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Grape Escape: Piedmont

Roads zigzagging through mountains, tiny villages perched on hilltops, and vineyards dusted with snow… not the typical mental image of Italy. Films generally portray a sun-drenched hilltop villa with lush greenery and warm sunshine. Glasses of crisp white wine on a sunlit patio. Did I mention the sunshine?

It’s winter, and we all miss sunshine, but that doesn’t mean there are not wonderful wines to be had. Two years after we got married, my husband and I went to Piedmont… in the offseason. In winter.

Two years after tying the knot, my husband and I embarked on a vacation to Piedmont, enticed by a TravelZoo deal that included flights and accommodation for just $600. I clicked. It was Italy! It couldn’t be that bad, right? It was both absolutely amazing … and absolutely freezing.

I vividly remember shivering while crossing the parking lot at La Spinetta, giddily skipping like the wine nerd I am, with teeth chattering. I refused to let weather ruin a visit to what may be my favorite producer in the world.  My husband’s most vivid memory of that trip may be being pulled over in the village of Barolo. Between our non-existent Italian and the police’s non-existent English we were all just happy to get out of the palazzo. Pro Tip: you can’t drive in the village center… although GPS will tell you otherwise.

I’m not leading a trip to Piedmont this year, but I can deliver you a Grape Escape to explore this wonderful region.

Fast Facts

  • Occupying the northwest corner, this is the second-largest region (after Sicily).
  • Piedmont contains the highest number of DOCGs (17) and DOCs (42).
  • The region produces the most classified wine in the country—partially because it does not allow for the production of IGT wine.
  • First region to focus on single-vineyard wines in Italy.
  • Tend to have the lowest yields in the country.
  • Hail cannons are regularly used disrupt hail production in clouds and prevent hail damage.

Piedmont in Context

In Italian, the region is Piemonte—but the English spelling is Piedmont. The translation is ‘foot of the mountain,’ which perfectly describes the region overall. Three sides of the region are hemmed in by mountain ranges. Apparently, the skiing is delightful. This is the home of risotto, truffles, and osso buco. Rich, warm dishes that pair beautifully with the wines of the region.

Grapes

Without a doubt, the most prestigious grape of Piedmont is Nebbiolo—and the prestige is not short-lived. There are references to the grape that date back to the 13th century! The ‘king and queen of Italian reds,’ Barolo and Barbaresco, are made from 100% Nebbiolo. The simplest way to explain the difference: slightly different hillsides and elevations. Langhe DOC is from the vineyards within the Barolo and Barbaresco spaces that are below the legal elevation. These options can be pricey though—Gattinara DOCG or Ghemme DOCG are further north with brighter acidity and can be a bit more rugged. But Nebbiolo is only 9% of the region’s production.

It took everything in me not to include Moscato in the Grape Escape. This is the home of Moscato—21% of the region’s production is the slightly fizzy sweet white. There are quality examples—my favorite is probably La Spinetta’s ($28). Everyone makes Moscato—it’s the cash cow of the region, and truly, they are happy wines.

The wines the are drunk more often are the Barbera (30%) and Dolcetto (13%) of production. These wines were written off for a long time as low quality and not worth being exported. This is no longe the case. Production methods have improved and the wines are really good. They are not Barolo- they have completely different taste profiles, but that doesn’t mean that they are not worth exploring.

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Christmas Covers & Corks

12 Book & Wine Pairings for Christmas

  1. The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah,  page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II. This novel pairs wonderfully with a bottle of white Burgundy like Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils, Beaune du Chateau, Premier Cru 2018 ($42).
  2. The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel, 1940: In WWII France, Inès faces danger as her husband aids the Résistance. In 2019, Liv, reeling from loss, discovers a hidden family history tied to Maison Chauveau’s wartime secrets. Past and present intertwine, leading Liv on a journey of salvation to the historic champagne house’s caves. A tale of love, sacrifice, and resilience.Paired with a bottle of Grand Cru Chamapagne- Pierre Boever Champagne, Grand Cru, Brut Rose ($43).
  3. The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste by Elin McCoy. To his legions of fans, Parker is a cross between Julia Child and Ralph Nader –– part enthusiastic sensualist and part consumer crusader. To his many enemies, he is a self–appointed wine judge bent on reducing the meaning of wine to a two–digit number. The man who ruled the world of wine has been the focus of both adulation and hatred. Make up your mind while drinking a classic Napa Cabernet like the Stout Family Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($103).
  4. Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Don Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup. In 1940, France fell to the Nazis and almost immediately the German army began a campaign of pillaging one of the assets the French hold most dear: their wine. Like others in the French Resistance, winemakers mobilized to oppose their occupiers, but the tale of their extraordinary efforts has remained largely unknown–until now.  One of my favorite books ever is paired with Le Petit Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Leognan ($52).
  5. Waiter Rant: Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica will make you laugh out loud. According to Dublanica, eighty percent of customers are nice people just looking for something to eat. The remaining twenty percent, however, are socially maladjusted psychopaths. Sip on the Foggy Bottom Pinot Noir, Easkscoot Cellars from the  Russian River Valley ($27) as you laugh at this waiter’s view of humanity. 
  6. Widow Cliquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J. Mazze. Mazzeo brings to life—for the first time—the fascinating woman behind the iconic yellow label: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, who, after her husband’s death, defied convention by assuming the reins of the fledgling wine business they had nurtured together. Steering the company through dizzying political and financial reversals, she became one of the world’s first great businesswomen and one of the richest women of her time. Paired with the obvious- a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne! ($54)
  7. Wine Girl: The Trials and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier by Victoria James paired with the unusual Italian white, Tenuta Regaleali, Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali, Grillo $22
  8. A Man and His Mountain by Daniel James Brown. The story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson, who put Chardonnay on America’s tables as he built the Kendall-Jackson wine empire from a few mountainous acres of grapes, and raced the Horse of the Year three years in a row, is a remarkable tale of romance, risk, and reinvention — perhaps the greatest second act in the history of American business. Paired with Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($72).
  9. In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire by Peter Hellman. After bursting onto the scene in 2002, Kurniawan quickly became the leading purveyor of rare wines to the American elite. But in April 2008, his lots of Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis red burgundy—dating as far back as 1945—were abruptly pulled from auction. The problem? The winemaker was certain that this particular burgundy was first produced only in 1982. Paired with an authentic bottle of Chateau Abelyce, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2015 ($28).
  10. What to Eat with What You Drink: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food and Beverages by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page paired with Absolutely anything you like! This book is an excellent guide when pairing food. I suggest the Ochota Barrels  ‘A Forest’  Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills ($61).
  11. Big Macs & Burgundy: Wine Pairings for the Real World by Vanessa Price. This fun collection of pairings will have you scratching your head saying ‘really?’ but every oddball pairing I have had has been exceptional. Include a sample pairing from the book a small bottle of El Maestro Sierra Oloroso NV ($24) and a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
  12. But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine By David White showcases all the producers of Champagne in detail. Pair with a bottle of Taittinger ‘Prestige’ Rose, Brut, NV ($96) for the perfect friend for the friend who loves sparkling wine. 

Stocking Stuffers for Wine Lovers

I feel like I always forget stocking stuffers. I pick out gifts, I have everything wrapped and then panic two days before Christmas because I have nothing to go in my husband’s stocking.

If you are like me, you hate to just toss in a few candy bars and call it a day. You want what’s in there to make the person you love smile. For it to be memorable. For them to meet your eyes across the room and grin because you know them so well.

If they love wine- this list should fill up their stocking- and light up their face with a smile. There are affiliate links in the descriptions but no one has paid to be on this list.

  1. The Durand- If they love wine and don’t own this, they need it. The ultimate wine opening weapon. Defends against any broken or crumbling cork. I swear it is worth the $145 to never have to pour my wine through a coffee filter.
  2. Wine Glass Markers– As cute as wine glass charmers are I never remember to pull them out. They are small, and fiddle-y and frankly sometimes I need glasses to see what’s on the tag. I have always just had folks write their names on their glass. It washes off! This is a multicolored pack for eight for under $10.
  3. Wine Condoms – Slightly risqué but oh it makes me laugh every time. I may add this to every bachelorette gift for all time. It’s a tiny condom that fits over the neck of the wine bottle to keep your wine fresh. Honestly, I don’t know if they works- I’ve always given them more for the novelty and humor. This six-pack is $15.
  4. Wine Away Stain Remover – My personal favorite stain remover and what I have used in every restaurant ever. Spray on the red wine tainted fabric and wash in cold water. I have an industrial sized bottle in my laundry room, but this adorable 2 oz bottle is perfect to tuck into a stocking. $8 or less.
  5. Red Wine Stain Remover Wipes- for your Teeth! These handy dandy wipes are tucked in every purse I own. And my car. After a glass of red wine my lips go purple which I hate. It makes me look like a lush when I just had a tasting with a supplier at lunch. Or at 10 a.m. (this is my life!). They come in packs of 50 for $15.99.
  6. Champagne Bottle Stoppers: I feel like I am an evangelist for these! You don’t have to finish the entire bottle of sparkling wine, just because you opened it. These stainless steel and silicone stoppers clamp on to the neck of the bottle, keeping the bubbles in your bubbly. This is a two pack and totally worth the $10.
  7. ‘If You Can Read This, Bring Me a Glass of Wine’ Novelty Socks Our house has a plethora of novelty socks- my husband gets a kick out of them every time. And they are useful. These gems are $9.

If you are reading this at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve… Just put a bottle of wine in there!

Need something a little more substantial for the wine drinker in your life? Check out the 2023 Ultimate Wine Lovers’ Wish List

Ultimate Wine Lovers Christmas Wish List

Are they impossible to buy for? Are you struggling with what to get them this year? Do they love wine?

If the answer to those questions is ‘yes’ you are in the right place.

  1. Durand If they adore wine but don’t own this, they absolutely need it. The ultimate wine opening weapon, it defends against any broken or crumbling cork. Trust me; it’s worth the $145 investment to never have to pour wine through a coffee filter again.
  2. Wine Breather My all-time favorite decanter. The bottle of wine fits to the top, and when you flip it, the wine runs down the interior walls of the decanter, maximizing oxygen exposure. It makes the wine taste like it’s been open for an hour when you first pop it. Plus, it allows you to easily pour all the wine back into the bottle. Well worth the $70.
  3. Resealable Travel Wine Bags Perfect for slipping into your bag, so you can bring home a bottle or two of your favorite wine or olive oil. Only $27 for a 10-pack.
  4. Coravin This gadget changed my life. The ability to have a glass of wine without opening the entire bottle made studying for exams so much easier. Also, since my husband is a beer drinker, it made it less stressful to just have a glass of wine. I stopped worrying about finishing it in four days. The $230 investment is entirely worthwhile, and this one comes with six new screw caps and three argon capsules.
  5. Twelve Bottle Wine Suitcase Convinced I needed one of these by a winemaker who shared his experience of taking wine on his honeymoon in this bag, drinking it on the beach. He only took six bottles and packed the other side with his wardrobe for the trip. Combined with the ease of bringing things home from wine country, $380 allows you to drink whatever you want, anywhere you want.
  6. Stainless Steel Bottle Cooler This simple insulated column maintains the temperature of any bottle of wine while you sip. No more digging in the ice machine or filling up an ice bucket. At $35, it’s a small investment for the convenience of no more ice everywhere.
  7. Polishing Clothes Do they get annoyed by water spots on their wine glasses? These are what the pros use to make those spots disappear. Under $10 for a 2-pack.
  8. Splurge: Zalto Denk’Art Universal Hand-Blown Crystal Wine Glasses | Boxed Set of 6 The most luxurious wine glasses of all time, though very delicate. While I adore these, I avoid pulling them out if the cats are being rambunctious. Priced at $503.
  9. Custom Wine Boxes from the Grape Lady:Whether it’s one box for Christmas, a three-pack every month, or a six-pack every three months, we can work with your budget to find the perfect gift.

This post does contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

As a Christian, I get a kick out of drinking wine. It was Jesus’ first miracle in John 2. In verse 10, the master of the feast proclaims the wine to be the best served—and that it is odd to bring out the best wine at the end of the party. We have a God who does nothing by halves and who believes in having a good time.

Where Exactly?

As a proud Millennial with an iPhone but no sense of direction, I knew that Galilee was in Israel, but that didn’t mean I could find it on a map. So, I will assume that everyone else is equally as confused. Galilee is the northern portion of Israel, stretching from the Mediterranean coastline to Syria. Roughly the top fifth of the country, with Nazareth almost in the center. Keep in mind the country is only the size of New Jersey.

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What about the labels?

Galilee is an administrative region as well as a registered wine region. Similar to Napa—Napa Valley is a wine region that can go on a bottle, and Napa County is an administrative region that can set taxes. Although the region is located in the Middle East, the climate is Mediterranean—think Greece, not Arizona. The vineyards are scattered throughout the region, with many of them clinging to rocky outcroppings at high elevations (1,500 ft)—similar to the mountains in Napa Valley. The resulting wines fall solidly into the fruit-forward ‘New World’ style, although the region has grown grapes since ancient times. Honestly, when I was tasting the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon from Golan Heights, I would have sworn it was from Sonoma Valley or a cooler vintage from Napa Valley.

While Cabernet Sauvignon and other ‘modern’ grapes dominate the viticultural landscape, there are other grapes, some that date back to Biblical times like Argaman. Labels for wines from this region may simply say ‘Galilee’, or if sourced from smaller regions: Golan Heights, Upper Galilee, or Lower Galilee.

If you love Jordan, Chateau Montelena, or Prisoner, you should try these:

If you prefer sweet wines- check out our ‘Sip Sweetly Trio’ with two moscatos and a sweet red all from Israel.

Sip In Solidarity: Israel

We’ve all seen the news about what is happening in Israel and Gaza. 

The fourth quarter is the busiest time of year for everyone in the beverage industry no matter where you are- except in a war zone. Then everything grinds to a halt. Israel’s domestic market is frozen during the busiest time of the year. This in combination with the struggle to bring in the grapes this year has potential to harm the 300 wineries that call Israel home. Just for perspective, there are over 1,700 wineries in the 30 mile long Napa Valley. 

Did you know that the war broke out during harvest? 

Wineries are operating with skeleton staffing levels as young men and women are called up to fight. Unlike in America, Military service in compulsory for the majority of Israelis when they turn 18. Men have to serve 32 months and women 24. After this, most of them can be called up to reserve units until the age of 40, or even older, in case of national emergency. October 7th and the aftermath qualify.

“Winemaking has its own schedule, unlike other industries where you can pause production or run with limited staff. Grapes grow and ripen when they do; the winemaking process is very hands-on. Without staff, many wineries face an impending crisis.” said Joshua Greenstein, the Vice President of the IWPA in a statement made  last week.

Tulip Winery, while remaining open, has become a collection center for donations for soldiers and those who have lost homes to the conflict. Odem Winery can’t even open for that due to their location. Jezreel is sending wine to the troops. Psagot is open, but only part time.

#DrinkIsrael

The Israeli Wine Producers Association has asked for help. It’s an easy way to help – they ask that you ‘Sip in Solidarity.’ Simply buy a bottle of Israeli wine, and enjoy it. The wines are New World in style, fit for wine lovers who enjoy California wines.

Greenstein, the Vice President of the IWPA, also stressed “Not only will the purchase help the wineries, but we’re donating 10% of every case shipped from November 1, 2023 – December 31, 2023 to Israeli relief efforts.” 

I hate watching the news

 It’s a massive reminder of all the things I can’t do. I can’t help the winemaker trying to bring in his grapes with a team of two instead of a full harvest crew. I can’t give a hug to those waiting on news of loved ones. I can’t fix the mess our world is right now.

But I can buy Israeli. So can you. I would like Texas to run out of Israeli wines because I know that in Texas we care big.

Because everything is bigger in Texas.

Including our hearts. 

The Wines

There are some truly amazing wines made in Israel – the country looks more like parts of California than I had realized. I didn’t know anything about Israeli wines until I attended a dinner hosted by the IWPA in November 2021. I was blown away by the quality of the wines and my ignorance of them – and I would love to share them with you.

Click the wine and email me how many you would like.

Or indulge in a curated collection by clicking through the links below.

More information about Galilean wines can be found in the Grape Escape!

Details on some of the Wines

Grape Escape: Argentina

Malbec – inky pink, purple wine with deep chocolate and fruit aromatics. A wine that can be made cheaply for a box or jug or with exquisite care. I honestly believe that Malbec may be the most misunderstood grape. Argentina’s history of making cheap, jug wine due to economic factors haunts them to this day.

Factoids

  • Argentines consume 12 gallons of wine per resident per year.
  • The 5th largest producer of wine in the world.
  • They consume 90% of their own wine.
  • Mendoza, the main growing area in Argentina, is 72 times larger than Napa Valley, about a third of the size of the state of California.

The spooky label above comes from Catena Zapata’s Argentino – a 100% Malbec made in the San Rafael district in the center of Mendoza. The wine is the finest made by Catena Zapata and it pays homage to the history of the Malbec grape.

The Story Behind the Label

Eleanor of Aquitaine represents the birth of Malbec. She is a strong, Old-World presence, lingering at the bridge in Cahors, where Malbec came into its own. Next, the Immigrant symbolizes the movement to the New World and the unknown explorers and adventurers who connected Europe with the Americas. Phylloxera personifies the death of Malbec in the Old World, which enabled its rebirth in the new. Finally, there is Bodega Catena Zapata, represented by Adrianna Catena, who depicts birth, earth, and motherhood, sharing the riches of the New World. Today, the Catena family’s fourth generation leads the high-altitude renaissance in Argentina.

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Origin Story

Argentina was a Spanish discovery in the 6th century leading to vines being planted there in 1577. Everywhere the Spanish went, the Catholic Church went, and thus vines for communion. Malbec didn’t make its way there until Argentina declared their independence from Spain in 1816. Argentina encouraged French immigration as an independent nation. The incoming French brought grape vines from home, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

Phylloxera

Phylloxera, the small louse that eats the roots of grape vines, invaded France in 1860. This louse attacks the roots of vines, destroying vineyards within a few years. French winemakers fled France, many to Argentina. These winemakers were happy to find French varietals thriving in South America where phylloxera never thrived. It hates sandy soils, which abound in Argentina.

Instability is Always Bad for Wine

Argentina was politically and economically unstable during the late 1970s through the 1990s. This instability made quality winemaking unprofitable. Farmers struggling to make ends meet ripped out lower yielding vines despite the quality wines they produced. Vineyards were replanted to food crops or replaced with high producing, low-quality vines. In 1989 inflation hit 12,000% (that is NOT a typo). The only way to scrape by was to make lots of wine. The survival of vineyards hinged on Argentina producing as much jug wine as possible.

More Change for Argentina

Significant reforms by the Argentine government in the 1990s led to a revamped banking system and a more stable currency. Although the economy still ebbs and flows, the federal government has encouraged the growth of viticulture. Even the devaluation of the Argentine peso in 2002 helped wineries, allowing them to lower production costs while already on the road to increasing quality.

Time to Drink?

Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world; even so, they consume 90% of their own production! Here are some gems that have slipped out for us to enjoy.

Similar Sips: Rombauer Chardonnay

Let’s talk about Rombauer Chardonnay, one of the most beloved wines across the nation, known for “celebrating the joy of wine.” They even print it onto their corks. The tagline originated from the founder’s aunt, Irma Rombauer, who penned the internationally renowned cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking.” I think we all have a copy floating around our house. Rombauer Vineyards sprouted its first vines in 1980 and released their inaugural Chardonnay in 1984, just two years after Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay made its market debut. Rombauer and Kendall-Jackson made a lasting impression on the world by shaping the very style that would define California Chardonnay for decades. Today, Rombauer Vineyards crafts approximately 175,000 cases of this celebrated Chardonnay annually.

‘The Joy of Wine’

I wholeheartedly concur with this sentiment, but I’d hate to see wine enthusiasts confined to the Rombauer rut. Life is far too short to limit our celebrations to a single brand. While Rombauer’s Chardonnay is renowned for its buttery richness, it’s important to remember that Chardonnay is as versatile as clay in the hands of a winemaker. Their choices throughout the winemaking process significantly impact the final product. Depending on factors such as vineyard location, grape harvest timing, and post-harvest treatment, the wine’s characteristics vary widely. Buttery Chardonnay, for instance, typically undergoes malolactic fermentation, is aged in new oak barrels, and is subject to lees stirring.

Now, you might wonder, what’s all that jargon about?

Malolactic Fermentation

Malolactic fermentation, or MLF for short, is the process by which harsh malic acid turns into softer lactic acid. In simple terms, it transforms sharp, apple-like acidity into a smoother, milk-like one. Think of that brisk bite into a green apple; you won’t find it in a buttery Chardonnay, but you can in those that skip the malolactic fermentation. In the industry, we often abbreviate it to MLF or just “malo.” So if someone mentions that a wine goes through 100% malo and then ages in new French oak barrels, and you’re a fan of buttery Chardonnay, you’re likely to adore that wine.

Barrel Aging

Barrel aging is a common practice we’ve all seen, with towering stacks of wine barrels nestled in cellars worldwide. These barrels are charred on the inside and used to age wine. The charred interior serves as a filter, extracting undesirable flavors while infusing subtle notes of vanilla and caramel. American and French oak barrels exhibit distinct characteristics; American barrels impart hints of dill, coconut, and vanillin (imagine the aroma of baked goods in a grocery store), while French barrels offer more nuanced notes like vanilla, spice, and cream. The first year of aging is when the barrel has the most influence, and by year four, the wood’s impact is minimal. These barrels are often repurposed for furniture, decor, or sold to Scotch whiskey distilleries.

Battonage

Lees stirring, sometimes referred to as “battonage,” involves agitating the yeast that has settled at the bottom of the barrels during aging. The more contact the wine has with the yeast, the creamier its texture becomes. In blind tastings, sommeliers often detect notes of sourdough bread or Greek yogurt, with the wine’s body taking on a more substantial and creamy character.

So, if you or a fellow wine lover find yourselves frequently reaching for the blue and white-labeled Rombauer bottle, it’s time to try something new! These wines we’ve gathered are equally creamy and rich.  deserving of their own celebration.

Details:

If you are stuck at the grocery and need something in a pinch- try the Arsonist Chardonnay– an under $20 option. 

Cheers,

PS

If you just can’t resist Rombauer, we do have a special running for the rest of the year. A case of twelve bottles for $500 plus taxes- delivered to your door. Email us to set a delivery date.

Grape Escape: Bordeaux Basics

Bordeaux, a name synonymous with lavish indulgence in a glass, often proves intimidating to wine enthusiasts. Given its vast complexity, it’s completely understandable. With 53 appellations and 65 different wine styles, understanding Bordeaux depends greatly on knowledge of its’ sub-regions and chateaus. But I’m here to help.

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The Region
Situated 350 miles southwest of Paris along the Atlantic coastline in France. Bordeaux has been home to a thriving wine industry for hundreds of years with the port and easy access to rivers. These river divide the region neatly in two pieces with very different personalities.

The Right Bank
The Right Bank comprises twelve sub-regions, collectively referred to as the Libournais. The two most renowned among them are Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. The soils have a lot of clay, with a limestone surface which Merlot thrives on. The wines overall tend to be richer in fruit with lower acidity and tannins. Cabernet Franc gives structure to the lush Merlot. 

Pomerol is expensive. No bones about it. The top dog wine here is Chateau Petrus, whose bottles regularly sell for thousands of dollars. The wines are often referred to as ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’; they are massive wines with silky smooth tannins. Saint-Émilion is a slightly larger region with a more approachable price point with high quality wines.

The Left Bank
Also known as the Medoc, the Left Bank encompasses nine subregions. Notable among these are Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, and Margaux. Historically marshland, the Dutch filled this region with gravel during the 1600s. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc thrives here, resulting in wines with a robust structure and higher tannin levels.

If you are just starting to explore Bordeaux, start with Saint-Julien. The wines have a lot of dark chocolate and cherry- similar to Napa Cabernets. Margaux wines tend to be more floral with lots of rose petals and violets. Pauillac wines have a signature of dusty, cocoa powder and tannic structure. Saint-Estephe tends to be very structured, modern trends have lend to the addition of more Merlot in the blend making the wines approachable earlier. They tend to be based in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc supported by the other Bordeaux varietals so don’t let the foreign names make you uneasy.

Grapes
Bordeaux wines are all about blends. Winemakers skillfully utilize the unique characteristics of different grapes to craft well-balanced wines and hedge against risks. Given Bordeaux’s coastal location, weather conditions can be unpredictable. The potential risk of crop damage due to hail or frosts is mitigated by having grapes that bloom and ripen at different times.

White Grapes

Semillon

Sauvignon Blanc

Muscadelle

Red Grapes

Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Franc

Petit Verdot

Carmenere (Rare)

Malbec (Rare)

Hands over a map of Bordeaux.

Trick: To remember the dominant grapes on the Left and Right banks of Bordeaux. Hold up your hands. Curve your left hand into a ‘C’ and make an ‘M’ with your right hand. Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank, and Merlot dominates the Right Bank. 

Aged Bordeaux versus Young Bordeaux

There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your wine. You may love the spicy, chew and earthy character of younger Bordeaux. Or you may want your wine to mellow first.

Aged Bordeaux- over ten years old will be richer, with earthy, coffee-toffee notes. Fruits will take on a dried character (so instead of smelling like plums, the wine may have a prune note) and the tobacco, cedar note will become more prominent.

If you are trying to decide if you should age your wine or not- consider the price point and the classification level.

What the heck are classifications?

There are five systems in places currently that all cover different sets of chateau. The two most important for us are the 1855 and the Saint-Emilion classifications.

In 1855 France was hosting the World Fair and Napoleon III was king.The king wanted a system to determine and showcase the best wines, a ranking system. So, he tasked the Agricultural department, who turned to the Chamber of Commerce in Bordeaux for help. The Chamber, in a bit of a dilemma and keen not to offend anyone, simply took the existing price list and published it.

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First Growths (Premiers Crus)

  • Château Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
  • Château Latour, Pauillac
  • Château Margaux, Margaux
  • Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan
  • Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac (elevated to First Growth in 1973)

Second Growths (Deuxièmes Crus)

  • Château Brane-Cantenac, Cantenac
  • Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe
  • Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
  • Château Durfort-Vivens, Margaux
  • Château Gruaud-Larose, Saint-Julien
  • Château Lascombes, Margaux
  • Château Léoville-Barton, Saint-Julien
  • Château Léoville-Las-Cases, Saint-Julien
  • Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien
  • Château Montrose, Saint-Estèphe
  • Château Pichon Longueville Baron, Pauillac
  • Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac

Third Growths (Troisièmes Crus)

  • Château Cantenac-Brown, Cantenac
  • Château Giscours, Margaux
  • Château Kirwan, Margaux
  • Château Lafitte Rothschild Carruades, Pauillac
  • Château Palmer, Margaux
  • Château Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux
  • Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux

Fourth Growths (Quatrièmes Crus)

  • Château Beychevelle, Saint-Julien
  • Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien
  • Château Cantenac Brown, Cantenac
  • Château Ducru, Saint-Julien
  • Château Lagrange, Saint-Julien
  • Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan
  • Château Langoa Barton, Saint-Julien
  • Château Marquis d’Alesme Becker, Margaux
  • Château Marquis de Terme, Margaux
  • Château Montrose, Saint-Estèphe
  • Château Paveil de Luze, Saint-Julien
  • Château Talbot, Saint-Julien

Fifth Growths (Cinquièmes Crus)

  • Château d’Armailhac, Pauillac
  • Château Batailley, Pauillac
  • Château Belgrave, Haut-Médoc
  • Château Beychevelle, Saint-Julien
  • Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien
  • Château Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc
  • Château Cos Labory, Saint-Estèphe
  • Château Dauzac, Margaux
  • Château Duhart-Milon, Pauillac
  • Château Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Julien
  • Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac

Totals are :

  • 5 Premiers Crus (First Growth)
  • 14 Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growth)
  • 14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growth)
  • 10 Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growth)
  • 18 Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growth)

Surprisingly, these rankings have stood the test of time quite well, considering their unconventional, and rather unscientific origins. The idea was simple: the very best wines were ‘First Growths,’ followed by ‘Second Growths,’ and so on for a total of five quality levels. Given that the quality of Bordeaux wines is intricately tied to their location, their quality has only improved over time with new techniques and sciences being applied.

But remember,  you don’t need to drink First Growth wines to enjoy Bordeaux. There are wonderful chateaus established after 1855 that deserve to be appreciated, despite not having a historic rating. Often the wineries outside of the 1855 Medoc Classification are referred to as ‘Petit Chateau.’

As for Saint-Émilion, it wasn’t part of the initial 1855 Classification. In fact, it took matters into its own hands and established a classification in 1954. The Saint-Émilion classification undergoes a revision every ten years. However, any alterations to the list are met with extreme controversy and discussions since movement greatly affects wine prices and company valuations.

Premier Grand Cru Classé A

  • Château Angélus 
  • Château Ausone 
  • Château Cheval Blanc 
  • Château Pavie 

Premier Grand Cru Classé B

  • Château Beau-Séjour (héritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse) 
  • Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot 
  • Château Bél Air-Monange 
  • Château Canon 
  • Château Canon la Gaffelière 
  • Château Figeac 
  • Clos Fourtet 
  • Château la Gaffelière 
  • Château Larcis Ducasse 
  • La Mondotte 
  • Château Pavie Macquin 
  • Château Troplong Mondot 
  • Château Trottevieille 
  • Château Valandraud 

Grand Cru Classé

 (71 Properties)

Wine Futures? En Primeur? What’s That?

The practice of purchasing wine for future enjoyment has been a fundamental aspect of Bordeaux’s market model since the 1700s. Back then, clients would sample a young wine, make a commitment to buy, and the chateau would age the wine before delivering it. Early buyers enjoyed a lower price for taking the risk before the wine matured. An iconic example is the 1982 ‘En Primeur’ purchase, where buyers acquired what many consider the best vintage from Bordeaux at significantly lower costs. Robert Parker’s early declaration of confidence in the quality of that vintage is what put him, and the rating system on the map.

Today, ‘En Primeur’ is a weeklong event in Bordeaux, featuring numerous Chateaus presenting their young wines to entice consumers, collectors, and retailers into investing in cases before the wines fully mature.

However, modern shifts in the world have seen many prominent Chateaus stepping back from En Primeur sales.

Second Labels

Many wineries may have a second, or even a third label. Personally it is one of my favorite way to shop. The first label is going to be the best of the best fruit- and priced accordingly. The second label is made by the same winemaker, with fruit grown the same way from the same vineyards, but often from younger vines. Prices maybe be half of the first label!

How do I Get Good Bordeaux?

You can dedicate time to research, or you can let us do the legwork and discover exceptional options for you. 

Similar Sips: Sea Smoke

Only poured at one public tasting a year, The World of Pinot Noir. No tasting room. Almost no presence in restaurants. Sea Smoke is elusive, mysterious and sexy.

The 105 acre winery is located along the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara County, California. The wines are grown biodynamically, and only estate fruit goes into the bottling. Sea Smoke produces four labels, totaling 13,000 cases for global supply. They produce a sparkling wine called Sea Spray, as well as two Pinot Noir (Southing and Ten) bottling and a Chardonnay. Southing is more delicate while the Ten is heavier and more brooding.

Sea Smoke produces four labels, amounting to a total of 13,000 cases for the global market. However, only a fraction of these cases reach retailers and restaurants, as their primary focus is on their mailing list. ‘The List’ is free to join and doesn’t require any purchases. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be offered any wine, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

Unfortunately, I can’t get any of this beautiful wine for you. But I can offer you several wines that are similar, from neighboring vineyards and made by other winemakers with similar styles.

The following wines are from Satnta Barbara, like Sea Smoke, and share similar characteristics, influenced by the same ocean fog that lends Sea Smoke its name. Typically, mountains run parallel to the coastline, shielding inland valleys from the Pacific Ocean’s cooling winds, fog, and marine layer. However, in Santa Barbara County, the mountains closest to the coast run from East to West, perpendicular to the shore.  The ‘transverse’ mountain ranges, and the valleys between them act as funnels, channeling cold air, fog, and the marine layer. Consequently, Santa Barbara County houses one of the most southerly ‘cool climate’ wine regions in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Explore the Similarities