep, dense, shockingly powerful and layered, yet still light and balanced on the palate, with sweet tannins, it should drink nicely right out of the gate yet age well.”

Winemaker Notes: “The Tench Vineyard, EE, Red Wine is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, and the blend gives us another layer of complexity and sophistication. This wine is suave and dapper… think Mr. Darcy in a bottle.

Bevan 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard Oakville, Napa Valley 97 Points
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Jeb Dunnuck 97 Points: “The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard, which was tasted as a barrel sample, is a lifted, sexy wine that has exotic notes of blueberries, spring flowers, peach pit, and liquid violets. With a touch of chocolaty oak, full-body, terrific tannin quality, and a great finish, it’s going to match 2016,  it’s a thrilling 2017 barrel sample that’s loaded with charm.”

Winemaker Notes: “The Tench Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the most massive of our Tench wines. It is truly a beast! Massive but seductive, this wine is perfect for a day when you need to treat yourself to something with hips and curves.”

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4 Barrel, 95 Point “Sleeper” Cabernet

Chuy Ordaz has hand tended the Montecillo Vineyard for over 40 years. These old Cabernet Sauvignon vines seem to nod in respect towards Chuy when he walks by them or when he stops to tuck a shoot or remove a leaf. Chuy remarked about the 2016 vintage, “2016 is classic Montecillo – very good year, very good wine”.

Camino 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Montecillo Vineyard”
GGWC 64.99 net
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Winemaker Notes: “The character of these 55-year-old vines will not be deterred. Clinging to the hillside terraces high in the hills of Sonoma, the wild mountain personality and regal nature beg your attention. Concentrated and brooding in the glass, the wine is perfumy with lavender, violets, and graphite. The bold, dark fruit is emboldened by the fine, chalky tannins and the persistent mineral finish. Always bottled unfined and unfiltered after nearly 2 years in barrel.”

Robert Parker 95 Points: “The Camino Cabernet Sauvignon Montecillo from Moon Mountain emerges from a vineyard planted in 1964 on St. George rootstock, hence it was never prone to phylloxera. The vineyard is planted between 800 and 2,000 feet in elevation. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon has a fabulous nose of charcoal, barbecue smoke, blackberry and cassis with some forest floor and underbrush. It is a big, juicy, concentrated and beautifully textured Cabernet. It is a major sleeper of the vintage, and can be drunk over the next 20-25 years.”

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Screaming Eagle Winemaker’s Stunning White!

Winery Notes: “The Arietta White Wine “On the White Keys” is a blend of hillside Sauvignon Blanc and old vine Semillon. We ferment and age the White Keys for nine months in a combination of new and second-use oak and stainless steel barrels. The label incorporates the manuscript of the Arietta movement from Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Opus 111. The key to the name “On the White Keys” is the melody of the Arietta theme, which is played in its entirety on the white keys of the piano.

Arietta 2017 “On the White Keys” Proprietary White Blend
GGWC 69.99
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Tasting Notes by winemaker Andy Erickson:On the White Keys is crafted in tribute to our favorite white wines from Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers, the goal to produce a wine with great structure, depth, and ageability. The 2017 vintage is no exception. A blend of 64% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sauvignon Musque, and 11% Semillon, the wine presents a vivid spectrum of aromas and flavors, delivered in high definition. Candied citrus peel, flint, lemon grass and Thai basil are only a few of the descriptors that come to mind as the wine opens in the glass. This aromatic intensity is matched by the wine’s brilliant gold color. On the palate, the wine is nothing if not incredibly generous, fresh and energetic, having a near-electric quality. Flavors of bergamot, lemon curd, and vanilla bean are held together by an impressive lattice of phenolic strength and complex oak tannin and toast.”

Vinous 95 Points:Arietta’s 2017 On the White Keys is ample and creamy in the glass, yet also has quite a bit of supporting structure and overall freshness as well. Lemon confit, white flowers, apricot and chamomile add nuance to a host of Sauvignon Blanc-driven varietal flavors. The interplay of richness and vibrancy is simply compelling. In 2017, the blend is 89% Sauvignon Blanc and 11% Semillon from Farina, Sonoma Mountain and Hyde, all done in a mix of stainless steel and neutral oak.

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Grand-Cru from one of California’s Best Single Vineyard Sites!

“Site” is a new venture from  Jeremy Weintraub (longtime Seavey winemaker).  He sources from the best “Sites” in California.  This latest Grenache is just a good example.  The 2015 Site is sourced from the Larner Vineyard.  The Larner Vineyard would be considered a “Grand Cru” if it was located in France.

Accolades: “Top Grand Cru Vineyards in California by Wine Spectator ~ Top Five California Vineyards by Wall Street Journal ~ Top 25 Vineyards in the World by Wine & Spirits ~ California’s Best Single Vineyards by Wine Enthusiast ~ Top 5 Vineyards You Can Trust by Pinot Report ~ Ten Best Vineyards by Food & Wine, etc.”

Site 2015 “Larner Vineyard” Grenache, Santa Barbara
GGWC 54.99
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Brilliant ruby. Ripe red berries, candied flowers and Asian spices on the highly fragrant nose. Juicy and expansive on the palate, offering alluringly sweet raspberry, cherry and boysenberry flavors that show a refreshingly spicy edge on the back half. Rich yet energetic in style, featuring seamless texture and very good focus. Closes on an emphatic red fruit note, delivering soft, rounded tannins and outstanding persistence.

Jeb Dunnuck 94 Points: “I always love the Grenache from this team and the 2015 Grenache Larner Vineyard is no exception. Youthful, backward and concentrated, it’s going to require patience, but has tons of potential in its darker fruits, black raspberry, spice and licorice. Medium to full-bodied, concentrated and structured, forget bottles for 3-4 years and enjoy over the following decade. This cuvée is 100% Grenache that saw 15% whole clusters and 18 months in 500-Liter neutral puncheons.”

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In 1972 Jack and Mary Novak purchased the orginal “Spottswoode” property  In 1977, when Mary Weber Novak’s husband passed away unexpectedly, leaving her with five young children and a newly replanted vineyard, she became one of the first women to run a major Napa Valley winegrowing estate. In the years since, through her hard work, insight and perseverance, she has established Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery as one of the valley’s great family-owned wineries and first growth-caliber properties.  The first commercial wine was produced in 1982 by Tony Soter (Etude & Soter wines).  Many other great winemakers have passed the review, all making highly rated wines from this great estate. Today the winery is run by the daughters Beth & Lindy.

The 2016 Vintage is the 35th release from this venerable winery

Spottswoode 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Napa Valley
GGWC 239.99
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Robert Parker 100 Points: “Deep garnet-purple in color, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is still very tight and youthful, slowly unfurling to reveal a multifaceted wine with tons of black, blue and red fruit sparks—plums, cherries, black currants and red currants—with dark chocolate, cedar chest, black tea and red roses in the background plus wafts of pencil lead and prosciutto. Medium-bodied and firmly textured by superbly ripe, grainy tannins, it has a fantastic core of intense, complex layers, finishing on an edifying mineral note. Wow!”

Jeb Dunnuck 100 Points: “A perfect wine is the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, composed of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot, which is a classic blend from this incredible estate. Sporting a deep purple color as well as an extraordinary bouquet of ultra-pure creme de cassis, blueberries, camphor, scorched earth, and licorice, with subtle background oak, it hits the palate with a full-bodied, deep, powerful texture that carries sweet tannins and blockbuster length. With a stacked mid-palate, straight-up awesome purity of fruit, and a huge finish, it’s as classic and brilliant as it gets. Reminding me of the 2013 with its pure yet backward style, give bottles 4-5 years of bottle age and it will keep for 3-4 decades. Hats off to the team at Spottswoode for this legend in the making!”

Winemaker Notes: “Raw, dynamic, and so expressive! This wine is glowing with personality, vivacity, and youthful exuberance. The palate has a rustic charm and sense of umami carefully balanced with notes of blueberry, blackberry, and resinous pine forest. Beautifully expressive now, the 2016 Estate Cabernet is a wine that will only improve with time in the cellar to integrate and mature into its full epic potential.”

Also check out:

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98 Point, Paul Lato’s “Rhone” Selections JUST ARRIVED – THEY ARE STUNNING & LIMITED!

The much-anticipated releases of Paul Lato’s fall “Rhone” releases (Syrah & Grenache) have arrived. As always, this is the smallest part of Paul’s Portfolio and sell out even faster than his “Burgundy” offering (a.k.a. Chardonnay & Pinot Noir)

Paul Lato 2017 “Il Padrino” Syrah, Bien Nacido, Santa Maria Valley
GGWC 94.99
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Mix & match with other Lato OK

This has been one of the best California Syrahs for years in a row.  If Paul Lato was located in the Rhone Valley, he would put many of the big names to shame!  In a recent tasting Paul’s Il Padrino bottling beat out 100 point wines like Alban’s Reva, and others!  I only get 5 cases of this gem, so jump on it NOW, as this might be the year of a 100 Point Syrah from Lato! This wine gets  an average 95-98 points every release!

Jeb Dunnuck – 98 Points: “The Paul Lato Syrah il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard is also inky colored and has a distinct marine-like character in its smoked black fruits, crushed rock, iodine, and peppery herb aromas and flavors. It’s deep, rich and concentrated, yet stays fresh and balanced. As always, it’s in the same qualitative ballpark as the Larner Vineyard yet has a singular, distinctive character.”

Paul Lato says: “Once again, Bien Nacido Syrah produces one of our most complex and intriguing wines, creating harmony between many worlds of flavor. Ripe blueberry, lavender, incense, and leather all emerge as a symphony of aromas from this full-bodied, structured wine. Deep, rich, fabulously concentrated, and pure on the palate, it stays tight and compact, with notable precision and length. Whether it’s a few minutes in the glass, or several years in the cellar, this wine becomes increasingly layered with time.”

Paul Lato 2017 Syrah “Cinematique” Larner Vineyard, Santa Ynez 97 Points
GGWC 89.99
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This is in my book “THE” best Cinematique to-date bar-none! I believe strongly that is equal, to the great 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2008 and 2007 vintages

Jeb Dunnuck 97 Points: “The inky colored Paul Lato Syrah Cinematique Larner Vineyard checks in as 100% Syrah that spent 20 months in 60% new barrels. From a site in the Ballard Canyon AVA, its inky purple color is followed by fabulous notes of blackberries, melted licorice, smoked earth, and bacon fat. Deep, full-bodied, multi-dimensional, and layered, it’s going to benefit from short-term cellaring and shine for a decade or more. It’s certainly the sexier and more hedonistic of the two Syrahs.”

Paul Lato says: “This Blockbuster Syrah has a larger-than-life presence in the glass. Plums, blackberries, blueberries, ground pepper, and olive notes all flow to a powerful, full-bodied Syrah that has a luxurious, layered character. Fine and elegant tannins lead to a long, seamless finish, a true expression of the beautiful 2017 vintage. After you finish this bottle, you’ll be asking for an encore.”

Paul Lato 2017 Grenache “Ora Labore” Bien Nacido 97 Points
GGWC 74.99
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Mix & match with other Lato OK

Paul Lato says: “This wine has a seductive nose of kirsch, potpourri and white pepper with touches of garrigue and dried lavender. The palate is full-bodied, rich and concentrated with notes of blackberry preserves and layers of spice. With a focused style and a structured backbone, this wine finishes with smooth flavors of cranberry and vanilla. Lay this bottle down for 2 to 3 years and it will truly shine.”

Tasting Notes:  A big, bold Grenache that offers lots of cassis and black raspberry fruit to go with underlying notes of wet gravel, peppery herbs, licorice and pepper. Full in body, seamless, elegant and multi-dimensional on the palate, with a weightless mouthfeel, it’s acidity is nicely integrated and it never puts a foot wrong. Given its balance and overall purity, it’s a killer drink today, but it will evolve beautifully.



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The best ways of choosing and serving rosé wine

The best ways of choosing and serving rosé wine

By Anne Krebiehl MW
from The Buyer

It is the right time of year to re-think your rosé strategy

They shimmer at al fresco tables across the country: shades of rosé from the palest tinge to lurid pink and every nuance in between. Rosés are an opportunity: for refreshment, for food-pairing and for revenue. So why is rosé the most frequent victim of wine list tokenism?

Rosé has undoubted visual appeal but that does not mean it should be taken less seriously or chosen less carefully than any other wine. People want to drink pink – the better your rosé fits your purposes, the more successful it will be. Make sure you choose well – here’s how:

Know your business and your product:

You need to know the answers to all of these questions to home into the best rosé/rosés for you: Know your or your client’s outlet: is it casual but eclectic, upmarket but traditional, ethnic but affordable, trendy but rural, classic but neighbourhood, etc.? Is there someone to explain the wine or does it have to sell itself from a list?

If you know the answers to the questions above you know who your clients are, what their spend is, how adventurous or safe your choices can be, whether price is everything or whether you can get clients to trade up: remember that giving value is the most important thing at any price point.

Once you know your business make sure you know the product, too: many – even in the trade– still say their eyes glaze over the moment anyone mentions winegrowing or –making – but this is your product and you need to understand it, just as you need to understand your business. Being in possession of the relevant facts enables you to understand in which situation the wine will work – and no, this does not include geeky stuff about rootstock, geology or pruning. For pink you need to know that:
There are two kinds of rosé:

  • Directly pressed wines
  • Macerated wines

Rosé gets its colour from the grape skins, just like red wine. It is the time of contact with the skins that determines how deep the colour is. How long that takes depends on the grape variety. However, it is not only colour that comes from the grape skins, but also some tannins and more importantly, flavour precursors. For directly pressed wines the only skin contact is the time they have in the short hours it takes to complete a press cycle in a pneumatic press.

Macerated wines have more time: depending on grape variety and quality, they have a few hours or overnight. Both methods can make great wines – the difference is one of style not quality.

The paler the better?

The logical conclusion would be to assume that the palest wines have the shortest maceration – however, many rather pale wines have been macerated to ensure there is enough flavour and some tannic structure and fined later to get rid of excess colour so that the rosé is elegantly pale, has the right kind of Provençal look but enough fruit flavour not to be boring. Not easy but something that can be done successfully.

Unsurprisingly, AOC Provence allows both direct pressing and maceration. Directly pressed wine will almost work like a slightly more full-bodied white: if you do a roaring trade in sashimi or seafood platters, this might well be the choice for you. It also works well as a wine just to be sipped without food.

Direct pressing also is a good idea for wineries with red grapes that are barely ripe. Here, direct pressing avoids any green flavours from unripe skins. Another reason for direct pressing might be red grapes from young vines that do not yet have enough concentration to make serious reds. This is often the case with Pinot Noir and can result in very fruity, fresh, fun wines at great value.

There also are different kinds of macerated wines: some are made from grapes that are purposely grown for rosé, macerated to extract colour, flavour and some tannin, pressed and fermented. Some appellations, like DO Navarra, known for its lusciously fruity rosados, prescribe this. If left unfined, they come in beautiful, beguiling shades of pink.

Other macerated rosés are the drawn-off juice from red-wine ferments, known as ‘saignée’ they are bled off to concentrate the resulting red wine. But don’t frown on them: if this is a rosé drawn from an exquisite red ferment, of fully ripe, low-yielding but flavoursome grapes, you are in for a treat. Its antithesis would be a bled-off wine from a hot ferment of over-cropped, overripe red grapes.

An awful lot of such contingency product rosé sloshes about – so choose carefully. In any case, macerated wines tend to be the ones with more flavour and body, they cover the entire spectrum from slender to full and can be chosen with different foods in mind: they work in place of fuller whites and lighter reds.

How to choose:

The most important bit: now you know what you need, choose with care. Here are some useful markers that should be a given at ANY price point:

Colour: While the intensity of the colour is no clue to quality, the hue of pink gives you clues about age and freshness. Whether pale or lurid, the colour should still be in the purple not orange spectrum of pink.
Aroma: You are looking for appetising aroma: the wine should smell and taste fresh even at room temperature – this is a great stress test for both whites and rosés.

Balance: The palate should have crisp acidity and the slightest hint of tannin. There should at least be some length. As long as the wine has sufficient acidity a smidgeon of residual sugar, as little as 3-4g/l, can act as an enhancer of fruit flavours. Even slightly sweeter rosés work well; sufficient acidity is the deciding factor here.

Age: Unless you are dealing with really top-notch rosé that can take a bit of age you should stick to the most recent vintage and avoid any special cut-price deals when someone’s trying to dump last year’s overstock. Stick to these rules and you’ll be able to sniff out great pink wines from across the globe.
One or more?

Offer choice: it  allows people to trade up – but  you have to give them a good reason to.

By the glass: Of course! That’s a no-brainer!

What else to consider?

Grape variety: Grenache with its full-fruited berry and cherry notes and its thin skins is the most popular staple for rosé wines: it shines with fruit and easy flavour and gets, depending on country, more backbone and spice from Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre or Tempranillo.

Sometimes white grapes are added to the press for extra freshness and acidity: Vermentino, also known as Rolle, often comes into its own here. These wines are fruity, easy to like and lovely to look at – they need little hand-selling. If you have a Carmenère rosé you might get the tell-tale leafiness of this variety, if you get Cabernet Sauvignon rosé, you might get some more backbone…

Appellations: There is Chinon Rosé or Sancerre Rosé so if there is someone to hand-sell, this can be a useful hook: it has the comfort of a familiar name: same but different.

Popularity: There is Pinot Grigio rosé – make use of its popularity and familiarity. Some of it is Pinot Grigio that has been macerated on its pink skins for hours to have a lovely coppery colour, Italians refer to this as Pinot Grigio ramato, even though ambitious winemakers can do this across the world. Other PG rosés have some red grapes in the blend (European rules state that a varietally labelled wine can have up to 15% of other grapes– but note that the mixing of red and white wine to make a rose is only permitted in Champagne and totally verboten for any other European wine.)

Theme: You don’t have to have a Provençal rosé if you predominantly serve non-French food: think Chiaretto – Italy’s pink answer from the Veneto, think Navarra for tapas, think Malbec rosé for prawn starters in an Argentine steak house. Think Istrian rosé for curious hipsters. Think barely off-dry Pinot Noir for Asian spice. Consider recognisability if you cater to well-heeled label hunters: like distinctly shaped Domaines Ott or fancy Château d’Esclans. Keep within your theme, whatever it is. Both classic and unusual choices abound.

Last but not least: communicate this in simple, convincing terms. Even the most casual, temporary staff should be armed with two or three snappy, appetizing attributes for every wine on the list and have tasted it.

1. ARNOT ROBERTS 2018 ROSE (TOURIGA NACIONAL) (One of the most unique Rose in CA)
2. LORENZA 2018 ROSE (RHONE BLEND) (Mother & Daughter Winemaking Team0
3. LUCIA 2018 “LUCY” ROSE ($1.00 of each bottle is donated to breast cancer research)

A Beginner’s Guide to Champagne

A Beginner’s Guide to Champagne

in Wine Enthusiast

If the distinction between Champagne, Prosecco and any other sparkling wine of the world seems a bit murky, consider this primer a jumping-off point. Champagne can feel confusing at times, and for good reason. It involves a complicated winemaking process and a dictionary of French terminology. So, let’s break Champagne down into its component parts.

What Is Champagne?

To be called “Champagne,” a wine must come from the Champagne appellation, a region of France slightly east of Paris. In France, such a region is referred to as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC.

Within Champagne, there are several major growing areas, all known for particular grapes. The major areas from north to south are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs and Côte de Sézanne and Aube. For sparkling wine to be classified Champagne, the grapes must be grown in the region, and the wine must be produced in a specific way. The process, known as the méthode Champenoise, is also referred to as the traditional method.

The Grapes of Champagne

The main three grapes used in Champagne production are red-wine grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, a white-wine grape. The mountainous Montagne de Reims region is known for its Pinot Noir, as is Aube, the most southern growing area. The Vallée de la Marne, which occupies a valley floor and has a warm microclimate, is known for Pinot Meunier. The eastern-facing Côte de Blancs is planted almost entirely to Chardonnay, as is the Côte de Sézanne. The predominant soil in Champagne is made of chalk, limestone and fossilized seashells, a highly regarded mix known as Kimmeridgian soil.

What Does Brut Mean?

You’ve probably seen this mysterious word on a bottle of bubbly. Brut is just one of many labels that indicate how much sugar is in a finished bottle of Champagne. The most dry wines, which contain no sugar, are called brut nature, followed by extra brut, brut, extra-dry/extra-sec, dry/sec, demi-sec and doux, which is the sweetest. A brut Champagne has a nearly imperceptible amount of sugar, which must fall with a specified percentage range. Because of the wine’s bubbles, this sugar is not perceived on the palate, but if you taste a glass of Champagne that’s become flat, you’ll likely be surprised about the sugar content.

A Brief History

Champagne as we know it was the product of both chance and circumstance. Early wine from the region was pale pink and still. The region’s cold winter temperatures often halted the fermentation of still wines housed in the cellars. The dormant yeast cells remained in limbo until warmer weather provoked an awakening. In spring, these yeast cells sparked a second fermentation in the wines, where the remaining sugar was converted to alcohol. The byproduct of that fermentation, carbon dioxide, remained trapped in the bottles and would force out corks or cause bottles to explode.

In the mid-1600s, a Benedictine monk named Dom Pérignon, frustrated with the waste brought forth by such instability, took efforts to stop this fermentation. Perignon’s first contribution was to introduce a blending technique where grape varieties from different vineyards were used to create a single wine. He also developed a way for winemakers to produce white wine from red grapes. That method, like his blending technique, remains integral in Champagne production centuries later.

Around the same time, English physicist Christopher Merret discovered that the introduction of sugar could intentionally spur a second fermentation. It gave winemakers control of this unpredictable, and seemingly random, scientific occurrence. This immeasurable contribution meant that winemakers could create sparkling wine on purpose.

In 1805, Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, a 27-year-old French widow, assumed control of her late husband’s Champagne house. During that time, Madame Clicquot, also known as the veuve, French for “widow,” developed a process known as riddling, or remuage. In this process, wines are moved to bring the dead yeast cells from the second fermentation into the bottle’s neck, where they can be extracted. Prior to this, sparkling wines were cloudy with large bubbles. The technique yielded wines with small, fresh bubbles, known as a mousse, and no sediment.

Check out some great bubbly offerings we currently have in stock:


The Titans are back – A 97 Point, Perfectly structured Syrah!

Just from the color you can tell the 2016 Les Titans Syrah will be magnificent; it has an electric psychedelic purplish glow hinting at the energy present in the wine. The nose is a complete knockout with iron, grilled meat, hickory smoke, ink, and pain grillé aromas. The mouth is consistent with the nose combining power and precision. The finish is long and clean with great acidity and lingering notes of violets and squid ink. The Les Titans has everything you could hope for in cold climate Syrah with grace and focus and none of the one dimensional, heavy, leaden quality found in lesser wines. I suggest you drink a bottle upon release to see what is so exciting and then open a few every few years to watch it evolve into the single best Les Titans – and maybe even Syrah

Peay 2016 Syrah “Les Titans” Estate, Sonoma Coast
GGWC 59.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Vinous 97 Points:Peay’s 2016 Syrah Estate Les Titans is utterly magnificent. Black cherry, plum, crème de cassis, graphite, black pepper and licorice marry perfectly with the wine’s vertical feel and sense of structure. A super-classic, cool-climate wine, the 2016 Titans dazzles from start to finish. I loved it.”

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